False Teaching And The Signs That Help Detect It


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I finished reading the book of Galatians this morning. I used to think that it was sort of a mini-Romans. I suppose there’s some truth to that, but as I read Galatians more closely this week, I realized it’s really about false teaching and false teachers and the lies that the churches in the Galatian region were apparently beginning to believe.

Paul handled the problem by drawing their attention to it and by laying out the truth.

As I see it, the Church in today’s western culture is wide open to false teaching. In fact a radio preacher recently said that’s kind of normal—that the Church is prone to take on some of what the culture believes, even things that are false.

I’d say, among the many problems western culture has—things like selfishness and pride and greed and placing a high value on personal pleasure over serving, either God or our fellow humans—is one that might color pretty much all of life. It is the idea that humans are good, not sinful, not in need of a heart change.

People bristle at this idea and many churches no longer preach this truth because they no longer believe it.

Paul was dealing with legalism in Galatia, and that’s something that the Church has faced from time to time. I’d go so far as to say, it’s been an issue in my lifetime, and many preachers teach against it. It’s a works kind of belief, valuing human effort more than the grace God has given us. So it’s sadly alive and well and something the Church must continue to guard against. But so are these other postmodern, post-truth issues. Not that contemporary society invented them, but we have given a new voice to them.

The rest of this article is a re-post, with some revision, of one that appeared here in March, 2010.

I’ve come to believe Christians should uncover false teaching in the church. A believer’s silence in the face of instruction contrary to Scripture can be tacit agreement. By and large, I feel the majority of Bible-believing Christians have been silent longer than we should have been.

I understand why—we are all too aware of what the Bible says about judging. Who am I, then, to say that this person or that ministry is engaged in false teaching?

Well, I don’t think we need to do any finger pointing or heresy hunting. Instead, I think we can see what the Bible has to say about the subject.

I used to think that deciphering false teaching was easy. Not after I read comments to a statement I made: Christians have a set of essential beliefs we hold in common—that’s what defines us as Christians. The push-back shocked me. In essence, the response was, “Who says?” In other words, those who don’t hold to those core beliefs still say they are Christians. Who are you to say they aren’t?

To me that’s comparable to saying, I live in Cuba which is near the US, so I’m a US citizen. Who are you to say I’m not?

Clearly, if we do not agree on an authoritative source or a set of core beliefs comprising Christianity, then anyone can claim to be a “Christian” teacher, even those with a different message, a false message that contradicts what Christian orthodoxy has held to be true.

But who’s to say?

I’d have to give this one to God. He gets to say, and He’s addressed the subject in His Word.

In a sermon at Truth for Life on Nehemiah, Alistair Begg dealt with false teaching. He referenced a passage in Jeremiah about false prophecy:

But, “Ah, Lord GOD!” I said, “Look, the prophets are telling them, ‘You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.’ ”

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.

“Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who are prophesying in My name, although it was not I who sent them—yet they keep saying, ‘There will be no sword or famine in this land’—by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end! (Jer 14:13-15)

It struck me that these statements are similar to some of the teaching that passes as “Christian” today. I’m thinking in particular of any “universalist” teaching and any “Christianity will make you healthy and wealthy” teaching.

The first promises peace with God. All will go to heaven no matter what faith they embrace here on earth. In fact, there isn’t a hell to even worry about. This is nothing more than the spiritualized version of what the false prophets were saying in Jeremiah’s day.

The second is a peace-in-your-own-personal-world promise. Real believers, this false teaching says, will be rich and healthy. One particular TV false teacher scoffs at Christians who think God might be teaching them through affliction.

Jeremiah’s message to the people of Israel was that God was in fact teaching and punishing them through the drought they were experiencing and the war that threatened them, even though the false prophets said otherwise.

Which leads to the real sign of false teaching, according to Pastor Begg and his exposition of Nehemiah 9: God’s word—teaching that is true—will call His people to repentance. Here are two key verses in the passage:

While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God …

However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. (Neh 9:3, 33)

In contrast, look at what Jeremiah says in Lamentations:

Your prophets have seen for you
False and foolish visions;
And they have not exposed your iniquity
So as to restore you from captivity,
But they have seen for you false and misleading oracles. (Lam 2:14; emphasis mine)

God’s word read—the people confessed.

