Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sorry - You're not a Christian

The Barna Group, a well respected polling group and the largest religious pollster in the world, has coined the term 'notional Christians' to describe those who report to be Christians, "but do not believe that they will have eternal life because of their reliance upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the grace extended to people through a relationship with Christ." [1] Perhaps most disturbing about this is that these people make up a  whopping 39% of the American population! That is roughly half of all people who self report as Christians (the number of self-reporting Christians has been on a fairly steady - but slow - decline since World War II [the expression "there are no atheists in foxholes" also appears to extend to "there are no atheists with sons in foxholes."] and currently sits at 77% [2] ).

Sit back to ponder that. If you took a random sample of 200 self-professing Christians in the United States (playing it fast and loose with the reality of samples and pretending it is perfectly repreted) and had a simple majority vote on whether or not the following verse accurately describes the state of things:

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" She *said to Him, "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world."

(Joh 11:25-27)
101 would vote "no." On what is described by Paul as the single most important tenant of Christianity, a majority of Christians would reject the Biblical view. Let us consider exactly how Paul puts it:

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

(1Co 15:16-19)
Those who claim to be Christians and yet deny the central precept of Christianity - the logical thread which ties all articles of faith together - are not Christians at all (I know, I am again entertaining that annoying old-fashioned habit of mine where I insist that words have meaning). On this point, I am terribly picky. If you are saved and are not actively seeking to mold yourself after Christ, you are not a Christian. If you are not saved - not bought and purchased by the blood of Christ - and are doing everything else right, you are not a Christian.

Christianity is not a list of ethical rules and regulations. God only gave mankind one religion - Judaism. Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is when you realize that you can never fulfill the requirements of true religion and you allow yourself to DIE to religion. In Biblical terms, you die to the Law. When you die to the Law, it no longer has authority over you. Instead, you live on the other side. So Christianity has nothing to do with rules and regulations. What do we have left? A relationship. Once you have been purified, you can come into God's presence. Once you are in God's presence, you will want to please Him. That is what willl shape your behavior.You can be clean before God and not seek to please Him, but you are not a Christian. You can be try to please a God you do not know, but you are not  Christian. Read the words of Christ:

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'

(Mat 7:21-23)
No matter what good works you do in the name of Christ, or if you call yourself a Christian, if you don't know Him, it is a waste. Jesus said that MANY would be in that situation, now the polls confirm it.

As Christ also said: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it."

If the foundation of your faith is not solid, everything else you build on it is nonsense. If you build on the foundation of your own wisdom, then no matter how elaborate and good the structure is you build on it, it will crumble when the time for testing comes. Faith alone is not a solid foundation, because faith is just a shadow of something else. If you place your faith in the path of Nirvana, in the day of judgment your faith will only have the strength of Nirvana. If you are wrong (and I believe you are), your foundation will fall and your castle with it. When the winds come and the storm waters rise, only the God who created the universe is a strong enough foundation to hold you firmly. Consider the words of Christ again:

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. "And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. "Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. "The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell--and great was its fall."

(Mat 7:24-27)

Tomorrow come back for a discussion of why Christianity is the only foundation - that Christianity is a way is logically sufficient to show it is the only way.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

We Give Thanks

Yesterday, we examined how little (to our eyes) the Pilgrims had to be thankful for at the first Thanksgiving. We saw that this did not give them pause - they could he happy in all circumstances, like Paul and like us. Today we turn to read through the 107th Psalm, with my comments in brackets. Let this be the feeling of your heart for all of Thansksgiving day and every day.

Psa 107:1-43

(1) Oh give thanks to the LORD, for [because] He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

(2) Let the redeemed of the LORD [the saved, those purchased by His blood] say so, Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary [He has freed us from the devil and the power of sin]

(3) And gathered from the lands, From the east and from the west, From the north and from the south.

(4) They wandered in the wilderness in a desert region; They did not find a way to an inhabited city. [We, even in our modern world, are in an untamed wilderness of sin. There is no civilization here for us, no refuge. God must rescue us and bring us home, or we will wander until we die.]
(5) They were hungry and thirsty; Their soul fainted within them. [The bondage of sin wearies us.]

(6) Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses. [We need not find our own way out of the wilderness, but to cry out to the LORD.]

(7) He led them also by a straight way, To go to an inhabited city. [Freed from sin, we are brought to true civilization!]

(8) Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! [For this, the psalmist gives thanks!]

(9) For He has satisfied the thirsty soul [with living water - John 7:38], And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good [the bread of life - John 6:35].

(10) There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, Prisoners in misery and chains,

(11) Because they had rebelled against the words of God And spurned the counsel of the Most High. [We were in the shackles of death because we sinned against God, yet God saved us.]

(12) Therefore He humbled their heart with labor; They stumbled and there was none to help. [We try to save ourselves from sin, we try to be righteous. But our failure brings humility and we call on God in our weakness.]

(13) Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses.

(14) He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death And broke their bands apart.

(15) Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! [Again, we give thanks!]

(16) For He has shattered gates of bronze And cut bars of iron asunder.

(17) Fools, because of their rebellious way, And because of their iniquities, were afflicted.

(18) Their soul abhorred all kinds of food, And they drew near to the gates of death.

(19) Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses.

(20) He sent His word [that is, Jesus - see John 1] and healed them, And delivered them from their destructions.

(21) Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! [Offer up thanks to God for this sweet freedom!]

(22) Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, And tell of His works with joyful singing. [The sacrifices God desires are not burning meat. God wishes that we are broekn-hearted over our sin and that we wish to turn away from it (Psalm 51); he desires us to sing a song of praise to Him (Psalm 51). We can sing one of the Psalms, sing something as beautiful as At the Cross, or as simple as Jesus Loves Me, but to thank God for what He has done for us is the sacrifice He desires - and to tell others!]

(23) Those who go down to the sea in ships, Who do business on great waters;

(24) They have seen the works of the LORD, And His wonders in the deep.

(25) For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, Which lifted up the waves of the sea.

(26) They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; Their soul melted away in their misery.

(27) They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, And were at their wits' end.

(28) Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, And He brought them out of their distresses.

(29) He caused the storm to be still, So that the waves of the sea were hushed. [Even the winds obey God! That we make it safely somewhere to celebrate Thanksgiving is his divine hand at work.]

(30) Then they were glad because they were quiet, So He guided them to their desired haven.

(31) Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! [Thank God, thank God!]

(32) Let them extol Him also in the congregation of the people, And praise Him at the seat of the elders.

(33) He changes rivers into a wilderness And springs of water into a thirsty ground;

(34) A fruitful land into a salt waste, Because of the wickedness of those who dwell in it.

(35) He changes a wilderness into a pool of water And a dry land into springs of water;

(36) And there He makes the hungry to dwell, So that they may establish an inhabited city,

(37) And sow fields and plant vineyards, And gather a fruitful harvest.

(38) Also He blesses them and they multiply greatly, And He does not let their cattle decrease.

(39) When they are diminished and bowed down Through oppression, misery and sorrow,

(40) He pours contempt upon princes And makes them wander in a pathless waste.

(41) But He sets the needy securely on high away from affliction, And makes his families like a flock.

(42) The upright see it and are glad; But all unrighteousness shuts its mouth.

