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, September 8, 2010

Do we choose or does God?

I had a friend ask me,” Does God choose our mate?”

I would like to explore that issue from another paradigm which might actually change the question itself. As I read Scripture, I am fascinated with the collection of individual stories all tied together to form the exact message and content the Lord was intent on delivering to us who put our trust in Him. It is as if one great Author penned every word, forming and conducting every tale and episode conveyed on every page. And yet, these stories involve real people making individual choices. Even more amazing is that groups of dozens, hundreds, and thousands of individuals, all with a divergence of ideas and choices, determined the direction of nations and the course of history.

Or did they?

Let’s narrow our focus somewhat with a few particular examples. Do parents name their children? Well of course they do. I assume the patriarchs found in the book of Genesis named their children as well. The first ten generations of these patriarchs from Adam to Noah were given names by their prospective parents. Each name has a particular meaning in the original language. The combined meanings of these names present a portrait of Christ. Rather than explain it here, I encourage you to check it out on your own. 

Is this merely coincidental? Is it fanciful footwork on the part of the Biblical scholar? I would assert it denotes the absolute sovereignty of our great Creator and Lord even though the choices were made by his created beings.

Was it David’s choice to commit adultery with Bathsheba and to then take her as his bride and produce Solomon who then penned many of the Proverbs which so eloquently convey the wisdom of God?

Was it Joseph’s brothers’ choice to sell him into slavery which sent him to Egypt where he became second in command over all of Egypt which resulted in Joseph’s brothers having to come to Egypt for grain during a great famine which then resulted in their entire family moving to Egypt where the Hebrews then became enslaved and then delivered by Moses who God then used to deliver His laws, message, and His admonition of blessings and curses to His chosen people, not to mention all of the messianic prophecies and word pictures portraying the very nature and mission of messiah found throughout the Pentateuch and Israel’s history? (The run-on is intentional. You might have to read it again.)

Just in case you haven’t picked up on my point, God is sovereign through every perceived good and evil choice made by mankind. I am sure some of you will challenge that with rational human reasoning. Still, this is what scripture denotes. What was true back then is still true today. So how does this relate to the choice of a mate? Just as in every choice we make, we can either choose to live according to God’s standards and principles, or we can choose our own way. In either case, God will have his way. In the matter of choosing a mate, we will most certainly choose to marry a sinner, just as our mate will also make that same choice. In so doing, God will use that person in our lives to work on our character. He will also use us to work on the character of our mate. The daily choices are ours to make. But God knows who and what it will take to make us more like Christ. It might take an abrasive spouse or it might take a godly one. Our obedience and cooperation with God, or our maturity in Christ at different stages of our lives will result in which of those routes might be taken. Even if we choose to later ignore God’s admonishment to remain in the marriage, God will still be working “all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called by Him for His purpose” (Romans 8:28). So not only is God working all things for our good but He will have his sovereign will in the midst of those choices made by us as well as the choices others will make which have an effect on us.

How would I answer that original question? If I could answer how God can say “whosoever will…” and “chosen before the foundation of the world” in the matter of our salvation and have them both be compatible, then I would have to say that we choose our mate and God planned that mate from the beginning of time. And in some cases, the business of choosing a mate might have to be set aside. What does God’s word say? Can we be content and even thankful and praise Him that He has chosen to make us His very own special mate? How I long to be thankful and joyful in praise to my Savior and Lord in any circumstance of life. I may not know this for certain until that circumstance comes my way.

These things are profound and sometimes keep me up at night writing about it and makes my brain hurt.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Is the Bible the actual words of 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. These words found in the book of Exodus, provide the first 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. 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 and are therefore 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” (see 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, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." ( 2 Peter 1:20-21).  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 scripture as to his coming, his birth, his mission, his message, his very being, and even 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 wander aimlessly in search for his truth, relying upon the authority of our own four pound brain, or He has chosen to reveal his truth to us through the medium of his choice. That medium is His Word, the Bible.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Feasts, Fulfillment, and Faith: An examination of the Appointed Feasts of Israel and how they are fulfilled in Christ

Feasts, Faith, & Fulfillment: An examination of the Appointed Feasts of Israel.

