Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Few Thoughts at Year's End

At the close of every year I wonder how much longer it will be until Jesus comes back for His church. We know when the year ends but we do not know when the end of the age will be. Perhaps there are only days left, as there are in the year.

Are you ready?

I am.


(This is a bit sardonic. Apologies in advance.)
I have always liked Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things." I just wanted to note that 'cute' and 'adorable' are not in this list.
It is hard to keep one's mind on these things. The world has nothing that fits all these criteria.


Oral Roberts, RIP.

In my Sunday School class I am teaching church history. We are discussing historical figures and how history will judge the impact of a person on the world. Now I am not saying that we judge the individual (that is forbidden by Matthew 7:1) or that we judge their ministry (that is forbidden in 1 Corinthians 4:5) but what their effect, for better or worse, is upon the church (in this case) or the world.

I use the example of Thomas Jefferson who authored the Declaration of Independence. Some have said that he was bad because he owned slaves. Okay, but what effect did that have on history? None. Many owned slaves in that time and place.
But his authorship of the Declaration and his other activities associated with the founding of our nation have had a tremendous effect on our nation and the world.

Let's look at Roberts from this perspective. Look past his faults and examine his effect on the church. Nobody besides Billy Graham has had as much impact as Oral Roberts had in the second half of the 20th century. He brought knowledge of divine healing to a skeptical church. If you pray for the sick to be healed by the direct action of God you probably should thank Roberts who did it very publicly. Whether you liked him or not you ought to acknowledge that divine healing and Pentecostal Christianity were made respectable to most of the church by his ministry. He also pioneered spreading the gospel by television when other Christians cursed "the Devil's box".

When Roberts began preaching in the late 40's, Pentecostal Christians were marginalized and generally despised. Today they are the most dynamic, and numerous, group of Protestant Christians in the world. (The numbers are now estimated to be over 500 million.) It is easily the fastest growing Christian movement in the world and shows no sign of stopping. It is hard to imagine this happening without Oral Roberts.


A Happy New Year to all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Change of Mind

Before I blog (is that a verb?) I usually think about my subject for a week or so and mull over what I am going to write. This week I had a topic all ready to go when something else presented itself to me that I now feel compelled to write about. In other words, I have changed my mind about what I would write about today.

My topic is now mainly about repentance. (The more clever of my readers will now realize that I am playing with my theme. The original meaning of the Greek word for repentance is 'change of mind'.) The reason that I changed my mind on the subject is twofold. First, my pastor has preached on repentance the last couple of Sundays and, second, I read a quote today in a book I was reading that really struck me as true.

It was a quote by G. K. Chesterton. It read, "There is a notion that to win a man [to the Lord] we must agree with him. Actually the opposite is true ... The man who is going in the wrong direction will never be set right by the affable religionist who falls into step beside him and goes the same way. Someone must place himself the path and insist that the straying man turn around and go in the right direction."

What Chesterton is telling us is that for a person to get right with God he must repent, he must change his mind, he must change the direction of his life. And he must do this in response to what Jesus did for him. He must believe that Jesus died for his sins and that God raised Him from the dead. "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9) And when He is the Lord of your life He will require that you stop sinning and do what He says you must do.

Some will say that this is very narrow. It is narrow and that is exactly what Jesus told us. He told us that the way to eternal life was narrow. That should settle it for us, but some are not satisfied with that. They want the church to be more inclusive. I do as well, but not necessarily in the same way they do. It all depends on what you mean by 'inclusive'.

I have heard some say that we must accept people of all kinds - whites, blacks, Hispanics, men, women, homosexuals and the like. I cannot help but notice something odd about a list like this. It is one thing to say that churches should accept people of all races and ethnicities, but what is the point of adding something that is behavior-based?

The reason is simple. They are trying to get the church to accept homosexual behavior and that is easier to do when you put them into categories alongside of race, gender and ethnicity. I think that this is a phony means of grouping people together. It is a list based on 'civil rights' and not on truly biblical categories. Homosexuals are a group of people who have certain sexual proclivities and one that the Bible categorically condemns. Now I am not suggesting that we reject homosexuals or bar them from church attendance. I am suggesting that we group them with other behavior-based groups. For example, we could say that God desires the salvation of all including the alcoholic, drug-addict, prostitute, thief, murderer, adulterer and homosexual. This is grouping according to behavior. And, of course, God does not approve of any of these activities. You will also find this kind of list in the Bible.

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:9) Notice that it speaks to the church at Corinth about what some of them used to do. Notice also that it lumps homosexuals in with other kinds of sinners. Then it says that some of the Corinthian Christians WERE these various things. They WERE homosexuals, swindlers, etc. But God has washed, sanctified and justified them and they are no longer any of these things. They repented and God cleansed them of their sins. When sinners come to God they must repent. Only then does God cleanse them.

I like the saying, "God accepts us the way we are". But that is not the end of it. He does not leave us the way were are (or were). He transforms us.

Other lists categorize people not based on behavior but on what they are naturally or socially. "Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." (Colossians 3:10) This is the inclusiveness that the church needs. Every kind of person, regardless of ethnicity, social class, gender, and former relationship to God through Judaism are equal before God and should be accepted as equals in the church setting. We are all one in Christ. What we are naturally and socially speaking has no bearing on our spiritual relationship with God.

What does affect our relationship with God is our sin. We must acknowledge it as wrong and repent of it. Here is a great summary of this lesson. "God commands all people everywhere to repent." (Acts 17:30) This is really good news for all. God calls all to repentance and that means every group of people are included. All are included in the gospel and all are called to repent of their sins.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Spiritual Economics Lesson

My undergraduate degree is in economics though my graduate degree is in theology. I imagine it's a rare combination. Economics has been called the 'dismal science' and is boring to most people. However, I have found that the kinds of analyses that economists use can be useful to gain a better understanding of issues that face Christians today.

I recall years ago reading some material regarding what is called "Liberation Theology". Now it sounds very good and has seduced some who care deeply for the poor, but it is basically Marxism in Christian garb. I immediately recognized the Marxist social and economic themes that dominate this false theology.

Now most of us are not going to fall for that sort of thing, but there are some more subtle things that Christians do fall for some times. One of them is confusing intrinsic worth of something (or someone) with its value in the marketplace. When someone is paid, say, $10.00 per hour to do some job, the employer is not saying that that is what this person is worth as a person. They are saying what the job they are performing is worth. No employer could possibly pay someone what they were worth as a person. (Only Jesus could do that.)

Let's look at some of the distinctions that economists make to help us understand this better. Aristotle (who might be considered the world's first economist) made the distinction between value-in-use and value-in-exchange. The classic example of these two things is diamonds and water. The value-in-exchange (price) of a diamond is much higher than that of water. I get water to the faucets of my house for about $25 per month and I use thousands of gallons a month. That is cheap. Can you imagine what the cost of that would be if it were diamonds? It would be astronomical because the value-in-exchange of diamonds is many times that of water.