(43) Who is wise? Let him give heed to these things, And consider the lovingkindnesses of the LORD. [God provides for the needs of the hungry and the afflicted. God provides for the salvation of the sinner. If we are wise, the Bible tells us, we will dwell on these things. ]
Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Road to Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanskgiving. Today is a day of preparation for it and I knmow you are likely busy today. I will be brief - I would like to take an unusual look at Thanksgiving by noting that - by modern standards - the Pilgirms had nothing to be thankful for at all and should have (a man might say) abandoned the faith and collapsed to atheism and despair.

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, when an exceptionally good harvest (aided largely by a kidnapped American Indian who was taken to Europe for study and befriended the colonists because his entire village was dead of disease when he returned) gave them the ability to hold a three day feast. Certainly then, we can see these religious dissenters (opposed to the Church of England's excess and lack of focus on personal holiness) thanking God for a bountiful harvest. 

If we were to do so, however, we would be zooming in on one small event after a year of trouble. The Pilgrims left for America because in England they were not allowed to practice their religion and in Holland, their children were abandoning their cultural identity. It had been hoped that when James (of the [in]famous King James Version) ascended to the throne that he would bring religious peace to England and lift the bans on freedom of worship (at least for Christians). This did not occur. While they were not 'persecuted,' per se, they were the subject of scorn, fines and the general displeasure of the Crown. For these and other political reasons (more subtle), on September 16, 1620. It was a foolish time to leave to found a new colony in such a cold region as New England. When they finally landed on November 13, winter was rapidly setting in. there were no warm homes to hide in (just a few abandoned Native buildings) and no Home Depots to gather supplies. From nothing, they needed to protect themselves from the bitter winter. So desparate was their lot, that they dug up graves and took out food which was to be for the Natives in their afterlife. From a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables on the trip, many suffered from scurvy and malnutrition. Over the winter of 1620-1621, 47% of the colonists died in this strange, untamed land. Imagine that in every family of 4, only 2 are left to see spring. The landing was, to say the least, not what they had hoped for.

Yet, the following November, they were able to look on their lot and thank God for what He had given them.  My point for this Thanksgiving Eve is that the Christian's thankfulness need not be bound by his circumstances. As Paul wrote:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

(Php 4:10-12)
Paul writes that he has learned how to live in poverty and how to live with wealth. It is something he did not know naturally and it is not something we know naturally, but we must choose to learn. Sometimes we have so much tht we must have the strength to have money without money having us. Sometimes we have so little that we must have the strength to resist envy of those with better stakes. Every lot has its own challenges - but in verse 12 Paul claims he knows a secret to deal with them all. In verse 13, Paul tells us what this secret is:

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

(Php 4:13)
And that is something to be thankful for. If, like the Pilgrims, we have little and have suffered much, we may thank God He has pulled us through. If we, like so many today, have a great deal, we may thank God for each thing He has given us. But I feel like the time for that variety of Thankgiving comes tomorrow. Today, let us contemplate how God has brought us through adversity.

[1] What is something in your life which should have crippled you, but God meant for good?
[2] What is something in your life in the past year which you could not have handled without Paul's little secret?
There will be another brief devotional tomorrow, automatically posted at midnight. I hope you have the time to look at it as you celebrate your Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Plenty of Time

There is a very attractive myth in our modern conciousness. It is that once I have accepted the proofs of Christianity, I may then mosey quietly along, contemplating it until a convenient time arises. I will surrender my current lifestyle and devote myself to Christ, but not at the moment. I may or may not have already been saved, but I am putting off any real lifestyle changes until I reach a stopping point. I need to experience life a little more before I can make a commitment. Sure, my objections may have been dealt with, but I am not yet ready to fall into the arms of Jesus. That leap of faith scares me, so I will put it off. I am young. I have plenty of time.

Let us skip the most obvious folly of this argument, that no one is promised tomorrow. Man's life is but a vapor - if you put off salvation for one day, it may be everlasting too late. Now is the only moment in which you know you will have a chance at eternal life. As important as this line of reasoning is, I find it self evident.

Instead, I would like to discuss with you the consequences of continuing to live in sin and demonstrate that they should not be regarded so flippantly. Our text is in the third chapter of 1 John. He is speaking to the saved, but the truths are not bound by that.

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

(1Jn 3:2-3)
If we have been born again (of the Spirit), we are the children of God. We have the promise of being resurrected, but we do not yet understand what that means. In fact:

(1Co 2:9)
But it gets much better from there. John writes that if we are the children of God, we will become like Christ when he returns, because we will see Him in His glory. Seeing the unrestrained light of God will burn off all of our sin and leave something conformed to His perfection! Moses could not look on the unrestrained glory of God and live, because he would have been transformed right there. What sort of limited version of Christ the disciples saw is idle speculation and I will refrain from it, but John (who saw the risen Lord) tells us they could not have seen Him as He is.  Even beyond this, John tells us that if we keep this hope on our minds (the hope of the rapture and ressurection), it will naturally purify us in this life, just as Christ is holy.

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.

(1Jn 3:4-6)
The KJV translates "sin is lawlessness" as "sin is the transgression of the Law." The NASB captures the true sense much better here. Sin is not merely violating a code, but a spirit of no standards and zero accountability. Reflected in the attitude of 'I will make my own rules,' this is the truth of sin. Sin is when I choose to live without law, by my own impulses and lusts. To abide in the sinless Christ is to abide by the Law of Love and of Light - it is to walk by the Spirit. In this path, abiding in Christ, there is no sin. To live in a spirit of sin (not to commit a specific sin, as the KJV implies) is evidence that salvation has never been truly attained. Those who know Christ are already being conformed to His purity. But why should we seek this? Why not put it off, so we can continue to enjoy ourselves?

Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

(1Jn 3:7-10 - emphasis mine)
By continuing to sin, the Bible says, you are serving the devil, the one who Christ set out to defeat. There we see the great point: there is no neutral ground. We may follow Christ or we may oppose Him. If we put off our salvation and continue to live in our filth, following after our own lusts, we are serving the devil and doing His work.

John has made a very subtle shift here. Before he spoke of us abiding in Christ, that is doing His will. Now he is speaking of Christ abiding in us - the permenant state of the believer. If we accept Christ, we are a new creature. The Son of God abides in us and our Inner Man cannot sin, nor can we (in total) live in the spirit of sin. We must love our brethren (not brothers and sisters in the biological sense, but brothers in sisters in that we have the same Father - God) and work against the devil.

