Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Understanding Prophecy V

Once we have studied the relevant passages and taken time to understand what they say, and have taken time to study the history, we gain a general idea of who the primary players are in the prophecy.  As we have seen in Daniel 11, the King of the South definitely appears to be a Middle Eastern nation or consortium, and the King of the North appears to involve a European alliance, neither of which were major powers in Daniel’s day   As we saw, the northern powers defeated the southern kingdom, which later rebelled and began to try to seize power again.  This seems to be where we are in the prophecy today. 

The accuracy of the prophecy is completely dependent on the source, so it is entirely dependent on whether God is the omniscient God or not.   The fact that the prophecies have consistently predicted events far in the future with no contradictions indicates they are from God and can still be taken seriously as predictors of the future. Daniel’s next major prophecy is found in Daniel 11:13-16.   

“For the king of the north shall return, and shall set forth a multitude greater than the former, and shall certainly come after certain years with a great army and with much riches.  And in those times there shall many stand up against the king of the south: also the robbers of thy people shall exalt themselves to establish the vision; but they shall fall.  So the king of the north shall come, and cast up a mount, and take the most fenced cities: and the arms of the south shall not withstand, neither his chosen people, neither shall there be any strength to withstand.  But he that cometh against him shall do according to his own will, and none shall stand before him: and he shall stand in the glorious land, which by his hand shall be consumed.” (Daniel 11:13-16)

According to Daniel, this effort by the southern forces to seize control of the European countries will result in major war, with the Northern coalition or group invading and defeating the Southern, historically Islamic forces.  Many other groups will join with them in the effort to bring them back under control.  Ezekiel 38:2-5 Tells us more about This invasion.  “Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords: Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet: Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee.” 

Literally, God says they will be forced to form a powerful coalition and invade the Middle East in an effort to protect themselves and their culture.  Going back in history and researching the names Ezekiel lists, we find that some of those countries are in fact Islamic countries today, and are almost as desperate to stop the Jihadist movement as the European countries.  Others are more concerned with gaining power over Israel than stopping the Jihadists, according to Daniel. 

Literally, the next major event predicted in Daniel 11 is a major conflict in the Middle East as a result of the ongoing invasions of so called Islamic “refugees” and their constantly growing efforts to take over the countries where they settle.   It will involve a major number of the countries of the world, not just America or Russia.  Today, we see many countries struggling with the refugee problesm and Islamic efforts to take over the territories of the people who have attempted to help them it is no big step of faith to accept Daniel’s prophecy as again being accurate about this event.  The only real question is how long the nations of the world will continue to put up with the present situation.  Sooner or later, they will be forced to take action. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Understanding Prophecy IV

Understanding the historical context is valuable in understanding any subject.  Fortunately, the historical contest is usually a part of the story in he scriptures, making it relatively easy to learn.  Because prophecy so often reaches beyond the immediate time, frequently the historical context is less obvious.  Perhaps more than any other subject in the Bible, understanding prophecy depends on an understanding of history that had not yet happened when the prophecies were made.  

 First, it gives us a way of verifying that the prophecies actually came from God, because as Deuteronony 18:22 tells us, “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.”  Quite simply, if the prophecies have not been or are not being fulfilled, the person is a false prophet, and we should not pay attention to them.  Secondly, if the prophecy is not yet complete, an understanding of the history can help us understand where we are in the prophecy and give a better understanding of what future events are described.   Daniel 11 provides several examples.

Daniel starts the chapter by describing the time when he received the prophecy in Daniel 11:1.  “Also I in the first year of Darius the Mede, even I, stood to confirm and to strengthen him.”  About 500 BC, the medo Persian Empire conquered Babylon and Darius the Mede ruled the part of the Empire where Babylon was located. 

Daniel 11:2 continues, “And now will I show thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia.”

About seven years later, Darius died and Cyrus the Persian took over, giving the command for Israel to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple.   The Empire became known just as the Persian Empire.  Cyrus was the first of the Persian emperors.  He would be followed by Cambyses, using the title Ahaseurus or King of Kings.  When Cambyses was Killed, Darius the Persian became emperor.  Late in life he made his son Xerxes his co regent, but Xerxes was killed shortly before Darius’ death and never became emperor,  When Darius died, Xerxes’ son Artaxerxes became Emperor.  He was rich and powerful and toward the end of his reign, there became a lot of conflict with the expanding Greek power.   The Persian Empire began to collapse shortly after his death, with various Greek forces taking over. 

“And a mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will.  And when he shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven; and not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion which he ruled: for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others beside those.” (Daniel 11:3-4)

Philip of Macedon was able to unite the various Greek city statesinto a single Empire, and His son, alexander the Great then conquered the rest of the Persian Empire.  Alexander died in 320 BC, and his kingdom was split between his four generals, with Ptolemy taking the southern kingdom which included Egypt, the Arab Peninsula, Ethiopia and Libya. 

“And in the end of years they shall join themselves together; for the king's daughter of the south shall come to the king of the north to make an agreement: but she shall not retain the power of the arm; neither shall he stand, nor his arm: but she shall be given up, and they that brought her, and he that begat her, and he that strengthened her in these times.” (Daniel 11:6)

Later, under the Roman Empire, the Greek empire would be reunited.  Cleopatra, the last of Ptolemy’s descendants would make a treaty with Rome but later be executed by the Roman army.  The Roman Empire became extremely powerful and lasted until 476 AD. 

“But out of a branch of her roots shall one stand up in his estate, which shall come with an army, and shall enter into the fortress of the king of the north, and shall deal against them, and shall prevail: And shall also carry captives into Egypt their gods, with their princes, and with their precious vessels of silver and of gold; and he shall continue more years than the king of the north. So the king of the south shall come into his kingdom, and shall return into his own land.” (Daniel 11:7-9)

About 610 AD, Mohammed started the Muslim religion,  in the Arab Peninsula, a part of the old southern kingdom.  Islam would eventually spread throughout much of the old Roman Empire reaching as far north as Southern Russian and Austria.  World War I finally finished their control, with various European nations dividing up their lands and driving the leadership back to their original homelands.  .  They had been a world power for almost thirteen hundred years, far longer than the Roman or Greek empires. 

