Recommended approach

Sojourner's paradigm challenges atheists and skeptics to make a shift in the way they examine and approach the claims of the Bible and Christianity. It is best to first watch the gospel message video and read the foundational truth of God. Other blogs speak on a variety of topics.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Does the Lord really understand and care about my struggles?

The writer of Hebrews was making a case for Jesus as Lord over all heaven and earth. The Hebrews (Jews) were deeply entrenched in the ceremonial law along with the duty of the high priest. It was the high priest’s job to enter the holy of holies and make atonement for the nation of Israel. The high priest was to represent the people of God. The writer of Hebrews then correlates this position to Jesus, our definitive High Priest, who has entered heaven, making atonement for our sins, but just as importantly, representing mankind. Just as the earthly high priest was, “… able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray…” (Heb. 5:2a), Jesus too, our heavenly High Priest is able to do the same. He is able to do this, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are yet was without sin.” Heb. 4:15. As such the writer then concludes this thought in verse 16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

You may not feel this when the pain and struggles of life overtake you. Even so, this truth is one upon which you can stand.  For Christ himself empathizes and understands your feelings. Why? Because He too was tempted just as we are. He too met the same challenges as you or I. He grieved as when he considered the lost condition of Israel. He shed tears upon the death of Lazarus and the anguish of those around him. He cried out to his heavenly Father during his own time of need.  He too patiently endured during his time of pain and anguish.

Since the sinless Jesus was tempted just as we are, he also was able to overcome the temptation. Having the Spirit of Christ residing within those who have received Christ as Savior, we too have the ability and power to say “no” to temptation. This is our hope by which we wait patiently for the Lord’s work within us. Paul writes this in Romans 8:26, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” All of us have had those moments of trials where we did not know what to do or pray. These verses from Romans and Hebrews, along with many more, can reassure us that our troubles have not gone without notice. Christ knows and understands our condition. Our job, then, is to wait patiently upon our Savior while we seek to know Him more and more.  We can begin to understand the human side of Christ as well as His sovereign power, omniscience, and ability to see us through and overcome life’s most difficult challenges.

Since the Lord knows and understands our struggles, He has not left us without resources to see us through those times of need.  In fact, life itself is a struggle.  Where do we go to find the help we need?  Read carefully these words from 2 Peter 1:3, "... His divine power has granted to us everything we need for life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence."  In order to overcome the issues of life, we need to know Jesus more and more.  How?  God tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16:  "All Scripure is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."  The Scriptures are our source for overcoming all of life's needs. 

Yes.  The Lord understands and cares about your struggles.  The key is to go to Him and His Word to see you through the issues of life.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why did Jesus Christ die?

The answer to why Christ died can be answered from several different perspectives. For what purpose did Christ die would be one of those perspectives. “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” 1 Cor. 15:3. Paul mentions in the above passage that Christ died “according to the Scriptures…” This means that Christ’s sacrifice was prophesied throughout the Old Testament. The first reference, as vague as it is, is found in Genesis 3:15 where it reads, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” The serpent (Satan) will strike or bruise the heel of the woman’s offspring (Christ). Yet, Christ will crush the head of Satan. This passage alludes to the fact that Satan will attack Christ thinking he has annihilated him. But Jesus Christ’s victory over death means he has “crushed” the head of Satan. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 1 Cor. 15:55. Christ’s death and resurrection has made Satan powerless in the life of the believer. We are given a prophetic account of Christ’s death in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are heeled.” Isaiah 53:5.

Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome thoroughly covers the necessity for Christ’s death and resurrection. God has a standard by which he pronounces his requirements of mankind. It is called the Law. If anyone would desire to be found acceptable to God, one way is to be obedient to that law. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matt. 5:48. However, we are faced with a tragic fact. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. Paul also adds, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Romans 3:20. But then Paul begins to reveal the reason for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22a. God’s law handed down to Moses required animal sacrifice as a means of atoning for Israel’s sin. The writer of Hebrews explained that, “The law is only a shadow of the good things to come- not the realities themselves.” Heb. 10:1. He then adds, “because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” Heb. 10:4. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, died as the “sacrificial lamb” to take away the sins of the world once and for all. His sacrifice for sins accomplished much on our behalf. All of these accomplishments can be wrapped up in this one declarative statement: We get God back.

Although Christ’s sacrifice was prophesied in Scripture and fulfills God’s plan for redeeming mankind, there is a second reason Jesus Christ died. Sinful men put Jesus upon that cross. Jesus claimed equality with God. His message and the claims he made about himself threatened the power controlled by the hierarchy of Judaism and perhaps the authority of Rome. Before we point the finger of judgment upon those who brought about Jesus Christ’s death, we must realize that three fingers are pointing back at us. We put Jesus upon that cross. It was our rebellion. It was our desire to rule our own lives apart from God’s authority that necessitated Christ’s death.

