Bible/Christian Living

An Inconvenient Truth, a Good Testimony

Last night I attended a lecture at the Binghamton Public Library on the topic of Joseph Brant, notorious Mohawk leader.  The speaker was “Buzz” Hesse, who has done a lot of research and archeology on the area, especially regarding prehistory in the upper Susquehanna Basin.  Right from the start he was “politically incorrect”.

Here is a man who discovered and excavated the Iroquois site at Unadilla; who uncovered 4 original letters written by Joseph Brant (one describing the Cherry Valley massacre, one written from Unadilla, and one written from Onaquaga [Windsor]); and who owns the only cannon ever recovered from the Clinton/Sullivan campaign down the Susquehanna. 

Here is a man who gives all the credit to God.

He prefaced his remarks by saying that the things he has been able to do could not be done by a normal person under normal circumstances; and that he is certain that whatever success he has achieved has resulted from God’s blessings.  (The full house sat in tolerant but uncomfortable silence at this declaration.)

He went on to illustrate his point.  As a teen he had discovered half a trade bead on the Sidney side of the river; some 20 years later, at the village site he unearthed across the river, he found the other half of the same bead and recognized it.  He was able to join the two halves (which matched perfectly) and had it photographed and on display.  The odds of that happening are incalculable; it clearly showed the grace of God bestowed on this man’s work.

When he discovered the Unadilla site, it was about to be developed for construction of a new building; he had 4 days to excavate, map, and recover artifacts; then the bulldozers came in.  If he had been one week later, the site would have been lost forever.

Mr. Hesse also pointed out a little-known aspect of Joseph Brant’s character.  This fierce warrior killed dozens (if not hundreds) in battle, but protested the slaughter of women, children, and the elderly; and when he retired from life on the battlefield, he translated and published the Book of Mark in the Mohawk tongue, so that his people could have the Gospel in their own language.  He, too, gave the credit to God.

God does not seem to fit into the modern presentation of history; but He did last night.  It wasn’t a church service, but it was a clear testimony.  Thank you, Mr. Hesse.

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Full Circle

The very first article I ever had published (in a college publication) was about man’s regression–how our intellectual capacity is shrunken, compared to that of the ancients.  Now a Stanford professor has come to the same conclusion.  Read it here.

His argument seems to be that civilization’s progress has interrupted “natural selection” [the death of the stupid ones], allowing their brain mutations to persist in the gene pool and contaminate posterity.  His hope is that our science will one day help us to correct mutations and eliminate the downward trend.

My argument was that mankind is progressively affected by sin and its consequences; and we will not get better until the Lord Jesus returns and miraculously changes everything through Unnatural Selection.

Whichever way you want to go, consider this:  as humanity grows dimmer, it is ever more important for us to be lights in our world, to show people the Truth that never mutates or degrades.  That’s the smart thing to do.

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Mental Illness Is a Long, Dark Ride

I have recently returned from a solo trip to South Carolina and back.  When an unavoidable family crisis prevented Darlene from going to her niece’s wedding and a brief vacation get-away, I had to go alone.  (I truly considered not going, but I had committed to performing the service, so I could not back out.)  In days to come, I will write about some of my other experiences, but for now let me focus on just a couple of aspects.

(I have clinical depression.  In the past I have been suicidal, but not for several months–but my feelings of despair and helplessness have been increasing.  Now I discover that the generic medicine I was given after getting out of the hospital has been pulled off the market by the FDA for being “ineffective”.  I will talk to my doctor about switching to the name brand product, which apparently does work.)

  1. I can force myself (with God’s help) to do what needs to be done.  Based on the many kind comments about the wedding ceremony, I am pleased to conclude that no one could tell how desperately lonely and lost I felt.  I was able to pack up my own things for the return trip.  (Darlene had to pack in the turmoil of the unexpected crisis that prevented her from going.)  I was able to keep the car on the road and avoid rear-ending anyone, even though the distract-ability that accompanies my anxiety makes any drive an adventure.  By God’s grace, I went; I performed my duties; and I returned safely.  It’s not how I would have chosen it, but I can do it when necessary.  Now we will see how my mind reacts to the victorious completion of the task–that is when Satan often attacks us (and not just the depressed or mentally ill).
  2. We are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves; that means we have to have an appropriate appreciation for the person God made each of us to be.  We need to love ourselves without conceit, arrogance, grandiosity, or self-centeredness–some struggle with avoiding the excesses of self-love, others struggle even to achieve an appropriate and healthy self-esteem.  I have been reading I Corinthians 13 and meditating on my own lack of the attributes of love.  But where do I start?  Do I ask God to help me love Him more?  Do I ask him to give me healing through loving others better?  Or do I need to plead that He will enable me to love myself more?  I can pray for all three, but I sense that that leaves my prayers a bit unfocused, and less than “fervent and effectual”.  This is the point where a Christian counselor might be able to take me further than my otherwise helpful secular counselor can do.  I have picked up three Christian books that may help me with this.