“But his sons shall be stirred up, and shall assemble a multitude of great forces: and one shall certainly come, and overflow, and pass through: then shall he return, and be stirred up, even to his fortress.  And the king of the south shall be moved with choler, and shall come forth and fight with him, even with the king of the north: and he shall set forth a great multitude; but the multitude shall be given into his hand.  And when he hath taken away the multitude, his heart shall be lifted up; and he shall cast down many ten thousands: but he shall not be strengthened by it.” (Daniel 11:10-12)

Today we again see the Islamic forces expanding, trying to gain world domination,  especially trying to establish a presence in northern Europe and Asia.  Clearly, Daniel’s prophecies have been fulfilled to this point, which means we need to take them seriously.  Knowing the history also helps us to understand who the players will be in the future, even though they didn’t exist in Daniel’s day.  Without a knowledge of history, it would be nearly impossible to understand Daniel’s prophecies.  Many of the conflicts over prophecy have arisen because the history has been ignored.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Understanding Prophecy III

One of the most polarizing doctrines in prophecy is that of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.  Like other doctrinal disagreements, the conflict arises as a result of a failure to use basic Bible study procedures.  The Pre-Trib position is that the Antichrist cannot assume power until the Holy Spirit is taken out of the world.   Since the Holy Spirit is in every Christian, that means the Christians must be raptured out before the Tribulation can start.   They use II Thessalonians 2:6-7 to prove their point, insisting it refers to the Holy Spirit.  “And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.  For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.”  This has led to many believing that no one will be saved during the Tribulation, while others realizing that Revelation 7:14 spoke of people being saved during it have concluded that they are saved  during that period in a special way that does not require the Holy Spirit’s working. 

Unfortunately the interpretation of II Thessalonians 2:6-7 as referring to the Holy spirit overlooks the principle in II Peter 1:20, “…that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation,” that no scripture can be  interpreted by itself, but must be compared to other scriptures.  In nearly fifty years of study, I have not found any other scriptures that support the idea that it is Holy Spirit who restrains Satan from taking over the world.  Instead, I found that Daniel 10:13, Daniel 10:21, Daniel 12:1, and Revelation 12:7 indicate that it is Michael, the archangel who stands against and restrains Satan.  This leaves the Pre-Trib position without scriptural basis, but does not prove it is wrong. 

In order to see if it is true or not we will start by reading II Thessalonians 2:1-10 more carefully.  “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.  Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.  For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.  And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

II Thessalonians 2:1-5 clearly states that the Christians will not be gathered together with Christ, or Raptured, until after the Antichrist is revealed.  While the Tribulation will last 7 years, Daniel 11:15-21 indicates the Antichrist will not come to power until about three and a half years into it.  Revelation 13:4-5 tells us the Antichrist will only be in power three and a half years.   “And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?  And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.”  Other passages refer to his reign as lasting a time, times and half a time, or one thousand two hundred ninety days.  This would make it impossible for the rapture to come before the Tribulation starts. 

This fits exactly with what Jesus said in Matthew 24:29-31.  “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”  Revelation 14 indicates a similar picture with the rapture occurring somewhat later, and the sequence of events described in Revelation 19 paints a similar picture.   

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Understanding Prophecy II

One of the biggest problems in understanding prophecy is that so many do not apply the basic principles for understanding scriptures.  For example, different ones have referred to different signs such as the alignment of certain planets or the so called blood moons as signs of the Lord’s return.  Still others have focused on various wars such as World War I or World War II, or the rebuilding of Israel and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.  By just taking time to read a passage completely and keep it in context many of those problems can be eliminated.  Matthew 24:3-8 provides a valuable example. 

“And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.  For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.  And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.  All these are the beginning of sorrows.”

Jesus said we were not to consider these kinds of events as signs of the imminent return of Christ, because they are natural outcomes of the present world and the way it works.  For example, like solar eclipses, the alignments of the planets or the blood moons occur periodically as a result of the orbits of the moon and various planets, and have no special significance.  Claiming they are some special sign is little different that reading the horoscope or practicing astrology. 

Similarly, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and climatic changes such as droughts or climate change result from natural events such as the shifting of the tectonic plates or a slight wobble the earth’s rotation as a result of those tectonic shifts.  Geological evidence shows these changes have occurr3ed periodically since the beginning of time and have no special meaning.  Wars and conflicts are the result of man’s sinful nature, and serve only to remind us that mankind is inherently sinful. 

Jesus said Christians should not allow themselves to be upset by false teachers claiming such events are signs of the end of the world or of the Lord’s return.  They are just a reminder that we live in an imperfect world.  Unfortunately the proponents of global warming are little different than many prophecy teachers, ignoring the science and historical records in an effort to stir people up to accomplish their agenda.  In II Thessalonians 2:1-2 Paul warns against falling for such teaching, regardless who is promoting it.  “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,  That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.”  Simply taking time to read what the prophecies say can save a vast amount of confusion and concern.  

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Understanding Prophecy

One area of scripture that leads to a lot of controversy is prophecy.  Some believe God finished the prophecies with the completion of the Bible, while others believe it is an ongoing gift in the church.  With new prophecies given daily.   Some have devoted their entire ministry, arriving at widely divergent interpretations of what the prophecies mean.  As a result, some have concluded that the study of prophecy is a waste of time because it is impossible to understand.   Others say these things are not relevant to us today. 

II Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”   A great deal of scripture is comprised of prophecy, so obviously, those who refuse to study it are missing out on things they need to know in order to be fully equipped to please God.     In I Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul makes it clear that an understanding of some prophecy is the basis for our hope for eternity. 