But what about value-in-use? Which one is greater? Water is much more useful than diamonds. You can live without diamonds but you cannot live without water. This does not mean, however, that water ought to cost more than diamonds. Indeed, it is very good thing that water does not cost more than diamonds. We need more of the things that have a high value-in-use. The fact that diamonds cost more is irrelevant to the value we place on water.

Well, so what? Too dismal for you?

Have you ever heard someone say something like this: "We pay pro basketball players millions of dollars a year and we pay our school teachers only a fraction of that. Doesn't that show that our society places a much lower value on teachers than it does basketball players?" No, it does not! What we pay basketball players has no bearing on the value we place on school teachers.

Let's break this down. There are about 400 NBA players and millions of fans. But there are hundreds of thousands of school teachers with millions of students. We actually pay more in total to school teachers than we do to basketball players, but there are far fewer players so each player gets more.

Let's pose a hypothetical. Let's pay an NBA player $1 per fan per game at the arena. There are 82 games per year and let's say that attendance averages 15,000 per game. 82 times 15,000 equals $1.23 million per year. We have not included advertising and TV revenues here and we are only paying the player a dollar per person!

Now for our hypothetical school teacher. Let's pay the teacher $1 per student in a class. The teacher teaches 25 students per class and teaches 6 classes a day. There are 180 school days. 25 times 6 times 180 equals $27,000 per year.

It is easy to see that the teacher is paid much less than the basketball player, but can we really say that the basketball player is overpaid? Not really. His income, by this analysis, seems quite reasonable. Each fan is only paying a dollar to see him play. Is the teacher underpaid? Perhaps so, but it has nothing to do with the basketball player.

Also, and more importantly, I have no doubt that if you asked the most rabid basketball fan if he would rather have teachers or the NBA that he would choose the teachers. In other words, the teachers have a higher value-in-use. The price of a basketball player is much higher than that of a school teacher, but that is a good thing. If we paid teachers like basketball players it would bankrupt all of us. It is not possible. So why begrudge a basketball player his money? It has nothing to do with the 'value' we place on teachers. Teachers are like water - cheap, abundant and valuable. Basketball players are like diamonds - rare, expensive, entertaining and expendable.

Now back to our original subject.

The value of something in the marketplace is not how that society determines its intrinsic value. That is because prices and wages are determined by the laws of supply and demand and not by some sort of evaluation of its intrinsic worth. In fact, the things with the most intrinsic worth (water, for example) are cheaper because they are abundant. Where it is not abundant it becomes very expensive and that is a bad thing. We need things of high intrinsic value (water, food, clothing) to be abundant and cheap, that is, affordable to all.

You might be saying that this is all very interesting but what does it have to do with being a Christian. First of all, I have heard Christians talk about things like this in the pulpit and in Sunday Schools, etc. They make the same mistakes that the world does about these things. Except that they are worse. I have heard Christians condemn the supposedly higher value that we place on entertainers than we do on more necessary things. Now that may be true but the examples used are fallacious.

What a basketball player or movie star is paid has to do with the demand for their services and what price the market will bear. But this is not really the issue at all. The issue, if there is one, is the amount of attention we may pay to these things to the detriment of our spiritual lives. That is a real issue. What someone is paid is not really an issue at all. Too often we focus on the material side of something instead of the real, spiritual issues.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Giving Thanks to God

This blog will be brief (for me, at least), but it is about a subject that is big with me. It is also a bit of a rant about a certain tendency in society. The subject, of course, is being thankful to God for all the good things He does for us. Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossian Christians to cultivate a thankful heart in prayer, in singing and in general attitude. We should thank God for things both great and small. We need to have an 'attitude of graditude'.

Now for the rant: A few years ago I noticed a tendency on television during Thanksgiving to promote the idea of being thankful for what we have. These were the most serious moments on sitcoms where each person at the Thanksgiving table would say what they were thankful for. Sounds good so far, right? My problem with what they said was that they never said who they were thankful to. They would say, "I am thankful for ... " and name what they were thankful for. But never to whom they were thankful. I guess it is not politically correct to mention God even if He is the One supposedly being thanked. But it was all left so vague.

People generally seemed to have picked up this habit. They say all the things they are thankful for but never offer thanks to God who gave it to them. I would much rather hear people say "I thank God for ... " and be unsure what exactly they are thankful for rather than the other way around.

Now maybe you think I am being too harsh, but it seems to me that the focus ought to be on the One who has blessed us and not on the blessings themselves.

I do want to say that I am not condemning those Christians who say 'I am thankful for ... '. I know they are thanking God, but in view of what is now popular in the world I think we should make it clear whom we are thanking. And it keeps the focus on Him.

By the way, I have a lot to be thankful for. Our oldest daughter, Abigail, and her husband, Shannon, are coming home from Kentucky for almost a week. And our youngest daughter ,Rachel, and her husband, Sean, will also be here for Thanksgiving. That is plenty to be thankful for, and I thank God for it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Church Should Not Be 'Progressive'

In the political sphere we recently have heard a revival in the term 'progressive' to describe particular points of view or approaches to solve problems. One of Merriam-Webster's Dictionary definition of the word is "making use of new ideas". In other words, it is replacing old ways of thinking and doing with new ways, and in doing so 'progress' is supposed to be made.

Now this word 'progressive' is also used in certain Christian circles to describe some approaches to what changes should be made in the church. As we study church history, as we are doing in our Sunday School class, we find that at various times great progress has been made. Those who consider themselves 'Christian Progressives' use this fact to support their own approach. They say that we need to make progress so let's implement progressive ideas just as the church has done in the past. But we must not confuse the term 'progressive' with actual progress. A progressive movement uses new ideas to replace old ones. Not all progress is 'progressive'. Let me give some examples.

During the 16th century we had the Protestant Reformation. It was a significant departure and improvement from the Catholicism which had dominated the Christian West for centuries. (I say this knowing that my Catholic friends might disagree; however, I think my point will still stand.) At first glance it might seem that the Protestant Reformation was a progressive movement, but it was not. What do I mean by this?

If you study the movement you find that those involved in the movement did not come up with new, progressive ideas but rather revived old ones. If the Catholics held to their ancient traditions, the Reformers went back further still. They went back to the Bible. They rejected the 4th century Vulgate Latin translation and used the best Greek translation they could get. Their teachings on justification by faith alone and by grace alone revolutionized the church, but it was in many ways a backward-looking revolution. It was meant to be a restoration of biblical Christianity.

If we look at subsequent movements that have driven the church and Western society forward, we find the same thing. It is going back to the Bible and restoring something lost that has pushed the church forward and often the surrounding culture as well. Many historians believe that John Wesley's Methodist movement that restored the preaching of the new birth and holy living that prevented a bloody revolution like the one that occurred in France.

