God’s Word, A Lamp – A Reprise

When I was younger, I memorized a simple verse of Scripture. Later, singer / songwriter Amy Grant based a praise song on that same verse, Psalm 119:105. In fact, the lyrics of the chorus were a direct quote:

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet
And a light unto my path.

It’s a simply truth, but is that the same as simplistic? Is looking at the Bible as the lamp showing me where I should walk, a way of “treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are”?

Is trusting the Bible, trusting what it says, simplistic?

Honestly, I think it’s just the opposite. When I’m faced with a difficult issue, something clearly beyond my realm of expertise, I don’t try to tackle it anyway.

When my friend was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I didn’t dig in and research how to do brain surgery. I didn’t read up on how to administer chemotherapy or how to give radiation (she had both).

When I flew to Guatemala as a short term missionary, I didn’t study before hand how to pilot a plane. I didn’t ask to inspect the engine or study the flight plan and weather maps.

Brain surgery and flying planes are complex activities, far beyond my knowledge and proficiency. Consequently, I happily turn them over to those who have studied and gained experience—the brain surgeon, the lab techs, the pilots, the mechanics. I would be foolish to take those complex undertakings into my hands.

Am I, therefore, being simplistic?

I guess the question really is, is trusting someone who knows more than you, simplistic? Are we, in fact, supposed to rely only and always on our own abilities to figure things out?

To me that question is a bit scary because I think some people might say, yes, we are to figure it out on our own; it’s the responsible thing to do. We get second opinions, we research, we get the best surgeon we can, we pay attention to FAA reports and only fly with the most reliable airlines. We do our homework.

But in the end, don’t we trust that the surgeon we choose, the pilot sitting in the cockpit of the plane we’re on, will do their jobs?

At some point even things here on earth, having to do with our temporal lives, depend on us trusting someone else. How much more so should we trust when it comes to spiritual issues? I mean, talk about complex!

And yet, with spiritual issues, there’s a growing belief that the things of God are mysterious and complex and incomprehensible, and really can only be known if we look inside to our own reason and consciences. In other words, if we figure out things on our own.

In fact, part of this approach is that the way we figure things out might not be the way other people figure them out, and that’s OK. After all, we have different cultures, different geographic locations, so surely we won’t all have a common spiritual experience.

Lost in this is the simple truth that God’s word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Lost is the fact that God’s word is tried, that it is sure, that it has been given to us from the omniscient Spirit of God.

For some, tackling complex spiritual issues with our own finite mind is wiser than trusting in the infallible, imperishable, undefiled word of God that will not fade away. The idea seems to be, the spiritual issues are so big we can’t rely on a simple truth from Scripture.

Sure, God’s word is a lamp, the thinking seems to be, but so is general revelation, and by following our conscience and reason we can arrive at the truth.

Except, what happens when our conscience and reason lead us to believe something different from what the Bible says? Do we decide that the Bible is too simplistic? That the clear, repeated truth statements can’t really mean what they say? That they don’t address the complexities we see and therefore can’t be trusted?

Or, is it possible that the Author whose understanding is inscrutable, in fact, weighed the complexities and determined that His truth statements covered all the bases. That, in reality, the wise thing when faced with matters we can’t resolve, is to trust that God knows what’s right and therefore has given us the lamp of His word.

This post first appeared here in May 2014.

Published in: on February 26, 2018 at 6:02 pm  Comments (3)  
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Why I Am A Biblical Creationist – A Reprise

00Galaxy_NGC1300A number of years ago I read an article entitled “Young Earth-ism Cost Her Faith” posted on a friend’s Facebook page. The author stated that “many apologists for young-earth creationism (including the writers of my Christian textbooks) actually appeared to have misrepresented evolutionary theory and the evidence for it in a way that I can only describe as dishonest.”

Coming to this conclusion caused her to ” ‘lose my faith,’ as it were.”

I was curious about the direction the responses to this article would go, but the website proprietors closed comments which also apparently hid them.

In the sidebar was another article that I thought might explore a similar subject, this one entitled “Why I Am A Darwinist–Mary Catherine Watson” , so I turned there.

In similar fashion to the writer who lost her faith, Ms. Watson came to her belief in Darwinism through exposure to it after growing up with a creationist education: “I took AP Biology and found myself convinced that evolution made more sense in explaining the world around me than did the Bible.”

