Tuesday, May 29, 2018

So It Begins . . .

There are some biblical explorations so awfully daunting that attempting to study them seems downright foolhardy.  Such is the case with the first book of the Bible: Genesis.  Although I've wanted to study the book, I've put it off due to, well, fear mostly....fear I'll not get it right, fear I'll miss something, etc.  Plus, it is going to mean a lot of work, a ton of study, which I am not sure I'm up for at the moment.  I can't seem to escape it, however.  When God chases you with something, you might as well just stop, surrender and try to wrap your faith around it.  Even if your "faith arms" won't reach all the way around, or are weak, God uses such insurmountable experiences to strengthen your faith and "grow it".  So, here we go:  Hello Genesis!

There are few books of the Bible as hotly contested as the first one.  It seems important to ask why that should be the case?

To answer that question, let's look at geometry.  (Those who know me well are chortling right about now.  A math wizard I certainly am NOT.)  When in the ninth grade of American public schooling, I studied geometry.  Needless to say, I hated it, although I admired my teacher because she was so fashionable, young and pretty, lol!  Her name was Miss M.  Some of my blog readers may remember her and may have, in fact, been in my same class!  But, I digress.....
One thing I remember about the actual course content - - in attempting to prove a mathematical theorem, if you made a mistake in the beginning of your proof, the rest of the proof argument did not matter!

Similarly, if the book of Genesis can be discredited, then what is to stop the rest of God's written revelation from being similarly discredited? The anti-God crowd, the pagan culture driven by satanic thought, has been pretty successful in conning the pseudo-intellectual crowd into believing that Genesis is myth or poetry or hymn or legend or exalted prose . . or downright make-believe.  This provides the springboard for unbelievers to go on and reject the rest of the Bible.  "Anything that begins with that crazy, far-fetched, anti-science nonsense..."

So, the truth of Genesis has been obscured, twisted, and maligned in recent human history, although a literal interpretation was how scholars understood it until the 18th century.  Luminaries such as the Jewish historian, Josephus, early church fathers (Lactantius and Basil the Bishop of Caesarea, for example), Martin Luther and John Calvin also viewed Genesis as literal, historical narrative.1

Where did Genesis come from?
According to centuries of biblical tradition, as well as the testimony of other Scripture, Genesis (and the rest of the Torah) were given to Moses by God Himself.  There are several excellent arguments that point to Moses as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament (often called The Torah or The Law). 2
1.  Moses had the necessary education to write these books, educated as he was in the royal courts of his uncle, the Pharaoh of Egypt.
2.  Moses lived through much of Israel's history, so that his accounts are first-hand accounts.
3.  Moses had the time to compose the history of the Jewish people, according to Exodus 18:13-26, which tells us he was relieved by an organizational hierarchy of more trivial governmental matters.  This would have given him time to write.
4.  Scriptures like those below testify that he wrote it.  Jesus referred to the Torah as "the Law of Moses".*

Exodus 17:14 and 24:4 and 34:27
Numbers 33:2
Deuteronomy 31:19, 24-26
Joshua 1:7-8, 8:30-31
John 1:17
Romans 10: 5 (where Paul refers to Leviticus 18:5)
2 Cor 3:14-15
Acts 15:1 (ref. Genesis 17 - - circumcision)
John 7:19, 23 *
Luke 24:44 *
John 5:46-47 *

So, my conclusion is that Moses was given the history and laws for the nation of Israel by God, through divine inspiration, and that Moses recorded this literal, historical narrative for our use in the few thousands of years hence. 

Moses lived, according to Rabbinic Judaism, from 1391 to 1271 BC.3  This means that he wrote concerning more than 4000 years of human history, occurring before his birth.  Did God orally dictate Genesis (and the other books) to Moses?  Did Moses use other, earlier written sources to write Genesis?  We will explore that further in the next post.

Sources:

1    https://answersingenesis.org/hermeneutics/is-genesis-1-literal-literalism-or-literalistic/

2    https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_676.cfm

3    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Chicken or Egg? (Vine-Branch, pt. 2)


I seem to be in a poultry theme lately . . .
Awhile back . .  one of my friends posted on Facebook the following:
"I just ordered a chicken and an egg from Amazon.  I'll let you know."
For those who have not yet had enough coffee this morning, this post was a droll reference to that old adage/question:  "Which came first: the chicken or the egg?"

This reminds me of the conundrum, the second paradox (blogged about the first in the last post), revealed in John 15:16-17.  Take a look at verses 11-17:

“I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. 12 This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master[b] is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father. 16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. 17 This is what I command you: Love one another.

"You are my friends, if you do what I command you", Jesus said.  Jesus' commands to His followers are not mere suggestions.  He is the second Person of the Holy Trinity, not some weak "good teacher".  When He commands us to do something, it is not negotiable.  We are His disciples, but He also calls us His friends.

