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Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Son of God

Jesus Christ is referred to as the "Son of God" forty-six times in the King James Version of the New Testament. What does this epithet mean? Why was Christ called the "Son of God?"

First, Jesus Christ was awarded this epithet because of the way in which he was conceived. We read in Luke's account of the Gospel that the angel Gabriel appeared to a young Jewish virgin named Mary. (Luke 1:26-27) Gabriel told her, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." (Luke 1:35)

Second, God personally attached this appellation to Jesus. When Christ was baptized, a voice from heaven declared "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17)

Third, Christ was also the "Son of God" in the sense that every human is God's son. In Luke's account of Christ's human descent from Adam, we read that Enos was the son of Seth, "which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God." (Luke 3:38)

Fourth, Christ was also God's son in the sense that he loved God as his Father and devoted his life to the fulfillment of his "Father's" expectations and wishes. (John 5:19, 30 and 10:37-38) Hence, God was the "Father" or genesis of everything that Jesus did during his lifetime on this planet. In short, God's morality and righteousness was Christ's standard throughout his life on this earth.

Fifth, Christ was confirmed in this appellation by virtue of the fact that he was resurrected from the dead and ascended to heaven to be with his Father. (Acts 2:32-36 and Romans 1:4) As Stephen finished his sermon about Jesus before the Jewish Council, we read that "he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." (Acts 7:55-56) That declaration got him stoned to death for blasphemy. (verses 59-60)

Thus, while there is no statement recorded in Scripture that a Christian must believe that Jesus is God, it is made very plain that one must believe that Jesus was and is the Son of God. John declared that his account of the Gospel was written so that people would believe that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God. (John 20:31) John wrote: "Whosoever shall confess (declare) that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God." (I John 4:15) When Peter stated that he believed that Jesus was the Messiah and God's Son, Christ responded that only the Father could have revealed that awareness to him. (Matthew 16:17)

What about you? Do you believe that Jesus was the Messiah that was prophesied to come in the Old Testament? Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God? If you can sincerely answer "Yes" to both of those questions, then Scripture states that the only way for you to have arrived at that conclusion is by virtue of the fact that God lives within you! In other words, that makes you a Christian.

God and Pharaoh

When Moses and Aaron went before the King of Egypt and demanded that he obey the instructions of the Lord God of Israel, Pharaoh replied: "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go." (Exodus 5:2)

In a sense, Pharaoh is everyman in this story. He epitomizes the reaction of so many humans to the Divine. "Who is this God?" he asks. "I don't know him, and I won't obey him," he declares. Isn't that the same reaction that many folks have when they here about God today?

For our purposes, it is immaterial to the point we are making whether or not one believes that the events of this story ever happened. We are focused on this man's reaction to an introduction to God and "His" demands. In short, I believe that there are spiritual lessons to be gleaned from this story that are applicable to all of us.

In the chapters that follow this introduction to the Lord, God proceeded to answer Pharaoh's questions. God allowed the king to witness a miracle when Aaron's staff transformed into a serpent right before his eyes. (Exodus 7:10) Next, God demonstrated to the king that "He" is in charge of the forces of nature by changing the waters of the Nile River into blood and inundating the land with frogs, lice, flies and locusts. God also displayed his power over both animal and human disease for the king's benefit. Likewise, God demonstrated his control over the weather and skies with hail and darkness. Finally, in a particularly poignant way, God demonstrated "His" power over life and death through the firstborn of Egypt. Sometimes we get so caught up in the drama of the story that we forget that God was answering Pharaoh's questions through the device of these "plagues." (Exodus 7-11)

"Well, that's where the story departs from our experience," my critics will protest. "God hasn't done anything so dramatic to answer our questions about him and his authority," they will point out.

Is that true? Has the world that God has created around us never offered us any evidence of who "He" is? Could anything that happens in this day and age be considered a miracle? Does the blood that courses through our veins have anything to teach us about God? Have you ever studied the anatomy and physiology of frogs, lice, flies and locusts in a high school biology class? Have you ever examined the structures of a single cell under a microscope? Does any of that have the ability to teach us anything about the One who created them? Have you ever considered the forces that produce hail, tornadoes and hurricanes? Have you ever experienced the death of a loved one? Doesn't the evidence of our own lives offer at least some insights into who the Lord is and why we should obey him?

I think that God demonstrates "His" presence and identity in some rather dramatic ways every day, but we (like Pharaoh before us) refuse to acknowledge or see what is so obvious. Instead, we stubbornly refuse to look at the evidence and continue to insist on having our own way. Yes, I'd say that Pharaoh fits rather well in his role as everyman - What do you think?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Did God inspire someone to write the 137th Psalm?

Before you shout, "Yes, of course, He did!" you may want to take a look at this particular psalm. Here is the text of the psalm as found in the New Living Translation of the Bible:

"Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees. For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: 'Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!' But how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a pagan land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the harp. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don't make Jerusalem my greatest joy. O Lord, remember what the Edomites did on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem. 'Destroy it!' they yelled. 'Level it to the ground!' O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!" (Psalm 137)

First, it is obvious that this psalm was written from the perspective of one of the Jewish exiles in Babylon. It is also clear that this individual was part of a group of temple musicians, and that they were missing their home in Jerusalem. Thus it is certainly understandable that these folks did not want to perform the Lord's songs (hymns) for their pagan captors.

However, their longing for Jerusalem is portrayed in the psalm as obsessive. After all, it is Jerusalem that this writer was focused on - not the Lord. Is it ever appropriate to make any physical thing or place one's "greatest joy." God is appealed to only in the context of settling the score with the people who have wronged them (the Edomites and the Babylonians). The pain and bitterness over what has happened to them is made clear in every line.

Finally, the author rejoices at the prospect that Babylon will one day suffer a similar fate - that they will be repaid for what they did to the Jews. He/she even goes so far as to say that the one who exacts the retribution will enjoy taking the Babylonian babies and dashing their brains out against the rocks. Can you imagine any crime that would justify taking an innocent baby and slinging it against some rocks? How is that fair, righteous or just in any universe?

Could it be a mistranslation of the text? The King James Version of the Bible renders this passage as: "Happy, shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones." (verse 9) The New International Version renders the same verse as: "he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks." Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible informs us that the Hebrew word translated as babies, little ones and infants appears thirteen times in the KJV as "children," three times as "infant," two times as "babes," and one time each as "child" or "little ones." Likewise, the Hebrew word translated as smashes, dasheth and dashes appears nine times as "break in pieces," three times as "break," three times as "scatter," two times as "dash," and one time as "dash in pieces" (and in similar contexts in a few other places). So it sounds like the translators got it right.

Does this kind of cruel, heartless and vindictive behavior sound like anything that Almighty God would ever engage in or condone? I don't think so. Do we really want to attribute this passage to the inspiration of the Lord? What do you think?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The scientific evidence that God cares about life on planet earth

Have you ever considered the things that make life possible on the third rock from the sun? What were the conditions that allowed life to form on the surface of this planet? More importantly, what are the conditions that allow life to continue to exist here?

Robert Lamb wrote an article entitled "What is it about earth that makes it just right for life?" for HowStuffWorks (http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/evolution/earth-just-right-for-life.htm) In the article, he listed a number of special features that make life on this earth possible:

1. the presence of liquid water
2. an energy source (our sun)
3. a mix of the right elements (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen)
4. a hot metallic core
5. a rocky mantle (surface)
6. a moderate temperature (not too hot and not too cold)
7. a moon of sufficient size and position to stabilize the planet's climate
8. an electromagnetic field that protects us from harmful solar radiation
9. the proximity of the large planet Jupiter whose gravity pulls in a lot of asteroids and comets that would otherwise strike the earth with catastrophic effect

All of these factors together contributed to the formation of life on this planet and ensure its continued survival. Take any one of them away and life would not exist here - at least, not as we currently know it.

Take a moment to consider our nearest neighbors. According to NASA, mercury is a sun-scorched little hell that alternates between super heated conditions and temperatures hundreds of degrees below freezing. It describes Venus as a dim world that is much too hot for life, churns with volcanic activity and is surrounded by a thick and toxic atmosphere that traps the heat near the planet's surface. On the other end of the scale, NASA tells us that Mars is a dry, desert-like planet with a thin atmosphere that has a hard time holding on to any heat. Jupiter is a large, gaseous planet with an extremely turbulent atmosphere and no solid surface for life to gain a foothold. Hence, we can readily see, a little closer to the Sun (or a little further away) and life on this planet would be toast!

We must also remember the time element involved in the formation and evolution of life on this planet. This process has taken billions of years. Think about how resilient and adaptable life has had to be to continue to exist here. Consider for just a moment the complex ecosystems that have developed on the land (and in the water) of this planet.

