Archive for June, 2013

Hijacking the Rainbow

So one thing that annoys me is when words are redefined or symbols are changed from what they were first intended to be. This is especially true when some person or movement takes something that God has set aside as a reminder of His goodness and covenant promises and flips it on its head into something opposite of what God intended. Me example would be taking the word “Christian” and the symbol of the cross and letting it be used by Westboro Baptist Church.

But there is another example that is permitting our society. Please don’t misunderstand me here. If a person or group of people want to have a symbol, they are free to do so in our nation where free speech is protected. But when someone takes something God-ordained and uses it to symbolize that which God calls and abomination, then it is a direct affront to, and a mocking of, God Himself. Read this short passage and try to guess what I am referring to here.

“And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said: “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:9-17 NKJV)

The scene is this. The judgment of God has fallen on sinful mankind and everyone has suffered judgment via flood. As a symbol of the covenant Jehovah makes with Noah, God designates the rainbow (the first one ever seen) as symbolic of His promise to never again use a worldwide flood to judge sinful mankind. In doing so, it would also be a reminder of the reasons that flood judgment came in the first place.

What society is doing now, by making that same rainbow a symbol of the homosexual movement, is to say the following things.
1. Mankind is showing a lack of the fear of The Lord.
2. Mankind is saying that they do not believe that God will judge sin. In fact, they are daring Him to do so.
3. Mankind is saying that we, as fallen, sinful people, have the authority to determine what is good and evil. We have erred in the same way as Adam and Eve when they decided they could define good and evil for themselves.

So does that mean we hate people because of who they sleep with? Of course not! It means that I love them enough to warn them of the dangers of mocking God and presumptuously assuming for themselves the authority to decide good and evil. It means I love them enough to tell them that God only wants what is best for them, and that His warnings are not arbitrary, but designed for their protection.

But the time has come for us to say “no” to the hijacking of the symbol of God’s covenant. The time has come to tell the world that the rainbow is symbolic of the judgment of God that sin will inevitable bring. But such judgment is not something that any of us must endure, for Jesus Christ has taken upon himself that penalty in our place. Come to Christ in full surrender, submit to His lordship, and escape the wrath to come!


It Doesn’t Exist!

Have you ever seen a city ordinance banning feeding of unicorns? Did you ever check the U.S. Fish & Wildlife regulations to see if it was legal to catch mermaids? Of course not. Why? Because they don’t exist, that’s why! It would be ridiculous to ban something, or even to pass a law allowing something, that was impossible or didn’t exist. But right now, the courts and the voting public seem to be doing just that.

One thing we need to do is to change our verbiage. We need to start saying “so-called gay marriage” instead of saying “same sex marriage” because gay marriage doesn’t exist. How can I say that? Well, because the Bible says that. God, the very Creator of the universe, exercises sole jurisdiction over marriage, and here is why.

    God invented marriage

Back in Eden, God created man and woman and brought them together as husband and wife. Since God invented marriage, we do not have the authority to change it.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 NKJV)

    God defined marriage, and Jesus Christ confirmed that definition

Jesus Christ himself repeated the definition during his earthly ministry. What our Heavenly Father has declared may not be altered by mankind, no matter what the culture desires.

And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ ? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

    God performs the marriage

Did you catch the last part of the passage I just quoted? When a man and woman are married, it is God Himself who joins them together in matrimony. Look at that again:

So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:6)

And later on, the Apostle Peter wrote that husband and wife are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7)
So no matter what ceremony any couple decide to go through, and no matter how sincere they are, they are not truly “married” unless God joins them together.

No legislator, judge or public vote can make the impossible possible. It is Jehovah God who instituted, defined, and performs all real marriages, and anything we call marriage is presumptuous in His eyes and smacks of the very pride that God hates. Does that mean that homosexual couples can’t have a relationship that is recognized by the state that carries certain benefits that married couples also have? Not at all. But don’t call it same sex marriage, because same sex marriage doesn’t exist.


The Role of Fear in Conversion

For many years preachers of the Gospel had a reputation for “hellfire and brimstone sermons” designed to scare people into salvation. While that kind of preaching is more rare these days (perhaps too rare?), one wonders if fear should not still play a role in conversion. We would all like to think we respond to Jesus Christ solely out of love for Him, but even then there is an element of eternal self preservation involved. Let’s take a look at what role, if any, fear should play in conversion.

