Monthly Archives: August 2016

Star and Crescent

Isis…Jihad…world wide Islamic terror attacks: how can the Christian interact wisely with his neighbor when discussing and dealing with these stark realities of today? How can the believer bear witness for Christ toward a Muslim neighbor? What is the significance of the type of clothing, holidays, and traditions which are increasingly noticeable in much of the western world, and even dominant now where Muslims were once a tiny minority?

The 21st century American citizen who is also a citizen of the eternal kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ does well to be equipped, as a sent ambassador of the heavenly kingdom, with a basic knowledge of Islam and the man named Mohammed or Mahomet, whose dates are A.D. 570 – 632.

He was born in Mecca in South Arabia and was of the tribe of the Koreish, which controlled a pagan shrine known as the Kaaba. The Koreish (or Quraysh) tribe claimed descent from Ishmael, the son of Biblical Abraham and Hagar. His father Abdallah died before Mohammed was born, and his mother Amina died when he was six or eight years old. He was cared for by his grandfather for two years, then by an uncle, Abu Talib. A nervous, sensitive child, some scholars say he had a tendency toward epilepsy.

At age twenty-five he became a camel driver for Kadijah, a wealthy widow of Mecca, whom he married a little later. Of this union one child, Fatima, survived infancy. She later became the wife of Ali, one of Mohammed’s followers and later his successor.

Trading trips took Mohammed to Syria, where he came in touch with both Judaism and a degenerate form of Christianity. At age forty he claimed to have received a vision and a call to preach. He began a new religion of mingled Judaism, Christianity, and Arabian paganism, blended together by his imaginative mind. His first converts were Kadijah his wife, Ali and Zaid, two adopted sons, and Abu Bekr, a close friend.

Persecuted in Mecca, in 622 A.D. he fled to Medina. This flight, the Hegira, is considered to be the historical origin of what we know as Islam, which means “submission”. Although Islam is a religion with a prophet (this same Mohammed), a holy text (the Koran or Quran), and various rites and ceremonies, underneath those things is a movement that envisions global domination and sanctions the use of violent force to realize that goal. Jihad means “holy war.” The Islamic idea of peace is not tranquil co-existence with other world religions or with Biblical Christianity, but their elimination.

Mohammed gained strength in Medina, a city in what is now Saudi Arabia. He established a “theocratic” state, eliminated internal strife in the city, repulsed attacks of the Meccans, and before long returned to and gained possession of Mecca, which became the holy place of Islam. He became judge, lawgiver, and administrator among his followers. By 632, the time of his death, nearly all of Arabia was at his feet; within the next one hundred years North Africa, Palestine, Asia Minor, Persia, and Spain were conquered for Islam.

Mohammed’s early life was perhaps one of sincerity and truth-seeking; but his later years were manifestly a time of power-seeking and corruption.

We should anticipate interaction with Muslims and therefore should be at least acquainted with the essential tenets of Muhammed’s religion, which are:

1. Allah, the absolute, all-powerful creator (the Trinity is denied by Islam)
2. Angels, the sinless servants of Allah
3. Books, the chief of which is the Koran
4. Prophets, of whom Muhammed was the last and most important*
5. The resurrection and last day.

The five practical duties of Islam are:

1. Recital of the creed**
2. Prayers five times daily
3. The annual, month-long fast of Ramadan (start date changes from year to year)
4. Almsgiving
5. Pilgrimage to Mecca

Notorious groups like the Taliban and Isis make clear that consistent Islam is more than a religion as the western mind understands that word. It is a movement that envisions global domination and sanctions the use of violent force to realize that goal. The word Islam is Arabic for “submission.” Islam does not define peace as tranquil co-existence with Biblical Christianity and the world’s man made religions and philosophies. Islam’s “peace” means bringing all of humanity into submission to itself.

Dr. Greg Bahnsen (died A.D. 1995), a brilliant Christian scholar, author, and apologist, believed that Islam would be the greatest foe of the spread of the Gospel worldwide in coming years. It has been said that there are more mosques – Islamic places of worship – than churches in London (yes, England) today. Islam is growing rapidly in the U.S. and elsewhere in the West. Millions already follow Islam not only in the Middle East, but in Pakistan, the Philippines, much of Southeast Asia, and Africa.

