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Destination Truth: The Road Goes Ever On

Yes, I borrowed the title of this post from a television show and my favorite author (J.R.R. Tolkien). The topic of this post has been on m...

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A window on God's view of things

Take a moment to think with me about the impact that our vantage point has on what we see. For instance, where we are standing relative to a forest has a profound effect on how we perceive it. The forest appears one way while walking along under the canopy, but it looks very different from a fire tower or mountaintop. We call this perspective - how a thing appears to us based on its distance and position relative to us.
In short, whether we are in the middle of the forest or surveying it from some lofty place makes a difference. Our own knowledge about what we are beholding also has an impact on our interpretation of what we are seeing. Someone who has studied the flora, fauna and geological features of the forest certainly sees something different from one who has little or no knowledge of those things.
Several years ago I wrote a poem to try to capture the effect of these differences in perspective. I'd like to share it with you today:

Holy Mountain

Standing on a high place
Below me weathered stone
Wind sweeps across my face
And makes me feel alone

Yet here I'm united
To all that I can see
And by heaven knighted
With God's nobility

So can we begin to see how our perspective can give us a window into God's view of things? Consider the way that humans thought about the earth before we were able to travel into space. Our perspective of this orb that we inhabit was very different then wasn't it? Moreover, it's not just being able to look back at this planet from space - it's all the things that we've learned about this place over the centuries too.
We've all seen the pictures that astronauts and satellites have snapped of this beautiful globe with its blue, white, brown and green swirls. We also know that those swirls represent clouds, oceans, land masses, plants and animals. We know that in the midst of those brown and green patches people are walking, running and riding around. We know that they are organized into nations and are engaged in all kinds of social, commercial and cultural activities - even though we can't actually see those details in what is before us.
Likewise, we look out into space and see all of those little pinpricks of light, and we know that they represent giant stars like our own sun (some of them with planets swirling around them). Most of us are also cognizant of the fact that because of the time that it takes for light to reach this planet from those distant objects that we are looking into the past.
What about people who know more about these things than we do? What is their perspective on them? What does a meteorologist, physicist or cosmologist see when he/she looks at these same objects that we've been discussing?

As God surveys the universe, what does God see?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

God and the struggle within us

I was reminded this morning about a story that I first heard many years ago. The story originated within our Native American heritage, but it addresses what I believe are some profound spiritual truths. Although the story has appeared in many forms over the years, I will do my best to recount it from memory (I think that's appropriate as it was originally delivered orally and passed down from generation to generation in that way).

A grandfather told his grandchildren a story about two wolves struggling within them. "One wolf is kind, loving and good," he told them. "The other wolf is mean, greedy and full of hate," he continued. "These two wolves battle within each one of us," the old man explained. "Which one of them wins grandfather?" the children asked. "The one that you feed," answered the grandfather.

For me, God is the grandfather in the story. He has warned us about the battle between good and evil that rages within each and every one of us, and he has told us how to ensure that the good wins.

Moses wrote: "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19, KJV)

Paul wrote: "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" (Romans 6:16, KJV)

Paul also described this struggle within himself: "I have discovered this principle of life - that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God's law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God's law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin." (Romans 7:21-25, NLT)

Which wolf will you feed today?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Some questions about God designating a day or days for worship

Q: Didn't God say that His feasts were to be observed forever?

A: Who did He say that to? "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, concerning the feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts."
(Leviticus 23:1-2)
In other words, the instructions about the feasts were given to the children of Israel, not to the world at large.

Q: Didn't Zechariah predict that everyone would observe the feasts in God's Kingdom?

A: Yes, at Jerusalem. "And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain." (Zechariah 14:16-17

Q: Doesn't forever mean forever? Didn't God intend for the feasts to be observed for all times?

A: The Hebrew word "owlam" can certainly indicate eternity in some contexts, but it very often is used to indicate that something is perpetual in nature. God promised that David's dynasty would be eternal. Does the fact that David's dynasty ceased to rule for a time make God's promise to him void? Does the fact that the Israelites ceased to observe the feasts for many years after the destruction of both temples somehow nullify Zechariah's prophecy about their future observance?

Q: Didn't Paul tell Christians at Corinth to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread?

A: Paul was correcting the Corinthian Church for their acceptance of sexual immorality in their midst. Specifically, one of their members was openly carrying on an affair with his father's wife. (I Corinthians 5:1) He tells them that they should be ashamed of this, but they are puffed up (prideful) about their tolerance of the situation. (I Corinthians 5:2) Paul then proceeded to command them to put the individual responsible for this sinful behavior out of the church! (I Corinthians 5:3-5) In this connection, he uses the Feast of Unleavened Bread as a metaphor to explain the negative impact that this is having on the entire congregation. He wrote: "Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaventh the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (I Corinthians 5:6-8) Once again, Paul is calling upon the spiritual principles upon which the feast was based. Hence, this Scripture has absolutely nothing to say about whether or not the Corinthians were observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Q: Didn't Christ imply that it would be ok to designate feast sites other than Jerusalem when he said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them?" (Matthew 18:20)

A: If that Scripture can be used as a justification for multiple feast sites, then logic and fairness dictate that it be used as a justification for Christians gathering together on Sunday!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Scripture on the mind of God

Does Scripture agree with yesterday's post about the nature of the mind of God? After exploring a few verses from The Holy Bible, I think that most of us will conclude that it does. Here are a few examples:

When Samuel went to anoint one of Jesse's sons as the new king of Israel, God warned the prophet that the Divine thought process was different from his own. We read:
"But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart."
(I Samuel 16:7)

The prophet Isaiah had a great deal to say on the subject:
"Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?"
(Isaiah 40:13-14)
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."
(Isaiah 55:8-9)
"For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neiter hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him." (Isaiah 64:4)

We read in Jeremiah:
"For who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord, and hath perceived and heard his word? Who hath marked his word, and heard it?" (Jeremiah 23:18)

Paul wrote to the saints at Rome:
"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. A-men." (Romans 11:33-36)
Likewise, he wrote to the Christians at Corinth about God's wisdom:
"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God...Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned...For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ." (I Corinthians 2:9-16)
And just so they didn't get too puffed up about what had been revealed to them, he reminded them that they still didn't fully comprehend God's mind:
"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away...For now we see through a glass, darkly: but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known ."
(I Corinthians 13:9-13)
Brethren, the human mind is a puny thing compared to the Divine mind. We simply cannot think, perceive, emote, interpret, evaluate, remember or communicate on the same plain that God currently exists. Hence, anything that we currently have access to (including The Holy Bible) is an incomplete and imperfect representation of the mind of Almighty God!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The mind of God

"The Bible contains the mind of God" - The Gideons

What is God's mind? Can it be contained in a book? Is Scripture the only place to gain insight into the mind of God?

In thinking about the mind, several words come to mind:
memory, recollecting or remembering
intentions, wishes, purposes or desires
that which thinks, perceives and feels
the seat of cognition
consciousness
psyche
intellect or intelligence
judgement/judgment
reasoning
emotions
imagination and creativity
calculations
the place where language is formed, articulated and interpreted

Of course, all of these things are associated with the human mind; but can these words tell us anything about the mind of God?

