Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

Missed One!

And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; (Genesis 19:1)

Anyone who has spent any time in the Bible has experienced reading a familiar passage and all of a sudden, something new appears in the text. Well, it is not really new; it has been there all along, but for the first time, the Spirit gives new insight into that familiar passage.

Recently I started reading the Book of Genesis for the nth time and came to Chapter 19 where two angels come to drag Lot out of Sodom before God destroyed it. Lot ranks at the bottom of my list of Bible characters. Lot was the son of Abram’s brother, Haran,[1] making him Abram’s (Abraham) nephew. Haran died, and when God called Abram to “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee” (Genesis 12:1), Lot followed his uncle.[2] Later on, as their wealth increased, Abram’s and Lot’s shepherds started quarreling over grazing land for their sheep.[3] So Abram decided that they should split up in order to avoid further conflict. Abram gave Lot the choice of grazing land,[4] and Lot chose what he thought was the best grazing land.[5] The Bible describes the land Lot chose as “well watered every where … as the garden of the LORD” (Genesis 13:10). The land he selected lies in a valley on the east shore of the Dead Sea, so it strikes me odd that the Bible says that “Lot lifted up his eyes and beheld all the plain of Jordan” (v. 10). Why would one “lift up his eyes” to see a valley that is below. That makes no sense to me unless his eyes were “lifted up” in pride. After all, he chose the best for himself leaving the least desirable land for his uncle.

Then Lot moved near the “cities of the plain,” two of which were Sodom and Gomorrah, but he “pitched his tent toward Sodom.”[6] “But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly” (Genesis 13:13). Scripture clearly indicates the direction Lot was headed, and it was not a good place. Later we learn that Lot left his tent and moved into Sodom[7] and even became a city leader sitting “in the gate of Sodom”[8] – the place of judgment.

Lot does not make it into the “Faith Hall of Fame” (Hebrews 11), but the Apostle Peter calls Lot “just.” “[God] turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation [i.e., lifestyle] of the wicked” (2 Peter 2:6-7, emphasis mine). Except for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I fail to see how Peter arrives at that conclusion. However, the Greek word translated “just” is dikaios and it means “equitable,” so perhaps as a judge, Lot dealt fairly with all.

Yet, had he faced his tent a different direction and stayed out there with his sheep, he may have averted the troubles that came with living in Sodom. He was kidnapped by marauding kings and his uncle had to rescue him,[9] and then God sent fire and brimstone to destroy all the cities of the plain for their wickedness.

I may be wrong (it would not be the first time), but it seems to me that Lot got sucked into the “city life,” perhaps not all the way, but just on the edge – at the gate. We do that too. We want Jesus, but we want to have a little of what the world offers too. I see Lot this way. Peter says that Lot was “vexed with the filthy conversation” of the city, but when the men of the city came to his house demanding that Lot give over his two male guests so they could have sex with them, Lot offered them his virgin daughters to do with them as they pleased.[10] What kind of “righteous” man does that! Later, as the angels tried to get Lot to leave the city before they destroyed it, “he lingered” and “the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city” (Genesis 19:16). Lot had to be dragged out of the city for his own good!

We might think this story ends happily. No, it gets worse. After being saved from destruction, Lot’s daughters, who had been raised in the “conversation” of Sodom, became concerned that they had no man to get them pregnant, so they get their father drunk and have sex with him and have sons that become enemy nations of Israel – Moab (the Moabites) and Ammon (the Ammonites).[11]

Perhaps you can see why Lot is at the bottom of my Bible hero list, and I am disgusted every time I read this account. However, here is what I have missed all these times I’ve read this passage. It really begins in Chapter 18 when three angels come and speak to Abraham. After the angels finish the meal Abraham prepared for them, they get up to leave in the direction of Sodom, but one stays behind to inform Abraham of what He is going to do. We learn throughout the passage that this “angel” is actually the LORD. Theologically, this is known as a “theophany,” or better yet, a “Christophany” because these are appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ in the Old Testament. Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56).