I will stop rambling for today.  My writing seems to me to be narcissistic and self-serving.  I am not sure that it will benefit anyone else; but maybe if I am able to come back with an answer to the problem of #2, I will have accomplished something.  After all, I can force myself (with God’s help) to do what needs to be done.

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Non-Contextual Prophecy

I had an interesting response to my post last week about the Parable of the Fig Tree.  A dear pastor friend of mine, who has taught that the blooming fig tree represents Israel in 1947/48, heard that I had written about the parable, and asked what my conclusion was.  I told him that, in context, it could only refer to the signs during the Tribulation period that pointed to Christ’s return to judge and rule.  He said, “That’s right, if you only take it in context.”

Being a thoughtful person, I took his answer to heart and began to ponder our approach to understanding the Bible.  The basic rules of hermeneutics tell us to read it literally, consider the context, compare scripture with scripture to let it comment on itself, etc.  And these rules work very well–until it comes to the area of prophecy.  

There is a whole movement in the fundamentalist/evangelical world that relies on what I will call “non-contextual prophecy”.  Completely apart from traditional interpretive procedures, this movement looks at things like Bible “codes” (secret messages hidden in the formatting of the Bible in a particular language).  Other non-contextualists follow a procedure I nickname the “geo-political approach”, in which they study the situation that presently exists (or a preconceived notion of what will exist), and then look for Bible passages that could have “predicted” what we see today in a prophetic form.  A lot of dispensationalists unwittingly use this approach–starting with their preconceived timeline, they cherry-pick verses to prove their point.   

A third school of non-contextual prophecy would be termed “typology”, which looks at symbolic people, terms, or events, and uses past occurrences of those symbols (or “types”) to interpret or comment on later appearances; and this area of typology is where the fig tree comes in. 

In the practice of comparing Scripture with Scripture, the interpreters claim that in places like I Kings 4:25 and Hosea 9:10, the fig tree symbolizes Israel; therefore the fig tree can be taken as a “type” throughout the Bible. In passages where the fig tree is fruitless or is damaged, that refers to Israel’s judgment; when the fig tree is blossoming, or is a safe refuge for the home, it refers to the restoration of the nation.  The problem with that, of course, is that many other trees are used in the same manner–the olive, the pomegranate, and the apple, to name a few; if the fig tree is a type, then what do these stand for?

The problem with symbols is that they are used differently by different people at different times.  An honest reading cannot conclude that Egypt always represents backsliding, sin, or imprisonment; leaven is not always used to symbolize sin; and the serpent is not always an embodiment of evil.  And, to prove the point, in John 1:48-50, the fig tree is not Israel–it is a fig tree.  One must be very careful in using typology to arrive at prophetic truth.

So is non-contextual prophecy always wrong?  No.

I have often taught that the Gospel writers apparently had a different set of interpretive rules than we have today.  Matthew in 2:23 (recalling the prophecy that Jesus would be a Nazarene) seems to be stretching it.  In fact, of the 5 fulfillments of prophecy referred to in Matthew 2, NONE of them hearken back to a context that would make us believe that they could refer to Israel under Rome in the year 4 B.C.  So was Matthew wrong to use a geo-political approach when he assigned a predictive nature to certain verses after he had already seen what had happened?  No.  He wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and what he wrote is true, even though his method does not match ours.  His God-breathed interpretation of prophetic Scripture is far superior to ours.

Should we abandon our contextual approach to interpreting the Bible?  By no means.  We are not prophets, nor the sons of prophets, and we don’t have God whispering in our ears giving us new revelation or private interpretations.  The best we can do is use the tools available to us, and to be aware that “… as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” (I Corinthians 2:9)  God has prepared a future for us that, according to Scripture, man has not comprehended nor ever will fully understand; for we cannot even imagine it–let alone figure it out. 

All that having been said, my rules for interpreting prophecy are as follows: 

  1. Do the best you can with the tools you’ve got;
  2. Prepare to be wrong;
  3. Be ready for His return.

And, in the long run, the last one is the one that really matters.

