Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Christian Worldview lived out through the Kingdom program of God


We are considering today the concept of a Christian worldview in regard to a holistic understanding of the life of the “Kingdom of God.”  This kingdom program of God, finding it’s full revelation in Jesus Christ, involves many aspects including grace, the problem of evil, the nature of redemption, and how humanity ought to live out the new life in Christ.  In the fullness of this theological understanding of the kingdom of God we find what it means to view the world from a truly Christian perspective.  Secondarily we will also address the topic of ministry, and what sort of core theology would best define the true daily practice of the Christian faith as a saint of the church. 

We’ll start right at the beginning, which leads us to the program of sin and evil.  We can only properly understand the life of the kingdom when we first consider our origins.  The God of the Bible created the world in six days, and rested on the 7th.  Everything we see therefore is created by God, or constructed by God’s creations.  The observable universe is a brief and limited description of the incredible depth of character, glory, power, and ability within the character of the Author of Life, Jesus Christ who is God.  Nature is a picture of the beauty of God.

God created the universe, all the galaxies, time, space, reality, and our Earth.  On Earth, with great care and love God built the first humans Adam and Eve.  God gave the greatest gift imaginable when he gave free will, the ability to choose right or choose wrong. The first humans existed in a state of spiritual and physical perfection, in the direct presence of their Father, God, who had made a garden on the surface of the Earth for their dwelling and relationship.  

So now we consider the origin of evil and sin.  God made humanity, but he had other creations as well. In addition to the first humans developed by God, there were also spiritual beings called angels, which God had given the gift of free will. And they freely served their heavenly Father as well.  One of these angels was named Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12). This spiritual being corrupted by his own desire for power came into the garden and suggested to the first humans that they ought to be their own gods, accountable to no one and so the first humans sinned and fell under the dominion of Lucifer, also known as Satan the evil one.  At this moment of prideful disobedience humanity turned on their God to pursue their own way. 

God might've destroyed the first humans and been done with humanity at that moment, but that would’ve been contrary to God’s own gracious, merciful nature.  So God the creator established a temporary scenario in which life and death would hang in the balance.  God set up a final chance for humanity, allowing the sin their hearts conceived of to spread throughout the garden, across the Earth and the universe itself.  At that moment the perfect universe became a crippled tangent universe destined for destruction. That is why the universe is so barren, why stars burn out, why seasons shift between fall, winter, spring and summer; All creation was affected by the curse of sin.  Death entered the human race.  And the natural inclination to sin, to plot a course outside of the sovereign God of the universe, became the natural state of all humans born into the line of Adam and Eve.  Adam and Eve had ceded control of the human race from God to Satan, and Satan began to establish his own perverted kingdom on the fallen Earth.

God continued to interact with humanity, and pursue humanity, establishing the nation of Israel through the line of Abraham, as the descendants of Adam and Eve multiplied.  God gave Israel his laws.  Yet Israel was unable to follow the laws.  Israel struggled through captivity in Egypt, and struggled again in their wandering in the wilderness.  Israel went through many wars, struggles, spiritual revivals, and spiritual downfalls, eventually splintered, and broken, and taken into exile by the Babylonian empire.  God had spoken through prophets, priests, judges and kings.  But all had come to failure, and Israel had become a broken nation, occupied by the Roman Empire. 

It was at this time in history when Jesus Christ, the God-man come to Earth was born into human history. God had decided that He would give himself, Immanuel, as an offering to allow his lost people to be rejoined to him as family, justified by faith.  The coming of Christ into the world began the kingdom program of God.  Jesus at the age of 30 began declaring the coming of the kingdom of heaven.  He said that this mystery was that the kingdom of heaven was within each Christian (Luke 17:21). 

The nature of the kingdom of God is found in the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus fulfills the Old Testament law of Moses, and suffers and dies on the cross as a substitutionary death, stepping in for each of us, dying in our place.  Because each sinner deserves death.  But Christ steps in and offers to die in our place.  The kingdom of God program is Jesus’ declaration of this victory, and the fulfillment of it, when one becomes born again, and receives forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).  Saving grace is the concept that we are saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ.  It is pure grace because there is nothing in us that can take away sin, only Jesus can remove it.  And the only thing we can do in response to this free gift is to believe in Jesus Christ to receive it.  We trust Christ as our savior, as our living savior, and so we receive the saving grace He offers.  But truly our entire lives are testaments to the grace of God.  But this is a different kind of grace.  It is the grace that goes before us, what theologians call “prevenient grace.”  Prevenient grace is the grace that God offers us as he begins to reveal himself to us in our lives.  Prevenient grace is the presence of God pursuing us in our lives, and revealing Jesus Christ to us slowly over time.  Prevenient grace makes the offer of salvation to us, and it is offered to all people on the Earth. 