If God is our Creator and we were created in "his" image(and I certainly believe that both of these things are true), then it follows that our own minds could be looked at as inferior models of the Divine mind (the Creator must be superior to the created). Hence, while we can understand that the mind of God thinks, remembers, forms intentions, perceives, feels, imagines, calculates and creates, we cannot begin to comprehend the scope of those activities on the Divine plain.
For instance: We have the ability to perceive and interpret a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum (what we call visible light and the "colors of the rainbow"), but God must be able to perceive and interpret the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Think of God painting a picture and us being able to perceive, interpret and evaluate only a small portion of the portrait that is actually available.
Likewise, we can only perceive and process a small portion of the sound frequency that is actually extant in the world around us. Thus God could theoretically compose a symphony that was far beyond our powers of perception and interpretation.
These same priniciples could be applied to anything else we could think about or imagine. What about language? Think about the human limitations relative to light and sound referenced above - How could those two factors alone make God's linguistic ability almost infinitely superior to our own? What if we throw emotion and memory into the mix? We quickly begin to get a taste for the potentiality of God's linguistic abilities compared to our own.
So how can anyone have the chutzpah to say that a book written in the languages of men (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) could "contain the mind of God?" I would certainly be more comfortable with a statement along these lines: "The Bible is a collection of writings that provide some insights into the mind of God." What do you think?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Did God designate a day? (Part IX - Conclusion)

So does that mean that the fourth commandment has been abolished? Absolutely not! As with the rest of God’s Law (especially the Ten Commandments), the spiritual principle behind the dos and don’ts is still in full force and effect. The author of Hebrews compared the Israelites reaching the Promised Land to a type of Sabbath rest. (Hebrews 3 and 4) He then went on to compare this to the promise awaiting Christians. He wrote: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief .” (Hebrews 4:9-11)
Personally, this writer prefers the Sabbath Day for worship – the day commemorating God’s rest from the work of creation. Nevertheless, he also realizes that he is in no position to judge others for choosing to worship God on Sunday or some other day of the week. The plain truth is that true Christians should be worshiping God every day of the week and always resting from the works of this world and its prince (Satan the devil).
Paul warned the saints at Rome not to be in the habit of judging each other with regard to these types of questions. He said: “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.” (Romans 14:4-6) God give us all the strength of mind to focus on the worship and the rest that we owe to him, and not worry about judging each other concerning the day on which God has given to each one of us to perform those things.

Did God designate a day? (Part VIII)

While being considered a sect of Judaism had served to protect and shelter the early Christian religion, it was undesirable to be associated with the Jews after the events of that year. In short, most Christians actively sought ways to differentiate and separate themselves from the Jewish religion thereafter. Although many people were willing to suffer persecution for the name of Christ, there weren’t many folks interested in suffering alongside of the Jews.
After circumcision, the observance of the weekly Sabbath was probably the most distinctive mark or sign that one was Jewish. Hence, it would be logical to suppose that this would be an area of attention for Christians seeking to separate themselves from Judaism, and the historical evidence confirms such a conclusion. However, before we explore some of the secular history associated with this topic, we have to ask ourselves: Why did Christians gravitate to Sunday as their day of worship?
Although many have pointed out the inconsistency between Christ spending three days and nights in the tomb when compared to a Good Friday crucifixion and Easter Sunday resurrection (compare Matthew 27:57-66, Mark 15:42-17, Luke 23:50-56 and John 19:31 & 38-42), most of the people who do so have also arrived at some erroneous conclusions of their own. While it is correct to underscore the fact that Jesus was crucified at the time of the Jewish Passover and just prior to the first Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (a Wednesday that year), it is inaccurate to assume that he arose from the grave on the regular weekly Sabbath day!
When the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign that he was the Messiah, he said: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:39-40) Notice that Christ was to be in the tomb for three days and three nights. Hence, the clock did not start on that period at the time of his death. The clock started after Christ was placed in the tomb.
Thus we read that: “When the EVEN was come, there came a rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.” (Matthew 27:57-60 and notice Mark 15:42-46) Notice that this happened at even – close to the time for sundown.
We also are told in the Gospel of Luke that “the Sabbath drew on” (Luke 23:54). In other words, he had to hurry because sundown was fast approaching. Likewise, we learn from the Gospel of John that Joseph chose his own tomb in which to place Christ’s body because it was “nigh at hand.” (John 19:42) Joseph barely got Christ’s body into the tomb and sealed in time for sundown. Indeed, we are also told that there had not been enough time to properly prepare the body for burial, and that is why the women were on their way to the tomb Sunday morning! (Mark 16:1 and Luke 23:55-56, 24:1)
It is important at this juncture to also remind ourselves that God and the Jews measured time differently from the Gentiles of that era (and from us today). Their days were measured from sundown to sundown. That is why we read in the book of Genesis that “the evening and the morning were the first day,” and “the evening and the morning were the second day,” etc. (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). God’s days began with one period of dark night, followed by one period of daylight. God’s days did not begin and end at midnight the way that our days do. Hence, three full days between Christ’s burial and resurrection would take us to sundown on the weekly Sabbath – the day that we refer to as Saturday.
As theologian Ronald Dart has pointed out in his book The Thread: God’s Appointments with History (and we have already demonstrated from the book of Hebrews), all of the festivals outlined in the Mosaic Law were intimately associated with Christ’s ministry as a human. He was crucified at the same time that the Passover lamb was being slaughtered by the Jews. Likewise, it is very likely that he was resurrected just after sundown had ended the weekly Sabbath – as the priest was cutting the Wave Sheaf Offering to be presented the following morning. Thus, the way that God and the Jews reckoned time the resurrection and presentation of Jesus Christ to God the Father would have occurred on the first day of the week (the day that we call Sunday and begin at midnight). The fact that Christ’s disciples associated the first day of the week with his resurrection cannot be denied. (Matthew 28:1-8, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12 and John 20:1-10)
Moreover, Scripture makes it very clear that this event was of paramount significance to Christ’s followers. The disciples regarded the resurrection of the Messiah as a crucial element of their message to the world. (Acts 1:22, 2:31, 4:2 and 33) Paul wrote about the importance of Christ’s resurrection to believers. (Romans 1:4 and 6:5) Peter talked about the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the Christian religion. (I Peter 1:3 and 3:21) It is, therefore, logical to conclude that the first day of the week would have assumed a special place in the hearts of Christ’s followers after his ascension to heaven.
Such a conclusion is further reinforced by the historical records available to us. In his Epistle to the Magnesians (written about 110 A.D.), Ignatius wrote: “If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death--whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master--how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He whom they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead.” (From The Epistle of Ignatius of Antioch to the Magnesians - http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-magnesians-roberts.html)
Likewise, we have this testimony from Justin Martyr written in the middle of the Second Century: “The wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen…But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.” (From The First Apology of Justin Martyr - http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-firstapology.html)
Hence, it is clear that Sunday observance was well established within the Christian Church by the Second Century. This clearly contradicts some of the history put out in their various media presentations by Sabbath-keepers to enhance their claims that Sunday observance started much later and for nefarious reasons (often cited as conspiratorial deception). Indeed, the Scriptural and historical evidence provided here proves that neither the Roman Catholic Church (which was constituted into the organization that we think of today in the Fourth Century) nor the Emperor Constantine (who promulgated his famous Sunday law in 321 A.D.) were responsible for changing the day of worship for Christians from the Sabbath to Sunday. Sunday observance had literally been extant within the Church for over two hundred and fifty years by the time the church and the emperor of Rome were in a position to make their declarations about which day(s) Christians should use for worship.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Did God designate a day? (Part VII)

