The Double Minded Man
One Sunday, as you settle in the church to listen to the sermon, you here things that don't jibe with your knowledge of Christianity. The pastor is preaching things that don't match the Bible; in fact it contradicts the Bible over and over again. he preaches on the virtues of selfishness, of self gratification, and that feeling good is the most important quality in your life. As he continues to preach, elevating man above all else, you realize that you've wandered into a church of Satan.
So here's my question for you: Would you feel comfortable there? Would you feel welcomed and accepted? Would you believe you could make this church your home?
Or would the fact that their ideals and values were so different from your own make you leave that church as quickly as possible, never to return?
That's what I thought.
So why on earth are you swallowing the profane notion that we as believers should make make our churches more appealing to those who still serve the enemy?
Isn't it obvious that the only way to make them comfortable would be to adopt some of their values, their beliefs, their priorities at the expense of God's? Do we really believe that God is calling us to prostitute his church just to land more butts in the seats?
There's a church in Sevierville that recently raffled off cars to kids who joined the youth group, because apparently, they believe that the offer of eternal salvation isn't attractive enough. God neede them to sweeten the deal with a new ride.
The congregation is very proud of the gimmick, and rave about how many kids were saved by the pastor's creative promotion, but there's a huge flaw in this notion. I hate to be the one to break it to this pastor, but he didn't save anybody. Pastors don't save people. Congregations don't save people. LAy ministers don't save people. Apostles, disciples, ministers and saints do not save people.
Only God saves. We who are called are saved by His Grace through faith, and as Paul said, that faith does not come from ourselves, but from God. We are called to spread the Gospel, but God is responsible for the increase, and I don't think God needs us to help by handing out party favors.
Jesus said that His Father's house should be a house of prayer, and begging God to let me win that car isn't what He had in mind.
"But Rich, if even one kid was saved by this stunt, wasn't it worth it?"
First, if anyone was truly saved during this foolishness, then their name was already in the Book of Life, written their before time itself, and they were called by God to be saved, not lured there by material gain. Do we really think that greed is the road to salvation? We also have to look at the other side. While there was one winner, their were many losers. How many of them will decide that since God didn't want to give them a car, maybe He didn't want them at all. That's the problem with the Gospel of Prosperity; if you don't prosper, then God must not be with you. SO let me turn the question around. If even one kid turned away from God because of this stunt, was it worth it?
Our commission is to preach the Gospel as given, despite it's harsh truths. It is those harsh truths that give it power. When we try to sugar coat those truths, make them more palatable to the world, we've adulterated the Word, and that last time I checked, that was considered a bad thing.
The essential divide is spelled out for us by James:
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
The more attractive we are to the world, the less so were are to God.
I don't know what is in this pastor's heart. I don't know his intent or purpose and I won't speak to that. I can speak, though, to his actions, and the fruits of those actions and say emphatically that they are not Biblically sound. I'm not writing to sow dissension or cause turmoil but to cast a light where I believe it is desperately needed.
One Year Later
He wasn't optimistic.
But God gave me my best birthday gift ever. By the end of that day, Luke wasn't out of the woods, but the crisis had passed. They put him in a bed that kept him prone and his lungs began to heal. Seven days later, they put him back into a regular bed. A few days after that, they began to wean him from the respirator that had breathed for him for three weeks. A few days later, they began to let him wake up. We were worried about whether the hypoxia he suffered made his brain injuries worse, but when he woke up enough t communicate, he began using sign language to ask questions since the trach hole in his throat prevented him from talking.
Day by day, the extent of God's miracle became clear. From the edge of death, Luke has recovered nearly 100% and he did it with blazing fast speed. Today he works with the grounds maintenance crews at UT, spends a lot of time with his girlfriends and not enough time with his old man, but that's ok. I get a thrill every time I see him walk in the door, smile that Luke smile, and say "Hey Paw!"
Today, Luke is asking for another miracle; one for somebody else.
I don't know what his relationship to this young lady is, but Luke is asking that all the folks who prayed for his recovery to pray for Chelsea Williams, an 18 year old girl who accidentally overdosed and is now in the hospital in a coma. I watched Luke fade away in a coma, and I've watched Henry Granju's mama Katie go through the death of her child to an overdose, and I pray that no other mother or father will have to face the same fear and pain. I pray that God will be with Chelsea and her family, and that He will bring them together with Him, in Hiw will and His time. I pray that He will shower them with His Grace, Mercy, and Love, and give them the strength they need to get through this trial. I ask this in Jesus' name, the Son of God, who died for my sins so I could take this to the Father and be seen as washed in righteousness.
It’s Not the End of the World
First, forget about the guy leading this group, and think about the folks who followed him. They, without any doubt, were very sincere in their belief that the interpretation he put forth was correct. They followed because they believed. Can you ridicule them for that? After all, we follow our beliefs, and to an unbeliever, what we believe is every bit as ridiculous as what these folks believed. How can we poke fun at them and then get offended when atheists make fun of us?
We can't. They believed sincerely, so much so that many acted on that faith, refusing to hedge their bets. They got rid of their property, their savings, anything that could hold them back from meeting God. We're called to do the same, you and I.
How many of us have a faith strong enough to let go of everything, and depend solely on God?
I don't, and so I have admiration for those people who, even though they were mistaken, went all the way for their belief. They literally put their money where their heart is, and while they may seem foolish to most of us, I admire their courage to act on their faith, to step out of the boat onto the storm tossed waters, and believe that God will sustain them. My prayer is that they will be sustained through this trial, that they understand that it wasn't their faith that was wrong, but the teaching they followed. I pray that their faith in God withstands the pain this false teaching has brought them.
My guess is that for most of them, it will. They understand that man is fallible, and makes mistakes. We can be misled, blinded by our own pride, our intellect, or by influences of the world. While we make mistakes, some admittedly bigger and more public than others, we know that those mistakes do not reflect back on our faith, but only on our own shortcomings, our own misunderstandings.
As for the guy who led them, I don't know if he was simply wrong, or if there was more going on, but either way, his burden is heavy. The Bible tells us what happens to false prophets, both in this life and at judgment, and it isn't pretty. Millstones and oceans are involved. In short, he will get what's coming to him; I don't have to get involved in it. God will sit in judgment on him; I don't have to.
In short, these folks deserve sympathy, not scorn; empathy, not ridicule; love, not judgment, our admiration, not condemnation. They stepped out in faith, doing what we profess to do, but doing it better.
What’s the Fighting About?
You've seen this picture hundreds of times, and maybe you've even heard sermons preached on this eternal battle between good and evil.
There's just one problem.
That's not what the Bible describes.
According to the Bible, that battle is already over. The devil doesn't have to fight for dominion on earth because God already gave it to him! This world we live in belongs to the devil. Don't believe me? Look it up! The Bible is very clear on this; the devil has authority over all the earth.
 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time,
 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.
(Luke 4:6 ESV)
It doesn't get much clearer than that, does it? The world is ru, at least for now. We know how the story ends but for now, the bad guys are in charge.
So God has allowed the devil to have dominion over the earth, so the epic battle can't be over the earth, so it must be about our souls, right? The devil is fighting to steal our souls from God.
Nope, sorry, not so. Not only does the devil have dominion over this world, he already has our souls as well. We are born into this world as slaves to sin, condemned to death and damnation, not because of what we do, but because of what we are.
This is important so I'm going to say this again.
We are condemned not for what we do, but by what we are.
Let that sink in for a few minutes because it is really, really important that you get this right because everything else follows from it.
First, let's go to the book to make sure I'm not just making stuff up.
We all know John 3:16, which says that God loves us so much that He sent his Son to die for us, so we would not perish. We also know that we are saved not through works, but by faith through the Grace of God, but I think we fail to take that part seriously enough.
 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
(John 3:17-19 ESV)
Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it because the world and all of those in it were already condemned. We are heirs of corruption, sons and daughters of Adam's sin. It isn't that we commit sin that condemns us; it's that we are sinners. Even when we do good, when we do our best, our best is not good enough. In fact, it's not even close.
 We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
(Isaiah 64:6 ESV)
I don't want to get needlessly gross here, but Isaiah felt strongly enough about this to emphasize it, and I'm just going to follow his lead. The words that are translated as 'polluted garmen't more literally translate as 'menstrual rags.' Now remember, we're talking about righteous deeds, not sins here. Even our most righteous works appear to God as filthy, bloody rags.
No matter how good a life we lead, we are still imperfect sinners, and that imperfection makes us as ugly to God as the filthiest thing you can think of. That's a hard truth to deal with, but it confirms what I said earlier. We're condemned not by what we do, but for what we are.
