Friday, January 20, 2017

What's in the Bag?


A young man brought his act to America’s Got Talent.  There was a table at center stage where he placed a paper bag.  Out of the bag he brought a small piano.  On the bench he plopped a bull frog.  On top of the piano he placed a fishbowl from which he scooped a chubby fish. The goldfish sat next to the bowl, tail hanging over the piano.  The frog began to play.  His keyboard mastery was amazing.  The fish began to sing!  Her range and pitch were far above average.  Within seconds 3 judges reached for the golden buzzer.  There could be no better act than this.
Suddenly the young man returned his things to the bag and retreated off stage.  Howie Mandel called him back.  “Where are you going?  You will inevitably win this competition.  A piano-playing frog and a singing fish?”
“I can’t go on.  I have not been honest.”
“What do you mean?”
“The fish doesn’t sing.  The bullfrog is a ventriloquist.”

Unfortunately, this young man didn’t really know what he had in the bag.  
I wonder if sometimes Christians treat the Bible that way. We forget what we have in the bag.  Consider these verses.
“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  2 Timothy 3
God’s Word brings wisdom that leads to salvation.  There may be more dramatic ways to present the gospel but it is hearing the Word of Christ that leads to faith.
God’s Word teaches what is right, points out when we are wrong, corrects our path and trains us for future righteous living.  It’s a complete package of daily principles for life.
God’s Word equips us for every good deed.  If there is a deed worth doing, the Bible helps us do it.

Know what’s in the Bible before you start looking in other bags.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Miracle and The Cross
(From Nov 4, 2014)

Eric Metaxas has a new book.  You may remember his name from Amazing Grace, the stor
y of William Wilberforce, or Bonhoeffer, the story of, well, Bonhoeffer.  (He also wrote for Veggie Tales.)   In his new book, Miracles, his goal is to detail and authenticate the validity of miracles today.  To do this he defines miracles as “God’s personal messages of His Presence in the world.”  By that definition just about anything can become a miracle.  And according to this book, anything does.  As Metaxas admits there is a great deal of subjectivity when it comes to ‘God’s personal message.’ Do dreams and visions qualify? Do peculiar circumstances qualify?  Do random, chance meetings with strangers qualify?  This book says yes.  But if everything is a miracle, nothing is a miracle.
God is the author of miracles.  The Bible closes the door of discussion completely when it comes to recognizing them.  No one wondered if Moses did miracles to effect Pharaoh’s decision regarding the Israelites leaving Egypt.  No one wondered if Elijah and Elisha were working for God when fire came down from heaven or the dead were raised to life.  No one wondered if Jesus really healed multitudes or fed 5000 with five loaves and two fishes.  No one wondered whether the apostles healed.  Miracles have never been subjective exercises, open for opinion. A miracle is “an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/miracle?s=t) That is the primary definition.  There is no miracle in the Bible that does not match that definition.
The common New Testament word for miracle means “attesting sign.”  In other words, the miracle is a testimony to something.  Isaiah 35:1-6 says that when God’s glory appears in the form of the Messiah, supernatural events will occur, particularly the healing of the blind. Jesus did that in John 9 as a sign that He was from God. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:12 that miracles served as signs proving he was an apostle.  Miracles are not merely messages of God’s presence in the world. The purpose of biblical miracles is an integral part of the meaning of miracles.  Miracles are signs that those doing the miracles have God’s authorization. (See also Hebrews 2:3-4. Miracles were signs that confirmed that the Gospel was authorized by God.)
Jesus warned about looking for miracles as a prerequisite for belief.  He called those who asked for ‘signs,’ i.e. corroborating miracles, an evil and adulterous generation (Matthew 16:1-4.)  In fact, Jesus says there that the only sign to be seen, the only sign necessary is His resurrection. (see also Luke 16:31.)
It is risky to clamor for miracles.  God has not promised that anyone who seeks one will have one.  Jesus says in Matthew 7:22 that false prophets, under Satan’s authority may also do miracles.


Our greatest, best and most tangible hope is the miracle of the Resurrection.  It is the only miracle which secures salvation. “. . . 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; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” Rom 10:9-11.


