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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Inspired by God

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God..." (II Timothy 3:16)

What does it mean to be inspired by God?

In beginning to understand the concept of inspiration, we should look at the Greek and Hebrew words that were translated into English as "inspiration." The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (1984) identifies the Greek word as "theopneustos" and informs us that it is derived from the words "theos" (God) and "pneo" (to breathe hard or to blow). Hence, the word literally means "God-breathed" or "God-inspired."

Now the association of spirit with breath or wind is a concept that is familiar to the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments. Strong's identifies the Hebrew word for "inspiration" as "neshamah." Like its Greek counterpart, this word also denotes a "puff of wind" or "breath" and is used to indicate Divine inspiration (as in Job 32:8).

So the use of both words indicated that God was actively influencing whatever was being done. Christ once said, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). Although we are unable to see the wind, we are aware of its presence when a tree's leaves and branches flutter and sway.

With this background, it is clear that the Holy Spirit should be regarded as the invisible agent of Divine inspiration that was and is capable of producing a perceptible effect on whatever or whomever it touches. In other words, God's Spirit is the force behind the phenomenon. This is consistent with what is revealed in Scripture.

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "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 (by) THE SPIRIT OF GOD" (I Cor. 2:11). He continued, "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" (I Corinthians 2:14). He also wrote to the saints at Rome that "the carnal (natural) mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you" (Romans 8:7-9).

We also have Peter's statement "that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake AS THEY WERE MOVED BY THE HOLY GHOST" (II Peter 1:20-21). In short, God reveals his will to mankind by sharing with them his Holy Spirit, and understanding how that Spirit works is the key to understanding inspiration.

Although most Christians would accept the points just made, many of them share a misconception about the way that the Holy Spirit works. They think of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the OPPOSITE of demon possession. In other words, they view the Spirit as something that controls, orders and dictates to the person to whom it has been given. This, however, is not consistent with what Scripture reveals about the way that the Spirit works. According to the Bible, the Spirit leads, influences, gives, sends, designates, empowers, teaches, witnesses, moves, reveals, warns and sometimes even hinders (Mark 13:11; Luke 2:26, 4:1, 12:12; Acts 1:8, 2:4, 13:4, 16:6, 20:23, 28; I Corinthians 2:13; Hebrews 10:15). The Spirit DOES NOT CONTROL, it works through humans to produce results.

This important understanding is best illustrated by the concept of the GIFTS of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all (the Spirit does not eradicate or suppress the personality of the individual). But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will" (I Corinthians 12:4-11). So Paul portrays the Holy Spirit as giving different gifts or talents to various individuals within the church.

This stands in stark contrast to an understanding that would turn someone acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit into a mindless automaton or robot. Notice also in this passage that Paul referenced the "word of wisdom." Strong's identifies the original Greek word translated as "wisdom" as "sophia," and it implies a wide ranging, general kind of wisdom. Paul also referenced the "word of knowledge" in his letter. Likewise, Strong's identifies the Greek word used here as "gnosis," and it is used throughout the New Testament to indicate spiritual or moral knowledge. Hence, the ability to communicate effectively about things spiritual is also a function or gift of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ made this aspect of the Spirit's work clear to his disciples when he told them that God would supply them with the Holy Spirit to help them after he (Christ) had returned to the Father. He said, "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26).

Remember, it was approximately twenty to thirty years later that some of the disciples decided to write their gospel accounts of Christ's life, and it was the Holy Spirit which helped them to recall those events and words. Jesus told his disciples, "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me" (John 15:26). In other words, the Spirit would serve in the capacity of a witness who would testify on Christ's behalf.

From these scriptures, it is reasonable to conclude that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit guided, helped and supplied the various human authors of the Bible with the material which they included in their writings. Nevertheless, the question remains: Does the inspiration of the Holy Spirit make its human host infallible? An objective evaluation of the scriptural evidence dealing with this question would invariably lead to the conclusion that the answer to that question is "NO."

In fact, the scriptures are literally full of instances where individuals with God's Holy Spirit failed to live up to God's perfection. We have many instances in the New Testament of Christians who fell short of perfection in spite of the presence of God's Spirit: Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Spirit and tempted it (Acts 5:1-11). There was contention among the saints over the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18). They disagreed over whether those Gentile Christians should keep the Law (Acts 15:1-29). Aquila and Priscilla had to correct Apollos' imperfect understanding of Christianity (Acts 18:24-26). There were divisions among the Christians at Corinth (I Corinthians 1:10-17). Many of the people from that group had also accepted the practice of fornication (I Cor. 5:1-8). Some of them were also engaged in lawsuits against each other (I Corinthians 6:1-7). Widespread problems existed among the early church members concerning their belief system (Romans 14:1-23; I Corinthians 8:1-13, 11:17-29, 15:12: Galatians 1:6-9, 3:1). Finally, toward the end of his ministry, Peter had to warn Christians about the presence of false teachers among them (II Peter 2:1-3).

For all of these individuals, the presence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit did not prevent them from making some very serious mistakes. Their human imperfections still manifested themselves in some dramatic failures, and they all (even those in leadership positions) fell far short of the infallibility and perfection of Almighty God.

We should also note that the Apostle Paul apparently felt that it was possible to “grieve,” "quench" or "neglect" the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit as he warned against them (Ephesians 4:30, I Thessalonians 5:19, I Timothy 4:14). What should we conclude from these examples? The inspiration of God's Holy Spirit is perfect, but how we humans respond to that inspiration is NOT always what it should be.

In the Old Testament book of Exodus, we read that God inspired the craftsmen who constructed and furnished the Tabernacle of the Congregation (Exodus 31:1-11, 35:30-35). Are we to understand that the workmanship resulting from this inspiration was completely flawless and perfect? Are human hands even capable of that kind of perfection? To propose that the craftsmanship of those individuals was flawless as a consequence of their having been inspired seems absurd and unnecessary to our minds. However, when we talk about Scripture, we say that this (flawlessness) is an essential characteristic of the work of the men who wrote them.

So we wonder: Could God have built and furnished the Tabernacle himself? Would not the finished product have been perfect if he had? The answer to both questions is most assuredly YES, but HE CHOSE to work through human instruments. God could have handed them everything on a silver platter, but HE CHOSE to involve them in what he was doing. God wanted them to have a stake in what he was doing. God wanted them to share in the responsibility for the finished product!

Inspiration is the Creator's part in a joint venture with the created. God certainly has the ability to do everything himself, but HE HAS CHOSEN to operate in a different fashion. God has chosen to work through human instruments. Moreover, he knows that the workmanship of those human instruments is subject to errors and imperfections - HE DESIGNED US!

Nevertheless, God has designated a role for mankind to play in every instance of his interaction with us - the entire story of the Bible underscores this important point. God has involved mankind in order to teach mankind, because he wants us to learn and grow toward perfection!

Hence, while Divine inspiration doesn't ensure perfection, it does help us to strive for perfection. God can inspire someone to write something, but that inspiration does not dictate the finished product! Even so, God's involvement in the process does guarantee that the result will be better than it otherwise would have been, and it does make it profitable for the things that Paul told Timothy it could be used to produce (doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness).

Did God tell them to write that stuff?

In discussing the origins of the New Testament, it is ironic to me that the statements of the men who actually wrote the original documents are either carelessly overlooked or purposely ignored. Although, I guess that's to be expected when a majority of Christians are looking at those documents through the lens of Divine origin. From that perspective, the individual authors of those documents don't matter very much.

Nevertheless, if we take a closer look at what is recorded in those documents, it becomes clear that John was the only human author of the New Testament who claimed to have been told to write anything! (Book of Revelation) John wrote that he heard a loud voice behind him that sounded like a trumpet. (Revelation 1:10) The voice said: "I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, what thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea." (verse 11)

We will ignore for now that John was told to write his message for seven congregations in Asia that existed in the First Century world of which he was a part. However, the whole question of who is being addressed in the writings of the New Testament canon will be of interest as we continue to explore this subject.