The abolitionist movement of the 19th century was largely driven by New England Puritans and the Quakers who were anti-slavery for two centuries before that. These were biblical literalists. I am old enough to remember the speeches given by Martin Luther King. He constantly referred to two old documents: the Bible and the Declaration of Independence. The main civil rights movement was not 'progressive' but simply called people to uphold and apply the principles that we should have upheld the whole time.

Why do I bring this up? There are some in the church who want to change certain things. I am not against change, but I am against change that is not for the better but for the worse, even if it is well-meaning and 'progressive'. To me it is for the better if it makes us conform to the standards and doctrines of scripture, and worse if it takes us away from it.

Take, for instance, the arguments in the church regarding practicing homosexuals in the pulpit. Progressives often argue that this will be a good thing. They think that it is 'progress' in human relations. They argue that homosexuals have been mistreated (true), but they go much further than that. They argue that homosexual relations should be made equal with heterosexual relations. They want us to discard the ideas of the past and adopt new ones.

Should we do this? No, both the Old and New Testaments roundly condemn any type of homosexual activity.

But 'progressive' church people are not so foolish as to think that conservative, Bible-believing Christians will simply toss out the Bible in favor of their 'progressive' views. Instead they have new, progressive ways of interpreting the Bible. Some say that the commands of the New and Old Testaments are for those cultures only and now the Spirit of God is giving us new commands. Really? I do not believe that God's commands are relative to a culture. They are based on eternal principles.

See, so-called progressives are trying to use our modern culture to interpret the Bible instead of letting the Bible speak to our culture. This is a gigantic error and it is backwards. They argue that God has led our culture to this point and we must use the standards of progressive culture to determine what is right and wrong.

Jesus didn't do that. He applied the scriptures to his generation and used it to criticize his culture. He said, "You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God". When asked a question about divorce Jesus was biblically countercultural. He referred them to the book of Genesis, to the creation story.

Of course, Jesus did give us revelation from God. And the apostles did as well. However, the canon is closed. God has given us all the revelation that we need. In the last chapter of the last book in the Bible says, "Everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book (not just Revelation but the whole Bible) if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city." Rev 22:19 We can never add to, or take away, from what God has revealed.

We must not use the Bible and twist it to suit our own agenda. We cannot even use general concepts like 'love' or 'unity' or 'inclusivity' or 'nonjudgmentalism' to undermine the clear, specific commands of scripture. Yes, we must love people and welcome them into the church, but we must not allow modern notions of right and wrong to determine what behavior is approved or disapproved by the church. Therefore, it is dangerous to allow our 'progressive' notions to override the Word of God. God is not doing something new morally. Right and wrong have not changed. We have changed.

We look back at people in the past and we think them unenlightened, even primitive. They had slaves and acted barbarically. We think our ideas are superior to theirs. I can just imagine what future generations might think of us. We kill babies in the womb by the thousands and millions. We have relativized religion to the extent that we do not even think it matters what we believe. And then we could talk about the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s which has taken us to about the level of the Roman Empire with regards to sexual morality.

It seems that the world never gets it together morally. It makes progress in one area and completely messes up something else. No, our era has not really made much true progress, even in the way that we think that we ought to be. We must constantly go back to the Bible to straighten out our thinking. And then we must be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Great Apostasy (NOT)

When I became a Dispensationalist some 30 years ago, I slowly became convinced of the truth of the Rapture of the Church before the seven year Tribulation Period which precedes the Millennial Reign of Christ. Now this is basic dispensational teaching regarding the church which I have endorsed for three decades. But there was one teaching that I was not comfortable with. And that was the teaching that the vast majority of the church would fall away from Christ shortly before the Rapture. There will be, it is said, a great apostasy. Some are convinced that we already see signs of it.

My problem with this is twofold. One is that something in my spirit tells me that this is not so. Now I must take a little detour to explain what I mean. I do not mean that I simply dislike the idea or that it does not fit into the way I think or feel. I am saying that deep down on the inside of me, in the hidden man of the heart (as Peter says), I lose my sense of peace when this idea comes up. When this happens, I begin to find out why I feel this way. The Bible says that when the Spirit of Truth (the Holy Spirit) comes that He will guide us into all truth. I believe that. I believe that He is guiding me into all truth. And He bears witness with our spirits about spiritual truths. (See Rom 8:14; Jn 14:17,26; 16:13) But how do I know that my feeling is right or wrong? In other words, is this the Spirit showing me something or is it just the flesh rebelling against the truth? We have to go to the Word of truth to find out. It means that we have to dig deeper into the Bible to find what the truth really is. Sometimes, like a miner searching for precious gems, you have to dig deep. "If you seek [truth,wisdom] as silver and search for her as hidden treasure ... then you will discover the knowledge [that comes from] God." Proverbs 2:5-6

Our quest here is to find out if the NT teaches the doctrine of the great apostasy. Let's look at the scriptures that are used to support this view. The foremost scripture used to support this idea of a great apostasy is 1 Timothy 4:1-3, "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth". Notice the expression 'fall away from the faith', a classic description of apostasy. Another passage is in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, "But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful,unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these."

When you put these two scriptures together they seem to paint a very bleak picture for the future of the church. But should we put them together at all? They actually talk about two very different things. The first speaks of a gross legalism that forbids marriage (which means it forbids sex) and certain foods. These are religious people trying to impose ascetic rules on others. The group in 2 Timothy are just the opposite. Some are outwardly religious but are extremely worldly rather than ascetic. Our day seems more like this second passage and this second passage does call the era 'the last days'. The first passage speaks of later times, not necessarily the 'last days'. In the first few centuries of the church, we do have some religious groups that forbid marriage (some gnostics and manicheans) and some that forbid certain foods (Judaizers and, later, Muslims). It does not describe our day very well. Paul must have been speaking to Timothy of something in his immediate future and the early centuries of the church. Some departed from the faith into gross legalism.

The passage in 2 Timothy seems much like our present day. Is Paul telling us that the church will commit apostasy here or is he saying that the world will be like this so 'avoid such men as these'. Now there are, and have always been, people like this in churches. It seems that Paul is saying that these are characteristic of an era and not some great apostasy.

So let's examine one more 'falling away' passage. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 says, "Let no one in any way deceive you, for [the Day of the Lord] will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God". Now here seems to be solid evidence that there will be a general apostasy before the Day of the Lord (beginning with the Rapture, then the Tribulation). The word 'apostasy' is actually used here with the clear reference to the last days. Is it proof positive? This was the second thing that I was uncomfortable with - the word 'apostasy' or 'falling away'. Here is where I began to dig deeper.