For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous. Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

(1Jn 3:11-15)
If you are dead in your sins, Christ died so you might be made alive. You being freed of your sins was important enough that God became a man, was tortured, executed and completely torn apart from Himself (as He became sin for us, God the Father could no longer look upon God the Son) and conquered death after three days in the grave. Doesn't that tell you that it is important enough that you should read in your Bible and come to fall back on the everlasting arms, trusting in Jesus? It is time to get our priorities straight. I will lay it out again, because no one can read it too many times.
1.) All human beings are sinners, deserving of God's wrath (Romans 3:23). We have sinned against an infinite, eternal God (Psalm 51:4)and deserve an eternal punishment for our eternal sin (2 Thesselonians 1:9). Each sinner will be repaid in Hell according to his deeds, but everyone deserves Hell. Sin in our lives, falling short of God's glory, causes two deaths. The first death is the separation of our soul and our body. The second is the separation of our soul from God. The first step to attaining Heaven is to really come to terms with the fact you do not deserve it, but to have a desire to turn away from your sin and be acceptable to God.
2.) God did not create us to suffer. He created us to fellowship with Him. While He is a God of justice and there must be a Hell, He is also a God of love. He knew we could not meet His standards, so He suffered to make us another way. (1 Timothy 2:4) The second step is to believe that, even though you recognize your lowly state, God wants to save you.
3.) The same God who created the universe humbled his infinite wisdom and power to become a lowly human being. He emptied Himself so that we might be made rich (Phillipians 2:7, 2 Corinthians 8:9). He was tempted, but He did not sin. Because He did not sin, He had no death to die. But He did anyway. He died both deaths - separated from God and then physically dying. Because He was a man, His punishment was acceptable to God for our sins. Because He was an infinite God, His suffering as enough to cover the sins of every single human being ever. Jesus was beaten, stabbed, crowned with thorns and forced the carry the instrument of His execution to the hill of Calvary. His ankles were stacked on top of each other and a railroad style nail was driven through them and into a cross. A separate nail was pushed through each wrist. They spat on Him, gave Him vinegar to drink and mocked Him as He used His arms to hold His torso up a little bit longer. For six hours, He struggled for every breath. He prayed "Father forgive them." He was forsaken by God, yet He was God - something truly beyond comprehension. He died. At any moment, He could have stopped it all with His almighty power. He did not. The hot blood which ran down his flesh was the payment for our sins and it washes us clean (1 John 1:7). The third step is simply trusting that Jesus has the power to save you and died to set you free from death (John 3:16).
4.) Jesus rose from the dead and will also pull us up from death if we only ask. The story does not end with being freed from death and born again as a child of God. Once we are truly alive, we must live for Him (2 Timothy 2:11).

If you are living in a spirit of sin and have been kidding yourself into believing that you are saved, now is also the time to swallow your pride and really trust your life to Jesus. Once you have been genuinely saved, it is forever. But if you just once said a simple prayer or spoke the right words without ever trusting in Jesus' complete sacrifice to forgive you, you were never saved.

No matter your situation, whatever is holding you back must be cast away. Jesus said:
"If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. "If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.

(Mat 18:8-9)
Anything you give up in this life is trivial compared to an eternity in Hell. Jesus says if your hand prevents you from accepting Him, just cut it off. Think about that. The hour of salvation is at hand, but no man knows when it will pass away forever. The time is now. If you do not have enough facts, hurry and get them. Get rid of whatever is holding you back. Read John 17-21 and see what Jesus went through to pardon you and then place a simple faith in Him. What will you do today more important than eternity?

From now on, I will be posting my blogs at midnight each morning, thanks to Blogspot's "Schedule Post" feature, where I can write it when convenient and have it appear later. Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A More Excellent Way

We now come to the conclusion of our lengthy study on miracles in a post I have titled "A More Excellent Way." Alas! It is not a phrase I invented. It comes from the first letter of Paul to the church at Corinth, as he discusses miracles (which obviously existed at the time) and introduces our text.

And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.

(1Co 12:28-31)
Paul teases us here. He says there is something greater than knowing the Lord personally, in the flesh as an apostle, greater than being a mighty prophet or a wise teacher, greater even than working tremendous miracles! There is one way which lasts longer than miracles - it lasts longer than even faith! In 1 Corinthians 13, he tells us what this way is.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

(1Co 13:1-3)
The ability to speak miraculously without love is just annoying, Paul says. If we spout prophecy and are as wise as Solomon, so faithful that God would answer our every prayer, but lack love - WE are nothing. If we give every ounce of ourselves to other people and to good works, but do not do it because of love in our hearts, it is useless to us.

We then return to something which I have discussed before. It is hard to be a Christian. Paul says that we may have every outward appearance of power and piety - we can even do good works - but it is the state of our heart which matters. If my heart is cold and hardened - what of anything else? I must soften my heart to love and to pain so that I may truly give myself out, being transformed day by day in God's image. True Christianity is not a list of rules to be followed or tasks to be completed, the Bible clearly says here.

But when we have love, all of the rest of these things will come. While we are not gifted with miracles anymore, we may be filled with faith and the guidance of the Holy Spirit once we really love and devote ourselves to our Lord. Once we have love, we will naturally give our goods to the poor - because we love them. If we truly love those who are unsaved, of course we will be martyred if a seed in their heart might be nourished by our blood!

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

(1Co 13:4-7)
Love is patient, kind and not jealous! Of course love is patient, because it is considerate of others. Of course love is kind, because kindness is the natural fruit of caring. Note that jealous here is different than the word jealous used when the LORD says "I am a jealous God." The kind of jealousy here is really envy. I see that you have something and I want to take it from you and have it for myself. Love does not feel that way, because love is pleased when you do well. Love does not brag and is not arrogant because love is not concerned with itself. Contrasted with the modern doctrine "me-me-me," love cares more about others than itself, as God cared more about us than His own suffering when He died for our sins. Love does not behave unbecomingly or undecently - if by nature we are opposed to some decorum, but we have love, we will behave according to that standard so we will not cause another to stumble. If a missionary goes somewhere that a fork is rude, it is in love that he eats with his fingers, so he might become all things to all men. We are no different on the homefront. Love does not seek its own! What a terrible thing to say! Jesus put it differently, "If any man will follow me, he must deny himself." If I have the real love of God, I will not seek my own interests - but yours. Love is not provoked and does not take into account a wrong suffered. Why? Because love does not like being angry. Solomon warns us in Proverbs against associating with an angry person, because they drag us down into their anger. Someone complete (or perfected) in love will not let themselves be provoked and will not keep a record of what others have done to them, because it would only cause strife. There are time of just anger, but usually we get angry because it is pleasing to our flesh to tear others down. Love has no pleasure in such things. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. We might see someone else's sin and think that the greatest love for them would be to support them. The Mighty, Everlasting God disagrees. He who is perfect in love lives in the light and rejoices in truth, but shuns sin. That is why a God of love has a Hell. Because love cannot rejoice in things which tear down and love must also contain justice. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Because love does not seek to protect itself, love will tolerate abuse and will endure. Love will trust the Word of God and love will hope for all things, not falling into pessimism, because the power of love is that it believes.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

(1Co 13:8-12)
Love is yesterday, today and forever, because God is love (1 John 4:8). Love is the one eternal constant. While miracles passed away with the perfection of the Scriptures, love remains. The miraculous events of the New Testament were the foundations of our belief, when our faith was still in its infancy. Now that it is complete - now that all we need is contained in the precious Bible, we are mature and come into love. To read our Bible and to experience the true kind of love Paul is talking about here is to see God face to face. No more does one person see prophecy and another have inspiration to write a book of the Bible, but we all have it all.