A little later he was told to "write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter." (verse 19) He was told to write the messages to each one of the churches. (Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18, 3:1, 7 and 14) Finally, near the conclusion of the book, John wrote: "And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful." (Revelation 21:5)

Hence, we can see that John clearly stated that God told him to write the material that ended up in the document that we call the "book" of Revelation. But what about the rest of the New Testament?

Matthew records that Jesus Christ made this statement at the end of his earthly ministry: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. A-men." (Matthew 28:19-20) So Christ did instruct his disciples to teach all nations about him and his instructions. However, it is clear that this commission was originally carried out by preaching from town to town. (Book of Acts) Hence, it is clear that the documents that we now possess were written years later - toward the ends of their ministries.

Luke wrote: "Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed." (Luke 1:1-4)

Did you catch that? Luke said that writing down Christ's story seemed like a good idea to him because there seemed to be a movement among the disciples to record what had happened. So the idea to write his gospel was his own? That's what he said! He also makes clear in this preface to his gospel that he was not himself an eyewitness to the events he is describing. In other words, he is writing down what he has heard from the people who were actually there when it all happened.

Finally, this extraordinary statement by Luke makes it very clear that his account was written for the benefit of one person - someone named Theophilus! You mean Luke wasn't thinking about us when he wrote his gospel? It is interesting to note that Luke also addressed his Acts of the Apostles to the same individual. (Acts 1:1) Hence, we have Luke's gospel and history of the early church because he decided that Theophilus needed to have an accurate and chronological account of those events. I guess it's a good thing that God inspired Theophilus to save the documents that Luke had written to him!

In yet another remarkable statement by the author of The Gospel According to John, we read: "And many other signs (miracles) did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." (John 20:30-31)

It is amazing how most of us breeze through these kinds of statements and don't even give them a backward glance! Think about what the author of this gospel has just revealed to us about his work. He tells us that there is a great deal of information about Christ and his ministry that didn't make it into his account. Likewise, he tells us that his purpose in writing the book was to introduce Jesus Christ to a wider audience so that they would have the opportunity to accept him and be saved. A noble purpose to be sure, but notice that it was John's purpose!

In similar fashion, Paul decided to write a letter to the saints at Rome to share with them his perspective on Christ's gospel and secure their faith in the Lord. (Romans 1:1, 7, 11 and 15) He wrote to the Christians at Corinth because he had heard that there were numerous problems in the congregation there. (I Corinthians 1:1, 11, 5:1 and 11:18) Paul also told them that he wanted to address certain questions that some of them had previously asked him about. (I Corinthians 7:1) Finally, the apostle told them that he wanted to confront those in their midst who were saying that there wasn't going to be any resurrection. (I Corinthians 15:12)

Indeed, we could go through all of Paul's epistles (letters) and point out statements that were intended to deal with specific issues relative to the particular person and/or congregation(s) being addressed. In other words, Paul decided to write letters to people and churches that he personally knew - about issues that they were facing during his lifetime. Are we so arrogant as to believe that Paul even gave us a thought? Do we honestly believe that Paul thought that he was writing "books" that would later be compiled into a New Testament? Did Paul know that his personal letters would one day be regarded as Scripture?

I can already hear the outrage: "But God inspired those men to write those things!" In my next post, we will explore what Divine inspiration is and isn't.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Good and Evil (Part III)

In the previous two posts on this subject, the author of this blog has made the case that the ability to discern between what is good and evil is something that must be acquired by humans. I have also attempted to demonstrate that the thesis linking good and evil to the presence of empathy is sound relative to Scripture. Nevertheless, it occurs to me that some will argue that goodness is defined by the laws that Moses presented to the Israelites as the basis for the Old Covenant.

After all, Moses did say: "See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; in that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and judgments..." (Deuteronomy 30:15-16) Although Moses was clearly addressing the Israelites, we could say that what he was saying to them serves as the underpinning of all Scripture and consequently also applies to Christians.

So obedience defines goodness and disobedience defines evil? Yes, but THINK about the implications of what that really means.

In this regard, I would ask my readers to once again consider the Spiritual principles behind those commands, statutes and judgments. Isn't empathy at the heart of them?

Christ said that everything in the Law depended on LOVE: Love of God and love for each other. (Matthew 22:37-40) We have also previously related on this blog that the surest way to demonstrate one's love for God is to display our love for each other.

Hence, if love is truly selfless and empathetic (I Corinthians 13:4-5), then it follows that empathy is good and its absence is evil! We can't be content to look at the superficial aspects of a subject if we truly want to understand it. We must be willing to get to the root principles - the basis, the constituent parts - of what it means to be good or evil.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Good and Evil (Part II)

When God decided to make the Israelites wander in the wilderness because of their sins, "He" said that their children would be allowed to enter the Promised Land because they were too young to know the difference between good and evil. (Deuteronomy 1:39) This Scripture reinforces the conclusion that differentiating between good and evil is something that has to be learned. This conclusion is further strengthened by a prophecy about the appearance of the Messiah recorded in the book of Isaiah: "For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good..." (Isaiah 7:16) So we see that the knowledge of good and evil is something that we aren't born with - it has to be acquired.

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reprimanded his audience for their failure to advance beyond the elementary teachings about God. (Hebrews 5:12) He goes on to compare them to babies needing milk instead of regular food or "strong meat." (verses 12 and 13) He concludes: "But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised (trained) to discern both good and evil." (Hebrews 5:14) Clearly, the ability to discern good and evil is something that requires training.

This is consistent with the article that Dr. Steve Taylor wrote that appeared on Psychology Today, referenced in the previous post on this subject. (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/out-the-darkness/201308/the-real-meaning-good-and-evil) Dr. Taylor says that it is much too simplistic to characterize people as being innately good or bad. He says that human nature is much too complex to entertain such a notion.

Dr. Taylor defines good as the absence of self-centeredness. He goes on to identify goodness with the ability to empathize with others. Hence, those who are willing to sacrifice themselves or their needs for the sake or welfare of others are "good." This is certainly consistent with Scripture. (Mark 12:31 and John 15:13)

On the flip side, Dr. Taylor says that evil people "are unable to empathize with others." These are the people that we characterize as "selfish, self-absorbed and narcissistic." These are the people who have no qualms about using or manipulating others to get what they want. Dr. Taylor says that these people objectify other people, and that enables them to be cruel and brutal to their fellow man.

Finally, Dr. Taylor makes the point that, unless a person has a psychopathic personality, we are all capable of developing or strengthening our empathy for others. This is certainly consistent with Peter's instructions to all Christians to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. (II Peter 3:18) In this connection, I think we can all agree that Jesus Christ is the personification of empathy and goodness.

In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us that Christ took on the nature of humankind so that he would be able to empathize with us. We read: "Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted." (Hebrews 2:17-18) And: "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

Hence, we should strive to imitate the goodness of Christ. As Christians, we should be sharpening our ability to empathize with each other and the people of this world that cross our path.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Good and Evil

Are good and evil relative terms? Is there really a difference between the two?

In answering these questions, I think that it is instructive to note that every language extant on this planet has words for designating good and bad. In other words, among humans, the concept of differentiating between good and evil is universal.

To be sure, there are significant differences attached to how these concepts are interpreted, but the fact that the concepts of good and evil are widely accepted cannot be denied. Although the Judeo-Christian view of good/evil is very different from the Buddhist view of them, both religious traditions see the tension between the two as central to their belief system.