It seems to me that everything here has been just right for the formation and perpetuation of life on this planet. That indicates to me that the One who created this earth and placed it in this orbit around the Sun must have cared a great deal about the life that was placed here. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The peace of God

Paul wrote to the saints at Philippi: "Be careful (worried) for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you." (Philippians 4:6-9, KJV)

Likewise, he wrote to the Christians of Colosse: "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity (love), which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful." (Colossians 3:12-15, KJV)

As the context of these two verses clearly demonstrates, the meaning of the Greek word translated into English as "peace" denotes a state of tranquility and felicity. Paul says this kind of peace is beyond the ability of our intellects to quantify or define. Hence, it is not an understanding - it is a state of mind.

Even so, Paul clearly indicates that the way for Christians to achieve this peace is to let go of burdens and not worry over things. This is consistent with what Jesus Christ had told his disciples during his earthly ministry. After telling them that it was impossible to serve two masters, he said: "That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life - whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn't life more than food, and your body more than clothing?...Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?...So don't worry about these things...These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs." (Matthew 6:25-32, NLT)

God's peace is a special blessing that is available to Christians, but we have to be willing to let go of our anger, hurts, worries and concerns to receive it. Maybe that's why one of Paul's favorite greetings and salutations was, "Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." Brethren, God wants us to have that peace; but we have to let go and allow it to wash over us.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

God and Prophecy

Many Christians are enamored with the subject of Biblical prophecy. Indeed, it is safe to say that some folks are obsessed with the subject. A few individuals have devoted their entire lives and ministries to the subject. For many, the study and understanding of prophecy is of paramount importance to their faith, and they are deeply attached to their particular interpretations of the symbols and timelines that those studies and reasoning have produced. Moreover, many preachers and organizations have used the public's interest in prophecy as an advertising hook to get people into the pews of their churches.

What about prophecy? Is this obsession in some circles a healthy development within the Christian community? What is God's perspective on prophecy? What does Scripture say about how prophecy should be regarded and interpreted?

Various scholars have estimated that somewhere between one quarter and one third of the Bible is prophetic in nature. In fact, anyone who has even a passing familiarity with Scripture would readily acknowledge that most of the books of the Bible contain some prophecy (even those of the Torah, Psalms, Proverbs and the ones which are focused on history). When combined with the works of the Major and Minor prophets, this is plainly not an insignificant phenomenon. Hence, it would be ridiculous and illogical to dismiss such an integral part of the Bible as inconsequential or irrelevant.

Nevertheless, it is also clear from this evidence that somewhere between three quarters and two thirds of the Bible is not prophetic in nature. Hence, from this fact alone, one could reasonably conclude that prophecy is not the most important subject in the Bible. In short, we are appealing for perspective here. Prophecy is important, but it is not deserving of our singular focus and attention. In other words, the subject is not worthy of obsession.

Also, if we claim the Bible as our guide, we are forced to admit that it indicates that God attaches more importance to other principles and teachings. In short, Scripture clearly places some of the other teachings of Scripture above the understanding and fulfillment of prophecy. Let's examine a few instances of this to demonstrate our point.

First, it is apparent in numerous passages that the fulfillment of a prophecy was very often made contingent upon the behavior of the people to whom it was directed. God made certain promises to Abraham about the future if he would obey God's instructions. (Genesis 12:1-3) Moses informed the Israelites about what would happen if they obeyed God, and what would happen if they disobeyed the Lord. (Deuteronomy 28) Jeremiah said that God would not allow the bad things that had been prophesied against them to happen if only the people would repent. (Jeremiah 18:8 and 26:13) God did not permit the destruction of Nineveh that Jonah had prophesied because the people repented of their sins. (Jonah 3:5-10) Daniel predicted that King Nebuchadnezzar would lose his kingdom if he didn't repent of his prideful attitude. (Daniel 4)

In similar fashion, there are numerous instances in Scripture where the fulfillment of a prophecy was delayed because of God's great mercy and compassion. We are informed that God delayed the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah until Lot and his family could leave. (Genesis 19) After Isaiah had prophesied King Hezekiah's imminent death, the Lord added fifteen years to his life because "He" was touched by the king's tears and plea for mercy. (II Kings 20:1-6) God delayed the overthrow of the Kingdom of Judah until after the death of the righteous King Josiah. (II Kings 22:11-20) Peter said that God was deliberately withholding the fulfillment of "His" promises to the saints because "He" wanted more people to be saved. (II Peter 3:9)

In his letter to the saints at Corinth, Paul made clear that love was more important to God than the understanding and fulfillment of prophecy. He wrote: "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity (love), I am nothing." (I Corinthians 13:2) He continued: "Charity (love) never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail...whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." (verses 8-10) Clearly, prophecy is not even in the same league with love.

Finally, in terms of the prophetic utterances that he had just given to them regarding the end of the age, Jesus Christ told his disciples: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." (Matthew 24:36) He concluded: "Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing." (Matthew 24:45-46)

Thus we may all reasonably conclude that it is best to be engaged in doing the Lord's will - to be loving and building up each other. Scripture clearly indicates that that would be a better use of our time and energy than trying to determine who or what the Great Whore of Revelation represents or exactly how many years she will be allowed to reign. Although speculation can be fun, God is able to fulfill prophecy in whatever fashion "He" determines to be the most appropriate. What do you think?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Is a personal relationship with God all that is really necessary?

A friend recently sent me an article entitled "A Point of View: Is it better to be religious than spiritual?" (you can view the article here: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27554640) Tom Shakespeare notes that more and more people are choosing to designate themselves as "Spiritual But Not Religious." (SBNR) He also concludes that this is not a positive development. He said: "I worry that SBNR can just be vague, lacking the rigor which comes from centuries of refinement and debate. And unlike traditional religions, it doesn't have much to say about charity and justice." In short, Mr. Shakespeare concludes that rugged individualism does not produce the best results for spiritual growth and development - we need each other.

As a Christian, I have to agree with him. Although I have pointed out the failures and shortcomings of Traditional Christianity on numerous occasions, there is still value in people coming together and interacting with each other. Yes, the arguments over beliefs and doctrines can be petty and unpleasant; but we desperately need to hear other opinions and perspectives. How can anyone expect to grow and learn if they settle into their own personal self-reinforcing pocket universe of ideas? How can one expect to grow in love, empathy, patience and mercy if there is no one to love, empathize with, be patient with or be merciful to?

From a Biblical perspective, going it alone is simply not an option. As I have also noted, the Greek word that has been translated into English as "Church" implies a coming together - an assembly of people. Indeed, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, we read: "Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his (Christ's) return is drawing near." (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT) By the way, electronic discussions can count as coming together - it is the interaction that is vital. On the other hand, attending a Church service without speaking to other people or listening to what they have to say wouldn't qualify as coming together in the sense that is being discussed here.

Yes, each one of us is unique and brings a different set of gifts, experiences and perspectives to the table; but that is exactly what God wants! Paul compared the individual members of the Church to the human body. (I Corinthians 12:12-13) He wrote: "Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, 'I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,' that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, 'I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,' would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, 'I don't need you.' The head can't say to the feet, 'I don't need you." (I Corinthians 12:14-21, NLT) Paul concludes, "All of you together are Christ's body, and each of you is a part of it." (verse 27)

In his general epistle to the Christians of his day, John wrote: "If someone says, 'I love God,' but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a LIAR; for if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters." (I John 4:20-21) Clearly, Scripture indicates that we need each other.

In this same vein, I was also dismayed at some of the comments about the Yahoo article entitled "Pope calls Muslims 'brothers' at Dome of Rock." (http://news.yahoo.com/pope-calls-muslims-brothers-dome-rock-061917919.html) What is wrong with Francis' statement? I'm not a Roman Catholic, and I don't agree with many of the teachings of that organization; but what's wrong with referring to Muslims as brothers? Aren't we all God's children? Didn't Christ socialize with people of differing beliefs and perspectives? What's wrong with promoting peace and harmony in the world?

Some of the responses to the article are typical of that kind of reflexive reaction to traditional religion that is so commonplace today. More than a few individuals availed themselves of the opportunity to attack organized religion outright. Why curse the darkness when we can be lighting a candle? If you're standing on the outside looking in, how can you ever hope to have a positive influence on what's happening inside? As the old proverb indicates, "iron sharpens iron." (Proverbs 27:17) Like it or not, if we're Christians, we need each other to grow in grace and knowledge. Also, if you consider yourself to be an SBNR, then you might want to consider getting out of that warm little cocoon of yours every once in a while.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Is God's truth a neat little package just waiting to be opened?