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

(1Co 13:13)

With miracles passed, three supernatural gifts remain: faith, hope and love. We may only have these things by the power of God. In the present age, we have faith and hope because we have not seen Christ with our own eyes.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

(Heb 11:1)
But when Christ returns, or we die and go into heaven, we will have the salvation we have hoped for and see Him whom we have believed. So, love alone never fails (1 Cor. 13:8). Even faith and hope will pass away. But before there were men, there was love. God has always been and always will be. When mankind was created, there was a need for faith and hope and shortly after, for miracles. The need for miracles has passed away and the need for hope and faith will pass away, but the need for love is eternal. The love here is not brotherly love or romantic love. The Greek word is different for each of those kinds of love. The kind here is agape - love that is perfect. It does not depend on the lovableness of the beholder and is unconditional. We might feel romantic or brotherly love based on the object of our affection, but the kind of love Paul has written about is strictly the product of God dwelling within.

True, Godly love has been described very plainly today. If you are not experiencing this supernatural gift, there could be two reasons. The first is that you do not know Jesus Christ as your personal saviour, so God has not indwelled you. Maybe you are trusting in your good works - but without the love that only God can give, it is nothing. You are, being sinful, too polluted for God to dwell within you. But if you trust in the Jesus who shed His blood for you (right now - no one ever promised you would wake up tomorrow), He will perform a miracle greater than any other - He will make you a new creature, freed and cleansed from sin, impossible to pollute ever again. There is no magic prayer to say, no set of words I can give you as an incantation to freedom. But talking to God like you would talk to anyone else, admitting you are a sinner and asking for Him to forgive you through Jesus' death and to help you turn your life around is enough. Your soul will be remade and will wait only the day when your body is repaired like your soul when the Lord returns. You can then use the love He has given you to perform good works and study His Word (the Bible) to mature in Him and slowly deepen the control this love has over your life as you learn to have dominion over self and over sin. It is a lifelong journey, but the love will motivate it all.

The second possibility is that you have had simple faith in Christ, but have hardened your heart and shut out your love. Indeed, this probably describes every saved person to some degree. The difference between the backslidden Christian and I is a matter of degree, not of kind. If this describes you, you have to repent. Jesus says that lukewarm Christianity is so disgusting He will spit it out of His mouth. If you are not going to church every time you are able (not just Sunday morning), it is important and you need to. If you are, but your heart is not in it, you must pray for God to break you down and build you back up again as sensitive to His will. If you are not praying all the time, relying on God, start and make your first prayer that He would help you remember to pray and teach you how. If you are not studying your Bible every day, 4 chapters will get you through the entire thing in a year. The Bible is a book God inspired to talk to you. Really think about that. The God who spoke the universe into existence wants to talk to YOU and you may not even be spending a little time in it every day. Lastly, if you are living in sin - run from it. Salt water and fresh water cannot come from the same spring. How can you pray to God with the same mouth that spits profanity, give to His church with the same money that buys booze and porn and do His work with the same hand that strikes someone in anger? You have to stop some things, just as surely as you have to start others. If you want spiritual health, start by being alive. Jesus will help you carry the load.

In conclusion:
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.

(1Jn 3:14-20)
Until the next time, may God protect you and provide for you and may you share the gospel this week with someone who will die and go to Hell if you don't bother.

The Two Witnesses

The two witnesses (which I capitalize inconsistently, not having a clear answer from my Harbrace Handbook)come next in our study of miracles, as an apparent contradiction to the view I have already established. To this end, I will examine in great detail who they are, why they will come and what their purpose will be. The Bible says the Two Witnesses will prophecy for 1260 days
And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.

(Rev 11:5-6)
Clearly this counts as a miracle, which I have already protested against continuing. We might say that they are simply an exception, but I find this argument extremely unsatisfying. We might also argue that miracles ceased and Benny Hinn is an exception. I cannot claim in good conscience that the two witnesses are simply prophets who slipped through the cracks. I will claim, however, that a proper understanding of who they are will be most revealing. If you are an End Times scholar, this may be a little boring to you.
Under the Law of Moses, a person could not be executed except under the testimony of 2 or 3 witnesses. 1 witness with exceptional credentials, an established motive and anything else which might be imagined made no difference. 2 or 3 witnesses were required. In the New Testament Churches, removing a member from the church rolls requires the presence of 2 or 3 witnesses to try and turn them from their sin. Rosh Hashanah - the Festival of Trumpets - is the Jewish new year. Since the Jews used a lunar calendar instead of a solar calendar, Rosh Hashanah began with the seventh new moon. When two or three witnesses came before the Sanhedrin and announced they had seen the new moon, the new year began and a trumpet was blown. Always Occuring before the beginning of September and the first week of October, The Festival of Trumpets also signaled the final harvest, when the last of the crops were gathered before winter. The last trumpet blown on Rosh Hashanah was (and is) a longer blast than any of the others, signaling the good news of the new age. It is to a people who understood this rich tapestry that John wrote the book of Revelation. To comprehend his meaning, we must also be aware of it.

The Two Witnesses prophecy for roughly the second half of Daniel's 70th week (although they appear to begin shortly before (11 days - some say) the middle and die slightly before the end) as part of the sixth trumpet. If we are to understand their role in context, we see they are witnesses to the sinfulness of Earth. Before the LORD pours out His holy wrath on the people of Earth, He sends two witnesses to see how wicked things have become. Before the final judgment, He gives them 3 1/2 years to witness the sins of the world and warn of the need to repent and accept Christ, not the messenger of Satan who claims to be the true Christ.

At the middle of the Tribulation, the two witnesses will parallel with their other purpose. They will witness the 'new moon' - the dawning of a new age. Consider these passages:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

(1Th 4:16-17)
"And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. "And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

(Mat 24:30-31)
And the corresponding one at the time of the two witnesses:

Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever." And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, "We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign.

(Rev 11:15-17)
The Two Witnesses witness the New Year indeed! When the 7th trumpet has sounded, Christ will come and reunite the dead saved with their bodies and rapture the living saved to the Earth. Then, with His church out of the way (and in one place, they will be one local church), He will shortly pour out His wrath upon the Earth (although wrath does not seem to begin immediately at the mid-point). The harmony here is much greater than in the pre-tribulation rapture theory. We see how all of the Bible is converging here, as Christ removes His church and retakes the reigns of Earth from the Devil [1]. We often are told that Satan reigns for the 7 year tribulation. This is not true. Satan rules from the Sin of Adam to the 7th trump - then, while he may still hold 'power' on Earth, God has reclaimed His rightful throne and chooses to exercise His soveirgnty. As the 24 Elders (the church and the faithful Jews) proclaim in our text above: "We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign." What a powerful passage. It was foretold in the Old Testament as well (a time, times and half a time means 3 1/2 years):
'He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. 'But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. 'Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.'

(Dan 7:25-27)

The witnesses, proclaiming their power, will have need of miracles to combat the miracles of their enemy. They will need true miracles so the people of the Earth will be completely without excuse. We then see what the purpose of the Witnesses is and how they mark a great time in history. But who are they and why can they perform miracles? I hold, fairly confidently, to the position that these two men are Elijah and Enoch, who did not die, but were raptured into heaven.

So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

(Gen 5:23-24)
As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.

