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Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Battle Between Good and Evil

In times past, the battle between good and evil was usually framed in spiritual or philosophical terms. In the Judeo-Christian world, the battle was often characterized as a contest between God and Satan or as something that was manifested in individual moral behavior (sinful or righteous). Sure, kings and queens, emperors and tyrants, presidents and dictators, have always cloaked their wars and programs in the garb of holiness and/or righteousness; but most of them and their subjects understood that these claims were very often self-serving and had little or nothing to do with Jesus Christ or the religion he founded. In fact, this open marriage between the political and religious realms came to be fairly universally regarded in a negative light - especially after the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment. Indeed, the recognition that the blending of the two realms had had a deleterious impact on both was the primary motivation for enshrining a separation between church and state in the Constitution of the United States.

Unfortunately, over the last fifty years, the political realm in the United States has been characterized by both Republicans and Democrats as a battle between good and evil. Although both parties have always claimed to be motivated by their Judeo-Christian values, we now have the spectacle of both sides claiming that anyone who does not accept their political perspective is EVIL! Republicans cite their positions against abortion, immigration, homosexual and transgender rights, socialism, and critical race theory as evidence of their righteousness and condemn Democrats as evil for opposing them on those issues. Likewise, Democrats cite their support for the poor and oppressed, immigrants, political refugees, gun control, and racial tolerance as evidence of their righteousness and condemn Republicans for opposing them on those issues. Think that I'm making too much of this? Consider some of the language which both sides have employed in their battles over policy!

In his article Democrats Truly Are Evil, Derek Hunter wrote: "I really despise these people. That Democrats are desperate for anything to distract from their failures that they’re willing to lie, cheat and steal is nothing new, but the extent to which they’re taking it is simply vile. They are now blaming anyone who isn’t them for the murder of 10 people in Buffalo, essentially declaring half the country to be violent criminals. That’s evil, but still easier than defending Joe Biden’s record as President." He went on to observe that "There is nothing about the current Democrat Party that isn’t predicated on lies, jealousy and hatred – all stirred up by them." As he began to conclude his hate-filled article, Derek stated that "These people were all going to hell already for a lot of reasons, now it’s like they’re trying to upgrade their tickets on the express train there to first class."

Think that the other side isn't doing the exact same thing? Please consider the language which L. Michael Hager employed in his The Politics of Good Vs. Evil. He wrote: "Unlike former years, the election of 2020 is not just about Republican versus Democrat, the economy versus public health or fiscal conservative versus liberal and progressive. It’s not about policy differences where reasonable minds may differ.  Rather, this year’s election is a contest of values.  It pits American citizens against an administration that daily practices human disregard and cruelty." Speaking of the Trump presidency, he went on to observe that "For the past three and a half years, we the people have stood face-to-face with unmitigated evil." Hager concluded: "What have the Trump years taught us?  That the President serves only himself and that he lacks basic integrity. We’ve seen Trump’s cruel policies and corrupt political associations as manifestations of evil."

Of course, if these folks were confronted about their statements, they would simply assert that they hadn't said anything that wasn't true! In other words, both of these men really believe that they are God's soldiers in a righteous Holy War against Satan and his minions! The policies and politicians of the other side aren't simply wrong or misguided - they are evil and Satanic!

To be clear, the Judeo-Christian Scriptures teach us that humankind rejected God's definition of good and evil and decided to instead formulate their own definition of morality (Genesis 2 and 3). The Judeo-Christian Scriptures also reveal that one of God's angels rebelled against God, became Satan the Devil, and introduced sin and evil into the world. Those same writings portray this individual as an "adversary" and "accuser" of humankind. To be sure, there are many places in Scripture where battles are referenced between the angels who remained loyal to God and those who followed Satan in his rebellion. However, as far as any contest is concerned, Satan is portrayed in the writings which we refer to as the New Testament as someone who has already been defeated and is awaiting an inevitable punishment. Thus, as far as Christians operating under the terms of the New Covenant, the battle between good and evil is pictured as an individual and internal one. As Paul framed it: "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." (Romans 7:19) Even so, Paul also made clear to the saints of Corinth that God's saints already have won the victory in that battle through Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 15:57)

To be sure, the battle within the political realm can be passionate and interesting (and it can even touch on issues of right and wrong), but it is a DISTRACTION from the real battle between good and evil on which all REAL Christians must be focused! If we truly believe that God's will should prevail on this earth, then we should be praying "Thy Kingdom Come" - just as Christ instructed us to do (Matthew 6:10) - AND we should be preaching THAT message to the unconverted world around us! (Matthew 28:18-20)

Monday, June 20, 2022

He who endures to the end shall be saved!