The irony is, I had the reverse experience. I grew up with evolution, the Big Bang theory, Darwinism, taught in school as if there were no other possible answers.

But I was fortunate. I also grew up going to church where I learned the Bible was God’s authoritative Word, His revelation. Consequently, my experience was quite different from Ms. Watson’s.

From her study, she concluded,

And no, it is highly unlikely that every scientist is simultaneously deluded by this theory. Science is one of the most intellectually intense fields of profession [sic] around, and its workers have some of the highest IQs, they are not that naïve.

From my study, I concluded that God, who is omniscient, the Creator of all those high IQs, revealed that which only He could know with certainty.

Ms. Watson says she went to the Bible and found more questions. She admits evolution doesn’t answer all questions either but concluded, “in light of all the information I’ve come across from both sides, it [evolution] seems to me to be the more logical option.”

On the other hand, I went to the Bible and found more and more facts that made the big picture come together in a logical whole, outstripping anything science can answer. Evolution has no answers for the big questions like why are we here? and where are we going? and what happens after we die?

Ms. Watson changed her opinions in part because of her questions about the flood recorded in Scripture:

such a flood would require steady, worldwide rainfall at the rate of about 6 inches per minute, 8640 inches per day–for 40 days and nights–so as to cover the entire earth with an endless ocean 5 miles deep, thus burying 29,000 ft. Mt. Everest (the tallest mountain) under 22 ft. (15 cubits) of water, made me think again. That is a lot of water, where did it come from, and where did it go?

Her study of Scripture seems to be less complete than her math computations. According to the Biblical record of creation, there was “a lot of water”:

The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters . . . Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. (Gen 1:2, 6-9)

Then in the account of the flood, this:

on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened. The rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights. (Gen 7:11-12)

In other words, this was not the typical modern-day rain storm we’re familiar with.

Herein lies the divide between people like Ms. Watson and people like me—when the Bible records something that is outside my experience, I don’t conclude it was fabricated, mythologized, or inaccurate. I believe it is outside my experience and outside today’s scientific observation because things were different from what the scientists assume. And clearly, assumption plays a huge part in “observing” what transpired thousands of years ago.

The bottom line is this: Ms. Watson and the anonymous “lost her faith” writer read the same science I read, read the same Bible I read, and yet we have arrived at vastly different places. I am far from thinking that I know all the details about creation, but I’m pretty confident that the scientists who deny a Creator have made a serious error. If you start with a wrong hypothesis, it’s pretty hard to draw closer to the truth if you persist with that line of reasoning.

Hänsel_und_GretelIn the end, I’ll take the word of omniscient, eternal God over finite, limited Man when it comes to the origins of the cosmos. After all, without God’s revelation, we’re trying to follow a trail of bread crumbs back to the first cause. As Hansel and Gretel discovered, bread crumbs aren’t so reliable.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in June 2013.

Heroes Of Christmas – The Magi

Wise men still seek Him, the little Christmas saying goes. The problem is, the term wisemen is misleading. The Bible does record an event involving visitors from the East who came to worship the new king born in Judea.

These visitors were not kings, necessarily. And they weren’t men known for their great wisdom. There also were an undisclosed number of them. Some scholars project from other historical records that a caravan traveling some distance could have included as many as three hundred people.

But that’s conjecture. What we know for fact is that these visitors were magi—astrologers, soothsayers. Kinda close to wizards. OK, that’s the fantasy writer’s spin on things. Sticking with what we know of the word used in Scripture, magi refers “to the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.” (Strongs Bible Dictionary accessed through the Blue Letter Bible)

We know they came from somewhere in the East, so some scholars have suggested the possibility that they may have been familiar with Jewish prophecy because of Daniel’s influence upon the Babylonian wisemen. Except, they didn’t know the prophecy about were the new king was to be born.

Just like the shepherds, the magi are subject to much speculation that has hardened into legend that’s difficult to dislodge. Too bad, because what the Bible reveals to us is pretty impressive.

As a result of their study of the heavens, the magi knew something, but they didn’t know everything. They knew a king had been born in the land of Judea, but they didn’t get the parentage right or the place of birth right or the kind of king he proved to be, right.