There is a third reason Christ died. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. God’s love for us, as sinful and as rebellious as we are, sent Jesus to the cross.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The role of anthropology in Biblical counseling

Political and societal factions are battling it out within today’s American culture to determine what should be classified as “normal” acceptable behavior. As recently as the mid 60’s society found cigarette smoking perfectly normal behavior, even among the clergy. That view has now changed. Sexual involvement between unmarried partners was once considered by Americans as something “good girls and boys” simply didn’t do. Today it is flaunted and considered odd if not regularly practiced by dating individuals. According to A.C. Neilson, the average Americans spends at least 4 hours per day glued to their TV sets being fed all kinds of “normal” and “deviant” behavior and attitudes as defined by the writers of television programs. And we swallow it whole. In an attempt to study and define people, we are left to basing our conclusions on whichever criteria we deem is an “acceptable standard.” When American culture is combined with a myriad of cultures from around the globe and then examining these findings along with historical data, we can see that a study of mankind can be quite an undertaking. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A good place to begin an anthropological view of man is to first examine the Creator of man. Every creator has a purpose and standard for his or her creation. An artist’s desire is that his artwork convey an idea as defined by the artist. A builder builds his structure for a specific purpose as defined by that builder. In studying a painting or a structure, the question always becomes, what did the artist or builder have in mind? The same holds true in the study of mankind. An evolutionary view states that man has evolved from a lower form of life without the benefit of a creator. The Bible, on the other hand, states just the opposite. The evolutionary view has no basis upon which to draw any conclusions about the purpose or nature of mankind. The conclusions are based solely upon the one making those conclusions. Carl Marx had one view. Sigmund Freud had another. Darwin, Kinsey, Skinner, Pavlov, Watson, and many others have a variety of views concerning … us. Take your pick. The Bible is the only document which claims to provide us with an authoritative word concerning God’s design for man. The authority of scripture has already been examined and discussed. The Bible, therefore, transcends all other views of mankind. If we are to believe the Bible, then an accurate view of man’s nature and an analysis of “normal” behavior can be obtained.

The nature of man has already been discussed. The next question in counseling might be, “what is considered normal behavior?” Psychology might define “normal” as nothing more than the “average” behavior of any given society. Since the Bible tells us what to expect from different attitudes and behaviors then we are wise to heed those admonitions and warnings from Scripture. The Bible states the problem; sin and the nature of fallen mankind. Abnormal behavior then is a life controlled by that sin nature. The Bible gives us the answer; Christ and the new nature we can obtain for overcoming the issues of life. Normal behavior then is a life controlled by the Holy Spirit given to us upon our decision to follow Christ.

Since life’s trials and troubles still plague us even upon our conversion to Christ’s life, the counselor’s role becomes one of replacing error with truth and then holding the counselee accountable. If the counselee does not hold to the Biblical view of the nature of man, then he or she is left to consider the best ideas of man, apart from God’s directives.  They will still be trying to make it through life and its many obstacles the best they know how, where they are depending upon that four pound mass of tissue between their ears as their final authority in life.

Monday, February 15, 2010

All for One and One for All - a view of the Trinity

Visit any Jewish Synagogue and you will hear the “Shama”, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Deuteronomy 6:4. Christians, of course, will also stand upon this verse, for it is a foundational principle in the worship of our Lord. How then do we justify the doctrine of the Trinity? The Trinity is the doctrine stating that God exists as three persons in one; The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Let’s examine the Biblical basis for this doctrine.

To be properly interpreted, every passage of scripture must support and align with other passages of scripture. For instance, the very first words of Scripture found in Genesis declare, “In the beginning God…” Gen. 1:1. And yet, 26 verses later we read, “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” Gen. 1:26a. These words immediately provide a hint of the Trinity. Jesus, upon his ascension commanded that we, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Matthew 28:19.

Throughout the Old Testament, many references are made to the Spirit of God. In most cases, these passages refer to the Holy Spirit as an extension of the Lord. For instance, in Isaiah 63:11b-121a, Isaiah writes, “Where is he who set his Holy Spirit among them, who sent his glorious arm of power to be at Moses’ right hand…”.

Isaiah again in verse 10a states, “Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.” In these passages the Holy Spirit is given a separate identity and yet also given equal status with God.