Indeed, even the more scientific discipline of Psychology observes a differentiation between the two. In a recent article for Psychology Today, Dr. Steve Taylor sees good/evil in humans as directly related to the degree of empathy present in an individual and argues that empathy can be acquired or learned. ("The Real Meaning of 'Good' and 'Evil'" originally published in Out of Darkness, 26 August 2013)

This blog obviously approaches the subject from a Judeo-Christian perspective. In this connection, it is interesting to note that the subject of good and evil finds early mention in our Scriptures.

In the book of Genesis, we read that God "planted a garden eastward in Eden" and placed the first man and woman within it. (Genesis 2:8) Continuing, we read: "And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil." (verse 9) What was this mysterious tree of knowledge of good and evil?

Whatever it was, it is obvious that God considered it to be very important and potentially harmful to humans. Notice: "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.'" (Genesis 2:16-17)

The Hebrew word translated here into English as "knowledge" can also mean perception, discernment, understanding and wisdom. (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance) Hence, the tree could also be seen as representing the intellectual act of differentiating between good and evil. Indeed, such an interpretation is supported by the subsequent verses related to the story of this tree.

We all know the story. The man and his wife did not obey God's instructions about the tree. They ate the forbidden fruit, "and the eyes of them both were opened." (Genesis 3:7) Indeed, we are told that the Serpent enticed them into trying the fruit with the statement: "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:5)

Later, we read: "And the Lord God said, Behold, the man (human) has become as one of us, to know good and evil." (Genesis 3:22 The Hebrew word translated in these verses as knowing and to know can also mean to learn to know, to perceive, to discriminate, to distinguish, to recognize and to consider. (Strong's) Thus we can see that Adam and Eve acquired the ability to discern or differentiate between good and evil by eating the fruit of the mysterious tree.

Why would that be a problem for God? Isn't it obvious that God wanted to reveal to them what was good and what was evil? Nevertheless, Adam and Eve chose to take to themselves the task of differentiating between the two. In other words, the humans chose to decide for themselves what constituted good and evil. That is the real significance of the mysterious tree and mankind's "fall from grace!"

How about us? Are we more concerned with our own definition of right and wrong or good and evil than we are with seeking God's will in the matter? In the final analysis, isn't the way that God distinguishes between the two the only thing that really matters?

Friday, April 25, 2014

God is immortal!

The Greek word for immortality is athanasia, and it is indicative of one who cannot die. (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote about God: "Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting. A-men." (I Timothy 6:16, KJV) The New Living Translation renders this verse: "He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! Amen." Hence, we can see that Paul clearly believed that immortality was a God quality - something uniquely belonging to God.

Where did Paul get such an idea? Is that notion consistent with what is revealed elsewhere in Scripture?

God revealed to Moses that "He" was the "I am." (Exodus 3:14) The Hebrew word is hayah, and it means to exist or be in existence. (Strong's) So God is literally saying to Moses that "I am the one who exists because I exist." In other words, "He" is the Self-existent One - the One who doesn't need any outside force to sustain himself. Thus we see that Paul's notion about immortality being a unique quality of God is consistent with what was revealed to Moses.

Apparently God and Jesus Christ sustain all other life forms that they created. (Hebrews 1:3)

What about humans? Paul told the saints at Corinth that immortality was something that they would one day acquire, but that they were not born with it. In explaining to them the concept of the resurrection, he wrote: "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory." (I Corinthians 15:50-54

What about angels? Although angels apparently have the ability to exist indefinitely (Satan, Michael and Gabriel are mentioned in Scripture over long expanses of time), it is still clear that they exist at God's pleasure - that they are not self-existent. In this connection, notice that it is mentioned in several different places in the Bible that Satan will someday cease to exist. (Isaiah 14:15, Ezekiel 28:16-19 and Revelation 20:10)

Doesn't the last scripture referenced (Revelation 20:10) indicate that Satan will be tormented forever? If that is what is indicated, then it contradicts the scripture which refers to the Lake of Fire as the "second death." (verse 14) Notice that this same scripture also indicates that death and the grave will be cast into the same Lake of Fire. Moreover, we read in the very next chapter about a new heaven and earth: "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Revelation 21:4) One question comes to mind: How can the continued existence of anyone in a state of torment be consistent with this scripture?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Is everything that happens God ordained?

“I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it's both. Maybe both are happening at the same time.” --Forrest Gump

Some folks think that God is like a giant puppeteer pulling on all of the strings and orchestrating everything that happens, but is that consistent with the concept of Free Will and the Laws of Nature?

Do we actually make choices and decisions or is everything preordained by God? And if everything is preordained, how can it be fair for God to judge us for the things that we've done in this life?

If sin is our failure to obey God's directives, doesn't that definition imply that we made a choice to disobey "Him?" How do we develop character without the ability to make decisions? Why get out of bed in the morning if everything has been predetermined?

Did God ordain that some people be born physically and/or mentally handicapped? And if so, why? Don't genetic mutations and environmental factors play a role in the development of a fetus in its mother's womb? Doesn't the very nature of the way that God designed both of those things (nature and nurture) to operate indicate that sometimes things will go awry? Is it more accurate to say that God causes these things, or that "He" sometimes uses them to teach people spiritual truths?

Did God ordain that a group of terrorists would get together, plan and execute the attacks of September 11, 2001? If so, how can we characterize what happened that day as evil? Wouldn't that make the terrorists God's instruments and free them of any guilt that might otherwise be associated with their actions?

Does God spin tornadoes from heaven or are they the product of the interplay of cool and warm air within a supercell thunderstorm? Is God responsible for the loss of innocent life when one of these storms hits a community? Is a hurricane the product of an area of low pressure gathering heat and energy from a warm ocean or does God dip "His" finger into the ocean and start swirling it around and around? Are earthquakes the product of a release of energy generated from the shifting sides of a fault line or is God stomping on the ground?

Did Lucifer decide to rebel against God or had God already determined that the cherub would become Satan the devil? If so, how can God hold Satan responsible for any of "his" actions? Likewise, can a human decide to obtain an automatic weapon and walk into an elementary school and shoot a bunch of innocent children or was God pulling the strings on that one too? And if God is truly behind all of these things, doesn't that necessitate that we take another look at how we define good and evil?

Is our destiny potentiality or inevitability? Maybe Forrest Gump was right?

Monday, April 21, 2014

What can we do to demonstrate our love for God?

The Torah indicates that the way to demonstrate our love for God is to obey "His" commandments. (Exodus 20:6 and Deuteronomy 5:10) However, when we read through the New Testament, it becomes apparent to us that something more is implied by those Scriptures. After all, the religious elite (Scribes, Priests, Pharisees and Sadducees) were careful to obey the commandments, but Christ said that they didn't truly love God. (John 5:42)

When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment contained in the Law, he answered by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. He said: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment." (Mark 12:30) This commandment tells us how to love the Lord - with complete sincerity, conviction and intensity of effort.

It is also interesting to note in this regard, that Christ said that the second greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. (Mark 12:31) In the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus greatly elaborated on this theme. He said: "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love." (John 15:10) He went on to say, "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you." (verse 12) Jesus also said, "He that hateth me hateth my Father also." (John 15:23) Hence, one way to demonstrate our love for God is to love Christ and obey his commandment to love each other.

This is consistent with what John later wrote in one of his epistles. He said: "If a man say, 'I love God,' and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also." (I John 4:20-21) Thus it is clear that in God's mind the two principles are inextricably linked.

In this connection, it is interesting to note an interchange between Jesus and Peter shortly before Christ's ascension to heaven. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him better than the other disciples loved him. (John 21:15-17) Remember too, that Peter had denied Christ three times just before he was crucified. (Matthew 26:69-75) Anyway, Peter was clearly bewildered by Christ's persistence in asking him about his love, but Christ responded with "feed my lambs" or "feed my sheep." In this instance, we see the clear implication was that the surest way to demonstrate love for him was to take care of his saints!

Brethren, if we truly want to demonstrate our love for God, then the best way to do that is to start with the brother or sister standing next to you.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

God raised Jesus Christ from the dead!

"Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead." (Acts 13:26-30)

The message that Almighty God had raised Jesus Christ from the dead was preached over and over again by the apostles. Indeed, this message was a central part of the sermon that Peter was inspired to deliver at the founding of the Church on the Pentecost following Christ's resurrection.

Peter said: "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it." (Acts 2:22-24) After quoting the Sixteenth Psalm where David prophesied that God would not abandon his body to the grave, he continued: "Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne: he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses." (Acts 2:29-32)

The fact that God was the One who had raised Christ from the dead was emphasized by these "witnesses" in all of their preaching. Indeed, all of the following Scriptures reference this phenomenon (the fact that God resurrected Christ) as central to the message being delivered:
Acts 3:15, 26
Acts 4:10
Acts 5:30
Acts 10:40
Acts 13:34, 37
Acts 17:31
Romans 10:9
I Corinthians 15:15
Galatians 1:1
Ephesians 1:20
Colossians 2:12
I Thessalonians 1:10
I Peter 1:21

Why is the fact that Almighty God raised Christ from the dead so important to the Gospel message?

"For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." (Romans 5:10) Jesus Christ is now seated at the right hand of God where he acts as our Advocate with the Father. (Romans 8:34, et al)

Moreover, if we remain in Christ and allow him to be our Advocate, then God will do the same thing for us someday!

In this connection, please note the following Scriptures:

"But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you." (Romans 8:11)

"But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (I Corinthians 15:20-22)

"Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you." (II Corinthians 4:14)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have this hope because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Does God expect blind obedience?

Most Christians would not even have to think about their answer to that question. For many, the answer would be an easy "YES." Nevertheless, this writer believes that a reflexive answer is inappropriate for responding to this question. In this connection, I would ask the reader to consider the following points:

Why did God give us the ability to reason? If God expects unquestioning obedience, why did "He" give us minds to process and evaluate information? Why did God instill within us intellectual curiosity? If God expects blind obedience, do we really have the ability to make any decisions or choices? In the final analysis, is the only real question one of whether or not we will obey God?

When the former officials of the Nazi regime were placed on trial at Nuremberg, many of their responses to questions about their behavior relative to the roles they played within Hitler's Germany inevitably involved some version of the doctrine of Superior Orders. In other words, "I was only following the orders of my superior(s)."

Unfortunately for them, this defense had already been rendered inadequate by the Charter of the International Military Tribunal that governed the conduct of their trial as war criminals. Article 8 of that Charter states: "The fact that the defendant acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility, but may be considered in mitigation of punishment if the Tribunal determine that justice so requires." (http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/nuremberg/NurembergIndictments.html)

"But you're talking about humans blindly obeying orders from other humans," some will protest. "Aren't Divine commands different from human orders? they will ask.

Divine commands certainly are superior to human commands (Matthew 15:3-9 and Acts 5:29), but does that really address the question we asked at the beginning?

Consider the behavior of the religious leaders of Christ's day. They were experts regarding the legal ins and outs of God's laws. They were constantly confronting Jesus and his disciples about technical infractions of God's laws.

God's commandment to remember and honor the Sabbath day by refraining from any and all work on that day is a case in point. (Exodus 20:8-11) On one occasion, they pointed out that they had observed Christ's disciples plucking some grain from a field as they walked along. Technically, harvesting grain is a violation of the prohibition against working on the Sabbath, but Christ pointed out that the Pharisees were violating the principle behind the law by interpreting its application so narrowly. (Matthew 12:1-8)

Immediately following that incident, Christ entered a synagogue and healed a man with a withered hand. Once again, they charged him with working on the Sabbath day. Once again, Christ appealed to the spiritual intent of the law and told them that doing good on the day did not violate the original intent of the commandment. (Matthew 12:9-13) So we see that the Pharisees' blind obedience of God's laws was clearly inadequate in Christ's eyes. In fact, Christ said that the righteousness of his followers would have to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. (Matthew 5:20)

Could it be that God wants us to understand "His" rationale for making those laws and the spiritual principles behind them? Jesus said, "When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.'" (Luke 17:10) Clearly, blind obedience is not enough.

Anyone who has ever bothered to read through the Psalms knows that God values those who meditate or think about "His" laws, precepts and works. (Psalm 1:2, 63:6, 77:12, 119:15, 23, 48,78, 148, 143:5) God wants us to examine, question and consider all of the angles and implications - Blind obedience is not good enough!

Paul said that the Bereans were more noble than the saints at Thessalonica because they "searched the scriptures daily" to see if what the apostle was telling them was consistent with what they read. (Acts 17:10-11) Clearly, Paul did not feel that blind acceptance was as valuable as reasoned acceptance. Maybe that was a part of his reasoning when he told the Romans to "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind?" (Romans 14:5)

Brethren, we don't want to be like the man in the parable who took what was entrusted to his care and kept it safe and sound until his master returned. God wants us to take what we've been given and run with it. (Matthew 25: 14-30 and Luke 19:11-26)

Friday, April 18, 2014

God's presence makes things holy!

We have established that God is holy, but what about people and things? Can something or someone be holy separate and apart from God? What makes something or someone holy?

After examining the Scriptural evidence, the author believes that most people will come to the conclusion that God can make a thing or person holy. In fact, I believe the Scriptural evidence is clear and convincing that God's presence, touch or involvement is the only thing that can make something or someone holy.

In the book of Genesis, we read that God rested from the work of creation and "blessed the seventh day and declared it holy." (Genesis 2:3) Notice that it was God's presence and declaration that made it holy. Likewise, God later declared to Moses that the Israelites were to observe a number of holy convocations or assemblies. (Exodus 12:16 and Leviticus 23:2, 4, 7-8, 21, 24, 27 and 35-36)

As Moses approached God in the burning bush, God told him to "take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground." (Exodus 3:5) It was God's presence that made the ground holy. It was God's presence that made the Israelites holy. (Exodus 19:6, 22:31 and Leviticus 11:44, 19:2 and Deuteronomy 7:6)

Once again, it was God's instructions to Moses that designated certain priestly garments as holy. (Exodus 28:2, 4 and 29:29) In similar fashion, God designated a portion of food as holy for the sustenance of the priests. (Exodus 29:33) God also designated a certain blend of oil to be used in the anointing ceremony as holy. (Exodus 30:25)

In the wilderness, God's presence in the Tabernacle made it holy. (Exodus 29:44, 33:9-10 and 40:34-35) Likewise, after the temple was constructed, God's presence made it holy. (I Kings 8:11 and II Chronicles 5:14 and 7:1-3) There was also a place within both structures that was designated as the most holy place because it was the place that was literally filled with God's presence. (Hebrews 9:1-3)

Paul called the Scriptures holy (Romans 1:2 and II Timothy 3:15), because they were God breathed. (II Timothy 3:16) The fact that God inspired certain men to commit certain things to writing meant that those writings had been touched by the Divine. Hence, they were considered holy.

In similar fashion, the apostles and prophets were referred to as holy. (Ephesians 3:5 and Revelation 18:20) Why? Once again, because God had personally dealt with them and given them their commissions.

The Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit is holy because it comes from God (John 14:16, 26, 20:22, Acts 5:32, 15:8, Romans 5:5 and I Timothy 4:8. Our bodies are called holy because God lives in us through the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 3:17 and 6:19)

Hence, we can clearly see that everything that is considered holy derives that holiness from Almighty God. Nothing is holy apart from God!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Does God hate Satan?