The Cross and the Crusades

(from Feb 6, 2015)
At the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday President Obama added a few more bars to his Collapse Christianity Concerto.  In the wake of continuing global terrorism he made this statement.  “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place – remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”  Beside the fact that the Crusades were not in ‘some other place’ but in exactly the same place where terrorism is most prevalent today there are a few things his statement tells us.
1.  He needs to recognize that the Crusades were not fought in the name of Christ but in the name of the Catholic Church. It was mostly loyal Catholic peasants who gathered to fight in the First Crusade. They were armed with this promise from Pope Urban II, “All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the [Muslims], shall have immediate [forgiveness] of sins.”  (http://mrkash.com/activities/crusades.html) (Not quite the same as 70 brown-eyed virgins but still an exciting motivation for a poor man who could not pay to have his sins reduced.)  That is not a promise that the founder of Christianity would make.  Jesus ‘crusade’ was peaceful.  He gave Himself up as the sacrifice and payment for sin.  No human deed could ever earn His forgiveness. Subsequent Crusades were fueled by the zeal of Catholics “to recover the Holy Land . . . from the ‘infidel’ Muslims; to go in pilgrimage to the holy places of Palestine.”  (http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org/2010/02/02/a-very-brief-overview-of-the-crusades/#sthash.TH0oL9Wq.dpuf)
2.  He needs to know that no amount of needless violence is ever approved by Christ.  Acts of violence ‘in the name of Christ’ are a sham, a classic case of taking the Lord’s name in vain.  It was the Lord’s brother who said, “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” James 1:20.  Trying to compare Islamic terrorism to other religions that used violence is a weak and shallow attempt to justify Islamic terrorism.
3. He needs to admit that Islam is a religion of violence. In his Prayer Breakfast talk he said “From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith – their faith – profess to stand up for Islam but in fact are betraying it.”  Really?  Violence betrays Islam? Mohammed started his crusade with violence; it expands through violence; it only succeeds with the threat of violence.  There are more than 100 verses in the Quran condoning war against nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule. For example (2:191-193) – “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief or unrest] is worse than killing…but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful.   And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone.” (3:151) – “Soon shall we cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority.” This is directly applied to biblical Christians who believe in the Triunity of God.


Here is the good news- the Cross of Christ stands tall and offers peace to all who make their pilgrimage there.  Terrorism will not go away by ignoring it exists; it cannot be domesticated by comparison.  Terrorism can only be stopped by the Gospel.


Numbers and the Bible

( from Feb 17, 2015)

Mark Twain once said, “It’s not those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”  Such is the case with most of us.  It’s not a lack of knowledge that hinders our response.  It’s a lack of will.  The Bible speaks clearly of God and His purposes.  Yet there are many who complicate the clarity of the Bible with schemes like numerology.
I had assumed that biblical numerology was pretty much ignored, until last week.  It has made its way into some new Christian fiction books. (The 13th Series) The premise of these volumes is that prophetic passages of Scripture cannot be grasped without a firm grip on the equations behind them.  Why?
“Bible numerology is the study of numbers in the Bible. Bible numbers add meaning to God’s parables, allegories, and stories by interpreting and fulfilling the text of His Word. When understood, the numbers of God serve as the Bible’s foundational truth likened to a skeleton around which the texts of the Bible (like flesh) are formed.” (Mark 7 Publishing)
“An essential key to understanding the design of God’s Word is through the meaning of Biblical numbers. The connections and patterns of numerals, when we search them out and understand them, reveal the handiwork of God.”
“Research has uncovered patterns in certain original language words and phrases that reveal a hidden meaning behind the Biblical text . . . Just as God employed mathematical laws to create everything, He used numerals in the design of His word. The Scriptures exhibit a numerical design that can only be explained by the direct inspiration of a Creator. . . What these frequently used numerics mean reveals the mind of God and the divine design of His revelation to man.”  (The Bible Study Site )
What did you just read?
1. Bible numbers add meaning to and fulfill the text of His Word.
2. The numbers of God serve as the Bible’s foundational truth.
3. An essential key to understanding the design of God’s Word is the meaning of Biblical numbers.
4. Patterns in certain original language words and phrases reveal a hidden meaning behind the Biblical text.
5. These frequently used numerics reveal the mind of God and the divine design of His revelation to man.
Those are bold statements.  Consider the ramifications for Bible study if they are true. You can’t know how God‘s Word is fulfilled; you don’t know the Bible’s foundational truths; you won’t understand God’s design; you will miss the hidden meaning in Bible texts; you won’t have the mind of God.  All because you aren’t endowed with the mystery of the numbers?
Here’s the crucial question. Can we understand God and His Word if we don’t know what the numbers mean?  Of course the answer is yes. We can understand God without trying to flesh out esoteric numeric symbols. Consider these unambiguous texts.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105). “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place . . .” (2 Pet 1:19a)  The Bible is a light.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Scripture is profitable in every way.
“The sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15b). The Scriptures show the way to be saved.