Credit: the article on Muhammed in the book “Who’s Who in Church History”, edited by Elgin S. Moyer. (Keats Publishing, New Canaan CT, 1974. Library of Congress number 74-19918)

This website offers more information on Islam from its own perspective:

http://www.islam-guide.com/

* Islam regards the Lord Jesus as one of history’s true prophets of God, but denies that He is the Son of God and regards Biblical Christianity as a perversion of His teaching.

** This is the creed: “There is no true god but Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet.”

Previously published elsewhere, January A.D. 2016

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Understanding the Apocalypse

The word comes from Greek and means “uncovering.” An apocalypse reveals what once was once hidden. Thus the final book of the Bible is also called Revelation – it reveals. For many, Revelation does not seem to live up to its name. Rather than uncovering or revealing, it perplexes and causes head scratching! Several principles for rightly dividing (correctly interpreting) the Apocalypse follow.

First, the book is not a collection of revelations, plural. It is one revelation. It is an unveiling of Jesus Christ, as the first sentence of the book proclaims. This apocalypse makes manifest the Person, work, and kingdom of the One “through Whom are all things,” 1 Corinthians 8:6.

Second, the book of Revelation makes extensive use of symbolism. Consider its first vision, seen by the apostle John who received this revelation of Jesus Christ, communicated by an angel who was sent to John by Jesus Christ. In the vision, John sees a sharp two-edged sword coming out Christ’s mouth and seven stars held in Christ’s hand.

Does this mean that Jesus (previously seen, heard, and touched by this same John shortly after His resurrection) now has an ancient weapon or a fencer’s epeé in place of a tongue? Is His real human hand not only scarred by nails but able to grasp gigantic balls of burning gas which dwarf the Earth as if they were cherries? Just as Jesus before His passion spoke in figurative language (His parables, cf. John 16:25), even so what follows John’s opening vision speaks of Christ’s Person, work, and kingdom in a figurative way.

Third, the symbolism of the Apocalypse draws heavily on the Old Testament. This  includes the plagues God sent upon Egypt at the time of the Exodus; ancient, whorish Babylon and her cryptic names as given for example in Jeremiah 51; Ezekiel’s visions of living creatures around God’s throne, Daniel’s apocalyptic dreams involving dreadful, monstrous beasts; Zechariah’s vision of the two olive trees/witnesses and more. Those who overlook Revelation’s deep Old Testament roots or the illumination which the contextualized cross referencing of such passages provides are in danger of interpretive shipwreck!

To illustrate this, consider: without the vast amount of Scripture regarding sacrificial lambs, would we understand what the Spirit is saying to the churches when He uses a term found elsewhere in the New Testament and depicts Jesus as THE Lamb “standing as if slain” in Revelation 5:6, and as THE Lamb “slain before the foundation of the world” in 13:8?

Fourth, to understand Revelation we must remember its original recipients and the troubled times in which they lived. In the passage which is the risen Christ’s letter to the church at Philadelphia (3:7ff), the Lord refers to the hour of trial about to come on the whole Roman world (Greek OIKOUMENE). Judaean believers were facing the impending destruction of Jerusalem (A.D 70) and dispersion from their homeland. Gentile believers elsewhere were dealing with various wars and upheavals during a time of chaos in the Roman empire; in the single year A.D. 69 four emperors ruled in succession in the midst of violence and bloodshed!

Psalm 119:89 proclaims that God’s word is “forever settled in heaven.” Like all the rest of the Bible, the Revelation instructs us who live millennia after it was written. It surely has application to us. Yet the more we know of the context in which the congregations of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea lived and served the Lord…the more we grasp about why John described himself to them as “…both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9), the more accurate our understanding of the Apocalypse will be.

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Rejecting Inerrancy?

Sadly some who once loved God’s infallible, inerrant, fully inspired, and divinely authoritative holy word have done just that. Here is the rationale for doing so as given to this blogger by someone who deliberately and purposefully rejected the foundational truth of inerrancy – and I quote:

“Rejecting inerrancy is key to a more humble approach to scripture that does not attribute the same inerrancy to one’s traditional interpretations but rather continues the progressive interaction and conversation between God and humanity as modeled by scripture itself.”