In attempting to answer this question, consider the following points:

1. In Hebrew, "Satan" means adversary or enemy. Christ referred to Satan as the enemy. (Matthew 13:39)

2. Christ told his disciples to love their enemies and bless those who cursed them. By doing this, he told them that they would demonstrate that they were truly God's children (the clear implication being that God loves "His" enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48)

3. If God expects us to love our enemies, how could God do anything less than what "He" expects of us?

4. If anyone who walks in the light loves his/her fellow human (and anyone who hates his/her fellow human walks in darkness), then God must love everyone because "He" is the light. (I John 2:7-11) Indeed, John wrote: "This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." (I John 1:5)

5. God is love. (I John 4:8)

6. Paul told the saints at Corinth that love never fails. (I Corinthians 13:8)

7. What does "hate the sin, but love the sinner" really mean?

8. Didn't God create Lucifer? (Ezekiel 28:15)

9. Is it possible for God to hate anything that "He" has created?

10. If God hates Satan, then why does Scripture make clear that God intends to destroy the Devil in the Lake of Fire? Why not torture him for all eternity? (Isaiah 14:15, Ezekiel 28:16-19, Revelation 12:12 and 20:10)

Am I saying that God loves Satan? Are you saying that God hates Satan?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

God is holy!

"For I am the Lord your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy." (Leviticus 11:44)

"Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain in Jerusalem, for the Lord our God is holy." (Psalm 99:9)

Speaking of the seraphim (angels) which he observed in a vision of God's throne, Isaiah wrote: "They were calling out to each other, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven's Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!'" (Isaiah 6:3)

In a similar vision of God's throne, John wrote that the creatures around God's throne chanted day and night: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty - the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come." (Revelation 4:8)

What does it mean to be holy?

Strong's Exhaustive Concordance informs us that the Hebrew word for "holy" is "qadowsh." Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon further informs us that the word is indicative of that which is pure, and free from the defilement of crimes/sins and other impure or profane things.

This is consistent with what David said about God. He wrote: "The Lord is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness." (Psalm 145:17) An unidentified psalmist wrote about God: "Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the highest heavens." (Psalm 71:19) And: "Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty. His righteousness never fails." (Psalm 111:3) Likewise, James wrote that "God cannot be tempted with evil." (James 1:13) The author of Hebrews said that it is impossible for God to lie or break a promise. (Hebrews 6:18) We read in Proverbs that every word of God is pure. (Proverbs 30:5)

God is pure, clean and righteous. God is holy!


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

God: Natural vs. Unnatural

Webster's Dictionary defines natural as something that is derived from, part of, exists within or has its origins in nature. Natural can be used to reference something that is innate or not manufactured by men. The word can also be used to distinguish between something that is a part of the physical realm from the spiritual realm or to denote the appearance of something or someone that is expected or "normal."

Hence, if we employ these standard definitions of the word natural, I guess we would have to conclude that God is unnatural. Think about that for just a moment. God is not derived from, a physical part of or constrained by nature. God is the Creator and Sustainer of all that is natural. What's more, God could certainly never be characterized as "expected" or "normal" within our reality. The fact is that God is of the Spiritual realm.

As humans, we get caught up sometimes in the distinctions between what is considered natural or unnatural. Moreover, we tend to attach a negative connotation to anything that we consider to be unnatural.

The Grand Canyon is natural, but a symphony or painting that is produced by a man could justly be classified as unnatural. We could say that it is natural for humans to have two arms and two legs. According to our definition, we could say that anyone who is born without arms and/or legs, or loses them in some accident, is unnatural (I'm not saying that). Likewise, we could say that the ability to see, hear, taste, smell and feel is natural, but what about those souls who are born without those abilities or lose them somewhere along the way?

Is it natural for someone who is blind to use their fingers to read braille? Is it natural for someone who is hearing impaired to use their fingers to communicate in sign language? Is that the natural way to use fingers? What about prosthetic arms and legs? Are they natural? Is it natural for humans to attempt to compensate for the circumstances they happen to find themselves in during the course of this life's journey?

We have discussed perspective on this blog before. Does perspective play any part in what we are discussing today?

Many of us would characterize certain sex acts as natural, while condemning others as unnatural. Don't most of us tend to think of sexual intercourse between a man and woman as being "normal" and natural? Likewise, don't most people look at homosexual practices as being abnormal, abominable and unnatural? What makes those practices unnatural in our eyes? Remember too we are talking about natural vs. unnatural, so we are prevented from appealing to Scripture in this instance. We are talking about our human perspective of these terms and behaviors.

In this connection, I think it would be instructive to ask ourselves a few questions about our perspectives on heterosexual intercourse (especially in light of the fact that many of my readers would find an exploration of the other behavior so odious):

Does natural heterosexual intercourse always and only involve the genitals?

Are other body parts ever associated with heterosexual attraction and intercourse? (I'm thinking about things like eyes, hair, lips, mouths, legs, buttocks, breasts, musculature, etc.)

Is missionary-style heterosexual intercourse the only natural and acceptable practice for humans? Are other postures prohibited by either natural or Divine Law?

Is sexual intercourse between humans solely for the purpose of reproduction? If so, why do childless couples continue to engage in the practice?

Finally, what if a person is born with a predisposition to be attracted to the same gender? Could that mean that same-sex attraction is natural for some individuals? Or would an attraction to the opposite sex still be considered natural for them even if it went against their nature?

When we really think about these questions of what is natural and what is unnatural, don't we begin to appreciate how different perspectives might shape how we characterize someone or something as being one or the other?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Excommunication (Part IV)

What about the Catholic's justification for excommunication? They say that the Church is a society, and that every society has the right to exclude members that offend or go against the group's principles.
Webster's Dictionary defines a society as "a group of persons regarded as forming a single community." Hence, while I would agree with the characterization of the Church as a society, I would dispute the right of this particular society to exclude its "unworthy" members.
Although Paul's use of the human body to talk about unity within the Church is clearly metaphorical, it does shed some important light on the subject at hand. (I Corinthians 12) Paul's comparison of the different parts of the body to the individual members within the church was intended to demonstrate to his audience that each person served a useful purpose within the "body of Christ." He wrote: "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him." (I Corinthians 12:18) My question is: If God is the One who has placed each individual within the Church, why would any one (two, three or more) of those individuals think that he/she/they had the right to remove someone from their midst?
Unity was a recurring theme in Paul's writings to the various churches he addressed. He wrote to the saints at Ephesus: "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you (that sounds more like a plea than a command) that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering , forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-3) Paul's language clearly implies that unity is something that requires work on everybody's part - that it cannot be imposed from above (must have something to do with free will)!
Paul continued: "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." (Ephesians 4:4-7) Notice that? Even though there is one Church, Lord, God and faith, we each have different gifts that were given to us by God. In other words, we have to strive for unity despite our differences (and some of those differences, according to Paul, are God given).
Why different gifts and offices within the Church? "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ." (Ephesians 4:12-15)
So we don't all start out with the same level of knowledge, understanding and Spiritual gifts? And God is using those differences to help us to grow toward unity? In other words, God knows that there are differences among the people whom "He" has called and reaching understanding, maturity and unity is a process.
In fact, it seems to me that Paul is saying that part of the very purpose of the Church is to foster the development of that kind of understanding, maturity and unity among its members. It has to be developed. It cannot be imposed from the top down! And it certainly cannot be accomplished by throwing someone out of the congregation.
It is interesting to note, that similar notions regarding human authority within the Church led to disunity within the Church in the time of the apostles. John wrote about a man named Diotrephes who loved to be in a position of authority. (III John 9) This individual was apparently so full of himself that he wouldn't even acknowledge John! Moreover, anyone who dared to support John's ministry was cast out of the Church. (III John 10) John went on to instruct God's people not to follow such a bad example, but to instead look to God's goodness. (III John 11)
If you really think about it, the notion of casting someone out of the Church defies the logic of Christ's teaching as a whole. Didn't Christ picture himself as the Good Shepherd protecting the sheepfold? (John 10:11-16) Does it really make sense to cast one of the sheep outside of the sheepfold to be gobbled up by the roaring lion who is prowling around the perimeter seeking whom he may devour? (I Peter 5:8) It doesn't make any sense to me!
What is the conclusion of the matter? Does the Church have the authority to separate one of its members from Christ or his love?
Notice what Paul had to say about that: "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...Nay, in all these thing we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come. Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:33-39) Case closed!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Excommunication (Part III)

