The Early Church And Problems


I’m amazed at some of the crazy ideas that atheists have regarding God’s word. Of course the standard idea that they repeat over and over—as if saying it a lot will make it true—is that the Bible is just a bunch of made up myths.

That concept is so full of holes, it could be a good colander.

One of the holes I have noticed lately is the fact that whoever the critiques are claiming “made up” the Bible, would have to be fairly dumb to include the stuff they did.

I mean, more than once Christians have pointed out that women, who were not accepted as witnesses in a Jewish court, were the first witnesses to report that Jesus had risen. Even further back, shepherds, we were considered the lowest in the social strata of the day, were the witnesses of the angelic announcement of Messiah’s birth.

Who does that? I mean, who makes up such a story with witnesses who had no standing in society?

But I’ve been thinking of late about the early Church and the idea that the Biblical account of its inception was fabricated.

I suppose the events recorded in Acts would sound exciting—I mean, conflict that led to near riots, arrests and beatings, miraculous earthquakes, and a prison break led by an angel. Some might think that, yes, a myth maker was behind such exciting and improbably stories.

But after Acts?

The following letters are filled with reproof and warning and censure. Take 1 Corinthians, for example. Paul wrote that letter to a church in Greece as a way of addressing problems that he’d heard about. There were divisions and immorality and church workers who weren’t being paid and the question about eating food that had come from an idol temple.

Add on a serious lack of love and some concern about pride resulting from the exercise of spiritual gifts. The scene was not pretty. This church had deep problems.

Would someone inventing a mythological letter about a mythological Savior have really created such a flawed, needy group?

The other letters aren’t much different. The New Testament writers warned about false teachers and “evil workers.” They warned against a “different gospel,” and against those who would come into the Church as wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The book of Hebrews has as its central theme the reasons someone who turned to Christ should not desert Him after empty years of waiting for His return and of increased persecution. James and Peter specifically address the suffering that the new churches were experiencing.

But would someone inventing a religion and writing mythical letters to pretend churches, ever come up with such negative content? Wouldn’t they be more apt to write about how joyful and loving and prosperous the new churches had become, how they were growing daily?

Why would they deal with the conflict between Jews and Gentiles and not simply paint over the fact that some Jewish Christians tried to force circumcision and dietary laws on the non-Jewish believers? Or that some were saying God’s grace meant Christians could “sin all the more.”

Really, if the New Testament is myth, the guys who made it up were pretty foolish. They made up the things that made Christianity look dangerous and risky. Nothing about those letters would win someone to Christ—unless they actually were written by God’s Holy Spirit, not for the sake of growing a church, but for the edification of it. The building up, not the building out.

But the way God works, as Christians matured and learned from the examples of Paul and Barnabas and Timothy and Peter and James and all the other first or second generation leaders, the Church also gained in numbers. Seemingly it didn’t matter how many Christians lost their lives in the Colosseum, more converts joined the persecuted Way.

That’s counter-intuitive, too. Why would anyone invent the stories and letters of the Bible, and not use the opportunity to declare how successful they were as they withstood Rome?

But of course the Bible doesn’t read like the mythology invented by humans for human ends, because it is actually God breathed and the historic events really happened, the letters were really circulated to real churches dealing with real problems.

Consequently, the Bible contains the unexpected, the “underbelly” of the early Church, the parts that most people would not include in their Christmas letter, let alone a letter that was accepted by others as Scripture.

And yes, Peter referred to Paul’s letters as Scripture, so from the beginning the leaders of the early Church knew the documents we now have collect as the Bible, to be inspired by God, profitable for teaching, correction, reproof, training.

Even though they contained a lot of dirty laundry.

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Published in: on July 5, 2018 at 5:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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Injustice—Thoughts On The Eve Of The Fourth Of July



I originally wrote this post in 2012, but not much has changed, so I’ve made some revisions and am re-posting. After all, the main point that becomes clear at the end of the article, is timeless.

– – – – –

Injustice? We’re all against it, aren’t we? No one is willing to stand up and say, I think we should band together in support of injustice. That’s not going to happen.

And yet injustice keeps climbing to the top. It’s Hitler or Uganda’s General Idi Amin, Chairman Mao, the Roman emperors, the corrupt Church of the Middle Ages, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Or the American government today.

OK, I know that’s not a popular thing to say, especially as the US is about to celebrate the Fourth of July—our Independence Day—but why should Americans think we’re immune to injustice in government?