Progressive interaction and conversation? Surely there was progression as the canon of Scripture unfolded through history, and surely God by way of accommodation conversed with men – consider His and Abraham’s discussion about how few righteous dwellers in Sodom would move God to spare that wicked city from destruction. However, the essential role of Scripture in the relationship of God and His covenant people is far more exalted.

We have more than isolated proof texts which make clear that God’s word is spiritual food, as necessary as meat and drink, for man does not live by the latter alone. Jeremiah ate of God’s words and found them to be the joy and rejoicing of his heart. God’s word is that which is implanted, to be received humbly for the saving of the soul. It was the Psalmist’s lamp for his feet and light for his path; God’s law was his study all the day and his meditation in the night watches. In revelatory visions, both Ezekiel and John ate books which fueled them, so to speak, for delivering divinely authoritative prophetic utterances. The word of God is the seed which the Son of man sows in various kinds of soil, for well or for woe.

Peter rightly confessed that there was no one else to whom he and his fellow apostles could turn, for Christ had the words of eternal life. It was the Scriptures which were able to make Timothy wise unto salvation. The book of God’s Law, originally written with His own finger, was not to depart from Joshua’s mouth. Agur the son of Jakeh called every word of God pure, and solemnly warned against adding to His words, just as the final book of the canon so warns, but with far more dire and eternal consequences pronounced upon him who does so.

Does God in turn eat, delight in, trust in, fear to add to, or find salvation from man’s side of this “interaction and conversation?” A Bible with errors that models a dialog of sorts? That is just the same old lie in new garb: “Has God really said?”

Scripture models a relationship in which God is the Father of lights to His children. With Him there is no shadow of turning. It reveals the Shepherd who does not lead His sheep to murky waters and barren pastures, but to clear and lush ones. It is the precious gift of the Counselor and Comforter Who inspired holy men of old to write pure and holy words, and He now illumines those words for those whom He indwells.

In the holy Bible, Christians have not an endless dialog between the holy, almighty Creator and Savior and the sinful, finite, creature. We have “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

Previously published elsewhere, November 6, A.D. 2015

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Fleeing Serpent

About eight hundred years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah looked into the distant future, by the omniscience of God the Holy Spirit Who inspired Him. The prophet foretold the day of resurrection and the final judgment. He also prophesied “In that day the LORD with His severe sword, great and strong, will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan that twisted serpent; and He will slay the reptile that is in the sea” (Isaiah 27:1). This is of course one of the Bible’s several statements about the ultimate demise of Satan, who is called the serpent.

One reason Isaiah sees him as the fleeing serpent is because that is what he continually being forced to do: flee before the inexorable onslaught of the army of the LORD and its Divine Captain (Joshua 5:14ff). The evil one is ever making defensive maneuvers. Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church, i.e. His people (Matthew 16:18).

Ancient cities were surrounded by walls. The walls had large, well defended gates. An attacking enemy would assail the gates, knowing that if he eliminated them, the battle was all but won. So Christ’s statement pictures the forces of evil as a besieged ancient city, with the forces of the kingdom of God on the offensive from without.

Christ’s temptation by Satan in the wilderness concludes with the serpent fleeing. “Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Even so, every Christian has a promise to which he can cling when enduring temptation: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

A fit man armed with a sturdy stick might resist his neighbor’s vicious, loose dog. A woman might resist an unwanted suitor by simply ignoring him. But sticks don’t scare the devil, and he is too shameless to depart if he is ignored. How then do we resist him?

In the first place, we must recognize that as Christians, we are living in constant spiritual warfare. Our standing orders are to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3). The tour of duty is temporary, but only because this earthly life is temporary. It is a lifelong war. Believers who don’t even recognize that God’s kingdom – their kingdom – is at war are hardly prepared to make the enemy flee.

In the second place, as indicated above, it is not by earthly weapons, physical or psychological, that we fight. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Third, we must be armed. After describing the panoply of the Christian’s armor in Ephesians 6, Paul tells us of two offensive weapons: the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and prayer.

Just as the LORD’s severe sword shall ultimately destroy Leviathan the fleeing serpent, so the LORD incarnate showed us how to wield that wondrous sword through His temptation. Every assault of Satan was skillfully parried with God’s precepts. This sword is not carried in a scabbard, but in the heart. “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:1). An ancient warrior had to keep his sword sharp and rust free. Your sword, Christian, is kept sharp and rust free as you hear the Word preached, read it, study it, meditate on it, and memorize it. Attempts at resistance are futile without this.

