Sunday, January 15, 2017

Did Jesus Really Say He Was "Coming Soon"?

"Jesus is coming soon!" is a common expression in the evangelical church; but given that it has been 2,000 years since He left, skeptics frequently throw this expression out and ask "What gives?" Even stand-up comics sometimes use this in their routines to make fun of Christians and the Bible.

So what's going on? Is the Bible wrong? Is the Second Coming of Christ just another empty religious prophecy? Or is there another answer?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Prayer for Israel in Troubled Times

Father, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I come for myself and my family, and affirm the truth of your word that you have not cast off the children of Israel nor disavowed the covenant you made with Abraham to bless him and his descendants forever. Through Abraham, you brought about the Messiah, and he is the one who will inherit the promises; he and all who are in him, the natural branches as well as those who have been grafted in by faith according to your mercy. Of his kingdom there shall be no end, and Jerusalem shall be made a praise throughout the earth.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I speak blessing over the Jewish people. Remember your promises to them, promises to which they cling even now, although in ignorance that Messiah has already come. Multiply your blessings to them for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and all who have placed their faith in your word and in the name of your blessed Son. Lift the partial blindness that has fallen over them, that the son of righteousness may rise upon them with healing in his wings. Draw Jacob to your embrace, and Israel to your bosom once more.

Now, Father, ambitious men are entering into league with one another and drawing their plans against the Jewish people and the land you have repeatedly said is yours, where you have chosen to establish your name forever. Men have sought to do these things before, but never have they been so near to achieving their aims. For myself and my family, I disavow their actions. The land is yours, and only you have the right to give it to whomever you will. These are evil men, seeking to divide what belongs to another. They hold positions of authority, but they do not speak for all who live under their dominion. Indeed, as a nation we have chosen new leaders who have vowed to oppose their aims, and for this reason they are acting with haste, seeking to implement their schemes before power is taken from them.

Oppose them, Father. Let the fear of the Lord fall upon them and their allies and scatter them before they can do harm. Send your angels to bind the powers behind them, and to loose confusion and futility in their ranks. If it be your will, may they repent and turn from what they seek to do; but if they will not turn, and it is your will - for whatever reason - that they continue in their plans, even if only to stumble into their judgment, remember those of us who spoke against them and turn away your anger from us.

In the name of your blessed Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom all authority is given in heaven and earth, we affirm your purposes and declare that we are in your hands, amen.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Should You Answer a Fool or Not?

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” – Proverbs 26:4-5
Is this a contradiction?
No, this is a comparison/contrast. The ending of each verse tells us what is intended by the first admonition.
In verse four, we are warned against being like the fool, or answering him foolishly, that is, answering in such a manner as there appears to be no difference between us (manipulation, name-calling, wild accusations, sensationalism, "I know you are, but what am I?," etc). In verse five, however, we are counseled to rebuke the fool lest he appear wise, and to do so in a manner that cuts to the heart of the issue. I could point to numerous examples of this in politics and the media, where people routinely say foolish things but come across as intelligent and reputable in the eyes of some because their assertions go unchallenged by critical thinkers who know how to expose such things.
Taken together, these verses are counseling us to combat foolishness by addressing why something is foolish rather than by acting like fools ourselves.


*Image credit: Karen Arnold - www.publicdomainpictures.net
http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=34596&picture=question-mark

Response to Tim Kaine on Genesis and Gay Marriage

The following is a video I made back in September but somehow forgot to include on my blog at that time.

In his keynote address at the 2016 Human Rights Commission's dinner, former Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine stated that religious attitudes on gay marriage will eventually change because, in the first chapter of Genesis, God pronounced his creation of mankind "very good." Mr. Kaine's comments demonstrate an appalling lack of biblical literacy, to say nothing of a lack of critical thinking skills. He has taken the practice of twisting scripture in the name of promoting a socio-political agenda to a whole new level of ridiculousness.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Righteousness by Law versus the Righteousness by Faith