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Somebody Owes Me Some Money

We live in a “victim society” that believes that all harm can be atoned for by large infusions of cash.  A bull accidentally got away from its experienced handlers; now both the Fair and the owners are in danger of losing everything because the victims (who suffered minor injuries) “deserve compensation” in the form of bankruptcy-inducing lawsuits.  Is this the American way?

A story out of Colorado is more honest than most:  lawyers already have gathered a group of victims from the recent theater shooting, and are shopping around for someone to sue.  Now, I understand that these people suffered physical and emotional harm at the hands of a wicked, deranged murderer, and that’s a terrible thing.  They deserve our prayers; they deserve proper medical care; they deserve counseling to help deal with the grief and the nightmares.  The question is, who should pay?  The thug who committed the crime is an underfunded grad student whose remaining funds (if any) will be tied up in his own legal defense, supplemented by our tax dollars.  The victims cannot expect to get a dime from the one who caused their harm.  So they start looking for someone else to sue.

Perhaps the theater is really responsible for their pain, and needs to be taught a lesson.  Besides, it’s a large chain and has lots of money; a few million out of their corporate pockets wouldn’t hurt them a bit; after all corporations are not people, so no one is losing out when a corporation loses money, right?

Perhaps the counselors who noticed irregularities in the killer’s behavior should pony up the dough for damages.  After all, even though he had neither threatened nor committed any crime to their knowledge, they should have known what he would do and had him locked away as a precaution. 

And while we’re at it, why not sue his parents?  They produced his rotten genes.  What about his schoolteachers, who molded him into what he is?  And maybe they should go after the movies for teaching him about violence.  Or perhaps they should go against churches for not preventing the movies from teaching him about violence, or the Jews who financed Hollywood, or Edison for inventing the movie projector.

The greed that would demand payment from innocent parties sickens me almost as much as the wickedness that caused the suffering in the first place.

Old Testament law, upon determining the guilt of a murderer, would have executed him swiftly.  In the case of a criminal who caused injury but not death, he would have been forced to make restitution, even if it took years as a bond slave to effect it.  Unfortunately, neither of those options are available under our current legal system.  And there is one other major difference between the Old Testament law and today’s system:  back then, there were no lawyers promoting civil cases for profit.

Maybe all Americans should join a class action suit against the lawyers who have spawned and cultivated our ravenous litigious society.  But who would represent us?

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The (Misinterpreted) Parable of the Fig Tree

For those gentle readers who are students of Biblical prophecy, probably no aspect has been misinterpreted more than the parable of the fig tree, found in Matt. 24:32-34; Mark 13:28-30; and Luke 21:29-32.  Most prophecy mavens start with a preconceived notion based on a predetermined timeline, and with one eye on the imminent rapture of the church and the other firmly on current events.  They are looking for a sign, and they miss the point of the fig tree.

In our Sunday School class, we have been studying prophecy from the bottom up–without any preconceived ideas, patterns, or timelines, we have tried to see what the Scriptures actually say about future events.  (Yes, we are reinventing the wheel; but we’re gonna know the wheel by the time we’re done!)  We started several weeks ago in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.

The disciples asked Jesus how people could know when He was returning and the end of the age would arrive.  He clearly identifies a seven-year time of tribulation in the future, ruled by a false prince, who attacks Jerusalem and destroys the temple half-way through the seven years.  He speaks of the various judgments and occurrences on the earth during the period–He is answering their question about what signs to look for!  And then He gives the parable of the fig tree, the point of which is that when you see the buds, blossoms and new growth, you know that summer is coming; just as when you see the signs of the tribulation, you know that the Lord’s return (and the glorious time to follow) is approaching.  He goes on to say that the generation that sees the signs will see the culmination.

Unfortunately, too many Bible scholars have started with the preconceived notion that the fig tree is a symbol of Israel; that its new growth is the founding of the nation of Israel by the UN in 1947/48; and that Christ must return within one generation from that time–whether 25, 35, 50, or even 75 years of that date; or maybe while any of the people alive in the late ’40’s are still alive.  It hasn’t happened yet, and the interpretations get more stretched, twisted, and desperate by the year.

Read the parable in context:  the point of the parable is that when you see the signs, the fulfillment is coming.  The signs are those of the tribulation period (compare Matthew 24:5-8 with Revelation 6); and the culmination is the return of Christ to earth to establish His kingdom and fulfill all things.  The generation measures the people who live through the judgments of the wrath of God, and who will be alive to see the establishment of the Kingdom.  Matthew 24-25 and its parallel passages have nothing to say about the Rapture of the Church or any countdown during the Church Age.