Unfortunately, this was not the final battle in this long running war to make Gentile Christians subject to the Mosaic Law. This struggle has continued through almost two thousand years of Christian history and is still extant within the Church today!
Even so, only a small minority within the Christian Church continues to enjoin the observance of the Sabbath, annual festivals, clean and unclean meats and a few other features of the Mosaic Law. It appears that a majority of Christians do not feel obligated to observe these features of the Old Covenant. Unfortunately, many Christians have gone to the opposite extreme and have done away with the principles behind the law – effectively turning grace into a license to sin. Nevertheless, since this has been an ongoing controversy within the Church, one might well ask: ‘How is it that a majority of Christians came to regard the dos and don’ts of the Old Covenant as being not binding on them?’
For starters, as the Gentile population of the Church grew, the Jewish Christians quickly became a minority within the Church. As related previously, Gentile Christians had no traditions of obedience or reverence associated with observance of Sabbaths, circumcision or dietary laws. In short, these features of the Old Covenant never took hold among this population of the Church.
Second, although the Romans had pursued a policy of conciliation and forbearance toward their Jewish subjects, their patience with them was clearly beginning to wear thin by this time. Indeed, we read in Scripture that Paul had an opportunity to meet Aquila and Priscilla because Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome. (Acts 18:2) Later, Roman persecution of the Jews intensified as a consequence of a series of Jewish rebellions that quickly made it highly undesirable for Christians to be associated with anything Jewish. The Jewish historian, Josephus, described the first of these rebellions in vivid detail in his Wars of the Jews. During this conflagration, the Jews met with one disaster after another, but the most serious blow to their culture and religion came when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and God’s Temple in the year 70 A.D.
Prior to that event, Jews and Jewish Christians (including Paul) were still able to observe the annual festivals and visit the temple to worship. With the destruction of the temple and city, the observance prescribed by the Mosaic Law was no longer possible. Why? - Because Jerusalem and the temple were deemed by the Mosaic Law to be essential to the proper observance of the annual Sabbaths.
When these festivals were given under the leadership of Moses, the Israelites had not yet entered the “promised land” (Deuteronomy 11). At the time, the land was occupied by pagan peoples who worshipped many gods at many different sacred sites. God did not want this for the Israelites. We read: “These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land, which the Lord God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it…Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods…And ye shall overthrow their altars…Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God. But unto THE PLACE WHICH THE LORD YOUR GOD SHALL CHOOSE OUT OF ALL YOUR TRIBES TO PUT HIS NAME THERE, EVEN UNTO HIS HABITATION SHALL YE SEEK, AND THITHER SHALT COME” (Deuteronomy 12:1-5).
There was to be ONE place of worship for the nation of Israel. Continuing, we read: “But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety; THEN THERE SHALL BE A PLACE WHICH THE LORD YOUR GOD SHALL CHOOSE TO CAUSE HIS NAME TO DWELL THERE; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the Lord…Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: BUT IN THE PLACE WHICH THE LORD SHALL CHOOSE IN ONE OF THY TRIBES, THERE THOU SHALT OFFER THY BURNT OFFERINGS, AND THERE THOU SHALT DO ALL THAT I COMMAND THEE” (Deuteronomy 12:10-14) God concludes these instructions to the Israelites with a very explicit statement: “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32).
It was clearly stated in the Torah that the only proper place to observe the festivals was at the temple in Jerusalem. We read over and over again that each of them was to be observed at “the place which the Lord shall choose to place his name.” (Deuteronomy 16:2, 5-6, 11, 15) Finally Moses summarized the entire festival year thus: “Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty.” (Deuteronomy 16:16)
The principle of one place of worship came up in Christ’s conversation with a Samaritan woman at a certain well near Sychar. In the Gospel According to John, we read that she asked Jesus a question: “So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” (John 4:20, NLT) Continuing: “Jesus replied, ‘Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem…But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now ‘ when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.’” (John 4:21-24, NLT)
In answering the woman, Christ looked forward to a time defined by the terms of the New Covenant when time and place would take a backseat to whether or not the worship was true to the spiritual principles behind what had been designated by the Mosaic Law. Moreover, the Romans were soon to provide a clean break with the Old Covenant designations of time and place.
When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, it became impossible to keep the feasts at the place which God had chosen. As a consequence, the traditional observance of the festivals ceased among Jews and Jewish Christians alike.
This is consistent with what Scripture reveals about the fallout from the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians. We read in Lamentations, “The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate: her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness” (Lamentations 1:4). Later, in that same book, we read: “And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were a garden: he hath destroyed his places of the assembly: the Lord hath caused the solemn feasts and Sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest” (Lamentations 2:6). Later, festival observance resumed when some of the captives were allowed to return to Jerusalem. (Ezra 3:1-5)
Jesus Christ and his parents were in the habit of going to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of the Passover. (Luke 2:41-42 and John 2:13) Christ went to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. (John 7:1-14) He observed the Feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem. (John 10:22-23) The disciples were all gathered at Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Pentecost. (Acts 2:1-5) We are told that Paul tried to be at Jerusalem to observe the day of Pentecost. (Acts 20:16) In fact, there is only one instance recorded in the entire Bible when a festival was observed anywhere other than at Jerusalem! It was the occasion of the institution of the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. (Exodus 12 and 13) Every other instance of festival observance recorded in the Bible took place in Jerusalem. Indeed, even Zechariah’s prophecy about festival observance in God’s future kingdom was to take place at Jerusalem! (Zechariah 14:16-17)
Hence, it would be difficult to over emphasize the impact that the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem had on both the Jewish and the Christian religions. All festival observance abruptly stopped in 70 A.D.(it should be noted here that new traditions relative to the feasts eventually developed within Jewish synagogues) – that includes Jewish Christians who had continued to observe the days! This, however, wasn’t the only consequence of these events.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Did God designate a day? (Part VI)

Even so, the issue continued to rear its head from time to time. In fact, we have a well-preserved record of an instance of this occurring in the region of Galatia in an epistle or letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to Christians in that region. It is a pity that we don’t have the space here to quote the entire epistle, but I believe that we can include enough of it to underscore that Paul considered the efforts of the Galatians to keep the Law misguided and wrong-headed.
He wrote: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-8) Paul goes on to tell them that he did not receive his message from a human source but from Christ himself. (Galatians 1:11-24) Then he proceeds to remind them about the previous controversy regarding the question of Gentile observance of the Law and reiterates the decision of the council at Jerusalem. (Galatians 2:1-10)
Next, Paul recounted a story about a visit from the Apostle Peter to Antioch. At first, Peter accepted the Gentile brethren and openly fellowshipped with them. However, when some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem showed up later, he began to withdraw from the Gentile brethren and began to feign disapproval of their behavior (not adhering to the precepts of the Law of Moses). (Galatians 2:11-13)
Nevertheless, Paul called out Peter on this behavior. He wrote: “But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, ‘If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:14-16) Paul’s message to the Christians of Galatia could not be any clearer: He considered the new teaching that they should be obedient to the Law of Moses a heresy!
He continued: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3) In other words, how can they even consider returning to the dos and don’ts when the principles behind them have been made so clear to them?
He goes on to remind them of the example of Abraham. Paul wrote that Abraham wasn’t justified by his works. Instead, he was justified because of his belief in God’s promise to him. He said that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Galatians 3:6) As a consequence, he concludes that Abraham is the father of the Gentile faithful. (Galatians 3:7-9)
Next, Paul proceeds to demonstrate that this new teaching of theirs is illogical. He wrote: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the Law to do them.’ [Deuteronomy 27:26] But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, the just shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:10-11) He tells them that if they are going to insist on keeping the Law, they will have to observe ALL of it to be theologically and philosophically consistent.
Finally, Paul makes plain to the Galatians that they can’t have it both ways. He tells them we are either justified by faith or by works – the two cannot coexist within Christian theology. He wrote: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:1-4)
In particular, Paul insisted that Gentile Christians not permit themselves to be intimidated by their Jewish brethren about the observance of things that had been enjoined upon God’s people by the Law of Moses. He wrote to the saints at Colosse: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. THESE ARE A SHADOW OF THE THINGS THAT WERE TO COME; THE REALITY, HOWEVER, IS FOUND IN CHRIST.” (Colossians 2:16-17, NIV)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Did God designate a day? (Part V)