I know a lot of Christians think the US is blessed because our government is founded on the bedrock of Christian principles, but that’s only true to an extent. As our detractors are quick to point out, “all men are created equal” referred, at the time it was written, only to men and only to white men. That’s a fact.

I’m not of the school that thinks we ought to start handing out reparations to African-Americans or giving land back to Native Americans or to Mexico. Neither am I of the school that believes the evils of slavery or the land-grabs of the 19th century (1) didn’t happen; or (2) were good.

All that to say, from our early history America hasn’t been a paradigm of the just nation. But I’m concerned for today, understanding that what’s gone before has had its effect on where we are now.

Six years ago the news here in the Los Angeles Basin included a segment about some tax called the gross tax (isn’t all tax gross 😆 ) that the City is lifting on car dealerships. The point is to create a climate that is friendly to Ford, Nissan, GM, et al. so that they’ll bring their business back to LA.

But what about other businesses, the astute reporter asked. Why only car dealerships? Oh, the Mayor answered, car dealerships will bring in a substantial amount of revenue through sales tax, so that’s why we’re favoring them.

OK, I added the “favoring” part, but that’s what it is, isn’t it? Other businesses who don’t have the lobbying power or the promise of greasing the City’s coffers significantly will just have to grin and pay the gross tax. Is that just?

Or what about what’s going on in Washington, D. C.? The notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff, in a rebroadcast of “The lobbyist’s playbook,” a 60 Minutes segment that first aired in November, 2011, did a tell-all that exposed the illegal practices rampant in our Congress, all connected with bribery, some legal and some illegal. Yes, you read that correctly, some legal bribery.

And we wonder why so little meaningful business gets done in our Federal government. We moan and wring our hands about problems that Congress pretty much ignores because no one is sliding money over or under the table to get the necessary legislation started.

Here’s part of Abramoff’s exchange with Lesley Stahl:

Abramoff: At the end of the day most of the people that I encountered who worked on Capitol Hill wanted to come work on K Street, wanted to be lobbyists.

Stahl: You’re telling me this, the genius of figuring out you could own the office by offering a job to the chief of staff, say. I’m having two reactions. One is brilliant. And the other is I’m sick to my stomach.

Abramoff: Right. Evil. Yeah. Terrible.

Stahl: ‘Cause it’s hurting our country.

Abramoff: Shameful. Absolutely. It’s the worst thing that could happen. All parts of the system. (60 Minutes transcript or video)

I could go on—why, for example, do oil companies get government subsides? What are we doing to stop the banks from gamboling with our money? What became of the General Services Administration (GSA) scandal uncovered just prior to the FBI scandal?

Why do I bring all this up? Because if American Christians don’t see the truth about our nation—we’re just like everyone else—we aren’t going to pray for fundamental change: the revolution that needs to happen in the hearts of people.

It’s great that we have concern for those without Christ living in far away places, but it’s past time we show concern for the lost right here in our backyard. We are a nation in which, apparently, 90% of the people believe in heaven, but only 8% believe the Bible to be true and Jesus to be who He said He was.

And we wonder about injustice in America.

Thus says the LORD, “For three transgressions of Israel and for four I will not revoke its punishment,
Because they sell the righteous for money
And the needy for a pair of sandals. (Amos 2:6)

Published in: on July 3, 2018 at 5:27 pm  Comments (6)  
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Paul Was A Creationist—A Reprise


Some time ago, during my personal time in the Bible, it dawned on me that the Apostle Paul must have been a creationist.

Clearly he viewed Genesis as a historical record. He drew parallels in numerous places between Christ and Adam (Romans 5; I Corinthians 15). None of those analogies would carry any weight if Adam was a mythical character, not an actual historical person.

Come to think of it, the writer of the book of Hebrews (some think that was Paul, too, but some think it might have been Barnabas or even Peter) also believed in the historicity of Genesis. The fundamental comparison in Hebrews is between Christ and a little-known priest/king named Melchizedek. Genesis 14 mentions him briefly, almost in passing, but clearly the New Testament believers understood him to be a historical figure and highly significant in helping people (especially Jews) understand Jesus’s role as High Priest and King.

I suppose, more important than all is that Jesus Himself understood Genesis to be history. After His resurrection, He is the one who spent time with His disciples explaining how He figured into the Law and Prophets—how the Old Testament Scriptures pointed to Jesus.