In fact, it is clear that the leadership of the Church is not entitled to preach whatever they want to preach. (Galatians 1:8-9) Indeed, the principle of the superiority of God's instructions to those of men is well established in Scripture. (Matthew 15:9 and Acts 4:19-20) In short, whatever authority is conveyed to the leadership of the Church in the binding and loosing Scripture (Matthew 16:19), it does not involve negating or superseding God's instructions.
In writing to the Christians of his day, Paul advised church members to avoid divisiveness and people who were divisive. This was Paul's habitual way of dealing with such people. He simply did not usually confront such people or command that they be cast out of the Church.
He wrote to the saints at Thessalonica: "If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not ASSOCIATE with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother." (II Thessalonians 3:14)
He wrote to the saints at Rome: "I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. (Romans 16:17)
Paul also wrote to Titus: "But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time, After that, have nothing to do with him." (Titus 3:9-10)
Notice that in all of these instances no formal or public ceremony of marking someone or casting someone out of the Church is stated or implied. As the modern English translations and any good concordance/lexicon makes clear, the terminology used in these verses suggests that one "take note of" such divisive individuals.
What did Jesus Christ have to say about dealing with troublesome members of the flock? He said: "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother, But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican." (Matthew 18:15-17) How did Christ treat heathens and publicans? Did he shun them or excommunicate them?
In fact, when Christ was asked how often we should forgive a brother who sins against us, he replied "seventy times seven." (Matthew 18:21-22) Jesus then proceeded to remind his listeners in the form of a parable about how much God has forgiven us, which he indicated is much more than any of us will ever be required to forgive of each other. (Matthew 18:23-35)
Nevertheless, perhaps the clearest indication of how Christ felt about the matter was conveyed in another parable. Christ said: "The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay, lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn." (Matthew 13:24-30)
Christ clearly said that it would be a mistake to remove the "weeds" while the crop was maturing. Moreover, just so that there would be no mistaking that he was really talking about Christians within the Church, he explained the parable to his disciples. (Matthew 13:36-43)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Excommunication (Part II)

In examining the Scriptural evidence on the subject, it is essential that we remind ourselves about what constitutes the Church and who has authority over it. The English word "church" is a translation of the Greek word "ek-clay-see-ah." Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible informs us that this refers to a gathering/assembly of people who have been called out of their homes to meet together. When referring to a Christian Church, the term can indicate: 1) any gathering of Christians for worship, 2) a group of Christians, 3) the people who constitute such a group, 4) all of the saints scattered around the earth, and 5) those faithful Christians who have already died. Hence, the sense of the original Greek word tells us a lot about the nature of the Church (it is not a building, religious service, organization or denomination).
Moreover, we are told repeatedly in the New Testament that it is God who puts people into His Church. (John 6:44 and I Corinthians 12:18). Likewise, we are informed that Jesus Christ himself is the head and Supreme Authority over the Church. (Ephesians 1:22-23) Indeed, Jesus told his disciples that he would build "my" church. (Matthew 16:18) Christ specifically instructed his followers not to imitate the Gentile style of leadership by lording it over each other. (Matthew 20:25-27)
What about Paul and the saints at Corinth? Let's examine the situation in more detail. Apparently, Paul had received a report that the Corinthian Christians were tolerating an affair between a man and his step-mother. (I Corinthians 5:1) Indeed, it appeared that they were proud of their behavior instead of being repentant and grieved over what had happened. (verse 2) As a consequence the Apostle told them "to deliver such an one unto Satan." (verse5) He went on to compare their rejoicing over their tolerance of this individual to removing leavening from their houses prior to the Feast of Unleavened Bread. (verses 6-8) He concluded: "I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators : Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat." (verses 9-11)
In other words, Paul told them that their tolerance of this individual had compromised their own integrity and had contaminated the whole congregation by doing so! Paul was worried about the entire Corinthian Church being corrupted by this affair. Hence, he moved quickly to eradicate the behavior and separate the congregation from the one who was causing the offense. (verse13) So this was a very serious and unique event that was being talked about in this epistle - it was not meant to be a general instruction to the Church as a whole as to how to handle difficult members of their congregation. This is underscored by the fact that Paul reversed his stance in his follow up letter to these people. (II Corinthians 2:7-8)
We would also do well to remind ourselves here that we are discussing an apostle of Jesus Christ and the author of half of the New Testament (Paul). Who in the Church has that kind of authority and prestige today? In particular, who within the Church has the authority to impose such a punishment on one of his/her brothers and sisters in Christ?
Nevertheless, didn't Christ tell his disciples that he would support any decisions that they might make regarding the governance of his church? (Matthew 16:19 and 18:18) Does that mean that Church leaders have the authority to make decisions that God will honor in all circumstances, even if they go against one of His core principles?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Does God approve of the practice of excommunication/shunning/disfellowshiping? (I)

Many "Christian" churches/organizations practice some form of excommunication, and most of them claim to derive that practice from Scripture. Nevertheless, a careful review of those Scriptures would demonstrate to anyone with an open mind that God DOES NOT sanction such behavior.

Thus I believe that it can be demonstrated that this doctrine represents a serious heresy that has infiltrated most of the "Christian" Church. However, before we begin to explore the relevant Scriptural allusions to this subject, we should take a look at some of the statements of different groups on the subject:

From the oldest human organization within the Christian Community:
"The right to excommunicate is an immediate and necessary consequence of the fact that the Church is a society. Every society has the right to exclude and deprive of their rights and social advantages its unworthy or grievously culpable members, either temporarily or permanently. This right is necessary to every society in order that it may be well administered and survive. The fundamental proof, therefore, of the Church's right to excommunicate is based on her status as a spiritual society, whose members, governed by legitimate authority, seek one and the same end through suitable means. Members who, by their obstinate disobedience, reject the means of attaining this common end deserve to be removed from such a society. This rational argument is confirmed by texts of the New Testament, the example of the Apostles, and the practice of the Church from the first ages down to the present."
--The Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Excommunication"
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05678a.htm

From Jehovah's Witnesses"
"Thus "disfellowshiping" is what Jehovah's Witnesses appropriately call the expelling and subsequent shunning of such an unrepentant wrongdoer." --Watchtower 1981 Sep 15 p.22

From the Church of Christ:
“When erring Christians refuse to repent, God commands His people to disfellowship them so as to bring them to repentance.” -- A Church of Christ tract

From the Mormons:
"Excommunication is the most severe judgment a Church disciplinary council can take. Excommunicated persons are no longer members of the Church. Therefore, they are denied the privileges of Church membership, including the wearing of temple garments and the payment of tithes and offerings. They may attend public Church meetings, but, like disfellowshipped persons, their participation in such meetings is limited. Excommunicated persons are encouraged to repent and so live as to qualify for eventual baptism."
--Mormon, LDS article: A Chance to Start Over by Elder M. Russell Ballard, 1990

From the Amish:
"The Pennsylvania Amish are very reluctant to excommunicate and shun members. In fact, such extreme measures only occur on rare occasion. The practice is only initiated after all attempts to persuade the transgressing member to repent have failed. It is done in the hope that the individual will realize their mistake, repent and rejoin the church. It is certainly not done to harm the individual."
--Shunning Within the Amish Community in Lancaster County: The Practice of Social Avoidance

From the old Radio/Worldwide Church of God:
"Jesus said, 'I will build my church' (Matt. 16:18). Christ is the living, active head of God’s church (Col. 1:18). He rules the church through His called servants to whom He has committed the keys of the kingdom of heaven. He has given them authority to “bind” or forbid certain things, and to “loose” or permit certain things. This “binding” or “loosing” may also be applied to permitting or forbidding the admission of persons into the fellowship of the church.”
--Article on Judging and Discipline in God’s Church by Roderick C. Meredith from the Good News, Jan. 66

Now that we have established that the practice enjoys widespread acceptance within the Christian Community (and the author picked the statements of these groups to demonstrate the doctrinal diversity that comes together on this one issue), we are ready to explore what Scripture reveals about God's thinking on the issue. We will begin to do that in Part II of this series.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Spirit of God

As any student of the Bible knows, the "Spirit of God" is a prominent feature in its pages. What does God's Spirit do?