Next we come to verse 16.  "You did not choose me, but I chose and appointed you to go fulfill a specific purpose in my kingdom."  Now, some adherents of the doctrine of "predestination" or "election" would have us believe that this statement (and other similar statements in Scripture) indicates we have no choice in our decision to accept Jesus - - - that there are those who are going to become Christians, no matter what, and that there are those who are doomed to Hell, no matter what.

Friends, this just flies in the face of both common sense and also the doctrine of grace that pervades God's Word in the New Testament!

The doctrinal "common ground" for me between these two seemingly contradictory positions is the teaching about God's sovereignty - - - His "All-Knowingness".    One of my favorite passages of Scripture that speaks to His knowing all things is Isaiah 46:9-10.


 I am God, and there is no other;

    I am God, and there is none like me.
10 
I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.


He knows all things.  Therefore, while we are all given a choice whether or not to choose Jesus as Savior or to choose to follow Him daily, He knows beforehand what our individual choices will be.
That makes perfect sense to me, and I'm very comfortable with that belief.  It is consistent with the grace of God which compelled Him to die for us and His unchangeable characteristic of knowing all things, past, present and future.

So, which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Amazon has nothing to do with the answer.

What we need to focus on, as opposed to focusing on pointless arguments, is that our Savior has appointed us to:
1.  abide in Him
2.  bear spiritual fruit
3.  love one another


That should keep us busy enough and too busy to argue over chickens, eggs or anything else, for that matter.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

He is Divine, and I am De Branch


The title of this post is from a wonderful song by Keith Green, one of the first "contemporary" Christian music artists, and a deep lover of Jesus.  I still miss his ministry!  And, he's been gone 37 years....

Our text for today is John 15:1-17, a passage (one of my faves!) in which Jesus uses a metaphor of agriculture to describe His relationship with His children.

1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunesa so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.4Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.6If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17This is my command: Love each other.

In the past I have used the word "abiding" as part of passwords for various technologies, because I love the way Jesus uses that word in this passage.  The NET Bible translation I've been reading, of late, translates it as "remain".  Others translate the word as "stay".

As I've mentioned before here in this blog, the Bible is full of paradoxes.  Two of those paradoxical themes surface here in this chapter, which is part of Jesus' last admonitions and encouragements to His disciples.  The other key theme in this passage is the theme of sacrificial love.  These words were spoken at or after the Last Supper and not long before the group left to go to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus allowed Himself to be captured.

Let's deal with these one at a time.  In this post, we will focus on the first paradox and then the key theme.

What does it mean to abide (remain, stay) in Christ, and will the Heavenly Father "cut me off" from Himself?

Theologians debate this issue, which is commonly called "losing one's salvation".  Remember that we must take all Scripture into account when interpreting its meaning on a given issue such as this.  The Bible is not going to contradict itself, when an issue is investigated as a whole, although it may seem to if a verse or two is examined alone.

One thing here is sure:  true believers in Jesus Christ, those who have had their hearts sealed by His Holy Spirit when they entered into that "possession" by Him, WILL "bear fruit" (evidence their faith in Christ - - not earn it - - by their good works).

It is as inevitable as when a branch on an apple tree makes apples.  Apple trees do not make pears or kumquats.  They make apples.  This does not mean that Christian believers will do all things perfectly all the time.  That is an impossible standard for a fallen/redeemed creature.  But, most of the time, their actions will testify to their relationship with Jesus because they long to please Him.
And, when they're actions don't,....those branches get pruned.  OUCH!  Yes, the Father "prunes" such disobedient branches, so that they will become more fruitful.

You may have seen in the wintertime trees or bushes that have been extensively pruned, not just thinned or trimmed, but cut back to the point where it looks like they will never recover!  If the pruning is done correctly though, and in the right time of year, the tree or bush eventually bounces back to be more beautiful and fruitful than ever before.

So what about verse 2?  That sounds pretty permanent!
The English phrase "cut off" is translated in the Old Testament from the Hebrew word "karet" (anglicized).
In all cases where it is found, the phrase indications a severe punishment, and in most cases that punishment is either banishment from the people group or physical death.  In some cases, it is interpreted to have even more dire consequences - - such as the ending of a family line, or even so far as permanent separation from God.