Before His crucifixion, He made numerous references to David, Moses, and Abraham. In fact, in connection to Abraham, He taught about life after death. If He had used a mythical character for these lessons He would have destroyed the very point He was making. Instead, He referenced historical figures, and mentioned their motives, their choice of a verb tense, their use of words. If Jesus knew these Old Testament people to be figments of someone’s imagination, He would have been partaking in a great fraud.

No, He, along with the writer to the Hebrews, along with the Apostle Paul, viewed the Law and the Prophets as grounded in historical fact.

So how do I get from that point to Paul was a creationist? If Paul believed Adam was a historical figure and that sin came into the world because of what Adam did, which is precisely what he says in Romans 5:12 (“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned —”), he must have believed that Genesis 3 was historical. That’s the passage in the Old Testament that relates how sin entered into the world because of one man.

Do we have reason to believe Paul thought Genesis 3 was factual but Genesis 2 or Genesis 1 was mythical?

Actually there’s no evidence that Paul thought any of the Old Testament was mythical. He’d spent his life as a Pharisee, and he’d been a student of one of the most learned men of the time. Clearly he took the Law and the Prophets to be the word of God, and he was zealous to do what he believed God would have him do.

But God stopped him. And changed him. From the time of his conversion, Paul did a 180°. Instead of persecuting Christians, he spent his time reasoning with non-Christians so that they too might believe. Despite this change, he still based his instruction on the Word of God. In every city, he began his church planting by reading and discussing Scripture.

Sure, today some may dismiss Paul as scientifically ignorant. But one thing we can accurately know—he was not spiritually ignorant.

So the question is, does rational thought negate the power of God? If after all our scientific discoveries, we say, God couldn’t have created the world the way Genesis says, isn’t that actually a reflection of our own beliefs, rather than what really happened?

I mean, what we’re really saying is, I don’t see how these scientific facts and the Genesis account can both be true, so I choose known science (even though unknown science might someday prove me wrong). Science is ever-changing, shaky ground. God’s word is authoritative, infallible, accurate, and true. To choose the fallible over the infallible is not a wise decision.

What’s more, God Himself is all powerful, so to conclude that God couldn’t create the world (because it’s billions of years old, we know, and evolution does away with the need to believe in creation) is a bit silly. God could create a grown man, so certainly He could create a fully developed universe. Scripture never said He was creating the beginning of stars. No, He created stars. Fully formed stars. And they undoubtedly looked a whole lot older than one minute. Just like Adam undoubtedly was not an infant and had never been an infant.

Back to the Apostle Paul. This learned man who had a direct revelation of Jesus Christ, wasn’t encumbered with the restrictions of modern philosophy or with the uncertainties of postmodern ideas or with the chaos of post-truth thought. Undoubtedly his vast study, his reliance on and belief in the authority of Scripture, led him to be a creationist.

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here July, 2009.

The Worst Part About Sin


Not everyone believes in sin, though everyone, regardless of their belief about God, will declare, “Nobody’s perfect.” And that’s true. If it weren’t, we could simply point to the perfect person, put up his picture, and tell all our children that’s who they should copy.

But even if any of the youngest generation could emulate said perfect person, they’d still have the wrong attitudes, wrong desires, wrong actions they committed before they joined Mr. Perfect on the pedestal.

So call it whatever—sin, errors, bad decisions, mistakes, offenses, transgressions, evil, immorality, wickedness, faults, slips, flubs, goof-ups—we all have it.

Someone might well think the worst part about this lack of perfection we have to live with is . . . the lack of perfection in our lives. Certainly that’s bad. I mean, we undermine our relationships with selfishness or pride or a lack of forgiveness. We kick ourselves later, but the damage is done.

Others might think the damage we do to others is the worst part of not being perfect, and that’s not far from the mark. We do carry grudges, and families have been known to turn those into deadly feuds. We do say we love someone, then forget their birthday, or the anniversary we share. We spend money on ourselves that we told our spouse or family member we would save. We drink too much or get addicted to pain killers. We lie about others, to their hurt, to make ourselves look good. We forget important meetings, and we lose business accounts.

Truly, the damage we do others is pretty bad. But that’s still not the worst part of sin. Yes, I’ll call it what God calls it. The idea of sin from the beginning is disobedience to God’s law. I’ve heard more than once that it means “missing the mark.” But what mark?

The high standard of perfection.

Because anything that is not exact or perfect or flawless or unerring, is flawed. It’s blemished, stained, soiled and therefore spoiled.

And that’s us. All humans. Because “nobody’s perfect.”

So in truth we are flawed, blemished, stained.