Jesus often referred to God as “my Father”. Although there are a few passages found in the Old Testament referring to God as Father, it was considered by the Jews blasphemous to claim such an intimate relationship with God. By referring to God as “my Father”, the Jews recognized that Jesus was claiming equal status with God. In John 5:18 we read, “For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” Satan himself recognized this unique status of Jesus. Satan tempted Jesus with these words, “If you are the Son of God…”. During Jesus’ transfiguration, God referred to Jesus as his Son. (Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35) Jesus never denied this divinity. He did not deny his own equal status with his heavenly Father. On one occasion, he told the Jews, “I tell you the truth… before Abraham was born, I am.’ At this they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” John 8:58-59. Jesus’ claim as the only begotten Son of God is prophetically verified throughout the Old Testament. In the 9th chapter of Isaiah, he makes a prophetic announcement when he writes, “Unto us a child is born, to us a son is given… and he will be called Mighty God, Everlasting Father…” Isaiah 9: (portions of verse 6). Jesus told his followers, “I and the Father are one.” John 10:30. On another occasion the disciple Philip said to Jesus, “…show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” John 14:9a. Jesus answered Philip by saying, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” John 14:9b. Other passages such as this once again support the doctrine of the Triune God: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Referring once again to our Lord’s ascension; before giving us our great commission to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Jesus emphatically declares, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matt. 28:18b. This is a great reminder to us that it is through Jesus we come to know God. Each Person of the Trinity provides everything we need in life. Through our Father we gain acceptance. Through the Son we gain forgiveness. Through the Holy Spirit we gain purpose and the power we need to live the Christian life. The doctrine of the Trinity is a solid three legged foundation upon which we can stand.

For God's sake, who am I?

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27. Having heard this verse all my life, I grew up never considering mankind as anything other than what it declares. But in today’s culture where even this simple truth is questioned, it becomes necessary to defend it. Voices in science and academia want us to believe that we are nothing more than a higher form of animal. In Genesis 2:7 we read that, “the Lord formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The implication is that God breathed His life into Adam. We are not told that God breathed life into the animals he created. Solomon pondered this issue when he wrote, “Or Who knows the spirit of man, which rises upward, or the spirit of the animal, which goes down into the earth.” Eccl. 3:21. When animals die their life goes with them into the ground. When man dies, while his body goes back to the “dust of the ground”, his spirit is returned to God from whence it came. As living souls created in the “image” and “likeness” of God who are to rule over all other created beings, God elevates us to a higher status than merely a more evolved animal on the evolutionary chain. Included within that status is an astonishing responsibility. As such, our value is immeasurable… but here is where we must insert a comma. Despite the value God placed upon us, Adam and Eve relinquished their God given standing, charge, and relationship with God and with one another. Their decision to sin has affected man’s self image and standing before God ever since. In the 5th chapter of Romans Paul points out that death entered mankind through Adam’s sin and, likewise, to all of us because we all sin. That sin has likewise affected our own view of ourselves. Man tries to define himself apart from God’s divine design.

The Bible indicates that mankind is endowed with a body, soul, spirit, and a heart (not the blood pumping organ). Let’s face it. Most of us focus more attention on our bodies in contrast to our inward being. As Christ followers we know that our body is the “temple” of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19) and therefore should be taken care of. It is through our earthly bodies that our Lord’s work will be accomplished on earth. Even bodies which are paralyzed or crippled through disease will accomplish God’s task as long as we are controlled by God’s Holy Spirit. We are told in Romans to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice”, meaning we are to offer ourselves continually as dying to self and living for Christ who died on our behalf.

The Bible speaks often of our souls. The Bible does not provide us with a well defined definition of the soul. However, the Bible describes our soul as the very essence of who we are inwardly. Perhaps even without our bodies, we would be recognized by our soul in the spirit realm. David often wrote about the condition of his own soul. In the Psalms 42 and 43 David lamented, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?” David then in Psalm 35:9 says, “Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD and delight in his salvation.” This suggests that our souls can find both sadness or joy depending upon the control we give it. This is where it appears the spirit of a man enters the picture. Encompased within our soul is what the Bible calls the “spirit” of man. There is debate over whether the reference to both soul and spirit are one in the same or separate. The prophet Isaiah quoted God when he wrote, “ I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me— the breath of man that I have created.” Isaiah 57:16. Job’s friend, Elihu, who had come to provide Job with comfort and support, spoke these words, “But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding. Job 32:8. The spirit of man is the life substance given to us by God. The spirit of man appears to be our spiritual conduit with God contained within our soul. The Bible also speaks about the “heart” of man. It is the heart of man which truly defines who he is. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Sam. 16:7b. Our hearts can be hardened or softened towards God. For instance, Scripture says that Pharoah hardened his heart towards God. But it also says that David had a heart for God. When scripture talks about the “heart and soul” of man, this encompasses the entirety of our inward being. Without Christ reining within our heart, we are under the compulsion of our sin nature. Our intellect and thoughts, the choices we make, our affections, conscience, and our emotional responses are under the control of that nature. Consequently our spirit is not “alive with Christ” (Eph 2:5 or Col. 2:13). When Christ reigns upon the throne of our soul, His Spirit gives life to our spirit making us alive with Christ. Consequently, our heart begins to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, making us more like Christ.

David reflects upon the majesty of God and condition of man when he writes, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:3-5. We too should take pause to consider that the great God of creation places such value on us. As such, the question becomes how do we reclaim and fully realize our God given honor. “For just as the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:19. Christ’s life becomes our life. We once again regain our God given standing. We also regain an accurate view of ourselves. We are sons and daughters of God. We are brothers and sisters of Christ and with one another. We become fully aware of our inestimable worth having the distinguished honor of bringing glory to our heavenly Father. For such is our ultimate purpose.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Does God really know everything? Even the future?