Nevertheless, even in those days, people had problems understanding what Christ had done and what Paul was talking about. As Jesus and his disciples were all Jews, they were accustomed to keeping the Sabbath holy (and obeying all of the other commandments, statutes and judgments of the Mosaic Law). Any attempt to deny this fact is strongly refuted by the evidence of Scripture. (Matthew 12:1-13, Mark 2:23-28, 3:1-5, Luke 4:16, 6:1-10, Acts 13:14, 42, 44, 17:2, etc.) In this regard, it should also be noted that the Christian Church remained exclusively Jewish for many years after Christ ascended to heaven. Hence, the issue of how much of the Old Covenant was going to be incorporated into the New Covenant did not really come to the forefront until Gentiles began coming into the Church.
Although Christ had clearly instructed his disciples to carry forth his message to all nations just before his ascension to heaven, it is also clear that they ignored those instructions for many years. (Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8) In fact, God had to directly intervene within the Church to get them to move outside of their penchant for Jewish exclusivity. To accomplish this, God sent an angel to a Roman centurion named Cornelius and told him to seek out the Apostle Peter for instruction in the proper way to worship God. (Acts 10:1-8)
In the meantime, God caused Peter to have a dream; because he knew that Peter would resist delivering his message about Christ to a Gentile. The Jews of that day regarded Gentiles as being no better than filthy pigs. Hence, in the dream, Peter saw a large sack full of animals (that had been designated as “unclean” in the Law of Moses) lowered from heaven. Next, Peter heard a voice tell him to kill the animals and eat them. Peter, however, refused to do so. He quickly pointed out that (being a good Jew) he had never eaten anything that was considered “unclean.” This happened three times and the sack was drawn back up into heaven. (Acts 10:9-16)
While Peter was trying to figure out what this vision meant, the men Cornelius had sent to find Peter arrived at the house where he was staying. (Acts 10:17-18) We know the story. God told Peter to accompany the men back to their master and the rest is history. (Acts 10:19-48) God had to show Peter (and the rest of the Church) that He wanted the Gentiles to know about Christ and the salvation that was being offered through him. God didn’t want the Church to stay exclusively Jewish!
Nevertheless, when Gentiles began coming into the Church in greater and greater numbers, it became painfully obvious to the Jewish members that they had no traditions regarding circumcision, a Sabbath day or “clean and unclean” meats. The fact that Gentile Christians would ignore traditions which they had observed their entire lives infuriated many of them, and a great controversy arose within the ranks of the Church. In short, many of the Jewish Christians demanded that the new Gentile converts be taught to observe the provisions of the Law of Moses that they had continued to observe. In fact, the controversy became so heated that Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to see what the other leaders in the Church would say about the matter. (Acts 15:1-2)
As soon as they arrived in the city, they talked about their missionary work among the Gentiles. (Acts 15:4) Luke, however, tells us that “there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed (Jewish Christians), saying, that it was needful to circumcise them (the Gentile Christians), and to command them to keep the Law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5) Notice, that this was not just an argument over circumcision. The Jewish Christians wanted their leaders to enforce all of the provisions of the Law of Moses on the new converts.
So we are told that the apostles and elders in Jerusalem came together and considered the matter (talked about what they should do). Then Peter stood up and reminded everyone about his experience with Cornelius. (Acts 15:6-9) He concluded by confronting the assembly with a question: “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” (Acts 15:10-11)
After Peter had concluded his remarks and Paul and Barnabas had finished talking about their missionary work, James stood up and articulated what was soon to become the new policy of the church on the subject of how much of the actual do’s and don’ts of the Old Covenant would be enjoined upon the New Covenant Church. He quoted a prophecy about God incorporating the Gentiles into His people and finished: “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.” (Acts 15:13-21) Later, a letter was sent to the Gentile Christians confirming this new policy. (Acts 15:22-29)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Did God designate a day? (Part IV)

Does this mean that The Law has been nullified or disposed of under the terms of the New Covenant? Absolutely not, but this is the point where the proponents of legalism and grace both miss the mark! Many of the proponents of Sunday erroneously conclude that The Law has been rendered obsolete by the New Covenant. Likewise, many Legalists reach the mistaken conclusion that Christians are still obligated to observe most of the dos and don’ts outlined in The Law. I believe that a careful review of Scripture will show both extremes to be wrongheaded.
Jesus Christ said: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)
Jesus came to this earth to fulfill the requirements of The Law – all of them (everything in The Torah). He came here to perfectly obey all of God’s commandments, statutes, ordinances and judgments – to fill them to the full and fully accomplish God’s Will (as the original Greek wording implies). Likewise, he told his followers that he came here to fulfill the prophecies recorded about him in the Old Testament. The statement by Christ recorded in this passage from the Gospel According to Matthew is one of pure logic. If his purpose was to fulfill, it follows that his purpose was not to destroy or negate.
However, by fulfilling those requirements of The Law for us, we are no longer in a position to say that our own obedience to those precepts has earned or accomplished anything for us. In other words, we can keep the Sabbath and follow all of the other precepts contained in The Law and it will not contribute one iota to our salvation! It is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (and that sacrifice alone) that we are able to be reconciled to God and receive the gift of salvation. (II Corinthians 5:18, Ephesians 2:8-9 and Hebrews 9:6)
Paul said: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood…To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:20-28)
Does that nullify or do away with God’s commandments? Not according to the Apostle Paul. He wrote to the saints at Rome: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (Romans 3:31) Christ didn’t nullify or destroy the law – HE FULFILLED IT. Moreover, by fulfilling that law, he established the principles behind it as holy and just for all time! Paul continued: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue to sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:1-2)
Paul told the Romans that Christ had freed them from their past sins, and that God expected them to adhere to the principles of the law in their daily lives going forward. He wrote: “What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey: whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Romans 6:15-16) Paul wanted them to understand that ignoring or willfully disobeying the principles behind God’s law was what earned them the death penalty in the first place! (Romans 6:23) What kind of benefit could any rational person expect to derive from continuing to ignore those principles going forward?
The law had effectively demonstrated what sin was – all of the dos and don’ts had meticulously defined sin. (I John 3:4 and Romans 7:7) The Israelites had the dos and don’ts, but they never understood or learned the spiritual intent of those commandments, statutes and judgments. Christ fulfilled all of the do’s and don’ts so that his people could get to the principles behind them, or as Paul phrases it “that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:6)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Did God designate a day? (Part III)

Christ was once asked about which one of the commandments was the greatest. (Matthew 22:36) He answered: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) Christ characterized these two commandments from the Law as summarizing the principles behind everything else that had been written in it and the prophets! What’s more, other Scriptures make clear that Christ was summarizing God’s Fundamental Law (The Ten Commandments) in referencing these particular laws. (Matthew 19:16-26)
Paul summarized the last six of The Ten Commandments in the same way. (Romans 13:9) He went on to say: “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10) Thus, for Christ and Paul, there were important spiritual principles that underscored all of the dos and don’ts. That is why Paul had earlier written to the saints at Rome: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Romans 2:29) In other words, the spiritual principle behind the command trumps the command itself. He continued: “But now are we delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:6)
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews expounds on the Christian attitude toward the Law as it pertains to the Old and New Covenants. After discussing the fact that the ceremonial requirements of the Old Covenant were mere shadows of the heavenly reality, he concluded that Christ has “obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant…” (Hebrews 8:1-6) He continued: “For if the first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.” (Hebrews 8:7) Next, he goes on to quote the prophecy about the nature of the New Covenant quoted above from the book of Jeremiah. (Hebrews 8:8-12) and observes: “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that wich decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:13)
In chapter nine, he recounts the prescriptions for the design of the Holy of Holies and the observance of the Day of Atonement. (Hebrews 9:1-7) He then explains that these things were temporary fixtures pointing to the more enduring work of Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 9:8-28)
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews concludes his discourse on the differences between the Old and New Covenants with this statement: “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? Because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:1-10)
In summary, these passages from Hebrews reveal several facts concerning the proper Christian perspective on the Old and New Covenants: 1) The Old Covenant was based on provisions in The Law that foreshadowed the work of Jesus Christ, 2) The Old Covenant has been superseded by the New and 3) Christ’s sacrifice was efficacious for the removal of the sins of everyone who is a party to the New Covenant. Hence, it is reasonable to conclude that the provisions of The Law that pointed to the work of Christ are no longer necessary under the terms of the New Covenant.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Did God designate a day? (Part II)