Here in John 15:2,  the Greek word which is translated "takes away", "removes" or "cuts off" is "airei."
(The New Testament was written in Greek, the scholarly language of Jesus' day, even among the Jews.)
Accordingly, it's use in this verse can mean one of two things:
a.  It can mean that the true believer who is living in sin can offend the Father to the point that He says, "Enough!" and {cuts off} ends that person's physical life.  He "takes them away", takes them Home.
b.  It can mean that the person was never a true believer at all.
The example that comes to mind here is Judas Iscariot.  He was a pretender.  Jesus issued to him the call "Follow me", and Judas appeared to sincerely answer "yes".  He traveled around with Jesus and the disciples and even held the important position of treasurer of the group.  But, and this is the crucial point - - - his motives were not pure and his heart was never transformed.  He followed Jesus for personal gain, because he thought that Jesus would overthrow the Roman government and that he would gain a place of prominence in Jesus' earthly kingdom.  He never understood or desired the lordship of Jesus Christ over his heart and life.  There was no "heart change".
I wonder if Jesus was thinking of Judas Iscariot when he spoke those words in verse 2.

I cannot accept the interpretation that this verse means the Father takes away the believer's authentic relationship with His Son.  That runs contrary to the teachings of Scripture elsewhere.

Ok, so, if we accept that the preceding is true, what does it mean to abide {remain, stay} in Christ?
If we want to be as fruitful as possible, we must make the conscious choice to draw near to Him and to submit our will to His.  In Luke 9:23, Jesus called this "taking up the cross daily" to follow Him. Recall, dear reader, that Jesus Himself did this!  Look at His relationship to Father! He regularly prayed - - - not just those quick prayers before He worked a miracle - - - but deep, sustained prayer where he withdrew from other people to a isolated spot and talked to Daddy for hours!  He drew near to Father and submitted His will to His.  This is how we "keep His commandments".  As we study the Bible, pray and align our will with His, He shows us how to love Him more - - how to keep His commandments.
This is what is meant in verse 16 - - - if we align our will with Father's, then He will give us anything we ask, because we are asking in harmony with His plans.

And, what is the commandment Jesus mentions here?  To love one another.  (Remember John 13:34-35?)

“I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.”

If we "abide" in Christ Jesus, we love our fellow man.  Again, Jesus is our example. (vs. 13)

"No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends."

Of course, that is exactly what Jesus did for us.  He laid it down.
Jesus knows that in the days to come the disciples would be severely persecuted for His sake.  For this reason, He is urgently exhorting them to ... walk resplendent!

Song:  "He'll Take Care of the Rest", by Keith Green
https://youtu.be/MVDwIQv5m7Q

Father, I know that I am "kept" in Christ Jesus by Your mercy and grace, not through my own efforts. Just as it was impossible for me to reconcile my sinful self to you apart from my Savior, Jesus, it is equally impossible for me to sustain that spiritual union.  And, I am glad this is true, because my pride would threaten to rise up and claim praise for my puny efforts.  No, Lord, "it is all about You". However, this day I choose to draw near to You and to love You, to abide in You, and show my devotion by loving on those others You give me the opportunity to love today.  Align my will with Yours, Blessed Father, so that I may walk....resplendent!  In Jesus' name, amen.


Source:

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Shavuot and Pentecost


A couple of posts ago, I wrote about a local, well-known Atlanta pastor who has been advocating that Christians disregard, or at the very least diminish, the Old Testament.  The post I'm writing today, as Shavuot 2018 nears, is a great illustration of why doing as he suggests is heretical teaching.

In this post, I am going to share some of the parallels between the Jewish feast called Shavuot and the Christian Sunday of Pentecost, because they are beautiful and meaningful, historically and theologically linked.  To help make these easier to read and comprehend, I'll use a compare-and-contrast format, with bullet points and different-colored fonts.

1.  When?

  • Shavuot falls 50 days to the day after the Passover Feast of Firstfruits, the Sunday Jesus arose from the dead.  The Hebrew word Shavuot means "weeks", and this celebration is often called Feast of Weeks.  (See Exodus 19:18-20, Leviticus 23:15-16 and Exodus 24:3-11.)  In 2018, Shavuot begins at dusk on May 19 and ends at dusk on May 21. 
  • Pentecost is a Greek word (pentekostos) which means "fiftieth day".  Christians celebrate Pentecost on the 7th Sunday after Easter.  Pentecost occurred when the disciples were together, celebrating Shavuot. (See Acts 2:1-4.) . 