So the world belongs to the devil, as do we in our natural state, so what is there to fight about?
well, God in His Mercy has given us a way to escape this trap, to throw off our birthright of condemnation and to be reborn as new creatures, creatures who are no longer slaves to sin but servants and friends of God. We have a way out and everything the devil does has one, clear purpose, and that is to prevent us from taking that way out. If he can convince us that he has the power to make us lose that way out, then he deceives us into wasting our energy fighting battles that have already been won for us.
When God calls us to Him, we are freed from the accuser because no matter what he can accuse us of, the penalty has already been paid for us.
Now don't get me wrong; we're still flesh. We still sin, and we still struggle with temptations of that flesh, but there is no supernatural agency required to create that temptation; it's hardwired into us. We fight against that fleshly way of living and struggle to live as spiritual beings, as children of God. That is our battle and it takes every bit of strength we have, and all the help we can get from the Holy Spirit.
In closing, there's something I want to bring up that's a little bit controversial. Not heretical or anything like that, but not mainstream thought. There's an idea being tossed around by some Biblical scholars about how Heaven is arranged, and how the Millennial reign will look. In this idea, our position and status during the Millennium and in Heaven will be determined by our works here on earth. There are a lot of verses that can be interpreted to support this view, and it raises an interesting question. We know that since our works have nothing to do with our salvation, the devil can't make us do anything that would cause us to lose what God has given us.
But what if the devil could cause us to miss out on potential heavenly rewards by influencing our decisions and actions?
That question raises some interesting possibilities that are worth considering. Again, this is speculative, and nowhere near as developed an idea as the rest of what I've written about.
It Is Finished
Today, I'm going to finish off the topic and move on.
Sunday was my mother in law's birthday, and Lissa and I went to church with her. While the sermon was on an unrelated topic, the text included John 9:1-7.
[9:1] As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.  And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.  We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud  and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
(John 9:1-7 ESV)
Here's what is going on. The disciples are asking Jesus why the blind man was born blind. Following a common belief that misfortune represents a judgment from God, they ask whose sin brought this misfortune upon this man. Jesus answers, and I'm certain there was shock on the face of the disciples. He told then that the blindness had nothing to do with a judgment or a penalty, but that God had made him blind so that Jesus could do God's work, healing, on him.
Now I don't know about you, but I would consider being blind from birth to be hurtful. Certainly, it's not something I would ask for. Yet God made this man blind just so Jesus could heal him, showing His power and His mercy. As Jesus said, the man's blindness allowed Jesus to show the light of God's love and mercy.
So much for the idea that God's Will does not include tough times for His people. It does. Our comfort is in knowing that the suffering is for a purpose, that God works everything for good, not evil.
If you remember, that Wednesday night series was all about spiritual warfare, and the teacher was trying to prepare us to face it.
As I read, study, and pray, I'm beginning to believe that the whole idea of spiritual warfare is a deception. Here's the thing. Lucifer rebelled against God, and led some of the angel into a war against God. God won, and kicked Lucifer out of Heaven, along with about a third of the angels, banishing them to Earth.
When God wins a fight, it's over. He didn't just sorta win, or win for now, or win for this season, with a return engagement next season. Either He wins, or He doesn't, and the Bible clearly tells us He won.
That fight is over.
The fight moved to the earth, with Lucifer, now satan, waging war against God's creation. And he was kicking our butts until about 2000 years ago when God sent His Son to fight and die for us. Jesus took the weight of our failures, the penalties for our sins, those committed up to that point and every sin yet to be committed up to the end of time onto himself, and paid the price in full. Satan has no claim on us anymore because Jesus paid the price in full. All we have to do is accept His sacrifice.
Jesus' last words on the cross were, "It is finished." He didn't say it was finished for now, or mostly finished, or that this was round two of a 16 round title fight. He said it was over and done and He won the victory. He died, went to Hell and freed those who were saved in Him, tore open the veil separating man from God, and forever freed us from bondage to Satan. He didn't just free us for now; he didn't just mostly free us; he didn't free us for a round or two.
The fight for men's souls is over and Jesus won.
So, if the fight is over, why are we still trying to fight?
That's the deception. Satan wants to convince us that the fight is still going on, that we are still in a battle against him, and that unless we follow certain rules, we can lose that battle. You know what another word for rules is?
Last time I checked, once we accept Jesus into our hearts, and become Christians, we are no longer under the law. We are saved through no effort of our own, but through Grace alone. That being the case, how can we lose that Grace through action or inaction?
We can't. If we are saved today, we're saved tomorrow, and next Tuesday, and three years from now. Satan can't do anything about that. All he can do is try to keep us from making that commitment to God, from becoming His bondservants. He wants to prevent us from developing that personal relationship by telling us that we're losing too many battles with him. He ants us to believe that we must fight against him in order to be worthy of God's love.
In short, he wants us to believe that our salvation comes from our ability to resist him instead of from the grace of God alone.
He wants us to believe that we are chips in a cosmic war between him and God when the truth is that the war is already over and God won.
If I'm right, and all of this is true, then the whole notion of spiritual warfare as it's being taught is part of the devil's deception. He's trying to get us a to fight a war we can't hope to win, hoping to keep us from realizing that God has already won it for us.
That's the true battleground folks. It's not in some spiritual realm where angels and demons contend for and against us, trying to influence our decisions to win or lose certain battles. It's in our hearts and souls, as satan tries to keep us from knowing that the battle is already won; that as adopted children of God, we already share in His victory over evil.
That's what I think anyway. I'm going to keep studying on it. As always, don't take my word for it. Study it yourself.
What Are We Afraid Of?
 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!
(Psalm 111:10 ESV)
I've been living in this verse for quite awhile now.
I've always wondered about the idea of fearing the Lord. It just didn't seem right. Why were we supposed to fear God when He loves us? He's our Father and He promises to take care of us, so why should we fear Him?
What really confused me is that this warning is given to us as believers. I mean, I could understand fearing God if I was unsaved. Knowing that He would judge me based on my actions and that unless I was perfect, I would fail that judgment made it simple to understand fearing God; but as a saved Christian, what did I have to fear?
Even crazier is the second part. Fear is the beginning of wisdom?
That's not what Yoda said.
When I was growing up, I went to a Catholic grade school. I was even an altar boy at one point. My teachers were nuns, and their explanation was that instead of fear, what the Bible really meant was something more like awe. It made a sort of sense. The root word for awe goes with awful as well as awesome, so it sort of made sense. The Hebrew word means fear or terror, but also has a secondary meaning of revere, so they weren't just making something up, but that explanation has weakened over the years as I've lived and more recently, as I've learned.
More about that later.
Another common explanation is that when we ask God for help, He helps us in His own way. I have a buddy who once asked God to help him to be more patient.
Growing in patience is a lot like growing in strength; you have to exercise the muscle, tear it down and let it hurt in order to grow. In order to learn patience, God puts us in situation after situation where we can do nothing but be patient. Asking for faith can lead to similar results. You may be placed in a situation where all you have left is your faith.
I've been there; it sucks.
But I came out the other side, and I am better and stronger for the experience.
And that's why I don't think that this is a valid reason to fear God. Yes, I'm afraid of what He will do to teach me what I need to know, but at the same time, I know that if I don't ask for it, I won't get it. (Usually. Jonah had a somewhat different experience. He didn't ask to be a prophet, or to get swallowed by a fish.) When you get right down to it, when God is teaching us, or testing us, we should know that He will always give us what we need to get through the test, to gain the blessings He has in store for us. The process may be uncomfortable, but we know it is for a reason.
And that leads me to what I believe is the real reason that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
We can't always know the mind of God. What we do know is that He works His Will on the world, to a plan that only He knows. We also know that besides being a loving and merciful God, He is a just God. And finally, we know that as part of His Creation, we are subject to His Will, regardless of what that Will is. It is a terrifying thought to understand that God, in His wisdom, and according to His Plan for His Creation, has created souls that are condemned to Hell.
Paul addresses this very topic in Romans:
 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”  But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”  Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,  in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—(Romans 9:19-23 ESV)
We are God's property. We as human beings, and particularly as Americans, don't want to believe that we are property. We hold a much higher opinion of ourselves. We all like to say we are one with Jesus, and we're His brothers and sisters, and that is true, but it is also true that we are the creation of the Creator. It is our great good fortune that having labored to create us, He loves us and wants us to be with Him. But we always have to remember the nature of our relationship with God.
Which is why fear is the beginning of wisdom. If we are to be in a relationship with God as He desires, then we have to know Him for who He is, not just who we want Him to be. God does indeed have fearful power over us, and it is not through any action of ours that He chooses to love us, which means He could chose otherwise, again through no action of ours.