Which brings us to the worst part about sin. The imperfect and the perfect are diametrically opposed. The dictionary calls those two words antonyms. Opposites. They aren’t just off a little bit, as if we were aiming for the bulls-eye but hit the next circle out instead. More nearly the idea would be that we didn’t even hit the target. In fact, we were actually shooting in the opposite direction.

Because here’s the thing: obedience to God’s law means God is in charge. Disobedience to God’s law means He’s not in charge. Something else matters more, carries more weight, holds our affection more.

Sin is actually a different alignment of our purpose, our motivation, our heart’s desire.

As a result, sin separates the sinner from God.

There’s the worst part. God created us for intimacy with Him and with each other. Sin divides us. From God. From each other. Even from ourselves. No longer are we in touch with our true needs or what will makes us sincerely happy or what we might become. We settle for less than best and chase after things that only make life tolerable instead of . . . perfect.

We simply don’t have a handle on perfect any more. So we are cut off, especially from the One who knows us best, who loves us most, who can heal our imperfections.

Truly, the worst part about sin is what it has done to our relationship with God.

Published in: on June 29, 2018 at 5:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Church Doing What The Church Does


Lunch at the Biola University cafeteria during the SoCalCWC

Last week I conducted two workshops and took appointments at a local writers’ conference. A Christian writers’ conference.

In my first class, I was part of a panel of editors/former editors/publishers who gave feedback to conferees who had submitted their first 300 words of a manuscript to us ahead of time.

In the mornings I attended a fiction continuing session, and then the last day I taught a class on point of view. In between I ate meals with conferees and faculty, talked with them in the appointment room, and generally had a great time interacting with other writers about writing.

But one thing was absent—well more than one thing. There was no mean spirit. No jealousy. No angry response. Not that the professionals who were teaching softened the truth. Well, maybe the softening was there in the form of love. After all, the clear intent of all the interactions I witnessed was to help these writers become better writers.

Because I’m an editor, I even had other faculty ask me in a class they were teaching, to add or suggest or to give my opinion. No sense of feeling threatened. No selfish hoarding of the spotlight. And that attitude was replicated over and over.

In the appointment room another faculty member brought a conferee to me, saying that I would be a good fit as an editor for this person. No dismissal of the person attending her first conference, though the faculty member could have said flat out that she no longer did any editing and let the newbie go her way. Instead there was care and concern and a willingness to go the extra distance to help someone in need.

Over and over on Facebook, conferees have said how helpful and friendly and encouraging the faculty was. Even though we critiqued their work and gave them better ways to do things. Even though we told them their formatting was wrong, that there was this or that error in their first page.

These attendees stayed open and willing to listen, willing to try, willing to put their writing out there for the world to give them feedback. The faculty and their fellow conferees responded with truth and with love. This is the mix that works. This is the feedback that helps a writer to learn and grow and become better.

But in reality, truth and love are the ingredients Christians are to mix whenever we relate to others.

And there we were, Christian writers, supplying truth and love for one another. For people we had not known before last weekend. But funny thing, the love of Christ for fellow believers is not hard, not when we purpose to let it shine in our hearts and for other people.

I met people from Texas and Michigan and Tennessee and Florida and Arizona and here in California. I met fiction writers and nonfiction writers. I met some people who weren’t sure what they wanted to write. I met men and women. I met some older people and some young. I met people of various ethnic groups. Despite our differences, we were united in Christ. The way the Church is supposed to be.

We sang worship songs together, we listened to inspirational messages from the keynote speakers, we prayed together. I’m sure we were all from a variety of different churches and denominations, though that never came up. We simply were there to serve one another and help each other grow and prosper as writers. As Christians who write.

That’s the Church being the Church.

Unreasonable Demands


Why do atheists continue to demand physical evidence for spiritual phenomena? I’m mystified by this total lack of understanding of the spiritual realm. God is a Spirit, and no one has seen Him, but atheists persist in asking for demonstrable confirmation, as if we humans can conjure up something physical for that which is not physical.

This makes no sense.

Expecting physical evidence of the spiritual is unreasonable.

The two realms—the physical and the spiritual—operate on separate planes, and any mathematician can tell you that parallel planes do not intersect. That’s DO NOT INTERSECT.

The fact that God, exercising His omnipotence, has on occasion stepped into the physical realm or allowed His spiritual messengers to do so, demonstrates the existence of the spiritual, as well as His sovereignty over both realms. But clearly there can be no study using the scientific method of that which is anomalous. After all, the supernatural is not natural.