Unfortunately, this statement by Jesus has been used by some to prove that Christians are obligated to do certain things in order to be saved - that our salvation is somehow dependent on the things that we do (or fail to do). For them, this verse of Scripture demonstrates that salvation is not simply a matter of accepting and believing in what Christ has done for us - it is absolute proof that we have a part or role to play in our own salvation! They also see this passage as absolute proof that salvation is something that can be lost or withdrawn. What about all of that? Does this statement by Christ somehow modify, overturn, or contradict other seemingly clear Biblical statements about salvation through Jesus Christ?

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus said: "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him." (3:16-17) This clear statement by Christ underscores one of the foundational teachings of the Christian Church - that salvation is through Jesus Christ, and that anyone who would receive this gift must believe that Christ is his/her Savior. And, as one would expect of a teaching so fundamental to the religion, it is supported by many other passages of the Bible. The same gospel account also informs us that Christ once said that HE was the ONLY way to God the Father. (John 14:6) In the Gospel of Luke, we are told that Jesus said that he came to this earth "to seek and save those who are lost." (Luke 19:10)

It is also clear that Christ's apostles taught the same thing about salvation. We read in Paul's epistle to the saints at Ephesus that "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it." (Ephesians 2:8-9) Paul told the Christians at Rome that his message about faith was "If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved." (Romans 10:9-10) Likewise, in the same letter, he wrote that "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23) Paul wrote to Titus that "When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life." (Titus 3:4-7) In the book of Acts, we are told that Peter preached that "Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, 'The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:11-12)

So, in the light of all of these clear passages about salvation through Jesus Christ, how can Christ's statement about enduring to the end be interpreted to mean that Christians have a role to play in their own salvation? The short answer is: IT CAN'T! Salvation is either a free gift that we receive because of what Christ did for us, or it isn't! Now, it is clear that humans are required to repent of their sins when they accept Christ's sacrifice for their sins (Acts 2:38), and that our acceptance/belief in the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice will result in us walking in newness of life and exhibiting the fruits of God's Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:24 and Galatians 5:22-25). Even so, it is not the doing of those things that earns us salvation (For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands - Romans 3:20) - rather, the doing of those things is a clear indication that we have accepted salvation through Jesus Christ! Conversely, anyone who continues to live a life of habitual sin clearly hasn't accepted Christ as his/her Savior!

What was Christ talking about when he made that statement about enduring to the end? His disciples had just asked him about the destruction of the temple and the circumstances surrounding his return to this earth and the end of the age. (Matthew 24:3) Hence, his remark about enduring to the end must be interpreted within the context of his answers to those questions! In other words, Christ remarks here refer specifically to the events which his disciples had asked him about - not necessarily about salvation in the broader spiritual sense! Moreover, even if we ignore the context and insist that Christ is talking about salvation generally, we cannot escape the fact that the original Greek word translated into English as "endure" is better described as maintaining something (see Strong's Concordance) - that is faith in Christ as our Savior! In other words, the person must continue to believe that they have received salvation through Jesus Christ! Paul told Timothy that he had maintained his faith and finished his race (II Timothy 4:7). In other words, he had endured to the end of his life. Hence, we see that Jesus was speaking about maintaining faith in him, NOT about continuing to be obedient to a list of dos and don'ts or about holding on to a package of doctrinal beliefs!

In conclusion, it is clear that Scripture teaches that Christians must believe in the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice for the remission of their sins and the accomplishment of their salvation. In other words, their salvation is NOT dependent on them or ANYTHING that they do or don't do! The people of Christ's day wondered what good works that they could do to gain God's favor, and he told them: "This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:29) As for our receipt of that salvation, we have already received that guarantee through the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13-14) The author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote: "For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 'For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.' But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul." (Hebrews 10:36-39) Who has done the will of God? THE ONE WHO BELIEVES (and maintains that belief until he/she draws their last breath)!

Friday, June 17, 2022

Another False Dilemma: Faith vs Reason

Too many Atheists and Christians believe that faith is incompatible with reason. This belief blinds both sides to how faith and reason actually relate to each other and consequently distorts their understanding of them as concepts. In short, they view faith as being the antithesis of reason - opposites of each other. Of course, Christians believe that faith is superior to reason, and atheists believe that reason is superior to faith (and never the twain shall meet). From this perspective, faith is defined as a belief in something that cannot be sensed by humans (without evidence), and reason is defined as arriving at a conclusion about something by employing logical thinking (relying on evidence).