False teachers spoke—iniquity remained unexposed.

Does universalism prompt confession? Does the health-and-wealth teaching expose iniquity? Does any false teaching do so?

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God Knows; We Don’t


Our sermon Sunday has stuck with me. We’re currently going through the gospel of John and have reached the chapters in which Jesus prepares His men for His crucifixion and resurrection . . . or at least tries to. The pastor who preached started by saying, God knows and we don’t, and He knows that we don’t.

That fact came through clearly in the passage we were studying (John 16:16-33). The disciples are kind of scratching their heads saying, Huh? We don’t know what you’re saying. So Jesus spells it out for them. They reply, Now you’re speaking plainly. No more vague references or metaphors. Jesus comes back by saying, Actually you still don’t really believe like you think you believe. In just a short time you’ll all be scattered and will desert Me.

As we know from Scripture, that’s precisely what happened. But the disciples didn’t know at the time when Jesus was telling them all these things. But He gave them the piece of information they needed most. This would provide them with the peace in the midst of tribulation that He mentioned in the last verse:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

So what was this piece of information? That Jesus had overcome the world? I’m sure that was good news for them to hear, but when the tribulation hit, when the persecution would come, when they were hunkered in a room away from the crowd who had put Jesus to death, could they see this triumph Jesus talked about? Probably not.

But He gave them the information they needed:

Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. (vv 22-24)

So often the last two verses are pulled out of context and used in a presumptuous way by people who want to “hold God to His promises.” They want to ask for a mansion or to win the lottery or to marry up or whatever fills their heart’s desire.

But Jesus was talking specifically that His disciples could ask God to show them what was happening when they didn’t understand. When they would grieve for three days after the crucifixion, when they didn’t have a clue what they would do with their lives since Jesus wasn’t going to reign the way they thought He would.

They needed wisdom, and that would come from asking God. Interesting that Jesus’s half-brother, James, got this message. He said in his letter to the persecuted church,

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (Jas. 1:5)

Because God knows, and we don’t and He knows that we don’t, He tells us to ask. That’s it. Ask Him. And He will give generously, without making us feel like fools for coming to Him in our ignorance.

I’ve found myself more than once this week saying, I don’t get it, Lord; show me what You mean. Do I, in that moment, have clarity? Sometimes, but not always. Sometimes I have to wait, and sometimes I have to dig a little to understand the part that I don’t get.

I’m pretty sure Jesus was talking about spiritual things. I mean, the context is how the Messiah (He Himself) had to depart, had to die, all because His kingdom was spiritual. But can we ask for wisdom for the temporal stuff, too? I don’t see why not. I just don’t think God was promising to give us the temporal stuff.

When I was a kid, I used to pray regularly for a bike. No bike. Until one day I got an old second hand bike, probably as a gift from my parents. Problem was, we lived on a hill. I mean, we lived in the middle of a two-mile stretch of hill. Below us was a mile of down, and above us was a mile of up. Owning a bike then wasn’t quite what I had imagined.

But twice in my adult years, I actually had need of a bike. Both times someone (two different someones) generously lent me a nice ten-speed that I could use long term, as if I owned the bike.

I know God gives wisdom. James makes that clear. And certainly He wants us to ask for other things we need. Our wants that we think will make us happy? Not so much. But the peace in the midst of trouble? He gives that for sure. Because He knows, even when we don’t. And He knows we don’t.

Published in: on August 16, 2019 at 5:29 pm  Comments (6)  
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Jesus As Lord


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The Bible reveals Jesus as many things—the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, but it seems that the one thing God will make clear to all people at some point is that He is Lord.

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)

When I think of “Lord” I think of authority. Interestingly, it was Jesus’s authority that caught people’s attention early on. The gospels record that people questioned the authority with which He taught, they wondered about (and some doubted) His authority over unclean spirits. And His disciples were especially amazed at His authority over elements in nature.

I’m also curious about the way that Satan interacted with Jesus in the three temptations recorded in the book of Matthew. One was a concession that Jesus was master over physical elements, acknowledging that He could turn stones into bread if He wanted. Another was a concession that He, or at least His Father, was master over the angelic host and could protect Him at will.