Still, based on what they knew, they went. In other words, they acted. That’s more than we can say for the chief priests and scribes who knew where the Messiah would be born, knew that these magi had seen his star indicating his birth, and still didn’t go to worship him. Even though they were the religious leaders of the day, they played it safe while these men from afar, not only made the dangerous journey, but were willing to ask for directions. OK, that’s a little humor there. But not far afield.

These magi were also humble. I mean, they came all that way to worship a toddler. Jesus could have still been an infant, but given that Herod later killed all the boys two years old and younger who had been born in that region, and that he did so because of the information he learned from the magi about their journey, it’s likely that Jesus was a year old maybe a year and a half or even two years old. Regardless of His age, these men who came such a long way, knelt to give him homage.

Then, too, the magi were pretty generous. They brought expensive gifts to give to the new king. As it happened, the items proved to be symbolic, but it’s unlikely they selected them because they thought a baby would need gold or a rich perfume used for the temple incense or an embalming spice. The thing that’s notable here is that these gifts had to cost the magi something. They were not ordinary and they were not inexpensive. Maybe the magi were rich, but even so, they weren’t hoarding their wealth.

There are a few other things we can conclude about the magi, but one more I’d like to highlight. They were not above listening to God. They didn’t mind changing their plans or changing their directions, so when they received a warning in a dream not to go back to Herod and report the whereabouts of the Messiah, they listened. And again they acted. Did they argue about it? Did they all have the same dream so they knew the warning had to be true? The Bible doesn’t tell us these details.

But it tells us enough to know the magi who came to honor Christ were men we can respect and admire, certainly for their willingness to act on the knowledge they had, for their humility, for their generosity, for their obedience to God’s message.

Published in: on December 21, 2017 at 5:18 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Christmas Story As Told In The Bible – A Quiz

In a recent post, my friend via blog, InsanityBytes said the following:

I really enjoy challenging our thinking, questioning what we think we know. As the saying goes, “don’t believe everything you think.” It’s pretty incredible how an urban legend can become fact and just a few short years later, everybody who’s anybody just knows it’s the truth and that’s how it’s always been.

Scripture is really a wonderful gift to have because one can go back and have a look at what we think we know. Wait, did God really say? Too bad Eve didn’t have a bible handy….

So with Christmas. IB points out in her post that Mary riding on a donkey as she and Joseph made their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem is pure legend. I hadn’t thought about that one before, but she’s right. So what else about the Christmas story has come to us through Christmas carols or greeting cards or children’s storybooks instead of through Scripture?

I’ve posted this quiz before so those of you who have been around for a while may remember it. I should do a new one and add Mary riding on the donkey. But here’s a repeat of the one I’ve got now, complete with intro and directions.

We know all about the first Christmas, right? I mean we hear about the details in Christmas carols and programs and sermons, see them depicted on cards and church bulletins and manger scenes. But do we know the Biblical version? Here’s a fun little quiz to find out. (Feel free to print it out and pass it along if you’re interested). Answers at the bottom.

Directions: based on what the Bible says, decide if the following statements are true or false. (Hint: for the sake of this quiz, if the Bible is silent on the matter, it should be considered false).

1. Jesus’s birth was predicted to Joseph by an angel in a dream.

2. Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’s birth.

3. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph’s place of residence.

4. The innkeeper told Joseph there was no room in the inn

5. Jesus was born on a cold winter’s night.

6. The stable was a wooden structure.

7. There were kings from the east who visited Jesus after he was born.

8. There were three of these visitors.

9. These visitors followed a star from the East to Jerusalem in search of the Christ child.

10. The star which the visitors saw was an especially bright star.

11. The visitors arrived on camels.

12. Herod told the visitors to go to Bethlehem.

13. These visitors came to Jesus and saw Him in the manger where he had been placed after birth.

14. These visitors were joined by shepherds who came to worship Jesus.

15. The shepherds also saw the star which had guided the other visitors.

16. A host of angels appeared to the shepherds and sang praises to God.

17. In a dream God warned Mary that Jesus’s life was in danger.

18. Mary and Joseph took Jesus back to Nazareth to escape the danger.

19. Mary remained a virgin and never had any other children.

20. God can do the impossible, which makes belief in the Christmas miracles possible.

Answers alert!