In almost the exact center of the Bible is found a passage of scripture which clearly portrays the omniscience of God. “Oh Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise, you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out, and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” Psalm 139:1-6. From the first words of Genesis to the last words of Revelation, God’s omniscience is clearly seen. The characters revealed, the events which transpired, the prophecies foretold and fulfilled, and the messianic ribbon woven throughout the pages of scripture; all impart an epic as if written by the pen of one great Novelist. Our all knowing God is that Author, and yet it was mankind’s individual choices seemingly made apart from God’s direct influence which lays out the story of God’s plan for redeeming us from our oppressive captivity.

We tend to think of eternity as a “very long time.” Our minds think in terms of sequential events. That happened back then. This is happening now. Something else will happen in the future. The Bible, however, presents eternity as the always present NOW. Prophetic accounts in Scripture are often quoted as if they have already happened. Isaiah wrote 700 years before Christ was born into this world, “He was pierced for our transgressions…” Isaiah 53:5. In Revelation 13:8 John refers to Christ as “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” All of this is to say that God knows our future just as certainly as our past. He not only perceives all things, He is the great Conductor orchestrating all events; past, present, and future, together in the eternal NOW.

Let’s pull the car over for a moment and consider another point. “But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:16-17. Pause and let that sink in for a moment. Now listen up. Let those who love to debate open theism against God’s omniscience do so beyond the earshot of these little children. For a child simply wants to know that his parent loves him, cares for him, and will protect him as he grows to maturity. Such should be our attitude.

But for the sake of the question asked regarding open theism, I will deal with the issue. Open theism is a term which has a broad range of definitions, depending upon whose definition one cares to consider. It seems to me to be a doctrine which falls within the inference of this passage of scripture, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.” Titus 3:9. Never-the-less, open theism is basically a doctrine which says that God does not know the future and will change according to human choices, actions, prayers, and circumstances of the present. Several verses can certainly be sited to support this premise. For instance, we read in Exodus the account where the Israelites rebelled at the foot of Mount Sinai. We pick up at Exodus 32:9 where God is speaking, “I have seen these people,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.’ But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. ‘O Lord,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was the evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth?’ Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” Exodus 32:9-14. Did the Lord really forget his promise to Abraham? Was he going to change his original plan? Did he need to be reminded of his promise or need to repent? I would strongly suggest that these verses do little to support the ideas of open theism, and do more to support the notion of God’s faithfulness, mercy, and sovereignty while also providing for us a portrait of our responsibility and privileges as God’s chosen people. This passage was presented in such a way that we are able glean the very message God intends for us to grasp. As we consider this episode in Biblical history and examine it along with every other historical event in scripture, we begin to see that God was working out his plan all along, even taking into account the many choices Biblical characters were making. Without events taking place exactly as the Bible imparts them to us, the very heart and soul of his plan would not have been accomplished. I would even suggest that Adam and Eve’s fall in Eden is precisely what needed to take place for God’s intended plan to be realized. Names given to children by their parents, names of cities and nations, choices made by Godless men, prayers lifted up to God, reckless acts by Israel’s righteous and unrighteous rulers alike; all were under the sovereign hand of a God who is all knowing and all powerful. Did these people make individual choices? Yes. Were they orchestrated by God? Yes. While human understanding and reason want to deny the compatibility of these two truths, the scriptures will not allow us to do so. Both are true.

Our brains, as wondrous as they might be, have limitations put upon them by our Creator. The ways of God cannot always be grasped. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8

Picture this. Suppose we all lived in a two- dimensional world. The third dimension does not exist. We are much like line drawings on paper. That is all we know or can follow with our two dimensional brain. Then suppose God were to put his finger tip on the plane of our world. What would we see? All we would be able to see and comprehend is a round flat blob. This illustrates the point I am making. Our minds on this side of eternity have limitations placed upon them by God.

The counselee, like a child coming to Jesus, needs to know that his or her heavenly Father is in control of life’s destiny. God will see them through their struggles. He gives them his Holy Spirit which gives them the means to overcome. Do they have individual choices to make? Absolutely. Can they read in scripture those whose choices produced tragedy? Yes. Can they read in scripture where those who chose obedience were able to overcome? Yes. Can they come to realize that this world is passing away and that it only offers temporal pleasures compared to the eternal joy provided by God? They can only do so if they believe that their heavenly Father is an all knowing, all powerful, and ever-present God. Praise be to God.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Just a little bit about our heavenly Father

Jesus was speaking to a crowd who had gathered. He spoke of many things. At one point he said, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Matthew 11:27.

Before we can know the attributes and character of God, we must first come to know Christ. Otherwise the human heart will form all kinds of erroneous images of God. Since we have already addressed the issue of the authority of God’s Word, we can move on to discovering the glorious picture Scripture unfolds to us regarding our heavenly Father.