In prophesying about the nature of the New Covenant, Jeremiah wrote: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34) God says that the New Covenant will be different from the Old and that he will place his law inside of them and write it within their hearts. What does that mean? Why was this necessary?
Throughout their history, the Scriptures tell us that the Israelites were careless in their observance of the Law. They viewed God’s Law as a list of the ritual requirements of their religion – nothing more. Most of the time, they ignored those requirements altogether. (Judges 17:6 and 21:25) When they bothered to go through the motions of observing the Law, it didn’t have any meaning for them. They weren’t deriving any spiritual benefit from their observance of it.
That is why Isaiah was able to write: “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.” (Isaiah 1:13-14) Likewise, Amos wrote: “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.” (Amos 5:21-22) Thus, even when they were attempting to follow the requirements of the Law, their efforts had become so mechanical that they were odious to God.
Indeed, Isaiah described God’s people as being blind in this regard. (Isaiah 42:18-20) Then he goes on to predict: “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honorable.” (Isaiah 42:21) How did God intend to magnify the law and make it more honorable?
Many Christians forget that Jesus Christ was a Jew. (Matthew 1 and Luke 3) His earthly ministry was conducted among his own people, though they rejected him in the end. (John 1:11) Now all of this did not happen by chance. God sent Jesus to live and die among the Jews for a reason.
The Israelites had failed to abide by the terms of God’s covenant with them. It was a covenant that had promised to make them an example to the rest of the world and provide spiritual blessings for all of mankind. They, however, failed to perform their part in the deal – obedience to God’s law. In short, they had broken God’s law, incurred the death penalty as a consequence and failed to show the rest of the world the way to God. Christ came among them to rectify their failure.
The Jews and their religious leaders looked at the law as a series of dos and don’ts. They were blind to the spiritual principles behind the commandments, statutes, ordinances and judgments. They were just going through the motions – acting like trained chimps in a circus show.
Christ came to them to demonstrate that the law had a deeper meaning – that there were profound spiritual principles at work within it. He said: “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (the elite of the Jewish religion of that day), ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Christ wanted them to see the purpose behind the law. He wanted them to understand the spiritual intent behind the do’s and don’ts. Hence, he went on to show them that keeping the commandment against murder involved much more than not plunging a knife into someone’s heart. (Matthew 5:20-26). He explained that not being unfaithful to one’s spouse was much more involved than participating in the physical act of intercourse with someone other than your spouse. (Matthew 5:27-30) In short, Christ rejected the legalism of the Jews.
In this same vein, Christ taught that the Sabbath was originally intended for man’s enjoyment and benefit – not as a list of acceptable/unacceptable activities or behaviors for that time period. (Mark 2:27) The Pharisees concentrated on the prohibition against any type of work being performed on the Sabbath. Christ attempted to show them that the performance of a good work (like a healing) did not violate the spirit of this law in any way. (Mark 3:1-5) Nevertheless, like many people today, the Jews of Christ’s day could not get past their legalistic notions regarding the Law. They sought to destroy Christ for working on the Sabbath! (Mark 3:6)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Did God designate a certain day (or days) for Christian worship? (Part I)

I have observed the Friday sundown to Saturday sundown Sabbath since 1978. I became convinced as a teenager that the only proper day to worship God was what many referred to as the Jewish Sabbath. For me, observance of the Sabbath became the test for determining whether or not someone was really a Christian. This conviction led me to regard all Sunday-keeping Christians as being deceived and prevented me from acknowledging them as my brothers and sisters in Christ. I honestly believed that there wouldn't be any Sunday-keepers in God's kingdom.
However, over the years since I began observing the Sabbath, I have had the opportunity to study the subject more thoroughly. As a consequence, it became apparent to me that I didn't know as much as I thought I did as a teenager. What follows reflects some of the things that I have learned along the way. It is my hope that this study may be of some use to others who have studied and wondered about this topic.
This article will appear as a series of posts on this blog. Thoughtful comments, criticisms and counter-arguments are welcomed here.

Some people claim that Christians should worship on Sunday - others say that the Jewish Sabbath is the only God ordained day of worship. What is the truth? Did God designate one of these two days as the only appropriate day for Christians to worship Him?
In beginning to answer this question, we must remind ourselves about what was said about the subject in the Old Testament. We read there that God designated the seventh day as holy time when he had finished creating everything. (Genesis 2:1-3) We are also informed that God commanded the Israelites to observe this day at Mt. Sinai: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-11) So the instruction to observe the Sabbath day was made a part of God’s Fundamental Law: The Ten Commandments.
Later, we read that God commanded the observance of this day as a part of the terms of his covenant with Israel: “And the Lord spake unto Moses saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.” (Leviticus 23:1-3) Moses then proceeds to list the other holy convocations of the Lord – the Festivals of Passover, Unleavened Bread, Wave Sheaf, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles (divided into a seven-day feast and a special Sabbath on the eighth day. (Leviticus 23:4-44) Likewise, we can read in other places that there were special offerings, sacrifices and ceremonies associated with these holy days. (Leviticus 16 and Numbers 28 & 29)
Although it is important to understand that a distinction existed between God’s Fundamental Law (The Ten Commandments) and the other commandments, ordinances, statutes and instructions (as evidenced by Christ’s special treatment of them), it is also important to understand that all of these things were understood to be a part of God’s Law and his covenant with the Israelites. (Exodus 15:26 and Deuteronomy 6:2, 13:18, 15:5, 27:1, 28:1, 30:10) Indeed, the Jews regard everything contained in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) as The Law. Hence, when we compare the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, it will be important to notice which components of the old were made a part of the new (if any). Indeed, this is the crucial element in settling the debate between Sunday observers and Sabbath keepers.

Monday, March 17, 2014

God and the Irish

Today is the anniversary of the death of St. Patrick in the year 493. In a way, it is ironic that this date which is so intimately associated with a man born in Scotland to parents of Romano-Gallic descent should be the modern symbol of Irish heritage. Nevertheless, it makes perfect sense when one considers what God did for the people of Ireland through Patrick.
Captured as a teen by a band of Irish raiders and sold into slavery, the young man spent several years tending his master's flocks and praying to God for deliverance. He later wrote of the experience: "the love of God and His fear increased in me more and more, and the faith grew in me, and the spirit was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that whilst in the woods and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer and felt no hurt from it, whether there was snow or ice or rain; nor was there any slothfulness in me, such as I see now, because the spirit was then fervent within me."
After about six years of captivity, God finally sent an angel to tell Patrick that it was time to leave. Even so, during those years, God had prepared him for a future mission to the people who had treated him as a slave. In that time, he learned their language and became familiar with their pagan Druid religion.
Then, after several more years of training within the Christian religion, God sent Patrick back to Ireland to bring them the message about Jesus Christ and God's Kingdom through him. As a consequence, the whole island was eventually converted to the Christian religion.
Through Patrick's story, we see that God sometimes allows us to experience things that we see as negative and tortuous, but God sees them as preparation for some purpose of His own. Indeed, we see in a sad chapter in the life of the "Apostle to the Irish" their ultimate redemption and salvation.
How mysterious are the ways of our God, and how wonderful are His works!