So Abraham intercedes on behalf of Sodom with the LORD. “That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). What if there are 50 righteous in the city? What if there are 45, 40, 30, 20, 10? The LORD agrees that for 10 righteous, He will spare the city. Then in Chapter 19, we see two angels enter the city. I always assumed these where the two angels that went ahead while the LORD stayed behind to speak with Abraham, but I saw something different this time.

Eight years ago, I wrote a thesis entitled Images of Christ in Genesis where I discuss ways in which Christ appears in the Book of Genesis. These include typology and theophany, but the one I missed was the one that appears in this encounter with Lot. One way to recognize a theophany is when the angel is referred to as “the angel of the LORD.” However, the best way to recognize that the angel is actually “the LORD” is that He takes credit for what the LORD does or will do. Rather than say, “the LORD will …” the angel says, “I will …”

So we have two angels enter the city (we know the account), and they try to evacuate Lot, his wife, and two daughters. The first hint that this is “the LORD” appears in Verse 16 where it says that the angels took them by the hands to drag them out of the city, and it makes this comment: “the LORD being merciful unto them.” Then, once they are out of the city one of the angels commands Lot to escape for his life and not look back. Lot protests and addresses Him as “my Lord” (‘ădônây) and pleads, “Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die” (Genesis 19:19). Lot pleads to be allowed to go to Zoar, and the angel says, “See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city, for the which thou hast spoken” (Genesis 19:21).

Zoar was one of the cities of the plain, and the angel unilaterally granted Lot’s request and spared the city. Matters of life and death belong to God alone. Angels cannot act in opposition to God’s directive. Even Satan is subject to God’s authority. Because this angel acted in response to Lot’s request, we know that either he acted against God’s wishes (to destroy Zoar) or He indeed is God and within His rights to grant the request. “Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven … And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt” (Genesis 19:24, 29).

All the times I read this passage and I missed it. However, it shows how God cares for His own, and that He will protect them even when they are not living according to His will. I know it to be true in my life. But just because God protects His children when they are outside His will, there are often consequences to pay. Consider Lot’s incestuous daughters. Life is so much better if we stick close to Him. I speak from experience.

Notes:


[1]  Genesis 11:27

[2]  Genesis 12:4

[3]  Genesis 13:7

[4]  Genesis 13:8-9

[5]  Genesis 13:10-11

[6]  Genesis 13:12

[7]  Genesis 14:12

[8]  Genesis 19:1

[9]  Genesis 14:12, 14-16

[10]  Genesis 19:4-8

[11]  Genesis 19:30-38

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Same Old Tricks

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

We think we are so smart! We carry around in our pockets devices with more computing power than the computers that sent the first American astronaut, Alan Shepard, into space. With it, we talk or send text messages to friends and loved ones instantly. We stay in touch with current events, check the weather, watch video programs (even live TV), find answers to all of our questions with a few clicks of the tiny keyboard, just entertain ourselves with mind-numbing games. We fly across the country in a matter of hours, send probes to distant planets, or view the ends of the universe with our powerful satellite telescopes. We have developed medical devices that look inside our bodies to produce images of injured or diseased tissues. According to a 2013 report, knowledge doubled every 12 months, and the report predicted that it would soon double every 12 hours.[1] God told the Prophet Daniel that this would happen. “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Daniel 12:4, emphasis mine).

However, for all our smarts, we still fall for the same old tricks[2] Satan has used since the beginning of time. Look at what transpired in the Garden of Eden. God had given man absolute freedom and dominion over the entire planet[3] and placed them in a perfect environment[4] with only one stipulation. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17, emphasis mine).

Satan’s goal is to separate God’s supreme creation, humankind, from their Creator and he continues to employ the same strategy and tactics that he used in the Garden to cause man to fall.[5] His strategy is to cause man to doubt God and to turn to him to meet their perceived needs. His tactics are threefold. First, he instills doubt in God’s Word – “Is that really what the Bible says?”[6] Second, he declares God’s Word as untrue – “You can’t believe the Bible. It was written by man, and it is full of myths and factual errors. You can’t trust the Bible!”[7] Finally, he slanders God by accusing Him of withholding total autonomy from you – “God knows you will be like gods, and He doesn’t want competition!”[8]

Man does not need Satan to cause him to sin. Man succeeds at sinning very well on his own, and Satan uses man’s own natural bent to sin against him. The Apostle John warns us against loving the world system[9] which is really man’s system. John characterizes it in three ways: (1) the lust of the flesh, (2) the lust of the eyes, and (3) the pride of life. Look at how Satan used man’s own nature against Eve. He first executed his strategy to cause doubt in God, and then he stood back and allowed Eve’s own human nature go to work. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food [lust of the flesh], and that it was pleasant to the eyes [lust of the eyes], and a tree to be desired to make one wise [pride of life], she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Genesis 3:6).