It does a number of things:

1) creates and renews(Genesis 1:2, Job 33:4 and Psalm 104:30)
2) convicts us of sin (John 16:8)
3) reveals spiritual knowledge and truth to humans (I Corinthians 2:10-14 and John 16:13)
4) imparts certain spiritual gifts to humans (prophecy, healing, teaching, etc.)
5) makes us God's children (Romans 8:14-15)
6) enables the God who cannot be contained to live within us (I Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19)
7) provides comfort to humans (John 14:16-17 and 26)
8) produces fruit in human lives (Galatians 5:22-23)
9) plants the seed of immortality within humans (II Corinthians 5:1-5)

Note that, in all of these instances, the Holy Spirit is the agent of God's interaction with humans. Notice also that the Holy Spirit accomplishes all of these things without employing coercion or force.

Many folks are tempted to compare the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to demon possession, but there is no comparison. The demon seeks to dictate, coerce and control. The Holy Spirit, however, seeks to guide, direct, inspire, reveal and enable.

Nevertheless, although we have the ability to resist and suppress the Holy Spirit, Scripture warns us that we are on very shaky ground when we do so. (Acts 7:51, I Thessalonians 5:19, I Timothy 4:14 and Hebrews 6:4-6)

"The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." (Romans 5:5)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Where do our beliefs about God and what He wants come from?

The answer to that question for most Christians would be "Scripture," but how honest of an answer is that? Could there be other factors that exert an influence on our religious opinions?

A friend sent me an article by Ezra Klein today entitled "How politics makes us stupid." You can access the article at this address:

http://www.vox.com/2014/4/6/5556462/brain-dead-how-politics-makes-us-stupid

In reading through the article, it occurred to me that the points that were being made about our political opinions could also be applied to our religious opinions. Klein talked about the fact that much of our political elite is operating under the mistaken impression that given more information our differences on the major questions of the day could be narrowed or eliminated. The problem is that both sides believe that the other side is the one who doesn't have access to adequate information.
Couldn't the same observation be applied to us religious folk? Don't most of us believe that given more information everyone would believe the way we do? We think: "If we could just show them our scriptures, they would come to see the truth as we do." or "If they were truly led by the Holy Spirit, they would see things the same way we do."
Nevertheless, Klein points out in his article that this type of reasoning was recently refuted by a group of researchers led by one Dan Kahan. The researchers discovered that people aren't really trying to get to the truth of a matter. Instead, they discovered that most partisans simply want to come out on top of the argument. In short, they found that the ideology of the person in question had more influence over the conclusions that they reached than on the information they were given access to. In the words of Klein, "People weren't reasoning to get the right answer; they were reasoning to get the answer that they wanted to be right."
That sounds an awful lot like religious folks using proof-texting to try and convince each other that their doctrines are correct or true. If we're honest with ourselves, most of us aren't really interested in what is right or wrong or determining what God's will in a matter happens to be. The reality is that most of us are seeking to reinforce or support what we already believe and refute or disprove our opponents thesis. There is a very old saying that applies in both religious and political arguments: "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."
The researchers learned that most people subconsciously dispose of any information that challenges the values that they hold dear. Their study concluded that people defined an expert as "a credentialed person who agrees with me." This phenomenon is known as Identity-Protective Cognition. In other words, we marshal our intellectual capabilities to protect what we believe in and destroy anything that threatens that construct.
From a religious standpoint, that sounds an awful lot like the mindset that Christ had to deal with among the religious elite of his day (the priests, elders, scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees). Notice that, whenever they confronted Jesus on some point, they were careful to craft a question or answer that would make them look good or make him look bad - those were the primary motivations behind most of their responses.
Let's look at just a few examples to illustrate the point:

"And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, 'Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days?' that they might accuse him." (Matthew 12:10) Notice that they weren't really interested in the correct answer to their question of whether it was right or wrong to heal on the Sabbath. They wanted an opportunity to destroy their opponent.
"Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how the might destroy him." (verse 14)

"The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, 'Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?'" (Matthew 19:3) Once again, they were not interested in the truth of the matter. After Christ gave them his answer, we read: "They say unto him, 'Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?" (verse 7)

On another occasion, the priests and elders approached Christ in the temple and asked him about his authority to do the things he was doing and who gave it to him. (Matthew 21:23) Jesus, however, turned the tables on them and asked them whether or not John's baptism was of Divine or human origin. (verses 24-25) Then we read: "And they reasoned with themselves, saying, 'If we shall say, from heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet.'" (verses 25-26)

"Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, 'Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?'" (Matthew 22:15-17) Do you think that they really cared about what Christ thought about the issue?

A little later, in the same chapter of Matthew, we read that the Sadducees tried their hand at discrediting Jesus. They were of the opinion that the doctrine of the resurrection was a false teaching that could not be defended. Hence, knowing that Christ taught the resurrection, they told a story about a woman who married and buried seven husbands in the course of her lifetime. (Matthew 22:23-27) "Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her," (verse 28) they asked. Once again, however, they were not interested in the truth of the matter (they had already decided that). They were trying to do a gotcha on the Lord.

In light of this information, we may all want to do a little soul searching and self examination regarding our religious opinions and our motivations for defending them. Maybe it's time to really seek the truth of the matter and stop trying to defend our own turf. Are we really that afraid that someone with an opinion that is different from our own might be right about something? Why not try using our intellects to get at the truth?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

God and our reality

Have you ever thought about the implications of God being Creator and Lawgiver?

This means that God is the source of the Laws of Physics: Three Laws of Motion, Law of Gravity, Laws of Thermodynamics, etc. God created the concepts associated with Quantum Mechanics. God determined the Speed of Light.

Think about it! If God really is the source of these things, then God's existence is not subject to any of them. In short, God exists outside of our reality - our concepts of time and space.

Scientist have theorized that the measurement of time is influenced by gravity and velocity. It is generally accepted that time would slow down for astronauts traveling near the Speed of Light. Scientists have also speculated that time would stand still at the event horizon of a black hole. Indeed, some scientist have speculated that the passage of time may be an illusion - not a true part of "reality."

Therefore, as the Creator of time and space, we must conclude that God exists outside of our understanding of those concepts - those realities. So God really would be able to be everywhere at once. God would be able to "travel" through time. The passage of time would have no impact on God.

In similar fashion, there are ramifications to some of the things that scientists have theorized about the "creation" of the universe. As has been pointed out by Max Tegmark and other physicists, if these events (Inflation & Big Bang) were truly part of our cosmic history, then they suggest an infinite universe with infinite possibilities. We're talking about concepts like the "multiverse" and "parallel universes."

The Bible suggests that there is a spirit realm that exists separate and apart from the physical realm that we inhabit. If that is true (and I believe it is), then wouldn't that demonstrate/prove the existence of at least one parallel universe. If God really is a Spirit, then that means God is not made of physical matter and is not subject to the laws that govern it! If there really is a heaven populated by angels, then another reality exists somewhere doesn't it?

Hence, we begin to see that God really cannot be contained by or in our reality!