2.  Where?

  • Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses, which occurred on Mt. Sinai.  
  • Pentecost also features a gift, the greater gift of the Holy Spirit.  This occurred on Mt. Zion (Jerusalem).
3.  Significance
  • The giving of Torah marks what many consider to be the day on which Judaism was born.  The word Torah means "teaching".  (The Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament.)
  • The giving of the Holy Spirit ratified the New Covenant of Jesus Christ, and marked the beginning of the worldwide Church, redeemed "from every tribe and tongue" (Revelation 5:9).  In John 14:26, the Holy Spirit is called "the teacher".
4.  Similar Signs and Wonders
  • At Sinai, there were wind, fire and smoke.  The presence of God was powerfully evident, and the people were afraid to approach the presence of God they visibly saw displayed on the mountain.
  • At Zion, there was wind and fire, but in a different, more personal way.  God manifested Himself in awesome power at Pentecost in a manner reminiscent of Sinai, except that this time, the fire of God fell upon each person present.
5.  Marked by God
  • One of the marks of the Jews was the circumcision of males, a cutting which distinguished them as belonging to Yahweh.  Also, at Sinai, the finger of God wrote on tablets of stone.
  • At Pentecost, the Spirit of God wrote on the tablets of each heart (2 Corinthians 3:3 and Hebrews 8:10).  This act of God confirmed His promise made to the prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34) and which Jesus promised to the disciples (Acts 1:4).  When a person receives Jesus as his or her personal Lord and Savior, there is figuratively a "cutting of the heart", a circurmcision of the heart, to allow the Holy Spirit to enter.  The Holy Spirit is a mark, a "cut" if you will, on each person's heart to indicate both His everlasting presence as well as the believer's eternal belonging to Jesus Christ.  This was not the case in the Old Testament.  The Holy Spirit did not dwell with each Jewish person, whether circumcised in the flesh or not. Before Jesus ascended, the Spirit of God descended on those He chose for His specific purposes.  At and after Pentecost, the ever-present Holy Spirit in the heart of every follower of Jesus Christ represents Jesus' mark of ownership.  
6.  Agriculture (Firstfruits)
  • On an additional level, the Israelites celebrated at Shavuot the gathering in of the grain harvests, by bringing crops to the Temple.  Shavuot marked the endpoint of the Firstfruits celebration, which began with the wave offering of the first grain of the harvest during Passover week.  (See http://resplendentdaughter.blogspot.com/2018/03/first-fruits.html ) At Shavuot, a more plentiful, bountiful offering was made, representative of such a bountiful harvest.
  • Jesus was raised from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits, that Sunday which ended Passion Week. Paul referred to Him as "the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Corinthians 15:20). The 3000 souls converted to belief in Jesus Christ as Savior on Shavuot/Pentecost (Acts 2:41) represented a huge Firstfruits/Feast of Weeks offering to God.  If each Christian will allow the Spirit to do His transformative work, what is produced in each person reflects Deuteronomy 30:6.  This yielding by each person produces an all-consuming love for the Savior, down deep in the soul.  The Spirit produces, as Paul said in Gal. 6:14, a willing, daily crucifixion of one's will to the Cross of Jesus Christ, a daily dying to Self.  Further, this love for Christ produces the "fruits of the Spirit", listed in Galatians 5:22-23.  I do not believe Paul's terminology "fruits" was an accidental use of the word.  The giving of the Holy Spirit marks the completion of our Triune God's salvation plan for mankind, as well as the end of the Easter season.
These are just some of the amazing parallels between these two holy days.  For more details, feel free to read at the links I've provided below.

When we study about the history and meaning of the divinely consecrated feast of Shavuot, our understanding and appreciation of the Day of Pentecost are deepened.  Isn't it exciting to see how God's revelation of Himself 1200 hundred years earlier was mirrored and enhanced at Pentecost?  What an amazing God!

After those days, says the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Jeremiah 31:33 (King James 2000 Bible)
Sources:

https://forward.com/news/373541/why-do-some-christians-observe-shavuot/

http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Spring_Holidays/Shavuot/Zion/zion.html

http://acts242study.com/they-many-parallels-of-sinai-and-pentecost/

https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/firstfruits-and-pentecost/

Friday, May 18, 2018

Laurel? Yanni?


I'm on Twitter almost every day, which is pretty sad commentary, actually, but I do use it to tweet out my blog posts and in that crazy way "get the gospel out there".  At any rate, the other day I noticed this Laurel or Yanni thing trending.  For those of you who are non-Tweeters that basically means it was being tweeted about a lot.  It darn near broke Twitter, from what I understand, and even people in Europe were talking about it.  So, what was the big fuss, you ask?

Honestly, at the time I ignored it because I had other things to do.  But then, Wednesday night at a party, I was introduced to the controversy by my friend, D'Lynn.  Here's how it goes.  You can click on this internet site and hear an audio clip of one word.  Here's the controversy:  some hear the word as "Laurel" and others hear it as "Yanni".  How can one word sound so different, from one person to the other?  For the record, inquiring minds.....I am a "Laurel person".  The next morning on a new show, however, when they played the word, I heard "Yanni" as clear as day!

Here's what I think:  they play two different words.  End of story.  The official explanation is that each person focuses in on different wavelengths of this auditory illusion, essentially "hearing what they want to hear".

I was reminded of all this nonsense as I was reading from 2 Kings 3, because something similar happened there!  No, really!  Except that this time it was an optical illusion.  Let's take a look (lol, sorry....couldn't resist....)!