The third is the one that seems different. In the temptation involving who would rule the kingdoms of the world, Satan seems to be offering to trade what he had for what Jesus had—his power and control of the earthly kingdoms, for God’s position as Lord over all.

Jesus being God had that same position and authority.

Sadly, people in today’s western culture seem eager to bring Jesus down. For some time, other religions have acknowledged Jesus as a prophet, and it seems that view of Him is flooding into our Christianized societies. Hence, to many He is little more than a guru, a rabbi, a good teacher.

Even professing Christians belittle Him by limiting His work on earth to a “this is how it’s done” example for us to emulate. Given that Jesus lived a sinless life, we can undoubtedly learn by studying what He did and said. But Jesus as example should not supplant Jesus as Lord.

What Jesus said wasn’t just good thinking, wise advice, logical, helpful, and moral. It was right. It was true.

He spoke as the one person who knew the Father and who could reveal Him. He spoke from a position of omniscience, without any misconceptions or delusions. No one else could speak this way. Only Jesus. Only the One who is over all.

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority (Col 2:9-10, emphasis added)

I find it especially interesting that Jesus’s half brother James started his letter “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ …” Here’s a man who could have claimed a special relationship with Jesus on a human level but chose instead to identify himself as a servant for life to the Lord. Essentially he established his credentials to say what he was about to say by declaring his relationship with Jesus as Lord, not as brother or friend or even as Savior.

When I think about the fact that those words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, I get a picture of how God wants me to view Jesus.

This article is an edited version of one that first appeared here in June 2011.

Published in: on June 20, 2019 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Difference God’s Word Makes


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People talk about prayer changing things. It does, but so does God’s word. I’m referring to the Bible. I don’t remember my whole line of reasoning, but this morning I considered writing my pastor a short email. I’m sure he’s glad that I’m opting for this post instead (although there’s no guarantee that that email won’t still happen).

Honestly, the idea popped into my mind because I was praying for him and then thanking God that we have a pastor who faithfully teaches through the Bible. We are presently working our way through the gospel of John in the New Testament, and I really appreciate the teaching. We’ve discussed some great truth, not the least of which was the fifth “I AM” statement Jesus made, which we saw this week: “I AM the resurrection and the life.”

Anyway, back to what I thought to say to my pastor. First I did want to tell him how great it is to hear God’s world explained so faithfully and clearly week after week. Being on the internet has taught me that lots of Christians don’t have that wonderful advantage. Yet here I am in the great blue leftist state whose government likely hates everything I believe, and yet I have the privilege of sitting under such godly teaching. Lots of other Californians do, too. How this has happened, I don’t know, but we are blessed by some great preachers who speak the truth in love: Dr. David Jeremiah, Greg Laurie, Philip De Courcy, John MacArthur, to name just a few.

But I’m off track again. What I thought to say to my pastor, who does have a name—Darin McWatters—is that when he finishes with John, I’d like him to preach through one of the minor prophets. I’m currently reading through Hosea, so that’s the one I thought I’d suggest. I’ve heard more than once a preacher on the radio make a joke about the congregation needing to dust off the part of the Old Testament that contains the books of prophecy, or of people not knowing where they are.

I think, really? That’s kind of an insult—basically saying, the people in your church don’t read the Bible. But then I thought, maybe they don’t.

Off my mind wandered. There’s a guy in the atheist/theist Facebook group that calls himself a Christian, but he does so in spite of the fact that he doesn’t believe the Bible. He “self-identifies” as a Christian because of the “loving community” he’s a part of. I can’t help but puzzle over this. Are these people loving because they are Christians and Theist Guy has simply felt at home with them because they are showing the love of Christ? Or are they in some pseudo-Christian group that doesn’t really even try to embrace Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, but like a good country club, enjoys each other’s company?

And what makes the difference? What makes the difference between this guy and me?

Then it hit me, as clearly as if God had answered my question Himself. Well, I think He did through the Holy Spirit. The difference is the very Bible I was holding at the time. I actually read the Bible, believe it, and want to obey what I learn from it. Not every professing Christian does. And if those pastors who joke about their congregants having to dust off the books of prophecy are right, not every actual Christian reads it either.