It seems we are not so smart after all. In almost 6000 years, Satan has not changed his methods one bit, and man’s nature has not improved through countless unlearned lessons. As the Preacher said, “there is no new thing under the sun.”

“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons (Galatians 4:4-5). The Son of God and Son of Man accomplished what no other man could; He did not succumb to the wiles of Satan. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, emphasis mine).

After He was baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days in preparation for His earthly ministry. Satan took advantage of His weakened condition to make his attack. Satan knew who he was facing. Jesus is the Word of God and very God indeed,[10] so there was no point in trying to cause Him to doubt God’s Word. Instead, Satan attacked His human nature. First, he went for the lust of the flesh. “And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread” (Luke 4:3). Then he attacked through the lust of the eyes. “And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it” (Luke 4:5-6). Finally, he used the pride of life to make Jesus fall into sin. “And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone” (Luke 4:9-11).

There is nothing that you or I face that Jesus did not experience fully. Satan uses the same old tricks and we have all the same weaknesses of all who have come before us. However, as the Apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). Christians, if they will take advantage of it, have the power to defend against Satan’s assaults and to combat the weaknesses of the flesh because, as the Apostle John reminds us, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Jesus defeated the devil, and now His power is available to us, if we will only take advantage of it. We do not have to fall for the same old tricks Satan uses. The way to defeat Satan is to pray daily and often, meditate on God’s Word daily,[11] and “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25), i.e., get involved in a good church and fellowship with other believers.

Reader, if you lack the power to withstand the devil, read my page on “Securing Eternal Life.”

Notes:


[1]  http://www.industrytap.com/knowledge-doubling-every-12-months-soon-to-be-every-12-hours/3950

[2]  “Nothing Changes” – https://erniecarrasco.com/2018/04/15/nothing-changes/

[3]  Genesis 1:26

[4]  Genesis 2:8

[5]  “Why Satan?” – https://erniecarrasco.com/2014/11/02/why-satan/

[6]  Genesis 3:1

[7]  Genesis 3:4

[8]  Genesis 3:5

[9]  1 John 2:15

[10]  John 1:1

[11]  Reading the Bible is good practice, however, meditating on God’s Word requires a little more effort than just reading. One has to read and think (meditate) on what God is saying. Paul said to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15). That requires diligent effort.

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The Man Upstairs

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

I am certain that every writer experiences “writer’s block” occasionally. For me, it occurs more often than I would like. Most often it happens when I have neglected spending consistent time in the Word. Since this blog is biblically based, it is important that I remain faithful to Bible reading from which I draw my inspiration.

Those who follow this blog know that I post something every Sunday morning. I have no obligation to write. This blog does not contribute to my livelihood in any way, so if the “well is dry” no harm is done if I skip a week or two. However, when I started this blog, I committed to produce something regularly that would benefit the readers. Besides those who subscribe to this blog, I get readers from all over the world, so I take care to rightly divide the Word of truth[1] knowing that I am accountable to God for the way I handle His Word. I am also keenly aware that not everyone that reads my blog is a born-again Christian. So, I do my best and pray that God will use it for His glory.

Anyway, this was one of those weeks, and I kept praying that God would give me something for subject matter. When I find myself in an empty well, God often gives me inspiration from the most unusual sources.

This week I received it from the evening sportscast. I am not at all interested in sports. Oh, I like to watch a good game now and then, but I am not a fanatic about any sport or any team. However, as I sat in front of my TV set with my reheated Tex-Mex leftovers, paying more attention to my refried beans and enchiladas than to the programming, I caught a brief sound bite from the sportscaster that perked up my ears. As I said, I am uninterested in sports so the details eluded me. He mentioned some football player who was traded for a better deal. The sportscaster attributed the player’s windfall to divine intervention from “the big guy upstairs.” Why did he not just say “God”?