However, other folks who have considered these issues have offered alternative definitions for faith and reason which demonstrate that the contest between them is an illusion! In the article Are Faith and Reason Compatible? by Greg Koukl (At "Stand to Reason, Clear-Thinking Christianity"), reason is defined as the process of evaluating whether or not there is "adequate justification for a belief." Likewise, the same article defines faith as having three components: 1) the object - the "something or someone you have faith in," 2) the content - the "details about what it means to put your faith in that thing," and 3) the trust or commitment that demonstrates your faith. The article went on to observe: "If you define what reason is, and you define what faith is, you realize that there’s no conflict. Reason assesses, faith trusts. Reason assesses whether or not something or someone is trustworthy, and then faith believes that certain things are true in light of the reasons. Not blind faith, but a reasonable step of trust."

The folks over at Capturing Christianity liked the logic behind Greg Koukl's definitions (which Greg admitted are really David Horner's definitions). In their article On the Conflict Between Faith and Reason, they point out that the way that many Christians and atheists define faith contradicts principles laid out in Scripture. We read: "As Greg Koukl points out, if this definition were correct, then faith increases as knowledge decreases. And so, giving a fact-based defense of Christianity would be misguided. It would produce the opposite of faith. However, Peter commands believers in 1 Peter 3:15 to always be 'prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason of the hope that is in you.' Moreover, Paul, author of 2/3 of the books in the New Testament, gave similar commands in 2 Cor 10:5, 2 Tim 4:2, Phil 1:16, and Eph 5:11. So it turns out this definition is scripturally absurd, it leads to contradiction." The article went on to point out that Paul wrote to the saints of Corinth that "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." (I Corinthians 15:17, 19) In other words, "according to Paul, we need more than hopes and dreams for our faith to be worth anything."

Moreover, this is consistent with the famous definition of faith found in the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews (11:1). Indeed, we read there that the anonymous author of the epistle looked at faith as a kind of "evidence." This, in turn, is followed by many tangible examples of the power and reality of faith exercised by biblical personalities down through the ages. Paul wrote to the Romans that "the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead." (Romans 1:20) In other words, faith is supported by real/tangible evidence! Indeed, in the Gospel of John, we are told that Jesus once pointed to the works which he had done as a justification for belief in him! (John 14:11) Scripture also informs us that David considered/thought about the moon and stars in connection with his faith in God and his plans for humankind (Psalms 8:3-5) Hence, from a Scriptural perspective, we see that evidence compliments faith, and that reason is portrayed as being consistent with that faith!

Nevertheless, those Christians who insist on faithism/fideism are fond of pointing out that "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." (Proverbs 14:12) Well, there you have it! Human reasoning is flawed and inconsistent with faith! Really? What are the Proverbs? Weren't they designed to impart wisdom and instruction in righteousness? (Proverbs 1:1-10) Hence, isn't the proverb quoted above clearly dealing with human reasoning about morality - right and wrong? In other words, isn't making this statement a blanket condemnation of all human reasoning twisting/perverting its clear intent and meaning? What about God's invitation for us to reason together with him? (Isaiah 1:18) What about Peter's instruction to be prepared to give an answer which was already referenced above? (I Peter 3:15) What about that instruction to meditate on God's laws? (Joshua 1:8) If the other guys are right, what is there to think about? What did Paul mean when he told the saints at Thessalonica to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good"? Why were the Bereans more noble than other folks? (Acts 17:11) So, we see that thinking/reasoning is NOT inconsistent with faith. In fact, it supports it!

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

An Altar Call for the Membership of the Armstrong Churches of God

Since 2010, the blog Banned by HWA has provided a forum for former Worldwide Church of God members (and current and former members of its MANY descendants), and the evidence of COMPLETE prophetic failure which has been presented there has been COMPREHENSIVE, STAGGERING, and OVERWHELMING! Most recently, a series of posts by Marc Cebrian have pointed out the utter failure of David Pack’s forays into the prophetic realm. Likewise, for the last eight years, this blog has occasionally commented on the prophetic failures of the Worldwide COG, Philadelphia COG, and the COG International. Let’s face it, the verdict is in on the prophetic messages of men like Herbert W Armstrong, Gerald Flurry, and David Pack. In short, their collective interpretations of Biblical prophecy and their predictions about the future have ALL come to naught! In the face of so much evidence that these men are NOT God’s prophets, the question naturally arises: Why hasn’t the membership of these organizations abandoned those FALSE prophets and returned to the Lord?