The word translated 'apostasy' (or 'falling away' in other translations) comes from the Greek word, 'apostasia'. So apostasy comes directly from this Greek word. The English word means to renounce one's own religion. Let's look at the definition of the Greek word. "The Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon defines 'apostasia' first as 'defection, revolt;' then secondly as 'departure, disappearance."1 The English definition follows the first Greek definition, not the second.

Once I found this alternate definiton I began to read the passage with that definition. It would read to the effect that the Day of the Lord with the revealing of the Antichrist will not come until the 'departure' comes first. The departure of what? The logical choice is the church, meaning that the Day of the Lord will not come until the Rapture (departure) of the church into heaven. I actually think that the passage makes better sense translated this way. So this so-called 'falling away' or 'apostasy' is not 'falling away from the faith' as in 1 Timothy, but rather a departure of the church. It is a departure of the church from this planet not the departure of believers from the faith. This view also fits what Paul told this same church in 1 Thess 4:17. "We who are alive and remain will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air." Paul seems only to be referring to the event he described in detail in 1 Thess. He does not seem to refer to some apostasy. Paul mentions this 'departure/apostasy' as if they knew what he was talking about. There is no evidence that Paul spoke/wrote to them about some sort of general apostasy.

Now I believed this for a long time but I did not have any confirmation of this right away. Then I picked up a book by Roy Hicks, former general superintendant of the Church of the Foursquare Gospel. The main point of the book is what I have outlined above. More recently I have run into Dr. Thomas Ice, professor of theology at Liberty University. He says the same thing. "I believe that there is a strong possibility that 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is speaking of the rapture. What do I mean? Some pre-tribulationists, like myself, think that the Greek noun apostasia, usually translated "apostasy," is a reference to the rapture and should be translated "departure." Thus, this passage would be saying that the day of the Lord will not come until the rapture comes before it."2

I also looked up many other translations to see if any of them translated the Greek 'apostasia' as 'departure' in this passage. What I found is that the English translations before the King James 1611 Bible always translated it as departure. After the KJV it is translated as apostasy or falling away or something like that. This means that Wycliffe, Tyndale, and the Geneva Bible (the only Bible used by the Puritans) agree with me. (I guess I am just old-fashioned.) It seems that the influence of the KJV on subsequent translations has been very strong.

I feel very comfortable in believing that there will be no general apostasy of the church and I also think that my view of the Rapture has been shown to be the view of scripture. Believing that the church is going into a great apostasy gives us a very negative view of the church. Even if one thinks that their church is okay, they might think that other churches and Christians are apostate. (Well, some actually are.) We need to be wary of the apostasy of liberal Christianity, the type that denies that the Bible is the Word of God, denies the deity of Christ, His substitutionary sacrifice, His physical resurrection, His bodily Return. That we do need to fight.

However,there are scriptures that better characterize the church just before the Rapture. One of them is Ephesians 5:25-27, "Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water by the Word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless". Rapturing a holy church sounds like something that Jesus would do.

1 Dr. Thomas Ice, "The Rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3" at Pre-Trib Research Center, online.
2 Ibid.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Favorite Verse

I have many favorite Bible verses, but this one is especially dear to my heart.
"At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." (Luke 10:21)

It is amazing to me that God can, and does, give understanding to those with little education and 'hide' those very things from those with doctorates in theology. It's one way that God exalts the humble.

Here is one example:
Perhaps you are aware that there are two basic approaches to Bible prophecy among conservative Christian scholars. One is called Dispensational Theology and the other is called Covenantal Theology. We will not explain all of the differences here, but we will look at certain ones. Dispensationalists believe that the Old Testament prophecies regarding the restoration of the nation of Israel and a future reign of the Messiah (the son of David) in an earthly Kingdom of God over Israel will come to pass literally during the Millenium following the return of Christ. Covenantalists interpret these prophecies as being fulfilled in the church (a replacement for Israel) and that Christ's reign over the church from heaven is the promised reign of the son of David over Israel. They see Christ being seated at the right hand of God as the fulfillment of the Davidic kingship.

And, of course, there are arguments as to how interpret various scriptures. There is one scripture in the NT that seems to favor the Covenantalists, though Dispensationalists would surely disagree. It is Acts 15:16, "After this I will return and rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen". Both Dispensationalists and Covenantalists and any other group of scholars which I have read interpret the 'tabernacle' or 'tent' of David as 'the kingdom of David'. So Covenantalists use this to prove that the church is the kingdom of David because this verse in Acts applies the term 'tabernacle of David' to the church. Dispensationalists counter that the OT context shows that it is an end-times prophecy.

Now I (although a Dispensationalist) actually agree with the Covenantalists that the expression 'tabernacle of David' is applied to the church. However, both sides are wrong in saying that the expression 'tabernacle of David' means 'the Davidic Kingdom'. Nowhere in the scriptures does the term 'tabernacle' mean 'kingdom'.

How is it used? Going back to the OT, we find that Moses set up a tent or tabernacle where sacrifices were made and where the presence of God was, in the Holy of Holies. He made the ark of the covenant where God dwelt over the 'mercy seat'. A few hundred years later, the Philistines came and took the ark of the covenant. It was brought back to Israel by King David who defeated the Philistines. But he did not put it back into the Tabernacle of Moses. He put up a separate tabernacle in Jerusalem to be near him. "They brought the ark of God and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it." (2 Chronicles 16:1) This is what is referred to as the 'Tabernacle of David'. How did it differ from the first tabernacle?.

When King David brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem he "danced before the Lord with all his might". He then set up a 'system' where praise would be offered to the Lord in front of the tabernacle on a continual basis. "He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD, to make petition, to give thanks, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel... David left Asaph and his associates before the ark of the covenant of the LORD to minister there regularly, according to each day's requirements. He also left Obed-Edom and his sixty-eight associates to minister with them. Obed-Edom son of Jeduthun, and also Hosah, were gatekeepers. David left Zadok the priest and his fellow priests before the tabernacle of the LORD at the high place in Gibeon to present burnt offerings to the LORD on the altar of burnt offering regularly, morning and evening, in accordance with everything written in the Law of the LORD, which he had given Israel. " (2 Chron 16:4, 37-40) Notice that the priests were offering sacrifices at Moses' tabernacle in Gibeon but Asaph and his crew were at David's tabernacle in Jerusalem to offer praise to God. If you look in the Psalms you will find that both David and Asaph wrote many of them.
Jewish tradition tells us that God would inspire some singers with psalms. Some Levites and priests would be present to record these inspired utterances. The gift of prophecy would be present and many of these inspired songs made it into the book of Psalms.
Musical instruments were also an important part of this worship. "Heman and Jeduthun were responsible for the sounding of the trumpets and cymbals and for the playing of the other instruments for sacred song." (2 Chron 16:42) This was not a little praise band. The instruments numbered 5000! It must have been quite a sound when they all got together.