No wonder there are Christians who go to church and sleep with their boyfriend or cheat on their homework or lie to their boss or hold grudges.

In some ways the Old Testament is hard because the grace of God is maybe a little harder to find. It’s there in every warning the prophets gave to the people of Israel and Judah, in every miraculous rescue God engineered, in every judge or king He sent to get His people out from under bondage. But in between there’s a lot of disobedience and suffering because of the hole they dug for themselves. The prophets are more of the same, on steroids.

But I kind of think we in our comfy western culture need to hear this same warning. After all, God told us that “all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for correction, for reproof, for training in righteousness” so not just John 3:16 or Romans 8:28 or 1 John 1:9 are helpful verses. The whole Bible is helpful. More than helpful. It’s what we need.

The Timothy passage I’m referring to goes on to say that Scripture will make us “adequate for every good work.” In other words, the Bible changes us. It opens our eyes to the truth. It shows us how we should live and how we can live as we should. It shows us God and His Son, even in a book like Esther that doesn’t actually name Him.

We see Him in the sufferings of Job, in the disobedience of Jonah, in the faithfulness of Jeremiah and Hosea, in the visions of Ezekiel and of Daniel. God and His Son are both the subject and the object of the Bible. “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings,” Paul said. That’s really what the Bible reveals about God: how we can know Him. How we can know His plan. How we can know His power and purpose.

Oh, yes. The Bible is an agent of change. Those who let the Bible fill their lives, will never be the same. They will understand, as Job did, that the words of God’s mouth are to be treasured “more than my necessary food.”

Published in: on May 20, 2019 at 5:22 pm  Comments (7)  
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Deciding Ahead Of Time


I’m a home body. Most of the time I’d be most content to spend the day, the evening, at home. I know other people like to go new places and have different experiences. That’s not me. It never has been me. Mostly I go to places I have to go: the grocery store and the like. You’d be right to think I sound borderline agoraphobic. Except, I’m not afraid. I just like home best.

So on occasion I have things come up that require me to go somewhere: a writers’ meeting, church, lunch or a movie with friends, church. What I realized was that I would try to hold out to the last minute to actually make the decision to go, especially if no one was actually expecting me to be somewhere.

Like church.

Every Sunday I found myself wrestling with myself to decide to go. Until I made up my mind to go to church because I go to church.

I recently realized this was the type of making up his mind that Daniel did. He and his friends had been hauled off to Babylon, put into the special training program for future service to the king, and given special food. Probably meat offered to idols, though the Bible only says it was the kings choice meat and wine.

Daniel decided not to defile himself. Since meat is not defiling in and of itself, by implication I conclude there was something connected to false religion in the killing or preparing of this meat. (Could have been that the blood had not been drained out as God required of the Jews. We don’t really know).

The point is, Daniel didn’t sit down day after day and argue himself into not eating that food. He made up his mind. He went about getting his food changed by following the proper channels. When there was reluctance to go with his plan, he negotiated. Because he’d made up his mind ahead of time.

I think Christian disciplines are like that. Should I get up early to read my Bible? Should I go to church the Sunday? Should I pray today? Should I memorize Scripture?

All those things we can decide, and then stick with our decision. It’s almost like asking, Should I eat breakfast? Should I go to the gym? Should I walk the dog? There are some things that seem optional until we realize they hold something critical for our well being.

Daniel took care of his problem right from the start:

Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself. (Daniel 1:8)

I wonder how many self-arguments and struggles to make decisions I would save myself if I simply made up my mind ahead of time.

Published in: on May 15, 2019 at 4:30 pm  Comments (4)  
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Things Aren’t Always The Way They Seem


Jeremiah prophesied at the end of Jewish rule. Israel, the northern kingdom, had already suffered defeat and its citizens, for the most part, were forced into captivity by the Assyrians. Judah, by God’s grace, survived the Assyrian assaults and continued in the land, sometimes following God and sometimes succumbing to idolatry.

Finally, within the last fifty years of their existence, God sent Jeremiah with His final words of warning. This time, Babylon was the nation God designated as His instrument of judgment on His people. The people of Judah ignored the warnings.