What don’t atheists understand about this?

Because of the unreasonable demands for physical evidence of that which is not physical, these same individuals conclude that anything beyond the physical must not actually exist. But of course “the physical” is defined by what the human senses can detect.

Obviously, atoms must not have existed for thousands of years, and only came into existence when humans gained the ability to see them through the use of microscopes. For that matter, other universes didn’t exist either, until humans developed telescopes powerful enough to see them. My point is, just because the human senses can’t always detect the existence of a thing—even physical things—this lack on our part is not evidence that things beyond our awareness do not exist.

To limit the world to what humans can see and know is narrow thinking.

For instance, dogs and dolphins and whales can hear sounds that are beyond the range which the human ear can detect. Are those sounds just myth or pretend or fabrications? Well, no. Because sound is detected by a physical property, humans have developed technology that allows us to study sounds we can’t actually hear. But if we only accept what we can detect by our physical senses, we ought not believe in sounds, or colors for that matter, that are beyond us.

How odd that what we once could not see or hear and did not know existed, is now readily accepted. But spiritual things that people have known for centuries do exist have come under attack and under the unreasonable demands of unbelieving people who want to limit knowledge to their approved list.

Because, it seems, these naturalists who limit themselves to what can be detected by the human senses, hedge themselves with the idea that what we know now can change at any moment. And that’s OK. So today we can rule out the multiverse, but tomorrow we might “discover” evidence for the very thing we deny today.

If that’s so, then how can any living, thinking person rule out the existence of God?

Might not He once again sovereignly enter the physical plane in a “demonstrable” way so that all those atheists who have limited themselves to the physical can see the existence of the spiritual world?

It’s going to happen.

Christ will one day return in such a way that every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that He is Lord. His return will be something sudden, dramatic, universal. Meaning that nobody will miss it or doubt it or mistake what’s happening.

What’s sad to me is that atheists won’t know sooner. I mean, in truth, God sovereignly enters this world moment by moment through His Holy Spirit. Every believer has the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life. That’s a spiritual happening, an ongoing Presence, an unexplained supernatural Being who resides in the heart of every follower of Christ.

Those of us who have experienced His guidance or comfort or peace or conviction or joy know it’s something beyond our capacity to manufacture. It’s supernatural, not natural.

One day the veil that blinds the eyes of those who don’t believe, will be lifted. Then, just like the stars we could not see without powerful telescopes and the particles of atoms we could not see without powerful microscopes, the spiritual world that exists beyond the physical will become clear to us all.

– – – – –

About this image: In 2015 NASA and ESA celebrated “the Hubble Space Telescope’s silver anniversary of 25 years in space by unveiling some of nature’s own fireworks — a giant cluster of about 3,000 stars called Westerlund 2. The cluster resides inside a vibrant stellar breeding ground known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina. . . . The largest stars are unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet light and hurricane-force winds that etch away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud. This creates a fantasy celestial landscape of pillars, ridges, and valleys.” Available at WikiMedia Commons and is a public domain photo.

Rejecting Jesus


All three of the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—recount the parable Jesus told about the landowner who rented out some property to a group of vine-growers. At harvest time he sent a servant to collect what was due him—likely a percentage of the proceeds.

Instead of paying up, the renters beat the servant and sent him away empty handed. The landowner sent another servant and another and more. Some, those vine-growers beat, some they even killed. At last the owner decided to send his son in hopes that the tenants would respect the son.

They didn’t.

Instead they thought they saw an opportunity. If they killed the son, they reasoned, the inheritance would be theirs.

The key points here are these: the people listening to Jesus tell this story, recognized themselves as the bad guys who killed the son; they also missed the part about what happened to the tenants after they killed the son.

First, those corrupt religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus, and who finally succeeded in manipulating Pilate into declaring the death sentence upon a man he had determined to be innocent, knew they were the vine-growers in the story, making Jesus either a servant or the son they were planning to kill. In other words, they knew Jesus had come from God, and they didn’t care!

That’s the ultimate rejection.

In dealing with Jesus, people can respond in a variety of ways”

  • Jesus? Who’s Jesus?
  • I’ve heard of Jesus, and he’s a good man, but I follow _____.
  • Jesus is not a real person.
  • Jesus is the Son of God, and God is a tyrant. What does that make Jesus?
  • Jesus is the Son of God, and I bow before Him in humble submission and repentance.

Likely there are others, but only the latter is the response of the follower, the person who wants to be brought into relationship with God. The others, if they go nowhere else, are simply forms of rejecting Jesus.