“The common people heard Him [Jesus] gladly” (Mark 12:37, NKJV). “To the saints who are in Ephesus” (Eph 1:1). The Bible was not written for scholars or mystery hunters.
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut 6:6-7).  Parents can teach the Scripture to children.
Children can learn from Scripture. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings. . . ” (2 Tim 3:14-15a).
God didn’t hide what He meant behind an ancient database.  The Bible is for everyone, not just the seemingly enlightened.




The Law and the Cross

(from December 24, 2015)


Is the Mosaic law still necessary?  The short answer to that question is “Yes.”  Paul tells Timothy there is a lawful use for the Law, 1Timothy 1:8.  Galatians lists 2 lawful uses.  The Law points out the sinfulness of man, 2:19. It leads to Christ, 2:24. (Both of those ideas are suggested in the context of 1Timothy 1:8-11) Does the Mosaic Law have some application beyond these?  Is the Law a binding principle in the life of a Christian? Here are 5 reasons why I do not believe the Mosaic Law is the standard for Christian living.
1.The New Testament refers to the law as ended.  Multiple times the words abolish or nullify are used to describe the Law. Here are a few references. The very strong word katargeo is used in 2 Corinthians 3 (7,11,13,14) to describe the diminishing of the Old Covenant- ‘letters engraved in stone’ refers to the Law. Katargeo means to abolish. Paul says the Law did not just become ineffective; it was brought to an end.  In addition and of great significance, believers have died to the Law, Romans 7:4,6.  And believers are not ‘under’ the Law, Galatians 5:18.  Paul’s use of pronouns in Galatians 3:23-29 (us and you) strongly implies that the Law was not intended for Gentiles.  Rather Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ.
2.Some suggest that questions about right and wrong behavior can be answered by dividing the law into three parts- civil, ceremonial, and moral- and applying just the moral laws.  The NT never suggests this as a possibility and those under the Law certainly did not expect that type of division.  Paul is adamant that if one law is kept all the others must be also, Galatians 3:10, 5:3, and he quotes the fifth book of the Law, Deuteronomy 27:26, to demonstrate that.  You cannot pick and choose which laws you want to obey.  Righteousness does not come through the keeping of the law, Galatians 2:21.
3.The NT commands obedience to the Law of Christ, Galatians 6:2, which is bearing one another’s burdens.  Bearing one another’s burdens is an illustration of how the whole law is fulfilled by love, Gal 5:14. Gal 5:22 adds that the first fruit of the Spirit is love. (Some believe that love corresponds to the singular ‘fruit’ of the Spirit. All the other characteristics flow from that. Love is at least, the primary fruit.) By applying the fruit the behavior of the believer conforms to the standards of law even though the believer is “led by the Spirit” and not “under the law” (Gal 5:18).  It is relevant that in this ethical section of Galatians Paul never prescribes Christian behavior with reference to the law.  He describes the fruit of a believer’s behavior describing how it conforms to the law because it is based on love and consequently amounts to the Law’s fulfillment.
4.Christ must be central to ‘Christ’ian life.  Christ’s coming into the world demands a new focus.  To be deliberately redundant, a believer starts his spiritual life where it began- with Christ.  New life comes with faith in Christ; it is therefore from Christ that believers must learn how to live the faith-life.  Paul warns those who would seek justification by the law, and this is in the context, a message to believers, that they have been severed from Christ, Galatians 5:4.  He does not add Christ’s commandments to the Law.  He offers a new standard of behavior.
5.Law-keeping tends to legalism which inevitably makes love secondary. Twice Paul refers to certain practices related to law-keeping, Galatians 4:10, Col 2:16. The Galatians had apparently slipped back into these habits because certain Jewish leaders had convinced them this was good.  The Colossians had apparently not slipped into similar habits.  In the first case Paul tells the Galatians that this type of legalism creates bondage, which is bad. In Colossians Paul exhorts the believers who were being judged poorly because they did not keep these law related mandates, not to be intimidated by those who did practice these things.  The application is this: do not fall into legalism and do not allow those who have fallen to judge you. Colossians 2:17 says these things are a shadow of what is to come, but Christ is the substance, the real thing.  Why live in the shadows of bondage when you can walk in the light of freedom.