The Lord our God is sovereign, meaning there is no greater power than God and He alone reigns supreme. Scripture is replete with this message. King David wrote, “Yours, O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” David was not stating anything that God himself had not already declared. David suffered hardship but he still clung to this truth. Christ himself placed himself in submission to God the Father. The Psalms of scripture are there for a reason. When we grow weary and wonder if God is really in control of our lives, we can learn from the Psalmist. For there we are reminded of God’s supreme rule. Contained within God’s sovereign rule we find the truth that God is unchanging (immutable). A husband announces to his wife after 17 years of marriage that he now wants out of the marriage. She feels betrayed. A boss promised a promotion to a dedicated employee but then changes his mind and promotes another. While people are prone to let us down, causing us heartache and misery, our Father in heaven is different. The prophet Samuel turned to Saul and said these words, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man that he should change his mind.” 1 Samuel 15:29. God does not lie. He is immutable which means he does not change. He can be counted upon. When everyone else lets us down, God will not. It is true we do not always understand why God allows certain trials to come our way. But wrapped up within God’s unchanging nature are the very attributes which allow God to work in different ways according to various circumstances. For instance, while God is a just God which means he will always act in a right and just manner towards an offense, “ He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” Deut. 32:4, He is also a merciful God which means he forgives offenses as well. “ The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him;” Daniel 9:9. The sacrifice of Christ enables him to do what is right and just as well as show mercy to those who sin.

God is our Father. We may casually pass this attribute off without much thought. “I will be a father to you and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Cor. 6:18. God is, “A Father to the fatherless…” Psalm 68:5a. Jesus compared our heavenly Father to an earthly father who is eager to give his children gifts. If we are Christ followers then we are also members of God’s household. As such we have an inheritance far superior to any this world has to offer. When we feel our own earthly Father has let us down, we can know our heavenly Father cares for us.

God is Patient and Kind. Others may lose patience with us. We may even lose patience with ourselves. We want to try and do better and then mess up time and time again. “I must not fail. I do not want to let others down. I don’t want to let myself down”, might be our mantra. When we do fail we may then feel guilt and shame. It is at those times we are reminded of God’s patience with us. “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy.” Titus 3:4-5. He is not a wrathful God ready to zap us every time we falter. We can stop the guilt and shame knowing that God forgives and is gracious to restore us time and time again.

As such, “God is Faithful” 1 Cor. 1:9. He is faithful to his word. He has said that he is faithful to see us through this life. He is faithful to provide the resources and provisions we need for this life and to then receive us into his glory at the end of our lives. Do you worry about tomorrow? God knows all of the tomorrows. Even when people and circumstances and even Satan throw the most distressing burdens our way, God already knows about it, has ordained it so, and is giving us the tools we need to overcome any ordeal.

Finally, this verse from Zephaniah 3:17 should bring us a great deal of comfort as we meditate on the great love God has for us. "The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." - Zephaniah 3:17

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What does the Bible have to say about theological controversies?

Theological controversies have always plagued the Church, and before that, Judaism. Controversies within the Church have at times mistakenly been called “interpretive issues.” True, we must often rely on Bible translation to convey the accurate interpretation of the original text. And there are also interpretive issues within Scripture in which even the most astute theologians will disagree. Often, however, these matters of controversy have nothing to do with the interpretation of text. They more often deal with humanity wishing to adjust scripture to conform to its own set of beliefs and values. These controversies may deal with such matters as homosexuality, election vs. free will, ecumenical authority, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and numerous others. More often we see scripture being twisted or “interpreted” to conform to human or Church tradition, feelings, reason, experience, and societal norms. In every case, the authority of scripture must always be the basis for any accurate revelation of God’s message.

The Apostle Paul wrote these words to Timothy, “Keep reminding them (believers) of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth”. 2 Timothy 2:14-15. Paul also admonished Timothy in this way, “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” 1 Timothy 6:3-5. Then again Paul charges Timothy with these words, “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.” 1 Timothy 6:20-21. These passages reveal the absolute necessity of adhering to and correctly handling the Word of God. Correct interpretation of scripture must begin with a humble heart in submission to God’s authority through His scripture. A false understanding of the gospel message, or denying it altogether often leads to miss-interpretation of other passages of scripture. Paul had to confront Peter over the matter concerning circumcision. Peter was allowing peer pressure and a false gospel to lead him astray. Paul used the basic truth of the gospel to confront Peter. The matter was laid to rest. A false view of God can lead us in the wrong direction. We often want God to conform to our image of him rather than the other way around. When we allow these other elements such as human and Church traditions, feelings, reasoning, experience, or societal norms to supersede scripture, damaging consequences occur.