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.  For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” 

Without an understanding of the Lord’s return, there is no reason to continue to as a Christian.  All hope effectively ended when Christ died on the cross if the prophecies are to be ignored.  Our faith is based on the premise that he will fulfill those prophecies about his return.   Clearly, a proper understanding of those prophecies is crucial for us to develop a proper spiritual relationship with God.   A ministry which does not teach people about the prophecies cannot fulfill the great commission, because they are not teaching everything Christ has taught us.   At the same time, a ministry which focuses solely on prophecy cannot equip people for day to day service of God because not all scripture is focused on the future.   

The first step in understanding prophecy is to understand the biblical meaning of the word.  Our English word specifically implies foretelling the future by some means, and this is meaning most people associate with prophecy.  The biblical word refers to telling people what God has said, and does not necessarily refer to foretelling the future.  In Deuteronomy 18:18-22 God gave some very specific  guidelines about prophets. 

“I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.   And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.  But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.

And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?  When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him. “ 

The prophet was to speak only what God had said.  He was not to change it or tell them what he thought, and the people were to take his words as being from God.  A prophet who spoke in the name of other gods or made a prophecy which did not come from god was to be killed as a false prophet.  They would know whether the message was truly from God or not by  watching to see whether the prophecies were fulfilled.  This principle is still in effect. 

The study of prophecy requires the same efforts as the study of any other passage of scripture, including a proper understanding of the words, the grammar, and comparison to other scriptures.  In addition it requires a study of the history to see whether some of the prophesied events have taken place in the past.  This gives us another way of checking our understanding of the prophecies.   If we take the time to apply those principles we can be sure of our understanding of the prophecies.    In future posts we will see how these principles affect our understanding.   

Monday, May 22, 2017

Studying The Scriptures VII

Many today believe that the old Testament is irrelevant to modern Christians.   This is directly contradicted by II Timothy 2:16-7.  “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”   Paul says it is all relevant.  

In I Corinthians 10:6-11, he tells us, “Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.  Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.  Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.  Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.  Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.  Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.  Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”  Even the most obscure passages warn of the consequences of ignoring God’s plan, in hopes of preventing our experiencing the same consequences.

Many believe that the old Testament law is completely obsolete, quoting  verses like Romans 10:4 to support their claims.  “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”   Jesus himself said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.  Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven,” in Matthew 5:17-19.   While those who believe are no longer under the Law, it is still in effect for the unsaved world.    While it cannot save them, understanding it’s provisions makes people aware of their need of salvation, according to romans 3:20.  “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

Those who ignore that law, or teach others to ignore it will lose any rewards they might otherwise earn, although they will not lose their salvation, according to I Corinthians 3:13-15.  “Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.  If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.  If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”

Each book and story in the Bible was specifically directed by god to teach us certain things in order to prepare us to serve him in a proper fashion.    The first few chapters of Genesis tell us who God is, how he created the world, and how man began to rebel against him, choosing to follow Satan instead.   God is a just God who cannot overlook such rebellion, and the remainder to Genesis and Exodus illustrate his love and mercy, providing a way to be freed from the consequences of sin.   Hebrews than uses those illustrations to enable us to understand what eternal salvation requires.  The historical books show us the rewards for serving God, and the punishment for ignoring him.  Leviticus helps us understand the moral standard and attitudes God expects from his people.   Proverbs provides a series of short, easily remembered guidelines for having the best life possible here on earth.  Romans explains the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, while I Corinthians demonstrates what it means to walk in the Spirit.  I and II Timothy and Titus explain what is required in ministry, while Revelation and the various prophets warn of what we can expect in the future.    The overlapping teachings of the various books enable us to verify our understanding of the different teachings. 

Clearly, it will be necessary to study all the scriptures if we are to be fully prepared to serve God acceptably.  We must not limit ourselves to a few subjects or passages we consider more important.  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Studying The Scriptures VI

John 5:39 commands, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”  Thanks to the Holy Spirit’s working in us, as Christians, I Corinthians 2:16 tells us, “… But we have the mind of Christ.”  As a result, a careful and conscientious study of the scriptures has a tremendous impact on us.  II Corinthians 3:18 tells us, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Literally, the more carefully and thoroughly we study the scriptures, getting to know God and Christ, the more like Christ we will become.    The one condition is that we approach our study with an open face, laying aside our traditions and preconceived ideas about them so that we can get to know the real beings.  If we hold to those old ideas and traditions, we may never get to really know either God or Christ.

A girl has been raised by an abusive father or has been constantly told that all men care about is sex may never understand how much her husband loves her because she filters everything he says or does through those filters.  In the same way a person who has been taught that God makes unreasonable  demands on people may have trouble accepting or sharing his love and become very rigid and judgmental, demanding everyone meets their standards of behavior, not understanding that “… where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” as II Corinthians 3:17 tells us.   Similarly, a person who has been taught that the Old Testament standards of morality no longer apply may have trouble understanding that He is also a God of wrath and judgment who will not ignore sin.  As a result they find it hard to take a stand against sin or hold people accountable.   In both situations, the people are allowing their carnal understanding about God to distort their view of him, hampering their spiritual development.    I

To gain maximum benefit from our studies, it will be essential to examine everything we have been taught in the light of the scriptures and eliminate any doctrine or belief that does not match the scriptures.  Most people find this difficult because so many of those incorrect beliefs have been held so long they no longer think about them, simply assuming they are true because they trust the people who told them.   Unfortunately, even honest and sincere people can be wrong.   We need to be willing to change when we find out something is not right.      

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Studying The Scriptures V

We have looked at the importance of studying the scriptures, of taking the time to read in context, to check out the punctuation, of word meanings and grammar just as one would any other book.  We also stressed the importance of comparing passages to make sure we are not distorting or perverting what they say.  All of these are vital, if we are to understand the scriptures, but there is one very important factor than needs to be considered. 

I Corinthians 2:14 tells us, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  The natural, unsaved person has a limited capacity for understanding spiritual things.  It is like trying to explain the workings of a modern sawmill or power plant to someone who has never seen one.  No matter how carefully it is explained or how accurately, they will not fully understand until they see it in operation.  Similarly, no matter how carefully one studies or tries to explain the scriptures, the lack of understanding of how god works will limit the person’s ability to understand them, regardless how much we try to dumb down a new translation, a commentary or series of lessons, and frequently such efforts lose much of the meaning .