I hear similar epithets for God all the time – “the man upstairs,” “the big guy upstairs,” or just “the big guy” (spoken with eyes cast skyward), etc. It always bothers me when I hear this, but it bothers me worse when I hear it from Christians.

What! You’re embarrassed to say, “God”?

I am sure it bothers me more than it bothers God. After all, judgment day is coming, and that matter will be settled when all creation stands before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.[2] When Isaiah came face to face before God, he fell on his face and cried, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).

Perhaps such epithets sprang up from a desire not to violate the third commandment (our verse above)[3] much like Jews avoid pronouncing the name of God, Yahweh. To avoid the infraction, they will say Adoni (“Lord”) or Ha-Shem (“The Name”). However, the intent of the commandment was for us to hold the name of God in reverence and not to cast it about carelessly.

How we use God’s name betrays how we value Him in our heart.[4] The sportscaster could have said that God intervened on behalf of the football player, and it would have been just as demeaning. The reason for this is the assumption that God had anything to do with it in the first place, and the sportscaster’s smirk indicating that he did not believe what he was saying to begin with. (I do not know that for certain as only God knows the heart.)

The practice of using epithets for God violates the third commandment, although not always. Referring to God in any careless way breaks the commandment. Even when one intends to be respectful by not using the name of God, the use of the epithet demeans the name of God. He is not the “man upstairs.” He is not a man at all.[5] He is the Creator of heaven and earth. He is the One who gives life and breath to all.[6] We should never refer to Him lightly or carelessly in our conversation. When we speak His name, it should only be with reverence and in a way that honors and glorifies Him, and we should never be ashamed or embarrassed to say His name. We do this when we testify what great things God has done for us. We do this when we speak of His love for us and for others, how He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins. This is how we should use God’s name, and use it often. Do not use His name frivolously, and certainly do not demean His great character by calling Him “the man upstairs.”

Notes:


[1]  2 Timothy 2:15

[2]  1 Timothy 6:14-15

[3]  Exodus 20:7

[4]  Note: “God” is what He is, not who He is. His name is Yahweh and He has other names ascribed to Him that tell us something about His nature – like, God Almighty, God of Hosts, LORD Provider, et al.

[5]  John 4:24

[6]  Isaiah 42:5; John 6:33

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Watch!

Photo by Giovanni Triggiani

Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. (Revelation 16:15)

Situated in the middle of John’s description of the “bowl” or “vile” judgments and the final battle of Armageddon, this parenthetical verse commends those who watch and keep, i.e., “guard,” their garments. Garments cover our nakedness and offer protection against the elements. The picture here reminds us of the clothing with which Christians must be clothed. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).

The Lord Jesus Christ offers this word of encouragement to the “Tribulation Saints” that, due to their prior unbelief, missed the Rapture[1] and now must endure the horrors of the Tribulation. That Jesus will come “as a thief” is not a warning for these saints who by now should know the “game plan” as laid out in Scripture. Rather, He will come suddenly and unexpectedly for those who reject Christ and “upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image” (Revelation 16:2). Jesus promises that the “Tribulation Saints” who watch, for His return will be blessed. At this point in the Tribulation, according to the Revelation account, the wait will not be long.

What about Christians today? Often pastors, Bible teachers, and other Christians discourage us from watching. They remind us that, “ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 25:13). They omit the imperative phrase that precedes that statement. In context, Jesus made this statement as “the moral” to the parable of the Ten Virgins[2] who fell asleep waiting for the bridegroom to come for them. The virgins represent the Church and the bridegroom represents the Lord Jesus Christ, who has left to prepare a place[3] for His Bride, but whose return for His Bride depends on the Father’s approval of the bride chamber. At midnight, when the virgins least expected, a trumpet sounds to announce the Bridegroom is coming. Five of the virgins have prepared extra oil (representative of the Holy Spirit) for their lamps and are ready to be taken by the Bridegroom. The remaining five imprudent virgins get left behind. Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (emphasis mine).