That's a scary thought and one that will serve us well to keep in mind so we don't become puffed up with pride in our accomplishments or even our relationship with God.
Knowing where we stand, knowing ourselves, is the first step on the road to knowing the world, knowing other people, and knowing our purpose in God's plan. And that sounds like the beginnings of wisdom to me.
Suffering has a Purpose
 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
What we are not as familiar with is the context. God prophecies through Jeremiah that while He has plans to prosper them, they first have to endure 70 years of exile in Babylon.
 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
(Jeremiah 29:11-14 ESV)
There are some very important things we need to see in this passage. First of all, notice that in verse 14, God says that He drove them out from Israel, claiming responsibility for the troubles the exiles were facing.
The next important piece we need to look at is verses 12 and 13, where the almighty God explains Himself through Jeremiah. He tells His people that they must go into exile for 70 years until they learn to once again seek after Him with all of their hearts. But God also gives them comfort, telling them that they would learn the lesson, and that he would bless and prosper them once they returned to Him. 70 years later, Daniel realizes that the time has come for the Lord to bring His people back into Israel and begins to pray in atonement. His prayer is answered by the angel Gabriel, who brings him news of the future, including Israel's restoration to the land, as well as information concerning the end of days.
God fulfilled the promise He made through Jeremiah.
There are a lot of teachers out there in the world today claiming that since God loves us, He would never do anything to hurt us or cause us pain. They tell us that if something bad or painful happens, it's the work of satan, and not God's Will.
In this passage from Jeremiah, we see definitely that this is not so. God caused the people of Israel to suffer, both for punishment and instruction.
The Bible also tells us that God uses suffering and affliction to test us.
 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
(James 1:2-5 ESV)
[8:1] “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers.  And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.  Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.  Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.
(Deuteronomy 8:1-5 ESV)
 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,  who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,  so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
(1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV)
 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
(1 Peter 4:12-13 ESV)
God will not only allow suffering, He will cause it to fulfill His purpose. Here's a question for you. If you always reward your children with love and affection, and never apply discipline, what kind of children do you raise?
We call them spoiled, and it's a good word. They develop no strength of character, no regard for the feelings of others, showing only a selfish desire to have their own wants and needs met.
To combat that, to raise good strong children who will grow to be strong worthy adults, we discipline our kids. We instruct them, and when they don't heed our instruction, we reinforce our lessons with consequences. While many of us like to believe we can reason with our children, that if we explain things in a way that they can understand, then they will always make the right choices. As we gain experience as parents, we learn that this is a pipe dream. Children don't always respond logically or rationally, and they aren't always equipped to decide the correct response.
When a child strays into a busy street, he doesn't evaluate the chances of getting hit by a car; he just wants his ball back. A long lecture won't change that. However, a swat on the rear or other painful consequence will make an impression that goes beyond logic or reason. Positive feedback is important, but there are occasions when only negative feedback will work when raising a child.
So let's look back at Deut 8:5. Moses writes that God will discipline us as a man disciplines his son. And sometimes, we require some negative feedback. Our great good fortune is that God is merciful, and HIs Grace ensures that we don't receive the full amount of negative feedback we deserve.
Whether it is to test us, to help us grow in faith and strength, to reprove us, or instruct us, our job is to realize that when we suffer, it is a part of God's plan for us, and that means that it will work for our good, even though we may not know how.
The Deception of the Prosperity Gospel
It wasn't a decision I made lightly, but the pastor is leading the church away from the Bible and into bad teaching. I posted earlier about the teacher he brought in for the Wednesday night studies on Spiritual Warfare, and how he distorted Scripture to serve his purpose. It happened again last Wednesday, and that, along with what the pastor did as the study session started sealed the deal as far as I was concerned.
To many of you reading this, maybe even most of you, the infractions or distortions may seem trivial and unimportant. I hope I can demonstrate why they are anything but trivial, as these distortions attack the heart of our faith and form a weak foundation for a believer.
The study session started with the pastor walking up on stage and talking about how great it was that we had a teacher with such a positive message. He then said something that shocked me. He said, "If you're depressed right now, it's your fault."
The economy is bad; we're about to start a third war; the Japanese earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis is continuing to worsen; unemployment isn't budging; gas prices are increasing rapidly; but he says if you are depressed or worried, it's your fault. He went on to say that if you were faithful, that God would reward you with material gains. He didn't put it that bluntly, but the implication was clear. Those who God loves, he will reward with good jobs, increasing bank accounts, good health, and freedom from worry.
That was his introduction to a clip from Joel Osteen praying over his congregation, telling them that he believed that God would reward their faith with prosperity, and health, and happiness. The pastor then called his staff to the stage, then sent them out among the congregation to pray that same prayer over the congregation.
It sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Believe in God and worship Him, and you'll have a nice house, a good car, a fat paycheck, and good health and security. And if you don't have those things?
Hey, it's your fault. Your faith wasn't strong enough, or you sinned and didn't repent properly, or you didn't give enough to the church, or any number of things that all boil down to it being your fault. God didn't want bad things for you, but you screwed up and gave satan access to you.
That's the message.
Obviously, the pastor didn't spell it out that way. He only talked about the good things that will happen if you have faith; he never mentioned what it means when bad things happen to good people.
When the teacher began the session, he went back into Job for a bit. I don't know if somebody from the church read what I wrote and he decided he had to respond, or if it was just coincidence, but he wanted to make sure that everybody knew that the Book of Job was all about God's never ending war with the forces of evil. He taught that God defeated the evil, but that the evil was "strong willed" which meant they kept coming back over and over again. He used the analogy of a football team defeating their opponent but having to play them again next season. In other words, when God wins, he doesn't really win; His victory is only temporary.
Not much of a God then, is He?
He backed up this interpretation with Psalm 82, quoting the first and sixth verses
[82:1] God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
 I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
He said that this clearly shows that there are other gods in the supernatural realm, lesser than God, and in opposition to Him, and that they were contending with Him endlessly.
Here again, he's altering Scripture to suit his purposes because if you read the whole Psalm, you get quite a different picture.
 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
 I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
 nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
 Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations!
Even if this Psalm were talking about other supernatural gods that dabble in the affairs of men, similar to the Greek pantheon, do you see any sign that God is fighting them, or struggling to contain them? I don't.
And if you look closer, you find out that the word translated as 'gods' also translates as judges. Verses 2-4 strengthen this translation, as it gives a job description for an earthly ruler, not a god.
So who is right, the teacher who claims that this is proof of other supernatural gods, or little old me, claiming that the Psalm refers to human rulers and judges?
Fortunately, you don't have to take my word for it; you can take God's Word for it.
 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?  If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—  do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
Jesus refers to this passage and clearly indicates that it is about men who have received the word of God. Not supernatural forces battling with God, not rebellious angel or demons, but simple, fallible men, given authority by God who were falling down on the job.
Psalm 82 is not a manifesto proclaiming spiritual warfare in a supernatural realm; it's an unfavorable performance review for earthly rulers.
That's what Jesus said, and He is my best Teacher.
I was talking to some of the people at my table, telling them about what I'd studied and what I'd found, and I was disturbed by the hostility I faced. Even when I pointed out that the teacher was teaching things that were completely against what was in the Bible, they couldn't hear it. One said that the errors didn't really matter, that they were learning higher truths that were independent of the mistakes the teacher was making. They said that the words he used, what he actually said, wasn't as important as what they thought he meant.
That really concerns me for a couple of reasons. First, if I hadn't pointed out the errors, they wouldn't have noticed. While the teacher told everyone to go out and buy a really good study Bible (ESV to be specific) after having everyone shake it in the air while he prayed, he put it on a shelf and it didn't come back out again. Last Wednesday, he did pull it out, but told people not to bother looking up the references he went through, that they could look them up later if they felt they needed to.
How many people do you think went home and dug into the Scripture to see if it actually said what he said it did? How many Bereans were out there?
Most would have accepted the teacher's pronouncements at face value, and any disagreements they had would have remained safely generic, unreferenced to any relevant Scriptures, and easy to dismiss as immaterial to his main points.
Second, without digging into the Scriptures, how do you know that these "higher truths" are actually truths? If you don't do your homework, and find out what the Bible really says, how can you tell when you are being mislead? The Bible itself tells us over and over again to test the spirits, to search the Scriptures, to verify teaching, all in order to separate good sound teaching from bad.
And when we find bad teaching, we are to avoid it; remove ourselves from it. When it is bad through error in knowledge or understanding, we correct the error in love. When it is deliberately bad, or deceptive, we remove ourselves from it.
