Creation And The Bible


fullmoonovermountains-benjamin-child
Nothing might be more controversial today than creation. Atheists and liberals will collectively begin scoffing as soon as they read the word. Or mocking. Idiot right-wing Trumpite. She believes in creation. Ha-ha-hah! She probably believes in the Tooth Fairy, too. Or the White Rabbit.

For the record: not a Trumpite. And while I’m a fantasy writer, I have a pretty keen ability to discern what is make believe and what is true. You might even say I lean toward the skeptical.

But here’s the thing. Once you have confidence in the source of truth, you don’t need to constantly check it’s reliability.

For instance, in the course of my writing/editing day, I look up a lot of words using the Oxford-American Dictionary app on my computer. I do not immediately switch to the Internet so I can find that same word on Merriam-Webster or one of the other online dictionaries. I trust the source I’m using.

I have confidence in the Bible for a multitude of reasons which I’ve written about before (here’s one such post, the beginning of a short series, and here’s another).

I don’t mean, by saying that I have confidence in the Bible, that I don’t ask questions. I do. In fact, I’ve asked a lot of questions about the Genesis account of creation. For instance, when did God create the water that covered everything before He created the earth and all that is on it? And how did He create light before He created the sun and the moon and the stars? And the one that consumes so many people’s attention, did God really create everything in six days—the 24-hour days we know?

In some cases, in all my question asking, I come up with what I think might be the answer, but in most instances, the Bible hasn’t made a definitive statement, so I have to be content with what seems reasonable—given that God is omnipotent and sovereign and good.

What can I say about creation, then? What is categorically and uncompromisingly clear according to the Bible? Only this one thing: God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them, the heavenly host, those who fell and those who serve him in joy and obedience. There simply is not anything made that was not made.

The Bible does not equivocate on this point. Right from the start, this is the point the Bible makes: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

God’s work as Creator is not a minor point. The Bible actually makes it clear that His work as Maker of the heavens and the earth set Him apart from pretend gods. Psalm 115 is a classic comparison between God and idols:

Why should the nations say,
Where now is their God?
But God is in the heavens.
He does whatever He pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.

Then towards the end:

May you be blessed of the LORD,
Maker of heaven and earth.
The heavens are the heavens of the LORD,
But the earth He has given to the sons of men.

The verse of course implies that the earth is the Lord’s to give. Which makes sense if He is the Maker.

Other passages confirm this understanding, particularly the distinction between God and other gods or idols:

For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the LORD made the heavens. (Psalm 96:5)

Or how about Psalm 146:

How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the LORD his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them (vv 5-6)

The passage goes on to name an impressive list of things we can praise God for, but it starts with his work as the maker of the heavens and the earth.

Here are other clear statements about God’s work as creator:

Psalm 33:6
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
And by the breath of His mouth all their host.

Psalm 148:5
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
For He commanded and they were created.

Jeremiah 10:11-12
Thus you shall say to them, “The gods that did not make the heavens and the earth will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.”
It is He who made the earth by His power,
Who established the world by His wisdom;
And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens.

Jeremiah 32:17
‘Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You,

John 1:3
All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

Colossians 1:16
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.

Revelation 14:7
and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”

This list is hardly exhaustive. More like it’s the first ray of morning light. But I think the point is clear: the Bible identifies God as the creator of all that has been created.

But here’s the thing: in these verses I quoted, there’s hardly agreement concerning the process of creation. The two Psalms say it was by His word and commandment. The earlier Jeremiah passage says it was by His wisdom and understanding. The second Jeremiah passage says it was by his power and outstretched arm. And the three New Testament passages made no statement about how God went about creating.

So does this difference constitute a contradiction—the Bible writers couldn’t agree with each other about the method of creation.

That, unfortunately, is how some read Scripture. They miss the poetic expressions that tell us more about God than about the creative process. He is so great that all He needed was to speak a word, but He is also so authoritative that His word was a command. All that He made was done as an expression of His wisdom and understanding, and His outstretched hand and power identify His sovereignty.

Rather than disagree, these passages of Scripture, written centuries apart in some instances, and by different men, in different circumstances, agree about the fundamental truth: God created. How, the Bible only gives us glimpses. It is not myth, but neither is it a text book, explaining the particulars one step at a time.

The big picture is crystal clear: God created.

His work as Creator sets Him apart from all other gods—all the pretenders and wanna-be usurpers, the idols that have mouths but cannot speak, and even from we ourselves and our thoughts of grandeur.

God created. God. Created. It’s the dividing line between people who believe and people who don’t.

Photo credit – Benjamin Child via Unsplash.

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Published in: on February 8, 2017 at 5:32 pm  Comments (1)  
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Education And The Bible


student-peter-hersheyFor weeks a number of people have picketed and posted against President Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. People have mocked her, belittled her, and cast insinuations that she’s corrupt. Take, for example, the meme that found its way on Facebook, comparing Ms. DeVos to the fictitious Dolores Umbridge who abused her students and her power in one of J. K. Rawling’s Harry Potter books.

The great cry from those who actually say something intelligent on the subject is that Ms. DeVos will be bad for public education here in the US. First she has no experience in the field of education, and second, she’s been a supporter of charter schools—also funded publicly and therefore, also part of the public education system.