Fortunately, when a person receives Christ as savior, he also receives the Holy Spirit, who is able to give him the understanding he needs, as I Corinthians 2:11-13 tells us.  “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.  Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” 

His presence does not reduce the need to read and study toe scriptures, but he makes us able to study effectively, understanding what the scriptures tell us.  In John 14:26, Jesus said, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”  All teaching is based on the things a person has learned previously.  The Holy Spirit causes us to remember the things we have studied, even before we were saved, to help us understand new things about God’s word. 

In fact, John 16:13 tells us, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth…”    As a result, I John 2:27 tells us, “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.”  With the Holy Spirit to teach us, we will not need a lot of other materials or teachers to help understand the scriptures.   We can depend o the Holy Spirit to teach us, and to show us when something we read or hear is not right.  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Studying The Scriptures IV

We can be sure the scriptures can be trusted because they were written by man as God directed them to write, according to II Peter 1:19-21.  “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.  For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

The scriptures were written in ancient forms of Hebrew and Greek, languages most people do not speak.  As a result it is necessary to have them translated into languages people understand today.    Unfortunately, there are no languages which translate word for word into another language.  Words may have similar but slightly different meanings, or the organization of thoughts differs from language to language.  In addition languages change to meet the needs of the people, so that Old English is a great deal different than modern English and American English is different than British English.   As a result, each translation, and each language change introduces potential confusion as to what the scriptures actually meant. 

God was aware that the problem would arise, and II Peter makes the point that because all the writers were directed by God, no passage can be interpreted independently of the rest of the scriptures.  This allows us to test our understanding of the passage to se whether we are interpreting it correctly or not.  Let’s look at a common example. 

There are many who believe baptism is essential for salvation, quoting Mark 16:16,,”as proof that their interpretation is accurate.  Numerous passages such as John 3:14-18, John 3:36, Romans 10:9-13, Ephesians 2:8-9, etc., indicate that one can be saved simply as a result of believing in Christ.  If Baptism is required, then of necessity, all the other verses are incorrect, and the Bible cannot be trusted.  If the verses about simply believing are correct, however, Mark 16:16 can also be true because the person has believed and being baptized will not change that.  Quite simply, if one’s interpretation of a verse or passage conflicts with other verses or passages, the interpretation is incorrect, regardless how many may believe it. 

No translation of the scripture is perfect, but understanding this principle can enable us to identify and correct the flaw in our teaching.  While the quality of different translations varies, we no longer have to worry about whether the one we are using has flaws and can avoid many of the conflicts we have seen in America over which translation is used.  It does require that we be willing to spend the effort to study and compare the scriptures to be sure of our interpretation, however.

Many of the conflicts and false doctrines in modern churches are the result of teachers who are too lazy to do the necessary studying.  Instead they focus on their interpretation and if another translation quotes the verse somewhat differently, declare that translation unacceptable.    At the same time, it important to remember that there will be less confusion if everyone in a service is using the same version of the scripture, and God is not author of confusion.  That does not mean we cannot use other versions in personal Bible study.  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Studying The Scriptures III

In yesterday’s post we talked about the need to read enough to get the complete meaning in order to gain a proper understanding.  I mentioned that many of the so-called scientific studies are inaccurate or or openly fraudulent, because they do not report all the facts or even make up references.   In an effort to keep up with all the latest discoveries, doctors or scientists begin to just skim the things they read, looking only for major points or subtitles without reading the supporting material.  As a result they have only a superficial understanding of what they read, and many inaccurate or misleading statements are accepted without question.  If the doctors were to concentrate on reading a few articles thoroughly instead of trying to read every article, the authors of the studies would be forced to make sure their material was accurate. 

The same principle applies to understanding the scriptures.   Our reading is critical if we are to learn what God wants us to know, and I Timothy 4:13 commands, “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.”   Unfortunately, some people fall into a trap of trying to read a certain amount each day, and begin to just skim the passages, looking only for points that catch their attention.  Asa result they get only a superficial and incomplete picture of what the scriptures say, leaving them susceptible to false doctrines and misinterpretations of the scriptures.  It is far better to read a smaller portion of scripture and understand it than to read five chapters each day so you can read the Bible through in a year. 

To avoid that problem we need to focus on accurately understanding what we read, rather than on covering a certain amount of material.  Two verses down from the command to read, I Timothy 4:15 commands, “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.”   The Greek word used means to take care of, to revolve in one’s mind.  Literally, Paul said we should examine the scriptures thoroughly, making sure we do not distort or damage them in the process.  The Seven Laws of Teaching tells us that nothing will be learned until the pupil takes the time to think the subject through for themselves.  We cannot skim through the scriptures and learn what we need to know. 

II Timothy 2:15 commands, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”   Studying requires making a conscious effort to understand the subject in detail.  Sometimes studying requires looking up the meanings of words when they are used in an unfamiliar way, because language is constantly changing.  If using a translation from Greek or Hebrew, it may be helpful to look up the meanings of the original word since many words have somewhat different meanings when translated into other languages.   Language is the medium of communication, so and understanding of the language and grammar used is essential for proper understanding. 

If we want to be pleasing to God, we are going to need to make the effort to get a proper understanding of his word.  Joshua 1:8 promises, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.”  If we will make the effort, all of the verses tell us we can be the Christians God wants us to be.   A good dictionary, listing archaic definitions and a Hebrew or Greek dictionary such as those in Strong’s Concordance can be very helpful in getting a correct understanding, but they are not essential.

Unfortunately, the use of commentaries, devotionals, and other helps frequently become a substitute for studying for one’s self, and should be used sparingly.  We need to realize they are someone’s interpretation of the scriptures, and are not scripture themselves.  Dependence on them frequently leads to false doctrine.  