– – –

1. true – though His birth was also predicted to Mary
2. true – see Matthew 1:24-25
3. false – they were from Nazareth and only went to Bethlehem because it was required by the government
4. false – the innkeeper doesn’t make an appearance in the Biblical account
5. false – the Bible doesn’t say what kind of a night it was
6. false – the Bible doesn’t describe the stable
7. false – the eastern visitors were magi or wisemen specializing in such studies as astrology
8. false – the Bible doesn’t specify how many magi there were—only that they presented three types of gifts
9. false – they saw a star in the East and went to Jerusalem where they would expect to find a king; they then followed the star from Jerusalem to Bethlehem
10. false – the Bible never refers to the star as bright
11. false – the Bible doesn’t mention camels
12. true – after learning from the scribes where Messiah was to be born, Herod told the magi
13. false – the magi came to a house.
14. false – the magi didn’t arrive the night Jesus was born; the shepherds who were already in Judea went immediately after they heard the birth announcement
15. false – the Bible doesn’t mention that the shepherds saw the star
16. false – Scripture doesn’t say these angels sang
17. false – God warned Joseph, not Mary
18. false – they went to Egypt, not Nazareth
19. false – Mary had a number of other children, among them James who wrote the book of the Bible that bears his name.
20. true – Gabriel stated this to Mary when she asked how she being a virgin could give birth to a son (Luke 1:37)

Questions? Read Matthew 1:18-2:15; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20. Or feel free to ask them here.

Published in: on December 18, 2017 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Life-Changing, Life-Long Gift

It’s Christmas time! Well, almost. Here in the US, after our Thanksgiving Day, it seems most people turn their attention to Christmas. Music, decorations, and of course, gifts.

Interestingly, the best gift I ever received wasn’t really a gift—not in the sense of someone buying me something special and wrapping it in holiday paper or topping it with a bow. I didn’t receive it on December 25 either. In fact, it isn’t even something you receive. It’s something you do.

I imagine some people might be thinking of various giving activities that would be appropriate at Christmas time. Ways to help the needy, the less fortunate. Ways to bring Christmas to those in convalescent hospitals, to families of prisoners, to prisoners themselves.

These are all wonderful things, and they might well be life-changing to some degree, but the gift I received, or didn’t receive, wasn’t anything like that.

Rather, as I may have mentioned in this space before, I had a principal early in my teaching career at our Christian school, tell the entire staff that we ought to be spending time in the Bible every day since we were teaching the Bible.

Sure, yeah, of course. We all had Bible as our first subject of the day, and why wouldn’t we want to familiarize ourselves with the material we were teaching? It made perfect sense to me.

I also had a teacher friend who became a model for me. Some years earlier she had started the practice of reading through the Bible every year. By the time I discovered this, she’d been through the Bible, like ten times.

Wow! That seemed so . . . formidable, but also desirable. So I started out. I wish I could say it was easy sailing, but it wasn’t. I had starts and stops, frustration, even some boredom where I had to bring my wandering mind back from all the other things on my plate. I had guilt and questions about my motives, but slowly, bit by bit, I had the roots of a habit–a life-long, life-changing habit.

Now, all these years later, I can’t think of one other thing that has made a greater difference in my life. God’s Word simply has revolutionized the way I view the world.

I don’t know that my principal realized what a great gift he was giving. After all, the reasoning behind his statement to us was utilitarian–you can’t teach what you don’t know. But there’s a greater truth there–you can’t live what you don’t know, either. And you also can’t love Who you don’t know.

Simply put, the Bible shows me God.

Day in and day out, I see how God interacted with people in history–how He formed them, loved them, warned them, redeemed them. And oh yes, I see that all those recorded relationships are meant to inform me about my own relationship with God.

No greater gift.

I was reminded of this some years ago as I was driving home from church. Joni Earkson Tada had a short radio spot that aired on Sunday here in the LA area, and that week she talked about how she and her husband had been reading through the Bible in a year. She challenged her listeners to do the same.

How cool, I thought. Someday someone else is going to look back and say, Joni changed their life because she gave them the greatest, most life-changing gift of all.

The gift, of course, isn’t really the challenge. The gift is the doing. And the continuing to do.

My friend who had read the Bible at least ten times? She’s still at it. She’ll change things up once in a while to keep looking at the text anew. Sometimes she’ll read back to front or in a different version from her norm. But she’s there, day in and day out, meeting with God in the pages of His book.