Another tendency by believers is to try and fill in the empty spaces, so to speak, of scripture with our own rational explanations. For instance, we often want to know what happens to infants when they die.  Before attempting to answer that question, the better question might be, “do you really need to know that?”, or is it that you simply “want to know that?” So we dig into scripture and when we don’t find what we consider a direct answer to our questions, we try and “fill in the blanks.” In many cases, the Lord is asking us to trust him. Is he faithful? Yes. Is he loving? Yes. Is he sovereign? Yes. In Deuteronomy 29:29, the passage reads, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” Rather than allowing such questions to become divisive and troublesome, we would do well to simply trust God with the unanswered questions. Rest in the knowledge that God is merciful, loving, and just. Hold fast to his revelations which he knows you need to know, not necessarily want to know.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:2-4 “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, or do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” It is not difficult to recognize this truth as it pertains to those who are “perishing”. Believers must guard against those individuals who clothe themselves in a cloak of Christianity, but inwardly wish only to devour and destroy the faith of others. (reference Matt. 7:15-16.) We would do well to follow the example of the Bereans who “were more noble than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11.

Finally, if and when these controversial theologies suddenly transpire in conversations with others, we must remember this admonition from Paul to Timothy, “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:24-25. Consider Jesus, who possessed all knowledge and understanding. Others incessantly threw controversial theological issues at him. As he ministered to others, he never became boisterous or argumentative. He was respectful. He was empathetic. It is true that he spoke and acted with authority, but not in a proud, demonstrative manner. He was meek which means he was powerful but self-controlled. He “spoke the truth in love.” (reference Ephesians 4:15). This “speaking the truth in love” comes from the fourth chapter of Ephesians. (Once we obtain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ), “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:14-15. If we are to grow up in truth, it will only occur under the authority of Christ. Paul associated this with unity of the body of believers. (Eph. 4:13) When will controversial issues cease? When we fall under the authority of Christ and are fully built up in Him.

Is God's revelation to us complete?

“Sola Scriptura” is a term handed down from the reformers meaning Scripture alone. It denotes the sufficiency and authority of scripture as God’s final revelation of himself to man until Christ returns once again for his Church. Some, among Christian circles will argue that God is continuing to reveal his message to man through various means. There is danger in entertaining this doctrine. The Lord’s final revelation comes to us as the New Testament’s final book by the same name. Inserted just before this prophetic account of future events is a short letter written by a little known author by the name of Jude. While referring his readers back to quotes from Old Testament scripture as well as references from the Apostles’ letters, Jude has little additional revelation to add. Instead, Jude is a book of warnings. After Jude’s salutation he immediately writes, “… I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Jude 3b. He then goes on to explain that certain individuals were slipping into the fellowship of believers and were distorting the message of the gospel. Jude then reminds his readers of the condemnation of such men from times past. His passionate message is ardent in its warnings to us about altering scripture. In his words “contend for the faith”, he is referring to the gospel message which encompasses the ultimate revelation of God to those who believe. By writing, “once for all entrusted to the saints”, he is referring to this final message as complete and authoritative. We in the Lord’s Church must “contend” for this final, complete, and authoritative revelation from our Lord. That’s why I am writing this article.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he writes that the Lord’s Church is built upon the foundation established by the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. (Eph. 2:19-20). “The apostles” is in reference to the New Testament writings which point to Christ our salvation. “The prophets” references the Old Testament prophecies pointing to Christ our salvation. Paul’s passionate plea is for God’s people to grasp the unfathomable riches (Eph. 3:8) found through God’s final message to man wrapped up in Jesus Christ.

Paul ends his letter to the Romans by declaring, “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made know through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him” (Romans 16:25-26). Paul, after presenting what may arguably be the best proclamation of the gospel where he pulls together all the previous mysteries of God into a final conclusion, once again emphasis the fact that God’s revelation has now been made known and complete to accomplish the task God intended, “that all nations might believe and obey.”

In another letter to the Corinthians, Paul urges believers by reminding them; “Do not exceed what is written.” (1 Corinthians 4:6) He points out that it is the Church’s task to be stewards of the message already delivered to them.

And yet, we humans still feel there must be more. Paul warned Timothy about such an attitude, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3) Some argue that the words in scripture do not address all the issues mankind faces. In 2 Peter 1:3, we read, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” We already have everything we need. Peter goes on to write, “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:4).

Even so, well meaning Christians continue to believe that God will pour out further revelation through such methods as continued prophecy which usually is uttered through tongues, astounding miracles, or gifted Prophets of God. They justify this belief by citing passages from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthians were, in fact, gifted by God in many respects. God was continuing to bring converts into the Church. His revelation was continuing to be manifested through miracles, prophecies, healings, and speaking in tongues. “For we know in part and we prophecy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). This suggests, once again, that God was still clarifying his message during this first century Church. The Canon of scripture had yet to be declared. The apostles were continuing to illuminate the message of God: Through Jesus Christ we get God back. All of the Old Testament law and prophets were now summed up in this message fulfilled by Christ. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Heb. 1:1-2a). (emphasis my own)

One would do well to read both of Paul’s letters to Timothy where he emphatically warns those who would want to add or distort the simple, clear, and foundational message of the Gospel. In Galatians he writes, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:8-9)

Pride keeps us from being satisfied with God’s final revelation found through the authority of scripture. We would do well to heed the final warning in the Bible found in Revelation 22:18-19, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

What is the difference between natural revelation and Biblical revelation?