(2Ki 2:11)
So there are two (what a coincidental number!) who have not yet died. They live on. Then the spiritual gifts of miracles and prophecy need not have left them. The apostles appeared to continue performing miracles until their deaths and those who the apostles came into direct contact with did so as well until they died (Acts 8:14-19 and 2 Timothy 1:6 tell us that those who came into direct physical contact with an apostle had such power, so it died when that small radius died). Since Enoch and Elijah were both living in a miraculous time (that of the patriarchs and that of the prophets, respectively) and have not died, there is no reason to doubt that they are waiting in the wings for some greater purpose. God is no longer giving people the power to perform miracles, but from these two it has never been taken away. These two righteous men have been set aside by God to perform miracles which will bring the people back. Indeed, this testimony will bring 144,000 Jews to Christ in the first few days! It is then perfectly logical that they would be figures the Jews would recognize. It is also logical that they would be foretold in the Jewish cannon. Indeed they are!
Then I said to him, "What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?" And I answered the second time and said to him, "What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?" So he answered me, saying, "Do you not know what these are?" And I said, "No, my lord." Then he said, "These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth."

(Zec 4:11-14)
So, by searching their Scriptures, Jews would see that what these people spoke was predicted and come to know Christ. Note also that they are standing beside the Lord. John hits this again in Revelation:

"And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth." These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.

(Rev 11:3-4)
They stand before the Lord because they have been raptured up, but they will return.

Now having seen that the cessation of miracles does not contradict the miracles of the Two Witnesses, we may consider the issue of miracles closed. But we are not left alone! Tomorrow, I will show you a more excellent way.

[1] Note on the Pre-Trib Rapture:
Also in Rev 11, verse 18 implies that the time of rewarding the saints of old is now, as God prepares to pour his wrath. Christ tells us He will bring rewards with Him when he returns at the rapture, not at some later point. Note that in this same verse, 'judge' is often rendered 'avenge,' so we need not believe the dead are judged at the rapture, but that the martyrs are avenged in the time which follows.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pretender to the Throne

CS Lewis writes in his book of devotionals "The Business of Heaven" (I do read several daily devotionals other than my own!) that, upon converting to Christianity, he was shocked how much the New Testament has to say about a great invisible war between spiritual powers. Certainly the Episcopal Church to which he was a devotee did not dwell on it much, nor do many churches today. But it is an ongoing theme in the Bible that a certain kind of hidden combat is taking place. Not dualism (for dualism implies that the Good and the Evil are equally sovereign), but a case of an all powerful God creating another powerful creature with free will who gave in to pride.

If God has said He will not cause these miracles, there is only one other power who could: The serpent of old. But surely, if miracles could be caused by powers of darkness, Christ would have warned us of such things. Indeed, He did:
"For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. "Behold, I have told you in advance. "So if they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the wilderness,' do not go out, or, 'Behold, He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe them. "For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. "Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

(Mat 24:24-28)
Christ says that in the final days, false prophets and false saviors will appear, claiming to have special knowledge of His return. Were it possible for the saved to be deceived by such false teachers, even they would fall. But while the saved are protected, not everyone enjoys such privilege: wherever spiritual death is, the vultures will gather to consume it. And who is compared to a predator, seeking the weak to consume them?

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.

(1Pe 5:8-9)
So then the devil is ready with false miracles to mislead those who he may, so they will follow him on the path to destruction. If we resist him, he will flee. But not all escape his grasp. Those who place their faith in the miracles of these false prophets have been led astray by the devil. When we rejoiced with the revival of evangelism and the awakening of men's hearts to God, the devil found those who were spiritually dead and offered them power. In the name of religion, they took it. They now bear these false miracles and lying signs, bringing others down the path to destruction. Certainly some in the charismatic movement are simply charlatans, trying to make a quick buck off of people's adrenaline. But others have a very real power, being deceived themselves.

"But" - you say - "you have undermined your own argument, Justin." I gasp. "You said just yesterday that the miracles of Christ and his followers authenticated their message. If miracles cannot be trusted, why should we trust the miracles of those you follow?"

An excellent point. Unless there is some difference in the miracles, some way a true miracle may be distinguished from a lying sign, I have written myself into a corner. Alas - there is no escape for me except the backspace key! Yet, you read this and (being sneaky) you see there is still more scrolling left for your browser to do. There is more of a post here, so I must not have been done in so easily.

"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. "You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? "So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "So then, you will know them by their fruits.

(Mat 7:15-20)
Before you accuse me of begging the question (Christ's words are only legitimate if He was who He said was- by accepting His teachings, I presuppose His miracles were valid), consider the argument He sets out. An ordinary apple tree will never produce poison apples. An evil power will never do good. If the miracles result in real, lasting good, they are of a good power. But sweetened arsenic is still arsenic. The power of the devil will all come to ill ends and quickly! May we then condemn Christ on the basis of His often hypocritical followers? No, because when Christ's commands are followed, only good results. It is when men follow after their own wants, desires and feelings that evil is born. So, if we accept the simple argument that good powers create good fruit and bad powers create bad fruit, we accept Christ and the Bible (In a different line of argument, we take as our axiom that the resurrection is uniquely the power of the sovereign God. Satan cannot create life . Therefore, looking the the historical arguments for the resurrection, shown here previously, and the manuscript evidence for the Bible's preservation, linked in this series, we could then accept what Jesus said and deduce the rest of the Bible's credibility from there. Either is a valid starting point and exploring both reinforces the other.).

Then what of the miracles of the charismatics? Do they, as Jesus did, command the lame to walk, the blind to see and the deaf to hear, resulting in instant, complete change? Do they like the apostles, give a man the ability to walk who is then able to leap with no physical therapy or further time? Certainly the God who spoke the world into existence does not need His healing to be gradual.

In this line of argument, we get sticky. I certainly cannot examine every charismatic healer, every case of speaking in tongues or every prophecy. To pursue this, I must rely on anecdotes or generalizations. I choose generalizations which I believe have little or no exception. However, I went through the previous reasoning to show that the Biblical way of investigating any potential false prophet is to examine his fruits. Before following any teacher, see his fruit. I will look at healings, tongues and prophecy of the charismatic movement in general and see how they are not of God, but of the devil.

(1) The charismatic movement requires the person being healed be a believer.
Certainly, Satan cannot work his power on a true Christian. Sealed by the Holy Spirit, false healings would have no effect on them. Did the early Christians heal only believers? No! Consider Acts 3, where the lame man is healed when he asked for money. He was not healed by his faith. Indeed, in Acts 3:16, we learn it was Peter's faith which brought the healing power! Or consider the raising of the dead - did the dead exercise faith even in their sleep*? The charismatics point to Matthew 13 and Mark 6 (different tellings of the same story), where Mark says Jesus could not perform many miracles and Matthew says he did not, because of their unbelief. Mark tells us the miracles He did perform were healings, which is suggestive against the charismatic doctrine, but not conclusive. In the context of the passage (where Matthew is the more detailed) it is plainly apparent that Jesus did not do many miracles, not because he was unable in the sense of lacking ability, but because it was an exercise in futility. As he says in the verse previously, a prophet is not without honor except in his own home. Those who grew up with Him would not be taught or persuaded by miracles. But that Jesus could, we have already seen. It is only Satan who is restrained, the author of charismatic 'miracles.'