The thing is, there’s no reason for the person who asks, Who is Jesus? to stay in a place of ignorance. There’s no reason for the person who thinks Jesus is a myth not to learn the truth about Him instead. In reality, it’s the person who has his eyes wide open, who hears the truth, who understands the truth, and then who denies the truth, that is digging himself a hole he may never be able to climb out of.

That position is the same as those wicked religious leaders of Jesus’s day. Not only did they not want to respect the Son or give Him what was due, they did what they could to prevent others from believing in Him and following Him. That’s why they plotted against Him and had Him killed. They mistakenly thought that would bring an end to their problem.

But it didn’t. Rejecting Jesus was just the beginning of their real problem.

“When the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”

They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” (Matt. 21:38-41)

The crowd listening to Jesus tell this story actually supplied the ending. Jesus simply confirmed what they said, tying it with Scripture:

” ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED,
THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone;
THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD,
AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’?
“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” (Matt. 21:42b-44)

This story reminds me of Adam. He knew that God had told Him not to eat of the fruit from the special tree, but he ignored God and did what he wanted instead. He rejected Him just as surely as those religious leaders rejected Jesus knowing that He was in fact the messiah.

In fact, what did they tell Pilate during Jesus’s final public trial? We have no king but Caesar. In other words, Messiah who is to come and reign is not over us; God is not over us. That was their way of taking the Son out and killing Him in the hope that they’d get the prize—they’d get to keep the power and authority they had taken for themselves.

Today people reject Jesus so they can keep their own rule and authority over their little lives. They don’t want God to tell them what to do, so they reject the Son in hopes that the kingdom of their heart will be all their own.

News flash: It won’t be.

Published in: on June 26, 2018 at 5:44 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Prophetic And The Miraculous—A Reprise


Elisha011In debating the existence of God, presupposition is everything.

If you presuppose there is no God, as atheists do, then you demand evidence but rule out anything that smacks of “flying monkeys,” or the like, because whatever defies natural law is simply myth.

This approach eliminates fulfilled prophecy as evidence of God’s work in the world. It also eliminates miracles—those will be dumped on the myth pile as nonsense believed only by the delusional.

I thought about this fact as I read the account in 2 Kings of the amazing miracles that occurred during the reign of unbelieving kings. These were not atheists but rulers who no longer worshiped the one true God, or Him exclusively. They believed in prophecy and they experienced miracles. In some cases, the phenomenal work of God changed these kings, but more often than not, they went on acting as they had before—either taking God’s work for granted or crediting it to one of the false gods they worshiped.

The thing that I’ve overlooked in the past is how much prophetic and miraculous activity there was during those times. They did not have the Bible, but they were not short on God’s revelation. There were schools of prophets, and when Queen Jezebel, known for her worship of Baal, tried to eliminate the prophets of God, at least a hundred survived. A hundred! Survived!

For ages and ages, I’ve thought there were Elijah, Elisha, and the prophets who wrote the books of the Bible. Period. Well, not so. Scripture records the names of some twenty prophets who were actively communicating God’s message during the era of the Kings of Judah and Israel, but there is also mention of various schools of prophets or sons of the prophets living together in a kind of collective it would seem.

I’ve wondered about those. Did they inherit their job or need to be instructed in order to hear God’s voice? Did they volunteer to be prophets? Or were they “schools of prophets” like geese are gaggles? Just kidding on that last one.

Mostly the prophets recorded by name seemed to be called by God though Elijah apparently called Elisha to be his disciple, his heir apparent. I suspect those in the schools or the collection of sons of the prophets, then, would also have been called by God.

And the miracles seemed to be plentiful. Elisha was God’s instrument for an abundance of supernatural activity. He gave direction for Naaman, the Aramean military leader, to wash and be cleansed from his leprosy. Conversely, he spoke a word and his greedy servant Gehazi contracted leprosy. He gave a widow directions to gather many jars in order to collect a miraculous multiplication of oil to provide for her financial needs.

He spoke a word and a barren couple conceived. Years later, the son who was born died, and Elisha prayed and he was brought back to life. During a famine, he saved the lives of a group of those prophets by miraculously countering a poisonous ingredient inadvertently thrown into their stew pot. He even made iron float so that one of those sons of the prophets could retrieve an ax head that fell into the river.