Presented by Richlon Merrill

Noah and his family had been adrift at sea for several months. How ironic that death prevailed round about them while Noah and his family performed their prescribed duties within the confines of their coffin shaped ark. Their vessel, a symbol of death, was to this family, their source of life. By God’s grace they had been protected from the destruction which came upon the earth. It would soon be time to disembark upon an anomalous port-o-call. Noah sent forth the dove to explore the earth. Eventually the winged explorer returned with an olive branch… a symbol of hope. The ark had settled down on the mountain of Ararat (meaning in Hebrew, “the curse reversed”) on the 17th day of the 7th month. This date, according to the Hebrew calendar, also happens to fall within the week long Feast of Tabernacles which was later to become one of the Lord’s seven appointed feasts for his coming chosen people; the nation of Israel.

Our Lord sat upon the Mount of Olives, possibly holding an olive leaf in his hands as he spoke of things to come. His disciples, conscious of the coming kingdom on earth foretold by prophets where their Messiah would reign in righteousness, desired to know when this new kingdom would emerge. “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” they asked. Jesus shared with his beloved disciples the kinds of signs that mankind could perceive with their eyes. He knew signs perceived only through spiritual eyes had been previously revealed through the scriptural words of Moses and the prophets. The Holy Spirit would one day open the eyes of the Lord’s servants to His special revelation. Jesus continued. “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.” (Matt. 24:37). Jesus then continued to expound upon this reference to the “days of Noah”. Jesus conveyed hope intermingled with warning. “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” He said. (Matt. 25:13)

Jesus, like Noah’s dove, was holding out hope of God’s appointed day when the earth would produce new fruit… a day of deliverance and refreshment. The account of Noah’s deliverance from death foreshadows an ultimate day of glorious deliverance for the people of earth. Deliverance from the devastating flood, just as Jesus’ account of deliverance from this evil age, is combined with warnings and judgment. Deliverance will be for those seeking His Lordship but judgment for those who turn a deaf ear. We are told elsewhere in Scripture that Christ’s coming Kingdom will reign upon earth for 1000 years. It is referred to as the Millennial Kingdom. Six thousand years, according to the Biblical timeline, have come and gone since the days of creation. “Six days you shall toil”, said God to his chosen nation, “but on the seventh day you shall rest.” (Exodus 34:21 & Lev. 23:3) The earth is on the cusp of experiencing a glorious 1000 year rest and an ultimate fulfillment of appointed feasts by our Lord Jesus Christ, ushering in His long awaited Kingdom.

Through his servant Moses, the Lord began to reveal his principles, requirements, instructions and desires for this newly formed nation of the Sons of Israel. Never before had the Lord revealed himself in this manner to an assemblage of people. It was the Lord’s intent to utilize this nation in order to reveal himself to the entire world. Embedded within the Lord’s required ordinances were his holy convocations, also referred to as His appointed feasts. These were implemented in order that the children of Israel would continue to remember and acknowledge the Lord their God who had delivered them out of bondage. These feasts additionally hold a profound message for you and me.

In order to gain a greater understanding of these holy days, it is necessary to address the calendar used by the Hebrews which God used in establishing the days for observing these feasts. The calendar is based on the phases of the moon. One month constitutes one complete cycle of the moon which is 28 days. One could approximate which day of the month it was by simply observing the phase of the moon. Each month began with a new moon, reaching a full moon at the mid-way point or 14 days later. It is also important to note that a new day began at moon-rise in the early evening hours. This is alluded to in Genesis 1:5, “And the evening and the morning were the first day.” Sun worship was a leading form of paganism, especially in Egypt from where the Israelites had been delivered. Thus, the lunar calendar was utilized.

Every feast finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. As each feast is examined, a further explanation as to its messianic fulfillment will be supplied.


The first appointed feast and remembrance is that of Passover. It occurs early in spring.

“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening is the Lord’s Passover.” (Lev. 23:5)

The first month is the first month of spring or the new moon after the blooming of the almond blossoms. This occurs near Easter in about late March or early April of our calendar. Passover commemorates the Passover of the angel of death back in Egypt when the first born of Egypt perished in one night. Only those who had the blood of the sacrificial lamb applied to the doorposts of their home were spared. The Hebrew people, by faith, were diligent to apply the blood and therefore were delivered from death. The feast of Passover is observed on the very date when the Israelites were delivered out of bondage from the land of Egypt. Clearly this is synonymous with the sacrifice of the “Lamb of God”, Jesus Christ. Through the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God we too are delivered out of death and bondage while given new life.