There are reasons for the friction between traditionally public and public charter schools. Generally those can be broken down into two categories: who gets the money and who has the power? Some chafe at the idea that “school factories” run by corporations might get their hands on education. I get that. I’m not particularly happy about it either, especially when I watch some of the self-serving twaddle that passes as “news” or “pre-game coverage” (here’s looking at you, Fox).

Will our kids’ schools start selling naming rights for their mascot? Wearing advertisement slogans on the sports jerseys? Ugh. The possibilities are a bit frightening.

But, the schools here in California are a mess as it is. We may not get the corporate party line, but we do get the welfare state party line. Meanwhile, kids in the inner cities fall further and further behind. Further, they’re exposed to gang violence and threats, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and all kinds of other activities that anywhere else would be labeled, Not age appropriate.

But they can’t get out. Their parents don’t have the money to send them to a private school or the wherewithal to get them to a charter school or the time and expertise to homeschool them. So in the public school system they stay.

What, if anything, does the Bible say about education?

Not a lot. Some mention is made of groups of prophets—the New English Translation (NET) calls them prophetic guilds—which might be thought of as training grounds for prophets.

Although no specific mention is made of education, we know that Moses was schooled in the courts of Pharaoh because Pharaoh’s daughter took him to be her son. He would therefore have received whatever training any of the other royal children received.

In various passages in the Old Testament, God commanded His people to instruct their children in the way of the Lord. Here are a few:

“what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?

“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons. (Deut. 5:8-9; emphasis added here and in the following verses).

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut. 6:6-7)

Psalm 78 is a little more specific:

We will not conceal them [the things “we have heard and known”] from their children,
But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD,
And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.
For He established a testimony in Jacob
And appointed a law in Israel,
Which He commanded our fathers
That they should teach them to their children,
That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born,
That they may arise and tell them to their children,
That they should put their confidence in God
And not forget the works of God,
But keep His commandments, (vv 4-7a)

In short, God’s instruction was for the parents to teach their children the Law and the history of Israel—God’s work of redemption that brought them to the Promised Land.

Other references to education in the Bible include Daniel and his friends who were taken into the Babylonian court. The king instructed his chief of officials “to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.” Which he did, though Scripture credits God for their accomplishments: “As for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom” (see Daniel 1 for this and the previous quote).

In summary, a few individuals had the opportunity for what we might consider a formal education, but God put parents in charge of the spiritual education of every child.

I say, spiritual education, but God’s work in the history of Israel was foundational, and it was their history that parents were to pass on to their children, along with the Law and the commandments.

This parental instruction is reinforced in many verses in Proverbs. Parents are instructed to train up a child in the way he should go, and children are admonished to heed the instruction of their fathers.

In the New Testament, we see this idea continued. Paul commends Timothy’s mother and grandmother, for instance, for their example of faith which Timothy shared. Timothy, who had a Greek dad, saw the faith of his mom and his grandma, and Paul saw this same faith in this young man. Paul doesn’t come right and say these women taught him spiritual things, but the implication is plain.

Paul also instructed the dads in the church in Ephesus to “not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

Discipline and instruction. The two go hand in hand. So in Hebrews 12:4ff the writer compares God’s disciple of His people with a father’s discipline of his son. Though it may seem sorrowful for a moment, the end game is “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

In some ways homeschooling seems to more closely mirror the kind of instruction people in the Bible received, but God did not endorse a particular educational style. He did put parents in charge of what their children were to learn. Whether that means they are to take a hands on approach in all matters or only in spiritual matters, they are to be a part of the process.

But does this involvement in education extend beyond the things of God? Again, Scripture doesn’t prescribe what or how the rest of their education was to take place.

We know that Paul, a strict, traditional Jew, sat under the instruction of Gamaliel. In fact scribes likely had places of learning where they penned the many copies of the Torah. On the other hand, the Pharisees referred to Peter as an unlearned man. He clearly did learn, but not in a formal setting. He learned largely at the feet of Jesus.

Not a bad place to start. Scripture tells us the fear of the Lord is the beginning both of wisdom and knowledge. And Scripture tells us parents are to instruct, train, discipline, all with the goal to bring up children in the way of the Lord.

In the end we can argue about the different educational programs and systems, but if parents neglect their responsibility, the programs and systems won’t matter. First the parents must own their responsibility and take whatever role they need to take to give oversight to their child’s learning.

There’s more I can say on the subject, but I’ll leave it here for now: Parents, part of parenting is doing the “passing down to your sons and daughters the things they need to know” work—that’s a long way of saying, teach your kids what is right. 😉

Published in: on February 7, 2017 at 5:40 pm  Comments Off on Education And The Bible  
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Feminism And The Bible


march_for_womens_lives_1One of the subjects that divides America today is feminism. In fact feminism may divide some Christian denominations.

To be clear, by feminism, I mean “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men” (Oxford American Dictionary).

The question then centers on the last phrase: “equality to men.” Are women “equal to men”?

As much as feminists would like this to be other than what it is, women’s bodies are different from men’s, and therefore men can do some things better than women can. Of course, women can do something men can’t do at all—give birth to children. So on the purely physical plain, women and men aren’t “equal” in strength or speed. Or stamina.