(2) The charismatics believe the gift of speaking in tongues involves some heavenly gibberish.
Contrast this with the tongues described in the Book of Acts, where the gift of tongues is where a man of God is able to speak so that all people, no matter their language, are able to understand what is being taught. This allowed the apostles to preach the gospel wherever they went, without first learning the language. Once the apostles died and the Bible was completed, Christianity had a sufficient foothold that this was no longer needed. The charismatics speak nonsense and call it tongues. Compare the Biblical version:
They were amazed and astonished, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? "And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? "Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God."

(Act 2:7-11)
God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), but the devil is. God does not give His people gibberish, but wisdom.

(3) The charismatics believe there is new prophecy to be given.
As discussed before in this series, the apostles warned against accepting a new gospel, even if it came from one of them or an angel (Joseph Smith received his 'new revelation' from an angel). Since the gift was universally accepted to have ceased for over a millennium and a half, they must believe that God had more revelation for the people than He had previously given, but waited to give it. There is no reason to believe this. We might turn to Revelation, where John warns about grave consequences for anyone who modifies the prophecy of the last days after him (adds to 'this book'). Or, as I will, we may turn to Ephesians:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

(Eph 2:19-22)
The apostles and the prophets were both the foundation When the apostles died, the foundation was done and so was the role of the prophets. The charismatics must then claim we are still building the foundation and faith is incomplete. The position is untenable, so modern day prophecies are as well. When these prophecies then hold partial truth, we must then link them to either luck (a charlatan again), or a dark power. But to follow after this vanity is to be led where it wants to take you, down the dangerous paths of darkness.

Come back tomorrow for the continuation of this series.

* I don't believe in 'soul sleep'. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, if we are God's children. I do believe that God knows who is dead for good and who will be healed and that He will not take a soul home from someone who will be revived later. I reject all after-death experiences because of this. See Luke 16:30-31 for the plain answer.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Perfect

Today we return to our study of miracles, this time in Paul's letter to the church at Corinth. I will jump right into the Scripture after offering a clarification: when I discuss miracles, I do not mean God working. I mean human beings doing something which then results in a God powered result, such as Aaron's rod parting the Red Sea or Peter and John ordering a lame man to walk. God answering prayers and healing in a way contrary to the natural laws is not at issue here - the popular belief that a healing service, modern day prophecy and speaking in tongues are all valid is.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

(1Co 13:8-13)
There have been many interpretations of this, most of them very forced in nature. Those who would like to hold on to miracles say that miracles will be done away with when Christ returns, calling Him the perfect. Aside from the fact that there is perhaps nothing in the passage to indicate this (perfect means 'complete' in this sense, indicating that whatever 'the perfect' is should be the culmination of the parts - prophecy and knowledge), it results in some utter nonsense. If, when Jesus returns, miracles will pass away and faith, hope and love will remain, what will we have faith in? The Bible says the reason we have faith is because we are away from God. When Jesus returns, we will have sight, not faith:
Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord-- for we walk by faith, not by sight-- we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

(2Co 5:6-8)
Our hope will also logically be fulfilled when the One we hope for is here among us. Alone "Love never fails" or ends. Prophecy, speaking in tongues (that is, the miraculous ability to speak in languages you do not know) and supernatural knowledge all continue until the perfect, while faith and hope continue until their fulfillment. Only love lives through it all - love is eternal for God is love (1 John 4:8).

Then what is the perfect?

What is the complete combination of prophecy and supernatural knowledge? We assume those people would be marked by miracles to show they were of God and to verify the truth of their message. We would also assume it should line up roughly with the timeline that claims of spiritual gifts dropped off sharply about 150 AD.

The answer is very clear. The Bible contains prophecy and was written with supernatural knowledge. The canonized books were agreed to be Scriptural because witnesses at the time saw them verified with miracles and the claims of such miracles dropped off within a generation of the Bible's completion around 100 AD. It is all clear now.

Jacob performed a miracle because God intended to make those who would become His chosen people prosper. Moses and Aaron performed miracles to free God's people from bondage. The prophets performed miracles so God's truth might stand out in an idolatrous land. The ministry of Jesus was marked with miracles so God's ultimate truth could be verified. Each time there were miracles, it was at a general spiritual low, not a spiritual high.

Contrast this with the charismatics of today. They came out at a spiritual high, against every Biblical example of miracles. If they come bearing fresh teaching, as all of the old miracle workers did, they bear a sharp condemnation from the Bible.
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 1:8-9)
Then why would miracles return? Come back tomorrow for a blog post inspired by a favorite saying of mine: "Not all powers are sovereign." After that, we will examine the future miracles, those of the Two Witnesses in Revelation, and then we will conclude our study of miracles by looking into "A More Excellent Way."

True Miracles

Jim Feeney, a major figure in the Pentecostal Movement, claims that charismatics (those who believe in modern day speaking in tongues, healing services and prophecy) are the fastest growing group of professing Christians in the world, second only to the Roman Catholic Church in numerical strength. This statistic is repeated in nearly all religious circles, sometimes with pride, sometimes with unmitigated fear. Somewhat closer to home, Lakewood Church and the immensely popular Calvary Chapel movement both hold charismatic beliefs, although not as openly as the Pentecostals. Anything this popular requires that we search the Scriptures and either wholeheartedly endorse it, or deny it and refuse to tolerate it (recalling Eph 4:14: "As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine"). To that end, I begin a series here on miracles. Before we may search the Scriptures, we must know what we are seeking. Let me give a brief overview of this movement.

In the first century, the Bible records the use of the miraculous gifts the charismatics claim to hold today. However, by the third century or so, all claims of these gifts banish (with most claims fading before 150 AD). That is, until 1900 AD. In 1900 AD, the Pentecostal movement kicked off, creating a small group of churches who claimed to partake of the gifts of the Spirit. This was still a very restrained movement, until after WWII. Sometime between 1945 and 1960, the seeds were planted for either a revival of spiritual gifts which had apparently slept dormant for some 18 centuries, or the seeds were planted for the illusion of such a revival. You will note, if you are familiar with your history, that this first movement took place during the third Great Awakening and picked up at the same time as Billy Graham's revivals and a general increase in the popularity of conservative Christianity. A great deal happened during this time period (some of it directly involving the American Baptist Association) and so it would be nearly impossible to untangle what influences brought up the charismatic movement and what was causing other religious fervor. However, the timing is significant enough that it is worth noting. During periods of intense religious revival, an increase in claimed spiritual gifts also increased.

Jumping back to the canonical record of miracles, there is more information to be found. Miracles occurred in roughly four different periods in the Bible. First, Jacob (Israel) received the income which he used to start his family by performing a miracle stripping wooden sticks (see Genesis 30 and 31). Second Moses and Aaron performed miracles to aid in the Exodus from Egypt. Then the prophets performed miracles, as they stood up against the kings. Last, Jesus performed fantastic miracles during his ministry and the Early Church performed miracles beginning on Pentecost. There is something very interesting about this: the Bible is not so very full of miracles as we might suppose. Let's investigate what the purpose of each period of miracles was, then we might have a better understanding.

As far as the miracle of Jacob, I include it because it is a legitimate miracle performed by the hand of men. Otherwise, we might consider it an isolated incident. Still, we are given a reason for it.
"Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, 'Jacob,' and I said, 'Here I am.' "He said, 'Lift up now your eyes and see that all the male goats which are mating are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 'I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.'"