At one point Babylon defeated Judah, deposed the rightful king, set up another king to be their puppet and to send them tribute, and carried into exile all the leaders—the priests and the army officials and the men of means.

Scholars suggest that Daniel ended up in Babylon because of this first, partial exile.

Eventually the puppet king rebelled against Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar sent his army to finish the job of defeating and removing Judah. So began a siege of Jerusalem that lasted for a year and a half.

Here’s the thing. When those first captives were taken from their homes and exiled to Babylon, I imagine that the people in Judah all felt like the lucky ones, the ones who experienced God’s favor (or the favor of whatever idol they might have been worshiping). That wasn’t actually true.

We know from the book of Daniel that the young men who showed promise were treated well, given an education, put in prominent positions in government. Sure they were exiled from their homeland, but they had their lives and had, as Daniel did, some amount of freedom to worship God, to work and earn a place of respect within the Babylonian system.

In truth, the people left in Judah were the casualties of the war, not the exiles.

They lived on meager provisions because God turned His back on them. They were living in their homeland, but they were not free. They paid a tax or tariff of some kind that undoubtedly further impoverished them. When they rebelled, they faced war again, and then the siege.

Babylon simply waited them out while food grew scarcer and scarcer. Things got so bad that people were eating the dung of birds. At one point a couple women agreed to eat each other’s children. How desperate did a person have to be to make such an agreement, let alone actually carry it out?

What was Jeremiah saying during this time? Stop fighting. Give yourself up to the Babylonians. The siege was from God. The destruction of Judah was from God, but the people who stopped fighting and surrendered would not die.

Sadly, the Jewish king refused to listen. As a result, he was forced to watch as the Babylonians killed all his sons and the other nobles. Then they blinded him and led him away to be imprisoned. Apparently that king and his advisors looked at exile as the worst possible evil. But it wasn’t. They didn’t realize things aren’t always as they seem.

Jeremiah experienced this truth in his own life. At one point people became angry at him, claiming he was discouraging the troops with his prophecies. One guy even lied about him, saying he was trying to go over to the Babylonians, when he was not. They arrested him and held him from that time on. And fed him a loaf of bread a day until the bread ran out.

What looked like a defeat for this prophet, actually turned into a means for his daily provision.

All these examples are a mere shadow of the most notable “not what you think” event, that being the death of Jesus Christ.

The disciples thought all their hopes for the Messiah were over. The end. The crucifixion finished any chance of Jesus taking the throne and fulfilling the promises of the prophets. But His death was not the way it seemed. The cross was actually a gateway to the resurrection.

I wonder how many times I miss what God is actually doing because I focus on what I think is happening. That tendency to rely on our own thinking is deadly and shows why it’s so important to hold fast to the word of God. If Scripture says He’s good, then He is, even though the circumstances around us might not seem as if He’s good.

God’s word is true, and it’s the anchor we can hold to so that we don’t get pulled under by the way things seem. Instead, we can know, things aren’t always the way them seem.

I know atheists who have a hard time accepting this idea. But it’s really simple. Our understanding comes down to the answer to this question: who’s in control? If the atheist things humans are, then they will always rely on their human perceptions of a thing. But if a Christian say, God is, they should always rely on what God reveals in His word. Unfortunately we Christians are fallible and weak and sometimes deceived, so we don’t always live the truth that is available to us, but we should.

We might not remember, the way things were not as they seemed for Jeremiah, but we should remember, the way things were not as they seemed for Jesus. Paul said, if God didn’t spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, why should we think He will not give us everything else we’ll need? In other words, Jesus is the One we should look to, not our own understanding.

Published in: on April 25, 2019 at 5:26 pm  Comments (3)  
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My Take On Cloth And Wineskins


Have you every been bugged by a portion of Scripture? It just doesn’t seem to fit or make sense in light of what you know or in light of the context?

I’ve struggled in this way with a passage in the book of Matthew. Let me give you the context. Jesus began his public ministry and quickly incurred the ire of the Jewish religious leaders because more than once He healed people on the Sabbath. After calling Matthew to be His disciple, He went home with him for dinner. The Pharisees complained about Him eating and drinking with tax-collectors (corrupt government officials) and sinners (those who didn’t keep the Jewish law). Jesus told them to “go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE’…”

Soon after John’s disciples and those of the Pharisees observed a religious fast. John’s disciples asked Jesus why His disciples didn’t fast, too.

