Featured Post

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 t...

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Is everyone going to be saved?

The notion of universal salvation is a concept that few Christian theologians have fully embraced. From a strictly Biblical perspective, I think that the universalist is frustrated by the weight of the scriptural evidence. After all, there are a number of scriptures which clearly contradict such a notion:

"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." --Matthew 7:13-14
"But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." --Revelation 21:8
"And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts." --Malachi 4:3
"Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee. All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more." --Ezekiel 28:18-19

Moreover, it seems to me that the notion of free will demands the option of rejecting God and his offer of salvation. In other words, logic would dictate that failure has to be a possibility.

Also, the notion that there are many paths to salvation is frequently associated with this doctrine. And, as with the notion of universal salvation, Christian theologians often quote a number of scriptures to defeat such a concept:

"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." --John 3:36

"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." --John 14:6

"Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." --Acts 4:12

Nevertheless, having said all of that, there is also abundant evidence within Scripture to suggest that there will only be a few individuals who will ultimately not be saved. Take just a moment to consider the implications of a few of these:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." --John 3:16-17

"The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." --II Peter 3:9

"Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." --I Timothy 2:4

"And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob" --Romans 11:26

"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations." --Psalm 100

"Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away." --I Corinthians 13:4-8

And, just as it is inconsistent with free will to preclude the possibility of someone choosing to reject God and his salvation, it is also illogical to entertain the notion that many would make such a choice. For, in order for free will to be truly operational, the person must fully understand God and what he is offering - otherwise he/she could not be said to be making an informed decision. And, given that information, we have to conclude that most would choose to receive God and his gift.

Moreover, if the majority of mankind fails (and hundreds of millions or billions of folks end up in Gehenna/Hell), then we would not be able to characterize God's plan of salvation as anything other than an abysmal failure! After all, whatever our failings, God is the one who designed us, and the plan is his. And what is to preclude everyone from eventually accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior? Remember, for free will to be truly operational, you have to fully understand what is at stake. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

When God Communicates With Us

Communication has been defined as "an interactive process in which meaning is stimulated through sending and receiving verbal and non-verbal messages." http://www.msucommunitydevelopment.org/effectivecommunication.html In its simplest form, that process can be described as "A sender transmits a message through a channel to the receiver." https://www.cliffsnotes.com/study-guides/principles-of-management/communication-and-interpersonal-skills/the-communication-process This process can be accomplished via verbal or non-verbal means and involves the encoding of the message by the sender and the decoding of that message by the receiver. https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/what-is-communication.html

Now most of us recognize that we have just distilled a very complex process to make it more manageable for the purposes of this post. We know, for instance, that there are a number of variables that can impact the effectiveness of this process. Some of the more common barriers to effective communication have been identified as: 1) the use of over-complicated/unfamiliar/technical terms, 2) the intrusion of emotion and taboos, 3) the receiver's lack of interest in or attention to the message 4) the presence of distractions, 5) not being able to use or receive non-verbal cues, 6) language differences between the sender and receiver, 7) the potential for differing expectations, prejudices, perspectives/viewpoints of the parties, and 8) differing cultural norms. https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/barriers-communication.html

Taking these variables into account, we understand that a person may not always receive the message that the sender intended. Indeed, it has been said that "The effectiveness of any communication is judged by how closely the receiver's understanding matches the sender's intent. In the final analysis, the only message that matters is the one the other person receives." http://www.msucommunitydevelopment.org/effectivecommunication.html

Now, what does all of this have to do with God? The short answer is "A LOT!"

Think about it. Most Christians would say that God communicates to us through the Bible - that that book is His message to us. If we acknowledge that God as The Sender is perfect, we cannot say that about you or me as the receiver. Scripture tells us that God's mind power and fund of knowledge is vastly superior to our own. Moreover, if this is indeed the case, then God would be very cognizant of this fact (after all, He is the one who designed us).

Hence, it is not a stretch to conclude that ANY means (including the Bible) which God chose to communicate with us could not be completely effective! Our very nature in relation to God, and the nature of the process itself, preclude any communication from God to us being completely effective! Think about the variability of our moods, attention, biases, education and listening skills. God may be perfect, BUT WE ARE NOT.

Try, for a moment, to think about the implications of all of this for folks like Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Paul, Peter and John. Think of them as RECEIVERS of the message, and then think about them transmitting that message to us. Moreover, the fact that we only have these written documents (or do we really only have the scriptures? What about prayer, meditation, contemplation and experience?) cuts us off from a number of the tools a receiver might otherwise use to clarify the message.

And, if we say that the Holy Spirit is the tool which God uses to clarify His message and make our reception of it more perfect, don't our imperfections/inadequacies as humans still apply? Do people acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit ever get things wrong? Does the Holy Spirit make us infallible - at least in matters relating to God?

"Remember, the only message that matters is the one the other person perceives. Communication is effective to the extent that the perceived message matches the intended message." http://www.msucommunitydevelopment.org/effectivecommunication.html Have we truly received God's message for us only through the pages of the Bible?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Is St. Patrick's Day a Christian holiday?

There are those who will dismiss this holiday as a relic of our pagan or Roman Catholic past. They will also point to the drinking and partying associated with it as further evidence that the day should not be acknowledged or celebrated by "true" Christians. They will label St. Patrick's Day as a "tradition of men" that should be avoided by those who are truly seeking to please God.