So, I was unfamiliar with this story.  It always comes as a shock to me when I run across a Bible story that I have not heard before (or if I have I don't remember it...).  At any rate, here was the scenario:

The story took place in the days of the prophet, Elisha, who figures prominently in the story.  The kingdom of Israel had already split into the Northern and Southern kingdoms.  The Northern kingdom, known as Israel, was being ruled by Jehoram, who was a mostly anti-Yahweh king, although not as bad as some.  He permitted some idolatry, but not the most extreme.  The southern kingdom, Judah, was being led by Jehoshaphat, a godly king who worshipped Yahweh (Jehovah).

The king of Moab at the time was a sheep breeder.  When Jehoram came to power, the Moabite king refused to honor his sheep trading agreement that had been in place with Jehoram's father.  Jehoram's reaction was to enlist the aid of Jehoshaphat and the king of neighboring Edom and march to war against Moab.

The armies of these three kings got out there in the wilderness and realized there was no water to be had.  Jehoshaphat, the only one who had any spiritual "sense" asked his men if there was a prophet of the one, true God, Yahweh, available.  Elisha was recommended and brought to the kings.  Interestingly, he asked for some godly music to be played and, in that atmosphere of worship, received an answer from the Lord God.  (I could go off on a tangent here, but will restrain myself...)

The answer was that God would send water for the men to drink, but that it would not be via rain or wind.  The next morning, the water appeared, flowing from the direction of Edom.  (This is a complete blog post in itself - - so much in this story, and I will return to it later.  For now, though ....)

The Moabites saw the water when they rose up that morning and here is where the optical illusion came in.  The way the sun shone on the water, it appeared to the Moabite army to be blood.  The conclusion they came to was that the three advancing armies had turned on each other and destroyed each other.  It was merely left to the Moabites to saunter in and collect the "spoils of war", which is what they attempted.  Unfortunately for them, they were wrong.  The "blood" was not the blood of the other army; however, the blood of the Moabites soon flowed to soak into the ground, as they were soundly defeated.

Although the Laurel/Yanni debate appears to be relatively harmless, some tricks of the eye and ear can be more harmful, as in our Bible story today.  Some illusions lead us astray or, if not deadly to our spirits, certainly leave us spiritually destitute. Whatever we fill our ears and eyes with shapes our souls and spirits, as we move through our lives.  No matter what we think we see or hear, let's always look to Jesus first in all our ways, praying and evaluating every bit of information in the context of God's Word.  This trust in Him will always lead to peace, everlasting, eternal peace.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.
Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)



But my eyes are to you, O GOD the Lord: in you is my trust; leave not my soul destitute.
Psalm 141:8 (American KJV)


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Assault and the Struggle

"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves."
Matthew 7:15 (NASB)




One of my friends keeps "backyard chickens".  She has done so for some time.  The other day she got some new hens; she drove a long way to pick them up.  Two nights later they were dead.

I doubt it was a ravenous wolf that killed her chickens; more likely it was a coyote.  Still, seeing the results of such a massacre is hard on the eyes.

The same holds true of apostasy and apostate preachers/prophets.  Hard to witness.  Hard to watch.
In our local area, one of the notable pastors has taken a deep dive off into apostasy, declaring that the Old Testament is no longer relevant to our lives today, as Christians....that the 1st century church fathers divorced themselves from the Old Testament teachings.1  This false teaching is very similar to 2nd century Marcionism.2

A similar apostasy, revealed in the New Testament was the opposite belief - - that all Christians, Jews and Gentiles, had to conform entirely to Mosaic Law and the rabbinical traditions which grew up around it.  This position was taught by the apostate Judaizers, which I have blogged about in this recent post:
Today, Judaizers can be seen in certain Messianic Jewish communities, such as the wrong-headed Hebrew Roots movement.3

A third form of apostasy is that belief in a particular church or denomination brings salvation...that saving faith in Jesus Christ is not sufficient, that obedience to a bunch of ecclesiastical practices and regulations is required.  This essentially becomes "works-based salvation" or earning your way into Heaven by following a set of rules/practices not mentioned in Scripture.  Adherents become enslaved to their particular church, trusting in that church for salvation, instead of relying on Jesus Christ alone.

All three of these heresies are just that - - heresies, apostasies.
Behind all three are an insatiable drive for power and prestige - - to gain or increase a religious "following".  At the foundation are selfishness and pride.

In the case of what can be observed happening with the Atlanta pastor referenced in source #1 below, the driving force seems to be a general appeasement of American culture.  There is no doubt that the American culture war seems to be swinging in favor of those who view aberrant sexual behavior to be acceptable, both socially and religiously, despite prohibitions of such in both the Old and New Testaments.  In order to appease these increasingly clamorous voices for both social and ecclesiastical legitimacy, some pastors are veering off into a theological ditch, taking their usually sizable congregations along with them.