In times past, when the Israelites turned their backs on God, Moses stood before them and demanded, “Who is on the Lord's side? let him come unto me.” (Exodus 32:26) In similar fashion, the Prophet Elijah (the REAL one) once confronted the Israelites about their divided allegiances. He said: “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” (I Kings 18:21) It is interesting to note that both of these prophets demanded that God’s people be loyal to him, and that they not give any credence to false prophets or gods. In this connection, it is also interesting to note that Moses once predicted that “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.” (Deuteronomy 18:15)

In the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews, we read that: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2) And how has Jesus spoken unto us? The book of Revelation informs us that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit (or essence) of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). It is also interesting to note that Christ echoed the words of Moses and Elijah when he said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me!” (John 14:6) And, in another place, he is reported to have said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” (John 7:37) Hence, in a sense, Christ is delivering to us the same choice that the prophets of long ago delivered to the Israelites. How long will you waver between following the Lord and following these false prophets? Will you come to Christ or will you linger with the evil doers? It seems to me that the day of decision has arrived, and it is time for the membership of the ACOGs to come home to Jesus. What do you think?

Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Christian's Duty to Help Those Who Are in Need

I am always dumbfounded when I hear about someone who professes to be a Christian and rejects the notion that he/she has any obligation to help those who are in need. That consternation is founded in the fact that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are crystal clear in asserting that God expects his people to help the suffering and disadvantaged among them. In other words, there is absolutely NO room for an alternate interpretation or view of what Scripture teaches on this subject!

Indeed, even under the terms of the Old Covenant, God's expectations in this regard were made VERY PLAIN. In the Torah, we read that the Israelites were instructed that: "If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth...Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land. (Deuteronomy 15:7-11) Likewise, in the book of Proverbs, we read: "He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again." (Proverbs 19:17)

In the New Testament, this duty to those who are in need is made even more explicit! In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ told a story that makes plain that the folks who will make it into his kingdom are the ones who help those who are in need. We read there that Jesus said: "But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46, NLT)

In the same Gospel, we also have an account of a wealthy young man who asked Jesus what he should do to receive eternal life (Matthew 19:16). Christ reportedly instructed the young man to keep the commandments (verses 17-19). “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?” (Verse 20) Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions." (Verses 21-22) Clearly, for Jesus, helping the poor represented the most moral behavior for any human who truly desired to be with God!

Moreover, this attitude of helping those who were in need was perpetuated by Christ's apostles. In his letter to the saints of Philippi, Paul wrote: "Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too." (Philippians 2:3-4) In his account of the Jerusalem Council, Paul told the Galatians that the Jerusalem apostles had asked him and his coworkers to remember the poor, and he made a point of also telling them that he was fully on board with doing just that (Galatians 2:10). Likewise, in the epistle of James, we read that "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27) Finally, in the first epistle of John, we read: "We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?" (I John 3:16-17) Clearly, the notion of helping and serving those in need was perpetuated by the Church which Jesus founded, and the people whom he had appointed to lead it.

Unfortunately, I have heard that there are those within the Armstrong Church of God movement who would turn something that Paul wrote to the saints of Thessalonica into a quote from Vladimir Lenin. The Communist icon is once reported to have said: "He who does not work shall not eat." According to my source, one ACOG minister claimed that Paul said: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” (II Thessalonians 3:10) However, while Paul certainly did make that statement, this individual had clearly taken his remarks out of context and had consequently twisted his meaning. In contrast to Lenin's statement, Paul wrote: "And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us. For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: 'Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.' Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living." (II Thessalonians 3:6-12) So, we see that Paul's remarks in this instance were directed at individuals who refused to work and were using their idleness to work mischief in the lives of others. In other words, when we read Paul's remarks in context, there is absolutely NO indication that he meant to suggest that folks who were unable to work (or unemployed through no fault of their own) should be excluded from receiving help from the Church!

We are told in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus did NOT come to this earth to be served "but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) In that same Gospel account, we are told that Christ once said: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” In other words, Jesus came to minister to those who were in need, NOT to make wealthy or self-righteous people feel better about themselves! Christ told his followers: "I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." (John 13:34-35) Hence, it seems very clear to this blogger that this is the kind of behavior which Christ expects to find his followers engaged in when he returns, and anyone who would contradict this conclusion could fairly be characterized as acting in the capacity of an anti-Christ! What do you think?