Monday, May 15, 2017

Studying The Scriptures II

Many modern scientists are concerned about things being proclaimed as scientific fact that are contradicted by historical science.  Carefully designed demonstrations are used to convince people that a certain belief is true, when in fact it has nothing to do with what is claimed.  A recent example is a demonstration used to convince school children that methane gas is a cause of global warming by injecting methane into a sealed container, and showing a resulting rise in temperature.  What the students don’t know is that increasing the pressure of any gas results in a temperature increase, and the fact that is was methane is irrelevant.   The demonstration would only be relevant to global warming if we show that we are experiencing increasing atmospheric pressure, which no one is claiming. 

 Former editors of the New England of Medicine and the British medical journal, the Lancet have commented that more than half the medical articles they received were scientifically unsound, with some authors cherry picking their quotes from other studies to eliminate any contradictory data, while others simply quote non-existent comments from other well-known studies on the assumption no one will check out their references.   The editors were concerned that possibly life-threatening advice was being accepted based on such unsound scientific studies. 

A similar situation exists in interpretation of the scriptures today, with some people saying you can interpret the Bible to say anything you want.  By using such techniques, we can make almost any article or book appear to support any position we choose, but that does not mean that is what it said.  For example, there was an atheist who said that Bible says, “There is no God,” quoting Psalm 14:1 and 53:1 to support his statement.  It is a distortion of what the verses say.  Both of them state, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God…”  It does not say there is no God, but that fools say there is no God.  Simply taking the time to read the entire passage and get the context   changes our understanding of what the scriptures are actually saying. 

The first step in understanding a passage is to read the entire sentence, taking into account the meanings of the words and the punctuation.  The punctuation can change the meaning a great deal, so understanding the proper usage of punctuation is a useful tool in understanding the Bible.    Unfortunately, those who divided the bible into verses ignored the punctuation in many cases, frequently ending a verse at a comma rather than a period.    A sentence is a complete thought, and the period is used to show where the thought ends.  Commas are used to separate items in list, such as a grocery list of eggs, milk, toast, and bacon for breakfast.  Leaving out the comma between milk and toast changes the meaning , making the list eggs, milk toast(milquetoast), and bacon.    Such changes can result in serious misunderstandings.  Taking the trouble to consider the punctuation is a valuable tool in understanding the scriptures.  Just reading from one period to the next can change our understanding completely. 

Sentences are arranged into paragraphs that clarify and expand one’s understanding, so reading the preceding and following sentences can further refine our understanding of what a passage means.  Without those other sentences we may well arrive at a false conclusion as to what the verse or passage means.  Take the time to read the verse or passage in context to be sure you are understanding it correctly.  

Friday, May 12, 2017

Studying The Scriptures I

Christianity is based on the principle that the scriptures are true.   In John 5:39, Jesus instructed the Jews, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”  Their understanding of who the Messiah was and what he would do was based on the scriptures.   Only through the scriptures could they be sure that Jesus was in fact the Messiah.  Their faith had to be based on the scriptures, as Romans 10:17 says.  “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

This presupposes that the scriptures are accurate and can be depended upon.  II Peter 1:19-21 tells they can because of the way they were given.  “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.  For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”   He is very specific that the various writers and prophets did not write what they thought was important, but were specifically directed by God what they were to write.  As a result we can believe the scriptures are in fact the word of God, even though they were transcribed by many different men. 

Today there are many who believe that the scriptures contain the word of God, but that it not all his word.   Still others believe that some parts are only applicable to certain periods in history and do not apply today.   As we will see there are some reasons for their beliefs, but as II Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”  Every scripture came from God and they are all applicable for people today. 

That does not mean we can randomly open our bible and place our finger on averse and base our actions on what the verse says, as some have taught.  They can be misunderstood or misapplied, so II Timothy 2:15 commands, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  To properly understand what the scriptures are saying, it will be necessary to spend the time studying them.  While some scriptures are for basic doctrine or guidance others are for examples of what happens when we obey or when we disobey what God said, according to I Corinthians 10:11.  “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. “  Some of the things are in there to warn us not to do them.  It would be foolish to do them just because they are described in a particular verse.      

Acts 17:11 was speaking of the people at Berea when he said, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”  Literally, it says that they deserved more respect because they were willing to listen to different ideas, but before they believed them, they took the time to study the scriptures to see whether the ideas were true or not.  In this study we will be looking at some things to help in getting the best understanding possible. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Fulfilling the Great Commission V

Because Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, we have been commissioned to go to the entire world and teach them about him and what he requires, in essence teaching people how to obtain citizenship in his kingdom, with all the rights and privileges that accompany that citizenship.  Unfortunately, like many illegal aliens today there are people who demand all the rights and privileges, while refusing to accept the responsibilities of citizens, starting riots and assaulting the citizens.   Because of this Christ finished the Great Commission with the promise. “…and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen,” in Matthew 28:20

When we go out to reach the world, we are not going on our own.  Acts 1:8 tells us, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”  If we have the Holy Spirit in us we have the full authority of God behind us in our efforts to reach the world, and they will see us as his representatives, no matter where we go. 

It is crucial that we understand the power and authority comes only through the Holy spirit, and not from our human abilities and intelligence.   In I Corinthians 2:1-5, Paul stated, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.  For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:  That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” 

When we begin to depend on human eloquence, educational degrees, preaching skills, or motivational psychology, we put the focus on human things rather than on the Holy Spirit. I Corinthians 1:17 warns, “… but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” John 6:44 tells us, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him…”  When we substitute any of these other things for the Holy Spirit’s power, we hinder his working in people’s lives.  I Corinthians 4:20 warns, “For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.”

For far too long, the church has depended on Evangelists and soul winning programs to win people to Christ rather than depending on the power of the Holy Spirit to lead them.  As a result much of our effort has been wasted, offending many people unnecessarily, and giving others a false hope because they have no understanding of what is truly necessary. 