The people of that church are being taught that true faith in God brings prosperity and happiness. What happens to that faith when prosperity and happiness do not follow? What happens when God asks us to give away our prosperity, strap on a cross, and die with Him? What happens when the world comes against us, strips us of our rights and citizenship, removes our ability to do business, own property, or takes our very lives? (If you think I'm exaggerating, that that level of religious persecution could never happen, just remember the Holocaust. Or pick up today's newspaper and look for stories about Christians in Asia or the Middle East. Tolerance is the exception, rather than the rule.) What happens to a prosperity based faith when prosperity goes away? What happens when the beast comes against us?
[13:1] And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.  And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.  One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast.  And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.  It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.  Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation,
(Revelation 13:1-7 ESV)
Now a lot of folks believe in a pre-trib rapture, and say that when the beast gets here, we'll all be gone, but obviously somebody is here to be conquered by the beasts. Who are those saints? Possibly the church at Smyrna?
 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
I don't know, but it is clear that there will be Christians who suffer under the beast, are defeated, and martyred.
 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.  They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”  Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
(Revelation 6:9-11 ESV)
 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”  I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
(Revelation 7:13-14 ESV)
We know that bad times are coming for Christians. We know that we will face pain, heartache, torture, and some of us will be murdered for our faith. Our brothers and sisters in other countries are already facing these things. I assure you they are not prosperous, but their faith is still strong. If our faith is based on the belief that God will prosper us if we believe enough, then how strong will our faith be when we are tested? When that prosperity is taken away? How many of our brothers and sisters will fall to the beast before our own faith fails, and we begin to say "Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?" If hardship and troubles are satan's will opposing and defeating God's Will, then how can we ever hope to stand against the beast?
We can't. Our faith will fail. We will either believe that God is unable to protect us, or that we are unworthy of protection, and we will fall. That's what satan wants. That's all he wants. He wants to take us away from the God who loves us, who created us. And this doctrine of prosperity is one of his best tools yet. It's so attractive to believe that because God loves us that He wouldn't let anything bad happen to us. It's wonderful to believe in a God of Mercy and to forget that He is also a just God. It's easy to serve a master who takes care of your every physical want and need, and who assures you that your life will be comfortable as long as you believe.
But that's not the God of the Bible. When Jesus was crucified, he had twelve men who were his faithful followers. Which of them prospered in their lives? Which of them had material possessions, and good health, and freedom for worry, and safety, and freedom from persecution?
Not a single one.
God does bless us; there's no question about that, but we have to remember that God's blessings are a result of His Grace, not our works. We don't earn them; He gives them to suit His own purposes. There is no mystical prosperity formula, nor is there any guarantee that God will not remove the blessings He's given us, again to suit His own purposes.
I come back to Job again, for the perfect statement of our relationship to God.
 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.  And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
(Job 1:20-22 ESV)
We are required to maintain our faith regardless of whether God prospers us or not. We are required to know that God loves us, and that the rewards He has for us in Heaven far outweigh any suffering here on earth. We're to keep our eyes on Heaven's reward, not material things. When Jesus taught us to pray, He didn't tell us to pray for security, prosperity, safety, or health, but to "give us this day our daily bread." Please Lord, give us what we need for today. That's all. Tomorrow I'll be back again to ask that you give me what I need to get through that day, but for today, all I ask is enough to get through the next 24 hours.
How many of us live like that? I know I don't, but I also know that I should.
In a way, the preacher was right, just not the way he intended. If we're worried or depressed, it is our fault, not because God promises to prosper us if we're faithful, but because God promises to reward us in Heaven if we're faithful. That's a hard lesson to learn and I've watched people very close to me struggle with it for a long time, and I'll admit that I struggled with it as well.
After the church staff member prayed over my nephew the Joel Osteen prayer, I turned to my nephew and told him my prayer for him. I prayed that his faith would be based not on the prosperity that God may choose to give him, but on the sure and certain belief that no matter what happens, God loves him. Come what may, wealth or poverty, security or danger, sickness or health, that he would remain faithful, knowing that God loves him, and that as long as we stay faithful, then no matter what happens, it is not a victory for evil, but a victory for God.
And right now, I pray that same prayer for every one of you who slogged through this long post. Whether you are a believer now or not, I pray that you know or come to know that God does love you, that He wants what's best for you, that no matter what happens here on earth, no matter how painful it is or how bad it looks to our limited eyes, that everything is working according to God's plan, for our good and His Glory.
God’s Will vs Free Will
Well, the Bible has something to say about that particular idea:
 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”  But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” (Romans 9:19-20; Romans 9:21-24 ESV)  Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,  in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— (Romans 9:19-23 ESV)
Clearly, we are held accountable for our actions. Which means, since God is a just God, then we must also have the ability to choose. Again, we go to the Bible:
Jos 24:15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
Psa 25:12 Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
(Deuteronomy 30:15-18 ESV) “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.  If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.  But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them,  I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.
(1 Kings 18:21 ESV) And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.
Over and over again, we are told to choose God. Obviously, we have a choice, which means we have free will.
So now the question becomes, "How do we reconcile God's Will with our free will?"
A common answer is to say that even though God has a plan, since we don't know what it is, we are free to choose as we will. Unfortunately if we're merely pupeets who are unaware of the strings moving us across the stage, we are still puppets.
The true answer is that God's Will and our free will are not contradictory at all, as long as you choose the proper frame of reference. We're going to get a little bit technical now, so please bear with me. We're moving from the Bible to modern physics, and yes, the irony of using the most advanced branch of human science to illuminate a Biblical principle does make me smile just a bit.
People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
Albert Einstein wrote that on the occasion of a friend's death and this knowledge is what helps us resolve the apparent paradox of predestination and free will.
Here's what he was talking about. When Einstein came up with his general and special theories of relativity, he changed our picture of the universe in very fundamental ways, ways that we are still grappling with. One of those changes was in our conception of time itself. Until Einstein, we thought that time was a steady progression of moments, flowing evenly, one after the other at a constant rate. That perception is completely and totally false, and is the result of a genetic birth defect that prevents us from perceiving time as it actually is.
Time is actually the flip side of space, just like energy is the flip side of matter. We've always known on a philosophical level that time and space are related. It's inherent in the the words we use to measure speed: miles per hour. We're measuring the distance we move through space as compared to the time it takes to move that distance. What we didn't know until Einstein figured it out was that the relationship was even closer than that.
It turns out that time is another dimension, just like space is a dimension. All the word dimension means is a direction we can measure in. Space has three dimensions, length, height, and depth. We can add duration to that for four dimensions. It's obvious that we have complete freedom of movement through the three spatial dimensions, so the question became why we can't move through the time dimension just as freely. I can go north or south, east or west, and up or down. I should be able to move backwards and forwards through time as well.
Obviously I can't.
The reason is a thing called entropy. Entropy is what causes us to see time as a one way trip from a high energy, organized state, to a low energy, low organized state. Put in simpler terms, from life to death. (It is my personal opinion that entropy is the physical manifestation of the curse God placed on the Earth after the fall of Adam and Eve, but that's a discussion for a later time and has nothing to do with what we're talking about now.) In a very real way, entropy is anti-life.
Think about this for a second. Our perception of time is fundamental to how we see our world. If our perception is false to fact, if time is really so different from what we perceive, then everything we perceive is subject to the same error. When Paul said we see through a mirror darkly, that wasn't just a figure of speech; it was an accurate assessment of our capabilities for perceiving the true nature of the universe.
So here comes the cool part. If we could perceive time as it actually is, instead of being blinded by entropy, every moment in time would be now. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, last Thursday and Friday 50 years from now would all be the same eternal now. We could remember tomorrow and wait for yesterday. We would know the end from the beginning.
Does this sound familiar? It should. It's how God perceives time, inhabiting every moment simultaneously, everywhere and everywhen. What makes this so cool to me is that science now confirms what the Bible has told us all along, that this must be God's perspective since He is, by definition, outside of time, and entropy. (Eternal and unchanging.)
The next question is "What does all this have to do with predestination and free will?
Everything, because both concepts are bound up in our false view of time. We see cause and effect. We see a sequence of events with a beginning, a middle, and an end. We make plans for a future we can predict, but never see. All of this is an illusion. Cause and effect depends on a framework where time passes in one direction and at one speed. If that framework is false, then so is the idea of cause and effect. The ideas of choice and responsibility must be completely re-evaluated, based on a concept of time that we are not equipped to perceive, much less understand.
Our concept of free will is meaningless, or at best, deeply flawed. The same can be said for predestination. Recognizing that it is our perceptions that are flawed, we can then reject the apparent paradox and accept the Biblical fact that God's Will is supreme, and that we have free will.