How could spending that much time with God NOT change a person? What a great gift!

Apart from some minor editing, this article first appeared here in November 2012.

Published in: on November 27, 2017 at 4:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Judging The Bible

The Bible is an ancient text, a piece of history, before it is a religious document, and it should be studied on that level. The thing is, there are particular “rules” that historians have come up with in order to judge the authenticity and accuracy of an ancient document.

Here are a few:

1) Compare to contemporary writing
2) Determine the date of writing by looking at internal issues

a. Does the writer say when he wrote it
b. Common sense (if there’s a malapropism, for instance)
c. Technical skills (handwriting, for example)

3) Give weight to older documents.

the closer to an event a source is the better. By dating a source we can judge how reliable it is based on whether the person could have been an eye-witness, or talked to an eye-witness, or whether they are receiving stories passed down through a generation or something they read about etc. (“How do Historians determine the accuracy or reliability of a source?”)

4) Archaeology, geography, other records mentioned in the text
5) Read for bias
6) Study author’s goal
7) Comparison of extant copies

Needless to say, the Bible has been put through rigorous examination. Each of the above, and more, have been analyzed. Time and time again, the Bible holds up and even surprises.

Take the archaeology, for example. For years historians had no evidence outside the Bible that a place called Nazareth existed or that a people called the Hittites ever lived. But in the 1920s translation of a number of hieroglyphics gave confirming evidence that Hittites did in fact trade with Egypt and other known nations. Nazareth was “discovered” in 1962 when a reference to the town was uncovered on a marble fragment. Excavation of Nazareth itself took place in the late 1900s, on into this century.

What I find to be surprising is that any number of atheists claim the Bible is nothing but myth or a conspiracy to make people believe something that isn’t true, and yet they have never studied it. Oh, sure, some say they’ve read it; some even claim to know it better than Christians do. But when push comes to shove, it’s obvious they have not put the Bible through the rigorous examination that Bible scholars have.

I guess that’s why I admire men like Josh McDowell and Lee Strobble who once were atheists themselves and who set out to disprove the Bible. Admittedly, McDowell says he went into his analysis with bias. He didn’t believe it was true. Yet, after his study, he reached the opposite conclusion.

He and other Bible scholars give some compelling statements about the reason they have to believe the Bible to be true. Along with the text in this link are a number of short videos that I find fascinating. They say what I believe, what I’ve found in my own meager research, far better than I can.

The point is, anyone who wants to disparage the Bible has to address what these scholars say, or they are only speaking from their own bias.

One other point, I think anyone listening to McDowell will realize he came to faith through his reason. Faith is not blind and it has nothing to do with wishful thinking.

Published in: on November 14, 2017 at 6:17 pm  Comments (16)  
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The Bible And Nothing But The Bible

“Sola Scriptura” is one of the five statements that more or less define Protestantism and which came out of the Reformation in agreement with the 95 Theses that Martin Luther produced five hundred years ago.

Despite this basic doctrine, the Bible has come under attack from any number of sources. First there are those who believe Church tradition and papal authority should be considered as just as important. Others believe a later revelation has added to the Bible. Then there are those who think only parts of the Bible matter, such as the words of Jesus. Others think there are some concepts that are good, but others that are outdated. Still others question its authenticity and others its accuracy. Pretty much, if you can find an excuse for not believing the Bible or parts of it, someone has turned it into a rallying cry for those who oppose Christ.

Oppose Christ?

Yes. The point is, the Bible from start to finish, is His story. Even in the Old Testament Christ is the central figure in one way or another.

Some critics claim that the Bible is nothing more than a jumbled collection of human writings. They completely miss the cohesion that proclaims the gospel throughout.

The proclamation of the gospel is at the heart of the Bible. “Sola Scriptura” does not mean that the Bible is the only source of truth. Certainly we can learn facts about our world from a physical science text. We can turn to a grammar book to learn about the construction of language. We can learn about our past by studying a history book.

On the other hand, should the Bible say something about any of those topics, it is accurate. How could it not be? It’s revelation from God. He knows our history better than we do. He’s not going to get the facts wrong.

But the Bible, though containing history and science and literature, is much more than a book about those temporal things. The Bible gives the information a person needs spiritually. In other words, the Bible is the “go to” book when it comes to spiritual matters.