This is what the church is supposed to be like, continually offering up praise to God. The point of the passage in Acts has to do with the church (including the Gentile believers) offering up praise to the Lord. It has nothing to do with any Davidic kingdom.

By demonstrating that Acts 15 is about the church reviving 'David's tabernacle' then we can speak to another issue brought up by some Christians who are opposed to having musical instruments in the church. They say that the NT church had no musical instruments so we shouldn't either. Well, they have not carefully read the NT. There may be no examples of the use of instruments, but if the church 'raises up' the Tabernacle of David, then musical instruments must be involved. So then, musical instruments are not only not forbidden, they may be required! The church being all over the world means that God can be praised on a continual basis.

Also, this interpretation fits in neatly with Paul's teaching that the church is the temple of God. Jesus fulfilled the sacrifices of the temple and the church fulfills the prayer and praise of the temple. It is also obvious that there is no literal 'tabernacle' or 'temple' that we must all go to in order to offer praise. Jesus said that in our time people must 'worship Him in spirit and in truth'.

We should also take a fresh look at Ephesians 5:18-20, "Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father." This being 'filled with the Spirit and speaking psalms and spiritual songs takes a bit of a greater meaning. These psalms and songs are not something out of a song book. They are inspired at the moment by the Holy Spirit. This is what happened at David's tabernacle. This is how we got the book of Psalms.

We may even be taken by surprise when this happens. I remember being in my store, filling the walk-in cooler and singing to the Lord. As I was singing I was also busy putting product on the shelf and not fully paying attention to what exactly I was singing. When I stopped for a moment I found that I was singing something that I never heard before. God was giving me a song by the inspiration of the Spirit. It was a new song. Now I am not a great singer and I am certainly no song-writer, but I can yield to the Holy Spirit. So can you.

This is one of my favorite things about being Spirit-filled: the fact that God can inspire me to do what naturally I am unable to do. And it also makes it a walk of faith. God can reveal to me what scholars cannot figure out. God can give to me anything He wants to. Let's be open to Him and believe that with God, all things are possible.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Transformation by the Word

"I urge you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but BE TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWING OF YOUR MIND, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Romans 12:1-2

In this passage, Paul gives us the key to personal transformation - the renewing of our minds. Before we dig into this, let's see in what other ways the Greek word for transformation (Gk. metamorphoo) is used in the New Testament. Its first use in the gospels is used to describe the change in Jesus' appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration. Mk 9:2-3 says, "Jesus took Peter and James and John, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured (metamorphoo) before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them." In this passage, Jesus is physically transformed in the sight of three disciples. The body of Jesus is changed by the glory of God. Now this is different from the kind of transformation than the one we read in Romans, but the idea is the same. The divine glory (an outward manifestation of the nature of God) makes Jesus appear to be far different than he appeared before. It is like when Moses came down the mountain from God's presence and his face glowed with the glory of God. A similar thing can happen to us as well. "We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (metamorphoo) into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18) Once again, the idea is one of profound transformation, but here we are being transformed into the image of Jesus Himself. So to be transformed is to become like Christ Himself.

So a transformation is a complete change by which the Spirit makes us into a new person, not conformed to this world, but reflecting the glory and image of Christ. Now when we speak of being a new person here, we are not saying that one becomes a new creature in Christ by the renewing of the mind. We are make new creatures by the new birth. Every person who receives Jesus as Lord is instantly born-again as a child of God. He has a new heart, a new spirit. (Ezek 36:26) It is our spirits, not our minds or bodies, that are born of God. What Romans 12:1-2 says is that this new creature must do something with his mind and body. The body is made a living sacrifice and the mind is renewed. (We are spirit, soul (mind) and body (flesh.)

I have made a distinction between the new creation in Christ (the new birth) and a new person who, being transformed, manifests in thought and action what God wants him to be. As Rom 12:2 says, he proves what the will of God is in his own life. Many Christians try to do the will of God without renewing their mind and they struggle as a result. They continually fall short and agonize over their failures. The problem is not that they are not good Christians, but that their minds are not renewed. In order to be transformed into the image of Christ we must set about this task of the renewing of the mind.

So now we must explore how the mind can be renewed. The first thing we notice in verse 1 of Romans 12 is that there is a prerequisite to renewing one's mind. First, one must offer one's body a living sacrifice. Paul and others speak of this same thing in various places in the NT. Expressions like "crucify the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal 5:24), "mortify your members which are on the earth" (Col 3:5) and "your pleasures that wage war in your members" (James 4:1) show us that our bodies must not rule our lives. We must rule over our bodies.

Now we come to the question, 'what exactly is the renewing of the mind?' and 'how is it renewed?'. Although the expression 'renewing of the mind' seems to be unique in the Bible, expressions with the same basic meaning are found as well. In order to show this, we must be aware that 'mind' and 'soul' are parallel terms, just as 'heart' and 'spirit' are parallel terms. (We do not have space here to demonstrate this.)

Psalm 19:7a, "The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul". We see that the soul is restored by the law of the Lord. We could say that the mind is renewed by the Word of the Lord. The words 'restored' and 'renewed' mean about the same thing. So it is the Word of God which can renew our minds. Does the NT confirm this renewing of the mind by the Word? It does. James 1:21, "Putting aside all filthiness and wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls." The expression 'save your souls' is used in the modern church to refer to the new birth. But it is not so used here (or anywhere else in the NT). Never does the NT refer to the new birth or eternal salvation or justification as 'salvation of the soul'. It is a misnomer. The new birth is the rebirth of the human spirit, not the soul. The soul must be renewed or restored or, here, be 'saved'. The word 'salvation' or 'saved' is used to refer to eternal salvation, temporal deliverance, healing and other things, including the renewing of the mind. So this verse is saying the same thing that both Romans 12:1-2 and Psalm 19:7 are saying. Like Psalm 19, it is the Word that restores (saves) the soul. ("The implanted Word is able to save your souls.") In Romans 12, the body must be a spiritual sacrifice first. ("Put aside all filthiness") So, James 1:21 puts together the ideas of Psalms and Romans and adds another 'twist'. He calls the renewing of the mind 'salvation'.

Think about that. A person who is already 'saved' still needs his 'soul saved'. James is speaking to Christians who are on their way to Heaven so he cannot be telling them how to get to Heaven when he tells them their souls need to be saved. The salvation of the soul is the deliverance of the mind from worldly thinking and the strongholds that the Enemy has put there. And it is the emotional deliverance of the human soul from the ravages of whatever evil thing has happened to him in his past life. Christians are saved from past sins when they are born-again, but they often need to be delivered from their past lives as well. And the purpose of this deliverance is so that one can accomplish the will of God.