Tomorrow, I want to spend a little more time on Spiritual Warfare and how all this relates to it. The next Wednesday session is coming up soon, and I want to be prepared to act proactively instead of reactively.
God’s Will: Detailed Plan or Improvised Variations on a Theme?
Their argument went something like this:
"God's will isn't always accomplished because sin is in the world, and it can't be God's Will that we sin. We have a choice, our free will, that God gives us, which means we can operate against the Will of God, otherwise, we are just robots."
This is going to take a while to answer fully, definitely more than what I can do in a single post, so I'm going to start by outlining the answer, and then tonight I'm only going to address the first part in detail.
First, we know that God's Will is fully in control because the Bible tells us so and in no uncertain terms. Not only does He know everything that's going to happen, He planned it before He created the world. Everything that happens occurs because it follows His preordained plan, and that even includes the bad things. Second, we have free will. We have the ability to choose our actions. Third, our free will does not in any way contradict the Sovereign Will of God, nor do we have to come up with some excuse for why God won't exercise His Will, or scenarios where God's Will is thwarted by our own or His adversary's. Fourth, to understand how to resolve these contradictory concepts, we need to understand the nature of the world we live in, a nature revealed by the newest developments in physics.
Yep, to understand the nature of God, we're going to need to know some science.
Ok, so let's get started.
The question is easy to ask. Did God plan everything out in advance, or does He just have the broad outlines laid out, and the details are left up to us? Well, let's see what the Bible says.
8 "Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,' 11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.
8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
Clearly, God isn't saying He just knows what's coming; He says He will accomplish everything He has purposed. In short, He planned it. But this is kind of a general statement, right? Does God really plan all the specific details? Well, let's see.
24 The Lord of hosts has sworn: "As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand, 25 that I will break the Assyrian in my land, and on my mountains trample him underfoot; and his yoke shall depart from them, and his burden from their shoulder." 26 This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations.
The fate of the Assyrian nation is laid out.
26 "'Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass, that you should make fortified cities crash into heaps of ruins, 27 while their inhabitants, shorn of strength, are dismayed and confounded, and have become like plants of the field and like tender grass, like grass on the housetops, blighted before it is grown.
26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,
God planned the histories of all the nations of the earth.
4 The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
God created those would would do evil things, all to accomplish His plans.
27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
Jesus' death and resurrection was part of God's plan from before the beginning of time.
22 "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know - 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. R27 And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.
From the first verses in the Bible to the last, over and over we hear that God has planned everything that happens, even the evil works of man, and all in order to accomplish His purposes. In fact, it's so clear that it's hard to understand how it could even be a question. If you accept the authority of the Bible, then you must accept that God's Will as expressed in His plan is absolute and all encompassing. The only reason we have any doubt or controversy is that the Bible is equally insistent that we the ability to make choices, also known as free will.
Tomorrow, we'll explore the idea of free will, and see what the Bible has to say about it.
God’s Sovereign Will: It’s the Truth, Not a Cop-Out
I have about a million things I should be doing right now, not the least of which is sleeping, but this is far more important.
My church is running a special Wednesday study on Spiritual Warfare. Lissa and I have attended two of the three sessions so far, and while I started off excited about learning, the more I've heard, the angrier I've become because as I search the Scriptures to find out if the things we've been told are true, I'm finding instead the exact opposite. What we're being taught is not Biblical; in fact, as I'll show, the Bible flatly contradicts what we are being taught.
The main thrust of the teaching so far has been that if bad things are happening to you, that it isn't God's Will, it is the will of His adversary. His argument goes like this.
God is all good, and because He is all good, then he only does good things. Like a parent, He only wants good things for us, and no parent would hurt their child trying to teach them something, or to protect them from something so when bad things are happening, it isn't God. He went on to say that the idea that God works things according to His own purposes, and believing that what may seem bad to us will actually turn out to be good in the long run or in ways we can't imagine is an idea that leads to a dull faith, causing us to have an anxious relationship with God. On the other hand, according to him, the idea that anything bad that happens to us is the result of a contest of wills between Satan and God is supposed to fill us with an active faith, because we can get out there and fight back with God at our side.
Because God is our copilot, right?
There are so many things wrong with this picture that I hardly know where to start.
First, the idea that God would never hurt us in order to teach us something, just as no parent would ever hurt their child in order to teach them something, or to keep them safe from greater harm. Right off the bat, we know this is wrong. As parents, it is our duty to cause hurt to our children if in the long run, it will teach them or protect them. For example, getting a shot hurts, but it's better than getting the measles. A spanking may hurt, but it's better than seeing your child run out into the street a second time, and this time getting hit by a car. As parents, we know that sometimes, short term suffering is required in order to avoid long term pain, sickness, or even death. In a like manner, with God's omniscient perspective, we can be assured that when bad things happen, when we are suffering, that in the end, it will be for good. This isn't dull theology; it's Parenting 101.
Next, let's talk a little bit about the nature of God. According to this teacher, God is all good, and nothing bad can ever come from Him. Well, while he's certainly correct in his first statement, he's off target in his second, because the last time I checked, God made the angels, and Lucifer was an angel. The teacher said that God was all good and Satan was all bad, and since God made Satan, well, you do the math. Getting into it a little bit deeper, the teacher repeatedly talk about how it wasn't God's will but Satan's that made bad things happen, which begs the question, "Who has the stronger will?"
Obviously, if we believe that God is the Creator of all, including the angels, then His Will reigns supreme, which means that Satan's will can oppose only when God allows it to. What this means is that when bad things happen, or to put it in the terms of the teacher, when Satan's will wins out, then God must have allowed it to happen. This idea is fairly standard, and correct as far as it goes, but does this really mean that God's will has been thwarted? If he allowed it to happen, then by definition, it happened in accordance with His Will.
I'm going to get personal here, because it is relevant. Recently, I sat in an ICU for 40 days while my son fought for his life. I can tell you right now that there was some serious spiritual warfare going on in my soul, and in everyone around us, family, friends, nurses, and doctors. I can also tell you that if I have to choose between believing in a God who is either unwilling or unable to prevent satan from crashing my son into a tree, or believing in one who may allow my son to die, but assures me that his death, while painful to me, will serve a greater purpose (Remember this. It's really important later), I'm believing in the latter every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I might not understand it; I certainly won't like it, but along with Job, I'll accept it.
Speaking of Job, in the Old Testament, we see Satan ask for permission to test Job, and God grants him permission to take everything away from Job except for his life.
9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
All the horrors that follow happen because God allowed Satan to test Job. This directly contradicts the teacher's assertions about God's unwillingness to cause hurt to one of His children. You could argue that God Himself didn't cause Job's troubles; He merely allowed Satan to do what he wanted, but consider a parent that stands by watching as his child pulls a pot of boiling water down on themselves and does nothing. Is this a good parent?
Clearly not. Passively allowing evil to occur is no different than actively engaging in evil.
We'll come back to Job in a bit, because this objection was raised with the teacher, and his answer was very instructive, but first, let's look at a New Testament example of God allowing one of His children to be tormented by Satan.
In Luke, chap 22 we read:
 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,  but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.”  Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31-34 ESV)
Once again, God has allowed one of His children to be tested by Satan, even though He knew that His child would fail that test. (By the way, the 'you' in "satan demanded to have you" is plural. While Jesus was speaking directly to Peter, all of the Apostles were included in the sifting.)
These two passages make a few things very clear. God will indeed allow us to be troubled by Satan, and will deliberate offer us up to torment, or refuse to shield us in order that His Will might be fulfilled. Paul wrote of a thorn that he prayed to have removed. We don't know what the thorn was, only that God saw fit not to remove it. It was His Will that Paul bear the affliction.
Another thing made abundantly clear in these passages is that Satan cannot touch us unless God gives him permission. Consider that for a few minutes. When we become adopted children of God, then Satan can no longer touch us without God's permission. If everything bad that happens to us is due to the will of satan, then God must give that permission out pretty freely.
As the ultimate nail in the coffin of this strange idea that as a loving parent, God's Will would not include our suffering, let's consider what He put His only Begotten Son through. Jesus' suffering and His death on the Cross was God's ultimate expression of both His Will and His Love for us. Jesus' death on the cross was not an accident, or a victory of satan's will over God's. Instead, His Will was that His Son bear that pain so that we would not have to pay the price for our sins. Nor did he act to shield his son from the pain and agony of His sacrifice. Again, in His big picture, the pain and suffering of His own Son was necessary for the greatest purpose ever, the redemption of humanity. (I told you it would be important!)