** Information and quotes taken from the article on St. Patrick in the Catholic Encyclopedia Online - http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11554a.htm

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Some thoughts on being a grandfather

I just returned home from visiting my grandchildren out of state, and I wanted to jot down a few thoughts while my trip was still fresh in my mind.
First, to say that I love them with all of my heart just doesn't seem to do justice to what I feel for them. When I look at them, I see perfection. I don't see any flaws or faults. Intellectually, I know that they are humans and that they must have some imperfections, but I simply cannot see them.
I find that I want to buy them things and give them things that they want and need. I find myself wondering about their future and the choices that they and their parents will make along the way. I think about how much it hurts me to have to tell my little granddaughter "no" sometimes, but I understand that's part of loving her (not everything she wants is good for her).
I wonder at their little toes and fingers and the innocence and curiosity in their eyes. I enjoy holding them, kissing on them, hugging them and talking to them. I like to make them smile or laugh.
Likewise, I cannot stand to see them crying, in pain or unhappy. When my little baby grandson is struggling with gas after a feeding, my heart aches for him. When my little toddler stumbles and falls, I want to run over and scoop her up and kiss away the hurt.
When it's time to leave, I find it almost impossible to tear myself away from them, and I immediately start to wonder when I'll see them again. I'm already missing them as I sit here typing this post.
Even so, I realize that the intensity of emotion that I feel for them is only a shadow of what God feels for all of his grandchildren, and we are his grandchildren. Yes, Native Americans were closer to the truth than many Christians have been willing to admit.
We read in the Gospel According to Luke that Adam "was the son of God." Luke 3:38 If that scripture is true (and I believe it is), and we are all descendants of Adam, then that literally makes God our Grandfather doesn't it?
By the way, that doesn't take anything away from the continuous allusions to God as "Father" in the New Testament. God is constantly referred to as the "God of your fathers" in the Old Testament (as in Exodus 3:13, 15, 16). The Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) were regarded as the "fathers" of their descendants.
Hence, all of us who are grandparents should take a few moments to stop and consider God as our grandparent. Think about the things that we feel for our grandchildren, and then remember that we are only capable of a weak imitation of the love our Creator is capable of feeling and demonstrating. How great is our Poppa!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Where does God live?

When Samuel went to anoint one of Jesse's sons as king, God told him: "Don't judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
I Samuel 16:7
When Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, he mused: "But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built!" I Kings 8:27 and II Chronicles 6:18 (NLT)
We read in the book of Isaiah: "This is what the Lord says: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that? Could you build me such a resting place? My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are mine. I, the Lord, have spoken!" Isaiah 66:1-2
The fact that God exists on a higher plain than humans was reinforced by what God told Isaiah. God said: "My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9
Through the prophet Ezekiel, God predicted: "I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And when my Temple is among them forever, the nations will know that I am the Lord, who makes Israel holy." Ezekiel 37:27-28
Christ told his disciples: "Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father's home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going." John 14:1-4
And: "All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them." John 14:23
When Paul was explaining God to the Athenians, he said: "He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn't live in man-made temples, and human hands can't serve his needs - for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need." Acts 17:24-25
Paul wrote to the saints at Corinth: "Don't your realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple." I Corinthians 3:16
And: "Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price." I Corinthians 6:19-20
When John described what he was experiencing as the New Jerusalem descended from heaven, he wrote: "I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, 'Look, God's home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.'" Revelation 21:3
Scripture, therefore, is very clear about where God currently lives, and where He/She plans to live for all eternity!

Friday, March 14, 2014

God on Pi Day

There are many interesting facts associated with the subject of mathematics, but few have fascinated us like the number Pi. Every child who attends school eventually learns that the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter is a mathematical constant that is roughly equivalent to 3.14 (the number goes on indefinitely in a nonrepeating pattern).
It appears that man has been aware of this relationship for a very long time (millennia). The ancient Egyptians were aware of it, and Archimedes got fairly close to calculating its value in the Third Century BC. Even the craftsman of King Solomon were apparently aware of the value, as we read in Scripture: "And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about." (I Kings 7:23 and II Chronicles 4:2)
Hence, I don't think it would be irrational or blasphemous to propose that God knew about Pi before mankind became aware of it. Moreover, if we accept the fact that God is the Master Mathematician and Creator of everything, it is also not unreasonable to conclude that God designed this constant into the great equation of the universe.
In addition to pursuing more decimal places for the known value of Pi, mankind has discovered numerous other equations related to it. Likewise, in the 18th Century, it was observed that the number of times a needle hit a line when dropped on a lined sheet of paper compared to the times it landed in an open space was related to the value of Pi (Buffon's Needle). This amazing demonstration of geometrical probability has amused mathematicians, scientists and lay folks for many years.
In this writer's opinion, the many interesting things associated with Pi are more evidence of rational design. In fact, to suggest randomness or coincidental happenstance for this phenomenon flies in the face of mathematical logic!

For more information on Pi, the reader is encouraged to visit these URLs:

http://www.math.com/tables/constants/pi.htm
http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/HistTopics/Pi_through_the_ages.html
http://mste.illinois.edu/reese/buffon/buffon.html

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Can you see God in a snowflake?

When we closely examine individual snowflakes, we quickly learn that there are intricate and beautiful geometric details present in each flake that we observe. Indeed, if we do it long enough, we will be struck by the number of variations present among them. Each one appears to be different and unique.
It is interesting to note that each snowflake starts as a perfect little hexagon shaped crystal. Thus whatever shape the "finished" snowflake assumes, six-fold symmetry will be present in every single snowflake we observe.
The wide variety of shapes and sizes that we observe is caused by variations in temperature and humidity within the clouds where the snowflakes form. Hence, scientists have determined that a snowflake can assume one of 10 followed by 158 zeros possible configurations - that's more than the estimated total number of atoms present in our universe! That fact alone makes it extremely unlikely that we'd ever be able to find two snowflakes exactly alike. Moreover, scientists have observed snowflakes that vary in width from .2 mm (dust) to 5 mm (many of the details being readily visible to the naked eye).
I encourage my readers to take a look at some of the images of snowflakes that scientists and professional photographers have been able to capture. The beauty and complexity is guaranteed to astound even the most jaded individual in my audience!
When I think about the mind behind the phenomenon, it causes me to appreciate anew the greatness and limitless glory that is our God. The geometric symmetry alone causes one to wonder at the mathematical genius at work inside the clouds. Yes, I can see God in a snowflake - can't you?