My thesis here is that yes, fear should play a role, at least initially, in conversion. For it is only when a sinner sees his helplessly position before the Judge of the Universe that he or she is moved to ask in utter despair, “what must I do to be saved?” That moment is called conviction, and it can only be brought about by a sinner accurately seeing the inevitable doom that awaits him unless someone can do something to save him. And I would even say that without conviction of sin and the realization of helplessness before God, the Gospel will not be the “good news” of salvation through the atonement by the blood of Christ that it is supposed to be. This all sounds good, but are there scriptural examples that will bear this out? Glad you asked!

For our first example, lets look at the Jews gathered for the feast of Pentecost in 33 AD. Near the end of Peter’s discourse, the text says this:

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 NKJV)

This “cut to the heart” is way more than feeling bad about what had happened, as if it had all been a big misunderstanding. They had been looking forward to the coming of Messiah for thousands of years, and when He came, they had murdered Him. Just a minute before, Peter had applied an Old Testament passage to Jesus and said, “Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’ (v.35) This was not a picture of a king with an ottoman in from of his padded chair. This was a picture of someone with their foot on the neck of their enemy! It would have hit them suddenly and piercingly that unless they did something, the wrath of God was going to be upon them. It was this conviction of guilt and fear of judgment that prompted the question “men and brethren, what shall we do?” So while fear was not the basis for the entire process, it did play a vital role in getting them to a place where they could view salvation as good news indeed!

Well that was great, but are there other examples beside just this one? You are asking great questions! Yes, lets now turn to Acts 9 and look at the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Back in chapter 8, we are introduced to Saul in this way:

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. (Acts 8:3)

And chapter 9 starts off with a further window into Saul’s mission in life.

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest (Acts 9:1).

This is a man who has made it his mission to eradicate these disciples of Jesus from the face of the earth. He is utterly consumed with what he views as a righteous zeal for God. Then everything changes on the road to Damascus when he has an encounter with Jesus.

Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 9:4, 5)

Suddenly Saul is confronted with the truth about who he has really been persecuting via prison and murder. This had to be a frightening experience that shook him to his very core. And that’s what it needed to be in order to convict Saul of his sin and bring him to an accurate realization of his true spiritual condition. The narrative describes his initial response as:

So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6a)

Once again, a sudden revelation of impending judgment and his utter inability to save himself brought about the needed question of, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”.

Well we want to confirm everything in the mouth if two or three witnesses, so lets look at one more – the Philippian jailer in Acts 16.
Here we have a man whose very life depended on how well he did his job. Any prisoners that escaped took his life with them. He is there one evening while his two newest prisoners are doing what everyone would do in the innermost depths of a filthy Roman jail – singing praises to God! And not only the jailer, but the other prisoners were listening, too. Then two miracles happen! There is an earthquake that loosens everyone’s chains and opens all of the doors, and also no prisoners left the building in spite of their newfound freedom! It is dark (about midnight) so the jailer decides to save himself torture and the execution of him and his family by drawing his sword to take his own life. His thought may have been that there would be less shame for his family if it looked like he had died trying to prevent the escape. Suddenly Paul cries out to stop him!

But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. (Acts 16:28, 29).

Again we see someone trembling and asking the correct question! The jailer knew that this was nothing short of a miracle, and wanted this God that not only had the power to deliver His servants, but gave them enough joy that they would be singing praises at midnight in utter darkness and filth.

And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:30, 31)

There is true benefit in telling the lost about the reality of their predicament outside of the saving work of Christ that has provided a way of escape. We exclude this part of the message at our (and their) peril. Does that mean that every time you preach with conviction of sin in mind and people are “cut to the heart” that they will all be converted to Christ? No, some will still not surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. In Acts 7:54, they were cut to the heart and gnashed their teeth at Stephen, and later killed him. But nevertheless, that does not excuse skipping it either. They may repent, or they may kill you, but that doesn’t excuse changing the message!


When Was Cornelius Born Again?