The oft overlooked fact about the Reformation, and particularly Sola Scriptura, is that, as Luther intended, the Roman Catholic Church did experience a reformation, in part. In other words, the Bible is now valued in the Catholic confession in ways it was not prior to Luther’s departure from the papal teaching about indulgences.

So here’s the bottom line all these five hundred years later. Evangelical Christians believe the Bible is sufficient for salvation; it gives us all we need to know regarding the spiritual life. Also it’s reliable. And it’s authoritative; there is no other higher voice that can or will supersede the Bible.

Third, it is determinative. In other words, how someone responds to the spiritual truth contained in Scripture, determines his eternal destiny.

I find it significant that one attack on the Bible comes from the philosophy that the spiritual, since it can’t be proven by science, simply doesn’t exist. That belief relegates the Bible as useless. Who cares what an ancient book has to say about a spiritual life you don’t believe exists?

Of course, the problem is, people who hold this belief ask for physical proof of the spiritual. They don’t seem to understand that spiritual life is a different animal. They’re basically saying that a tree does not exist because it doesn’t have the properties of a sheep.

The thing is, the Bible explains why some people turn their backs on the Bible:

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:13-14, ESV)

How can a person go from folly to spiritual discernment? By wanting to and by asking God for the ability. Of course, those who reject God are kind of stuck. Those who don’t even think they have a spiritual life are in a cul-de-sac of their own making.

The Bible has all the answers a person needs for spiritual life and godliness. It’s reliable, sufficient, authoritative, determinative and requires only that a person read it and believe it.

Published in: on October 23, 2017 at 6:10 pm  Comments (15)  
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Belief And What We Put Our Faith In – A Reprise

skydivingI believe that skydiving is safe. However, you aren’t going to see me getting into a plane with one of those flimsy parachute contraptions strapped to my back! 😉

Clearly, belief is not the same as putting our trust in that thing we say we believe. For example, see what James said to Christians: “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (Jas. 2:19)

Believing and trusting are not the same thing. That’s a good principle to keep in mind when we look at extra-Biblical encounters with God. Yes, extra-Biblical.

God makes Himself known first in His creation.

Some time ago, I passed this liquid amber tree in full autumn colors (yes, here in SoCal, we do have the occasional tree that turns into gold and red and yellow and brown). As I slowed to admire the beauty, a woman walked by, never looking up, apparently oblivious to the glory swaying over her head. How sad, I thought, that God is so present and people can completely miss Him.

Because of His great love, of course, God went farther than simply showing Himself through creation; He revealed Himself through prophets, His law, His word, and His Son.

But that’s not all. He also revealed Himself through dreams and visions and angel visitations. The Bible records any number of these, and we’re especially reminded of them at Christmas time. Angels appeared to shepherds, wisemen discovered the birth of the King of Judea by studying the stars, Mary learned she would become pregnant from an angel, Joseph too, and then he had a dream warning him to take his family and escape to Egypt.

There’s more. The wisemen were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. The Holy Spirit revealed to a man named Simeon that he would not see death until he beheld the Messiah–which he did when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the temple on the eighth day. More amazing, the Holy Spirit also communicated something to Jesus’s cousin John, while he was still in the womb, and as a not-yet-born baby, he “leaped” when Mary entered the house and greeted Elizabeth, his mother who was carrying him.

So, yes, God reveals Himself in many ways. Some believe He no longer does so, but I find this position a stretch that doesn’t fit either Scripture or reports from various parts of the world today. From any number of sources, I’ve heard recently of people coming to Christ as a direct result of a dream or vision.

And yet . . .

I think a look at the Apostle Paul’s life in regard to visions might be instructive. Certainly he had an extra-biblical encounter with the living Christ. It’s why he made an about-face and stopped persecuting Christians to become one himself.

He also had a vision of what he referred to as the third heaven, though he left open the possibility that he’d actually been transported there bodily (see 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). But here’s the thing. Paul did not formulate his theology based on his vision.

His encounter with the living Christ was consistent with Scripture. Apparently his vision of the third heaven was just something for him—not something extra that informed Christians what to believe or do.

In fact, in his letter to the Colossian church, Paul was clear that visions were not a sound basis for deviating from Scripture.

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind (2:18 – emphasis mine).