If you were not convinced before about the need for all to have their minds renewed, I hope that you are now. But how do we get the minds of church people renewed to the Word of God? Is there some program that we can institute that will bring our church to this point? How about our ministers? Should they not, most of all, have their minds renewed? Can seminaries renew our minds?

We have to go back to these passages and see who is responsible for this. From looking at the context of each one, something stands out. The responsibility for the renewing of the mind rests on each individual Christian. Look at verse 3 of Romans 12. Paul is telling to 'every man' not to think of himself too highly. This is clearly addressed to the individual Christian. It is the responsibility of every Christian to have his mind renewed. Now the Christian is not said to renew his own mind but to have it renewed. And it is clear that the Word of God must do this.

How do we get the Word? We get it by reading it and hearing it. We must read and study the Word ourselves and we must listen to good teaching also. God set teachers in the church so that we can learn and have our minds renewed. So the minister of the gospel has a responsibility as well. He must minister the Word. The teaching of the Bible must be a major part of what the church is doing.

But the minister cannot renew the minds of his hearers but he can foster it to a great degree. He is not responsible for the renewing of the minds of his congregation but he is responsible for making it possible and available.

Another thing that can be said about the renewing of the mind is that it is a continuous process throughout one's life. It is really a process, or a key to the process, of sanctification. Transformation does not take place all at once. It occurs over time. We should never get to the point where we think we have 'arrived'. Too many Christians get to a certain place in their spiritual development and think that they need go no further. They stagnate. Others may wish to continue to grow spiritually but they do not do what they need to do to grow. One key thing is the continual renewal of the mind. Becoming like Christ is not a once-and-for-all thing. It is a process of growth. Some Christians do not bother with Sunday School or Bible study and some do not even take time to read the Bible for themselves. They won't even listen to teaching tapes or read books about the Bible. But your mind cannot be renewed unless you devote yourself to it. You have to put yourself in a place where your mind can be renewed. And the church must make it available.

Finally, even if you are in Bible study and all that, and you do not seem to be making much progress, do not give up. Stay at it and become a 'doer of the Word' and not a hearer only. It's vital to act on what you know. Then God will reveal more of the Word to you. Eventually, you will be transformed. Some seem to be transformed right away and that frustrates the rest of us who seem not to. Others just take more time. I spend more time than most studying the Bible because I must prepare to teach it. However, my own spiritual development has seemed very slow to me. Yet, over the years I can see growth and there are many temptations that I no longer struggle with. But I still see the need to grow in many areas. So the renewal is far from complete. It is, as they say, not a destination but a journey. And it is a journey with a glorious end.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Where did that come from?

"Where did that come from?"
Perhaps you have said this at one time. Somebody says something that takes you aback and you have no idea what caused a certain outburst.
But I want to take this saying another way. When somebody puts forth a new agenda for the church, or for you personally, we should ask, 'where did this come from?'. Did it come from God, or from somewhere else? Even if it sounds reasonable or wise or enlightened, we need to know the source of it.
The Bible speaks of two sources of wisdom. In James 3:15-17, there is the 'wisdom from heaven' and the wisdom which is 'earthly, unspiritual, of the Devil'. Jesus affirms this view when Peter told Jesus that He would not die on the cross. He said, "Get behind me, Satan, you are on the side of men, not God." (my paraphrase) Now Peter meant well, his heart was in the right place, but he lacked the wisdom of God in this matter and followed the wisdom of men, which in this instance, actually came from Satan. Jesus revealed to Peter the source of his declaration.

Now I say this with certain things in mind. Some are trying to push on the church their own agendas that they sincerely believe are from God. For example, some are putting forth the notion that active homosexuals should be allowed to become ordained ministers. This is done under the rhetoric of 'equality' and 'human rights' and, especially in the church, 'inclusiveness'. Now 'inclusiveness' is very much a biblical concept, but is it being used in a biblical manner in this case?
The inclusiveness of the gospel does not mean that God allows us to maintain a lifestyle that He has told us is wrong. Inclusiveness means that God accepts all who come to Him in repentance and faith. God reaches out to all and the church needs to reach out to all. However, when a person accepts Jesus as Lord he is required to submit to that Lordship. That means obeying the moral precepts laid down in the Bible.
God loves the homosexual and the adulterer and the murderer and the perjurer and every other kind of person. (For convenience, let's call them sinners.) We welcome all to come to church. But we do not make them ministers without them giving up their sinful lifestyles.
"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9 Notice what Paul is telling us here. He clearly tells us that homosexuality is wrong and he places it among other obvious sins - theft, drunkenness and the like. He calls it 'wickedness'. He does not say, "they cannot help it, they are born that way." He does indicate that some of the Corinthian Christians did these things before becoming Christians. That means that some were (notice the past tense) homosexuals, but now they no longer are because God has washed them from their sins, sanctified their hearts and been justified. They are now free from their former condition. They are no longer thieves or homosexuals or drunkards.
Paul is being 'inclusive' but in a biblical way. He invites every kind of sinner, and Gentile sinners at that, to repent. No, I take that back. Paul preached, "God commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). God commands repentance. It is not optional.

Now I want all to understand that I am not writing this particular blog to convince you that homosexuality is wrong. I am not writing this to get an amen on this subject. My aim is for all to examine the source of whatever claims or agendas are being presented to the church or to us as individuals or families, etc. To me it is crystal clear that all this talk of inclusiveness has nothing to do with preaching the gospel to all or to accept as equals people of another race or ethnicity. It has to do with changing the moral stance of the church on an important issue.
I am only using this as an illustration since my readers most likely need no convincing that homosexuals should not be ordained. I want us all to consider the source.
Does this movement to accept homosexuality as good and normal come from God or from somewhere else? Does it originate from the church or does it come from outside? Now this has been compared to the civil rights movement of the 20th century,the anti-slavery movement of the 19th century and the women's suffrage movement. If you study these movements they had their origin in the church. The earliest abolitionists were Quakers. The suffragists were led by Christian women. The civil rights movements for legal equality for blacks was from the black church. Now the rest of the church often resisted these changes, but its source was God working through the church.
In contrast, the homosexual rights movement comes from the world, not the church. Is God now using the world to change what His Word declares is evil? I don't think so. This wisdom is not from above. It is not anointed by God. It is an attempt by worldly people to influence the church in a direction contrary to the Word of God.