Let me encourage you, Gentle Reader, to consider two things:

  • Listen to the Word itself, and read it with your reference Bible in hand so that you can compare Scripture with Scripture; and don’t read the notes or commentaries until you have figured out what the Word is saying.  Be more noble like the Bereans, and read it and understand it for yourself; and
  • Having realized that there are not going to be any signs leading up to the terrible 7 years of judgment; and knowing that 1/2 the world’s population will die and go to Hell during the first half of that time period; DON”T TAKE ANY CHANCES!  Make sure of your standing with God today!  Are you a child of God, adopted into His family through the “born-again” experience of regeneration?  Have you cast yourself on the mercies of Jesus Christ, Who loves you and gave Himself for you?  When you see the Lord coming, will you rejoice to join in His presence, or will you try to flee from His wrath?

Don’t worry about the fig tree or what it stands for.  Know the One who made the tree, and live.

 

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Stories From the Psych Ward–Preacher’s Story (Abridged)

This morning I have the privilege of speaking to a group of pastors, and I want to convey to them the difficulty that the church today has in facing the issue of mental illness.  I am considering using this shortened version of “Preacher’s Story” from my book to dress the problem in flesh.  But I thought as long as I had it out and was tinkering with it, I would share this version with my Gentle Readers.  Enjoy.

Preacher’s Story

During our stay on the psych ward, Preacher and I had several long discussions.  From the start, the big man asked me a lot of questions.  I let down my defenses and told him my story.  When I was done, he asked:

“Do you believe you’re still a Christian?”

I sighed.  “Jesus promised everlasting life to everybody who would put their trust in Him.  Everlasting means forever.”

“Even though you tried to kill yourself?”

“Look—my mind isn’t what it used to be, but unless it’s changed in the last few days, everlasting still means everlasting.”

He paused.  Clearly, he could see that I was getting testy, but he asked one more question, in a tone more sincere than the others.  “How do you know whether your depression is sickness or sin?”

I just looked at him.  That was the question for any person of faith, wasn’t it…. 

 

As we continued our discussions, I learned more about my roommate.  He was pastor at a local church, and had taught—”…thoroughly, vigorously, and repeatedly…”—that there was no place for depression or even discouragement in a true believer’s life.  After all, the Bible says that “…all things work together for good…:” for those who love God.  Feelings of guilt came from sinful thoughts or acts.  Despair was a failure to believe the promises of God—or, possibly, a demonic influence in one’s life.

“Needless to say, we didn’t have any members in our church suffering from mental illness,” Preacher said with the slightest hint of irony.

 

Another time, he asked me, “Who knows what happened to you?”

“My family.  My pastor.  A select group of friends.”

“Will you tell the members of your church?”

“I don’t know.  Some would understand.  Some would think the way you do.”  I felt brave, so I pushed the limit.  “So what are you going to tell your church?”

He got up and walked away without answering.

 

After dinner, he came and sat down across the table from me.  “Do you know why I’m here?”

I couldn’t resist a little sarcasm.  “Let me guess:  you tried to drown yourself in the baptistery, or maybe you tried to perform an exorcism on yourself.  It must have killed you to come here.”

“Psych ward humor?  Not funny.  Actually, I cursed out one of my board members.”

“Seriously?”

“And then I went home and hit my wife.  And then I broke down.  It was not my choice to come here, but I should probably be grateful that she called the crisis center instead of the police.”

He told me of the struggles he had encountered in the military, before he got saved; and how, even after seminary, marriage to a pastor’s daughter, and 30 years in the pulpit with a reputation for preaching hellfire and brimstone, he still struggled.

He suffered from flashbacks and nightmares, fears, and rages.  He fasted and prayed, and never missed a Sunday. His church never knew.  His family took the brunt of it. 

“And then it all came out in a church business meeting.  Things got heated and I lost it, then went home and…you know the rest.” 

“I’m sorry for you—I truly am.  But I have a question for you,” I said.  “You don’t think you belong here, do you?”

“Of course not.  What does it look like for a pastor to go to the world for treatment, instead of to a Christian counseling center?”

“Did you have a choice?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“This is where my wife brought me.  Besides…”

“Go on.”

“I run the Christian Counseling Center.”

“You don’t believe in mental illness, but you run a counseling center?”