It is no mere coincidence that Jesus Christ was crucified on Passover. Just as the sacrificial lamb was to be without blemish, so too Jesus Christ was without sin. He was obedient to the Father even to the point of fulfilling every appointed feast. This brings us to the second feast, that of unleavened bread.

The feast of unleavened bread occurs the day after Passover.


“On the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread to the Lord; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.” (Lev. 23:6)

Leaven, or yeast, in the bible, symbolizes sin. Jesus is described in the Gospel of John as the “Bread of life.” He was born in Bethlehem which, in Hebrew, means the “house of Bread.” During the Passover meal in which Jesus established the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, He referred to the bread as His body. Anyone who has seen the Jewish matzoh (bread used in the Passover meal), will notice that it is striped and pierced. The imagery is astoundingly clear as it pictures our Savior who was flogged and pierced on our behalf. As part of the Passover ceremony, the bread is divided into thirds. The middle slice is wrapped up in a white linen cloth and hidden or “buried”. The children are to then find it and produce the unburied bread. Jesus, the second person of the trinity, who died on Passover, was buried on the day of the ordinance of unleavened bread. The imagery just keeps getting clearer and clearer. The next feast to be observed during the week of Passover is the feast of first fruits.


“Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them, ‘When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord for you to be accepted; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.” (Lev. 23:10-11).

The feast of Passover would occur on various days of the week from year to year depending upon the date of a full moon during the first month of spring. But the feast of first fruits was to always occur on Sunday, the day after the Sabbath (Saturday) during the Passover week. Planting would occur in late winter in order to take advantage of early spring growth. The first gleanings of the harvest or “fruit” would soon appear. This first fruit was to be offered to the Lord in recognition of his provision. After-all, it is the Lord who produces the harvest. The term “first fruits” is used frequently throughout the torah (books of the law). For instance, the tithe is referred to as the first fruits of our labor. Quite simply, the Lord should occupy top honor in our affections and agendas.

Christ is referred to as the first fruit of the resurrection. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:12). Christ was resurrected first, followed by the great harvest of souls to be resurrected at the end of the age. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” (1 Corinthians 15:23). Of particular interest is this curious account tucked within the description of bizarre events surrounding the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection. “And the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matt. 27:52-53). Upon His resurrection Christ brought with him the first fruits of souls offered to the Lord. Jesus Christ continued to fulfill the Lord’s appointed feasts.

Jesus Christ, the “sacrificial Lamb of God”, was crucified on Passover. Jesus Christ, the sinless “Bread of life”, was buried on the feast of Unleavened Bread. Jesus Christ, the” First Fruits of the resurrection” harvest, was raised on First Fruits. As the old expression goes, “You couldn’t even make this stuff up.” And it just keeps getting better and better. The next feast to be fulfilled is Pentecost or the “Feast of Weeks.”


“You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete Sabbaths. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the Lord.” (Lev. 23:15-16)

Doing the math and counting down the days puts this feast day on a Sunday in about mid-May. Some of the wheat harvest was used to bake two loaves of bread as an offering to the Lord. These loaves were different from the loaves used in the feast of Unleavened Bread. These loaves were to be made using leaven. Scripture specifically notes that this offering is to be a “holy” offering to the Lord. Holy means “set apart for a special purpose.” Have you caught some of the imagery and implications of this feast day yet?

Observe what occurred on the day of Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection. After Christ was resurrected He remained with the disciples for 40 days before His ascension. (Acts 1:3) He told his followers, “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) The disciples did as the Lord commanded. For ten days they waited. The day of Pentecost had arrived. Devout Jews had gathered to celebrate the feast of weeks. We’ll pick up the story at Acts 2:2: “And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” (Acts. 2:2-4). What just happened? On that day, Christ ushered in the age of the Church. Now look at the correlation. The Church is made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers. The offering to the Lord was of two loaves. The loaves were to be baked with leaven, a symbol of sin. Unlike Jesus Christ, the sinless “unleavened bread”, we, the Church are made up of sinful, “leaven” filled followers of Christ. But the Church which in Greek is translated “Ecclesia” meaning the “called out ones”, are made holy, set apart for service to the Lord. How many of you would agree with me that there are few aromas as sweet as fresh baked bread? Scripture tells us that we are a “fragrance of Christ” to the Lord. (2 Cor. 2:15)

This feast of weeks came just before the hot summer days of working the fields where the threat of pests and adverse conditions would require diligence on the part of the laborers in order to overcome and bring in a bountiful harvest. So too the Church labors in the field where “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” (Matt. 9:37 or Luke 10:2) It would be several months before time to bring in the harvest. It would be several months before the next series of appointed feasts were to be observed on the Hebrew calendar. So too would it be several centuries of the Church age before Christ would bring fulfillment to the remaining three appointed feasts and usher in a new age. After two thousand years of working the fields, the “trump of God” may soon sound and the ingathering of the Harvest of souls will be upon us.


“Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, In the seventh month on the first of the month, you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord.’” (Lev. 23:23-25)

This feast occurs in around late September or early October of our calendar. The days of laboring were just about over as it was time to harvest the crop and rest from your toil. The trumpet was called a shofar, or ram’s horn. Several references to this shofar are found in Scripture. Ever since Isaac, Abraham’s son, was spared by virtue of the ram’s horn being caught in the thicket, God used the horn in proclaiming liberty and signaling triumph. The trumpet was blown by the priests, the people gave a great shout, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. This was the first of many victories by the children of Israel upon entering their “promise land.” Believers in Christ too will inherit a land of promise when the trumpet is blown.

“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

“Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Cor. 15:51-52)

One more: “And I shall send forth my angels with the sound of a mighty trumpet blast, and they shall gather my chosen ones from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.” (Matt. 24:31)

Just as the Israelites “ascended up” (Joshua 6:20) into beautiful Jericho, the oasis city of flower gardens and citrus fruits, after their 40 year wanderings in the desert wilderness, so too will the Church ascend into our heavenly oasis after our wilderness wanderings here upon this earth. Even the leadership of then and now appear to be analogous. Joshua and Jesus are transliterations of the same Hebrew name, “Yeshua”.

The message for the one who has received the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s sacrificial lamb, and given ownership of his or her life over to Christ is this: Listen for that trumpet blast. You are experiencing that 5th appointed feast, the Feast of Trumpets.

The message for the one who has turned a deaf ear to Christ’s warnings and chooses to be the captain of his own soul, is this: You too will be experiencing this feast in the form of an “offering by fire” which also means you will be experiencing the 6th feast, the “Day of Atonement”.


“Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: It shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord.” (Lev. 23:27).

The Day of Atonement occurred just 10 days after the Feast of Trumpets. The term “atonement” refers to the act of making amends or reparation for sin or a mistake. In Christian terminology it refers to the reconciliation between God and man through the death of Jesus Christ. The Day of Atonement, for the Jews, was the most serious and solemn of all days. It was a day of meditation and humility as one considered his standing before God. “It is to be a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute.” (Lev. 16:31). This was the one day in which all of Israel’s sins were atoned for through blood sacrifice. It was the one day in which the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and offer the sacrifice on behalf of the people of Israel. Serious consequences occurred to those who would not humble themselves before God. “If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people.” (Lev. 23:29-30). It was a somber day indeed.

A day of atonement has occurred for everyone who places his or her trust in the person and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). It was Christ’s sacrifice which takes away our sins once and for all. “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” (Heb. 10:1) “And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices which can never take away sins; but He(Christ), having offered sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. (Heb.10:11-13)

An ultimate day of atonement still remains for the unbelieving world. We are reminded throughout Scripture that there is a coming day of wrath upon the unbelieving world. “Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” (Romans 5:9).

Through Christ’s fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets believers will be delivered from this coming day of wrath. Scripture tells us that there will be seven years of tribulation following the rapture of the Church. It is during this time that those still living will be given an opportunity to humble themselves before God or will forever be “cut off” from the presence of the Lord. It was the Church’s mission to take the gospel into the entire world. After the rapture of the Church and during the years of tribulation, the message of redemption will be handed off, once again, to the Jews. We are told in the book of Revelation that the Lord commissions 144 thousand Jews to be his special ambassadors during this time. The final offer of atonement through Christ will be made available to the earth’s survivors during this dreadful outpouring of the Lord’s wrath upon the earth.

Where are the Church and Old Testament Saints during this 7 year tribulation period? Some have speculated that the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb” is taking place in heaven. (Rev. 19:9). The Groom has come to claim His Bride. It is a time of celebration and preparation for the Lord’s marvelous protective Kingdom on earth.