However, while it's pretty clear that what the teacher taught us was wrong and isn't backed up by Scripture, I haven't really explained why I got mad enough to stay up until 3AM writing this. After all, there are lots of verses in the Bible that seem to be contradictory; maybe this guy is just interpreting things differently than I am. Maybe I'm just reading too deeply. Maybe he's just oversimplifying things to make a point, and is inadvertently making mistakes. Or maybe I'm reading the words too closely, believing that the Bible means what it says and says what it means, instead of approaching it with a more elastic mind, ready to stretch beyond what it actually says to appreciate what it meant to say.
On the other hand, maybe I'm acting as a Berean, and finding that these things he said are very definitely not so.
Which brings us back to Job.
Like I said, the objection I raised earlier was raised with the teacher. God allowed satan to torment Job. The teacher laughed it off and said that everybody always wanted to talk to him about Job. First, he said, you have to approach Job from a New Testament perspective. He never really explained what that meant, but went on to say that the book of Job was not about God letting a man be tormented, but about how when God chose to answer Job. The teacher said that God's reply to Job was that He was busy fighting battles in the supernatural realm of the angels, and that bad things that happened on earth were because of that battle. He went on to say that the book of Job was laid out to show that the standard answers of why bad things happen re all inadequate and that the only true answer was that they were the result of the war in the supernatural realm.
Folks, while he was talking, I turned in my Bible to Job Chap 38, where God begins speaking out of the whirlwind, and that is not what He said. Not even close. The teacher just kinda made it up.
He went on to quote a bit from Job 1, about how God gives and takes away, and he said that Job was wrong to say that, and that he repented from saying it, and that's when God rewarded him. He said God only gives; He doesn't take away.
Well, let's look at the book.
 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.  And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”  In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1:20-22 ESV)
I put verse 22 in bold for a reason. It directly contradicts what the teacher said and it's right next to the verse he quoted. This is not a question of misinterpretation; it's not a case of missing the point. It's a deliberate distortion of the Scripture. "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." And the Bible says that in this, Job did not speak wrongly about God.
But the teacher said Job did speak wrongly, and repented, and this raises an important question: If you are teaching sound doctrine, why would you have to distort Scripture to back it up?
That's not a mistake folks, and you can't argue your way around it. The Bible flatly contradicts what this man taught on Wednesday night. Don't take my word for it; read it for yourself. Follow the links or pull out your own Bible. Be like a Berean, and search the Scriptures to see if they say what I say they do. Is God unable to completely oppose satan and shield us from his malevolence? Is satan bound to win one every now and then? Or is God truly omnipotent and omniscient, working according to a plan He wrote that is for ultimate good? Was the Crucifixion and Resurrection an example of God improvising a response to satan's curveball in Eden? Or did God plan our Redemption even before He put Adam in the Garden in the first place? I know what answers the Bible gives, and what answers the teacher was peddling, and folks, those answers don't match.
It makes me angry for the same reasons that Jesus was angry when he scourged the moneychangers out of the temple. It makes me angry because the last year has taught me some very tough lessons about faith and trust, and sacrifice, and surrender to the Will of God. It makes me mad because people come to church to worship, and to learn. These Wednesday night sessions are supposed to be about preparing the army of God, yet what we're being taught will ultimately weaken our faith, not strengthen it. Reading prophecy tells me that as Christians, we're in for some hard times. Jesus makes it clear that we are going to suffer in the end times, and our faith must be strong to see us through.
Let me ask you something. According to this teacher, every time something bad happens, it means that satan is getting his way, that his will is overpowering God's. That being the case, then as things get worse and worse for us as Christians, how many will begin to believe that satan is winning? After all, we know from Revelation that there will be millions of martyrs made during the Last Days. How many victories can satan rack up before the faithful begin to despair?
On the other hand, if we know that everything happens in accordance with God's will, that even our death is a victory against satan, then our faith is not bound up in the outcome of individual battles because we know that the fight is already won. Our faith is stronger because it no longer rests in us and our preparations but the strength and might of the Lord.
The foundation of our faith is under attack. It is being weakened, made reliant on our actions and the events in our life, rather than being a gift from God. It is imperative that we recognize this attack on our faith and counter it because as Ephesians points out, our faith is our main defense against the plots and wiles of satan.
 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;  and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, (Ephesians 6:13-17 ESV)
If our faith is weakened, we lose the ability to resist satan. We'll fold under pressure.
I know there are people from my church who will read this, and I hope they know that it is not my intent to cause dissension or unrest, but only to speak the truth as I read it in the Bible. As I said earlier, don't let me convince you; don't believe just because I say so. I have no special moral authority, no extensive study, no string of letters after my name. I haven't been to seminary; I haven't traveled the country preaching, and I don't claim to have a direct line to the Throne of God. I am just a man with a Bible, and the brain God gave me, just like you, and I use them both as best as I can. And I pray that these word are true and that I don't lead anyone astray through my own ignorance or mistakes.
Ground Zero Mosque
Insensitive is putting it mildly.
Before we dig too deeply into it, let's get a couple things out of the way. First of all, it is a mosque, and it is at Ground Zero. Some supporters are calling it a community center, and saying that it isn't really at ground Zero; it's two blocks from ground zero. Well, let's look at both claims.
The church I go to has a coffee shop, a warehouse, a picnic pavilion, a bookstore, and there are plans to build a lodge, a school, and a retirement community.
It's still a church.
The Park 57 development is a mosque, plain and simple. It has an Imam, and regular prayer services will be conducted there.
The property is available because the building that used to be there was destroyed on 9/11 by chunks of the WTC.
It's at ground zero.
Second, there are sound reasons to oppose the building of this mosque, reasons that have nothing to do with fear, racism, or hate. The antipathy felt be some towards building a mosque on ground that was covered with the dust of bodies killed in the 9/11 attack is understandable. The juxtaposing of a mosque within a stone's throw of the biggest, costliest terror attack on the US is a provocation, one whose ramifications must be carefully considered. Calling the opposition racist and prejudiced is childish and inane, and signifies a weak mind.
The foolishness is not limited to supporters.
There are people running around claiming that the Imam is a radical that blames the US for 9/11, and that the purpose of putting the mosque at ground zero is to claim victory over the US. While there may or may not be some truth to the latter, the former is very exaggerated. These people rely on tenuous links that would fail the Kevin Bacon test in order to link The Imam is about as moderate as a Muslim can be without getting a fatwa called down on himself, and despite some mildly troubling statements, I don't see him as coddling terrorists. As for the victory claims, well, I think it's safe to say that if this mosque is constructed, there will be Muslim radicals who do see it as a sign of victory, and will be encouraged to more acts of violence. I think you would have to be in complete denial of reality to believe otherwise.
But the question is: "Does our belief that future violent attacks will likely be spurred by the building of this mosque give us the right to deny the Constitutional rights of those who want to build it?"
As a Christian and a conservative, I know how I want to answer, As an American and libertarian, I know how I must answer.
As Americans, we have rights given to us by our Creator. We deemed some of those rights to be important enough that we enumerated them in our Constitution, the document upon which all of our laws should be founded. Among those enumerated rights are both the right to free speech and assembly, and the right to worship in the manner we see fit. If these right are important enough to receive special attention in the Constitution, then they are important enough to outweigh concerns over potential future events. In other words, no matter how offensive and distasteful a mosque at ground zero is to me personally, no matter how much I believe it dishonors the memories of the 3000 innocent Americans slaughtered that day be the followers of Islam, no matter how strong the possibility that building this mosque may encourage other terrorists to act out their violent plans of conquest and oppression, the principles upon which our freedoms rest must not be infringed.
While I understand and sympathize with the protesters and their point of view, and defend their right to protest without being called racists, bigots, or hate-mongers, I have to say that as long as all laws and regulations are followed, the owners of the property have a right to build a mosque there if they so choose.
God said Yes
The Bible tells us that God loves our prayers. We are to pray to Him our praise and worship, tell Him the desires of our hearts, request guidance and strength in our daily lives, and ask that He speak to us. The Bible also tells us that God can and will perform miracles for us, even today - He confirms and attests to us His love and our salvation "by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." (Heb 2:4)
For the first time in my life, I have found myself in need of a true miracle.
On Memorial Day, Rich's youngest son was in a car wreck. His Jeep slid on a rain-slick curve and ran off the road. He sustained a head injury, in addition to broken ribs, lacerated lung with hemo-pneumothorax, and a minor fracture of his ankle. After a 90 minute extrication, he was rushed to the nearest trauma center. In the ER, he was responding appropriately, smiling at his dad and laughing with his best friend. Due to the knock on the head and the fractured ribs, he was taken to the ICU for observation. Shortly after arriving there, his level of consciousness started to decline. An astute nurse saw this and soon, Luke was being put under heavy sedation, intubated and put on a ventilator. A CT scan showed bleeding in his head and he had signs of increased cranial pressure.