Many have said we need to witness to every person we meet, but in MatthewI7:6, Jesus said,  “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”   There are some people who are not willing to hear what
God has to say.  In Acts 16:6-10, the Holy spirit actively prevented Paul from going to certain groups.  “Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.  And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas.  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.  And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.” 

The Holy Spirit knew who was ready to receive the gospel at that time.  Later he would lead them into Asia and the other regions, but they were not yet ready.  When we let the Holy Spirit lead us, we will be reaching out to people who are ready to listen, rather than trying to force them to listen.  If we are to accomplish the purpose of the Great Commission, we need to go depending on his leadership and power rather than our human intelligence or feelings. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Fulfilling the Great Commission IV

The third part of the Great Commission is found in the first part of Matthew 28:20.  “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…”     The Greek word used here,  διδάσκω, means to teach.   Once we have discipled them, or won them to Christ, and they are baptized as a demonstration of their commitment to Christ, we are to teach them to obey Christ in every way.   

Sadly, throughout history, most groups have focused only on one aspect of the Great commission, whether it be soul winning, or getting them baptized, or on teaching.  Unless we do all three parts, we are not fulfilling the Great Commission.  Many modern ‘scholars’ have reversed the two words and refer to this part of the commission as discipling.   Most of the discipleship programs focus on the basic doctrines that Hebrews 5 and six describe as necessary to effectively win people to Christ.  What the the Great commission describes is a much broader range of teaching, we need to look at briefly. 

For example, Hebrews 10:21-25 tells us, And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”  We need to teach our people to trust God’s forgiveness and not be afraid to draw near him, knowing he loves us and will keep his promises so they don’t have to fear losing their salvation.  We need to teach them to be faithful in church so that they can get the encouragement they need and can encourage others, so that they remain true to God’s word when they face trials. 

We need to warn them that there are false teachers who will try to mislead them, as I Timothy 4:1-5 tells us.  “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.  For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:  For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. “

Because this is such a danger, it is critical we teach our people to study the scriptures for themselves as II Timothy 2:15-16 commands. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.   But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.”  If they don’t learn to avoid the false teachings it will result in people turning away from God and displeasing him. 

Another thing we need to do is teach people to walk in the Spirit, because as Galatians 5:16 states, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”   As a result of our salvation, we are alive in the Spirit, but we need to learn how live in the Spirit, as Galatians 5:25 tells us.  “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

These are only a few examples of what we are to teach once we have won the people to Christ if we ae to fulfill the Great Commission.  I Timothy 4:6 tells us, “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.”  If we take the trouble to teach them these things after winning them to Christ. We will satisfy God and grow ourselves.  

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fulfilling the Great Commission III

The second job in the Great Commission is found in the last half of Matthew 28:19, “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”   This is the most controversial part of the Great commission, with some, such as the Catholic Church, most of the Protestant groups, and the Church of Christ insisting that Baptism is essential for salvation.  Many non-protestant groups such as Baptists, Mennonites, community churches and others hold that baptism is an ordinance, rather than a sacrament.   As a result we need to spend a little time seeing what the scriptures say about Baptism before addressing  this command. 

Several years ago, a Church of Christ preacher commented that he did not understand why God chose baptism as the means of salvation.  Romans 10:9-13 states, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.  For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.  For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”   It is very clear that one can be saved simply by believing in Christ, and confessing that belief to God, but nothing is said about baptism. 

Jesus statement in John 3:14-18 also stresses that one can be saved with no reference to being baptized.  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.  He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” 

Many of those who believe baptism is essential for salvation refer to verses such as Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”   This verse in no way contradicts the previous passages.  Obviously, if he were saved by believing in Christ, than he will still be saved if he gets baptized.  If he doesn’t believe, however, he will not be saved whether he gets baptized or not.  Clearly, belief, not baptism is the basis for salvation. 

So why baptize?   Let’s start with the meaning of the word.  The Greek word βαπτίζω means to be fully placed into or covered with a fluid, i.e. to immerse.   Romans 6:3-5 describes what happened at salvation.  “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”    The physical baptism in water is a physical demonstration of what has happened to a person spiritually.  In effect, it is a testimony of their having believed in Christ.  Unfortunately, as we saw from Mark 16:16, if they have not believed, it is meaningless. 

Matthew 28:19 stressed, “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”  This is important in showing what has happened to a person spiritually.  The plan for salvation was made by God the Father, but it was the son who made the sacrifice that made it possible, and it was the Holy Spirit who enabled us to understand and gave the faith to believe.  We are acknowledging the roles each one played in saving the person.  We are not simply performing a ritual, but are presenting a testimony of God’s love. 

John the Baptist had baptized many as a sign of their repentance for their sin.  Paul met a group who had been baptized by John in Acts 19:3-5.  And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized?

And they said, Unto John's baptism.  

Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.  When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” 

When they believed on Christ they were re-baptized in His name, as a demonstration of their faith in him.   This is exactly what Peter told the Jews in Acts 2:38.  “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  They were to get baptized because their sins were remitted, and we are to baptize people for the same reason. 

Understanding what baptism represents and making the stand for Christ it requires is a major step in growing to be a strong Christian.  Unfortunately, it is often treated as just a ritual Christians perform rather than a step in Christian growth.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Fulfilling the Great Commission II

As we saw in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gave his disciples a specific job to do.  “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”   Our witnessing ought to be a natural result of our understanding that Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth.   As we understand his love and what he has done for us, we want to share it with others.  It is no longer a chore or burden.    
 Because we recognize him as Lord and appreciate what he has done we will naturally want to share what he demands with others.  In the Great Commission Christ mentioned three specific things we should do.  Until all three jobs have been done we have not fulfilled the job Christ has given us.  We will look in detail at each of the separate parts. 

The first part of Matthew 28:19 commands. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…”  The Greek word translated teach in this case is ‘μαθητνω’.   It is usually translated ‘disciple’, and when used as a verb, means to enroll or cause to become a pupil or follower.   Literally the first job is to cause people to become become Christians, to commit to following Christ.   That the word was translated teach rather than disciple in this particular case emphasizes that winning people to Christ requires taking the time to teach them who Christ is and what he has done for them. 