We must always beware of this kind of infiltration of worldly ideas into the church. One thing is very interesting in the scripture in 1 Cor. It says 'do not be deceived'. It's funny how we can think that others can be deceived but that we can't be. We can be if we are not careful. Many are deceived today because they reason the way the world does and not according to the scriptures that they find out of date. But the Word of God is eternal and God's standard of behavior has not changed. Customs change, circumstances change, but God does not change. We may think that we live in an enlightened age. We have (almost) rid the world of slavery. We have great scientific knowledge. But the human heart is deceitfully wicked above all things. (In the world, that is. God gives us a new heart when we give our hearts to Him Ezekiel 36:26) The world is not getting revelation from the Spirit of God. The world neither sees Him nor knows Him (John 14:17). Those who have not accepted Christ do not understand the Bible because 'a veil covers their hearts'. We cannot take our lead from those who do not know God.
It does not matter how competent a Bible scholar they may seem to be. That is why I do not accept the opinions of unbelieving Bible scholars. And it makes me sad when believing scholars accept their conclusions. Trust what God shows you in His Word. Trust what the Bible says above even your own thinking. It has been perfectly purified. "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." Ps 12:6

We need to think about this on a personal basis, too. When someone has a suggestion or offers advice, do we consider whether or not it is truly from God? I have sometimes taken what seemed like sound advice only to have it be the wrong thing. I should have prayed and been more sensitive to the Holy Spirit. I believe that if advice is from God then the Spirit will bear witness with your spirit. If you do not sense anything then pray about it. Ask the Lord for a scripture for confirmation. Make sure God is behind it.

We must always ask,
'Where did that come from?'.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Breath of the Almighty, Part 2

In my last blog, I wrote about how the Spirit of God is the called the Breath of God in the Bible. And I also covered the fact that when we are born again the Spirit 'breathes' into us the very Life and Nature of God Himself, and we become children of God. The Spirit of God is called the Spirit of Life in Romans 8:2.
The Spirit actually gives life to all living things and if the Spirit were to withdraw from any plant or animal it would immediately die. Note that when Jesus cursed the fig tree that it suddenly withered from the root, the source of its life. I believe it happened because, in response to Jesus' word, the Spirit withdrew completely from the plant.
From a careful study of the scriptures you will find that the Spirit brings to pass that which is spoken by God. In Genesis 1, the Spirit hovered over the earth and then the Lord spoke and it immediately came forth. The Spirit brings the Word into reality.

Now we will look at the Bible, the written Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:15-16 says "the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness". I really like the fact that the NIV translators chose to translate 'theo-pnuestos' as 'God breathed' instead of 'God inspired'. I think it will help us settle a very important dispute in theological circles regarding the inspiration of the scriptures.
Some very prominent Bible scholars are denying the inerrancy of the Bible. They are saying that the Bible contains the Word of God, but it is not free from all kinds of errors. They say that the Bible is 100% true theologically, but not necessarily accurate regarding historical facts. They say that God inspired the truth in the minds of the authors of scriptures, but when these men wrote them out they used their own limited knowledge when it came to historical events. Now these scholars are orthodox in their beliefs regarding the deity of Christ, the crucifixion and resurrection, the 2nd Coming and all that. However, they do not see as necessary the contention that the Bible is accurate in details irrelevant to the theological truths it conveys.
The Bible, bearing witness of itself, does not support such a conclusion. Peter wrote that the human authors of the books of the Bible were "carried along by the Holy Spirit" as they wrote. Jesus said that scripture "cannot be broken". Paul, in Timothy, says that God "breathed-out" (lit.) the scriptures. Can God breath error? Even in insignificant error. It is contrary to His character to do so.
Besides, the picture of inspiration given by the scriptures runs contrary to the view that God simply revealed the truth to some and they wrote it down the best they could. Well, if they just did the best they could, then they might have written the theological parts wrong. At this point, they might say that God kept these writers from error in regards to theology, only allowing them to write the truth. But if God did that then would He not have kept them from error in all things? Of course, He would.
These folks want us to believe that God only inspires people with ideas, He does not really inspire their words, spoken or written. It is obvious to me that these people have a very flawed view of how God inspires people prophetically. He can, and does, actually speak His Word directly through people at times. I have prophesied before and I can tell you from experience that the words themselves come from the Spirit. It is not like preaching and teaching where God inspires us to speak what we have studied and learned. You can prophesy what you do not know and what you do not understand.
This is easy to prove from the Bible. Both Daniel and John (in Revelation) write down prophecies given to them and they ask the angel what they mean. This is heavy evidence against the concept of idea inspiration versus word (verbal) inspiration. Also, Peter calls all scripture "a more sure word of prophecy".

So when God breathed out His Word, it was all truth. And it was all Life. God's Word has God's life in it. He breathed the breath of Life into His Word. "The Logos (Word) of God is a living thing." Hebrew 4:12 (Moffat) They are words like the ones we use every day. But God has breathed into them His own Life and Nature. Jesus said that His words were "spirit and life". John 6:63
The Word communicates God's very Life to us when the Spirit breathes on it as we read or hear the Word. Have you had the experience of reading along in the Bible when certain scriptures just seem to come alive to you? You suddenly understand and are blessed by those particular scriptures. That's when the Logos Word becomes a Rhema Word to you. Very often you will have the same inspiration that the author originally had when it was written. At other times, the Spirit will apply the Word to your life even if it is out of context. It is a Rhema word just to you.
I remember when I was praying about whether or not to come back to Chincoteague and work with my father. I had gone back up north to Cleveland by God's leading two years previously. I asked God to give me a scripture so that I could be sure of His guidance. He gave me Jeremiah 16:15 "The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them.’ For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers." What a wonderful fit to my situation. Now I know that is not what Jeremiah meant, but it is what the Spirit gave to me. God works by principle and His principles are in His Word. When a certain principle applies to me, the Spirit will breath on the appropriate scripture or scriptures and make them come alive to me. It is Jesus speaking to us, leading us into all truth. He is the Truth and the Life. So is His Word.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Breath of the Almighty, Part 1

Some years ago, a friend of ours in a bible study told about a conversation she had with her young son. He asked her, "Mom, where did I come from?". Although they had already had this discussion before (so she thought) she began, "When a mommy and daddy love each other...", but he interrupted her. He said, "No, Mom, I know that. Where did the inside of me come from?" She knew what he meant. He was asking where his spirit came from. She wasn't sure.

Here she was, a Christian of many years, and she had never thought about where one's spirit and soul come from. Her son was curious about something that we hardly ever think about. Where does the inside of us come from? We ought to know.

Thank God, the Bible tells us. "The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath (spirit) of life; and man became a living being." (Gen. 2:7) God made Adam's body first, then gave him a spirit. He breathed life into him. We all get our bodies from our parents, but our spirits come from God. God is called "the Father of spirits". (Heb 12:9)

It is interesting that the Bible states that God 'breathed'. God does not need to breathe, does He? If He breathes, it is for our benefit. God's breath has creative power. "By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host." (Psalm 33:6)

It is also interesting that both the Hebrew and Greek words for breath also mean 'spirit'. So the breath of God is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus met with the disciples after his resurrection, "He breathed on them and said to them, 'receive the Holy Spirit'". (John 20:22) (Please do not confuse the receiving of the Spirit in this incident with the Baptism in the Holy Spirit where the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in other tongues. That is a different thing.) Yes, they received the Spirit the day that Jesus breathed on them.