So as born again, Spirit filled followers of Jesus we live by faith.  We live by trust and full reliance on Christ as savior, comforter, and friend.  He is our prophet, priest, and king.  But this is not an incoherent faith.  Faith is not blind, but highly reasonable and coherent.  We believe in the radical notion of reasonable faith in God, the God of the Bible revealed in the makeup of the universe, of Earth, in geology, in astronomy and all the sciences, as well as empirically, historically, and philosophically.  God’s existence, attributes, and divine work are clearly demonstrated in the natural world (Romans 1:20). There is evidence everywhere that God exists and made the universe (Psalm 19:1-6). The evidence points to the fact that an intelligent designer is required given the fine tuning of the observable universe, as well as the complex architecture of the human body, and the need for a prime mover outside of space and time.

We believe that the Bible is the full and complete revelation of God to the whole of humanity.  The Bible, being the most extraordinary document in human history, contains the records of the origin of humanity, the foundation and life of the nation of Israel, to the birth of Jesus Christ, the life of Christ, the cross of Christ, the acts of the early church, the letters to the early churches, and the revelation depicting the end of the tangent universe and the birth of the new heavens and new earth.  The Bible describes in perfect form the past history of humanity and the prophesied future of humanity.

So how should a born-again Christian live out the life of the kingdom?  The life of Jesus Christ is the framework and perfect example as to how Christians should live in the world today.  We believe in the most dedicated service to Christ and others, and refuse any notion of casual connection.  The life of the kingdom should always be focused on the two great commands given Jesus, to love God and to love others (Matthew 22:36-40).  Additionally, the transformed life should be centered around having and practicing “the mind of Christ.”  According to Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV) ”In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant.”

Jesus Christ was God come to Earth, yet he lived the life of a humble servant, obedient to the heavenly Father.  He was obedient and humble even to death on the cross, for the sins of humanity. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical fact.  The work of Jesus Christ on the cross blotted out the sins of all who would put their faith in Him and repent of their sins, choosing consciously to follow him.  The work is complete and the victory of Christ pays for all sins of the believer, past, present and future. The only way to lose this gift is to consciously choose to withdraw faith in Jesus Christ.  Shipwrecked faith and falling away is too consistently mentioned in the scriptures to ignore.

The current ministry of Jesus Christ is in heaven where he literally lives, alive and well since his resurrection and ascension where He intercedes for humanity to the father and ministers across the Earth through the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit the third revealing of God who currently, today, works among the nations of the planet to do the will of God, whom he is. 

We know from the scriptures that humanity is no longer subject to the laws of Moses in the Old Testament, but the Old Testament is filled with great wisdom and teaching that ought to be thoughtfully applied to the life of the believer.  We believe the law of Moses is summed up best by Jesus when he said: “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31 NIV

So if this is our theological core, if this is our profile of the full revelation of the scriptures the question becomes: How do we live this out?  How do we conduct ministry in a biblical manner? We believe in discipleship, missionary work, and consider the task of making disciples of all nations to be the primary imperative of the church of God on Earth.  The primary imperative that flows out from the revelation of the kingdom of God, the gospel, is the great commission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). 

If we are looking at a holistic approach to the kingdom program of God revealed in the scriptures, then I see four core values that emerge from the words of Jesus in practicing the core theology of scripture:  Worship, evangelism, discipleship, and meeting needs.  The mission of the Salvation Army, the organization I serve with, is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.  These four key values are derived from the scriptures, and the kingdom program of God.  In practical ministry, I would extend the list to six, just to be a bit more specific.  Let’s look at these six areas as broken down into two different groups, based around the two larger categories of “preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ” and “meeting human needs in His name without discrimination.”