I once heard a man of Italian descent say that God’s message of salvation went to the Jews first, and then to the Italians. Technically, he was correct! But some debate has occurred over the centuries about what the conversion of Cornelius means for us today as it relates to salvation. It all centers around the question of when, exactly, Cornelius was saved? It is a legitimate question to ask. At what point in time did Cornelius and his family receive salvation? Let’s take a look at chapter 10 in the book of Acts and find out.

When he had performed good deeds and prayed to God?
No, that can’t be it. If that were the case, then why would God have an angel appear to Cornelius and instruct him to send for the Apostle Peter?

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. (Acts 10:1-4 NKJV)

Did God recognize that Cornelius was doing many things right? Sure he did! But there was no way Cornelius, no matter how much he did, was ever going to find the God he sought via his own efforts (Eph. 2:8-9).

Back eight chapters before, this same apostle had spoken to a large crowd on Pentecost about salvation. When those who heard him were convicted in their hearts and asked what they should do, Peter said to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 NKJV)
While Peter did say they needed to get “saved”, every serious Bible student I have spoken with agrees that receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit here equates to salvation. This fits perfectly with what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3 when he came at night to talk about salvation (Nick at Night?). Jesus described the salvation above as being “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

So back to the account in Acts 10, what happened in the case of the first gentile convert?
During the discourse by Peter, Luke records the following:

To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. (Acts 10:43, 44)

Now there’s an attention getter! No doubt, those who heard the message of salvation from Peter instantly believed and received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those who had accompanied Peter were astonished and even Peter said ““Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? ” (Acts 10:47) Please notice that in this instance, if we follow the phrasing of Acts 2:38, Cornelius and his household were saved, and then obeyed the command to be baptized. And they were saved in the same way as the Apostles!

But does this fit with the instructions given to the first Jewish converts in Acts 2? Well according to the Greek text, yes it does. How so? Well, it has to do with verb tenses and how they cause words in a sentence to relate to one another. To put it briefly, we know which verbs go together if their verb tenses match. Greek is a very precise language, and a thorough look at Acts 2:38 shows that the verb tenses for “repent” and “receive” are the same (2nd person plural), and the verb for “be baptized” is third person plural. So what that means is that repent is tied to receiving the Holy Spirit, while baptism is not. It is still a command, and is required, but is separate.

So in Acts 10, what was witnessed was the Holy Spirit baptizing them into the body of Christ at moment they believed (1 Corinthians 12:13), and then Peter commanding that they be baptized in water. That also explains why, when Peter was explaining the reason he had preached to a gentile, he said,

And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’ (Acts 11:13, 14).

Notice it was words, not actions, by which they will be saved. Peter went on to confirm that Cornelius and his household had received salvation in the same way as the apostles themselves had received it.

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:15-17).

The reaction was unanimous and joyous, and it also confirmed the mechanism that had caused these Gentiles to receive salvation.

When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:18).

Yes, they believed (a change of mind), which caused repentance (a change of life), which was demonstrated by baptism (a change of allegiance). Does this diminish the importance of water baptism? Not in the least! Far from being an empty ritual, it acts as a marker in time, just like altars did in the Old Testament. It is a point of reference we, as well as those who are witnesses, can point back to and say, “you publicly swore your allegiance to Jesus Christ in water baptism. Don’t you dare forget it!” And may I say, someone who claims to be a Christian but refuses water baptism is demonstrating that they were never really saved. Also, there is no mention of a “sinners prayer” here either. What happened was a group of new believers being born from above when they heard the message of life in Christ Jesus and believed it in their hearts. When that occurred, they were immediately baptized.


The Lazarus Prophecy

It is a wonderful thing that happens when reading a familiar passage of Scripture. It happens when you stumble onto something that was there every other time you read it, but you just didn’t notice it or think it was significant. The passage I am talking about is in the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 16. The parable begins this way:

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. (Luke 16:19-21 NKJV)

Now before anyone gets upset, yes, it is a parable for many reasons. But we must remember that a parable is a story designed to convey a spiritual message. Nowhere does that require it to be fictional. Otherwise, they would be called “fables” instead. But back to my point.