Romans 10:9-13 Describes what a person must do to be saved, to become a Christian.  “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.  For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.  For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 

The mechanics of what one must do to be saved is very simple.  He simply needs to understand and believe that because mankind was incapable of paying for their own sin, Jesus, the son of God came to take their place and pay for their sin.  Believing that it is true, he then needs to tell God he believes it and accepts it for himself.  If he will do so, his salvation is assured regardless of his race or background. 

Romans 10:14-17 makes it clear that that belief or faith requires more than simply saying some simple words.  “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?  So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” 

How is a person to commit to Christ when they have not believe in him?  How are they to believe in him unless somebody takes the trouble to explain who Jesus is and why he was crucified.  Jesus sent his disciples to explain these details to the unsaved world, but they are to teach the people what God’s word said, not just share their own experiences or opinions    

To fulfil even the first part of the Great commission will require more than simply explaining the mechanics.    Hebrews 5:12-14 stresses the need for the Christian to have a deeper understanding of what is involved if he is to win others.  “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.  For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.  But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

As Hebrews 6 makes abundantly clear, just a simple explanation of the mechanics without a deeper understanding of what is involved results in false professions and many people later turn away because they had no real commitment to Christ.  Hebrews 6:4-6 warns. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” 

If they fall away after making a false profession, they will never be saved.  It is far better to spend extra time teaching them about Christ and allow them to make their own decision as whether they want to be saved than to push them into a false profession and ensure they will never be saved.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Fulfilling the Great Commission I

Today’s  church has more money than at any time in history, we have ways of communicating that were unthinkable even fifty years ago, and we have programs for helping alcoholics, drug addicts, divorced people, hospitalized people, those  in nursing homes,  divorced people or almost any problem we might encounter in this life.   We have huge revivals and evangelistic campaigns and mega churches to reach people with the gospel.  Despite all this, the percentage of those who call themselves Christians is shrinking.  Even those who claim to be Christians seem to have little understanding of what being a Christian actually means, and many are concerned about the problem.   Unfortunately, when something becomes an accepted practice, if problems develop, people tend to double down on it rather than backing away to look at why it is not working.  After all it worked in the past so why doesn’t it now? 

A plumber went into a home to fix a water leak under the sink.  What he discovered was that the leak had existed for years because the drain had never been properly connected, resulting in leak and the pipe corroding.   Each time the owners saw water dripping they wrapped it with electrical tape to stop the water from dripping.  Finally the old pipe collapsed and no amount of tape would stop the leaks.  There was so much tape on the pipes the plumber was forced to cut out far more than was really defective to get things in condition where he could make the necessary repairs.   What the people failed to understand was that the leak was only a symptom and stopping it did not fix the defective pipe. 

For far too long the church has been placing tape over leaks rather than addressing what causes the leaks, and it has reached a point where the tape is no longer hiding the problem.  As a result we see a troubling attitude across America and around the world. 

In order to understand what needs to be done, we need to start with an understanding of how things are supposed to be.  Let’s start with an understanding of Jesus’ command to his disciples.  Matthew 28:18-20 is known as the Great Commission.  “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

Because Jesus Christ is God, the creator and ruler of the universe, those who believe in him, his disciples are to reach out to all nations.  They are to cause them to become disciples (μαθητνω).  They were then to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in effect to establish them in basic doctrine as to who God is and his authority.  Finally, they were to teach (διδάσκω) the people to obey everything God commanded. 

Sadly, many of the problems in the modern church result from an improper understanding of the Great Commission.    We are to win People to Christ because he is Lord of Heaven and Earth.  Everyone on earth needs to recognize him as Lord.  Too many people are like those who insist Trump is “not my President.”    Whether they recognize his or no, he is still president, and Christ is still Lord.   We need to make sure people understand that, because until they do, they will never become his followers, supporting his actions, but will at best be just going along with what is happening to avoid problems.    

Until we understand who Christ is and what his authority is we will never succeed in fulfilling the job we have been given in the Great Commission.   Christ is not campaigning for office, he is acting as King.  Our job is to enlist workers , not to get votes.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Developing Your Spiritual Life

We have spent the last several weeks studying about the Holy Spirit.  Unfortunately, for many, this study may become nothing more than another intellectual exercise of learning a bunch of interesting facts.  As we saw in Romans 8:9, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his,” yet the majority of Christians today never seem to experience his power in their lives.  Perhaps a personal example can help us understand what is needed. 

I got my first pair of glasses when I was a freshman in high school.  When I walked out of the optometrist’s office, I saw things I had never seen before, and from then on the first thing I did in the morning was put on my glasses, and the last thing I did was take them off.   Each time I went back to the optometrist, I was given a little stronger prescription, and I became increasingly concerned about breaking or losing my glasses, or eventually losing my eyesight. 

About four or five years ago, read an old book on improving ones eyesight by doing certain exercises.   I tried the exercises for a couple of weeks, but didn’t see any change so stopped doing them.  A little over a year later, I went in to get new glasses and the optometrist commented that for some reason my eyes were slightly better.  I didn’t give it much thought because I had read that as we age people’s eyes tend to change shape slightly, changing the way they focus. 

A few month later, my daughter shared that she had been told that her eyes were deteriorating very rapidly and it was only a matter of time before she would be blind.   The doctors were hoping to slow the deterioration by using special contact lenses, but had no hope of stopping the problem.   I started reading about various possible cures, but with little hope, since  the doctors didn’t really believe there was any. 

A few months ago, I received an advertisement for a program to improve one’s eyesight.  It was pretty expensive, but I decided to do some research to see if it would help my daughter, so I went to Amazon and got a cheap e-book to experiment with.   Using the eye chart that was included, within a few days I began to notice some improvement in my left eye, so opted to buy the program to see if it would help. 