Some folks seem to regard the "truth" as a finite package of information that is just waiting to be revealed to those whom God has chosen to grant access to it. They see the "truth" as a collection of doctrines or beliefs that can be explained to anyone with a "converted" mind (one who has God's Holy Spirit). For most of them, that "truth" is found exclusively in the pages of the Bible (and their pamphlets, books, booklets, tracts and magazines which seek to "explain" it). For these folks, you either have it or you don't - there is nothing in between. But is such an understanding consistent with how God views the Truth? Is God's truth a neat little package just waiting to be opened?

First, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible makes plain that the Hebrew and Greek words that have been rendered as "truth" in English refer to a rather complex range of meanings. In Scripture, the original Hebrew and Greek words can refer to: that which is the opposite of falsehood, that which represents fact or reality and all or part of the various concepts that reflect God's will, purposes, plans and acts. Hence, the words themselves suggest something more expansive and broadly defined than our original question would seem to suppose.

Second, it is essential to arriving at any kind of a sensible answer to our question to take a moment to consider how God reveals Truth to our minds. If we again appeal to Scripture, it quickly becomes apparent that God always reveals things to people incrementally or in stages. When God revealed himself to Abraham, "He" employed a number of dreams/visions to do so. When God revealed to Pharaoh that Egypt was about to be engulfed in a severe famine, "He" gave him two dreams and then used Joseph to explain and interpret those dreams to the king. When God revealed the terms of his covenant to Moses, "He" did so with a number of meetings in which "He" gave a series of instructions and commandments. When God chose to warn the Israelites about the consequences of their bad behavior, "He" employed a number of prophets to whom were given a series of dreams, visions and revelations. Jesus Christ used a variety of stories, illustrations, parables, discourses, miracles and visions to reveal information to his disciples. For me, all of this demonstrates the "truth" or reality of how the human mind learns/acquires information - it is a process that takes time.

Finally, if the Truth is a neat little package of doctrines and beliefs, then why is there so much evidence to the contrary in Scripture? Jesus Christ told Thomas that he was the ultimate expression of Truth. (John 14:6) He also told Pilate that he "came into the world to testify to the truth," and that "all who love the truth recognize that what I say is true." (John 18:37) The author of the letter to the Hebrews had this to say about doctrinal matters: "So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don't need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing your faith in God. You don't need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding." (Hebrews 6:1-3, NLT)

Wait a minute! You mean we aren't given all of the truth when we become a Christian?
The author of Hebrews obviously regarded the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead as a fundamental or basic teaching of Christianity, yet Paul tells us that some of the folks at Corinth didn't understand the concept. (I Corinthians 15:12) "Oh well, they weren't really Christians," my friends will protest. Then why did Paul go on to explain the concept of the resurrection to the saints at Corinth? (Read the rest of the chapter) Likewise, I would think that the gospel message would qualify as one of those fundamental or basic concepts; but we find Paul having to correct the saints of Galatia regarding this! (Galatians 1:6-9)

If the truth is a neat little package that we get to open when we become a Christian, then why did Peter encourage Christians to grow in grace and knowledge? (II Peter 3:18)
If we have the truth, what else is left to acquire? Why did Paul tell the Christians of Corinth that they currently saw things imperfectly? (I Corinthians 13:12) Didn't they have God's Holy Spirit? Why didn't they see things clearly?

If we have The Truth right now, then why did Paul write the things that he did to the saints at Ephesus? He wrote: "Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won't be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love." (Ephesians 11-16) Sounds to me like the acquisition of the Truth is a lifelong process that only begins at baptism.

"Doesn't the understanding of Spiritual Truth identify us as God's people - the folks He has called and given His Holy Spirit?" my friends will persist. Jesus Christ said, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." (John 13:35) So let's all stop crowing about what we know and get about the business of learning the stuff that we need to know to be more like Christ and his Father!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

To be at one with God

According to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the English word "atonement" appears eighty times in sixty-nine verses of the Old Testament. The original Hebrew word was "kaphar" and its literal meaning was to cover something with bitumen or pitch. The concept of covering something was further understood by the Hebrews to cancel or obliterate the thing that was covered. Hence, when applied to sin, the word indicated something that had been done to remove or expiate them. Moreover, this sense of the word implied that the person was thereafter pardoned, forgiven and reconciled to God.

This Old Testament word, and all that it implied, is remarkably consistent with what Jesus Christ accomplished with his sacrifice. However, before we explore that in more detail, it is necessary to look at some of the other principles related in those scriptures relative to sin.

In the theology of the Old Testament, it is a common theme that the people's sins separated them from their God. This concept is apparent from the very beginning of the story of mankind's interaction with the Divine. Notice that Adam's and Eve's sins resulted in their expulsion from the garden and God's presence. (Genesis 3) In other words, their sins separated them from God.

If the Israelites followed God's instructions and obeyed "His" commandments, God promised to live among them and be their God. (Exodus 29:45) When Moses outlined the blessings associated with obeying the terms of the covenant, it was implicit in everything he said that God would be actively blessing the people in all aspects of their life. (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) Likewise, when he outlined the curses associated with disobedience, Moses made clear that the people would not enjoy God's favor, protection and blessings. (Deuteronomy 28:15-68) In other words, their sins would separate them from their God.

When David sinned with Bathsheba, he understood that his sins could separate him from his God. He prayed: "Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me." (Psalm 51:11)

The prophets were also very familiar with this concept. Isaiah wrote: "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear." (Isaiah 59:1-2) When the Israelites persisted in their sins throughout the kingdom period, God's glory (presence) eventually departed from the Temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel 8-10) When the prophets looked to the future, they often spoke of a time when God would actually live among "His" people. (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:20, 37:23, 27; Zechariah 8:8) The clear implication being that God was currently separated from them.

In addition to this understanding, Old Testament theology clearly anticipated the need for a reconciliation between the sinner and his God. David wrote: "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin." (Psalm 51:1-2) He continued: "Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." (Psalm 51:9-10) David clearly understood that the sins were the problem in his relationship with God, and that those sins had to be removed to effect a complete reconciliation with the Divine. Indeed, he praised God for removing our sins from us "as far as the east is from the west."

In this connection, one could also say that the entire sacrificial system (such an integral part of the Old Covenant) looked to the removal and forgiveness of the people's sins. This was nowhere more apparent than in the ceremony prescribed for the Day of Atonement. (Leviticus 16)

Although the Serpent was clearly punished for its part in what transpired in the garden, it is also important to note here that Satan's role in persuading Adam and Eve did not excuse them of personal responsibility for their sins. (Genesis 3) This principle is further underscored by the prophet Ezekiel. He wrote: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." (Ezekiel 18:20) Clearly, "the devil made me do it" is not an acceptable excuse before God. It isn't Satan who has separated us from our God, it is our sins!

This is where Jesus Christ comes into the equation. Isaiah wrote of the Messiah: "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:3-6)

When John the Baptist saw Christ approaching him, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) In other words, he saw Jesus Christ as the one who would remove our sins - the very things that had separated us from our God. Hence, this act would effect our reconciliation to God.

Interestingly, this conclusion finds overwhelming support in the theology of the New Testament. Paul wrote to the Romans: "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 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. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement." (Romans 5:8-11) Likewise, Paul wrote the saints at Corinth that God had reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:18)

How did he reconcile us to God? The answer should be obvious at this point: Christ reconciled us to the Father by removing the things that had separated us from Him - our sins! Paul said that Christ died for our sins. (I Corinthians 15:3) He told the Galatians that Christ gave himself for our sins. (Galatians 1:4) The author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote that Christ had purged our sins. (Hebrews 1:3) Peter said that Christ had borne our sins in his body. (I Peter 2:24) John called Christ the propitiation for our sins (I John 2:2), and that Christ "was manifested to take away our sins." (I John 3:5)

Brethren, don't let anyone ever tell you that Satan has any part to play in our reconciliation to God. Although Satan has played a role in persuading us to sin, we are personally responsible for those sins before God. Those sins have alienated us from "Him." Jesus Christ lived a sinless life and sacrificed himself so that those sins could be removed as an impediment to our relationship with God.

Paul wrote to the saints at Colosse: "For it pleased the Father that in him (Christ) should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight." (Colossians 1:19-22)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Yes, the United States was established on Judeo-Christian principles!

In the most recent issue (No. 161) of The Journal: News of the Churches of God, Mr. Phil Haynes asked "Was U.S.A established on Christian principles?" Based on his study of the U.S. Constitution and Miracle at Philadelphia, Mr. Haynes concluded that our nation was not founded on Judeo-Christian principles. However, as a former teacher of U.S. History, I feel compelled to strongly disagree with his conclusions and insist that the opposite conclusion is demanded by the evidence at hand.