Five days after the Day of Atonement the Jews were to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.

“Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, the fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the Lord.” (Lev. 23:34)

This feast is often referred to as the feast of booths. A booth is basically a tent. This week long celebration commemorates the Lord’s protection for the Hebrews during their 40 years of wilderness wandering. Even to this day the Jews set up small shelters and “camp out” during the week of festivities. Each day was to be a day of remembrance. An “offering by fire” to the Lord was to be made on each of these days. These were to be days of rest. No work was to be performed during this time. The feast concluded on the eighth day with a holy assembly before the Lord.

How fitting it is that this feast commemorating the Lord’s protection should correlate with His protection during His millennial reign upon the earth. The prophets of old spoke often of this kingdom. Ezekiel, Isaiah, Zechariah and other prophets made their message clear. The Lord spoke to Ezekiel saying, “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet…” (Ezek. 43:7a). He was speaking of Jerusalem. This is to be taken literally and not figuratively. Christians often spiritualize this kingdom without considering the reality of an actual earthly kingdom with Christ reigning from Jerusalem. In addition to the many Old Testament references to this kingdom, the book of Revelation brings even more light to the reality of this kingdom on earth saying, “…but they (the Saints/believers in Christ) shall reign with Him a thousand years.” (Rev. 20:6b) The book of Revelation has much to say about the tribulation period and the 1000 year reign of Christ. Picture, if you will, the day of Christ’s return. The “beast” (anti-Christ) along with the false prophet and the armies of the earth assemble together to “fight against Him (Christ) who sat upon the horse and His army (Saints).” (Rev. 19:19). In one fell swoop Christ defeats these defiant ones and establishes His kingdom. All believers who either died before His return or were raptured will reign with Christ. “And I saw thrones and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them.” (Skip to the end of verse 4) “And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” (Rev. 20:4a & 4c) Those who heeded Christ’s call and offer of salvation during the period of the tribulation and who survived will enter the kingdom as mortal men and women. They will continue to work, marry and have children. Satan is bound for the 1000 years but will be released for a short while at the end of Christ’s millennial reign. He will once again deceive the nations and try and take the throne of God but will be defeated. He will then be thrown into the lake of fire, never again to deceive or destroy. At that time we are told in the book of Revelation that a “new heaven and new earth” will be formed along with the “new Jerusalem”. Other than the descriptions provided in Revelation, I am not so sure that any of us can truly visualize what this will be like. What we know is this: Jesus Christ will continue to be our Shepherd, Protector, Guide, and Life. He is our Tabernacle. He is our Appointed Feasts unto the Lord.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What is the "Church" and when did it begin?

Jesus Christ established the Church. He announced to his disciples that he would build it upon the revelation of God’s message to men. (Matt. 16:17-18) It seems a trivial matter to have to explain to some that the “Church” is not a building, although we commonly refer to it as such. The Church, rather, is the assemblage of believers both universally and locally. The word Church comes from the Greek word Ecclesia (or Ekklesia) which means “called out ones”. We are called out of the world for the purpose of proclaiming the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Before Christ’s ascension into heaven, he gave his followers their great commission. His followers, the Church, were to, “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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt. 28:19-20. This is the business to which we, the Church, are to be about. In essence, the Church is to continue the work and message of Christ. When Jesus first appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he gave them this message, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21. Jesus first reassured them, as he also reassures us, that we have peace with God. After this reassurance he then tells them plainly that they are being given the very same mission as himself. Try and imagine the scene. Here were these disciples, meeting behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, who must have felt enormous shame and sense of failure, confusion, and fear. Then suddenly Jesus appears to them and tells them all is well. They are then told that they are being given the authority and mission as ambassadors of God to spread his message to the entire world. Now put yourself in that room and realize that you too, with all your history of failures and shame, as members of Christ’s church, are being given that same privilege.