Suppose that you had not been born but were created suddenly as a fully functioning, intelligent, and rational thinking adult. To help you imagine this, after reading this sentence I want you to close your eyes briefly then open them suddenly. Got it? Okay, close your eyes for a moment.

Poof! You have suddenly been created. Now look around at your surroundings. What questions might you ask? Perhaps some might be, “Where am I? Who am I? Who made me? Who made all of this? Why am I here?” General revelation, or natural revelation, can only partially answer these questions. As we peer up into the night sky we are awestruck at the vastness of the universe. As we look at the beauty of flowers, or examine the complex and yet, functioning human body, as we view the thousands, or perhaps millions of species of ocean life or watch the intricate workings of a spider as it weaves its web, as these things are revealed to us we cannot help but wonder who designed and created all of this immense and wonderful world and universe? Before any other revelation or explanation is provided, we are already privy to a few things. We may deduce that whoever created the universe must be an enormously superior and powerful being. We then begin to see how everything seems to work in harmony with other things. The seasons come and go with exact precision and consistency. The sun rises and it sets and then repeats the cycle to form an exact measurement of time. The moon cycles through its phases every 28 days. On and on it goes. We then realize this awesome being must be far more intelligent than our mind can conceive. We then experience a strange, but wonderful sensation. We discover it is called love and wonder where it originated. But then we discover the antithesis of this love. It shows up in the form of self centeredness, or even harmful actions by others directed towards us. And then we discover we too have a tendency towards concern only for our own interests. We discover evil and once again wonder why. We know there must be a reason for all of this. We realize there must be purpose in all of this. We realize we too must have some sort of purpose. We now want answers. We must have answers.

Look at the answers evolution supplies. The universe just occurred by happenstance. A big explosion started the ball rolling. This chaos somehow produced order. You too only came into existence by happenstance. There was no reason for your birth. All of the harmony you see around you in the universe occurred over billions of years of trial and error, so to speak. Life just suddenly occurred by some weird event which we can’t explain. There was no designer. There was no creator. You are a victim of chance. Just try and make it through this existence the best you can before you die and go back to being dust.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” Psalm 19:1-2. General revelation ideally can give us some clue as to God, but it cannot answer the big questions. It ideally should lead us to the source of further revelation. Before addressing Biblical revelation, one more issue must be brought up. The factor that keeps us from recognizing the existence of, and accountability to a Creator is a soul within us that is marred by sin. This sin nature within us wants to put our own explanations above any revelation from God. Either that or we want to pick and chose which revelations we will receive into our minds.

Biblical revelation explains general revelation. We have already discussed the inspiration and infallibility of Biblical revelation. The authority of scripture is a higher authority over any judgments we might make about general revelation.

Paul wrote a letter to the Romans where he states, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1:18-20. We are told that men are without excuse. God’s creation should draw us to him. Again, it is our sin nature which suppresses this truth. As Paul goes on to say, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…” Romans 1:22a. It is amazing to me that those individuals we deem as highly intelligent and wise who claim to know the truth concerning creation, can be so utterly foolish. Yes, the world around us reveals certain truths. Our challenge is to not distort those truths by our own pre-conceived notions about life. Again, general revelation should lead us to the source of answers found through Biblical revelation. For then, and only then, can we truly understand the mysteries of creation.

What does it mean that the Bible is infallible and why should it be my authority?

I grew up in the days when the Dallas Cowboys were referred to as God’s team. These were the days of Coach Tom Landry, and players like Roger Staubach and Randy White. The Cowboys were invincible. Everything they did was right and sure. They were, in my mind, infallible. As time progressed, my impressionable mind was discovering that the Cowboys were not infallible after-all. It soon became apparent that everything else was equally flawed. Who or what could I trust to stand firm? As I formed my view of the world, what was going to be the basis of my authority? Okay, I could see that God exists and must be pretty intelligent and grand. But how could I know for sure? I certainly wasn’t going to rely on my own brain to figure Him out. After-all, I was flawed as well. But even with my flawed mind I still needed something or someone to hold onto. There was truth and I just needed to discover it.

I did indeed discover the source of truth, or should I say it found me. I have already addressed the inspiration of scripture. This leads to the premise that it would therefore be infallible, or without error.

Proverbs 30:5 states, “Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.”

Since God’s Word is flawless, I can then hold it out as the final authority in my life and therefore use it as protection against errors and false attacks that will come against me. Psalm 33:4 states, “For the word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all he does.” These words do not convey the writer’s opinion, but asserts that whatever the Lord declares is true and therefore authoritative. As such, we can depend upon the Lord to be faithful to do what He declares. We are reminded repeatedly all throughout the 119th Psalm that God and his word are always true and reliable.

