Posted in John, Psalms, Romans

Natural Disasters

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” Romans 8:20-22

As we witness earthquakes, volcanoes, and hurricanes around the world,  the age old question arises: Is this an act of God? Was this somehow God judging people for not responding to the gospel? Or maybe His way of preparing them for the gospel? We know God could have stopped the disaster, but did He intentionally plan it? Or was this an act of Satan? Do demonic forces somehow have the power to bring about disasters according to their mission statement of “kill, steal, and destroy?” (John 10:10)

I believe it’s neither God or the devil, but a result of the curse which came on this earth when Adam and Eve sinned. In nature we see evidence of the beauty of our God, but also evidence of the ravages of the fall. Very similar to what we see in mankind.

Although neither God nor Satan directly causes disasters, in my opinion, both kingdoms are very active in the aftermath. Darkness will use tragedy in human minds as proof that God doesn’t love them, or that God doesn’t exist at all. It will try to bring despair, survivor’s guilt, bitterness, etc., anything to lead precious people who Jesus died for away from the help only He can bring.

What is God doing? “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) Notice it doesn’t say, “Close to the brokenhearted if they’re Christians,” or “if they’re praying.” He is unconditionally close to the brokenhearted whether or not they even believe in Him. He is speaking gently to hearts about His love; He is bringing comfort beyond comprehension; He is raising up individuals and governments to help; and yes, He will use tragedy to show people that they can’t put their trust in anything man builds or guarantees.

One day soon Jesus will not only liberate the children of God from their sin nature, He will remove the curse from creation itself, and then the lion will lay with the lamb.

Posted in 1Corinthians, John, Matthew

Knowing in Part

“Now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” 1Corinthians 13:12b

I’ve seen a great evil in the body of Christ that has plagued the church throughout the ages. Those who know in part often presume they know fully and so divide themselves from other Christians who don’t see things exactly their way.

Jesus prayed in John 17:17 that we would be sanctified (set apart) by the truth and then defined truth for us: “Your word is truth.” The word of God was given to set us apart from the corrupt value system, perspective, and ungodliness of this present age, so that we would reflect God and His ways in the darkness of this world.

Christians have taken the word that was given to separate or divide us from the world’s system, and instead used it to divide the body of Christ. In the very chapter that Jesus prayed we would be sanctified, He also prays that the Father would make us one. The result of this oneness, He said, would be that the world would believe in Jesus.

Instead of accepting each other, the body of Christ is often found rejecting each other on things that aren’t essential to the gospel. Pride makes us “strain at gnats and swallow camels.” (Matthew 23:24) There are essential truths that unite us and divide us from the world and these need to be embraced with a passion we are willing to die for: the authority of Scripture; Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world; the gospel calls all people to repent and put their trust in Christ for salvation; Christians are called to love God and love people; everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and go irreversibly to heaven or hell. Even these clear truths in the word of God are only known in part, yet Christians through all the ages have established these as essentials that define one as a Christian.

Matters like communion, baptism, how the second coming will unfold, how predestination is defined, spiritual gifts, the age of the earth, etc. are all examples of issues that sincere believers disagree as to how the Bible should be interpreted. You probably have an opinion on every one of these topics and you more than likely think you’re right. (If you didn’t it wouldn’t be your opinion) Yet, we need to hold these opinions with humility or our attitude can end up bringing division to the church instead of the unity that Jesus prayed for.

Posted in John, Psalms

Born Broken

“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 would be born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘ It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” John 9:1-3

Many people become blind because of an accident or disease, but some are born blind. The disciples are troubled by this because they think bad things only happen to bad people and this doesn’t fit their formula. When they ask if it was this man’s sin you see how predisposed they were to this thinking. You can almost hear their thoughts: It absolutely has to be this man’s fault that he’s blind… but he was born blind… maybe he sinned in the womb!