The fastest male runners are swifter than the fastest female runners due to innate factors including muscle mass, higher oxygen intake and lower resting heart rates. That said, some studies have indicated that in ultradistance running — beyond 30 miles (48 kilometers) — the fattier female body can keep moving more efficiently than the muscular male frame since the fat represents more lasting, slower-burning energy stores [source: Maharam]. Estrogen may also offer an advantage of protecting against muscle fatigue, although its effects can vary by athlete and running conditions [source: Crowther]. Those biological benefits may help explain women’s sudden surge in Iditarod races, the grueling Alaskan dog sledding competition, bringing home championships four years straight from 1985 through 1988 [source: Library of Congress]. (Health: How Stuff Works)

Despite the differences, feminism has lobbied for women’s inclusion in the military and in jobs that seem more suited for the male body type.

All this is “extra-curricular,” however, since feminism is supposedly concerned with equal rights in the political, social, and economic realms. By application, women should have the right to vote, to run for the same offices men can run for, and be involved in the political process at every level, with no discrimination or prejudice because of their gender.

Economically, women should receive equal pay for equal work, and we should have the same opportunities for advancement, including promotion to the highest level of leadership.

When it comes to social equality, I suppose women are to be treated with the same respect a man receives, but I have to admit, I’m a little confused here. Women now can be sexually aggressive while at the same time holding the line against unwanted sexual advances. So men can’t be as sexually aggressive as women? Be that as it may, women no longer have to wait for men to open their car doors or any door for that matter. Men can enter in front of a woman rather than stand aside and let her go first. Because we’re socially equal. In the office, men can make the coffee, not just the women.

And in church, in a marriage women are . . . what?

Here’s where the Bible speaks directly to the interplay between men and women.

Up to this point, despite what many people think, the Bible paints a picture of women in society doing things that men do. Not in large numbers, but certainly not forbidden from the roles of military leader, city elder, prophetess, merchant, shepherdess, ruling queen, gatherer, tent maker, converts to Christianity, evangelists. Women were first to the empty tomb Jesus had occupied. Women were filled by the Holy Spirit. In short, women held significant place in Jewish history and in the development of the early church.

Then why this perception that the Bible looks down on women?

Two things come to mind. In the Law detailed in Leviticus, women slaves were not worth as much money as were male slaves. Of course children weren’t worth as much either, so it would seem that the amount of money reflected the amount of physical labor the slave could produce. (Slavery in the Bible is a topic for another day).

Second, Paul taught through his letters that husbands were the head of the home and that women were not to speak in the church. In other words, women and men don’t have the same roles.

Paul never said women couldn’t teach. He worked with Priscilla and Aquila on his third missionary journey, and it was this couple that taught the evangelist Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Paul also included two women in his Philippians letter. Though he corrected them for their lack of harmony, he nevertheless identified them as those who had shared his struggles in the cause of the gospel and as “fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3).

Paul also commended women, such as Timothy’s grandmother Lois, and greeted them in his letters by name, particularly those who opened their home for a church gathering. In addition, he specifically said there was no difference between male and female:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)

The Apostle Peter agreed with this point when he instructed husbands to “show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life.”

In discussing a different matter, Paul brought home the truth of the equality of women in God’s eyes when he said that an unbelieving husband would be “sanctified” by his believing wife, and conversely that an unbelieving wife would be “sanctified” by her believing husband. (See 1 Cor. 7:14). This sanctifying work needs explanation, to be sure, but for the sake of this discussion, it’s clear there is no difference between what a believing wife and a believing husband can accomplish for their family.

A good understanding of the Bible’s instructions to husbands also helps. Paul says husbands are to love their wives the way Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). There’s no power trip in this instruction, no abuse or bullying or king of the castle. He’s to be the leader, the first one in the trenches, the guy who lays down his life so that his wife can make it.

There’s much more to say about the Bible and women. How did Jesus interact with them, for instance? He healed them, witnessed to them, forgave them, comforted them, commended them, counseled them. But He never belittled them or ignored them or treated them like second class citizens.

There’s one other troublesome discussion about women, though—what Paul said about women not having authority in the church. I’ve looked at that at some length already in an earlier post.

When all is said and studied, it’s clear that the gender issues of Bible times and the ones we experience now are a result of sin—the original sin and the sin nature we now must deal with. The Bible, as opposed to the counsel of our culture, gives us God’s perspective which shows us how to navigate the differences and avoid the clash between men and women.

Published in: on January 27, 2017 at 6:47 pm  Comments (1)  
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Adapting


seven_of_nine_speaks_for_the_borgI write fantasy and love the imaginative. It should come as no surprise, then, that when H&I started airing reruns of all the Star Trek programs, I eagerly began watching (except for the original—I’m less of a fan of those). Seeing them one after the other has been enlightening on many levels. One thing I’ve noticed is that the theme of adapting or even assimilation arises over and over.

Assimilation is a result of one species, The Borg, taking over the bodies of those they defeat by turning them into cyber-humans with only a collective conscience, not a sense of individuality. As the various Star Trek crews encounter The Borg, their major goal is to avoid assimilation.

But with considerable frequency a parallel theme surfaces—these space explorers from Earth had to adapt.

There’s a lot of talk in our day about adapting. We need to adapt to the changing technology, to the twenty-first century, to postmodern thought, to a global economy, to the realities of science.