While it is true that we cannot know the day nor the hour when the Lord will return for His Bride, the Church, we are still instructed to WATCH! For what are we to watch? Jesus gave the signs for which to watch prior to His return.[4] The admonition advises us to look for these signs coming together to let us know that the time is near.

Waiting is hard. Watching is tiring. Many have become discouraged and “leave their posts” choosing rather to invest their time on the things of this world – sports, entertainment, and all sorts of distractions and diversions. Some even become critical of those who are watching. Such scoffing and criticism should not surprise us. “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4, emphasis mine). Sadly, these scoffers are “Christians.”

Sometimes these scoffers will compare the “watchers” to the “boy who cried wolf.” What they forget is that in the story, when the villagers stopped responding to the boy’s cries, the wolf did indeed come.

Jesus’ second coming is near. His return to “snatch up” His Bride is even nearer. “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6, emphasis mine). “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7, emphasis mine). “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee” (Revelation 3:3, emphasis mine). “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36, emphasis mine).

WATCH!

Notes:


[1]  1 Corinthians 15:50-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18

[2]  Matthew 25:1-13

[3]  John 14:3

[4]  Matthew 24:4-44; Mark 13:5-37; Luke 21:8-38

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Homesick

Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not. (Luke 12:40)

“Better to be seen than viewed” someone responds when greeted with, “Good to see you!” Sometimes the salutation of “How’re you doing” gets the retort, “Any day above ground is a good day!” Someone else might say, “Better than the alternative!”

Those are funny ways to say that it is good to be alive, but those who make such remarks have not given the “alternative” a lot of thought. In their mind they see death something to delay or avoid altogether. The truth is that no one gets out of this world alive.[1] “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

The Christian should welcome death “willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Having circled the sun 69.33 times, the miles have taken their toll, and I feel the aches and pains that accompany the second law of thermodynamics. I have no fear of death, however, the process of dying does not appeal to me. When someone suggests that this life is better than the alternative, I quickly reply, “Oh no it’s not.”

I am homesick for my eternal home. My mother and father and many of my relatives wait for me there. I look forward to seeing friends that have gone ahead of me. I often wonder if I will recognize them. They will all be young – no wrinkles, no gray hair, no bald heads (yay!). “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). I have arthritic knees that prevent me from doing things I used to do; I do not bend as well as I used to. I have carpal tunnel syndrome that makes my hands tingle all the time, and I get these horrible leg cramps that wake me up in the middle of the night. I really look forward to “no more pain.”

Before going to the cross, Jesus promised, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2, emphasis mine). From this translation, we get the crazy idea that Jesus will build us all palatial mansions in heaven. Reading this verse brings the words of the old gospel song to mind: “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop in that bright land where we’ll never grow old.” However, that minimizes what Jesus has in store for us. The word “mansion” is a poor translation for the Greek word monē which simply means “a staying, abiding, dwelling, abode.” Heaven will be our dwelling place, and from the description I read in the Bible, we will have no need for “shelter” there.

The dwelling place Jesus has prepared for us is the New Jerusalem.[2] The place is illuminated by the presence of God so that “the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it” (Revelation 21:23). The river of life and the tree of life are there; all our physical needs will be met. “And there shall be no more curse…” (Revelation 22:3). “And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). What need is there for any mansion!

No pain. No tears. No sorrow. No death. No curse. No hunger or thirst. No night. No need for shelter in the perfect climate. The best part about heaven, the New Jerusalem, will be to dwell in the presence of our Creator and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

An old friend from my distant past used to say, “Heaven is my home, but I’m not homesick for it yet.” Tommy was at least 15 years older than me when he said this. I have not heard from him in years. It is very possible that Tommy is experiencing heaven now and may be saying, “I am not homesick for heaven anymore.”

The longer I live in this fallen world that grows more wicked every day, the more homesick I get for my forever home. As I see the moral decline and the violence plaguing our land, the more I desire to go home. The signs of the times indicate that Jesus’ return is very near, but whether I cross the veil or meet Him in the air, I long to be home with my Lord. In the meantime, I will occupy until He comes.[3]

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through

My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue

The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door

And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

Oh lord you know I have no friend like you

If heaven’s not my home then Lord what will I do

The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door

And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

Just over in gloryland we’ll live eternally

The saints on every hand are shouting victory

Their songs of sweetest praise drift back from heaven’s shore

And I can’t feel at home In this world anymore

Oh lord, you know I have no friend like you

If heaven’s not my home Then Lord what will I do

The angels beckon me From heaven’s open door

And I can’t feel at home In this world anymore[4]

Notes:


[1]  Actually, some will get out of this world alive (1 Corinthians 15:51-55).