First, his conclusions are formed by looking at only a portion of the available evidence. The foundational document of our Republic is not the U.S. Constitution, it is the Declaration of Independence. We read in that document: "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Did you notice that? Jefferson said that the people were justified in sundering their bonds with the mother country and forming a new government by the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." He went on to acknowledge that all of mankind was created, and that certain rights were given to them by their Creator. In other words, the Creator is the source of those rights - not any government that had or ever would exist on this planet. He also concluded the document "with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence."

It is generally acknowledged that the most widely respected political theorist in the colonies at the time of the American Revolution was John Locke. His theory of a "social contract" appealed to American sensibilities. In his America, 1603-1789: Prelude to a Nation, Lawrence Leder wrote: "The English had no written constitution, relying instead on precedent, custom, and parliamentary statutes. However, the colonies had known written limits on governmental power from their earliest days. Their charters, frames of government, and even Crown instructions to governors were written constitutions. And such precisely defined limits, of course, followed the Lockean tradition, for the constitution is a formalized social contract which enables the parties to it to understand precisely their rights and duties and to determine violations of the agreement." (pages 135-136)

What could be more Judeo-Christian than a covenant? Don't both the Old and New Testaments outline the rights, limits and responsibilities of the parties to the agreement in writing? Isn't the whole notion of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures that there is a contract between God and "His" people? Moreover, isn't the Constitution of the United States one of the most sublime examples extant of this kind of covenant between a people and their government?

Finally, the whole notion of the U.S. Constitution was that it was "We the people" who were establishing this framework for governance. What could be more Christian than that? Didn't Christ say that he didn't want his followers to exercise arbitrary authority over each other? (Luke 22:25-26) I would argue that the notion of the government official being a public servant is nowhere more important on this planet than in the United States of America. So, YES, the United States was most assuredly established on the most fundamental of Judeo-Christian principles!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Is God a misogynist?

According to Webster's Dictionary, the English word "misogynist" has its foundations in two Greek words that together indicate one who hate's women. Hence, we are literally asking does God hate women?

"Of course not!" most would answer. Nevertheless, if we appeal to Scripture alone to answer this question, the result would be unclear at best and would give many the impression that the answer to our question is "YES!"

Consider the following:

1. Although it is indicated that Adam and Eve were created in God's image together in the first chapter of Genesis, the second chapter implies that Eve (the woman) was an afterthought. In fact, Scripture indicates that the woman was fashioned from a part of the man. (Genesis 2:21-23)
2. We are told that Lot offered his virgin daughters to the mob in Sodom to dissuade them from raping his angelic guests. (Genesis 19:4-8)
3. The book of Genesis indicates that it was either acceptable or tolerable for a man to have more than one wife. (Abraham had a wife Sarah and a secondary wife Hagar; Jacob had two primary wives, Leah and Rachel, and two secondary wives, Bilhah and Zilpah) Subsequent scriptures also indicate that David and Solomon had multiple primary wives and multiple secondary wives. (II Samuel 5:13 and I Kings 11:1-3)
4. If a Hebrew male slave was provided with a wife by his master, he was not permitted to take her, or any children that resulted from the marriage, with him when he was freed after six full years of service. The woman and her children were to remain the property of the master. (Exodus 21:1-4)
5. Men were apparently permitted to sell their daughters into slavery, but the women were provided with some protections that were not afforded to male slaves. (Exodus 21:7-11)
6. A woman was considered to be "unclean" for seven days after the delivery of a male baby (Leviticus 12:1-2) and fourteen days after the delivery of a female baby. (Leviticus 12:5)
7. Likewise, a woman was to be regarded as "unclean" during the time of her monthly period. Indeed, anything or anyone who touched her during this period was to be regarded as "unclean." (Leviticus 15:19-24)
8. For purposes of vows, men were considered to be worth more than women. (Leviticus 27:1-7)
9. A woman was unable to make a vow without her father's or husband's consent. (Numbers 30:3-8)
10. If a woman was accused of not being a virgin when she was married and couldn't prove that she was, she was to be stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)
11. Men were permitted to divorce an unwanted wife, but there was no such provision for the women. (Deuteronomy 24:1)
12. Paul told the saints at Corinth that it was shameful for a woman to speak in church. (I Corinthians 14:35)
13. Paul told Timothy that he never allowed a woman to teach a man or be in authority over a man. (I Timothy 2:12)
14. Peter said that women should submit to their husband's authority. (I Peter 3:1,5)

Do those sound like fair and equal treatment to you? Do those sound like things that you would impose on someone you loved? Is it fair to penalize someone for doing something that they were designed to do (like menstruating or having a baby)? Does it make sense that a just God would consign half of humankind to a second-class status? Why would one require a woman to remain silent in church? Didn't Paul admit that Timothy's mother and grandmother had been responsible for his Christian faith? (II Timothy 1:5) Do these things reflect God's wishes? Or do they reflect the misogynistic prejudices and biases of the men who wrote them?

Whatever happened to "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them?" (Genesis 1:27) Didn't "He" go on to give them joint dominion over the earth? (Genesis 1:28) Doesn't God love everyone - male and female? (Acts 10:34 and I John 4:16) Didn't Paul tell the Galatians that there was neither male nor female in Christ Jesus? (Galatians 3:28)

You can twist Scripture to make God a misogynist if you so desire - that is your right under the United States Constitution. However, I choose to believe that none of the scriptures quoted above in the section for your consideration represent or reflect God's views on women. They are the writings of a few old male chauvinist pigs that only reflect the views of cultures that are now defunct - thank God!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Did God create wicked humans?

Many Christians seem to believe that man's basic nature is evil. What about that?

Webster's defines nature as "the essential character of a thing" or the "inborn character" or "innate disposition" of a person. So we ask, "Are humans inherently wicked or evil?"

We read in the book of Genesis that "The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil." (Genesis 6:5, NLT) Jeremiah wrote: "The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" (Jeremiah 17:9, NLT) Paul wrote that "everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard." (Romans 3:23)

So is it reasonable to conclude from these Scriptures that humans have an innate tendency towards wickedness? If we reach such a conclusion, don't we have to ask ourselves why God would design humans with such a disposition or tendency? After all, if something is part of our nature, doesn't that imply that our Creator put it there? And, if God gave us this predisposition, doesn't that make God responsible for creating evil? Wouldn't that contradict other scriptures regarding God's nature if that were true?

Doesn't the Bible state that humans were created to be like God? (Genesis 1:26-27) Doesn't Scripture indicate that everything (including mankind) that God created was very good? (Genesis 1:31) Doesn't Scripture indicate that Adam and Eve started out without any sin? (Genesis 2:25) In fact, doesn't Scripture clearly state that Adam and Eve fell into sin as a consequence of the Serpent's deception? (Genesis 3:1-7)

When we ask ourselves these questions and examine the evidence, don't we have to conclude that humans don't have any innate tendency to be evil or wicked? Didn't Jesus Christ clearly imply that children were purer and more innocent than adults? (Matthew 18:3, 19:14, Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16) Doesn't that further imply that we start out good and innocent and acquire wickedness and sin as our life progresses?

Speaking of Satan, Ezekiel wrote: "You were blameless in all you did from the day you were created until the day evil was found in you." (Ezekiel 28:15, NLT) Clearly, evil is something that is acquired. It is not part of the nature of anything that God has created!

Think about it. If they were innately bad, why would God have encouraged the Israelites to choose the good? (Deuteronomy 30:19) If their natures were wicked, they wouldn't have really had any choice in the matter would they?

Maybe it's time to take another look at ourselves! Maybe we should look at the pursuit of righteousness as an attempt to recapture our true selves. Maybe it's Satan who has convinced us that we're basically all bad eggs? (Revelation 12:9)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The mind of God and an afterlife

"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counselor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. A-men." (Romans 11:33-36, KJV)

I was reminded this past Sabbath that there are many Christians who believe that the Bible is, contains or is representative of the mind of God. Nevertheless, such a concept is refuted by the scripture quoted above.

Paul said that God's mind is beyond all of us. He said that God's mind encompasses every thing in the universe - including us. Indeed, he told the saints at Corinth that the only way that we (humans) can have any insight at all into the mind of God is through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that has given us the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2:7-16) According to Paul, without that, we wouldn't even have a clue!

With the guidance of God's Holy Spirit, Scripture can provide us with insights into the mind of God. Even so, to claim that it encompasses or is somehow fully reflective of God's mind and thinking is absurd! Scripture contains a small piece of the mind of God. In fact, we can safely say that Scripture is encompassed by the mind of God!

How does this relate to the subject of an afterlife?