“There’s no problem that a proper understanding of Scripture can’t solve.”

I paused to let the irony of his own words sink in.  “How’s that working for you?”

Preacher studied the surface of the table.  I continued.

“Have you gotten medical tests and professional counseling since you’ve been here?”

“Yes.”

“Have they given you a diagnosis?”

“Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.”

“Is that a sickness or a sin?”

“A sickness.”

“And can the Lord still use a man even if he’s sick?”

Preacher looked up and nodded.  “But I don’t know if my church will even want me when they know about…this.”

“You want my advice?  Apologize for your behavior, but not for your depression.  Ask the members to pray for you and be patient with you while you and the Lord AND the doctors work this out.  They’ll probably come right alongside you and be completely understanding and supportive.  Unless, of course…”

“Unless what?”

“Unless their pastor did too good a job convincing them that depression is a sin problem rather than a sickness.”

Preacher sighed, shook his head, and swallowed hard.  “For once, I hope I wasn’t as good a preacher as I thought I was.”

His wife, listening at the door, spoke up.  “Don’t worry, Honey.  You weren’t.”

 

 

 

 

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Close Your Eyes, Full Speed Ahead

I get so sick of political correctness.  The Bible teaches us to be kind, and to treat others as they would like to be treated; but when people demand to be treated in an unreasonable way, that’s a problem.  When so-called authorities who aren’t even in the game demand that we treat others in an unreasonable way, that’s idiocy.

My daughter sent me this link to an article involving the US State Department, and its latest directive from its “Chief Diversity Officer”.  He claims that phrases like “hold down the fort,” “rule of thumb,” “handicap,” and “going Dutch” are offensive racial or ethnic slurs that must be avoided.  He identifies their victims as Native Americans, abused women, people with abilities impaired, and people from Holland.  There are two problems here:  since when did the State Department become the language police?; and where on earth did this guy get his information?

As an English teacher, I have a library of books on the origins of words, phrases, and expressions.  There is no doubt in any of my sources that the term “going Dutch” was a British insult based upon the stereotypical reputation of the stinginess of the Dutch people.  It hasn’t meant that in America for decades, but okay–I can avoid that expression on principle.  But there is also unanimous agreement that “holding the fort” [its original form] dates to 1864, when Gen. Sherman commanded his troops to watch out for the Confederate army.  It has nothing at all to do with frontiersmen or Native Americans.

(On a related note:  if Native Americans were to attack a fort in a savage attempt to slaughter its inhabitants, would it be ethnically insensitive to consider them bad guys, and to make up and repeat a historically accurate expression reflecting their evil intent?  The Creek Indians were known for their attacks on settlers; must we whitewash or ignore history and eliminate from our language the expression, “I’ll be there, Good Lord willing, and the Creek don’t rise”?  For that saying has nothing to do with a babbling brook and everything to do with murderous tribesmen.  Do we have to apologize to the Creeks every time we refer to their bloody past?  If so, then I guess I deserve an apology every time anyone refers to my ancestors as “William the Bastard” or “wicked King John”.  I won’t even mention King Louis the Fat.)

“Rule of thumb” has nothing to do with some obscure antique law from some unnamed land (that apparently spoke some form of English), and instead dates back 8 centuries to when builders would use the distance between the knuckle and the end of the thumb as a rough approximation of an inch–using the thumb as a ruler.  “Handicap” has nothing to do with crippled people begging; it refers to a gambling game that lent its name to gambling on horses and the practice of weighing down or impeding a fast horse in order to make a race fair.

I guess it’s wishful thinking to expect our State Department to focus on things like Iraq, Syria, and Israel instead of fabricated word origins.  But as long as I’m on a rant, let me share three examples of my own “political correctness” that I think everyone needs to rally around:

  • The genius of our Founders in the writing of the US Constitution.  Every American ought to be insulted and say so when some politician, academic, or reporter denigrates the wisdom of their original intent;
  • The status of the Jews as God’s chosen people.  For centuries, society and history have criticized the Jews (primarily because of their successes and blessings); and today’s one-world emphasis considers them an impediment to justice for Arab Palestinians.  Remember:  it was God Himself Who said of the Jews, “I will bless him that blesses them, and curse him that curses them…”;
  • The name of God Himself.  We should not be shy about reminding people that the King of all Kings and Lord of all Lords deserves to be addressed with respect, reverence, and obedience.

And my sources are unimpeachable.  I guess I’ll never be qualified to work for the State Department. 