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Gun Idolatry in the United States

Last week, I was reclining on an exam table while a Nurse Practitioner and her assistant were sewing up an incision on my chest. "Have you heard anything about that school shooting in Texas?" she asked. I replied that I had, and she asked if I had heard what the news media was reporting about the latest body count (I assumed she hadn't had an opportunity to listen to any radio or television - the clinic had been very busy that day). "They are reporting that nineteen children and two adults are dead," I answered. "What do you think about that?" she asked. "I think it's awful," I replied. "Why is she soliciting my opinion about this sad event?" I wondered. "Yeah," she agreed, "I just don't understand why these things keep happening."

"Well, I think that some folks should never be allowed to hold a gun in their hands," I blurted out. "I don't think gun control is the answer!" she exclaimed. Now, I was getting nervous (she was after all currently sewing up my chest!) "I support Second Amendment rights - I served honorably in the U.S. Army, and I own a gun," I volunteered. "I cannot, however, understand why we don't have universal background checks, and why we haven't band assault weapons." "I love shooting my AR-15!" the assistant interjected. "Yeah, I don't believe guns are the problem," the NP declared. "I think it's violent video games, social media, the absence of fathers, and a decline in family values," she added. I thought about pointing out that other more secular Western democracies have access to the same social media and video games and don't seem to have these problems with gun violence; but she was still working with those stitches, and silence seemed like the better option.

As I left the office that day, I was struck by how much those two ladies loved their guns. In fact, their love for their guns and determination to not have ANY restrictions placed on their right to own them had somehow trumped their ability as mothers to sympathize with those mothers in Uvalde who had lost their children. They were clearly more concerned with the possibility that the government might "take away" their guns than they were with the possibility that a mass shooting might snuff out the lives of their loved ones! "What inspires such devotion to an inanimate object that has the potential to inflict so much harm in the wrong hands?" I wondered. We require training and a license to own and drive a car, but many of us appear to believe that such a requirement is unthinkable when it comes to a gun. Sure, most of us can understand the impulse to protect oneself and family or to hunt, but why does the average citizen need a weapon of war (designed to kill humans)? Sure, most of us understand that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to keep and bear arms to U.S. citizens (although the fact that the language links this to a well-regulated militia is often ignored), but what does God think about weapons? Moreover, what does God make of the argument that the right to bear arms is meant to keep our government from imposing a tyranny on its citizens?

First, we should note that firearms had not been invented yet when the Judeo-Christian Scriptures were written. In those days, spears and swords were the weapons of choice (they liked slingshots and bows and arrows too). In this connection, it is interesting to note that two of the Old Testament prophets predicted a time when people would "beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks." (Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3) It should also be noted that humans are prohibited from killing each other by one of the "Ten Commandments" (Exodus 20:13). We also know that Jesus Christ told his disciples: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39) Likewise, when Peter drew his sword to prevent Jesus from being arrested, we read that Christ told him: "Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." (Matthew 26:52 and John 18:11)

Conservative commentator David French recently posted an article "Against Gun Idolatry" (June 5, 2022. In the piece, he argues that the greatest threat to the gun culture in America is not from liberal Democrats, that it is from a discernible shift in the attitude of many gun owners toward their weapons. He wrote: "The threat is gun idolatry, a form of gun fetish that’s fundamentally aggressive, grotesquely irresponsible, and potentially destabilizing to American democracy...What is a gun fetish? It’s a concept that’s tough to define, but easy to observe. When a leading candidate for Senate runs on a platform that’s 'pro-God, pro-Gun, and pro-Trump,' then guns (and Trump) are elevated far above their proper place in American life. The same goes for popular t-shirts and signs that declare a person 'pro-life, pro-God, and pro-gun.'” Of Course, this brings to mind another one of the "Ten Commandments," you remember - the one that states: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me!" (Exodus 20:3)

Moreover, we have already mentioned the reasonableness of arguments by gun owners involving self-defense and hunting; but some of the other arguments advanced by them are frankly disturbing (especially when they are advanced by folks who claim to be Christians). In short, the notion that armed citizens would confront and resist government tyranny is NOT a very Christian notion! In this connection, it is interesting to note that both Paul and Peter enjoined Christians to "be subject unto the higher powers" (Romans 13:1), and that they must submit themselves "to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake." (I Peter 2:13) In the article already referenced, French characterized the shift in public opinion in these terms: "It’s now common to see men and women armed to the teeth, open-carrying during anti-lockdown protests and even outside public officials’ homes. This is when the gun is used to menace and intimidate. It’s displayed not as a matter of defense but rather as an open act of defiance. It’s meant to make people uncomfortable. It’s meant to make them feel unsafe. This transition from defense to defiance can destabilize our democracy." I would say that open defiance or actions of an offensive nature (as compared to those of a defensive nature) also clearly contradict the scriptures quoted above.