The church in America seems to have bought into the idea that we need to adapt to the greater culture in which we live. So we need to find a way to make peace with feminism, we need to become relevant for the next generation, we need to tap into the way people today consume information.

Some changes are subtle, some innocuous. Some correct error from an earlier generation. For instance, I grew up in churches that looked down on drinking and smoking and dancing. In fact, the Christian college I attended required us to sign a pledge saying that we would not engage in such activities. They apparently overlooked premarital sex, however.

I say that tongue in cheek, but the truth is, while we were trying to hold the line against dancing, there were major breaches of a much more serious nature. Breaches in matters that the Bible stands against.

Change needed to be made so that we were no longer concerned with law-keeping while overlooking the point and purpose of God’s righteous demand for holiness. Legalism is not holy living, and my early church experience didn’t do a good job of differentiating.

The course corrective was not to adapt to the culture, though. The course corrective was to return to what the authoritative word of God says.

Of course, in order to do that we first need to know what God’s word says.

Oddly—I say “oddly” but it’s not really odd because I believe Satan, who hates God and wants to undermine His plans and purposes, is behind it—oddly we are not, as a western Christian culture, working hard to learn what God has to say in His word.

I’m fortunate that my church has once again instituted a Scripture reading program for us. As a body, we read a passage of Scripture together and one member of the congregation writes a meditation on the text. We also have preachers (still no senior teaching pastor, but that’s OK—I’d rather we find someone by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, who God wants for us) who instruct us from God’s word.

Currently we have Dr. Gene Getz preaching, and while he was teaching on Sunday, it hit me that I hardly know the Bible, so much greater was his knowledge and scholarship than my own. I’ve long thought the Bible is an inexhaustible source of wisdom and knowledge, but that idea was strongly re-enforced Sunday.

But I’m getting away from the subject of adapting.

It dawned on me this week that adapting is really a voluntary form of assimilation. It’s slower, though. We decide what we wish to change, and accordingly we move a little left or right. Sometimes there’s a bit of a pendulum movement that swings us from one extreme back to the other. But often, each new swing leaves us a little closer to the ideas and patterns to which we’re adapting.

I’m not talking about the issues of the 60s—boys’ long hair and girls’ short skirts—though things that seem so trivial undoubtedly did have an affect on culture. I’m not even talking about things like accepting abortion or moving homosexuality from the abnormal psych part of our text books to redefining marriage so that gays can be part of “normal society.”

The real adaptations we’re making have to do with our relationship to God.

Israel faced the exact same issue. God gave them His covenant and then His Law. They agreed to both. They would be God’s people and they would keep His Law. But once they settled in to their promised land, once they had some stability and security and prosperity, they started looking around at the nations surrounding them.

Look at their gods, at their religious activity, at their power structure. We want to be like them!

King Manasseh was probably the worst. He ruled for over a half century, and under his rule Judah adapted quite well to the nations around them. They started worshiping their gods, erected idols like theirs, practiced witchcraft like they did, instituted child sacrifice like they did. All the things the Canaanites had done which caused God to kick them out of the land, the people of Judah copied.

They adapted.

After all, worshiping one god was passé. Following His law, observing His feast days, making sacrifice to Him because of their sins was just so yesterday.

In the same we, we adapt today.

Is the Bible really authoritative? Might it not be simply a collection of myths, some infused with good, moral teaching? The rest, of course, is thoroughly forgettable because it is so passé. One God? One way to Him? Certainly all ways are equal. After all, we believe in egalitarianism. How could one way be better than the others.

And so it goes as we listen to “higher criticism” and progressives and univeralists and a host of other false teachers who show us how we can slice and dice the Bible until it says what the rest of the culture says. So of course abortion is OK, and homosexuality, and women preachers, and people ignoring their contractual commitments—in business or in personal relationships. Of course a little pandering to the wealthy is acceptable, a little bribery, a little lying. After all, it’s just business.

What’s more, what matters most is not God and His righteousness. What matters most is that we are not offensive to anyone, even as we push our way to the top. We must love, at the expense of truth if necessary, so that people will like us and accept us and support us.

That’s a snapshot of Christians adapting.

God’s Great Story In Esther


pagankingA few years ago there was great consternation over the story of Esther. A pastor who has since fallen into disrepute preached a series of sermons from the book of Esther, and apparently pointed a finger at Esther and accused her of . . . wait for it . . . (gasp) sin! And feminists had a field day! Oh, how they stood up to defend Esther and how they accused this pastor of condoning rape and abuse and sex trafficking.

I have to say, ever since I heard the story of Esther, I’ve had problems with it. Yes, Esther was one of the exiles from Judah, and therefore, not free. But was she forced into a relationship with the king? Not really.

But my intention isn’t to rehash the debate over Esther’s choices—or whether she had any. Rather, I was struck by something about the opening scene, before Esther has been introduced.

The book is ostensibly about the salvation of the Jewish people from annihilation because of God’s intervention through Esther and her role as queen in King Ahasuerus’s (Xerxes) reign in Medo-Persia. But as a number of Bible teachers will tell us, every book of the Bible is about Jesus Christ.

The pastor I mentioned above certainly preached his series from that perspective. His sermons had titles such as “Jesus Is A Better King,” “Jesus Has A Better Kingdom,” “Jesus Is A Better Savior,” and “Jesus Is A Better Mediator.”