As the author explained, actual problems with the eye are very reare.  Unfortunately, in modern society most children are placed in and environment where their eyes don’t get the opportunity to look at things at varying distances, so do not develop the necessary musculature to adjust properly.  Those who spend a great deal of time indoors tend to become nearsighted, because they rarely look at things at a great distance, while others, who spend most of their time outdoors tend to become farsighted.  By practicing focusing on details of objects at different distances one can develop the muscular control to see what one once could not.  Unfortunately, wearing glasses or contacts enables the eye to see without having to make as much adjustment, and it becomes increasingly weak. 

Today, I see nearly as well without may glasses as with them with my left eye, and my right eye is much better than it was though still needing improvement.  How much the exercises will help my daughter, I have no way of knowing but I hope they will be beneficial. 

Developing our spiritual life is very similar to improving our eyesight.  We already have the Holy Spirit, just as I already had everything I needed to see clearly.  All that we need to do is learn to use that spiritual power by exercising it in different situations, and depending on him to enable us rather than depending on our intellect or what others have told us.  Unfortunately the ready availability of devotional books and studies, or moral codes and accepted standards make it easy to substitute them for allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us, preventing spiritual development just as the eyeglasses prevent eye improvement.   Put what we have learned to practice, trusting the Holy Spirit to show you how. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Letting God Lead

God makes each individual unique.  Each person’s face is different so that people who know them can tell even identical twins apart.  Each person’s fingerprints ate different, as is each person’s DNA.  Some are tall and slender while others are more compactly built.  Skin colors vary widely, from a true black to chocolate brown to light tan to the almost colorless albino.  The range is nearly infinite, yet all are humans, with certain typical characteristics such as two arms, two legs, a single head, etc. 

As we saw in the study on the spiritual gifts, God gives each person a unique combination of gifts for the benefit of the church.  A demand that everyone have the same gifts, such as speaking in tongues demonstrates a lack of knowledge about the Holy Spirit.  The same is true when we believe only those who have a particular experience are called or led of God.  Dr. G> B. Vick was never ordained because he had never had the same experience others had and thus felt he was not called to the ministry, yet anyone who studies his life can only conclude he was just as called as any of the others.  We need to understand God is not obligated to do things the way we expect, because he is God.   As we see in scriptures, God reached different men in different ways, and even directed them by different means at different times. 

The apostle Paul’s calling was vastly different than that of Peter, or the other Apostles.  He did not simply come to the Lord after hearing him preach like most of the others.   In fact he openly resisted Christ’s message.  Timothy, on the other hand simply followed God from the time he was a young man. 

In Acts 8:5-8, one of those originally ordained as a deacon felt led to go to Samaria to start a church.  “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.  And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.  For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.  And there was great joy in that city.”  It was a comparatively large city, and the impact was enormous. 

A little later, God called Philip to a place in Gaza where there was only one man, in Acts 8:26-29.  “And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.  And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.  Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.”   The Coptic Christians of northern Africa claim to be the result of that one man’s teaching when he returned to Ethiopia.  

When my parents first came to Navajo Reservation as missionaries, we were told we should pick a different field because there would never be the large groups that were available on other fields.  Nevertheless, numerous churches were started and the door was opened for other missionaries to come.  God may call a person to big area or a small one. 

In Acts 16:4-11, Paul and his associates set out for Asia toi preach the Gospel.  God simply forbid them to go at that time.  “And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.  And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.  

Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.  And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas.  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.  And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.” 

Paul had started other churches, but this time he was directed in a special place first.  Later they would start churches in Asia, but it was not God’s plan for them to start there first.  God may direct us to a different place than we thought we should go.  As we see, God led in different ways at different times.  We need to learn to allow him to lead us to the proper place at the proper time, remembering what he said in Isaiah 55:8-9.  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”   

We need to understand he has a special plan and allow him to lead as he sees fit.   He may decide to lead us through the most logical plan, or like Philip, he may lead us to place that place that seems totally illogical.  The most important thing is that we be willing to serve him starting just where we are.   If we start with where we are, we can count on him to get us to the proper place, just as he did Abraham’s servant in Genesis 24:7.  “And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I being in the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master's brethren.”

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Sins Against The Holy Spirit III

The third sin we can commit against the Holy Spirit is that of blasphemy.  Luke 12:10 tells us, “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.”   As a result this is frequently called the unforgiveable sin, and some people fear they may have committed it. 

To blaspheme means to slander or vilify.  Mark 3:22-30 describes the situation when Jesus said blasphemy would never be forgiven.   “And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.

And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan?  And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.  No man can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.   Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation: Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.” 

Jesus was empowered by the Spirit of God.  The scribes were saying it was a Satanic spirit who was enabling to cast out demons.  As Jesus pointed out, such a claim made no sense, because Satan would be destroying himself if he did.  They were slandering the Holy Spirit, accusing him of being one of Satan’s spirits, and Jesus warned that would never be forgiven.   They were crediting what the Holy Spirit did to Satan.  

There is a second form of this sin.  The Holy Spirit is God, and James 1:13 tells us, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.”   When we begin to accuse the Holy Spirit of leading us to do evil things such as ripping people off or killing innocent people we are also blaspheming the Holy Spirit.   Those televangelists who use their “ministry” to rip off thousands of people or who have hundreds of people killed in the name of Christianity, like Jim Jones, Charles Manson, or various other cult leaders through the ages fall into this category.  

In Numbers 16 we find the story of Koran and his followers being destroyed for rebelling against God’s leadership.  Caused them to be swallowed up by and earthquake.  Numbers 16:41-46 describes what happened next.  “But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the LORD.

And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tabernacle of the congregation: and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD appeared.  And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation.  And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces.

And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the LORD; the plague is begun.”  The people were effectively blaspheming the Holy Spirit by  accusing Moses and Aaron of murdering God’s people, and God sent a plague that killed fourteen thousand seven hundred people for doing so. 

Real Christians have the Holy Spirit to guide them and are unlikely to commit this sin, but false teachers and religions which place their traditions and teachings ahead of God’s word may well fall into it.