For I testify about them [the Jews] that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: 'Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).' But what does it say? 'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart'—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved... - Romans 10:2-9
Paul's phraseology in this passage can be a little confusing, so if you've ever wondered what he's getting at here, I hope the following will be of help.
The context is the righteousness that comes through Christ by grace versus the righteousness offered by keeping the Law of Moses. Paul regrets that his fellow Jews, while zealous for God in their own way, have as a whole rejected Christ, who is the end (or fulfillment) of the quest to find favor with God. As Paul points out here, they were trying to "establish their own righteousness."
To understand what Paul is getting at, we need to think back on how the Jews operated under the Law of Moses.
The Law was a system of observances, commandments, offerings, and animal sacrifices. Atonement for the sins of the people was achieved by the sacrifices, which were performed by priests, first in the Tabernacle and, later, in the Temple. These sacrifices had to be performed continually, and once per year - on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) - the High Priest would offer a sacrifice for the sins of the entire nation. This system allowed sin to be "covered" but not done away with (see Hebrews 10), as is testified by the fact that the sacrifices had to be performed continually - day after day, year after year.
Christ, on the other hand, was the "once for all" sacrifice for sins; once his work was done, it never needed to be repeated (Hebrews 9:25-28; 10:8-18). He was sent to mankind by God and, after being offered up, was raised to life again by God.
Contrast this with the sacrificial system under the Law:
When the Jews needed a sacrificial lamb, they selected one from their flock after visually inspecting it for blemishes. If it was found "pure" in this fashion, it was then put to death in a prescribed manner and consumed. The Jews could do this at will.
As the "Lamb of God," Christ was not selected by men but by God himself. God sent him to mankind, and, after he was offered, raised him up to life again. Men were incapable of this sort of sacrifice, and that is Paul's point in Romans 10:2-9. Under the Law, men could select their sacrificial lamb from among their flocks; but "Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down)"? And the sacrificial lamb, once slain, could not be raised to life again. "Who will descend into the abyss? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)." The resurrection is an essential factor in the gospel, not merely an impressive miracle. Christ's death satisfied the penalty for sin, but only his resurrection gives us new life (John 6:57; 14:19; I Corinthians 15:12-19).
Thus, from beginning to end, salvation through Christ is entirely a work of God, offered by his grace and accessible solely by faith. Man cannot obtain this righteousness by any system of works. He could never offer this sort of sacrifice for himself. Thus, "the righteousness based on faith" says, effectively: "Don't ask what man can do this for you; rather, believe that God has done it for you, and submit to the sufficiency of it."


- Scriptures quotations taken from the NASB
- Photo King Solomon dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem, by James Tissot (public domain image)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Tips for better understanding the Bible

Many people are interested in reading and studying the Bible but find it difficult to understand and become discouraged. The following are some tips that may help you understand it better and enjoy it more:
1. Like any other book, the Bible builds on itself. There is plenty you can understand without having read the whole thing, but to properly understand its overall message, imagery, deeper themes, and repeated references you really need to take the time to build a working knowledge of the whole book. The more you know about it, the more readily you'll be able to link passages together and form complete pictures of what is being presented (and the quicker you'll recognize error when you hear it). Cults and false teachers would not be nearly as successful as they are if people had a broader base of Bible knowledge from which to draw.
2. Context, context, context! Some of the worst mistakes people make in their efforts to understand the Bible (and what it reveals about God himself) are rooted in taking scriptures out of their context. This is especially problematic in Paul's epistles, as Paul regularly engages in lengthy discourses about the topics he covers. Base your reading around themes rather than individual verses or the scriptures parceled out in suggested reading guides. For instance, if you want to understand Hebrews chapter 6, you're going to need to understand chapters 1 through 5 first. This is going to require some time and effort, but there is simply no other way to properly understand scripture.
3. Do your best to avoid reading the Bible through "lenses" provided by books, study guides, and popular teachers. As good-intentioned as most of these are, virtually everyone brings preconceived notions and doctrinal biases to their teaching, and it's easy to fall into the habit of trying to understand the Bible according to what Dr. So-and-so thinks. One of the best things I ever did was to read the Bible from cover to cover without any particular doctrines and perspectives in mind, just allowing it to speak for itself. Be sure you believe what you believe because you, personally, are convinced of it rather than because someone you respect is convinced of it. Remember that the vast majority of pastors and teachers come from denominational institutions that were established to defend and perpetuate certain theological belief systems.
4. If you consult study guides, start off with theologically-neutral resources such as Bible dictionaries, interlinears, and concordances rather than with commentaries. These things will help you understand the text without necessarily coloring your view of it. I would avoid commentaries until you have broad base of biblical knowledge from which to draw.

5. Understand that the Bible is not laid out like an encyclopedia; very seldom will you find everything you need to know about a subject (like salvation, for instance) in one passage, unless it's a historical reference (speaking of a particular event). Make a habit of searching for all occurrences of terms related to subjects you're studying (Bible computer programs like E-Sword and websites like Bible Gateway and Blue Letter Bible make this easy). Also, learn how to use cross-references, which are passages of scripture that may be related in some way to the passage you're reading at the moment. Cross-references are often found in the margin of many Bibles, especially study Bibles, and can be very helpful.

6. Bear in mind that the Bible was not written in English; it was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and has been translated into English. If in doubt as to the meaning of a particular word or passage, do a word-study. A word-study is an examination of the original language from which our English Bible was translated, and can be done quite easily using a program like E-Sword (which is free) or a site like Blue Letter Bible. Translators mean well but they're not infallible. They occasionally make mistakes and sometimes translate passages with certain theological biases in mind. Also, part of a translator's job is to make a text comfortable to read, so there are times when they will translate a passage of scripture in a manner that obscures the precise meaning; this happens a lot with verb tenses, and can impact your ability to understand a passage correctly.