It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1



Light that Shines through Darkness
Guest blog by D. James Button

(From Dec 29, 2015)
I’m a huge fan of The Lord of The Rings, but not because of the Hobbits, Dwarves, and Elves, or the individual characters themselves; I love it because of the fantastic imagery of the battle between light and darkness, good and evil. The author J. R. R. Tolkien had a keen understanding of what darkness looked like, he had seen firsthand, fighting in the trenches of World War I. I think he tried his best to create characters that gave us a glimpse of what evil looks like, from Orcs to Goblins and various other workers of woe to a Satan-like dark lord who ruled over them. Of course he must have known a great deal about the light too, to know that it does indeed triumph over evil and darkness in the end. From what I’ve read, Tolkien was in fact a Christian, and his epic tale of light overcoming darkness bore more than accidental metaphors to the coming of Christ. While reading the Gospel of Luke at Christmas I started to think of this connection between Tolkien’s story and the first coming of Christ. In Luke 1:68-79 Zechariah is prophesying; filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking about the coming of Christ, who his son John the Baptist will go before to prepare the way. In verses 78-79 he says this about Jesus coming: because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. This imagery of Jesus coming is so beautiful and to me, and so vivid too, partly thanks to the writing of J. R. R. Tolkien.
In the Return of the King, the Hobbits Frodo and Sam are nearing the end of their journey to destroy the one ring, which is the source of the power of evil itself, in essence. They are in the land of Mordor, which is a near representation of hell. This land is so terrifying and dangerous that their journey seems all but guaranteed of failure, even as it nears is its conclusion. The skies are literally darkened above them and they have a wide open plain to cross with the eye of the evil lord watching out. Sam’s spirit is low and hope is out of reach as evil seems nearly victorious. It’s at this moment that Tolkien describes an encounter with light that is so poignant and wonderful that it instantly takes me to these verses in Luke and reminds me of The Light. “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.” There truly is light and high beauty forever beyond the reach of the shadow! Praise God! When we feel like we too have descended into hell itself and hope seems out of reach, we can turn to the word of God and read this wonderful Christmas story. The Apostle John also speaks about Christ’s coming in John 1:4-5 he writes:In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. In the Lord of the Rings, the light does finally win out, Sam and Frodo are victorious and evil is vanquished. In our life the same is true, sin has been defeated, victory has already come, we just need to look to the Light and believe. John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.


Dan


The Cross and Caesar

(From Jan 27, 2016) 
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” So Jesus told His disciples concerning the poll tax.  Fair enough- if you live in the Roman Empire of Century 1. But what about Americans?  We don’t even have a Caesar, do we?
Certain of our Founding Fathers did desire a colonial version of King George.  However, the George in question, Washington, became the first president, instead.  Other presidents have acted as if they were King. (Numerous times.)  But America is not a monarchy. It’s not an oligarchy of Supreme Court Justices.  It’s not an aristocracy of Legislators.  In fact, there would be no presidents, no justices, no lawmakers if there was no constitution.
Paul told the church in Rome, 1st century, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except by God, and those that exist are put in place by God. So then, the one who resists authority resists the ordinance which is from God, and those who resist will receive condemnation on themselves. For rulers are not a cause of terror for a good deed, but for bad conduct. So do you want not to be afraid of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from it, for it is God’s servant to you for what is good. But if you do what is bad, be afraid, because it does not bear the sword to no purpose. For it is God’s servant, the one who avenges for punishment on the one who does what is bad.”
God has appointed every civil government.  He has 2 distinct purposes for government- to punish evil and to praise good.   How does this apply to America 21st century?  Although it has some democratic features our government is a Constitutional Republic.  This means that the God-ordained authority over America, our Caesar, is the Constitution. Article 4, Section 4 even gives the government its name. (Try reading the above passage with Constitution in place of all the authority statements.)
John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  Adams recognized that the Constitution was a moral document.  Not Scripture but not contrary to Scripture. The founding generation of our republic, in fact, conducted its affairs quite well and few of the leaders were evangelical.  But they were moral and submissive to the Constitution.
Do some research. Compare the candidates’ practices and stated positions to the Constitution. This will certainly narrow the field of eligible applicants.
When we support the Constitution we submit to God’s authority.