(Gen 31:11-13)
Because God saw what Jacob (later called Israel) was unfairly being subjected to and because Jacob was under His protection, God gave Jacob the power to perform this miracle. More clearly, there were two reasons: (1) So Jacob might return to enjoy the promises God gave to Abraham and (2) so God could be identified as the true God to whom Jacob was devoted. Keep this in mind.

More familiar, perhaps, are the miracles of the Exodus. The parting of the Red Sea, the plagues and the other miracles performed at the hand of men will be familiar to most Americans. In the future, these alone are worthy of a study, but for now, we are content to have a divinely inspired reason for the miracles performed there:

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land." God spoke further to Moses and said to him, "I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them. "I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they sojourned. "Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. "Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 'Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 'I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD.'"

(Exo 6:1-8)
So the reason for the miracles is made plain. God intended to use the miracles so he might identify Himself to His people (because up until this point they regarded Moses as a troublemaker - see Exodus 2:14) and carry out His promise.

Next we have the prophets, the foremost of whom were Elijah and Elisha. I believe that, if the Bible gives a clear reason for one of Elijah's miracles, we may be fairly safe in extrapolating to the other prophets:
Now it came about after these things that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became sick; and his sickness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. So she said to Elijah, "What do I have to do with you, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance and to put my son to death!" He said to her, "Give me your son." Then he took him from her bosom and carried him up to the upper room where he was living, and laid him on his own bed. He called to the LORD and said, "O LORD my God, have You also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?" Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the LORD and said, "O LORD my God, I pray You, let this child's life return to him." The LORD heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother; and Elijah said, "See, your son is alive." Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth."

(1Ki 17:17-24)
Again, two plain reasons. Elijah performed a miracle so it might be known that he was truly from God and that God's word was true - that He keeps His promises.

To see why the ministry of Christ and the Early Church were marked by miracles, I invite you to the book of Hebrews, where the author (believed by many to be Paul, but I disagree completely on the basis of 2 Thess 3:17) reveals the purpose of spiritual gifts:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

(Heb 2:1-4)
Who they were and the truth of what they said were confirmed by miracles. I then propose that if we are to believe the modern charismatic movement really holds miracles, that it would be of the same nature - identifying them as God's messengers and verifying the truth of their message. Is it? Next time, we will turn to the the book of 1 Corinthians to find out when the Bible says miracles will occur and see if we might use this study to interpret it.

Hasta luego - good Lord willin and the creek don rise.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Roles of the Sexes

We have, in the last post, laid out that an equal may submit to another equal - a point made very clear in the Godhead. But that men and women may be equal and have separate roles is rather unimportant, unless men and women actually do have a mandate for different roles.

Unfortunately to many, this is very clear:
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.

(Col 3:17-24 -emphasis mine)
Does the idea that a wife should submit to her husband bring up some anger in your heart? Probably. Human beings are rebelious things. Even when Satan is locked in prison for 1000 years, people will rebel against God. Not because they doubt God's holiness, fairness and power - that will be abundantly clear. Because there is something fundamental about rebellion in the nature of all sin. It is the pride of life which causes all sin. Pride's firstborn is rebellion. Satan said he would be like God because he was proud. He rebelled. Adam and Eve saw they could be like gods and they rebelled. In the millenium, we will still cry out: "We will not have this man to rule over us! (see Luke 19:11-27 for a parable on the consequences of rebellion)"

But, submission is godly. We are all to submit to God, just as Jesus submitted to the Father. In a slave based society, slaves were to submit to their masters - if slavery were still lawful, God would still demand slaves submit to their masters. Today, wives are still to submit to their husbands. Employees are to submit to their employers. Whatever we do, we are to do wholeheartedly, because God will reward us based on how well we handle the responsibilities of our station.

"Stop beating around the bush, Justin. Tell us what the responsibilities are."

Okay, okay. But you asked.

Men are to be the religious teachers.

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

(1Ti 2:11-15)
If ever a passage needed explanation, it is the end of this one. But the beginning is very simple: women may not have teaching authority over a man. In context, quietly is not to be taken as not speaking, but as not teaching men herself. Women may have teaching authority over children and other women, but not men. Where then comes the apparently cryptic reference to Adam and Eve and something strange abour bearing children?

I ask you to recall the Garden of Eden. Eve sinned first and was deceived. Adam was not deceived and sinned intentionally (his sin was worse). God then placed a curse which has caused all creation to 'groan' ever since. The curses on Eve and the serpant are the relevant parts here:

And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel." To the woman He said, "I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you."

(Gen 3:15-16)
In pain women bore children and in pain Mary brought forth Jesus. The seed of the serpent bruised the Child of Woman on the heel - a painful experience. But the Child bruised the serpent on the head - a lethal one. Jesus Christ was the child of woman only - born of a virgin. So while women are subject to their husbands because of Eve's sin, women alone have claim to bringing the solution to sin into the world, who slew death (1 Corinthians 15:54-58). She, if she is faithful, is then saved through childbearing indeed!

The second part of the curse, that a woman's desire would be for her husband, is not sexual in nature. It refers to the desire of women to teach, to usurp their husband's authority. A woman not willing to submit is simply acting in the same rebellious spirit which the curse of sin brings. We then see where the teaching authority of man comes from and why a woman may not hold it in church. A woman may not be a pastor for this very reason. The ordination of women is a product of caving to the curse of sin.

This does not exempt women from learning! Christ and his followers disagreed sharply with what the arrogant Jewish Rabbis said at the time: "a woman should know nothing but the use of her distaff." A woman is to learn and be as capable in the faith as any, able to witness and teach in private. Paul clearly commands women to learn, even as he prohibits them from teaching.
Wives are to Submit to their Husbands.

This has already been discussed, but I return briefly to qualify it. Wives are not to submit to their husbands if their husband commands them to sin. The Bible also commands that we submit to government, but we are expected to engage in peaceful protest if asked to sin (see Daniel). Children are to submit to their parents, but if they sin on their parent's orders, they are accountable (see Joshua 7). So a wife is free from this responsibility if her husband leads her to violate the Bible's commands.

Further, the husband who sees this authority he is granted and is prideful of it has an analog we are almost all familiar with. Imagine the quarterback who points at himself when he makes a touchdown and dances in victory. Because he is the 'leader' of the team, did he make it to the end-zone alone? No, he had the support of an entire team. So it is with husbands and wives. More on this will be found in the quotation from Proverbs at the end of this post.

Husbands are to Provide for their Family.

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

(1Ti 5:8)
Paul is plain here. He is also very harsh. This requires little elaboration. As a husband is accountable for his family being provided for, it must be of primary concern to him. Does this mean husbands are not to do anything but work? No, of course not. The passage here is strictly a positive command, not a prohibition. But if their family's needs are not met, they have sinned.

Women are to care for their household.

Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach;
(1Ti 5:14)
Note that while Paul speaks of widows here, his comments may be extrapolated to all women without error. 'Keep house' does not mean 'clean' in the common sense, but to manage the household affairs. Then do we forbid women from working? No, the same as a man, she may extend beyond this list (but not into preaching or teaching authority). But if this sphere is neglected because of it, she has sinned as well.  So a woman may work and a man may keep house, but only if their own proper sphere is not neglected because of it. It is in that station they will be judged.