Paul believed in visions. He had them. And yet here he is saying that things not consistent with Scripture—self-abasement and the worship of angels—were not to become part of the practice of the Church simply because someone had a vision that said those applications should be included. Visions weren’t enough in and of themselves to become the basis of doctrine.

That approach to extra-Biblical information is a good rule of thumb, I think, and a means of escaping much false teaching.

This post is an edited version of one that originally appeared here in December 2012.

The Certainty Of The Bible – Reprise

chicken-3-1392636-mWhich came first, the chicken or the egg?

It’s a conundrum to many people, but for those of us who believe the Bible, not so much. God created the animals, including birds, so clearly the chicken came first.

In truth, belief in the Bible is a similar chicken-or-egg puzzle for many people. How do you know the Bible is true? Short answer: God’s fingerprints are all over it. But how do you recognize God’s fingerprints? The Bible gives us a portrait of Him.

So which comes first, belief in God or belief in the Bible?

I’d say, both. Scripture is important throughout . . . well, Scripture. For example, Philip explained to an Ethiopian the Scripture he was reading, and the man consequently believed in Jesus; in His teaching ministry, Jesus Himself elaborated on the Law of Moses; Paul and Peter quoted frequently from Old Testament prophets; and so on. Scripture values Scripture.

But there was a time before people had Scripture, and God still made Himself known, so faith in God must not be tied exclusively to faith in the Bible. In fact the book of Romans explains that God first made Himself known in what He created.

In addition Scripture records any number of direct encounters God or one of His angels had with various people. Sometimes He appeared in a dream such as He did to Jacob. Sometimes He talked directly to an individual as He did with Adam and Abraham and Samuel. At other times He appeared in the form of a man as He did to Gideon or Jacob–which may have been an angel as His messenger or Jesus before His coming to earth in the form of a baby.

Then there are the indirect messages God gave people through prophets–men who spoke His message at His prompting. People like Hosea and Jonah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

But here’s the thing: we know about these encounters today through the Bible. So how do you have faith in God’s ability to make Himself known apart from the Bible except by believing that the Bible record is true?

There seems to be a sort of synergistic relationship with believing God and believing the Bible. One leads to the other and the other leads back to the starting point. The Bible reveals God and God validates the Bible. Or God points to His word and His word points back to Him.

The idea that God points to His word might seem doubtful, but it’s actually Biblical. 😉 Jesus explained to His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come and guide them, and us, into all truth (John 16:13). In fact, He said,

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me (John 15:26).

The Holy Spirit, then, is our source of truth, and as it happens, it was the Holy Spirit who breathed His truth into Scripture through the agency of humans.

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

In turn, Scripture tells us about the Holy Spirit and all His work.

Seems very eggish and chickenish, doesn’t it. Except, remember, there really is an easy answer to the question that appears, on the surface, to be a puzzle. So, too, with this matter about believing the Bible.

The first step is to ask, can we know about God apart from the Bible? The answer, which the Bible verifies, but which countless humans down through the ages have discovered apart from the Bible, is yes. When we look at the vastness of space–and more so now that we can look into deep space using advanced technology–or the beauty of a sunset or the majesty of purple mountains or the thunderous power of the surf or the intricacy of a butterfly or the astounding birth of a baby or . . . pretty much anything in the natural world, we recognize we are part of all that exists, not the maker of it. There is something beyond us.

Today a popular position is to say that “something” is nature itself. This position has many problems. But here’s the thing. Having recognized that there is something beyond us, we then see God saying He has chosen to disclose Himself to us.

We ought not to be shocked if some people respond by saying, Really? I mean, it is a rather fantastic claim. An Other, a Greater, wants to stop by for a chat? Wants to introduce Himself and become friends? It’s . . . incredible.

So we can say, NOT POSSIBLE, meaning that we have determined we know what is and isn’t possible in a universe we did not create and do not fully comprehend; or we can say, the One who is Other and Greater is also Incredible.

What then can’t He do? If He chooses to disclose Himself in a written record, who am I to say, no, He didn’t.

This post originally appeared here in October 2013.

Published in: on October 3, 2017 at 5:58 pm  Comments (4)  
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Sex And The Bible – A Reprise

Samson004I’m not sure where the idea has come from that Christians are prudish as opposed to moral. I don’t see the two meaning the same thing, and neither does the New Oxford American Dictionary. But what about the Bible? Is it prudish?