When we vote only for candidates who prioritize and defend the Constitution we advance God’s authority.

The Cross and Culture
A Review of Onward by Russell Moore
B&H Books (August 1, 2015)
 This is not a Sunday School manual on the blessings of life in Christian America.  Dr. Moore does not repeat the consensus opinion of voting for conservative Republicans to maintain our good fortune.   Onward is a battle plan, a Kingdom soldier’s guide to cultural warfare.  “The kingdom of God is a declaration of war.”  The first step toward victory in this theater of battle is to see God’s kingdom in its future glory and its present reality.  Future glory is easy; present reality not so much.  But if we believe that where King Jesus is, His kingdom exists, then we must start focusing on the present realities of life as ‘living in the Kingdom.’ Eschatology often hinders us from the fullness of life here; living for Christ the King makes the present more real.  He is after all the head of the church. The culture is a battleground.  A soldier of Christ will then be engaged in battle wherever it exists.
In the milieu of the greater culture is another culture, the church.  In this earthly culture, “the church is an act of war.” The church brings aliens and strangers together, sinners of every kind are united in one body. This unified living is an attack on the self-seeking desires of the world around us.  Even the angels take note. (Ephesians 3:10) Sometimes “the kingdom of God dawns in trailer parks and refugee camps.”  So rather than disengaging from social and political issues we must apply the gospel to all of our “callings and vocations.” The Scriptures are profitable for living. The Gospel informs “the tone of our engagement.”
Dr. Moore emphasizes three specific areas of concern-human dignity, religious liberty, family stability.
There is no greater dignity afforded a human than to be called a child of God.  The Gospel is then the most important aspect of our mission for human dignity.  The future kingdom will be ruled by children of God from every tribe and nation. “How can the believing community stand by while some of the cosmos’s future rulers are denied justice because of the pigment of their skin?” The church must be ‘whole-life’ not just pro-life.
Dr. Moore speaks forcefully about the separation of church and state. “Do we really believe that unregenerate people can approach God, without a mediator, to pray? If not, why would we ask the government to force people to pretend to do so?”  We are citizens but citizenship here is not final. “We are Americans best when we are not Americans first.”
“The family is a gospel issue, not a values issue.”
The kingdom of God is a declaration of war.  The church is an act of war. Kindness that leads to conviction may be our greatest weapon. We love people enough “to tell them the truth and to tell ourselves the truth about them.”
Some of the greatest cultural warriors may not yet be on the winning team. “Jesus is marching onward, with or without us, and if the gates of hell cannot hold Him back, why on earth would He be panicked by Hollywood or Capitol Hill?”


Why We Can't Stay

I Am Going 

by Daniel L. Akin and Bruce Riley Ashford   

A Review

The authors of I Am Going are determined to remove all excuses for staying.
The book begins with a simple and precise 4-part presentation of God’s mission, a familiar illustration of the need for words and actions to accomplish the mission, and the ever-comforting challenge that God is in every part of the process.
The next 6 chapters lead us to consider our choices. We can choose to go with our church, to our neighborhood, to the nations, to a job, with a job, and in fact, anywhere. 
The church is carefully defined.  The Gospel is clearly presented. The twin Greats, Commission and Commandment are offered as two rails the train of ministry travels.
Neighborhood is wherever your neighbor is.
The with my job chapter is especially helpful.  The Bible offers several examples. The opportunities to be a professional who brings the gift of the gospel may become the only means for world evangelization. The church is on the cusp of these efforts. 
Each chapter ends with a personal ‘sign on the dotted line’ commitment. The book is interactive even on the back cover.
The brevity of the book speaks well of the care with which it was written. I Am Going is a small resource with big ideas that is a good gift for everyone you are sending.