Friday, April 4, 2014

God is love

"Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love." (I John 4:7-8, NLT here and throughout)

I read an article today entitled "It's All About Love" by Mr. Carl Akins (it originally appeared on the Church of God Big Sandy website). His article inspired this post. You can read it at the address provided below:

http://churchofgodbigsandy.com/currentpubs/latestbody.pdf

When we look at the statement "God is love," the first question that comes to mind is "What is love?"

After making the above quoted statement, John went on to write: "God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love - not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins." (I John 4:9-10)

Paul also made an eloquent attempt to define love in his first letter to the saints at Corinth. He wrote: "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

If God really is love (and Paul's definition is valid), shouldn't God exhibit all of the characteristics described by Paul? Let's compare each one of those characteristics to other Scriptures describing God:

Patient - "But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent...And remember, our Lord's patience gives people time to be saved." (II Peter 3:8-9, 15)

Kind - "How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours!" (Psalm 116:5)

Not Jealous - "I have no complaint about your sacrifices or the burnt offerings you constantly offer. But I do not need the bulls from your barns or the goats from your pens. For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for all the world is mine and everything in it." (Psalm 50:8-12) and "Let all the world look to me for salvation! For I am God; there is no other." (Isaiah 45:22) What does God have to be jealous of? (For an explanation of Scriptures suggesting that God is jealous see my previous post on that subject.)

Not Boastful, Proud or Rude - "The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love." (Psalm 103:8)

Does not demand its own way - "Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!" (Deuteronomy 30:19) We are free moral agents. God gives us the ability to decide for ourselves what path we will take in life, but notice how He pleaded with the Israelites to make the right choice!

Not Irritable - "The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, 'Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness." (Exodus 34:6)

Keeps No Record of Being Wronged - "And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins." (Jeremiah 31:34)

Rejoices When the Truth Wins Out - Christ pointed out to his followers that a shepherd rejoices when he finds one of his sheep that is lost. (Luke 15:3-6) He continued: "In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven't strayed away!" (Luke 15:7)

Never Gives Up or Loses faith - "And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns." (Philippians 1:6)

Hopeful - "So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God's inner sanctuary." (Hebrews 6:18-19)

Endures Through Every Circumstance - "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow - not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below - indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

Imagine that! It appears that God measures up to Paul's definition of love!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Thank you God!

Last year I had some serious issues with my thyroid (subacute thyroiditis), and I've had problems with my voice since recovering. So, earlier this week, I went to my ear/nose/throat doctor and asked him to check it out. He sent me to have a thyroid ultrasound the following day, and he called me with the results today: No nodules - my thyroid was functioning normally and looked healthy. He speculated that the voice issues are probably due to damage sustained by the nerves and tissue when the gland was swollen.
Anyway, I thanked God as soon as I hung up the phone with the doctor! However, the thought occurred to me a few minutes later: How would I have reacted if he'd told me that I had cancer? Would I have still thanked God?
I guess I'll never know the answers to those questions now, but I'd like to think that I still would have thanked God. Why? For allowing me to live on this beautiful planet called earth, for every breath I've taken since that first one over fifty-three years ago now, for the blessing of giving and receiving love, for the most wonderful family a man could have (including those two precious little grandbabies), for the priviledge of being a citizen of the United States of America, for the ability to work and earn a living, for the experiences I've enjoyed (reading, traveling, hiking and climbing trees) and most of all for Jesus Christ and the salvation that is mine through him.
Whatever the doctor had said today, I've got a great deal for which to be thankful to Almighty God. Things cause me to forget that sometimes, but deep down I know that I shouldn't ever forget to be thankful. God help me to remember that always!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Does God want you to be healthy, wealthy and wise?

As a Christian and a child of God, hasn't God promised me good health, money and wisdom? Don't I simply have to name it and claim it (as some pastors preach)? And if the answer is yes, why are so many Christians poor, sick and lacking in education?

Well, you've probably already figured out that what appeared to be an easy "yes" isn't so easy. What does God want for "His" people? What exactly has "He" promised us?

Many people are surprised to read that Christ told his followers: "These things I have spoken unto you that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Far from guaranteeing that his followers would be healthy, wealthy and wise, Jesus promised them that they would have trouble in this life.

He continued: "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, 'The servant is not greater than his lord.' If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep your's also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me."
(John 15:19-21)

That sure sounds like a promise of persecution to me!

Paul wrote to the saints at Corinth: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed..." (II Corinthians 4:8)

What's up with all of that stuff? Didn't Christ say "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly?" (John 10:10) Yes, eternal life in God's Kingdom (notice that this doesn't necessarily apply to this life).

In his epistle to the Christian Church of the First Century, James wrote: "Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." (James 5:14) Oh, so Christians can get sick!

We read in the Gospel According to Mark: "Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!' This amazed them. But Jesus said again, 'Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:23-25, NLT) Ok, I guess that wealth is not a common characteristic of God's people!

In speaking to the saints at Corinth, Paul wrote: "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise..." (I Corinthians 1:26-27) Oh, I guess that most Christians are not graduates of the world's great colleges and universities!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God wants you to receive salvation through Jesus Christ and have an eternity of happiness, wealth and bliss in His Kingdom! That's what God has promised you. As for this life, don't forget your seat belt!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fools' Day: The Atheists' Holiday?

David wrote: "Only fools say in their hearts, 'There is no God.'" (Psalm 14:1 and 53:1, NLT)

What was David talking about here? What constitutes a fool in God's eyes? Does a belief in God make one wise?

Webster's Dictionary defines an atheist as "a person who believes that there is no God."

With that definition in hand, I can think of a good many atheists who would be characterized by most objective observers as brilliant (e.g. Isaac Asimov, Andrew Carnegie, Sigmund Freud, Mark Zuckerberg, Thomas Edison, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Mark Twain, Stephen Hawking, etc.) We could quibble over whether some of these people are/were atheists or agnostics (doubters), but the point would still remain that a large number of "smart" people have stated or implied that God does not exist.
So what did David mean when he said that people who say that there is no God are fools?
In beginning to answer that question, we should note that context is always important if one wishes to truly understand any scripture. People have a tendency to focus on one part of an expression or verse. Hence, a closer look at these verses in context (and in conjunction with a few found elsewhere in the Bible) will better reflect the point that David was making here.
In the psalms quoted above, David wrote: "Only fools say in their hearts, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! The Lord (God) looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one!"
(Psalm 14:1-3 and Psalm 53:1-3)
Hence, when we read the entire thought, it quickly becomes clear to us that David is not singling out atheists for scorn. David is indicting the entire human race for its foolishness and wickedness before God.
As humans, we love to make ourselves better than each other. "You people don't believe in God, so you are fools!" "You don't believe, so you are not in our group." "Those of us who believe in God are better than those of you who don't believe in Him!"
By the way, many of the atheists mentioned above are guilty of the exact same thing! They characterize the faithful as being blind and ignorant.
For some reason (that's another subject), it makes us feel better/exalted to ridicule/put down those who believe differently than we do. In other words, exclusivity is a wickedness that most of us have engaged in more than once in our lifetimes.

Let's consider a few other scriptures in the same vein:
"Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others." (Proverbs 12:15)
"The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence."
(Proverbs 14:16)
"Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions."
(Proverbs 18:2)
"There is more hope for fools than for people who think they are wise." (Prov. 26:12)
"Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe." (Proverbs 28:26)
Christ said: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be in danger of the council: But whosoever shall say, 'Thou fool,' shall be in danger of hell fire."
(Matthew 5:21-22, KJV)
James wrote: "You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can't you see that faith without good deeds is useless?" (James 19-20)

Do we really want to crow about our beliefs and ridicule others for theirs? Do we want to be like the Pharisee who thanked God for how much better he was than others? Or do we want to be like the publican who realized that he wasn't any better than anyone else and begged for God's mercy and forgiveness? (Luke 18:9-14) Which one of those individuals was a fool?