But of course Jesus isn’t mentioned in the book of Esther. Neither is God, though His fingerprints are all over the place. The writer alluded to God most clearly in 4:13-14 when he wrote,

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

So what about the opening struck me as so significant?

We’re introduced to King Ahasuerus who inherited his position as ruler of the greatest empire then known to man. It stretched from India to Ethiopia. He was the greatest sovereign of that time.

With his position came power and wealth—so much so that in year three of his reign, he declared a six-month-long party for all the nobles, leaders, soldiers of his empire. Anyone who was anyone was invited to this bash. He capped the lengthy celebration off with a seven-day feast for those who served him in his palace.

Seven days his men drank and feasted. And elsewhere in the palace, his queen also held a banquet. King Ahasuerus used the occasion to brag about all his power and wealth. At some point, when he was drunk, he also started bragging about how beautiful his wife was. He decided to show her off, so he summoned her to leave her feast and her guests and to parade in front of his men.

Some commentators suggest this had sexual ramifications—making his party to be like a stag party or using her as live porn. Scripture doesn’t say that, but it’s not too hard to imagine that he wasn’t telling her to model the latest evening gown and then return to her own feast.

It’s all very unsavory.

His queen, for whatever reason, refused to come to him. He was furious. As punishment, he removed her from her place as his queen. On the advice of one of his princes, he determined to replace her with someone more worthy.

So here’s the opening of the story:

  • an all powerful king summons his chosen wife to his banquet
  • she refuses to come
  • he removes her and gives her favored position to someone else

Here’s the key verse:

If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vashti may no longer come into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. (Esther 1:19)

This opening, I suggest, is a metaphor for God’s dealing with humankind.

I know some people will object because King Ahasuerus is an unsavory character who did selfish, godless, unwise things. Some will call him a misogynist.

But throughout Scripture metaphors gave a picture of God’s work in the world and His plan of salvation, and they used sinful people to do so. Jesus even used a godless King in one of His parables to illustrate a point about God. The nature of this king should not blind us to the similarities.

  • God, the all powerful sovereign, calls His people to Himself.
  • His chosen nation refused Him, and finally rejected His Messiah.
  • In response, God chose a people from those who had not been a people—the Church—which has become His bride.

In other words, God’s plan of redemption is right there in the opening chapters of Esther.

Yes, the book is full of other great truths. Esther did have to make a life or death kind of decision, which she did on the strength of the prayers of the Jews she would intercede for. God did orchestrate a set of circumstances that we can only think of as providential because the chances of them all happening when they happened is just too coincidental to be believed . . . unless Someone was in charge.

How sad that in the cultural context of our day we can’t seem to see past the issues we’ve put on our human-centric pedestal.

Ahasuerus was an ungodly king, no doubt about it. He had a harem of untold number of wives and concubines. He made bad decisions and trusted the wrong advisors. He gave away his authority to a man who was prideful and wicked. What’s more, the king was unaware of the effect of his rule on the people in his empire. He wasn’t a good king, he wasn’t a good man, he wasn’t a good husband.

Scripture does not condone any of his behavior. It records it. And by doing so, a picture of God comes out of it all, like the phoenix rising from the ashes: God who is sovereign, calls His people to Himself. When they rejected Him, He created a new people for His own.

Published in: on January 5, 2017 at 6:55 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Way False Teaching Works


satans-lies-flag2False teaching seems to be on the rise. Mormons are clamoring to be recognized as Christian, universalists trumpet the inclusion of all people through all religions or none at all, progressives dismiss the historicity of the Bible, and Word of Faith’ers turn Jesus’s plan of salvation into a scheme to provide monetarily for those with the faith to believe. Other Christians are darting off in tangents that take them away from The Main Thing, if not directly into Bible-contradicting error. How does this happen?

No false teaching comes waving the flag of the enemy, or we’d all say, “Look, another one of Satan’s lies,” and run the other way. Instead, false teaching comes dressed in the guise of truth, in the same way that Satan masquerades as an angel of light.

The secret to understanding false teaching, how it takes root, and what allows it to flourish is in one basic fact: False teaching most often begins from a position of truth.

This is why Peter, Jude, Paul all talked about false teaching coming from within the ranks of Christians.

2 Peter 2:1
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (emphasis here and in the following verses is mine)

1 Tim. 4:1
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons

Gal. 2:4
But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.

Jude 1:4
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Generally, then, false teachers, whether believers who fall away or insidious rebels who creep in among the faithful with the intent to lead some astray, will show themselves within the church.

They will base their false teaching on truth. Notice, for example, how Jude pinpointed a group in his day who turned the grace of God into an excuse to live a self-indulgent lifestyle.

From a point of truth, false teachers next take a leap in logic or speculate based on that truth

That step leads to a point of error. Often this error becomes the cornerstone of their false teaching.

Those promoting a “health-and-wealth” gospel do this sort of thing:

  • God loves you [true],
  • and wants to bless His children [true].
  • He has promised to answer prayer [true].
  • Therefore, as God cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, a child of God can expect Him to provide lavishly [not quite true—the point of speculation]
  • and can hold God to His word [inaccurate at best]

It is the “therefore” clause that is the insidious viper that works all manner of evil. In this case, the blessings God promises could as well be spiritual instead of physical, and the means by which we obtain them might come through suffering.