** Technical information taken from the article The Science of Snowflakes by Catherine Zentile, appearing at http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/articles/article/science-of-snowflakes/

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What is God's name? (Part II)

Of course, the answer to that question is yes. When Moses went to examine the burning bush and found God waiting to speak to him, he asked God about his name. We read: “And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, what is his name? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I am that I am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: THIS IS MY NAME FOR EVER, and this is my memorial unto all generations.” Exodus 3:13-15
In answering a rather straightforward question by Moses, God used a number of names to refer to himself in this scripture. First, he tells Moses that he is the “I AM” or the “Hayah” in Hebrew. It is the verb "to be" and implies "THE ONE WHO EXISTS" or "THE ONE WHO IS." God is making a definitive statement to Moses about his identity, while also conveying to the man before him that he was beyond his own concept of what a name means. Then he goes on to identify himself as “The One Whom Your Ancestors Worshiped.” God concludes his answer to Moses by stating that THIS IS THE NAME WHICH HE HAD CHOSEN for the Israelites to use in referencing him for all time.
A little later, God told Moses, “I am the Lord (Yehovah).” Exodus 6:2 He went on to reveal that this was the first time he had chosen to identify Himself by that name to his people. We read: “And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name Jehovah (Yehovah) was I not known to them.” Exodus 6:3
We should interject here that many people have claimed that “Jehovah,” “Yehovah” or “Yahweh” is God’s only personal name. In fact, they assert that this is God’s sacred name, and the only name which is truly proper to use in addressing the Divine.
Nevertheless, this scripture makes it clear that the Hebrew patriarchs never used this name to address their God. They did not even know about it! Yet the same One who is telling Moses about this name accepted their use of “El Shaddai”. In fact, he made his covenant with these individuals and made his promises TO THEM. Hence, it cannot be argued that it is essential to use “Yehovah” or “Yahweh” in dealing with or addressing God.
It should also be noted here that Scripture was not preserved in a single language. Although the Old Testament was preserved in Hebrew, the New Testament was preserved in Greek. This made sense, because Greek was the universal language of the Eastern Roman Empire during the time of Christ and the founding of his church. Greek was the language of the elite and the educated.
Hence, in the INSPIRED LANGUAGE of the New Testament, “God” is “Theos,” and “Lord” is “Kurios.” The Hebrew names for the Divine are not used in the New Testament, because it was written and preserved in Greek. It is not the Hebrew “Yehowshuwa” or the shortened form “Yeshua,” it is the Greek “Iesous.” In English, the same name appears as “Jesus.” This is entirely a product of the differences in these languages, and it has absolutely NOTHING to do with who is being addressed or discussed.
Remember, God made it very clear to his prophets that the time for a truly universal language for the peoples of the earth was in the distant future (when Christ has established the Kingdom of God on this earth). We read: “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the NAME of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.” Zephaniah 3:9 We also read: “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his NAME one” (Zechariah 14:9). However, until God intervenes to change the factor of language, it will continue to be a source of differences in the way that people use words and names. We speak in the tongues of MEN. Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin and English are not "God’s languages!"
The Hebrew word for “name” is “shem.” According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the word means “an appellation, as a mark or memorial of individuality; by implication honor, authority, character…” That sounds a lot like the English definition of the word given by Webster's Dictionary. Names have meaning. They point to the uniqueness, honor, authority and character of the people who bear them. A name is meant to clearly identify its owner so that effective communication with others is possible.
In the Old Testament, God bears many different names and titles. Why? It is because he is such a great and limitless personality. He is simply too big for a single name in any language used on this earth. He is too big to be put in a neat little box of our own devising. HE/SHE IS many things, and God has children among all of the different languages that share this planet. Indeed, the Scriptures have been translated into most of them.
When he prophesied about the Messiah, Isaiah wrote: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his NAME shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 In other places, he was referred to as Immanuel, Lamb of God, Word, King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Jesus Christ.
Brethren, our God is great. He is known by many different names, and he recognizes every one of them! When you were a child, you probably called your parents, “Mom” and “Dad.” During his earthly ministry, Jesus Christ referred to Almighty God as "Father." At work, perhaps you have referred to your employer as “Boss.” Those individuals knew who you were talking to (or about) when you used such names in those settings, and Almighty God knows who you are addressing when you call on him/her using any one of a host of names that are appropriate for his/her person!

Monday, March 10, 2014

What is God's name? (Part I)

The subject of God's name has received a great deal of attention in recent years thanks to the "Sacred Name" movement. As with any other subject associated with religion, there are a great many shades of opinion reflected within this particular belief system. Nevertheless, the basic premise is that God has a personal name, and that it is important to him that his people use that name in their correspondence with him and each other.
In beginning to explore this topic, a few general observations about names relative to the Hebrew culture of the Old Testament should be noted. First, personal names had meanings that were intimately associated with the person to whom they were assigned. God changed Abram's name to Abraham, because he was to be the "father of many nations." Genesis 17:5 Likewise, God changed Jacob's name to Israel to reflect the fact that he had "prevailed" with God and his fellow man. Genesis 32:28. We are also informed in Scripture that the names of each one of the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel had a special meaning. Genesis 29 and 30 We are told that the human leader of the Israelites was named Moses, because he was taken out of the water of the Nile River as a baby. Exodus 2:10 We could point to numerous other examples of this phenomenon in the Old and New Testaments, but I think we have provided sufficient examples to demonstrate that the practice was widespread within this ancient culture.
Second, we must remember that different languages used personal names that were familiar to their own linguistic tradition. Hence, the Babylonians changed the names of several of their Hebrew captives in order to better assimilate them into the culture of King Nebuchadnezzar's court. Daniel became Belteshazzar. Hananiah's name was changed to Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach and Azariah was called Abednego. Daniel 1:7 This phenomenon is not unfamiliar to our world. Steven is “Etienne” in French, “Stefano” in Italian and “Esteban” in Spanish. James is “Jacques” in French, “Jaime” in Spanish and “Shamus” in Scottish. John is “Jean” in French, “Giovanni” in Italian and “Juan” in Spanish. Hence, even in our own times, we understand that different languages have their own slants on personal names.
In the HEBREW Old Testament, there are primarily four names that are used to refer to God. The first of these is “Elohiym”, which is the plural of “Elowahh.” According to The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, “Elowahh” means a deity or god. Hence, the plural is indicative of the Supreme Deity or the Supreme God. “Elohiym” is generally translated into English as “God” in the King James Version of The Bible. Sometimes, the name simply appears as “El” in the Hebrew. The second word or name is “Yehovah,” which means “Self-Existent One” or “Eternal One.” It is generally translated into English as “Lord,” but it also appears as “God” in many passages. Less frequently, the word or name “Adonay” is used, and it is most often translated into English as “Lord” in the King James Version. Finally, the word/name “Shaddai” is also used to refer to God in the Hebrew Old Testament. It appears in the King James Version as “Almighty.”
It is important to remember when we are looking at these names and exploring the whole subject of God’s name that there were many "gods" in the ancient world. As a consequence of this fact, the Old Testament scriptures emphasize that all of those other divinities were not really gods at all. They were the product of men’s imaginations and the work of the hands of their craftsmen. Thus, the Hebrews took pains to emphasize the fact that their God was unique, and that He was not one of many. Hence, the Hebrew names for God all point to the fact that their God was THE ONLY GOD.
Nevertheless, it could still be argued that all of the above mentioned names are generic references to the Divinity - like our English word God. So the next logical question one might ask is: "Did God ever address the subject of a personal name?"