The Assault and the Struggle:
On a larger scale, all throughout the days since Jesus was here among us, the assault on grace along with the resulting struggle to define appropriate outworking of grace in the life works of believers have raged hot.
I imagine it will continue to be so, until Jesus returns.

So, where is the balance?
I am not much of a theologian and, frankly, there are times writing this blog scares me to death, for fear that I might fall into the trap of teaching heresy.  Still, by the grace of God and for His glory, I'll take a crack at it.

1.  Salvation begins in the life of a person when he or she realizes that there no way to "earn" salvation by "being good" - - that is, conforming to any set of moral rules, from the Old Testament or otherwise.  (Romans 3:10-12; Romans 3:23) . Since God's standard is total perfection, none of us can achieve it on our own.
2.  Salvation is conferred by the Holy Spirit when the person then puts his or her faith and trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ, as Savior and Master/Lord.  Period.  Done.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)
3.  Walking by faith means living one's life as an outflowing of that saving grace, living it according to the words of the New Covenant given to us by Jesus Himself in Luke 22:19-20.  We need to recognize, however, that Jesus' New Covenant is directly derived from (flows from) the rules for moral living typified in the 10 Commandments.4  5
4.  The Old Testament should be honored as co-equal with the New, because it is an indispensable part of God's complete written revelation of Himself to His people, Israel, and the Church of Jesus Christ.  It should be studied, in light of the New, to learn how God fulfilled so much of the Old Testament through Jesus' life and work, revealed in the New.  Remember that when Paul wrote 2 Timothy 3:16-17, he was referring to the Scriptures which we today call the Old Testament!
5.  If redeemed people of faith want to (out of love and gratitude) practice such things as keeping the Jewish feasts with a Messianic view, or using Hebrew in their worship services and so forth, they should follow their own convictions to do so, recognizing that eternal salvation is found in Jesus Christ, and in Him alone.

Dear Lord Jesus, please give us clear eyes and pure, humble hearts, to follow You in grace and truth.  May we fare better than my friend Diana's chickens.  Please protect your flock from ravenous wolves.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Sources:

1   http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/moralistic-therapeutic-marcionism/

2   https://www.gotquestions.org/marcionism.html

3   https://answersingenesis.org/presuppositions/dangers-hebrew-roots-movement/

Monday, May 14, 2018

Not a Simple Move

Photo courtesy of CNN.com

As I begin writing this post, the US embassy is about to open in Jerusalem, having been located in Tel Aviv since 1966.  Today is also historic in that this move takes place on the 70th anniversary of the signing of Israel's Declaration of Independence.

In 1995 the United States Congress passed, on a bipartisan vote, a declaration to move our embassy to Jerusalem; yet, none of our presidents since then have had the desire to take that on, believing a rather "agnostic" stance would further the peace process.  It has not proven to be a helpful or productive strategy.  In late 2017, therefore, our current president made the decision to make the move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  While the Israeli government has given this change a warm welcome, the Palestinian people in Gaza, which borders Israel, are extremely upset at this action.  There has been a lot of unrest at the border between Gaza and Israeli military forces in the past few days, spurred on by this move.  Many Gazans are attacking the border fence, although they were extensively warned doing so would be deadly.  It is a scene which provokes in my heart great sadness.  As much as I love Israel and Jerusalem, it pains me to see such unrest at the country's Gazan border and, also recently, at the Golan Heights borders. 

Tel Aviv is a beautiful city, particularly the Old Jaffa area, on the Mediterranean.  Tel Aviv has, for years, housed many international embassies because it was viewed as "neutral ground" between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Israelies.  Since the nation of Israel reclaimed all of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967, the Israeli government has named Jerusalem as Israel's capital.  The ruling body, the Knesset, meets in Jerusalem (I have seen it).  Israeli government buildings are located in Jerusalem.  Really, it only makes sense for international embassies to be located in the capital city of each foreign country. 

However, those who argue for the establishment of a Palestinian state within the borders of Israel are inflamed by the move.  The reality is that Israel, since 1948, has not attacked its surrounding neighbors unless Israel was first attacked.  In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel defeated (supernaturally) its attackers.  The international rules of "spoils of war" decree that when a nation wins a war, it lays claim to the territory formerly controlled by the aggressors in order to stave off future attacks.  That is  common sense and exactly what happened just after the 1967 Six Day War.  (When I was visiting Israel, I lodged in an area which was held by Jordan until the Six-Day War.)  For some reason, (anti-Semitism?) the international community has refused to recognize Israel's hard-won victories over their political enemies and has, instead, sided with the conquered Palestinian factions.  This international refusal has actually contributed to the political unrest in and surrounding the sovereign nation of Israel.