This weekend I also received a link to the transcript of a debate entitled "Death Is Not Final." The debate was hosted by Intelligence Squared U.S. and occurred on May 7 of this year. Author and neurosurgeon Eban Alexander (along with author, PhD and medical doctor Raymond Moody) argued in favor of the motion. Author and physicist Sean Carroll (along with commentator and neurologist Steven Novella) argued against the motion. The discussion was moderated by John Donvan, broadcast on NPR (National Public Radio) and was divided into three segments or "rounds" (opening statements, questions and closing arguments).

Dr. Alexander and Dr. Moody based their defense of the concept of an afterlife on the testimony of people who claim to have had near-death experiences (NDEs) and others who have been in the room with them and claimed to have shared in those experiences. In fact, Dr. Alexander was able to give an account of his own personal experience when faced with almost certain death as the consequence of bacterial meningitis.

While Dr. Carroll and Dr. Novella did not attempt to dismiss this evidence, they concluded that it was insufficient to overpower the weight of scientific evidence against the phenomenon. Instead, they offered alternative explanations as to why some people have had these NDEs (unexplained brain activity during or emerging from the episode).

Of course, when the standard is scientifically verifiable evidence that the phenomenon in question is real, the spiritual perspective is always going to come up on the short end of the stick. By definition, that which is supernatural is beyond the ability of our world/reality to observe, measure and quantify.

In considering this topic, I think it's interesting to note that some well-respected physicists and cosmologists have proposed that our reality may be a mathematical construct. In other words, our reality may be an illusion. They propose that things like time and space may be concepts that we use to navigate through this thing that we call life. What about that?

What if everything really does exist in the mind of the Creator? What if all of our reality is an equation or a thought in the mind of God? That would kind of upend this whole discussion wouldn't it?

For me, Robert Rosenkranz (founder of the foundation that sponsors these debates) had the most cogent observation on the topic before the debate began. He said: "Well, one of the things that kind of got me to think that this would be a very interesting debate is a sermon I heard in a Catholic church many, many years ago, in which the priest was challenging people to believe in an afterlife. And the argument he made was quasi scientific. He said, imagine a fetus in his mother's womb that's almost ready to be born, nine-month, full-term baby. And you're trying to convey to this baby what's about to happen, that it's going to have an incredibly painful experience going through the birth canal, that its ties to its mother through which it's getting all kinds of nutrients and all the oxygen is going to be severed. But not to worry, there's going to be a great life afterwards. There's going to be all kinds of experiences and sensory things and development and emotional growth and just an incredible world that you cannot imagine. And when you think about that, of course, you say, of course you could--there's no way you could communicate that. And there's no way that the baby could understand it. And yet we all know it's true. So it kind of invites you to think, is it possible that there's something that we can't--we can not imagine, that we don't understand, but nonetheless is true about life after death?"

Yes, most of us can imagine that kind of a scenario. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this analogy from a Catholic priest comes very close to explaining the "reality" of the situation.

Think about it. Those of us who are a part of this reality really can't even begin to imagine the concept of a "spiritual" afterlife. It is so far removed from what we can observe, evaluate, comprehend or verify as to be almost completely beyond our reach.

There are two basic beliefs within the realm of Christianity about the afterlife with an almost limitless number of variations on them. The majority of Christians believe that man is equipped with a soul that is separate and completely independent of this physical body that we currently inhabit or occupy. This soul is thought to be immortal and destined for eternal life in either heaven or hell. The other school of thought teaches that people literally cease to exist when they die, and that the dead will be resurrected at some point in the future. According to this school, some of the dead will be resurrected to enjoy eternal life while others are cast into the Lake of Fire (or Second death).

As with many other beliefs, some Christians seem to relish arguing over which view is correct. They seek to support their view and destroy the arguments of anyone who holds to the alternative view.

Nevertheless, if we step back from the arguments for just a second and ask ourselves a few questions about our beliefs, we may discover that we are closer together in our understanding of an afterlife than we originally imagined. What happens after a person closes their eyes for the last time and exhales that final breath? One side says that the person opens their eyes in heaven or hell in the next moment of consciousness. The other side says that the person opens their eyes and rises to join Christ in his Kingdom or to face the Great White Throne Judgment. They liken death to a dreamless sleep. In other words, their next moment of consciousness is in the Kingdom or the Judgment. Such a person is entirely unaware of the passage of time between his/her death and resurrection. Hence, from the perspective of the person who has died, don't both sides see death as an "immediate" transition to another kind of consciousness?

Moreover, don't both views fit with what the Catholic priest had to say about an afterlife? Even with God's Holy Spirit, it is virtually impossible to have more than a vague impression of what that kind of reality might entail. After all, none of us in this reality has ever fully experienced that one - even those who claim a NDE have made their way back to the land of those living within this reality.

Take just a moment to think about the time element relative to the two basic Christian views of an afterlife. If God really isn't subject to our laws of time and space, then couldn't "His" reality accommodate both views? Wouldn't the passage of time be meaningless in God's reality? In the final analysis, wouldn't consciousness be the only thing that really mattered?

To be sure, the minority view of a literal resurrection of the dead would better accommodate the scientific views of Dr. Carroll and Dr. Novella. If the minority view is correct, there would obviously not be any need for evidence of an afterlife; because the Christians of this persuasion would agree with them that all consciousness ceases at the moment of physical death. Their view anticipates a future return to life.

Nevertheless, if we (along with everything else in our "reality") only exist in the mind of God, doesn't that imply that we could only know about that other reality if God makes the connection in "His" mind? Strictly speaking, wouldn't this be something outside of the ability of science to test, verify or reach any kind of rational conclusion about? Isn't science only able to pass judgment on what we take in through our five senses? Isn't science confined to its observations about chemical interactions and the firing of neurons in different regions of the brain?

Although I am fuzzy on the details, I can imagine an afterlife in the mind of God - Can't you?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

God and the number seven

Have you ever noticed the prominence of the number seven in Scripture? Although what follows is not meant to list all of the occurrences in the Bible of the number seven, it will demonstrate just how prevalent the number is throughout its pages.

Consider the following:

1. We are told that the everything is created in six days, and that God rested on the seventh day. (Genesis 1 and 2:1-3)
2. God gave Noah a notice of seven days that the flood was about to commence. (Genesis 7:4, 10)
3. In the dreams that God gave to Pharaoh, there were seven fat cows followed by seven thin cows and seven full heads of grain followed by seven withered heads. (Genesis 41:1-7)
4. Joseph later explained that the cattle and the grain were symbolic of seven years of plenty that were to be followed by seven years of want. (Genesis 41:25-32)
5. The Israelites were instructed to eat unleavened bread for seven days. (Exodus 12:15, 19 and 13:6-7)
6. God commanded the Israelites to remember the seventh day and keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)
7. God instructed the Israelites to construct the golden lampstand with seven lamps for the Tabernacle. (Exodus 25:37)
8. The consecration ceremony for Aaron and his sons was to last seven days. (Exodus 29:35)
9. The priest was to dip his finger in the blood of the animal sacrifice and sprinkle it before the veil seven times. (Leviticus 4:6, 17)
10. The Israelites were commanded to observe seven annual festivals before the Lord: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Wave Sheaf, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles. (Leviticus 23)
11. As part of Pentecost, God instructed them to count seven Sabbaths after the Wave Sheaf Offering. (Leviticus 23:15-16)
12. God told Moses that anyone who touched a corpse was to be regarded as ceremonially unclean for a period of seven days. (Numbers 19:11)
13. At the end of every seven years, the people were to be released from their debts. (Deuteronomy 15:1)
14. God told Joshua to distribute seven trumpets to seven priests and have them march around the city of Jericho for seven days. Moreover, on the seventh day, they were instructed to march around the city seven times. (Joshua 6)
15. We are informed that there are seven things that are an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 6:16-19)
16. Isaiah prophesied that the sun would be seven times brighter than normal on the day that God redeems the Israelites. (Isaiah 30:26)
17. Ezekiel prophesied that it would take seven days to consecrate the altar in God's new temple. (Ezekiel 43:25-26)
18. God decreed that King Nebuchadnezzar would lose his mind and wander in the wilderness for seven times. (Daniel 4)
19. Zechariah informs us that God has seven eyes that roam around the earth. (Zechariah 4:10)
20. There were seven loaves of bread and seven baskets of leftovers in the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. (Matthew 15:34-37)
21. Christ told his disciples that they should forgive their brother seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22)
22. The book of Revelation was addressed to the seven churches of Asia. (Revelation 1:4)
23. In John's vision, there were seven stars and seven golden candlesticks - one for each of the churches. (Revelation 1:20)
24. There were seven seals on the book that the angel was holding. (Revelation 5)
25. There were seven angels with seven trumpets. (Revelation 8)
26. There were seven thunders. (Revelation 10)
27. There were seven angels who had the seven final plagues of God's wrath. (Revelation 15)
28. The woman sat on a beast with seven heads. (Revelation 17)

Hence, we can see that Scripture is insistent and consistent in its assertion that the number seven is significant to God. Nevertheless, we don't need Scripture to assert that this number is important to the Creator - All we have to do is look at the world around us.