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Who gets the credit? (Part II)

We are all familiar with the story of how God allowed Egypt to be afflicted with ten plagues, and how Pharaoh eventually consented to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt as a consequence of them. Likewise, we all remember how God led them out into the wilderness under Moses’ leadership, and how they bickered, griped and complained the whole way. They were looking at the man in front of them instead of the God above them. Then they came at last to a place we call Meribah.
How many times have we read these scriptures without grasping the import of what they were telling us? What happened at Meribah? Whatever happened there it kept Moses and Aaron out of the Promised Land!
Our understanding of this event is not helped by the fact that there are a number of references to what happened there (one of which was probably written by Moses himself), and that all of these accounts are somewhat obscured by the language of the King James Version of The Bible. Hence, it is imperative that we bring the different accounts together and employ more modern language in examining these scriptures. Toward that end, we will be using The New Living Translation in the quotations that follow.
In the book of Exodus, we read: “At the Lord’s command, the whole community of Israel left the wilderness of Sin and moved from place to place. Eventually they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water there for the people to drink. So once more the people complained against Moses. ‘Give us water to drink!’ they demanded. ‘Quiet!’ Moses replied. ‘Why are you complaining against me? And why are you testing the Lord?’ But tormented by thirst, they continued to argue with Moses…Then Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What should I do with these people? They are ready to stone me!’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Walk out in front of the people. Take your staff…Strike the rock, and water will come gushing out. Then the people will be able to drink.’ So Moses struck the rock as he was told, and water gushed out as the elders looked on. Moses named the place Massah (which means ‘test’) and Meribah (which means ‘arguing’) because the people of Israel argued with Moses and tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord here with us or not?’” (Exodus 17:1-7) From this scripture, it is clear that the Israelites were looking to Moses, not to God; but what did Moses do wrong?
Whatever it was, it had to be pretty bad because we read in Deuteronomy: “That same day the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Moab, to the mountains east of the river, and climb Mount Nebo, which is across from Jericho. Look out across the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the people of Israel as their own special possession. Then you will die there on the mountain. You will join your ancestors, just as Aaron, your brother, died on Mount Hor and joined his ancestors. For both of you betrayed me with the Israelites at the waters of Meribah at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. You failed to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel there. So you will see the land from a distance, but you may not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.’” (Deuteronomy 32:48-52) It is clear from these scriptures that God felt betrayed by whatever Moses and Aaron had done, and that they had failed to demonstrate His holiness to the Israelites.
We read in the book of Numbers: “In the first month of the year, the whole community of Israel arrived in the wilderness of Zin and camped at Kadesh…There was no water for the people to drink at that place, so they rebelled against Moses and Aaron. The people blamed Moses…Moses and Aaron turned away from the people and went to the entrance of the Tabernacle, where they fell face down on the ground. Then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord said to Moses, ‘You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.’ So Moses did as he was told. He took the staff from the place where it was kept before the Lord. Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. ‘Listen, you rebels!’ he shouted. ‘Must WE bring you water from this rock?’ Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them! This place was known as the waters of Meribah…because there the people of Israel argued with the Lord, and there HE demonstrated his holiness among them.” (Numbers 20:1-13)
Finally, a clear picture emerges about what happened at Meribah. The Israelites were focused on Moses and Aaron as their human leaders, and both men were feeling the pressure. God told them to command the rock to surrender its water in His name, but Moses and Aaron made it look like they had provided the water for the Israelites. In short, they did not give God the credit for this miracle, and this kept both of them out of the Promised Land!
Jesus Christ knew where the credit belongs. He always pointed to the Father. (John 5:31-47 and 12:44-50) When God called the Gentiles into His church, Peter understood who got the credit for what had happened. (Acts 10) Finally, the Apostle Paul proclaimed that everything that he and his associates had done was just a part of God’s work. (I Corinthians 3:1-9)
Brethren, we also have to accept and fully understand this point: God deserves the credit for anything and everything that is good in our lives. Paul said that even people who have never had The Bible should understand this concept. He said that the world around us teaches us that God is THE SOURCE. (Romans 1:18-21) Even our repentance from sin, is God’s gift to us. (Romans 2:4) We cannot do anything to earn our salvation. It is entirely God’s gift to us. The good works that we do in this life are the ones which He designated for us to do. (Ephesians 2:4-10) We exercise the GIFTS which He has placed within His church. (Romans 12:3-8) If we really want to get into God’s Promised Land and not just see it from a distance, we must understand that the glory, credit and praise goes to God alone!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Who gets the credit? (Part I)

Over the years that I have been associated with God’s church, I have observed members compliment ministers on their messages, articles and books. Although there is certainly nothing wrong with giving someone a compliment, I have often wondered do we really understand and appreciate the source of those messages. I wonder if we sometimes look at the instrument in God’s hands instead of looking at God.
It also appears to me that there is a widespread inclination on the part of humans to take credit for any successful outcome with which they have been involved or associated. There is an old proverb which states that “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.” Some would characterize this phenomenon as pride, others would call it ego. Whatever we decide to call it, we can all agree that it seems to be a common affliction of humankind.
During the most recent election cycle for President of the United States, a great hullabaloo was made of the fact that one of the candidates implied that there were other factors which contributed to the successes of individual businesses besides the enterprise and industriousness of their founders. “How dare he suggest that I didn’t build my own business!” responded many. “I built my business with my own two hands!” others declared.
In the midst of this mayhem, I was thinking about a scripture that my family reads every year at Thanksgiving. Moses wrote: “For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass. When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God…Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up and thou forget the Lord thy God…And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth…” (Deuteronomy 8:7-18)
Who gets the credit? The right answer is God! James wrote that God is the source of EVERYTHING that is good and perfect in our lives. (James 1:17) We can take credit for the mistakes and imperfections, but God is responsible for the good stuff!
Some years back, there was a young Jewish couple suffering through a period of intense persecution in the country where they were living. At the time the state of Israel did not exist. There was no refuge or place to flee the suffering.
Even so, in the midst of this hardship, they had a baby. Their joy at the birth of their son, however, was cut short by circumstances there. The country where they were living at the time had just embarked on a policy of genocide against their people – a policy of systematic destruction and murder. Moreover, the outside world appeared to be either completely indifferent to the fate of their people or powerless to intervene on their behalf.
Hence, in order to ensure the child’s survival, the couple decided to give him to a young woman who belonged to the ruling party. Over the years that followed, the boy witnessed some of the abuse, mistreatment and murder of his people in the wretched labor camps that the ruling party had instituted. Nevertheless, the boy personally survived the horrors.
As an adult, he left the country and began wandering around the world in search of a new life for himself. Even so, the memory of what he had witnessed in the camps continued to haunt him. The images of what had gone on there were seared into his memory. “How could God abandon His people to such a fate?” he asked himself. It gnawed at him. There was no relief in having escaped their fate. He simply could not forget what had happened to his people.
Nevertheless, before too long, he met and married a nice young woman and settled down in her country to raise a family of his own. He worked for his father-in-law, and the couple was soon blessed with a son of their own.
Although the man was overjoyed by the birth of his child, the old memories of the labor camps continued to haunt him. They would not let him go.
Then something wonderful happened. God began to draw the man to Himself. God began to call the man into His church. With that calling, came an awareness that God had a mission for him. God made it clear to this man that He had a service that he wanted him to perform on behalf of His people.
Some of my readers are probably thinking that I'm discussing people and events from the 1930's. However, a few of my readers will by now have guessed that we have been talking about Moses. Likewise, many of you are probably wondering why I pulled a “Paul Harvey” and did not clearly identify my subject at the start.
The reason that we approached this person’s story from the vantage point of anonymity is an integral part of the point which this post is attempting to make. Most of us place Moses on a pedestal, almost on a Divine plane. The truth is that he was just a man with profound gifts and faults, just like the rest of us. He was an instrument in God’s hands. Unfortunately, just like the Israelites before us, we have a tendency to look at the man before us instead of the God above us.
Moreover, Moses himself was not immune to this phenomenon. When God called him into His service, Moses was reluctant to undertake the mission because his eyes were not on God. He was looking at himself, and he did not care for what he saw. In short, he did not have any confidence in his ability to carry out God’s mission. It simply did not occur to this man that we hold in such high esteem to look at God’s ability to carry out His mission through him. (Exodus 4:1-17)
Once again, in fairness to Moses, this seems to be a common affliction of humans. We all tend to look at ourselves or each other instead of God. “I’m the one who is actually going to have to do this!” we tell ourselves.
Although it is written that Moses was the most humble person on the face of the earth at the time (Numbers 12:3), it may surprise some of us to learn that Moses struggled with this phenomenon throughout his ministry. This fact is made plain by an incident at the Waters of Meribah.