Now His answer.

And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. (9:15)

I get that. So far so good. But He continued:

“But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (9:16-17)

Huh?

How did we get from eating with sinners and not keeping a fast, to cloth and wineskins?

Well, obviously, as with the previous part of His answer about the bridegroom, Jesus is making an analogy, but what equals what?

I’ve heard sermons on this passage before and usually the point is this: the old is the Law, the new, the New Covenant. Set aside for the moment that those to whom Jesus was talking would not have understood that analogy at all. The idea of the New Covenant was still just that—an idea. Most people had no clue why the Messiah had actually come.

But the real problem I have here is that the new wine bursts the old wineskin, and both are lost. In addition, the new cloth patch on the old garment in Jesus’s analogies ruins what it was intended to repair.

Yet Jesus clearly said in the Sermon on the Mount that He did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matt. 5:17-18)

My thoughts about the cloth and wineskins analogy came clear to me as I read a passage in Mark where Jesus elaborates on the problem He had with the Pharisees:

(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’

Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:3-9 – emphasis mine)

The Pharisees were adding onto the Law, changing what God had given by adding in their new regulations. So back in Matthew, what if the old cloth and the old wineskins stand for God’s true Law? In the verses just prior to these analogies, remember, Jesus told the Pharisees to figure out what Scripture meant when it said God desired compassion rather than sacrifice.

God’s Law was actually to love Him and to love our neighbors.

The new patch of cloth, the new wine, then, represent the traditions the Pharisees heaped on top of what God had said. Their add-ons were tearing apart the fabric, bursting the skins, of God’s perfect Law.

I know this way of looking at these verses flies in the face of the traditional interpretation. Traditional … heh-hem. Maybe that’s not a bad thing because I think it fits the context of the passage and is consistent with what Jesus says about fulfilling God’s law and about the Pharisees’ perversion of it through their tradition.

In the end, I come away more mindful of the need to hold loosely things like worship styles and other extra-Biblical practices. Compassion must not be sacrificed on the altar of tradition.

This article is a reworking of one that first appeared here in May, 2012.

Published in: on April 3, 2019 at 5:55 pm  Comments (5)  
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Which God Are We Talking About?


God, the dictionary tells us, is “the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being” (Oxford-American Dictionary).

Can there be more than one Supreme Being? Turning to the dictionary again, we find “supreme” means

• superior to all others
• strongest, most important, or most powerful

In short, there can’t be multiple beings superior to all others. Nor can there be more than one strongest, or more than one most important, or more than one most powerful.

There can be multiple claimants to the position of God, but only One truly fills the role.

Today we have pretenders, even as past cultures and past generations had pretenders. The god of the Mormons is a pretender. The Hindus worship thousands of pretender gods, none actually being God who is Supreme. The Sikhs worship one god as do the Jews and Muslims, but these too are pretenders.

I know that latter statement might be controversial, but the truth is, Jesus is the one who shows us God. Without believing in Him, a person will not know the One True God. So the Muslims and Sikhs acknowledge that Jesus lived, but they do not believe He is God. Therefore, what they know about God isn’t complete. The same is true about the Jews, as close as they might be. They do not accept Jesus as Messiah, so they only partly know and understand who God is.

In the western world, the greatest pretender is Mankind. Atheists in particular, but others also, see Man as the one who is supreme—in practice if not in ideology.

How else could a person dogmatically state that in all the vastness of the universe, or perhaps of the multiverse, God does not exist? Only a supremely knowledgeable person could know such a thing.

On the other hand, some who claim to believe in God emphatically rule out the idea that He might judge humankind and find us wanting, find us deserving of judgment. These are the people who say, God would never send people to hell. Religious minded individuals of this persuasion believe they get to decide what god is like—if they don’t want a god who is angry at sin and at the hurt to which people subject each other, well, then they declare him to be what they want. In essence, they make themselves their own god.