Not quite. No sooner does the writer of Genesis recount the creation of Adam and Eve but he reports, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25).

Some people unfamiliar with the Bible have the strange idea that the first sin had to do with sex. I think that myth is reflective of a sex-crazed society, because it has nothing to do with reality.

Sex was part of creation which God declared to be good. In addition, His first command, even before “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” was “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Translated, that means, Have sex with your wife and have kids.

After Man sinned and God removed humans from the garden, sex remained as much a part of the historical record as any other human activity. In Genesis 4, for example, the Bible notes that Lamech took two wives—presumably the first to have bigamist relationships.

After the flood, when Noah and his family landed on dry land, the Bible notes that Ham, his youngest son, “saw the nakedness of his father” while Noah, drunk from wine, was passed out. Something happened, clearly, because when Ham’s brothers learned what he’d done, they “covered the nakedness of their father.” Noah awoke and “knew what his youngest son had done to him.”

Not a clear picture of what kinky thing happened in this family, but the event is not omitted either. Neither are the homosexual desires of the men in Sodom and Gomorrah who wanted to rape Lot and the two angels who had come to take him out of the city.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from revealing Sarah’s attempt to “help God out” with the son He’d promised Abraham by giving her husband Hagar, her servant, as a mistress, since she herself was beyond child-bearing years.

Then there’s Jacob and the trickery of Laban which put Leah in the wedding tent the night Jacob thought he was having sex with Rachel. A week later, after completing his sexual obligation to his first wife, he then married the woman he loved. But throughout the years, Jacob’s sex life is about as open as . . . oh, say, David’s.

First, though he loved Rachel, he continued to sleep with Leah, as evidenced by the four sons she birthed. Rachel, on the other hand, was barren, and demanded Jacob give her sons. He responded by saying, Am I God who has closed your womb? Notice, he didn’t say, OK, I’ll move back in with you. Apparently, Rachel’s barrenness was not due to a lack of sex between her and her husband.

Rachel’s jealousy led her to give Jacob her servant as a mistress. He didn’t object and had two sons by that woman. Leah didn’t want Rachel to get ahead of her, so she gave Jacob her servant as mistress. In the course of time she delivered two sons as well.

But Jacob still loved Rachel and apparently was now living with her exclusively. Except one day Rachel asked Leah to share the mandrakes one of her sons had found in the field. Leah ended up agreeing . . . if she could sleep with Jacob that night.

And Leah once more got pregnant. And again. And again.

But at some point Jacob went back to Rachel because God opened her womb, and she gave birth to a son named Joseph.

Joseph—this would be the boy whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt where he fended off the advances of his master’s wife and landed in jail because of it. Let me be clear. This was not some mild flirtation. The Bible says Potiphar’s wife approached Joseph day after day and said, Lie with me.

Then there’s Joseph’s brother Judah, whose daughter-in-law tricked him into sleeping with her (he thought she was a prostitute—so much more upright!)—and had twins by him.

Should I go on to the gang rape and murder Judges records or the mass kidnapping of women the Israelite leaders engineered so the men of Benjamin would have wives. Then there are Samson’s exploits with various women and David’s adultery.

I’m sorry. If someone thinks Christians are prudish it’s because a) they don’t know what’s in the Bible; or b) they’re talking about professing Christians who don’t read the Bible and are formulating their attitudes about sex from some other place.

Because, yes, many of the examples I mentioned above are not what we’d call ideal examples of a sexual relationship. But that’s part of the point. The Bible doesn’t pull any punches about sex or any other topic. Jesus Himself had some clear instruction about lust, and He didn’t shy away from telling the Samaritan woman precisely what her marital status was (You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t your husband).

He didn’t camp on her sexual failings, however. He didn’t tell her to marry the man she was living with and then come back to see Him. But He also didn’t hesitate to tell the woman caught in the act of adultery that she should sin no more.

Prudish? The Bible is not prudish. People who read the Bible will see the good, the beautiful, the disturbing, the vile within its pages. A Christian who pays attention to what God says about sex through the lives and decrees and admonitions in Scripture can hardly have a prudish attitude toward sex.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from the topic of sex, but it also never presents sex as mankind’s problem. But don’t take my word for it; read it yourself.

This post is an edited version of one that originally appeared here in May 2014.

Published in: on September 28, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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