What IS Gaza?  Gaza is a narrow strip of land, bordered by the Mediterranean on one side, by Egypt on the south, and surrounded by Israel otherwise.  As the easternmost section of the West Bank of Israel, Gaza is not a large area.  Technically a part of the nation of Israel (as is the West Bank), Gaza's currency is the shekel (Israeli currency). The Israeli government still controls who enters and leaves, collects taxes, controls the fishing industry, etc.  Gaza used to be under Israeli occupation, (in other words, Jews lived there); but, under the leadership of Ariel Sharon in 2005, Israel gave it up to greater Palestinian control and settlement, in an attempt to establish more peace in the region.  Many Jewish citizens were forced to be displaced, re-located to other sections of the country of Israel.  Despite giving up a sizable piece of land, Sharon's capitulation has done virtually nothing to produce peace.  Gaza is now controlled by Hamas and almost exclusively populated by Palestinians.  IF a Palestinian state were to be established in the future, Gaza would most certainly be part of it.

The Israelis have long argued that the establishment of a Palestinian state would merely fuel more hatred and attacks on Israel, a belief proven to have a good deal of merit since there have been many rockets launched into Israel from Gaza, over recent years.  Although many Palestinians live peacefully in Israel, the very violent minority refuse to recognize Israel's right to be a sovereign nation.  It is difficult to have a peace agreement with parties who refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist, at all.

When the United States became a nation, enterprising Jewish people from across the Atlantic began coming to this country to make a better life and avoid religious persecution.  (This included some of my ancestors, on my mother's side.)  Today, the nation of Israel and the United States are home to over 85% of the world's approximately 14.5 million Jews.  With its deep Christian roots, the United States has, since Israel's rebirth in 1948, been a strong ally of the re-born nation.

What does all this political verbiage have to do with the Bible or the Christian faith?

According to Genesis 15:18 and reinforced in Joshua 1:4, God gave to Israel/the Jews/His chosen people all the land within the following boundaries:
measuring north to south, everything from Lebanon to the Nile River in Egypt;
measuring east to west, everything from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates River.
This includes all of Jordan, all of Gaza, all of the West Bank, some of Egypt, some of Saudi Arabia and even a bit of Iraq.  Therefore, it is clear the modern-day nation of Israel does not claim within its borders all of the land bequeathed to the Jews by God, way back in Genesis. 

Despite the opposition to the US embassy move (and more broadly speaking, Israel's right to exist at all), Jerusalem was established by King David as the capital of the ancient nation of Israel about 3000 years ago.  He had to conquer the Jebusites who were living there to make that happen.  Jerusalem remained the capital of Jerusalem for about 400 years, until the Israelites were judged by God via the Babylonians, who under King Nebuchadnezzar, conquered the Israelites, destroyed Jerusalem (and King Solomon's Temple), carting all the able-bodied Jews off to Babylonian captivity for 70 years.

After the Babylonian captivity, most Israelites returned to Jerusalem, rebuilding the city and the Temple.  For the next several (400 or so) years, Jerusalem remained capital of Israel.  It was so when Jesus was born, lived, died, was resurrected and ascended.   In 70 A.D., the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, scattering the Jewish nation/peoples, in what was called The Diaspora (The Dispersion).  God used this event to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to that entire region of the world.  The Romans then renamed the city Palestine, a derivative of the word, Philistine.  (Interesting, no?) . There followed a period of nearly 1900 years before Israel was once again re-born as a Jewish state.

The Bible has long promised that, in "the last days", the nation of Israel would be reborn.  We find this in the "dry bones" prophecy of Ezekiel 37.  That prophecy began to be fulfilled in 1948, with the country being expanded in 1967.  Some Bible scholars, though, do not mark the Ezekiel 37 and 39 prophecies to be totally fulfilled until Israel recognizes the Lord God as their God once again.  Much of modern-day Israel IS Jewish, although many are agnostic Jews.  In addition, a minority is Christian (including dear friends of mine) and a minority is Muslim, including some very good people and also some very "bad actors".

Despite all these complications, today marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the fulfillment of those Ezekiel prophecies.  It is a momentous, historical day, and Resplendent Daughter Ministries celebrates with the nation of Israel.  To God be the glory!

Sources:

http://www.theweek.co.uk/90229/what-is-the-capital-of-israel

https://www.quora.com/Does-Gaza-belong-to-Israel-or-Palestine

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consulate_of_the_United_States,_Tel_Aviv

http://www.israel.org/MFA/MFA-Archive/1993/Pages/JERUSALEM%203000-%20When%20did%20King%20David%20conquer%20Jerusa.aspx

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_population_by_country

https://www.prophecyproof.org/is-the-valley-of-dry-bones-prophecy-fulfilled-yet/

https://www.gotquestions.org/Israeli-settlements.html



Saturday, May 12, 2018

May is Mom's Fave Month?