Are they right? Should Christians ignore this holiday? Should a "true" Christian's only notice of this holiday be to condemn it?

Historically, Europeans celebrated the anniversary of someone's death rather than the anniversary of their birth. Hence, it is no great wonder that the day associated with Patrick's death would eventually serve to honor this remarkable man.

Moreover, to associate Patrick with either paganism or the Roman Catholic Church is inconsistent with what we know about him and the times in which he lived. Although it is difficult to separate fact from legend at this late date, the available evidence suggests that Patrick was an ardent foe of paganism, and that his ministry predated the consolidation of the Roman Church's power over European Christianity. In other words, it would be anachronistic to suggest that Patrick was Pagan or Roman Catholic.

Consider these quotes from St. Patrick's Confession:
"My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae. His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments. We would not listen to our priests, who advised us about how we could be saved. The Lord brought his strong anger upon us, and scattered us among many nations even to the ends of the earth. It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was."

"This is because there is no other God, nor will there ever be, nor was there ever, except God the Father. He is the one who was not begotten, the one without a beginning, the one from whom all beginnings come, the one who holds all things in being – this is our teaching. And his son, Jesus Christ, whom we testify has always been, since before the beginning of this age, with the father in a spiritual way. He was begotten in an indescribable way before every beginning. Everything we can see, and everything beyond our sight, was made through him. He became a human being; and, having overcome death, was welcomed to the heavens to the Father. The Father gave him all power over every being, both heavenly and earthly and beneath the earth. Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, in whom we believe and whom we await to come back to us in the near future, is Lord and God. He is judge of the living and of the dead; he rewards every person according to their deeds. He has generously poured on us the Holy Spirit, the gift and promise of immortality, who makes believers and those who listen to be children of God and co-heirs with Christ. This is the one we acknowledge and adore – one God in a trinity of the sacred name."

"So I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation. I can today with confidence offer my soul to Christ my Lord as a living victim. He is the one who defended me in all my difficulties. I can say: Who am I, Lord, or what is my calling, that you have worked with me with such divine presence? This is how I come to praise and magnify your name among the nations all the time, wherever I am, not only in good times but in the difficult times too. Whatever comes about for me, good or bad, I ought to accept them equally and give thanks to God. He has shown me that I can put my faith in him without wavering and without end. However ignorant I am, he has heard me, so that in these late days I can dare to undertake such a holy and wonderful work. In this way I can imitate somewhat those whom the Lord foretold would announce his gospel in witness to all nations before the end of the world. This is what we see has been fulfilled. Look at us: we are witnesses that the gospel has been preached right out to where there is nobody else there!"

"I pray for those who believe in and have reverence for God. Some of them may happen to inspect or come upon this writing which Patrick, a sinner without learning, wrote in Ireland. May none of them ever say that whatever little I did or made known to please God was done through ignorance. Instead, you can judge and believe in all truth that it was a gift of God. This is my confession before I die."

** The above quotations (and the full text of Patrick's Confession) can be found at:
https://www.confessio.ie/etexts/confessio_english#01

After reading these things, I know that there are a few folks who will zero in on Patrick's references to the trinity (or some other minor point that does not comport with their stance on doctrine); but he/she would be hard-pressed to deny that Patrick was anything other than a devoted Christian missionary. Indeed, it seems to this blogger that anyone who would condemn Patrick for such "errors" must also condemn many generations of Christians who held similar beliefs (which for anyone of European descent would include almost all of their ancestors).

Think about it folks! Patrick is not going to be in the first resurrection because some of his beliefs were flawed? What have you got wrong? Is that going to keep you out of the first resurrection?

If you can't see that Patrick's life and legend is worthy of celebration, then I feel sorry for you! And to any Christian with a drop of Irish blood in your veins, what's wrong with celebrating the introduction of Christianity into Ireland? Sadly, for some, however, it's not about faith in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice, it's about something else - it's about whether or not you've accepted their "truth."

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Way of All the Earth

Scripture says that "it is appointed unto men once to die." Indeed, our own experience of life informs us that we will all one day rest with our fathers. That certainty informs many of the choices which we make in this life - the way we choose to live our lives.

If you take just a moment to think about it, the reality of our mortality is responsible for a wide range of life choices. Some of us try to squeeze as much joy and happiness into the time we have as is humanly possible. Others go to bed and wait for the inevitable. And some of us choose to pursue immortality. Of course, there are numerous variations on these themes, and many of us will incorporate all of these approaches into the course of a lifetime.

For most of us, our mortality is not really real to us when we're young. As time goes on, the deaths of friends and loved ones demands our attention. Likewise, age and infirmity bring home the message to all but the most hardheaded of us. Nothing, however, brings home this reality like a health scare.

I recently had one of those. I was sitting in my recliner one evening when I experienced a sharp pain in my right leg. After hurting all night, I called my doctor's office the next morning and was told to go to the emergency room. To make a long story short, they performed an ultrasound of my leg and determined that I had a massive blood clot. The doctor explained to me the dangers inherent in my condition and prescribed a blood thinner to try to dissolve the clot.

For me, my blood clot brought my own mortality into sharp focus. It served to remind me that this life is not endless. If I am honest, this experience has been depressing and inspiring. I want to be here for Darlene, my daughters and my grandchildren; but I am also looking forward to what's next. This has reaffirmed my conviction that there is purpose and design to this temporary existence, and that there is a Designer and answers waiting at the end of it.