[2]  Revelation 21:2, 10-25

[3]  Luke 19:13

[4]  “This World Is Not My Home” – Jim Reeves

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The Church

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

Today is Sunday, and June and I just got out of “church.” We enjoyed a wonderful time of worshiping God our Savior, Jesus Christ, and listening to the Word of God exposited by our “under shepherd,” our pastor. Then we gathered in our Sunday school classroom to enjoy family time by fellowshipping with our brothers and sisters and enjoying a time of deeper study into the Word of God. Currently, we are studying the book of Isaiah. We have been in the book of Isaiah for nearly a year, and we are only halfway through the book. I really appreciate our Bible teacher and his dedication to the careful study of God’s Word.

I have said this before, and it is still true. I love church! But what is church? Some people think of a building where people meet on Sundays for some unknown reason. Others have a vague notion that people gather there to sing and listen to some preacher talk. Many Christians consider church attendance as some kind of obligation. It’s just something one does.

Before going into what “church” is, perhaps we should understand what it is not.

“Church” is not a building. The first definition of “church” found at Dictionary.Com says that it is “a building for public Christian worship.”[1] While that may be the modern, accepted understanding of the word, it is nonetheless in error. The second definition says that a church is a “public worship of God or a religious service in such a building.” That comes closer to a correct understanding; however, it is still false.

Some people who attend church services select their place of “worship” based on the style of music that is played. They want to hear stirring music that stimulates the emotions and elevates their spirits to euphoric heights. Many church leaders are keenly aware of this “need” and they go to great expense and effort to tailor music that attracts the most number of attendees. Many “worship” services employ loud, screaming guitars, jungle-beating percussion sets, laser-light shows, and even smoke machines to stimulate the emotions. After 45 minutes or so of ear-splitting, pulse-raising “music,” the speaker comes up to give a 15-minute motivational speech specifically intended to maintain the hearer in a happy state – no talk of sin and the need for the Savior, or the prospect of hell; only talk about God’s love and how He loves you just the way you are (a partial truth originating from the “father of lies”).[2]

No, the church is not a place to be entertained, emotionally elevated, or encouraged in your sin. Even churches that still sing the “tired old hymns” can degenerate into places where we can go to just feel good about ourselves. That is not what church is. Neither is the church intended to attract unbelievers, which the modern “church growth” movement emphasizes.

The word translated “church” in the Bible is the Greek word ekklēsia, and it could be translated the “called out ones.” Immediately we notice that the definition precludes a building of any kind. So, the “church” is not a building. The church is people, and not just people, they are people that have been “called out.” The question that immediately comes to mind is, “called out of what?” Simply put, the church is an assembly of people who have been “called out” of the world. To use a “churchy” term, the church is a body of those who have been “saved” out of the world, out of sin, and out of an eternity in hell.

Jesus said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain …” (John 15:16, emphasis mine). The Greek word translated “ordained” means “to place” or “to set.” In other words, Jesus has “chosen,” i.e. “called out,” His church and set it in a place to do His work on earth – to “bring forth fruit.” “Bringing forth fruit” does not necessarily mean increasing the number of attendees in a particular church body. Indeed, Jesus said, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The “call” goes out to all, but only a few will respond. “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14, emphasis mine).

Jesus said these things before the church was established at Pentecost.[3] The church, therefore, consists of individuals who are “called out” by Christ through the Holy Spirit, regardless of man-made “branding” – Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, etc. The unifying theme of the Church is a belief in the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross in payment for our sin, His resurrection from the grave (after three days), His ascension into heaven and His soon return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. “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, emphasis mine). If one trusts simply in that, that one is included in “the Church.” If, on the other hand, one is trusting in the practices observed by their church, they are probably not included in “the Church.”[4]

The Bible refers to the body of all true believers, the “called out ones,” i.e. “the Church,” as “the Bride of Christ.”[5] This is the Church – not a building or a particular “Christian” denomination. The Church is a body of “called out” individuals who join together to worship God, to “feed” on His Word, to grow and mature in the Spirit, to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, to fellowship and encourage one another, and to work together to “bring forth fruit,” i.e., bring others to Christ.