I have been seeing Facebook posts from frazzled moms, who are lamenting that EVERYTHING concludes in May - - school, spring sports, church events like Awanas, etc.  Some of these have a "special" emphasis (translates to Mom as "requirement) every day.  "What to get teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week?"  "You are supposed to dress as a WHAT today?"  (11 minutes before the bus arrives).  Believe me, I remember!

It is hard to "appreciate" those days when you are IN them, to remember that every day with your child is a huge blessing.  Below, I'll share my sons' Awards Days (and lunch following) celebration from 2005, so that you can have a Mother's Day weekend guffaw, and so that you will know I am always "the perfect mom".  <crickets> LOL!

Being the mom of two boys has always been quite the adventure.... To preserve the dignity of the shy, I will refer to my two sons in this memoir as Shnazzle and Shnizzle.


Today was not a typical day.  I went to school and conducted business for about an hour and a half.  Then, I left a little after nine to go to B_____, for Schnazzle’s awards day presentation.  The ceremony was well-done.  Schnazzle seemed moderately happy to see me.  I had called the house on the way to work this morning to tell him that I’d be coming.  He seemed very excited.  After the ceremony, I asked him if he wanted me to have lunch with him, and he replied that he wanted his Dad to.  But, Bill had to go get a tire fixed on the truck; so, he could not stay.  I asked Schnazzle again if he wanted me to have lunch with him and he replied, “if you want to.”  That should have been my first clue.

When I met his class at the lunch room about 15 minutes later, he was very cool towards me, chatting unceasingly to a friend in the lunch line.  This didn’t surprise me too much, because he had acted that way that last time I’d come to lunch.  After getting his tray he went to the table and moved 3 or 4 times before finally settling in a spot - - at the end of the table where there were no more seats.  He told me that I could sit “down there somewhere.”  I knelt down at the end of the table and said that obviously he did not want me to have lunch with him, since there was no place for me to sit.  He began to make excuses, but I just told him I’d go have lunch with Schnizzle later, and then left.  My feelings were so badly hurt.  I called Bill and told him about the incident, and he was as perplexed as me, concerning why Schnazzle would act in such a way.  It was as if he had absolutely no regard for my feelings or for the fact that I had taken off a half day from work just to be with him for the awards presentation and for lunch.

Lunch with Schnizzle nearly an hour later was not a lot better.  Upon arriving, I saw Schnizzle’s class playing at recess and then he spotted me watching.  It was so funny to see how surprised he was.  I called out that I’d meet him in the cafeteria for lunch.  He was upset when he appeared in the lunch line.  It was about his barely missing the National Physical Fitness Award.  He missed it in only one of the four categories - - and then only by 6 seconds.  Apparently, one of his classmates had taunted him about it right before lunch.  When we were about to get our trays, he left the line to go save us a couple of seats.  But, his classmates would not let him sit where he wanted us to sit.  So, that made him even more upset.  He was almost in tears when he returned to the lunch line.  We sat with his friends, Chase and Jake.  (Jake is the boy whose birthday party he attended last Saturday.)  Jake goes to church, and Chase attends ours.  They were very nice, but Schnizzle could not get past his upset over “missing the National.”  The boy who taunted him apparently, sat at the end of the next table and kept trying to talk to him to make him feel better.  But, Schnizzle was having none of that. He was acting jealous and very ungracious to all of them.  It was not a pleasant lunch.

On the way back to work, I called Bill again to tell him of my experiences with Schnizzle!  It was not a good day to have lunch with the boys.

I talked with both of them after they got home.  (I got home from the work before they got home from school.)  Schnazzle said that the reason he kept moving from seat to seat was that he was trying to avoid the people he had been told not to sit by at lunch.  Perhaps that was the case, but it did not feel that way to me.  I felt like I was "the people" he was trying to avoid.

Well, there you have it!  A slice of real life on the journey of motherhood.  Sometimes, it's not all pretty daisies picked from the yard.  Sometimes, you get weeds!

Still, you just pray and remain faithful to the Lord, while loving on your precious children all the more, thanking God for them as you mold them . . . because so many on this Mother's Day do not have that joy or privilege.

Let's face it - - Mother's Day, supposedly the rose among the weeds of May, ranges from joyful to bittersweet to agonizing for some.  Let's love on folks this weekend, being especially kind, because we have no idea what the occasion of Mother's Day dredges up in the spirits and souls of many.  Where we can, let's minister to one another, like a sweet sister ministered to me with a precious text a day or two ago.  (Thank you, dear Lynn!) And, let's thank God for all the wide-ranging moments of being (or having) a mom.


8Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
9They are a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck.
Proverbs 1:8-9 (NIV)