The Church is referred to in several different ways throughout New Testament Scripture. In 1 Corinthians and Ephesians the Church is referred to as “The Body of Christ.” This conveys the principle of a living organism made up of many parts with each having a specific purpose. Christ is the “Head” of this body. (1 Cor. 12:27 & Eph. 5:23 & 30). The Church is sometimes referred to as a Fellowship of believers suggesting the idea of unity and mutual support. Paul referred to the Church as the “Bride of Christ” utilizing the concept of an intimate relationship and oneness with Christ. (Eph. 5:31-32). The book of Revelation also provides a glorious prophetic portrait of this reality. (Revelation chapters 19 & 21). We are also referred to as the household or family of God. (Gal 4:6-7). Jewish and Gentile believers are adopted into this family with all the privileges and inheritance son ship brings. We have the wonderful privilege of approaching God as our intimate Father. (Eph. 2:19 & Gal. 6:10). Jesus often referred to his followers as a flock or fold. He is our Shepherd. This suggests the idea of guidance and protection. (John 10:16). Both Peter and Paul referred to the Church as “living stones”. We are a structure which is full of life and constantly growing. (1 Cor. 3:9 & 1 Peter 2:5). Jesus employed the imagery of a garden when he indicated that we were the branches gaining our strength and nourishment from the Vine in a garden being attended to by our heavenly Gardener. (John 15). Paul also refers to us as “God’s field” where we are cared for, watered, pruned and given the opportunity to grow. (1 Cor. 3:9).

The Church age began on the day of Pentecost 50 days after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. We are the laborers planting seed and harvesting souls for the Kingdom. The Church will be about this task until the Lord returns. Once Christ redeems the world (not just our souls) and establishes his earthly Kingdom, we the Church will then rule with Christ on earth for 1000 years. The days of laboring under harsh elements will be over for the Lord’s Church as the final harvest will have finally been brought in. Then the whole earth will experience that seventh day of rest under the Lordship of Christ. The Church’s ultimate goal and mission has been and always will be to bring glory to God.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Is it faith or works which makes us right with God?

Paul stood up in the Synagogue in Pisidian Antioch in Galatia and preached these words, “Therefore my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses.” Acts 13:38-39. The Jews to whom Paul preached rejected this message. For they had devoted their entire lives to teaching the law of Moses as the means by which Israel would be found righteous before God. In so doing, they had completely over-looked the glorious portrait of forgiveness immersed within those words handed down to them by God.

The word “justification” is a judicial term meaning a pardon from wrong-doing. In Christian doctrine, it more specifically refers to sinners being pardoned from sin and then declared righteous before God. “Justification by faith alone” therefore, means that we are pardoned from sin and found righteous solely on the basis of our faith in Jesus Christ alone. This doctrine is not one developed by Protestants. It is a doctrine developed by God. It is this doctrine upon which the Church as well as every individual will either stand or fall. It is a doctrine which assaults the very pride of man. And yet, God’s Word over and over confronts man’s insistence that he must earn his uprightness. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “But now 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. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:21-24. And again in Galatians 2:16 Paul writes, “know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” The message is quite clear that justification comes solely through faith in Christ alone.

What is the result of this faith in Christ? “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2.

What then is the purpose of God’s law if it does not result in our being found righteous? “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” Galatians 3:24. How does it lead us to Christ? “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. We quickly discover that we cannot fully observe God’s laws. Even “grading on the curve” leaves us lacking.

Christ, however, commands us to be obedient. Here is where we discover another benefit and truth from faith in Christ. Once again we read in Romans chapter 8, “1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature,] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. 5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind] is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” Romans 8:1-11. As these verses indicate, along with our justification we are given sanctification through the Holy Spirit. This same Holy Spirit is God’s promise of ultimate glorification of those who trust in Christ alone for salvation. “13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13.

Who is the Holy Spirit and what's his job?

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is not a force as in Star Wars fame. We are first introduced to the Holy Spirit in the second verse of Genesis chapter one where we are told that the Spirit of God was “hovering over the waters”. The Holy Spirit was involved in creation. Another early reference to the Holy Spirit is found in Exodus where God tells Moses he has chosen Belzalel , filled him with the Spirit and gave him skill, ability, and knowledge of all kinds of crafts. Here we immediately discover that God’s Spirit is involved in enabling men to perform God’s purposes. The Holy Spirit also gave Moses his ability to lead the Israelites and then did the same for the seventy elders who assisted Moses with his duties. At the moment the Spirit came upon the elders, they began to prophesy (but only did so on one occasion). The Holy Spirit testified to God’s sovereign power. Each time the Holy Spirit is mentioned from this point on throughout the Old Testament, it is always said that the Holy Spirit “came upon” various individuals giving them power to perform specific purposes. The Holy Spirit does not appear to have dwelled within these individuals and only remained for a time until God’s purposes were fulfilled.