7. Attempt to learn how the original audience to whom a book or passage was written would have understood it (a Bible handbook or dictionary can help with this). Don't assume that an ancient reader from the Middle East would have understood a concept the same way an American would today.
8. Find a reputable, understandable translation. If you picked up the King James family Bible your parents were given when they got married, and find it difficult to understand clearly, there's a reason for that: you're reading English that is 400 years out of date. A lot has changed in our language in all of that time, and you may find that the Bible opens up to you in a whole new way when you try reading it in modern English. Among the translations I recommend are the New King James Version, the New American Standard Version, and the English Standard Version (I've used all of them a great deal). For study I also recommend Young's Literal Translation; it's a bit wooden and awkward for general reading purposes, but it's excellent for gaining a better knowledge of the original text of the scriptures without having to consult Hebrew and Greek study tools (although I certainly recommend consulting these resources once you're comfortable enough to do so). I also recommend the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) once you've built up a good, general foundation of scriptural knowledge.
One further note on this: some people are partial to the King James Version, for a number of reasons, and I respect their preference. Others, however, will argue that it's the *only* preserved Word of God in English, and vehemently argue against the use of any other translation. I'm very familiar with this debate, have studied the issue out for myself, and completely disagree. Yes, there are Bible versions you should avoid (in particular The Message and the New World Translation, the latter of which is a cult translation), and there are versions that I would not recommend until you have established familiarity with more strictly accurate versions (such as the New King James and New American Standard) - the New International Version (NIV) is a prominent example in this middle category; but don't let this become a stumbling block for you. There are plenty of resources online and in print that address this issue. If you feel the need to get into the matter, consult what *both* sides have to say and then make an informed decision. Don't let people intimidate you. Many who sound off on this sound authoritative but really have little idea what they're talking about.
You may also find it very helpful to compare translations, as they tend to bring out different nuances that can be helpful in understanding the scriptures. I've seen this proven many times. And for those who do enjoy older English, I recommend trying the Geneva Bible.
9. Be willing to make the time investment. Just like any other discipline, understanding the Bible takes time; but if the Bible really is what it claims to be (the Word of God), what else could be more worthwhile than coming to know it better?
10. Ask the Lord to open your understanding as you read (Luke 24:45). As the one who inspired the scriptures, only he can really bring out the full force of its truth. Often, you'll find that he will do this based on what you need at the moment. I've experienced this a number of times, and as much as I've read and studied the Bible over the years, I'm still finding new things in passages I've read dozens of times.
11. Above all - apply what you learn! The Bible contains much that is transformative, but in order for this to occur, it must be applied to our lives. Start doing something with what you learn as you read the Bible, and you'll find that God will give you even more understanding. Like any good manager, God is not in the habit of giving his valuables to those who won't do anything productive with them.

May God bless you richly as you come to know him better through his word!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

On Trump, Racism, and Immigration

Those opposed to Donald Trump's stance on illegal immigration maintain that his policies are based in racism, and I'm seeing a lot of comments about this on social media. Some are fearful that Trump will kick them out of the country simply because of the color of their skin, and I believe that this impression is due to a concerted media campaign to smear Trump.

In this video, I examine Trump's position on immigration and ask whether there might not be compelling reasons to seal the border with Mexico and place limits on immigration by certain groups. The following issues are considered:

1) For those who believe that Trump's policies are racist, where are you getting your information? From his opponents in the Democratic Party and the mainstream media? Have you actually listened to any of Trump's interviews and speeches? Have you heard him out? Would you want someone to evaluate you based on what your enemies say about you?

2) There are numerous valid reasons to seal the border and scrutinize those who enter the country, including: a) gun-running, b) drug-smuggling, c) other types of criminal activity, d) the possible introduction of diseases, and e) the threat of terrorism, particularly if terrorists are successful in smuggling in weapons of mass destruction - why make ourselves an easy target by giving them an open door?

3) Where Islamic immigration is concerned, several issues need to be addressed:

- Yes, it's true that not all Muslims are terrorists, but almost all terrorists are Muslims. Islam has a violence problem that desperately needs to be addressed. There is nothing racist about admitting the problem, and hiding from the problem is self-defeating.

- American Muslims who are concerned about being perceived as a threat need to do more to separate themselves from the jihadists. Muslim leaders in every community need to publicly reject jihad. Yet, many are afraid to do so because they realize how radical some of their brethren are, and they fear for their lives. Others, while not active in jihad themselves, may well be sympathetic to it, as has been the case in Great Britain.

- In Islam, it is perfectly acceptable to lie to an infidel in order to advance the cause of Allah. We need a strong vetting system to weed out the trouble-makers, and this makes the issue that much more problematic.

- America's culture did not spring into existence overnight; it's a product of thousands of years of western civilization. If we want to have a country in the future, and keep America a bastion of freedom, we must ensure that we bring in only those people who love our land, agree with our ideals, and want to be a part of who we are. We do ourselves no favors by turning America into Afghanistan simply to look nice.

- Globalists deliberately want to destroy our culture by bringing in large groups of immigrants who have nothing in common with us. They call it 'diversity,' but it is really a means of trying to remake the world, of trying to create a global citizenry that will accept a global government (which they intend to lead, naturally).