What did they get? They got new life, the Eternal Life that God had promised them. Eternal Life is the nature of God imparted to our spirits in the new birth. Jesus had breathed Himself, His Spirit, into the disciples. They became "partakers of the divine nature". (2 Pet. 1:4) The disciples became spiritually children of God. It was not adoption; it was a new birth, a new creation. "Therefore, if any one be in Christ, he is a new creation, old things are passed away, all thing become new and all things are of God." (2 Cor 5:17,18a) There is a direct link between the old and new creation. In the old creation, God breathed into Adam natural human life. In the new creation, Jesus breathes into us the very Life of God. As Ezekiel prophesied long ago, "I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you." Ezek. 36:26 Our spirits, that were dead in trespasses and sins, were brought to life. A new, born-again spirit was given to us and the Holy Spirit came to dwell in us.

We are not "sinners, saved by grace". We are new creations in Christ. The new creation will not be fully manifested until after the final judgment when we enter the new heavens and new earth. But it began with Jesus Christ. It continues in us today. We need to grow and let the good work that He has begun in us be perfected until the Day of Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:6)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Watch Your Language

This Sunday our pastor preached an excellent sermon on the tongue. We all need to hear this from time-to-time, but something bothered me, not about the sermon but about the Scripture reading – James 3:1-12. Our church uses the New Revised Standard Version and verse 7 read, “For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species”. Human species? The translators were very careful to use ‘human species’ instead of ‘man’(NIV). Now I have read many translations and all of them have certain passages that are clumsily translated and I do not make an issue of it. But what is behind this is something different. It is someone’s agenda. It is the attempt to make our Bibles and our speech “gender-neutral”. Although it is well-intentioned, I think it is a bad idea.

Languages, those still in use, are constantly changing. New words appear and older words often fall into disuse. Words acquire new meanings, gain additional meanings and lose other meanings. Words that are acceptable in one era are considered rude or vulgar in another. In defending the ‘gender-neutral’ agenda one translator said that the use of male pronouns to refer to both males and females, for example, was falling into disuse and, therefore, should be discontinued. I do not agree. What is happening is that some are trying to push the language in that direction. We all use language to suit our own purpose and to influence others, but I object to those who try to force changes in the English language to promote their own goals.

This has been done successfully before. Think of the word ‘gay’. Fifty years ago it meant ‘happy’; now it means ‘homosexual’. Was this a natural development of the word or did some promote the word because they wanted to promote their social agenda? It is definitely the latter. The homosexual ‘community’ promoted it and the media helped them to make it the most common word to refer to them. It worked. You might say it is good or bad, but it certainly helped homosexual activity to be more acceptable than it formerly was. (Now I am not saying that it is okay to use some of the more colorful terms for homosexuals, but that is another issue.)

Some in the church and in academia are pushing the language in what they believe is a good direction, but it is making speech more awkward even if it is politically correct. The first time that I heard a preacher say ‘humankind’ instead of ‘mankind’ it sounded extremely artificial to me. It still does. Are we making the language better by making it more awkward? Those who speak this way do not want to emphasis the ‘man’ sound in ‘mankind’, so they say ‘humankind’. The funny part of this is that the root of the word ‘mankind’ and ‘humankind’ is the same –it is ‘man’. But you emphasize “man” in mankind’, but “hu” in ‘humankind’.

Even worse, when listening to a series lectures by Bible scholars, I heard several of them use the phrase, “God is building God’s kingdom” instead of “God is building His kingdom”. Now they are trying to avoid using “His” with reference to God and the reason is good enough. God, as a pure spirit, has no gender and they do not want to imply that He is male. (Oops!) And I agree that we might need to explain that fact to some young Christians, but that should part of our normal instruction anyway. One of my problems with this is that it just sounds silly. I know that we need to be respectful and sensitive in our speech, but I think we should sound human as well. (Now this is the right way to use the word ‘human’.) Communication, in speech or in writing, must not only be accurate it needs to have a ‘flow’. It ought to be easily readable (if it written) or be easy on the ears (if spoken). Translating the Bible is hard enough without adding to it someone’s agenda, be it good or bad. Let’s translate it the way people speak and not the way we think they ought to speak.

At this point, you might be thinking that this is a small issue that only affects English ‘style’. Consider John 14:23 in the TNIV: “Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’” Beautiful, isn’t it? It is, but there is a problem here. In the Greek, the word translated ‘them’ is not plural but singular. The translator did not want to use ‘him’, the best English equivalent, but opted for ‘them’ to keep it gender-neutral. The problem is that it changes the meaning of the passage. This promise is not given to a group (church or fellowship) but to the individual Christian. A person reading the TNIV or NRSV would not know that. What a shame it would be if someone who read this never found out that Jesus and the Father wanted to make their home with them on a individual, personal basis. I really do not think that what might be gained by promoting a gender-neutral agenda is worth what it does either to our English Bible or to the English language.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A New Blogger

My name is Brian Scarborough. I live in Chincoteague Island, Virginia with my wife, Christy. We have two awesome daughters who are now both married to good, Christian husbands. I have been teaching the Word of God for about 30 years now and it is about my favorite thing to do.

This blog will mainly be about the Bible and subjects related to the Bible. The name, Logos and Rhema, come from the two Greek words for 'word'. Logos generally refers to the written word and rhema to the spoken word of God. More on that in a later blog.
Now I will have some postings on economics, and social and political issues from time to time. I may also comment on the media which I hold in very low esteem.

I am an opinionated person, but I feel that I am a well-informed one. My views, on almost all subjects, is conservative. That means that I am conservative in theology (Christian theology) and in politics and in economics and in my social views. Now that means something different in each area. By socially conservative, I mean that I am a traditionalist - traditional family and all that. Being an economic conservative, I lean libertarian, meaning minimal government intervention in a free market. And, of course, my politics follow my economic and social views.

Now there are varying opinions on what it means to be a conservative politically or even socially and economically. However, there really is no debate about what it means to be theologically conservative (or liberal for that matter). It means that I believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that is, inerrant and verbally inspired in the original autographs. I am a Protestant conservative meaning that I do not look to any teacher or church to interpret the Bible for me. That does not mean that I do not listen to others or that I think that I have all the answers.
It does mean that I believe that Jesus is the Son of God (deity) and that he died for our sins and was raised from the dead physically. We can only be saved (justified and born again) by faith in Him.

It is my hope that others will find this interesting and, of course, I would happy if others would agree or adopt my views. But it has always been my purpose as a Bible teacher to get people to think about various Bible subjects in a new way and to be inspired to dig deeper into the Word. I want all of us to think and live biblically.