Consider the following:

1. Seven is a number that is mathematically unique and significant in ways too numerous to mention here.
2. The phenomenon of a seven day week is universal on planet earth.
3. There are seven colors in the rainbow.
4. There are seven continents on this earth.
5. There are seven Liberal Arts.
6. The number seven is significant to peoples of different cultural and religious backgrounds all over this planet.
7. The concept of there being "Seven Wonders of the World" is well entrenched in human history.
8. There are seven basic notes of music.

Interesting! It appears that seven is significant to God. I'll leave my readers to speculate about why that might be.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Is God involved in what's going on down here?

In remarks directed at my Mother's Day comments, "The Skeptic" wrote: "Objective observation shows no 'affection', 'fondness', 'faithfulness' or any other involvement by God. While I don't claim to have the answer, evidence suggest either the Atheists or the Deists have got it right. God is just plain not involved in the present happenings on planet earth." --http://otagosh.blogspot.com/2014/05/why-do-people-leave-church.html

What about that? Is God a remote, indifferent, uncaring entity that has absolutely no involvement in what's happening on earth?

The answer depends on who you ask! We all form our beliefs based on hearsay, experiences and observations. As hearsay is generally regarded as being inadmissible in a court of law, we will dispense with it here - We will ignore what Scripture has to say about the subject (even though the original post was based on Scripture).

First, isn't it just a little arrogant to suggest that anyone who observes God as being affectionate, caring and faithful is being subjective? Couldn't I turn around and say that anyone who fails to observe these qualities in the Divine is being subjective?

The Skeptic says that an objective observation of the evidence demonstrates none of these qualities. In other words, when this person looks at what we know about the history of this planet, he/she doesn't see any evidence that God has demonstrated these qualities. Indeed, he/she implies that the available evidence hasn't even demonstrated that God exists.

This individual implies that things like the Big Bang, Inflation and the formation of galaxies, stars and planets do not demonstrate anything about the Creator (if the Creator even exists!) Apparently, the Skeptic sees the formation and evolution of life on this planet in a similar fashion - that none of it gives us any insight into God. The Skeptic appears to dismiss the extinction of the dinosaurs, climatic changes and the relatively recent arrival of humans on the surface of this globe as indicative of absolutely nothing about the character or nature of our Creator. Likewise, he/she implies that a review of the rise and fall of empires, religious and political institutions, the course of wars and the rise of technology have nothing to teach us about the Divine. The Skeptic appears to believe that famine, disease, storms, earthquakes and random strikes by meteors are evidence of God's indifference or nonexistence.

I, however, look at the exact same evidence and see God's fingerprints on a great many of the events that have transpired down through the ages. It's all a matter of perspective and how one interprets the evidence at our disposal. For me, these events demonstrate active involvement by the Creator. When I look at the beautiful world around me and consider all of the things that went on before my arrival here, I am in awe of the Creator's compassion, patience and concern for us. For me, a calm, rational and objective review of the evidence demonstrates God's existence and involvement in the Universe and this world. It really is a matter of perspective!

Relative to personal experience, I haven't walked a mile in the Skeptic's shoes. I don't know what this person has witnessed in his/her lifetime. If I had lost a child in a tornado or witnessed my mother succumb to cancer, I might respond differently to our question. Each of us brings a whole host of personal experiences to the formation of our beliefs. My personal experience includes miraculous protection from a tornado, healing, supernatural experiences, inspiration and extraordinary events too numerous to mention here. These experiences are my evidence of God's care and concern. For others, the same events would seem like random, coincidental and meaningless events that demonstrate nothing about God.

How you answer our question depends on you - on your perspective - on the way that you evaluate/interpret the evidence. So please don't pretend that your answer was obtained in a fashion that is any more objective than the way I reached mine! The Skeptic claimed that he/she didn't have the answer, but didn't he/she provide his/her answer to our question when stating "God is just plain not involved in the present happenings on planet earth."

The Skeptic's answer to our question is different from mine, but it is not superior to or better than mine. Aren't we all objective and subjective when we answer questions like this one?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

God doesn't want us judging each other

Jesus Christ said: "Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged." (Matthew 7:1-2, NLT)

Why? Why shouldn't we judge each other? Aren't we capable of making observations, reasoning and formulating conclusions?

Many people would say that it's not our place to judge each other (which is certainly true). Others would point out that God has given the authority to judge our behavior to Jesus Christ. (John 5:22, 27) However, although both responses would be technically correct, they don't get to the reason why God hasn't entrusted us with judging each other.

The real reason that God doesn't want us to judge each other is because our judgment is impaired. After all, our judgment is limited by what we take in through our five senses. In other words, we can only judge what we see, hear, taste, smell and touch. Moreover, our judgment is influenced by our personal intellectual abilities, education, experiences, prejudices and biases.

When God sent Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse's sons as king, the wise old prophet had a hard time discerning which one God had chosen. At first, he thought it would be Eliab because of his stature and appearance. (I Samuel 16:1-6) Nevertheless, God told him: "Don't judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (I Samuel 16:7, NLT)

We can't know what makes a person tick. We can't see what's going on inside of another person's head. Put another way, we don't have all of the facts at our disposal. As a consequence, our judgment of each other is always flawed.

My grandfather was a good case in point. He was in the U.S. Navy during WWII, and he "cussed like a sailor." Nevertheless, he was a kind, good and decent man. Even so, based on outward appearances, one might judge him as being a crude heathen.

Likewise, most of us have known at least one or two little silver or purple-haired old ladies who attend church every Sunday and wouldn't dream of saying "fart" out loud, but are as cold as a freezer on the inside. Who is the better person when we have all of the facts at our disposal?

God doesn't want us judging each other, because we can't see what's going on in the other guy's (or gal's) heart!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

God, The World's Greatest Mother!

As I was busy celebrating some of the mothers in my life, I did not have an opportunity to post anything on Mother's Day. Even so, I cannot allow such an important day to pass without a few observations relative to the Almighty.

One website (http://parenting.allwomenstalk.com/lovable-qualities-of-a-great-mother) lists "Nine Lovable Qualities of a Great Mother..." According to them, a great mother is:
1. Affectionate
2. Caring
3. Not Overbearing
4. Fun
5. A Rule Setter
6. A Good Listener
7. Relatable
8. A Role Model
9. Accepting

Sounds like a pretty good list to me. However, I would probably add words like reliable, faithful and teacher to the list. Indeed, most of the qualities that people think of when trying to describe the characteristics of a great mother could be summarized with the word "nurturing."

We are so accustomed to thinking of Almighty God as our "Father" that many of us have failed to appreciate God as Nurturer-in-Chief.

Take a moment to think about it.

Don't we think of someone who is affectionate as one who readily demonstrates his/her affection, fondness, love or tenderness for another person? Isn't that descriptive of God's character? (Psalm 145:9, James 5:11)

Don't we think of someone who is caring as one who is interested in the welfare of another person - even of one who feels protective toward another person? Isn't that also descriptive of God's character? (Exodus 19:4, Deuteronomy 33:27 and Psalm 23:4)

Don't we think of someone who is not overbearing as one who permits others to speak, think and act for themselves - to make their own choices and mistakes? Doesn't that describe how the Almighty treats us? (Deuteronomy 30:19 and II Peter 3:9)

Likewise, don't we think of someone who is fun as one who causes merriment or amusement in others? Is God fun? (Genesis 21:6, Psalm 118:15, 144:15, 146:5 and Luke 6:21)

Don't we think of someone who is a rule setter as one who establishes boundaries and imposes limits to protect us from harm? Isn't that also indicative of God? (Exodus 20:1-17)

Don't we think of someone who is a good listener as one who is attentive to what we say? Doesn't that describe what God does for us every time we go to "Him" in prayer?
(II Chronicles 7:14-15, Matthew 7:7-11, John 15:16 and 16:23)

Don't we think of someone who is relatable as one who is able to empathize - feel or understand what we are feeling? Isn't that part of the reason that God sent Jesus Christ to this earth? (Hebrews 4:14-16 and I John 2:1)

Don't we think of someone who is acting in the capacity of a role model as one who always sets a good example for others? Isn't that implicit in everything that God does?
(Psalm 86:15, 111:4, 112:4, 145:8, Malachi 3:6 and James 1:13)

Don't we think of someone who is accepting as one who loves us in spite of our faults and imperfections? Isn't that how God feels about us? (Romans 5:8)

Isn't God the epitome of reliability and faithfulness? (Deuteronomy 7:9, Isaiah 40:28, I Corinthians 1:9 and II Thessalonians 5:24)

Finally, Hasn't God always taught "His" people about "His" statutes, laws and judgments? How many times do we read in Scripture "the Lord spake unto Moses, saying..."? Isn't God also prophesied to one day be the teacher for all of the peoples of the earth? (Isaiah 2:3, Hebrews 8:10 and 10:16)

Wow, sounds to me like God is entitled to be called "The World's Greatest Mother!" Remember brethren, God is not contained by gender or confined to the roles that we or others have assigned for "Him" to play!