Jesus says that it wasn’t his sin or his parents’ sin. He also says that the work of God is not his blindness, but him being healed and made whole. So why was he born blind? I think it’s just the brokenness that sin has caused to the human race passed down from generation to generation. It has affected everything, including our DNA, so much so that some people are born blind even though Adam and Eve weren’t created blind and no one will be blind in heaven.

We have spiritual DNA as well as physical and it too has been broken by sin. In fact, the Bible says that the effects of sin multiply over generations. The sin nature passed down will become worse and worse if given into by the previous generation, so much so that people can be born with strong tendencies toward addictions even though they themselves haven’t done anything wrong yet. It doesn’t seem fair, but the truth is all of us are born broken in some way.

Although God has allowed this, He has promised to be close to the broken (Psalm 34:18) and He sent Jesus to redeem us from our sins and to bind up our brokenness. He doesn’t judge us for being broken, but invites us to make our identity in Him instead of in how broken we are. The work of God is that we become whole. Although blind eyes can be instantly made whole, spiritual wholeness is a process that won’t be completed until heaven.

Posted in 2Peter, Hebrews, Isaiah, Jude, Matthew, Revelation

Raising Hell – Part Three

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Matthew 10:28

As I have explored the church’s traditional view of hell, I’ve learned a lot about the power of confirmation bias.  Once we believe something, it’s hard for us to consider something that contradicts it, no matter how much evidence there is.  It leads us away from “believing what we read,” into a place where we only, “read what we already believe.”  It’s hard to learn or grow in this place because we already think we know how things are.

At the foundation of the doctrine of eternal torment is a belief that our souls are eternal.  The early church didn’t explicitly comment on this topic, but two later church fathers did.  Tertullian and Augustine both referenced our eternal souls, but as proof they quoted Plato, not Scripture! (Tertullian; Resurrection of the Flesh; 3; The Fire that Consumes; 300).  The Old Testament described man as a transient being: “For all men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-7)  Only Greek philosophy describes us as automatically having an eternal soul.

The New Testament gives many descriptions of what eventually happens to souls who reject Christ, if we will only listen:

  1. The body and soul will be destroyed. (Quoted above)
  2. The chaff will be burned up in eternal fire. (Matthew 3:12)
  3. The enemies of God will be consumed by fire. (Hebrews 10:27)
  4. The wicked will perish like beasts. (2Peter 2:6)
  5. The wicked will be burned to ashes like Sodom and Gomorrah by eternal fire. (2Peter 2:12; Jude 7)
  6. Those whose names are not in the book of life will experience the second death in the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

This is what Scripture says, but if we believe the soul is eternal then destroy can’t mean destroy, consumed must not mean consumed, burned up doesn’t mean burned up, perish must mean something different then perish, and death can no longer mean death.

Posted in Genesis, John

Raising Hell – Part Two

“He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever.” Genesis 3:22b

Part of becoming a Christian for me was accepting the Bible as the final authority on every area of life and doctrine. I was brought up in the Lord by people who believed that the Bible was clear on the nature of hell’s punishment, so I never even questioned it.

The argument went something like this: Because men and women are made in the image of God they are automatically eternal beings. The great tragedy of someone rejecting Christ, therefore, was that they would live in conscious torment for all eternity. No one chooses, whether they are eternal, I was taught, it is just a by-product of being in the image of God. Everyone is born with eternal life – they either spend it in heaven with Jesus or in the conscious torment of hell with Satan and his angels.

In the last few years I’ve questioned whether this is true Biblically or if it is only a tradition of man that was passed down. The context of the passage quoted above was God putting Cherubim with swords at the entrance to Eden because He wanted to ensure that Adam and Eve would not eat from the tree of life and live forever apart from Him.

Apparently being in the image of God didn’t mean Adam and Eve would automatically live forever, but only that they had the potential of being eternal. According to the text, to live forever they would have to eat of the tree of life.

Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Eternal life is God’s gift to humanity in Christ; without it, I believe, you and I will eventually perish. It was never in God’s heart that we would be able to live forever apart from Him.