In the days of King Hezekiah, a commander of Assyria, who confronted Judah, made the mistake of thinking the One True God was just another spiritual being like those worshiped by any number of the other nations in the Middle East. When this military leader came against Jerusalem, he tried to talk the citizens into surrendering by belittling God:

Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you, saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? And when have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the LORD would deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’” (Isaiah 36:18-20).

Well, sure, he’d have been right if God were one among many. Why should one be feared more than any of the others if there is no One Supreme Being? But in fact, God, the God of the Old and the New Testaments, stands above all.

He alone is self-existent. All other spiritual beings are part of His creation. King Hezekiah had a chance to declare this truth so that people for all time could know who God is:

“O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to all the words of Sennacherib, who sent them to reproach the living God. Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have devastated all the countries and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, LORD, are God.” (Isaiah 37:16-20)

In fact God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and answered him accordingly. Assyria never did conquer Judah. Their army was decimated, and the king returned to Nineveh where his own sons assassinated him.

God, the One True God, will not be mocked. He wants the nations to know Him and worship Him. I know this bothers a lot of atheists. They think it’s egocentric of God to want glory. But the truth is, to want anything less would be a falsehood. It would suggest that someone else is as deserving of praise and honor as God is. None are.

Should God lie in order to appear humble? Thank you all, you’re all too kind. I don’t deserve all this attention. Please, feel free to praise each other or one of the angels or one of the pretend gods. I want to be fair and pass the attention around so you all can experience this great feeling of being adored by so many.

That’s the kind of thinking the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have produced. We think all the Little Leaguers should get trophies; that all people, no matter what their abilities, can do whatever they want if they just put their minds to it; and that god should not be so selfish as to demand all praise be given to him.

But to whom else should we give praise?

Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales. . .
All the nations are as nothing before Him,
They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.
To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare with Him?
. . .
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.
. . .
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable. (excerpts from Isaiah 40)

God, the One True God, deserves to be treated as the Supreme Being He is!

This post is a revised and edited version of one that appeared here in January, 2015.

Published in: on March 29, 2019 at 5:31 pm  Comments (6)  
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Does God Speak Through Nature?


Photo by Genaro Servín from Pexels

Weather across the US continues to be extreme, including here in SoCal. An hour ago, we had a downpour that flooded the streets and left puddles in our back yard. Now the clouds have moved off toward the mountains where there will likely be a snow storm before the day is over.

Oddly enough, the extreme weather makes me think of Exodus, the Egyptians, and the plagues they endured when God pried the Hebrew slaves from their control. I wonder how much the average Egyptian, without email, Twitter, or Facebook, knew about Moses and his demand to Pharaoh that he let the Israelites go to worship God.

When the first plague hit—the water-to-blood event—did the people think it was some sort of anomalous extreme they had to work around? Extra work, sure. They had to dig beside the Nile to get water fit for consumption, but not, surely, an act of the Israelite God.

When the frogs came, did the people revise their thinking? Or did they see a cause/effect connection—the bad water had chased the frogs onto the land and into their homes.

Then the gnats or lice followed and the swarms of other insects. And we know that insects can carry diseases, so no surprise that pestilence followed. Or maybe the Egyptians, who may not have known the connection between bugs and disease, were surprised.

At what point did they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was bringing these “natural disasters” on their land? Was it when Goshen where the Israelites lived became exempt from the effects of the plagues? Was it when Pharaoh’s magicians could no longer replicate what God did through Moses? Was it when boils appeared on humans and animals alike after Moses stood outside and threw ashes in the air?

At some point, Pharaoh’s advisers got the picture that God was behind all they experienced, and they urged their supreme ruler to capitulate. Eventually the everyday people got the picture, too, because they eagerly gave the Israelites their gold and silver and valuable cloth just prior to their exodus.

In fact, after the final plague, when the Egyptians awoke to find the eldest son in each house slain on his bed, they “urged the people, to send them out of the land in haste, for they said, ‘We will all be dead.'” (Ex. 12:33.)

I’m just silly enough to believe that blizzards and monsoonal floods and wild fires and tornadoes and earthquakes and hurricanes and outbreaks of measles and chicken pox, while certainly not plagues, are nevertheless from God—“natural” events He uses to press us to His side.