While more than a little concerned, I felt assured that God had this under control. Of course I was praying for healing and recovery for Luke. The possibilities they were speaking of were very dire - the name for the injury he had is Diffuse Axonal Injury. A bit of research on the term revealed a very grim prognosis. Of those who sustain this kind of brain injury, 90% will never wake up. Of those who do, 90% will have major cognitive and/or motor deficits. Of the rest of that 1% the injury results in minor to moderate disability. When I read this, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I prayed harder.
Wednesday morning, after I spent much of the previous night in deep prayer, the CT scan was repeated. Praise God in Heaven - the damage turned out to be very minor, limited to a small part of the brain and best of all, was not progressing. While he still had sustained the damage from the bleed, it was small.
Our celebration that Luke would be OK was short-lived however. As they started to back down the paralytic that was keeping him still, they soon found that his lungs were not functioning very effectively. After only three days on the ventilator, he developed ARDS - acute respiratory syndrome. His lungs were stiff, filled with fluid and could not transfer oxygen effectively to his bloodstream. They had to keep him on the ventilator and let his lungs heal - but the Catch 22 is that being on the ventilator is what made his lungs sick in the first place.
Over the next week, his progress went from 3 steps forward and 2 steps back to 2 steps forward and 3 steps back. We continued praying - seeking God's face and His divine guidance and reassurance. Rich got some answers, but I still felt adrift and useless. My faith sustained, I continued having faith that Luke would still recover, and I focused on being there to support my husband while he was there for his children and family.
As the days turned into a week, and Luke made little to no progress, in my prayers, I asked God to show me what I needed to do. Two things kept coming to my mind ... the word "supplication" and the verse Jeremiah 29:11 - which happens to be my life verse: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." To this I answered, "Guide me, Holy Spirit, to do the works commanded of me. Use me as you will."
Sunday evening, I was preparing to leave the hospital when we were called back to speak with the doctor. He gave us the news that we had hoped to never have to hear, that Luke was deteriorating and was headed to what was eventually going to be his final respiratory crisis. It could be days, it could be hours. But there was little else that could be done. But there was one hope - a special bed that would allow them to easily change his position to prone, and rotate from side to side and tilt up and down. The chances of this bed working were small, and the risks in moving him were great. It would take several hours for the bed to arrive, as there were only three in the region. I believe Rich knew that he had to go for the only chance we had - having already placed Luke in God's hands. With my support, he told the doctor to go for it. Get the bed. It was already on the way.
The doctor also told us that it would be reasonable to gather the entire family at that time - even the children who were far away. One daughter in Birmingham, one in California, and even the son deployed with the Army in Iraq. The calls went out and local family began gathering at the hospital within minutes.
And then I began praying. I was begging God to not take him, that we needed him here with us. I said, "Your will, Lord, not ours, but please hear our prayer that he stay here with us - healed, whole and healthy. Lord, Lord, Lord ... please don't take him! Have mercy on his father, his mother, his family, and most of all on his beloved Lindsey. Please don't take him, Lord ... DON'T!"
Even as I spoke with Rich and the rest of the family, that prayer repeated unceasing in my mind. Then we were called back to Luke's bedside. He was deteriorating faster than previously thought. Though his oxygen levels were good, he was not perfusing well, CO2 was building up and he was becoming acidotic. They needed to move him to the prone position right away. But this would be an additional move, and another big risk of causing an irreversible crisis.
We had a while to be with Luke while they prepared for the move. God came down and weighed on me heavily. Hardly thinking about it, I just did it ... I went to Luke's side and layed my hands on his chest, and then I prayed.
I prayed with every ounce of energy, every fiber of my soul, and with every bit of love in my heart. Now it seems as if in a dream, all I remember is repeating the prayer over and over, "Your will, Lord, not ours, but please hear our prayer that he stay here with us - healed, whole and healthy. Lord, Lord, Lord ... please don't take him! Have mercy on his father, his mother, his family, and most of all on his beloved Lindsey. Please don't take him, Lord ... DON'T! In the sweet name of our Glorious Lord Jesus Christ, I pray!" alternating with that supplication that was demanded of me, "Lord, I know I am unworthy, my prayers are but a whisper, but I come to You humbly begging for Your grace and favor. We need a miracle for this child of Yours, please hear me, Lord, and grant us this miracle. In His Name, Lord ... I beg of you!"
Tears washed from my eyes in great torrents, I was shaking and my legs quickly grew weak, but I knew I had to keep on. I had God's ear and I meant to shout our pleas into it. The nursing team was moving around me, I was barely aware of their presence, yet I was taking it all in, every detail. One nurse's aid, despite the gravity of the situation, made jokes and laughed. I prayed for grace and compassion for her. I prayed for divine guidance of the medical team - "Lord, be here with us, work through the nurses, guide their hands so that no harm comes to Luke!"
Rich and I stood across the hall as they moved him, holding each other, still praying. And then it was done. His numbers were bad, and we all held our breath waiting for him to recover. The prayers were unceasing - "A miracle, Lord ... oh please grant us this miracle!" And slowly, but surely, Luke's numbers crept back up ... but we would still have to face the move, and risks, again when the bed arrived later that morning.
Although I was able to speak to others, I remained in this prayerful state. We finally retired to the family lounge to try to sleep, but I could not relax, and so I prayed.
They started calling other families back for doctors rounds at 7:30. They called us last, around 8:30. The bed was there and they were going to start moving him soon. It was a new shift of nurses by then, and Luke had held on in his face down position quite well. We had a glimmer of hope that the bed would be beneficial.
Again, as they prepared, I prayed with my hands on Luke. The same prayers, with some thanksgiving for the hope we had received ... the same physical and total emotional and mental involvement, with same dreamlike state as before. This time though, when the team was ready to start the move, they stopped ... and then they circled around Luke with us, we joined hands and were lead in a beautiful prayer by Jeanie, the clinical specialist.
It would take about an hour to move Luke, and due to the size of the bed, and close quarters in the room, they had us leave the ICU and return to the family lounge. As we did, a strange and wonderful sense of peace settled over me, and I knew in my heart that Luke was going to be OK.
A little while later, we went back in to see Luke in this huge bed ... hanging upside down, gently cradled in this crazy looking contraption, Luke began healing ... REALLY healing. Within a couple more hours, his oxygen was up at near normal levels, and his CO2 was dropping. His fever, though encased in the bed without the cooling blanket, came down to 101. By every measurement and number, he was doing so much better.
Three days later, as I write this, he has improved magnificently. The medical team is astounded. We again speak of WHEN Luke wakes up, not IF. The family that was called in from out of town, and out of country, is not here for the worst a family can face, but a celebration.
We are seeing a miracle unfold here ... the doctors tell us that Luke could wake up with cognitive deficits and possible long term or permanent damage to his lungs, which could limit his activities. But I firmly believe, and have faith that when God starts a miracle, he finishes it. Luke is going to be OK, really OK.
There have been hundreds of people called to pray for Luke, to ask God for this miracle. Hundreds of people obeyed that call. Their lives have been blessed. We are seeing this miracle. We asked, He answered ...
God said "Yes"
“New Testament” Christians
Folks, if you call yourself a New Testament Christian then you are telling yourself a lie. You are deceived and there's no getting around it.
The New Testament is firmly rooted in the Old Testament, and just like a tree, if you cut off the root, the trunk will fall.
There's a bunch of folks running around right now trying to "reinterpret" Jesus Christ. They pay close attention to the New Testament, particularly the recorded words of Jesus, and use that limited scope to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was only a man, and not the Son of God. And by narrowing their focus, they make a pretty strong case. If you neglect all of the prophecy in the Old Testament, the hundreds of verses that predict the time of His birth, His purpose, His career, and His death in exquisite detail, it becomes much easier to discard the miracles Jesus' performed as simple folk tales. It is only when you place Jesus' life in context of Old Testament prophecy that you discover the incontrovertible truth that He is God.
Here's a simple example. We've all heard the story about the Three Wise Men:
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,
2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;
4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
There's a lot going on in this story that most of us rarely take the time to appreciate. First of all is a simple but profound question: How did the wise men know what the star represented? Apparently, they read the Scriptures because Numbers 24:17 gives an answer:
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
When Herod wanted to know when and where the Messiah would be born, he asked the Pharisees and they quoted the Old Testament, in this case, Micah 5:2
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
This leads us directly back to the first prophecy in the Bible, Genesis 3:15, which predicts the coming of a Messiah, Jesus Christ, the "seed" of a woman.