Monday, May 12, 2014

Is God on "His" way to extinction?

Gavin Rumney recently asked, "Why do people leave the church?" (http://otagosh.blogspot.com/) His post is a commentary on the self-serving musings of Pastor Jim West about the reasons that people leave the Church. Pastor West says that the fault lies with the people who leave, not the church. Mr. Rumney concludes that people leave the Church because it is no longer relevant. He goes on to say that leaving the Church is an "ethical imperative" for most folks - "an integrity issue."

There is certainly ample evidence of an overall decline in Church attendance. In an article for The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com), Trevor Grundy reports that Anglican Church officials in Britain are elated that church attendance appears to have stabilized after years of steady decline. However, this elation seems a bit premature in light of the fact that only 1.1 million of the estimated 22 million official members of the Church actually attend services!

In another article for the same journal, Steve McSwain ("Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore") reports that the situation in the United States isn't much better. He notes that "more than 80 percent of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on weekends" than go to Church. He goes on to point out that about 3 million churchgoers join the ranks of the unaffiliated each year. Moreover, these shocking statistics tend to be born out by the analysis of institutions like the Pew Research Center. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/09/13/what-surveys-say-about-worship-attendance-and-why-some-stay-home/)

Nevertheless, it is also interesting to note that about 74 percent of Americans still profess a belief in God. (http://www.harrisinteractive.com/NewsRoom/HarrisPolls/tabid/447/ctl/ReadCustom%20Default/mid/1508/ArticleId/1353/Default.aspx) Hence, while church attendance has declined precipitously over the years, belief in God remains fairly widespread. Thus, if we are looking at this objectively, we would have to conclude that the problem appears to be with the Church - not with the people or God!

Why are people leaving? Why are young folks not interested in Church?

Could it be that people are tired of the stale arguments over things like:
the proper form of Church governance; the proper mode of baptism; the proper way to observe the Lord's Supper/Communion/Passover; whether God is one, two or three individuals; and which day we should gather for worship?

Could it be that people are tired of trying to live up to standards that everyone admits are beyond our reach? (I'm thinking about issues like premarital sex, divorce, birth control and homosexuality?

Could it be that folks are tired of seeing other folks profiting from the Gospel? Could it be that folks see the accumulation of wealth and the ostentatious displays of some "Christian" organizations as hypocritical and inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ?

Could it be that folks have decided that they don't need other people telling them what to believe, what to think, how to act, or how to worship their Creator?

The way I see it there is much evidence to support the notion that there is a profound Spiritual need currently extant among us humans. Most of us still seek a relationship with the Divine. Even so, many of us have decided that organizations purporting to represent Christianity have largely failed to make a meaningful contribution to that quest. I don't think God's on "His" way to extinction, but many of those organizations might be!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Christ's Father

God sent the angel Gabriel to deliver a message to a young virgin named Mary, who lived in the village of Nazareth in the region of Galilee. (Luke 1:26-27) The angel told her: "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High." (Luke 1:31-32, NLT) When Mary asked him about how such a thing could happen, Gabriel replied: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God." (Luke 1:35, NLT)

In fact, Jesus Christ is referred to forty-seven times in Scripture as the "Son of God." Jesus referred to God as "my Father" fifty-seven times in Scripture. After Christ was baptized, God's voice thundered from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17)

In the book of Hebrews, we read: "God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God's own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names. For God never said to any angel what he said to Jesus: 'You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.' God also said, 'I will be his Father, and he will be my Son.'" (Hebrews 1:2-5, NLT)

The Bible is very clear about the assertion that Almighty God was the Father of Jesus Christ. There is no wiggle room on this one! Indeed, John said that anyone who confesses that Jesus was God's Son has God living in him/her. (I John 4:15)

It is also made very plain in Scripture that Christ revered his Father and always sought to do "His" will. Even as a child, Jesus was careful to attend to his Father's business. (Luke 2:49) Later, as an adult, Christ attributed all of his miracles and good works to his Father. (John 5:30 and 14:10) He also asserted that he never sought to have his own way, and that his only desire was to do exactly what his Father wanted him to do. (same verse)

In the opening to the Gospel According to John, we read: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." (John 1:18) Jesus declared that he and his Father were one in mind, purpose and spirit. (John 10:30, 37-38)

He went on to tell his disciples: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him." (John 14:6-7) The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son..." (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Do you want to know more about God? Do you want to know what God is like and learn about "His" character/personality? Read about "His" Son!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

God the Destroyer?

If everything in Scripture is to be interpreted literally, wouldn't that make God the Destroyer-in-Chief?
After all, Scripture does seem to attribute a whole lot of death and destruction to the Almighty!

According to The Bible:

1. God wiped out every living thing on the face of the earth with a flood (except for one man, his family and at least one male and female of every land animal). Genesis 6-8
2. God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis 19
3. God killed all of the firstborn of Egypt. Exodus 12:12, 29
4. God destroyed all of the crops and livestock of Egypt. Exodus 9 and 10
5. God drowned the Egyptian army when they pursued the Israelites into the sea. Exodus 14:27-28
6. God threatened to wipe out all of the children of Israel and start over with the descendants of Moses. Exodus 32:10
7. God caused fire to consume an undisclosed number of Israelites for complaining too much. Numbers 11:1-3
8. God sent a plague to kill an undisclosed number of Israelites for their gluttonous behavior when he sent them some quails to eat. Numbers 11:33-34
9. God caused the earth to swallow up Korah and his followers. Numbers 16:31-33
10. God sent another plague that killed 14,700 Israelites for their rebellion against the authority of Moses and Aaron. Numbers 16:49
11. God delivered the Canaanites into the hands of the Israelites so that they could destroy them. Numbers 21:3
12. The Lord sent some "fiery serpents" among the people to bite and kill a large number of them. Numbers 21:6
13. God sent yet another plague to punish the people (24,000 people perished in this one) for having sexual relations with the daughters of Moab. Numbers 25:1-9
14. God destroyed two kingdoms of the Amorites. Deuteronomy 31:4

That's just the first five books of the Bible! Is that enough to demonstrate that a literal interpretation of Scripture makes God a pretty bloodthirsty individual?
Is such behavior consistent with what is revealed elsewhere in Scripture about God's character and personality? Has God got his finger on the trigger - ready to take us all out at the drop of a hat?
This is America. Freedom of Religion is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. We can all believe what we want to believe. I choose not to believe that God is a bloodthirsty Destroyer. I'm not saying that God won't destroy evil and the incorrigibly wicked at the end of the age - I'm just saying that I don't believe God destroys things lightly for little or no apparent reason.




Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Did God make some mistakes?

From the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978):

1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God's witness to Himself.

2. Holy Scripture, being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms: obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promises.

3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture's divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.

4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.

5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible's own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.

Does that make God responsible for the mistakes, errors and contradictions listed below?

1. Did David take 700 or 7,000 horseman from King Hadadezer of Zobah? Compare II Samuel 8:4 with I Chronicles 18:4
2. Did King Solomon have 40,000 or 4,000 stalls of horses? Compare I Kings 4:26 with II Chronicles 9:25
3. Did Solomon have 3,300 or 3,600 chief officers over his temple labor force? Compare I Kings 5:16 with II Chronicles 2:2
4. Were there 2,812 or 2,818 people among the children of Pahathmoab, Jeshua and Joab? Compare Ezra 2:6 with Nehemiah 7:11
5. Were there 200 or 245 male and female singers among the exiles who returned from Babylon? Compare Ezra 2:65 with Nehemiah 7:67
6. Did God understand that night and day are the consequence of the earth rotating on its axis as it orbits the sun? Compare Genesis 1:3-5 with Genesis 1:16-19
7. Were Adam and Eve created at the same time or was Eve created later? Compare Genesis 1:26-28 with Genesis 2:21-23
8. Was King Ahaziah buried by his own men in Jerusalem or did Jehu's men bury him after he was executed? Compare II Kings 9:28 with II Chronicles 22:9
9. Did Jeremiah prophesy that God would inspire Cyrus to allow the exiles to return to the Promised Land and rebuild the temple or was it Isaiah? Compare II Chronicles 36:22 and Ezra 1:1 with Isaiah 44:28
10. Was the thirty pieces of silver prophecy delivered by Jeremiah or Zechariah? Compare Matthew 27:9-10 with Zechariah 11:12-13
11. Was Christ's robe scarlet or purple? Compare Matthew 27:28 with John 19:2
12. Did the men who were accompanying Saul/Paul on his way to Damascus hear something or see something? Compare Acts 9:7 with Acts 22:9

As regular readers of this blog will already know, I believe that the writing of Scripture was a joint project between human and Divine. While the Divine part of that equation is perfect, the human part is not. Hence, I believe the answer to my original question is "NO, God is not responsible for these mistakes, errors and contradictions." The men who wrote, copied and preserved them are responsible for them!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Who's in charge, God or Satan?