On an occasion when the disciples could not cast out a demon, they asked Jesus why. He replied “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29). Just like having the Word on the heart, devotion to prayer is essential if we are to resist the enemy and watch him flee.

Are you keeping yourself in the Word, and praying without ceasing, soldier?

Previously published elsewhere, October 11, A.D. 2015

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Which King are You?

In 1 Kings 20, the Holy Spirit gives us a narrative account not easily understood. The context is the warfare between Ahab, king of Israel, and the Syrians. God Who is full of mercy and Whose goodness leads to repentance (Romans 2:4) promises victory to wicked Ahab but appoints Ben-Hadad king of Syria to utter destruction.

But like Saul who wrongly spared Agag (1 Samuel 15), Ahab wrongly spares Ben-Hadad! God responds by giving a very strange assignment to one of his servants: “Now a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his neighbor by the word of the LORD, ‘Strike me, please.’ And the man refused to strike him. Then he said to him, ‘Because you have not obeyed the voice of the LORD, surely, as soon as you depart from me, a lion shall kill you.’ And as soon as he left him, a lion found him and killed him.” (I Kings 20:35,36)

(Long before Ahab’s time, Abraham had determined he would obey a very strange command of God: to slay his son Isaac as a sacrifice. God, pleased with Abraham’s faith-born obedience to that incomprehensible command, gave Isaac back to his dad as if risen from the dead, per Hebrews 11:19. But his man who disobeyed a very strange command of God was sent down among the dead. Our God is not One to be trifled with!)

As we read on in 1 Kings 20, we find that the prophet, “…found another man, and said, ‘Strike me, please.’ So the man struck him, inflicting a wound. Then the prophet disguises himself with a bandage and meets King Ahab with these words, “Your servant went out into the midst of the battle; and there, a man came over and brought a man to me, and said, ‘Guard this man; if by any means he is missing, your life shall be for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver.’ While your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.”

Ahab replies to the prophet with these words. “So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided it.” The prophet removes his bandage, and King Ahab recognizes him. The prophet then proclaims the word of the LORD to Ahab, regarding his sparing of Ben-Hadad: “Because you have let slip out of your hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people.”

Ahab’s response? “So the king of Israel went to his house sullen and displeased, and came to Samaria.” (1 Kings 20:43)

Let’s compare King Ahab’s response to a direct, powerful, prophetic searching out of his sin to a similar encounter between King David and a prophet. After David’s sin of killing Uriah with the sword of the people of Ammon and taking Uriah’s wife, the prophet Nathan comes to David with a parable about a rich man with many sheep who took the one cherished lamb of a poor man and prepared it as a meal.

Just as Ahab spoke against himself a good judgment about the fictional guardian of a prisoner of war, so David – in hot anger – spoke against himself a good judgment about the rich lamb slayer of Nathan’s parable, upon which Nathan utters to David those direct, powerful, prophetic words “You are the man!” thus exposing David’s heinous sin (see 2 Samuel 12).

According to Psalm 51, David’s response was prompt and sincere repentance. He cried for forgiveness, a cleansed heart, a renewed and steadfast spirit, and for the restoration of the joy of his salvation. According to 1 Kings 20, King Ahab (who is likely the namesake of Herman Melville’s dark and morose character, the sea captain in the novel Moby Dick) responded by sulking with no repentance.

How will you and I respond when God’s powerful word, living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, powerfully and directly searches out our secret sin? Will we be sullen and displeased, or tender hearted and prompt to repent?

Previously published elsewhere, September 20, A.D. 2015

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Tech and the Parousia*

We now know that our Creator’s magnificent wisdom and power appear in a realm much smaller than the microscopic! Through the young scientific discipline which has been dubbed NANOTECHNOLOGY, we who are the Creator’s image are learning to imitate Him in that realm. The term NANOTECHNOLOGY refers to the manipulation of matter on the atomic level.

According to Wikipedia: “As of August 21, 2008, the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies estimates that over 800 manufacturer-identified nanotech products are publicly available, with new ones hitting the market at a pace of 3-4 per week.”