Further, the Bible takes a strong stand against putting God to the test. Jesus Himself rebuked Satan, using Scripture, for this very thing (see Matt. 4:7).

Finally, God’s promise of blessing and provision was never meant to crowd out other clear teachings. The gospel message is about the reconciliation Jesus made available with the Father through His sacrifice. The Word of Faith ideas water down this powerful life-changing message by insinuating physical blessings as the main gift Jesus provided.

Here’s another example of how false teaching works. Trinitarian Theology is the resurrection of an old heresy (which sounds very much like the position Rob Bell took in Love Wins). The following points are excerpted from “The God Revealed in Jesus Christ: A Brief Introduction to Trinitarian Theology” and the verses in parentheses are from Romans 5.

  • “Just as sin entered the world through one man [Adam]…[and] all sinned…” (v. 12). [true]
  • “How much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ [the second Adam], overflow to the many?” (v. 15). [true]
  • And, “just as the result of one trespass [that of the first Adam] was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness [that of Jesus, the second or final Adam] was justification that brings life for all men” (v. 18). [true]
  • Jesus has not simply done something for us, he has done something with us by including us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. [not quite true—the point of speculation: other scriptures qualify “all men.” See for instance Colossians 2:19a, “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast and not moved away from the hope of the gospel …” (emphasis mine)]
  • Therefore, we understand from Scripture that when Jesus died, all humanity died with him. [false—only believers died to sin, guilt, the law. Again see Colossians or Romans 6]
  • When Jesus rose, all humanity rose to new life with him. [false—see Colossians 3:1 and the “If” clause]
  • When Jesus ascended, all humanity ascended and became seated with him at the Father’s side (Ephesians 2:4-6). [false—unbelievers will face judgment and eternal punishment. Multiple passages verify this]

In short, understanding how false teaching works should make us more aware of the necessity for discernment within the church. We should be thinking with our Bibles open about what our pastors are preaching. We must keep our minds engaged and our hearts in prayer whenever we read Christian literature (including this blog!) False teachers can introduce false ideas through novels, biographies, commentaries, or devotionals. There is no “safe” author or book and we ought not rely on any Christian leader as infallible in his proclamation of truth (the statistics on Christian leaders are as solid as those on death: one out of one is a sinner).

God gave us a brain, and more importantly He gave us His Word and His Spirit. We are responsible for letting the word of Christ richly dwell within us and to be filled with the Spirit rather than quenching Him. He and the Word of God will lead us into all truth. If we close our Bibles or quench the Spirit, then we’re opening ourselves to all manner of false teaching. And plenty of it abounds these days.

This post is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here in November 2011.

Published in: on January 4, 2017 at 7:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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Name It And Claim It Theology, Or The Prosperity Gospel


profile_photo_of_benny_hinnI read an article today that the Washington Post ran, written by Dr. Michael Horton, a professor of Apologetics and Theology at Westminster Seminary, a Presbyterian and Reformed Christian graduate educational institution. Not something I’d expect to see in the Washington Post, I admit. But it’s a criticism of Donald Trump—or at least of the people he’s surrounding himself with—so I suspect that explains how the article made it into print, digitally or physically.

The title of the article is “Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy.” It takes a look at the “Word of Faith movement,” exploring it’s background, development, and theology. In the end Dr. Horton exposes how televangelists like Benny Hinn, Paula White, and Darrell Scott do not preach the good news of Jesus Christ, but a different gospel.

Some years ago, I wrote about this same topic. Hesitantly. I’ve written about other forms of false teaching, but this prosperity gospel, this health-and-wealth teaching, this Word of Faith movement, has influenced, if not infected, a lot of churches in America. People get defensive. So I’ve not said a lot about this particular gospel. Which is what it is—a different gospel.

This article should have been a beginning, but it wasn’t. Maybe I had hopes the false claims would themselves extinguish the movement. But now, with people prominent in the movement also becoming prominent in government, I fear we haven’t seen the real power of this false teaching. Consequently, I’ll re-post the article, with a few minor updates, as a way to jump start more thoughts about the topic.

– – – – –

One of the things that makes the “health and wealth” heresy so wrong is the way it distorts Scripture. If someone actually takes the ideas espoused by the “name it and claim it” preachers to their logical conclusion, you’d have to say that the first century apostle, Stephen was a terrible Christian. I mean, if he really believed . . .

And what was Peter going on about in his first letter when he is telling the Christians of his day that their suffering meant they were blessed?

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 1Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name . . . Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (1 Peter 4:12-16, 19)

A “fiery ordeal” was not to be considered a strange thing. The degree of suffering was to dictate the degree of rejoicing. Being reviled for the name of Christ meant you were blessed. Suffering as a Christian meant an opportunity to glorify God. And some suffered according to the will of God.

These things don’t sound anything like the belief system of these “word of faith” preachers who say, in essence, the promises from God have to first be “claimed” to become effective. So those first century Christians didn’t know this because . . . why? Jesus forgot to tell them? Or did they know, but their faith was too weak?

When Paul said he knew how to get along in humble circumstances, to live in want, was he too weak in faith to claim the promises the health and wealthers say are there for the asking?