There are of course many more responsibilities for each sex, but these are the Biblical basics. In closing, on the subject of women working outside the home and on men lording over their wives cruelly, I share with you the wisdom of Solomon:

An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil All the days of her life. She looks for wool and flax And works with her hands in delight. She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar. She rises also while it is still night And gives food to her household And portions to her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength And makes her arms strong. She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet. She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies belts to the tradesmen. Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying: "Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all." Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates.

(Pro 31:10-31)

Vaya con Dios, until the next time!

Men and Women are Different

The title of this post is perhaps one of pure shock value in 2010, but I stand behind it. Following up our last discussion on following a different Jesus (Galatians 1:6-9) with the same name, we must now move to a hot button issue. The roles of men and women.

I would like first to consider what seems like an entirely different concept: the triune nature of God (like most Missionary Baptists, I avoid the word trinity as vague and needlessly loaded). God exists as one unified being, represented in three different ways. LD Foreman argues (and I concur wholheartedly) that man is also triune. We have a body, a mind and a soul. When we are in our new, perfected bodies, all of these will agree together but remain distinct. Put differently, your mind is you, your soul is you and your body is you. Your mind is not your soul and your soul is not your body, nor is your mind your body. For all of the pomp concerning the incomprehensibility of the trinity as a doctrine, God has given us a very clear picture of it in ourselves. The Son is God, the Father is God and the Holy Ghost is God. But the Son is not the Father, et cetera. Dr. Foreman goes so far in his wonderful book The Bible in Eight Ages[1] to draw a link between each part of the Godhead and our humanity, arguing that the mind is the Father, etc. While this may be useful and seems to make logical sense, I am not entirely persuaded that the illustration goes that far and so will not repeat the argument here. Nevertheless, the basic explanation of the Triune God stands.

Now that we have realized we may discuss the Godhead without fear that I may simply make things up, pulling it out of the cloudy veil "You wouldn't understand," we can move on. The Son is just as much God as the Father is (Colossians 2:9), they are equals. Yet, in their equality, they fulfill different roles. Indeed - the Son submits to the Father! As Jesus waited in the cool of the garden around 3 AM, forseeing the bloody death which awaited Him, He (while still having omniscience, not using it while a Man) left his disciples to pray.
And He withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done."

(Luk 22:41-42)
He subjected to the Father's will, even though they were equals. The Holy Spirit is also equal to God (1 Corinthians 3:16 and John 14:23), yet submits to both the Father and the Son. The following passage ties it all together nicely.
"But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you. "But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, 'Where are You going?' "But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. "He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. "All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.

(Joh 16:4-15)
We then see that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost) are equal, yet submit to one another and perform different roles. The foundation for the Biblical role of men and women is now firmly laid and I suspect most see where I will go from here.

First, we must establish that men and women are equal, just as the Father, Son and Spirit are equal (I suppose I will have no trouble persuading you). Since this point is not widely contested (or contested at all, as far as I am aware), I will present a single Scripture.
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.

(Gal 3:26-29)
Aha! But, I cheated, you see. I gave you the verse in context, a context which already makes my point. This is the darling verse of those who would deny that God has different roles for men and for women. In context, however, it says theat we are equal in the eyes of God. To pick one of the less controversial parallels, the Jew and the Greek were equal in the eyes of God (who is not a respecter of persons), but performed different roles. Indeed, in the Millenium, all nations will be subject to Israel (I include a very long Scripture here, even by my standards, but it is a description of what the Earth will be like when the saved will rule with Christ over the rest of the world - and what a beautiful description it is). The LORD speaks to Israel here, saying:
"Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. "For behold, darkness will cover the earth And deep darkness the peoples; But the LORD will rise upon you And His glory will appear upon you. "Nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. "Lift up your eyes round about and see; They all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, And your daughters will be carried in the arms. "Then you will see and be radiant, And your heart will thrill and rejoice; Because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you, The wealth of the nations will come to you. "A multitude of camels will cover you, The young camels of Midian and Ephah; All those from Sheba will come; They will bring gold and frankincense, And will bear good news of the praises of the LORD. "All the flocks of Kedar will be gathered together to you, The rams of Nebaioth will minister to you; They will go up with acceptance on My altar, And I shall glorify My glorious house. "Who are these who fly like a cloud And like the doves to their lattices? "Surely the coastlands will wait for Me; And the ships of Tarshish will come first, To bring your sons from afar, Their silver and their gold with them, For the name of the LORD your God, And for the Holy One of Israel because He has glorified you. "Foreigners will build up your walls, And their kings will minister to you; For in My wrath I struck you, And in My favor I have had compassion on you. "Your gates will be open continually; They will not be closed day or night, So that men may bring to you the wealth of the nations, With their kings led in procession. "For the nation and the kingdom which will not serve you will perish, And the nations will be utterly ruined. "The glory of Lebanon will come to you, The juniper, the box tree and the cypress together, To beautify the place of My sanctuary; And I shall make the place of My feet glorious. "The sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, And all those who despised you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet; And they will call you the city of the LORD, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. "Whereas you have been forsaken and hated With no one passing through, I will make you an everlasting pride, A joy from generation to generation. "You will also suck the milk of nations And suck the breast of kings; Then you will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. "Instead of bronze I will bring gold, And instead of iron I will bring silver, And instead of wood, bronze, And instead of stones, iron. And I will make peace your administrators And righteousness your overseers. "Violence will not be heard again in your land, Nor devastation or destruction within your borders; But you will call your walls salvation, and your gates praise. "No longer will you have the sun for light by day, Nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And your God for your glory. "Your sun will no longer set, Nor will your moon wane; For you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And the days of your mourning will be over. "Then all your people will be righteous; They will possess the land forever, The branch of My planting, The work of My hands, That I may be glorified. "The smallest one will become a clan, And the least one a mighty nation. I, the LORD, will hasten it in its time."

(Isa 60:1-22)
(Isn't that a fantastic passage on what the world will be like when Jesus comes to reign for a thousand years?) That God has a special role for Israel in the Earthly millenium is clear. But all of the saved will rule with Him and the Jew and Greek are equally eligible to partake of God's salvation. Likewise, the other example, slaves and freemen had different roles in society. The slaves may have been required to be respectful to their masters, but their master's roles had no favor in the eyes of God. To deviate briefly from Colossians, pastors have teaching authoirty over thei church, but being a pastor does not gain you a special place over a faithful church member. You just have a different role.

Men and women then are clearly the same. Equals with different places. We will see what those places are in my next post.

Grace and peace to you until then!

[1] A hardcover version of the book is available for just 8 dollars at the link above and is the single most valuable overview of the Bible ever written, as far as I am concerned. I highly encourage yo to order it. The link is to Lehigh Baptist Church, the cheapest place I have found it. Aside from their KJV-only mentality (a legalism which I must address in a post at some point), they are a wonderful website who I have ordered a great deal from (including maybe a dozen copies of Dr. Foreman's book) and have never had any trouble with (despite my accidentally ordering 200 copies of a book instead of 100, they understood and quickly resolved it). I am not receiving any kickbacks, but I endorse this company and this book wholeheartedly.