There’s more—he repeatedly told the Israelite king where the Arameans were planning an ambush so he could avoid them. When the Aramean king sent a force to capture Elisha, he prayed and God opened the eyes of his servant so he could see the amassed forces of God surrounding the enemy. Then he prayed again and God blinded the eyes of the Arameans so that they didn’t know where they were and meekly followed Elisha where he wanted to take them.

I could go on. The point is, during this one period of history, there was an abundance of prophetic and miraculous activity. If people needed signs to believe in God, He gave those in abundance.

And yet, this period was one of great apostasy and ultimately of judgment. The various Israelite kings led their people astray. Baal worship was not just tolerated, but the religion of the ruling house. They instituted male cult prostitutes and prophets of Baal and sacrifices to Baal. They branched out to include worship of female fertility deities.

All the miracles and all the prophecy didn’t change the hearts of the kings bent on disbelief. Nevertheless, God was faithful to make Himself known. He gave them chance after chance to turn to Him in repentance. He allowed enemy armies to assail them, then miraculously delivered them; He brought famine then sent rain to relieve their drought. He foretold what He was about to do so that there would be no doubt His hand was on them. He wanted them to know that He is LORD.

And still, most went their own way.

All the evidence in the world can’t change a hard heart or make a blind man see. Instead, a person away from God must cry out to Him to give him sight, to soften his heart.

God alone can heal and save, but He doesn’t force anyone to come to Him. He pursues with everlasting love, and His abundant revelation—His prophecies and His miracles—testify of His faithfulness

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in November, 2014.

A Different Gospel—A Reprise


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Apparently the Apostle Paul felt strongly about the message God had given him to preach. More than once, to several different audiences he wrote about the need to resist false teaching. Nowhere was he as exercised, however, as he was in the letter to the Galatians. After a typical, though relatively short, opening, he got right to the point:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Gal 1:6-9)

Disturbing and distorting—sounds like the Liar at work. But what should we expect? OF COURSE, Satan wouldn’t want people understanding and believing the true gospel. So one way to dissuade them is to give them an alternative.

The true gospel is not complicated. Paul laid it out in 1 Cor. 15:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15:3-5)

In this short statement of faith we learn that we have sins, Christ died for those sins, the Scriptures revealed this before hand, Christ was buried–declaring for all time that His death was real—and was raised on the third day, something the Scriptures also revealed and the disciples witnessed.

A different gospel will distort those basics.

Some different gospels mythologize the resurrection. Others add human endeavor to Christ’s death in order to deal with sin. Some say sin isn’t the real problem–man simply needs to learn to be as loving as Jesus was.

Other different gospels downplay Christ’s accomplishment at the cross for Other Things, specifically, for what He can do for you NOW. Salvation’s good, but why wait for heaven to enjoy God’s best? We can have it now if we name it and claim it. In other words, this different gospel takes what Jesus and what Paul said were signs of the gospel, and elevates those as if they ARE the gospel, or at least a part of it.

There is a different gospel that says Christ died, but if you don’t believe it to be true—if you believe in the Hindu pantheism or personal enlightenment or some other sincerely held religious expression—you’re good. Apparently in this different gospel, sin isn’t really the problem. It’s hypocrisy or not going all out for what you believe or going all out for what you believe. The real problem Mankind faces isn’t really clear, but that it will be fixed no matter what each of us believes—that’s the different gospel.

Some distort the gospel by distorting the revelation in which it is contained. Consequently it becomes easier to dismiss if there is no authoritative, true, revealed Word of God that proclaims the gospel. If what we have are fables and fairytales instead, then we can glean whatever moral we want from them and dismiss the rest.

A radically different approach that also distorts the gospel is the idea that the authoritative, true, revealed Word of God that contains the gospel, lists out the rules and regulations by which a person can overcome sin.

People believing in this different gospel might even give lip service to the fact that Jesus died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God. In practice, however, they live to toe the line, keep the rules, obey the do’s and avoid the don’ts—not because they love God and want to please Him, but because they want to impress God and earn His favor. That would be the unmerited favor He’s already extended to us through the plan of salvation.

Clearly there are many, many different gospels. In the first century, the Church leaders ran into those who didn’t believe in the resurrection, and others who thought Christ had returned a second time already. The leaders disciplined those who thought the forgiveness of sin gave them a license TO sin. They dealt with others who thought the body was evil and the spirit was good, and many more distortions of God’s truth.

The key here is this: if false teachings were not uncommon when the Church was in its infancy, why would we think things are different now? Why would we think that everyone who claims the name of Christ actually believes the gospel? It’s easy to say, Lord, Lord, but Jesus Himself made it clear that He would send away an untold number of people who called to him like that when He didn’t really know them.