 

 

 

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No Teleprompters Pt. 2–A Bible Study

Last week I wrote about a Biblical prophecy regarding the coming 7-year judgment on the earth that we know as the Tribulation.  Early in that time period, Christians will be persecuted, and this persecution will give them an opportunity to testify what Jesus Christ has done for them.  They are told NOT to plan, prepare, or script what they are going to say, but rather to let the Holy Spirit fill their mouths with words and wisdom that cannot be contradicted or “resisted”.

At that point I left off, leaving open the question of what it means that the testimony of the Spirit of God will not be resisted, and suggested that you, Gentle Reader, do some research or come to my class on Sunday.  For those who couldn’t make it, here were my conclusions.

I read the Bible literally.  If His words cannot be resisted, then they can’t be resisted.  Everyone who hears His testimony will believe in the person and power of God.

HOWEVER–That does not mean that they will all gladly accept the message.  According to Rev. 6:15-17 and 9:20-21, many will flee from God and would rather die than repent.  They believe the Word (just like the demons do in James 2:19) but they would rather tremble and seek death than seek mercy and peace with the Savior.  Why would they stubbornly do that rather than receive salvation, peace, and a home in glory for eternity?

The answer to that question is two-fold.  Many of those who do believe and gladly receive the Gospel will die for their faith (Mark 13:12; Luke 21:16; Rev. 7:9-17; and Rev. 14:1-13).  Now, to the true Christian today, we say we would rather die in righteousness than live in wickedness–but if you haven’t noticed, a lot of us who name the name of Jesus are living in wickedness even without the threat of death upon us.  But I can imagine that some in that day, out of the evil and fear in their hearts, will reject salvation rather than risk martyrdom.

The other reason why many will believe in the judgment of God but refuse His deliverance is found in 2 Thess. 2:1-12.  The apostle Paul, under the inspiration of that same Holy Spirit, taught that, at some point during this 7-year period, God will send confusion to the minds of those who have rejected Him up to that point, so that they will believe “the lie” and be eternally condemned.  In other words, according to vv. 11-12, God will no longer allow some the choice of salvation.  They have had their chances; His Word has been clear and believable; and still they have rejected Him as Savior and Lord.  Their time is up.

Would a loving God do that?  A loving God would give them chances–perhaps many chances–to be saved.  And He has.

Would a holy God allowed open rebellion in His Heaven?  A holy God might allow it on earth for a time–but that time will come to a sudden and final end.  And woe unto those who delay receiving Him!

Gentle Reader, while this is a cautionary teaching about the future, it holds a principle for us today.  If God is calling you, believe AND receive Him.  Today is the day of salvation.  Drawn by the Holy Spirit, call out to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, and pour your heart and life at His feet.  Don’t worry about getting the words right; just speak from the heart–no teleprompters allowed.

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Theological Politics

A letter to the editor in our local newspaper today excoriates a political candidate for misrepresenting Catholicism–for promoting policies that are not loving and sharing enough.  It seems odd to read this concerned Roman Catholic writer condemn the politician for religious hypocrisy, while he himself promotes a candidate who supports abortion rights (which are a clear violation of Vatican doctrine and policies).

Well, I’m not Catholic, but I can tell you what kind of political positions the Bible promotes:

  • Moral laws and just (and swift) punishments;
  • A flat income tax;
  • Distrust of powerful government;
  • Parental control over education;
  • Utilizing our natural resources, but doing it wisely;
  • Work as the normal means of income/support;
  • Family responsibility for its own elderly and poor;
  • Sanctity of human life and marriage between a man and a woman;
  • National exceptionalism, and intolerance toward enemies of the state;
  • Equal opportunity for every individual to grow from the condition into which they were born;
  • Protection of private property;
  • Wisdom and benefits in seeking profit;
  • Individual concern and care for the indigent–especially widows and orphans.

I could go on, and I could give you Scripture references for every one of these points.  And come to think of it, I could give Constitutional references for most (if not all) of them as well.  And I do not believe that we can expect God to bless out land if we knowingly violate His principles as we understand them from His Word.

Socialist, Progressive, Liberal, Moderate, Conservative, Libertarian, Anarchist–all of these are titles defining a political viewpoint.  Let me add the most important one of all:  Bible believer.