The Egyptians were disbelieving until they couldn’t not believe. They may not have concluded that God was God and Ra was not, Pharaoh was not, the Nile was not, but they knew that Moses’s God must be obeyed.

Are we like the Egyptians? We know all about weather patterns now and, via satellite, can see hurricanes forming. We can track jet streams and air currents and the movement of high or low pressure zones. We aren’t like Pharaoh’s magicians in that we can make nature happen, but we can predict it. Which gives us a sense of control over it.

So I wonder if we don’t miss what God might be doing to press us to His side, to call us to repentance, to summon us to obey Him and not the idols of the world. I wonder if all our accommodating of the cold and the rain while we go about our daily business, is us sticking our fingers in our ears and saying, I don’t want to hear you, God.

Would that we could be like the boy, Samuel, who, when he heard God calling, responded by saying, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.”

This article is the “face-lift” version of one that first appeared here in September 2014.

Published in: on March 21, 2019 at 4:39 pm  Comments (8)  
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Solomon’s Warning


I’ve never liked the book of Ecclesiastes. I thought parts were cool—a cord of three strands cannot be broken, for instance. And a time to laugh, a time to cry and so on. But the book? I didn’t really get it.

Then some pastor explained that the phrase repeated over and over, “under the sun” was Solomon’s way of saying, “Apart from God.” I wasn’t convinced. How did the scholars know that’s what Solomon meant? Finally I became convinced that’s truly what he was saying, but that just made me angry. I mean, the wisest man on earth, and he came up with some of the nonsense in that book?

And there was plenty of nonsense. Mostly his conclusions are nihilistic. Everything totals out to, zero. Even that passage made famous by the folk rock band The Byrds in their song “Turn Turn Turn.” I used to like that passage. Yes, I thought. It’s a statement of the rightness of the place all these things have in a person’s life. In my life. Until that same pastor pointed out that actually what Solomon was saying was that these things cancel each other out and the sum of them all is, zero.

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.

It gets worse when Solomon says, essentially that riches and poverty make no difference because the one who is rich and dies and leaves all his wealth to . . . he doesn’t know who. Will the one who takes control of his estate use it well or squander it? Or how about the wise man and the fool? No advantage, Solomon says, because they both die and end up going to the same place.

Uh, no, I think. This brilliant guy Solomon, is missing the truth. He is ignoring God and the ways He makes a difference, now and in the hereafter.

And that’s the point.

I heard a message by one of my favorite pastors on the radio, Philip De Courcy, and it “happened to be” his introduction to his series on Ecclesiastes.

What I learned from Pastor De Courcy is that God used Solomon and his own personal struggles to find meaning in life, to inform us, so that we don’t have to go through the same crash into meaninglessness before we resurface and find God to be our anchor.

That was Solomon’s trajectory. He was the thirsty man building broken cisterns that could hold no water. He tried to achieve by building all kinds of awesome structures. He tried to acquire by gaining more wealth than anyone. He lived for personal pleasure—wine, women, and song. He tried to hone his wisdom. In the end, he concluded none of it was satisfying. It all left him empty.

And that lesson is for us. We don’t have to follow in Solomon’s steps. We can read his testimony, and we can skip to the last chapter so that his end and be the guide in our own lives:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. (Ecc. 12:13-14)

Instead of being angry at Solomon, I should be grateful to God for including in His word the struggles of this intelligent, capable, powerful king who “had the world on a string,” yet strayed from the truth. All those women he married brought into his palace and into his heart and mind, the foreign gods they brought with them. Which explains how someone so wise could go so far astray.

He lost his relationship with God and that left him trying to find meaning apart from God. It wasn’t in any of his stuff, his pleasures, his brilliance. Earlier in the book he said everything added up to zero. Life was futile. A miscarriage was better than a rich man because he didn’t have to face the struggle.

That’s worse than sad. It’s bleak, the words of someone who has no hope. But for the grace of God, his life, and the book of warning could have ended there. But no. God gave him clarity before it was too late. His conclusion to all his struggles is the most important part of the book: fear God—treat Him with reverence and awe—and keep His commandments.

Published in: on March 11, 2019 at 5:39 pm  Comments (7)  
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