Is the Bible the authority over every area of my life? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, it is the final authority, even indirectly, over every issue in life. However, the Bible only addresses certain issues directly. We are blessed to live in an age where medical science has been able to locate and overcome the effects of disease. While we may regard medical science as the authority on matters of health and wellness, we can also read about God’s directives to the Nation of Israel concerning dietary and sanitation, and there discover that God was actually protecting them from disease. He was their source of health and well-being. Even when we benefit from the findings of medical science, we must not place those findings on a higher authoritative plane than God and His Word. We can see that the Bible is an authority both directly and indirectly over every issue in life.

God has granted us the privilege of discovery. In the 4th chapter of Genesis we learn that certain descendents from Adam became farmers and raised livestock. Other descendents became musicians. Still others were skilled in technology. Men and women became skilled in their pursuits. Much has been discovered and many inventions contribute to our world and lives. Every person may be an “authority” in his or her line of work or interests. God graciously blessed all of us in this regard. Still, we need to be certain that our pride does not try and supersede God’s authority.

Authority is a critical issue in Christendom. The Catholic Church believes that scripture is the product of the Church and, therefore, will hold Church doctrine and tradition as a higher authority over scripture. They will use scripture to try and justify this stance. Isn’t that interesting? This leads to the premise that the Pope is infallible. We are admonished in scripture to “test” those claiming to speak the words of God. In Deuteronomy the Israelites were even directed to “put to death” false prophets. The true prophets of the Old Testament have been found true and reliable against the test of history and alignment with God’s truth. In other words, contradictions do not occur in Scripture. Popes, on the other hand, along with many others who have claimed themselves as a higher authority over scripture have repeatedly been found wanting. Deception and corruption have repeatedly come out of so called Christian circles. Christ himself warned against false prophets. In Matthew 17 he declares, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” Matt 7:15-16a. Their lives reveal their false motives and false authority. We unfortunately see this played out on a regular basis on the media. Therefore, we are wise to trust in the authority of God’s word rather than the authority of men, no matter how convincing the argument supporting their claims.

Therefore, what is the relationship between infallibility and authority? Revelation has come from God through His Word. We must trust the authority of the infallible word of God.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is the Bible inspired by God?

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.’” Exodus 34:27. From these words found in the book of Exodus, we first gain a hint that perhaps the words found in scripture actually originated from the Spirit of God. All throughout the Bible we find the words, “the Lord spoke”, or “God said”, and similar phrases. Research finds that these phrases occur over 2100 times. Of course, many more variations of these words and expressions occur all throughout scripture, advocating the assertion that the words we read came directly from the Lord Himself.  In summary, this sets forth the premise that scripture is inspired by God. The word “inspired” denotes the fact that Scripture, while written by men, was actually authored by God.

Does this mean that all scripture was written under the inspiration of God?  Let’s examine the evidence. In Paul’s charge to Timothy he writes, “… and how from infancy you have known 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, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (emphasis my own) II Timothy 3:15-17.

Paul was not only referring to what we would call the Old Testament. He knew that God was still in the process of setting forth His words to the Church. This same Paul, once known as Saul, had been a persecutor of Christians. When struck blind by Christ, he was directed to the house of a believer named Ananias. The Lord spoke to Ananias, saying, “Go! This man (Saul/Paul) is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (emphasis my own) Acts 9:15

Paul was not a man who merely developed a new religion. He was God’s chosen instrument to bring God’s message to us. Paul claimed the authority of Christ and warned against those who would bring “another gospel, another Christ, or another Spirit” (reference from 2 Corinthians 11:4).

Peter too claimed the authority of Christ in the words he wrote. In 2 Peter he reminds the converts that it is imperative that they remember the words being given to them. He says, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” 2 Peter 1:16. He then goes on to state, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (emphasis my own) 2 Peter 1:20-21. Those who want to claim that scripture is merely the words of men will do well to heed this admonition.

The apostle John referred to Jesus as “the Word”. By this he was denoting the fact that Jesus Christ was the fullness of God’s Word. He is seen throughout all of scripture as to his coming, his birth, his mission, his message, his very being, and his death. 1 Colossians 1:15-19 in speaking of Jesus states, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (emphasis my own) 1 Col. 1:15-19. This is quite a claim but is essential towards establishing the truth and inspiration of Scripture. If Christ were not the “fullness of God”, and if his mission of salvation were not true then we would have good reason to question the authority and inspiration of scripture.

Jesus, in speaking to a large crowd of followers said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (emphasis my own) Matthew 5:17-18. Jesus himself was giving support to the authority and truth of scripture even to the smallest stroke of the pen.

Even more evidence can be provided to support the premise that “All scripture is God breathed…”  2 Timothy 3:15. What it all comes down to is a choice. Either God has left it up to us to try and figure out His truth by whatever means we can find or decide came from Him, or He has chosen to reveal his truth to us through the medium of his choice. That medium is His Word, the Bible.