People have pointed to Paul's statement to the saints at Corinth that Satan is the "god of this world" as proof that the Devil rules over this earth. (II Corinthians 4:4) To further support this conclusion, these folks are also fond of quoting John's statement that Satan has deceived the whole world. (Revelation 12:9) For many, the coup de grace against arriving at any other conclusion is the fact that Satan's offer of this world's kingdoms to Jesus Christ was not directly challenged by him. (Matthew 4:8-11)

What about that? Does Scripture offer an alternative view of who is in charge of this planet?

First, we should probably back up and take a closer look at the statements referenced above. In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, the original Greek conveys the sense that Satan is the god of this civilization, society or age - not that this is somehow "his" planet. Moreover, the clear implication is that the people who make up that civilization have made Satan their god - not that God has somehow appointed "him" to that office.

Likewise, the fact that Satan has been successful in deceiving everyone within this age of civilization does not constitute proof that "he" is in charge. It only demonstrates that the people of this age have allowed themselves to be deceived by him (they aren't innocents in the process of deception). It should also be noted that this deception has unwittingly served God's greater purpose. We read that God has concluded all of these people together in unbelief so that "He" can have mercy on them later. (Romans 11:32)

As for the incident that arose during Satan's temptation of Christ, Jesus chose to respond to the Devil's insistence that he (Christ) worship him (Satan). He reminded Satan that only God is worthy of our service and worship. Jesus did not bother with Satan's arrogant offer, because it made absolutely no difference whether or not the Devil was within "his" rights to offer such a thing. Christ knew that nothing that could be offered was worth abandoning one's responsibility and allegiance to Almighty God to acquire!

Now we are ready to look at a book of Scripture that is largely ignored when compared to most other books of the Bible. In the book of Job, we learn that the angels apparently present themselves to God on a regular basis. (Job 1:6 and 2:1) Moreover, Satan apparently was still doing the same thing at the time that this story took place, or at least "he" did so on these occasions. (same verses)

Don't take my word for it - read through the first two chapters of the book. Notice that it is very clear throughout this account who's in charge. God questions Satan and grants permission for him to do certain things to Job, but "He" also sets clear boundaries to govern the Devil's behavior. God is clearly in charge. Satan is clearly subordinate.

God told Moses "the earth is mine." (Exodus 19:5) In one of Asaph's psalms, we read that God declared that "every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof." (Psalm 50:10-12) Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar that God "controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings." (Daniel 2:21, NLT) Hence, it would appear from these and many other scriptures that God is clearly in charge.

Moreover, why have we all been so quick to assume that God delegated his authority over this earth to Satan? Didn't God grant dominion over the earth and its other life forms to mankind? (Genesis 1:26) Doesn't this scripture imply that dominion was God's to give, and that "He" did not give it to Satan? In the final analysis, isn't this notion of Satan in charge just another one of "his" deceptions? In the future, perhaps we should all be a little more careful about how we use Scripture to arrive at certain conclusions.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Is God real?

There are numerous scriptural allusions to the fact that God is invisible. (Colossians 1:15, I Timothy 1:17, Hebrews 11:27, et al.) John wrote that no man has ever seen God. (John 1:18) Jesus Christ told the Jews of his day that they had never seen God's form or heard his voice. (John 5:37) He went on to say that he was the only one who had ever actually seen God. (John 6:46) Indeed, it is implied in several passages of Scripture that a good look at God would destroy a human. (Exodus 33:20-23, et al.)

To be sure, we could point to numerous manifestations of God recorded in Scripture in the form of a burning bush, pillar of cloud, column of fire, or smoking mountaintop or temple. We could also talk about a number of "visions" or mental images of God that were given to different individuals. In similar fashion, we could point to people who heard thunder, trumpets, voices and other loud noises at various times that were associated with the Divine presence.

Nevertheless, Scripture is consistent in its insistence that being in the actual presence of Almighty God is virtually impossible for a human to endure. When Moses drew near to the burning bush, God told him not to get too close and to take off his shoes because of the fact that God's presence had made the surrounding ground holy. (Exodus 3:5) Later, God told Moses to delineate a boundary around Mount Sinai and to execute anyone who dared to cross it. (Exodus 19:12-13) Indeed, while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments, we are told that the Israelites were afraid to get too close to the perimeter of the mountain because of God's presence. (Exodus 20:18-19) Hence, it is also clear that no one has ever touched God.

So we are left with a God that cannot be seen, heard, touched, tasted or smelled. Unless I have miscounted, I believe that incorporates all five of our human senses - the tools that we employ to perceive the reality around us. Does that mean that God is not a part of our reality? Does that mean that God is not real?

Could our reality be an illusion? Some of the leading physicists and cosmologists alive today have proposed just such a view of reality. Doesn't Scripture state that we exist because God wills us to exist? (Hebrews 1:3) Doesn't God exist simply because "He" is? (Exodus 3:14) So are we real or is God real?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Are we really all God's children?

Can people belonging to faiths other than Christianity claim to be God's children? Are Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Atheists God's children?

Paul told the Christians at Rome that the presence of the Holy Spirit made them God's children. (Romans 8:16) Likewise, he told the saints of Galatia that they were God's children because of their faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26)

However, Christ did say that peacemakers would be called God's chilren. (Matthew 5:9) He also suggested that the Jewish religious leaders of his day were Satan's children. (John 8:38-44) John wrote: "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." (I John 3:10) So we see that these scriptures clearly imply that those who do righteous things are God's children and those who do wicked things are not his children.

Nevertheless, there is also a sense that everyone on this planet has fallen short of God's perfection and sinned in the course of their lifetimes. (Romans 3:23) We could also say that everyone on this planet has fallen under Satan's sway to one degree or another. (Revelation 12:9)

If Satan has deceived the whole world, doesn't that mean everyone - including Christians? Didn't Paul say that we (Christians) see through a glass darkly? (I Corinthians 13:12) So does being less deceived that someone from another faith give us bragging rights over them? Does being a Christian secure us a greater place in God's affection? Or does being a Christian mean that we are a sinner saved by the grace of God? Didn't Christ die for the sins of the whole world? (I John 2:2)

Just before Christ ascended into heaven, he instructed his apostles to make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19) When Peter finally realized that God wanted the Gentiles to hear the gospel message, he declared: "I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right." (Acts 10:34-35, NLT)

When Luke recorded Christ's genealogy in his gospel account, he listed Adam as the son of God. (Luke 3:38) Hence, if we are all the sons and daughters of Adam (Deuteronomy 32:8 and Acts 17:26), doesn't that makes us all God's children too?

Where is God's true church today?

The problem with that question is all of the things that we attach to the word "church." When that word is used, we think of a building, religious service or organization. However, the Greek word that is translated into English as "church" refers to an assembly of people who have been called together by God. As a consequence, when someone asks a question like this one, we begin the discussion with a false conception of what we are addressing.

Hence, if you are looking through a list of "churches" trying to find God's church, you are going to come up empty handed. There are Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists and a host of other "churches" that make up Christendom. These are human organizations that may or may not have members who are also a part of that assembly of people who have been called together by God.

To be sure, many of these groups claim to be God's one and only true "church" (they love to exclude each other from God's love and kingdom), but I don't think that God has shared his membership list with any of them! Since God is the One doing the calling, "He" is the only One who knows for sure who is a part of God's "true church."

When we look at the big picture, a lot of these types of questions become absurd. God's church can't be identified by a set of doctrines, a name or a group of buildings at some physical location on this planet. The "Church" is what the original Greek word indicates that it is, nothing more or less.

Does it really matter what your group believes? Isn't what God believes more important? Does it matter what your group calls itself? Doesn't it matter more how God identifies "His" church? Does it matter what form of human governance your group has chosen for itself? Isn't God's supremacy what really matters? Is the way that your group conducts its worship service more important than worshiping God?

If you are a part of a group that satisfies your individual spiritual needs, then you should be happy. Don't forsake gathering together with your brothers and sisters in Christ - that's important (notice it's part of the meaning of the original Greek word for "church"). However, please don't try to tell me that your group is God's one and only true church!