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No Teleprompters Allowed! A Bible Study

Don’t you hate it when you ask a question and all you get for an answer is a canned, preplanned, predetermined scripted response?  That’s the problem I have with so many of the touch-tone telephone contact menus–the recorded voices often don’t answer MY question or allow any follow-up.  It’s also why I have stopped watching most of the presidential candidate debates:  the answers are already written, practiced, and memorized, and will be recited regardless of what the question is.  (I do follow the debates by reading various sources the following day to see if someone actually said something new or important.)  It’s when people get away from the script and speak their mind that we get a true picture of who they are and what they believe.

In the Gospels, Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 all cover the same teaching from our Lord concerning the coming 7 years of judgment on the earth; and both Mark 13:11 and Luke 21:14-15 both refer to an interesting detail.  Once the false prince arrives on the scene, accompanied by war, famine, disease,and all kinds of troubles, many believers will be killed for their faith–but before they are killed, they will be given the chance to speak.  And what should they say?

Whatever comes out of their mouths!  The believers of that day are specifically told NOT to prepare a speech, and not even to think about what they are going to say.  (If, as I believe, all the people in question have been Christians for only a very short time, they might not have the Biblical knowledge  or spiritual maturity to give a convincing answer.)  Rather, the Holy Spirit will speak through them in words of wisdom that the adversaries will not be able to refute or resist.  When the Spirit speaks, He will reveal Who He is and what He stands for–without any misplaced modifiers or debatable statistics!  And the listeners will know that they have been spoken to, and will not be able to ignore His message!

Does that mean that the church today should just sit around and wait for the Holy Spirit to do our witnessing for us?  No, He plays His own role in the process; but it is we as followers of Jesus who are commanded to go, preach, and make disciples.  And if we are going to be effective, we do not need a scripted, predetermined testimony–we need to have some Scripture in our heart, a salvation experience we can share, and a genuine love and concern for the lost souls around us.

So–when Luke 21:15 says that the adversaries will not be able to resist the words of the Holy Spirit, is that a commentary on the Sovereign Grace vs Free Will debate?  Does it mean that they will all become believers themselves?  Or does it mean something altogether different?  Study the passages I have referenced along with Revelation 6-7 to discover the answers, or come to my Sunday School class this week!

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Wrong on (Almost) Every Level

I’ll let you read the article for yourself.  I wonder who turned this story in to the media, and why the reporter thought it was newsworthy.  Did the journalist think the student, the school, and the author were right or wrong?  Here’s my grading scale:

  • The school assigning the book:  WRONG
  • The student wanting the advantage without reading the book:  WRONG
  • The student making outrageous excuses to get out of work:  WRONG
  • The author motivating the student with sex, drugs, and profanity:  WRONG
  • The author telling the student to do her  own work:  RIGHT
  • Overall grade: 20% (F)

I wonder what the story would have been if a committed Christian had gone on line protesting the book assignment as a violation of God’s standards and her personal spiritual convictions.  Would she have been portrayed as a bigot rather than as a lazy teen; or would the story even have been acknowledged?

Hold on, Christians–I’m afraid the ride is just going to get bumpier before we get to the streets of gold!

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The Gold Rush

One of the highlights of our vacation was a visit to the Transportation Museum in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada.  Among the artifacts from the construction of the Alaska Highway in the 1940’s, and the age of steamboats on the Yukon River during the first half of the 20th Century, were a few photos and items from the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890’s.  Though I have read a good deal about this era, seeing the representations reminded me of some spiritual applications.

When news of a gold strike reached the states, whole families traveled north, through tortuous conditions, just in the hope of having a better life.  Most went home disappointed.  Aren’t you glad that, as Christians, our gold is guaranteed and forever?  And don’t you wish more people would diligently seek the One Who is, and is the rewarder of those who seek Him?

Many prospectors traveled north over the Chilkoot Pass, with hundreds of steps carved into the ice-covered incline, in the hopes of having a chance to look for gold.  However, a requirement established for public health dictated that each person bring 2,000 lbs. of supplies–requiring about 20 trips up and down that steep pass in order just to qualify for the inspection to allow them into the region.  Many pack animals couldn’t survive the trip (hence “Dead Horse Pass”) and dozens if not hundreds of men failed in their attempts to reach the “promised land”.

Aren’t you glad that we don’t have to amass and carry a ton of good works in order to enter God’s presence?  “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God–not of works–lest any man should boast.”  If we know Christ, the way has been made smooth, our tickets are prepaid, and one day the Great Conductor will arrive in that Glory Train to take us to the place where gold is pavement and the Lord is the true Treasure!

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R.I.P. Religious Freedom–August 1, 2012?