I think too of the prophets, who James said we should look to as examples of patience (James 5:10). Those men and I suppose women, though we don’t have their record, suffered like no other group. They were, by and large, at odds with their culture, sometimes hunted down and killed, as they were during Ahab’s reign, and often asked by God to do things that were hard.

Take Ezekiel, for example. As part of his service as a prophet, he was rendered mute—except when he was prophesying. He also had to carry out some difficult assignments, one being the mock siege of Jerusalem. For thirteen months he had to lie on his side facing a brick. He ate only small portions of bread and had a limited supply of water. When the time was up, he flipped over and did the same on the other side for another forty days.

Where was his wealth? Or health?

Then there was Jeremiah who was thrown in prison and narrowly escaped an attempt on his life. Or how about Hosea who, by God’s instruction, married a prostitute who was unfaithful to him. Repeatedly. In what way was his life prosperous?

I said at the beginning that this word of faith system distorts Scripture, but it is wrong on so many levels. For example it elevates Man and makes God little more than a servant.

It also claims that this life now is when we are to experience the joys of our inheritance. As one writer says

Perhaps the root error of the gospel of health and wealth is that it seeks to apply a theology of future glory to the believer in the here and now. But the Lord Jesus taught a theology for here and now that both sustains believers in hard times and holds out hope for tomorrow.

The false claims of the word of faith proponents distort God’s true promises and raise doubts in the hearts of anyone who has prayed believing and NOT been healed.

Clearly, God, not the words some person speaks, holds power. No amount of “positive confession” is acceptable as an excuse to order God to do whatever a person wants.

This belief system is not all that different from the lottery. Lots of poor people are putting in their money with the hope of getting rich. Well, someone is getting rich all right, but it isn’t the needy.

The bulk of this post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in April 2013.

The Argument Culture And God’s Word


wonderful-words-of-life-119318-mToday Phil Vischer and his podcast cronies hosted Dr. Ed Stetzer to discuss “What The Election Says About The Church.”

At one point the conclusion seemed to be that the Evangelical leadership understands the importance of diversity, pastors have a fifty-fifty understanding, and the people in the pew lag far behind.

Their conclusion? Either the leadership has to do a better job of leading or the people in the pew have to stop listening to the counter voices that give a message in contradiction to Jesus and His life and ministry.

Nowhere did they say, the people in the pew need to be reading their Bible everyday.

When I was a kid, we sang a couple songs that made an impact. One was, “Read Your Bible.”

I don’t remember the shrink verse, but the point is, from a very young age, I heard the need to read my Bible every day. It took years to build the habit, but the grow part of that song is very true.

As in any other relationship, when we spend time with someone else, we get to know them. Spending time with God in His word, where He reveals His person, plan, and will, makes a difference in the life of someone who wants to know God and be like Him.

The man who is preaching at my church right now (while our search for a pastor continues), Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, is doing a mini-series entitled “After The Election.” In his sermon from Romans 12 Sunday, he made a great application—well several. The one that stuck with me most was about believing what God said. In this passage at the end of the chapter, He says we are not to take revenge against someone who behaves as our enemy. Rather, God says He will act on our behalf to bring justice.

It’s up to us to believe what God says, or not.

But before we get to that point, we have to actually know what God says!

We ought not rely on what the preacher tells us during a thirty minute sermon once a week. That’s not sufficient. For one thing, unless the pastor is preaching faithfully through a text of Scripture, he’s picking and choosing topics he thinks we need to hear. There might be a lot of topics that he never addresses that we desperately need God’s instruction for.

Second, a half hour a week? What if we said we could eat for only a half hour a week? Our bodies would become steadily weaker. We need daily nourishment for our bodies, How can that not also be true for our spirit?

I am so thankful for God’s word. I’m so thankful for those who encouraged me, as a child, a young person, and as an adult, to spend time reading God’s word everyday.

Scripture, above all else, will instruct us in the way we should go, even in the argument culture. Maybe I should rephrase that: especially in the argument culture. When everything is going peachy-keen, we are less aware of our need to do things better. That’s why some athletes and coaches realize that losing a game can actually be a good thing. It sharpens your resolve and shows you where you need to be better.

genie_lamps_007The argument culture can do that for us Christians. We can see that if we are to be a light to this darkness, we have to be above the fray. We have to share the light that brightens our path. But we can’t share what we don’t have.

We need to be in the Bible everyday if it is to be a lamp to our footsteps and a light to our paths.

Published in: on November 22, 2016 at 6:05 pm  Comments Off on The Argument Culture And God’s Word  
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The Christian, the Church, and Love for the “Brethren”


Elmhurst_CRC_1964_(3)When I was growing up, we used to reference love for “the brethren and the sisteren,” and I always thought that was such a fundamental Scriptural principle it didn’t need special attention.

That was before I started seeing the way some Christians treat others online. Eventually I ran into a group that defended unkind words directed at other Christians with whom they disagreed. I was floored.

Their central point was that false teachers need to be treated harshly, and to make their case they used several places in Scripture that talk about apostates and those spreading heresy. From there they looked to the way Jesus talked to the Pharisees, calling them snakes and white-washed tombs. Then there’s Paul telling the Galatians they are foolish and confronting Peter for his hypocrisy.

So are they right?