The purpose of the local church is to build up the body – the Church – for the work of the kingdom. It is not to entertain, nor is it to gain numbers for the sake of numbers. The Church is not confined to a single building; however, the smaller gathering that meets in a “church” building plays a major role as part of the “greater” Church. Therefore, “… let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

One day soon the Church will gather together from all parts of the earth in one great assembly forever to be united with our Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ. I so yearn for that day! In the meantime, I enjoy the little piece of Heaven God has provided here on earth in my local church with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Notes:


[1]  Church – https://www.dictionary.com/browse/church?s=t

[2]  John 8:44

[3]  Acts 2

[4]  See my articles on “False Religion”

[5]  Matthew 25:1-13; Revelation 19:7-9

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Filed under Apologetics, Christianity, End Times, Gospel, Hell, Religion, Salvation, Second Coming of Christ, Theology, Worship

Criticism

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:4)

Have you ever been around a critical person, one that seems to find fault in almost everything? A person like that can look at a beautiful work of art and notice only that the frame hangs off plumb. They may listen to a beautiful solo sung in church and notice only that the singer was slightly flat on some of her high notes, or perhaps her dress seemed inappropriate for performing before a church audience.

A critical person rarely offers any positive comments. When you encounter a critic, it does not take long before you begin to avoid that person. If forced by familial relationship to be around a critic you soon learn to keep quiet to avoid criticism. If you work with a critic or work for a critic you stop offering ideas or suggestions, and the critic will soon squelch all your creativity. We avoid critics. No one can put up with criticism for very long. Critics are not people we want to be around.

Criticism can be positive if the critic has your interest at heart. That kind of criticism is usually solicited. For example, when I write, I usually submit my writing to my editor, my wife, for review and critique. She usually offers some very helpful suggestions, which I gladly consider. Another example is when a researcher will submit a research paper for peer review to solicit critical input from his peers. “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). That is not the kind of criticism I refer to here. The kind of criticism to which I refer serves only to bring others down, not to build them up.

Some Christians behave as though criticism is one of the “gifts of the Spirit.” They pride themselves in finding fault and conflate criticism with discernment – the ability to distinguish truth from error. When we examine the two, we find that they are not the same at all. One definition of “discernment” includes “discrimination; acuteness of judgment and understanding.”[1] Criticism, on the other hand, is “the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything, or the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.”[2] While both include “judgment,” discernment requires “understanding;” criticism does not.

The Apostle Paul provides a short list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in his first letter to the church at Corinth.[3] These include administration, diversities of operation (different kinds of work, the ability to get things done), the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, discerning of spirits, the ability to speak in other languages, and the interpretation of other languages.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul adds prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, and mercy.[4] To the Galatians, Paul gives a list of “fruits of the Spirit.” These include love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.[5]

Nowhere in the Bible is criticism seen as a good thing. Criticism may be a fruit of the spirit, but not of the Spirit of God. Looking back to the Garden of Eden, we hear the serpent criticizing God for withholding something good from the first couple. “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5).

If you find yourself being critical, stop. Rather than finding fault, look for the good. Paul encourages the Philippians, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Instead of criticizing someone, look for the good in what they do and encourage/exhort (“build up”) that person. If they suffer due to the consequence of some sin, rather than criticize, show “mercy” and “minister” to that one. You may earn the right to “teach” that one by your example and through your words and by your “gentleness, goodness, and faith.” Criticism helps no one. Criticism is not a “gift of the Spirit,” but rather it is a “tool” of the devil. Don’t be a critic. Be an encourager instead.

Notes:


[1]  https://www.dictionary.com/browse/discernment

[2]  https://www.dictionary.com/browse/criticism?s=t

[3]  1 Corinthians 12:4-11

[4]  Romans 12:5-8

[5]  Galatians 5:22-23

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Filed under Apologetics, Christianity, Religion