In terms of this world, the consequences of this obsession with guns is already clear in places like Sandy Hook and Uvalde. In terms of the Kingdom of God, I would personally be very uncomfortable with defending a morality of "pro-God, pro-Gun, and pro-Trump." Yeah, I'm thinking that that one is NOT going to be well-received at God's throne! What do you think?


Sunday, June 5, 2022

Seeing Jesus in the Torah

There are a great many folks who do NOT see Jesus in the Torah. Atheists claim that Christians are torturing the Hebrew Scriptures to make them mean things that the original authors never intended for them to mean. Likewise, most adherents of the Jewish faith do NOT believe that Jesus of Nazareth represents the fulfillment of THEIR Law and Prophets - they share the atheist's perspective that Christians are injecting Jesus into THEIR Scriptures. Indeed, many Christians do not see Jesus in the Old Testament! Outside of a few favorite stories for children's Sunday school and the occasional Psalm or proverb, they stick to the New Testament. Some Christians believe that Jesus abolished the Law, while others believe that he incorporated most of its provisions into the terms of the New Covenant. So, why is it that some folks see Jesus in the Torah and other folks just don't see it?

For those of us who DO see Jesus in the Torah, the answer to that question is relatively straightforward and simple. We believe that the Holy Spirit enables us to see what others cannot see. In other words, without the guidance of God's Spirit, you will NOT see Jesus in the Torah! From the Christian's perspective, this is all about faith. You either have it, or you don't! You are either a believer, or you aren't! As the old saying goes, a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still! A person simply will not see, what they are unwilling to see! Moreover, the argument that the Christian is reading into those Scriptures something that the original authors never intended is NOT persuasive to him/her, because the founders of their religion saw them there first.

Jesus told the Jewish religious leaders of his own day that "You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!" (John 5:39) Indeed, throughout his earthly ministry, the gospels record that Jesus fulfilled this or that scripture! At the end of his ministry, just before he ascended into heaven, the Gospel of Luke informs us that Christ told his disciples that "When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled." (24:44) This is immediately followed by the statement: "Then he <Jesus> opened their minds to understand the Scriptures." (Verse 45) In other words, Jesus imparted to them this ability to see him in those writings! And, near the conclusion of the book of Acts, we read: "So a time was set, and on that day a large number of people came to Paul’s lodging. He explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening. Some were persuaded by the things he said, but others did not believe. And after they had argued back and forth among themselves, they left with this final word from Paul: 'The Holy Spirit was right when he said to your ancestors through Isaiah the prophet, 'Go and say to this people: When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend. For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes—so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’" (Acts 28:23-27)

In his second epistle to the saints at Corinth, Paul explained this phenomenon of only some folks being able to see Jesus in the Torah. He wrote: "The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away. Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life? If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God! In fact, that first glory was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new way. So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever! Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold. We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away. But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand. But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." (II Corinthians 3:7-16)

Finally, the old argument between those who say that Christ abolished the Law of Moses and those who say that most of its provisions are still binding on New Covenant Christians is misguided and confusing. The truth is that Christ FULFILLED the Law of Moses for us and transformed its provisions into two great spiritual principles for Christians (Love for God and neighbor). Paul told the saints at Rome that "Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit." (Romans 7:6) He went on to say that "The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit." (Romans 8:3-4)

Likewise, Paul wrote to the saints of Galatia on this wise: "But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, 'Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.' So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, 'It is through faith that a righteous person has life. This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, 'It is through obeying the law that a person has life." (Galatians 3:10-12) Later, in the same epistle, Paul reiterated the point he was trying to make. He wrote: "I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace." (Galatians 5:3-4) He continued: "For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Verses 13-14) Paul concluded his explanation to the Galatians of the Christian's obligation to the Law in this way: "So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses." (Verses 16-18) And this was followed by Paul contrasting those who follow their sinful nature with those who produce the fruits of having God's Holy Spirit (verses 19-24). In other words, under the terms of the New Covenant, Christians will exhibit the fruits of the Law of Love - the Law of Moses as fulfilled/magnified/transformed by Jesus Christ!