Those folks had fallen prey to one of the false gospels floating around.

Paul closed his letter to the Corinthian church by saying, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (16:22). To the Galatians he said, the guy preaching a false doctrine is to be accursed.

There’s a principle of logic at work here:
if a = accursed and
b = accursed, then
a = b.

In this case, the one who preaches a different gospel does not love the Lord. So, why would we be inclined to hang out and hear someone preaching a different gospel?

This post originally appeared here in July 2013.

When Christ Shall Come — A Reprise


No, this is not a reprise of last Friday’s post. This one is just on the same topic. Actually there’s a lot more that I could say, but I think this is a good place to focus our attention for now.
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The position of the Christian today is not so different from that of the Old Testament saints. They waited for the coming of Messiah and we wait for the return of Messiah.

They had God’s promises, given to His prophets, assuring them that their Redeemer King and that their Suffering Servant would come. We have God’s sure written word telling us of the arrival of our Suffering Servant Savior and the promise of His return as King eternal.

So we wait today, much as Daniel and Micah and Joel did.

The cool thing is, as the people of Israel looked back to how God rescued them from Egypt, we now look back to how Christ rescued us from sin and death. They looked forward to Messiah coming to establish His kingdom, and we look forward to His coming again in power and glory to reign supreme.

One of the best loved hymns, certainly of the twentieth century, “How Great Thou Art,” captures the jubilation of Christ’s return in the fourth stanza.

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home—what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art!

I wonder if Christ’s return will be similar to the really big earthquakes which you hear at the same time you feel them. Maybe those shouts of acclimation will rend the heavens as we see Christ with His entourage of angels.

As an aside, this particular hymn, was written by Stuart K. Hine, an English missionary to Ukraine. From time to time something would occur which inspired him to write another stanza. Here’s the story behind the third stanza:

It was typical of the Hines to inquire as to the existence of any Christians in the villages they visited. In one case, they found out that the only Christians that their host knew about were a man named Dmitri and his wife Lyudmila. Dmitri’s wife knew how to read — evidently a fairly rare thing at that time and in that place. She taught herself how to read because a Russian soldier had left a Bible behind several years earlier, and she started slowly learning by reading that Bible. When the Hines arrived in the village and approached Dmitri’s house, they heard a strange and wonderful sound: Dmitri’s wife was reading from the gospel of John about the crucifixion of Christ to a houseful of guests, and those visitors were in the very act of repenting. In Ukraine (as I know first hand!), this act of repenting is done very much out loud. So the Hines heard people calling out to God, saying how unbelievable it was that Christ would die for their own sins, and praising Him for His love and mercy. They just couldn’t barge in and disrupt this obvious work of the Holy Spirit, so they stayed outside and listened. Stuart wrote down the phrases he heard the Repenters use, and (even though this was all in Russian), it became the third verse that we know today: “And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.” (“How Great Thou Art”)

Back to Christ’s return, of course we don’t know the day or hour, but we do know a few things about it. For one, He’ll come to rule. That’s the great and ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and the New Testament promise.

But there’s more:

Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him
And His recompense before Him. (Isaiah 40:10)

He’s coming to give His reward. Hard to imagine what that will be like. Jesus used the analogy of a banquet. David also talked about our Shepherd preparing a table for us. The idea here is lavish abundance, provision beyond our means. This is fare fit for the King of Kings, yet He seats us at His table.

Without a doubt, Christ’s return is going to be the pivotal moment in all of history. Again from Isaiah 40:

Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

The event will be worldwide, it will be dramatic, even cataclysmic, but mostly it will reveal God’s glory. This is the Shekinah glory which Moses experienced in a secondary way at the giving of the Ten Commandments and which the people of Israel experienced as a pillar of fire at night. This is the glory Paul likely saw and wrote of in 2 Corinthians that outshines what those in the Old Testament experienced:

But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. (3:7-11, emphasis added)

OK, here’s the real shock, at least to me. I don’t know what this will look like:

When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Col. 3:4)

It just dawned on me that this may be why God wants to involve us in His work. I’ve wondered why He bothers giving us fallible, weak humans the important task of preaching His word and proclaiming His truth and even of loving our neighbor when obviously God could miraculously care for each one in a far better way than we can. But repeatedly He has given us work to do. Maybe that’s because, in His love for us, He wants to shower us in glory. What a concept! What a God!

Maranatha, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!

This post originally appeared here July 2014.

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