The point is that if you remove the prophecy, the birth oif Jesus becomes just another birth, with no significance attached. However, knowledge of the Old Testament, the Scriptures, tells us that the Jews knew where their Savior would come from, and when. IN fact, the knowledge wasn't all that esoteric if wise men from another country knew of it.
Which brings me to a kind of interesting point. How did the wise men from the east know of a Jewish prophecy, and come to take it seriously enough to undertake a long journey to a small town in a backwater country, bringing with them fine gifts? Let's take a look at Daniel 2:48:
Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great o gifts, and made him ruler over the whole p province of Babylon and q chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.
There's that phrase, 'wise men' again. What makes this really interesting is that the word magi is a Greek transliteration of a Babylonian word.
And to close the circle, if we look at a map, what country lies directly to the east of Israel?
Was Daniel taken into captivity, then given authority over all the magi of Babylon, just so that hundreds of years later, a group of Magi would recognize the significance of a star appearing in the sky at a precise time?
More importantly for the sake of this discussion, when we understand the prophetic accuracy of the Old Testament, we gain a richer understanding of the nature of Jesus of Nazareth. He was not a random child born on a random day. His birth was foretold in exacting detail centuries beforehand. For this reason alone, the Old Testament is vital if we want to understand Jesus and His message to us.
But there is another, deeper reason...Jesus told us to study the Old Testament.
He told us to study the Scriptures, and those Scriptures are none other than what we call the Old Testament. He told us that the Scriptures were all about Him. He told us that He did not come to replace the Law, but to fulfil the prophecies of the Law. He told us that the Law would stand unchanged and immutable until every bit of it was fulfilled. He quoted frequently from Scripture, using it to teach His disciples. In short, the Old Testament formed the core of His ministry. How then can any of us say that the New Testament is more important than the Old?
It's a deception.
One more proof.
Many New Testament Christians point to the Sermon on the Mount as where Jesus replaces Mosaic Law with the "New Law." They quote Matt 5:38-41:
38 “You have heard that it was said, y ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
They say that Jesus is directly replacing the Law of the Prophets. Oddly, they completely ignore what He said in the very same speech:
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them..
18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
19 therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven
How can we reconcile this seeming contradiction? New Testament Christians just shrug it off. Biblical Christians realize that in His examples, Jesus is not talking about ignoring the Law, but about leaving the punishment to Him. If we want to know His mercy, then we must show that mercy to our fellow men. Following the Law is a matter of the heart, not the body. Jesus excoriates the Pharisees, who followed the letter of the Law with great diligence, but completely ignored the Spirit of the Law. They complied out of obligation, and in search of power, not out of true love and devotion.
When asked later what the greatest commandments were, he replied from Scripture, not some new law.
35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
38 This is the great and first commandment.
39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18
Jesus points to these two Old Testament Commandments and tells us straight out that these are the keys to all of the Law and Prophecy in Scripture. Think about that for a moment. Jesus said straight out, with no equivocation or misdirection or ambiguity that all of the Law rested on these two verses from the Old Testament.
And some of us in our arrogance try to tell ourselves that the Old Testament isn't really all that important anymore; we're "New Testament" Christians.
Like I said, I was there once. Fortunately, I've been given the grace and knowledge to see through that deception.
Why does God Allow Bad Things to Happen to Good People?
We know that there had to be some good people on the island, right? Despite what Robertson said about deals with the devil and so on, not everybody on Haiti could be bad, so then why were the good punished along with the wicked?
These questions point to an underlying assumption in the big question, that there were good people on Haiti. If we look closer, we can see that there are several big assumptions tied up into this question, and we need to examine them so that we can understand exactly what we are asking. If you don't think the underlying assumptions contained in a question are important, just think about the old saw about asking a man if he had stopped beating his wife. Whether he answers yes or no is irrelevant because of the underlying assumption, that he had beat his wife in the past. So before we can start to answer the question, first, we have to understand it. Let's break down the parts and see where we stand.
1. "Why does God allow...to happen" indicates a belief that all things are under God's control.
2. "Bad things" indicates a belief that our perception of bad and good are accurate and applicable on a global scale as well as an individual scale.
3. "To good people" indicates a belief that there are good people, or at the very least, people who don't deserve whatever calamity we happen to be talking about.
As I've written about before, I believe the Bible is divinely inspired, and despite the fact that every copy in existence is flawed in some way, I believe that it is easily accurate enough for us to use as a reference on the nature of God. So let's see what the Bible has to say on this.
First, let's look at assumption 1, that everything that happens is in accordanc with God's plan. Let's look at three cases.
- God has planned everything and it is all under His complete control, a doctrine called predestination.
- God has a general plan that will be carried out, but the details are left vague to allow us to exercise free will.
- God set the universe in motion and is sitting back, watching the show to see how it turns out.
(Technically, there is a fourth option, that there is no God, but I don't have enough faith to be an atheist, so I'm not going to bother. Go read Dawkins or Hitchens of that's your cup of tea.)
The Lord has made everything for its purpose,.
even the wicked for the day of trouble
to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
Does not he see my ways and number all my steps?
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
There's more, but I think you get the point. God didn't just give the universe a shove to get it going, nor does he plan somethings and leave others to chance; he has planned and knows every detail, down to the number of hairs on your head. This idea has some interesting implications for free will and personal responsibility, but we'll deal with those at another time.
Assumption 2, that what we define as bad actually corresponds to bad is the next topic.
The Lord has made everything for its purpose,.
even the wicked for the day of trouble
But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.
“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.
And I will put this third into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.
Again, there is more, but you get the point. Biblically speaking, it is clear that in many instances, what we see immediately as painful and bad can turn out, in accordance with God's plan, to be of benefit to us. Given the limitations of our perceptions and intelligence, there is no way for us to know at any given moment whether the trials we are facing are there to chasten or reprove us, or to strengthen us in our faith. All we can say is that all things work towards the glory of God, and to benefit those who follow Him. Assumption number 2 is false, and that gives us part of our answer.
Now for Assumption 3, that there are good people.
This is the real sticking point because I don't know anybody, myself included, who likes to think of themselves as a bad person, but once again, let's see what the Bible has to say on that.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
1 Kings 8:46
“If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—"
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good, not even one.
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
1 John 1:8
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
So once again, from a Biblical standpoint, our assumption is false. We aren't good people. In the eyes of God, we are all unclean and unworthy of His protection. But because He loves us, He has given us a Savior, Jesus Christ, who paid the price for our sins by dying on the cross.
So, knowing what we now know, let's reformulate our question to eliminate the false assumptions.
Why would a loving God allow bad things to happen?
We already know at least part of the answer from the verses in our study of Assumption 2. God allows us to undergo trials in order to strengthen us, or chasten us. Like the shepherd's rod, he uses trials to tell us when we're going astray. He also uses them to strengthen our faith and temper our hearts, and to bring us closer to Him. As recorded in Matthew, God uses trials and persecutions to bless us, and Jesus told us to rejoice in our persecutions:
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Another part of the answer comes from our study of Assumption 3. Bad things happen because we deserve them. Read Matthew Chapter 20. In this parable, Jesus is telling us that He isn't giving us what we deserve, but through the grace of God, more than we deserve. We don't earn our good fortune; it is a gift from God. If we were given just what what we deserved, we would be in pitiful shape.
There is one final part of the answer, one nobody likes to talk about, but it is real. Troubles are a punishment for disobedience.
All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.
We like to think of God as a loving God, but that is only part of His nature. He is also a just God, and justice requires consequences for actions. As a just God, He must condemn us all for our sins, but as a loving God, He sent His Son to pay the price for us, so we wouldn't have to. We do have a responsibility to meat in this deal. Jesus ransomed us from damnation, but in order to get the benefit of that redemption, we must accept Him as our Savior and our Lord. Simple belief is not enough. As the Scripture says, even the demons believe. We must also obey become His servants, and His friends. Being the friend of God isn't a bad price to pay to escape condemnation, but as creatures of flesh, we have a hard time paying it.
So God helps us. Those who He has called for His own will be chastened and reproved when they go astray. Trust me on this one; I've been on the receiving end of many chastenings, and I'm certain I have more in store. On the other hand, I've been through trials that have made me stronger , and again, I'm sure there will be more. The important thing is that I keep clear that all things work for the good of those who walk with God, and that God won't test me without giving me what I need to pass the test.
Heck, he gave me a Book with all of the answers in it; all I have to do is find them.