This is no longer the case. The Holy Spirit now resides within those who have placed their trust in Christ and his redeeming work on the cross.

Who is the Holy Spirit? He is the “Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power….” (Isa. 11:2). He is the “Spirit of truth” (John chapters 14-16). He is the “Spirit of grace.” (Heb. 10:29). He is the Spirit of glory (1 Peter 4:14). He is our comforter. He is our counselor. He is the giver of spiritual gifts. He produces spiritual fruit in our lives. He is our enabler. He opens our eyes and ears to God’s truth. He convicts us of sin. He empowers us to live our life in Christ and, in fact, brings us new life whereby we become “new creations.” (1 Cor. 5:17). More will be discussed later concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian.

Jesus’ disciples had been with him for three years during his earthly ministry. They heard the actual words of life spoken by this “Son of Man”. Their rabbi performed astonishing miracles before their very eyes, affirming his identity. Ancient prophecies were fulfilled through this man of God. Despite all of this, they had yet to fully grasp the full implications of the truth revealed to them by God. In Jesus’ final discourse to his disciples in the upper room he told them, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” John 15:26. Jesus then went on to explain that when he goes away, the Counselor will come. The Spirit had not yet been poured out into their hearts. Jesus then explained that the Holy Spirit will, “… convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” John 16:8. This is the first task of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. God grants repentance to us through the conviction by the Holy Spirit. (ref. 2 Tim. 2:25).

Without the Holy Spirit revealing our sin to us, we would never come to a place of receiving the righteousness of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who brings us to Christ. He is the essence of our new life in Christ and gives us rebirth. He is the One who “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13a) and, in fact, is our teacher. (referencing 1 John 2:27). The Holy Spirit anoints us with spiritual gifts and enables us to fulfill our purpose in God’s Kingdom. He is the power to accomplish the work for which Christ has appointed us. He is the One who keeps us attached to our Savior and enables us to overcome sin and live in righteousness. He is the one who produces “fruit” in our lives. He can also be grieved when we ignore his sway.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Keep on keepin' on

The Bible has much to say about the need to persevere. Right away the question might be, if Christ is doing his work within us, what need is there to persevere? Perseverance is not the same as working our way towards acceptance by God. In fact, perseverance is an opportunity to strengthen our faith as the trials of life come our way. The definition of perseverance according to Encarta dictionary is a steady and continued action or belief, usually over a long period and especially despite difficulties or setbacks. James had this to say about the subject, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:3-4. Therefore perseverance is an integral component of our maturity in Christ. In the 5th chapter of Romans Paul points out that we rejoice in our sufferings, “because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Without perseverance, the Christ follower would stagnate. The Christian’s character, his or her heart, would not develop. We would lose hope.
We may at times feel that life has become too difficult. We may feel that God has abandoned us. We need to be reminded that Christ himself persevered. The same Spirit which strengthened and empowered Christ lives within those who call upon the name of the Lord. “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” Romans 8:11. One of the ways, then, to persevere, is to stay connected to Christ. In the same way we must stay connected to the Word of God and to His Church. We may often find Christians isolating themselves during times of testing. Peter, when asked by Christ why he and the other disciples did not abandon him after so many others did so, answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68. Such should be our attitude.
One aspect of perseverance is often the need to wait. Waiting is something most of us to not tolerate very well. Counselees will want to overcome issues quickly but we can point them to such passages as Psalm 27:14 which reads, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
We also need to understand and act upon one more component of perseverance. If we are to persevere, we must continually pray. Jesus is our model. During his earthly ministry he often went aside to pray. He knew his strength came from his Father. In Luke 6:12 we are told that Jesus, “… spent the night praying to God.” Paul wrote in Phil 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Paul once spoke of a brother in the Lord named Epaphras who wrestled in prayer for the believers. Prayer is hard work. Instead of striving in our own energy and strength, we should strive, or persevere, in prayer.
The ability to persevere is not its own reward in this lifetime only. James tells us, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12. The writer of Hebrews provides us with a portrait of the who’s who of faith and an example for us to follow. “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Heb. 11:39-40. Then we have these propitious words written to spur us on towards endurance. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Heb. 12:1. How is this possible? “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Heb. 12:2-3. This is a message every believer needs to take to heart.

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.