Posted in John, Matthew

Raising Hell – Part One

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28

Two years ago I approached our elder board with a desire to present a position on the nature of hell that is different from what most of the traditional church believes. The elders asked me to wait on doing the talk publicly until they had a chance to study and discuss the topic with me. So I waited, and we went through Scripture together. Here are some of the points we were in full agreement about:

  1. Hell is a place of punishment where those who reject Christ will go.
  2. Hell is a place of conscious torment.
  3. Hell is a place of eternal, irreversible judgment or punishment. There isn’t a second chance nor is its punishment remedial.

What some respectfully disagreed with is the duration of conscious torment. I believe Scripture teaches ultimate annihilation after souls have paid a just penalty for their sins while others believe the traditional opinion that the torment of hell goes on forever. Of course, they would argue that in God’s economy, this too is a just penalty.

I was given the freedom to do the talk as long as I was clear that we were in agreement on the essentials and that the exact nature of hell’s punishment is a non-essential that Bible believing evangelicals can agree to disagree on. (I ended up writing an ebook on the topic called: Raising Hell: A closer look at the church’s darkest doctrine)

God wants us to behold His severity so that we will never experience it. He loves us and has made a way for all of us to be saved through Christ, so that all we ever need to know is His kindness. Yet we are to behold His severity, so that we never forget that He is a holy Judge. If we choose to turn our backs on Christ, Paul warns, we will experience His severity along with all those who have hardened their hearts to His love.

It is important that we believe in hell. There is a heaven, Jesus said so, and He even said that if it wasn’t so He would have told us. (See John 14:2) But the One who is the truth also said there is a hell. In fact, He warned us many times about hell urging us to make sure we didn’t end up there.

Posted in 2Chronicles, John, Romans

Let’s Talk about Politics

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18:36

“You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” John 19:11

In our texts above we see that there are two kingdoms – the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Jesus says that the kingdom of God is from another place and that it does not advance with physical force at the present time. The kingdom of God isn’t here to overthrow governments; it’s here to change hearts. “The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17) Only the kingdom of God can bring real hope and change to a human being.

But God is also over the kingdom of man, so Pilate is assured that he would have no authority to judge if it wasn’t given to him from above. Paul says: “The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently he who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong…For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:2-5) Because of the power and possibility of sin, God has appointed civil government to limit the evil man is able to do while on this earth.

The kingdom of God alone can redeem; the kingdom of man can only restrain. If we don’t believe in redemption, we tend to see government as the solution for all mankind’s problems. For Democrats the answer usually means more government involvement, and for the Republicans, less. When problems continue there is a lot of time spent blaming each other because “if there was only more”, or “if there was only less”, things would get better.

I don’t think God is looking at Democrats or Republicans to turn America around; He’s looking at His people, the church. “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2Chronicles 7:14)

Posted in Exodus, Genesis

Patterns of Evidence

“Know this for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they will serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions . . . In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not reached its full measure.” Genesis 15:13-16

Filmmaker Timothy Mahoney went on a journey to discover whether the exodus the Bible describes is actual history or only a myth. What he found after more than a decade of traveling all over the world interviewing top scholars and Egyptologists is patterns of evidence affirming the Biblical account.

But the evidence was not in the time period archeologists were looking in and this led to much skepticism toward the Biblical account. Because of Exodus 1:11, “They built Pithom and Ramses as store cities for Pharaoh,” scholars assumed that Ramses was the Pharaoh of the exodus, so that was the city they were excavating. Many problems became evident: No sign of a Semite (Israelites are called Semites) population, no signs of distress in Egypt, and nothing that indicated any people group who were there, up and left.

Yet other Egyptologists call the text of Exodus 1:11 an “anachronism,” something added to the text by a later editor to help their readers understand where they were referring to. What the later editor was actually saying was something like this: “This is the place where the Israelites built the store city and we know it today as Ramses.” Evidence of a similar anachronism is found in Genesis 47:11 where Joseph settles his family in Goshen and the text refers to it as “the best part of the land, the district of Ramses.” This was hundreds of years earlier than the Exodus 2:11 text, long before any Ramses could possibly have been Pharaoh, or named a city after himself.