As far as I can recall, Jesus never gives a person’s name when He talks about them in a parable. The characters are usually just given descriptions like “a certain man”, or “a Samaritan”, etc. but in this parable, Jesus names one of the beggar as Lazarus. Is that significant? I don’t believe the Holy Spirit puts anything meaningless into the Bible, so yes, the name Lazarus is significant.

Later in the passage, the rich man is begging Abraham to let him go and warn his brothers so they would not end up in Hades.

“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ (Luke 16:27, 28)

The rich man isn’t asking for an angel or even Abraham himself to go back, but specifically asks for Lazarus. The answer given by Abraham is not only poignant but is prophetic.

Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:29-31)

Now for many years, I assumed that what Jesus was saying was that His own resurrection would fail to convince those who were determined not to believe. But I think there is more to this. I now also think He was prophesying about the reaction of the Jewish leaders to an event that would occur later in His ministry. Take a look over in the Gospel of John, chapter 11.

Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. (John 11:43-46)

John here is relating the resurrection of another man named Lazarus from the dead. Yes, just as the rich man pleaded, a Lazarus rose from the dead as a miraculous sign of the Messiah. While some did believe, what was the reaction of the Jewish leaders?

Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death. (John 11:53)

These men were experts in the writings of Moses and the prophets, but would not believe in Jesus, even though Lazarus had come back from the dead! And in the context of Luke 16, Jesus gave the parable of the rich man and Lazarus right in the presence of the Pharisees. Little did they realize that soon they would prove that the parable they were hearing was the truth! As with everything Jesus taught, it was fulfilled in every detail. For end the final analysis, it is not miracles or signs and wonders that cause faith. If someone is open to the Gospel, they will respond. But if someone has already determined to refuse to believe no physical miracle will change their mind, even if someone were to “rise from the dead.”


The Value of Denominations

I love having denominations, especially in my wallet! My favorite denomination is the $100 bill, although the $20 is easier to spend. But the extra effort to spend the $100 is one of its better qualities. in spite of my preferences, all too often my wallet is nondenominational. Sometimes it gets so bad that it seems my pockets fear change, too. In a pinch, like for a parking meter, noisy denominations are handy to have around. But for the long term, I prefer the quiet type that only occasionally makes a crinkling noise. But after enough time, even those become silent and just lay there folded in small groups, just waiting to be used by their master.

There are other pieces of paper in my wallet, some of which are still recognizable. They are not, however, denominations of anything, no matter how much they try to be. Even if they are play money or bills from a copy machine made to replicate real money, they have no true value. Unless something changes, they will one day be thrown away.

But whether a denomination is crisp and new, or aged and malleable, its value does not change. A new one is fresh off the presses has the same power as one that was printed 20 years ago. The used one may have been wadded up, stepped on, and bent out of shape multiple times, but that is not what determines how valuable it is. For a $100 bill have inherent value because of what it is, not because of what it may or may not have endured.

The same applies to disciples of Jesus. A Christian has value to His Master and Savior because of what he or she is, regardless of what they have been through or how much of a mess they are in. And you can’t become a Christian by just wanting the eternal or temporal benefits that they have. You must be born from above (John 3). Just as denominations of the dollar have no value unless the U.S. Mint makes them, you are not a Christian unless God makes you one. To quote the Jesus Christ, “you must be born again.”

In the end there will be three types of people:
1. Those who have been doing religious stuff like going to church or giving to worthy causes and speaking Christian words, but were never born again. Like counterfeit bills, they will be rejected and destroyed by the Grand Inspector.
2. Those who are not Christians and make no pretense to be ones. Just like spare pieces of note paper, they will be cast off and destroyed.
3. Those who have been born from above, and are true disciples of Christ. Just like the blank sheets of special paper at the mint before printing, they will start off just like the other two categories of people. But then they were changed, just like the paper at the Mint, into something of worth by the Master Maker into a something new, and uniquely valuable. In many ways they are just like the other bills, but each will have its unique characteristics as well. And they will all have the signature of the Spirit that lets everyone know who they are, what the are, and to whom they belong. Remember that when you are going through trials, being folded over or stepped on. Your value comes from the One who turned you from a piece of paper into something of value, not from those around you who look pristine. You are still useful to the Master for every good work.


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