While many aspects of the Affordable Health Care Act do not take full effect until 2014 or later, one feature kicks in next Wednesday:  the requirement that employer-provided insurance coverage include abortions and other procedures and products considered sinful by many religious Americans.

Most people know that churches themselves and their subsidiary ministries are exempt; but secular businesses (and non-profit organizations) whose owners or directors are morally and spiritually opposed to providing contraceptives or abortions to their employees will have to choose between obeying their religious convictions and facing government penalties, or obeying the law and facing the displeasure of God.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”

This issue was not addressed by the US Supreme Court in their recent ruling, and is certain to be the subject of lawsuits for years to come.  So what can we do in the meantime?

  • Pray that people of religious conviction will be true to their conscience, regardless of the consequence;
  • Pray that judges will issue the appropriate restraining orders to stop implementation of the law or assessing of penalties;
  • Pray, campaign, and vote intelligently for Congressmen and Senators who will dismantle this attack on people of faith.

Unfortunately, it won’t do any good to contact your current legislators at this time.  They will not take any action until after the election, and the deadlock between the houses virtually guarantees no favorable action in lame-duck session.  After the first of the year, it will all depend on how America votes in November.  Pray for wisdom and righteousness to prevail.

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A Different Sermon

In the near future, I will be preaching at my son-in-law’s church on the mission field.  I am well-experienced in preparing and presenting Bible messages, but preparing a sermon for indigenous people is a whole different story.  These are people who have a strong oral tradition, based on storytelling and a cyclical (as opposed to linear, exegetical) approach.  Derek Baker and I have discussed this approach over the years–during his training and since he has been on the field.  So I thought I would try my hand at it.  I sent the following treatment ahead for approval, and both Derek and Jen think that it will work.  Now it’s up to the Lord to help me with the presentation.

I cannot imagine preaching Revelation 4-5 like this in any of the churches I have attended over the years; but, in this post-Christian era, we may find someday that we have to use a similar approach in order to reach a generation that has never been exposed to the Bible or the wonderful message of God’s grace.  Let me know what you think.

What God Reveals

Revelation 4-5

God opened a door for a man named John to see into His Heaven.  And what did he see?

1.  He saw the throne of God, occupied by the Almighty and Indescribable Father of all things, and surrounded by beauty.

2.  He saw seats for the elders.  These are the men who knew God, and served Him, and delighted to be with Him.  They wear crowns, for they are worthy of respect.  But they are not God.  They were made to worship and serve God, and learned to do so through their lives on Earth.

3.  John saw the power of God, shown through lightning, thunder, fire, and the wind of His Spirit.  But nature is not God; it was made for His pleasure, and to point us to God.

4.  There were also four remarkable beings made by God.  They are spiritual creatures, wise and with wings, yet with faces familiar to us:  a lion; an ox; a man; and an eagle.  As wise and powerful as they are, they are not God; they are creatures made to worship and serve God.

5.  He saw angels–millions of them, mighty and loud.  But they were not God.  They were created to praise and serve God.

6.  He saw the world.  In God’s hand, it looked to him like a little book, or a scroll, and it was sealed up as if the world had shut God out, and didn’t want to know God or have Him move in their lives.   The world was not God, though God held it in His hand.

7.  He saw despair, as all Heaven sorrowed for the earth that had shut itself away from God, and was missing His beauty and His glory.  He saw anguish as all the creatures of Heaven cried out for a way for God and His world to be reunited in beauty.  The elders could not open the world to God; the four living creatures could not open the world to God; the millions of angels could not open the world to God.  Only God could make a way.

8.  So Father God made a way to open up the earth to Himself.  His way was a special being that we read about in other places–Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and God Himself.  John saw him as a Lion in power, a King in authority–and a lamb, offered as a sacrifice.  For the world’s separation from God is called sin; and the only remedy for sin’s effect was a blood sacrifice.  Yet no animal was worthy to die for the sins of the world; no man was worthy, for every man had sinned and was separated himself.  This lamb, Jesus, had proven that He was worthy, by winning the greatest victory of all time.  He had died because of sin, but He defeated death and came back to life because He was the Son of God, and just as much God as God the Father.

9.  And John saw every creature in Heaven and on the earth worshiping and giving glory to Father God on the throne, and to the Lamb of God.

Rev 5:13-14  And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: “Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.”  (14)  And the four living beings said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb.

Can we say those words with every other living creature, or are we still living a life separated from God?  We can come to know Father God and Jesus the Son of God, but only if we are willing to worship them.  For they are God.

 

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