For the last thirty years, archeologists have been digging in another city, also in the area of Goshen, but at a lower level than Ramses, called “Avaris.” This city existed hundreds of years earlier than Ramses, in what Egyptologists call “The Middle Kingdom,” and in it is found every evidence Ramses was lacking. (Mahoney’s movie is called: Patterns of Evidence)

Posted in 1Peter

Generational Telephone

“God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all were saved.” 1Peter 3:20

Do you remember playing “telephone” as a kid? Someone comes up with an original statement that they whisper into the next person’s ear. That person, in turn, tells the next until it goes all the way around the circle. At the end you have the last person tell what they heard and then compare it to the original to see how much it’s changed.

Less than 5,000 years ago there was a world-wide flood on this earth and only eight people survived it. Five generations later people had strayed so far from God they built a tower to make a name for themselves, so God confused the languages. Five generations after that God spoke to Abraham and from there the Jewish race was established who carried the promise of Messiah and were entrusted with the story of what actually happened in the early years of mankind. Moses was the one who finally wrote it down.

Most cultures that arose out of the original eight people eventually wrote down their version of what happened as it had come down from their ancestors. Today we have over 300 different versions of a flood story from people who live all over the earth.*  After so many retellings it is amazing how similar they are. Of the over 300 accounts:

  • 95% are worldwide floods
  • 88% favor one family
  • 66% the family was forewarned
  • 66% it was the result of man’s sin
  • 70% survival was by a boat
  • 67% animals were saved
  • 57% survivors landed on a mountain
  • 35% birds were sent out

Georges Cuvier, the father of modern geology (he was the first who recognized mass extinctions in the earth’s past), maintained that catastrophes had happened in the earth’s history, the most recent being a world-wide flood. He wrote an essay called: “The Concurrence of historical and traditionary testimonies, respecting a comparatively recent renewal of the human race, and their agreement with the proofs that are furnished by the operations of nature.” To Cuvier the evidence of these testimonies meant there had to be an original. Noah’s flood is not a children’s story; it’s part of the history of our planet.

Posted in Genesis, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John, Revelation

The Age of the Earth – Part Three

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning…” John 8:44

Satan was already Satan at the beginning; not his beginning, but our beginning. Even though God called everything He made good, there was something evil left over from another time. The story of Satan’s fall is an untold story in Scripture even though we are repeatedly assured of the presence of an evil kingdom and given many instructions on how to stand against evil and how to exercise authority over demons.

So when did he fall? Genesis 1:2 says that after creation; “The earth was formless and void.” The greatest Hebrew scholars in the world say that the word “hayah” translated “was” in this text, can just as easily be translated, “became.” (See the footnote in the 1984 translation of the NIV Bible) In fact, the King James Bible translates “hayah” as “became” in 67 other places. Is it possible that God didn’t create the earth formless and void but that it became formless and void sometime after the creation?

The Hebrew words translated “formless and void” are “tohu va bohu.” The phrase “tohu va bohu” is only used in two other places in Scripture. One is in Jeremiah 4:23 where God is describing the result of His desolating judgment on Israel’s rebellion. Because they rebelled, God left Israel “tohu va bohu.” The other place this phrase is used is in Isaiah 34:11 where God is describing the result of His desolating judgment on Edom. Because Edom rebelled, God left the land “tohu va bohu.”

What if Genesis 1:2 is describing the result of God’s desolating judgment on the earth following Lucifer’s (Satan’s) rebellion? God created the early earth perfectly and it was inhabited by angels and animals but when Lucifer fell, God’s judgment followed. We don’t know when or how long until other angels followed him, we only know that a third did fall (Revelation 12:4, 7) and that judgment did come. The earth is covered with water and darkness in Genesis 1:2, not because God created it that way, but because it became that way after Satan’s rebellion.