I don’t think so—not the way they use these verses as permission to mock or malign others. The handful of examples they give must be balanced by the preponderance of instruction telling Christians to treat each other, our enemies, all men, with love and/or consideration.

Some years ago, as I worked my way through the New Testament, I noticed over and over this theme of treating one another with love. In the gospels, the emphasis is on loving our neighbors and loving our enemies until we get to John. Jesus then makes His strong statements about Christians loving Christians so that the world will know we follow Christ.

John then drew the conclusion that love for the brethren (and sisteren 😉 ) is one sign that a person does in fact truly follow Christ:

  • By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another
    – 1 John 3:10-11 (emphases mine)
  • We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.
    – 1 John 3:14
  • Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
    – 1 John 4:7-8
  • Starting in Romans Paul fleshes out what it means to have love for the brethren, and for all men:

  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
    – Rom 12:11-18 (emphases mine)
  • Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
    – Rom 13:10
  • He gives a more lengthy explanation to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13), then includes instruction to love other Christians in a number of his other letters:

    • to the Galatians – “but through love serve one another”
    • to the Ephesians – “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
    • to the Philippians – “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment”
    • to the church in Colossae – “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
    • to the church in Thessalonica – “and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you”
    • to Timothy – “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion”

    The writer to the Hebrews continues the theme:

      “Let love of the brethren continue.”

    As does James

      “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,’ you are doing well.”

    And Peter

      “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart”

    Believe it or not, these passages are nothing more than a representative sample. How can a Christian miss the fact that love for one another is central to true discipleship? As Paul said in 1 Thessalonians “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.”

    Does Scripture tell us to stand against false teachers? From my study, I believe it does, but not to the exclusion of the clear command to love believers and all men, to be kind, to restore others with gentleness, to pursue peace with all men, to refrain from speaking against one another and many, many more similar indisputable relational instructions.

    So how did Christians bashing Christians or Christians bashing the Church or Christians bashing sinners—on the Internet or by letter or face to face—become something we believers seem to think is just fine?

    This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2010.

    The Church Is Not Perfect


    Wolds_Way_Stile_-_geograph.org.uk_-_285429I’m sensitive about church bashing which seemed to be in vogue not so long ago. When someone started talking about the Church it was almost always to tell readers or listeners what the traditional church had done wrong. Sometimes the tone was quite snarky. It’s those old people, the grannies in their denim dresses and the old codgers with their belts up around their chests. They keep the church from growing, from being alive and vibrant.

    Ugh!

    The Church is not perfect, and never has been. Even in the first century, Paul and Peter and Titus were writing about false teachers and false doctrines and how believers were to go about sorting truth from error.

    From what I understand, our first line of defense against false teaching is the Bible. Surprise, surprise. Truth is the best weapon against error. Paul even calls the word of God, the Sword of the Spirit in Ephesians when he lists off the armor the Christian is to put on in our fight against spiritual forces.

    Part of using Scripture against error is our discernment—our ability to check to see if “these things are so” as the Bereans did.

    Now these [Berean believers] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

    The other part is to hold each other accountable as Paul did Peter when the latter started treating Gentile believers differently once the Jewish Christians showed up. Suddenly it wasn’t OK for Peter to eat with the uncircumcised as he had been. Paul called him on his hypocrisy.

    But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all . . . (Galatians 2:11-14a)

    The rest of the chapter records Paul’s argument against what Peter was doing.

    Paul also stood up against the Corinthian church, confronting them on various issues in his first letter. In Phil. 4 he openly urged two women who weren’t getting along to solve their dispute, and he asked another member of the church to help them.

    Not only are we to troubleshoot for each other, we have responsibilities, older women to teach the younger and older men to teach younger men.

    Then there is the leadership. Peter says clearly, elders are to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2). But even they have requirements.

    No one in the church is above God’s standard. He’s given us means by which we can continue to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects. Not following the way of the world, not believing “a different gospel,” not following the lure of deceivers who John warns us about (2 John 1:7), not getting caught up in visions or beliefs someone with an inflated ego invents and foists on the church (Col. 2:18).

    Holding people in the church accountable is not Church bashing, and it isn’t an attack on our unity.

    If it were, Paul would have torn the Church apart instead of building it up.

    In fact, he did what a good overseer is supposed to do—he taught the people what Scripture meant. And he challenged them to live what they knew. His reprimands, as he made clear in 2 Corinthians were because he cared for the people he regarded as his children in the faith.

    Perhaps that’s the point of greatest difference between the first century Church and today’s western church. We are distracted by what worship style we like, how many people we have signing up as members, how much money we’re getting in, how many people have the church app on their phones, and on and on. But who cares enough to step up and say, Stop sinning! It’s wrong for you to sleep with someone you aren’t married to. Or to get drunk (even at college). Or to cheat on your income taxes.

    We aren’t perfect, so I guess we think we have no ground to stand on when it comes to confronting someone else about sin. I understand that. The key is to deal with our own logs before we do anything else, but Scripture doesn’t imply that we should all ignore the splinters and logs everyone else is walking around with because we once upon a time had our own log. If we still have a log of our own, then that’s the first thing we need to take before the throne of grace.

    But how can we stand silently by and watch wolves come climbing over the walls of the sheepfold? We ought not!

    Published in: on July 21, 2016 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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