Applications of nanotechnology exist in the fields of medicine, manufacturing, and food packaging, to name a few. And looking away from the scanning tunneling microscope** to what is visible to the naked eye, we see technology advancing in other areas as well. What’s the point?

Let me answer with a question. Is your view of the last things a pessimistic view? Is it a kind of spiritual fatalism, in which the Lord Jesus appears “just in the nick of time” for a Church that is all but extinct on earth, and languishing under the thumb of an unstoppable super villain called THE Antichrist? If so, you likely will think little of, or even despise technological advances. “Why bother with that, since we’ll be getting raptured outta here any second now?”

On the other hand, what if you believe that our presently reigning, glorious Christ will conquer all enemies BEFORE His final return – at which time He will destroy the LAST enemy death, as we see clearly proclaimed by the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 15:25-28?

The destruction of that last and greatest enemy implies that many lesser enemies were previously yanked – like hideous, furnace-bound weeds – out of the grain field of the Son of Man, does it not? Consider Matthew 13:38 in context.

If you have an eschatology that believes we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us, you will likely see “Nano” and all technological advances as tools available for the service of the King…tools which His servants can use to fulfill the Great Commission received from Him to Whom all power in heaven and earth ALREADY has been given, as Matthew 28:18-20 clearly teaches.

As with the printing press and the Internet, perhaps new technologies will, according to His infinitely wise Providence, utterly astonish us by the way they will benefit His kingdom on earth in the future….thereby hastening His coming and the dawn of the eternal, heavenly kingdom which can never be shaken! Come Lord Jesus!

* the Parousia is the future, visible, bodily return to earth of the Lord Jesus Christ

** Again according to Wikipedia, “A scanning tunneling microscope (STM) is an instrument for imaging surfaces at the atomic level. Its development in 1981 earned its inventors, Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer (at IBM Zürich), the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986.”

Previously published elsewhere, August 16, A.D. 2015

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Avoiding Bible Blunders, Part Two

In Part One we began to discuss the blunder of not recognizing the difference between literal and figurative language. The holy Bible uses both kinds of language to communicate infallible, inerrant, God-breathed and therefore fully authoritative truth. In the account of the parting of the Red Sea, we read that God miraculously caused two walls of water to form so that His covenant people could walk through that sea dry shod. We take those words literally.

But when Jesus said “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7) He did not mean that he was a physical portal in a wall or fence through which animals or humans might pass. He did not expect us to take Him literally. In saying “I am the door” (repeated at John 10:9), Christ was using figurative language. He was teaching that only by Him Who is also the good Shepherd can sheep pass from the dry valley of the shadow of death into the green pastures and still waters of life. He also used figurative speech in His parables and elsewhere.

Yet another Bible blunder is what we might call “textual tunnel vision.” Those that fall into this pitfall seize upon a Biblical statement in isolation from its greater context, and from the whole counsel of God in Scripture.

For example, in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “do not swear at all.” James (5:12) cites that command of the Master and under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit he adds, “…let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’ lest you fall into judgment.”

Because of this Biblical precept, not to be taken lightly, some have taken the position that making one’s ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ publicly solemn (such as in a court of law, or in taking marriage vows before God and man) is something a Christian cannot do under any circumstances.

Those taking this position should consider Deuteronomy 6:13 – “You shall fear the LORD your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name” (cf. Deuteronomy 10:20). In Jeremiah 4:1,2 God commends righteous swearing.

In Matthew 26:63, 64 the high priest adjures Jesus to “…tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ADJURE means to command solemnly under or as if under oath or penalty of a curse (Cf. Joshua 6:26 in the King James translation.)

Jesus’ response to the high priest is a bit more than a simple ‘Yes.’ He solemnly affirms Himself to be just that – the Christ, the Son of God – by applying to Himself a prophetic word recorded in the book of Daniel. This most solemn and dreadful affirmation by Jesus about the truth concerning Himself provokes the wicked high priest to accuse Him of blasphemy.

Let us both be like the Bereans who “searched the Scriptures to see whether these things be so,” (Acts 17:11) and heed Paul’s exhortation to Timothy – that he rightly divide [ ascertain the intended meaning; interpret ] the word of truth. (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:15)

Previously published elsewhere, August 30, A.D. 2015

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