First of all we approach preaching the gospel.  To me this is the primary imperative of the scriptures, and the meeting of needs is a close secondary.  As our primary imperative of preaching the gospel we see it broken down into three key areas: Worship, evangelism, and discipleship.  The early church in the book of Acts consistently met together to study the scriptures and worship and celebrate the risen Christ.  Worship is a key practice of the church and as much must be central in any theology of ministry.  Second we consider evangelism.  What good is it to gather together and worship Christ if there are none desiring to worship?  Evangelism is about going out into the community, knocking on doors, speaking to people on the street corners, and being present at community events.  Evangelism will become increasingly important as western civilization continues to jettison it’s Christian origins and framework.  People no longer see the church as a viable place to go when searching out the deep questions.  We’re going to have to get increasingly comfortable with going out to meet them, which is simply a re-institution of the origins of the Salvation Army as a street movement.  Thirdly we consider discipleship.  Does the great commission say that we must make converts of all peoples?  No.  It says that we are to make “disciples” of all nations.  What use is it to gather to worship on Sunday, evangelize during the week, only to live out a milque-toast Christianity that has no depth of transformation?  There is no use in it.  This is why deep, meaningful discipleship is necessary to the practice of the church.  We must gather together, not simply for Bible study, or for worship, but we must meet together as small groups, to “be real” about our faith walks, to share our struggles, and to challenge one another to grow in holiness.  We must have meaningful discussion on a weekly basis in regard to true Christian growth, searching the scriptures diligently for the depths of Christian spiritual disciplines and true Christian worldview.  This will help produce converts who are deeply in love with the risen Christ and able to live out their faith in the muddiness of the real world.  All three of these sub-sections are necessary to the proper practice of Christian ministry.  Without even one, the church fails and dies.  With all three, the church is able to grow and live out an empowered, real, fruitful Christian ministry.

Next we consider the important secondary concern of “meeting needs in Christ name without discrimination.”  To me I see three areas of ministry that are essential to the practice of meeting needs.  These three areas are: social services, compassion ministries, and social justice.  Social services is a wide umbrella term, but in the way we’re using the term we’re thinking of it along the lines of feeding programs (food distribution), helping people pay bills, pathway of hope (a program of case working to help families escape poverty), and sheltering the homeless.  These programs are necessary in that Christ specifically commanded his followers in Matthew 25:31-46 to feed the hungry, give water to those who are thirsty, visit the sick, visit the prisoner, and shelter the homeless.  In the parable in Matthew 25, Christ consigns those believers who did not practice these ministries to the lake of fire.  That seems quite clear to me, that these ministries are necessary.  Compassion ministries are also essential to this formula of meeting needs.  We should be regularly visiting the elderly in nursing homes, engaging in jail/prison ministry to inmates, providing rehabilitation services to those who suffer in alcohol and drug addiction, visiting hospitals, and other ministries of compassion to those in need.  Thirdly, we consider the ministry of social justice.  What use is it to provide food, housing, rehabilitation, and so on, if we are not advocating for changes in our society that would help hasten the end of these terrible ills of our age.  Christ has called us to help guide and preserve society across the entire world.  We must advocate for changes in society, we must advocate for the end of abortion, we must advocate against human trafficking, we must advocate against the radical redefinition of marriage, we must advocate against racism, against inequality, and advocate for those who are suffering in our society.  All three of these areas of meeting needs are necessary, without which each of the others become ineffective. 


So in conclusion, to do ministry effectively we must understand the core theology of the Bible. This core is built upon the foundation of the scriptures which outline a holistic Christian worldview.  This Christian worldview is best lived out through the practice of the kingdom program of God preached and lived by Jesus Christ.  To live out this kingdom program of Christ we must preach the gospel, and meet human needs, which is best lived out through six subsets of ministry work: Worship, evangelism, discipleship, social services, compassion ministry, and social justice advocacy. 


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Thursday, March 22, 2018

What is the Meaning of the Fall of Man?




Notice: This is a personal blog. The views on this blog do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's employees, affiliates, or partners. The views on this blog are solely of those making them, based on the teachings of the Bible, in the Spirit.

Doctrine five of the Salvation Army states, “We believe that our first parents were created in a state of innocency, but by their disobedience they lost their purity and happiness, and that in consequence of their fall all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God” (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013). The fifth doctrine of the Salvation Army is a declaration of the biblical account of Genesis indicating a humanity made pure in the image of God, but through disobedience to God fell into sin, and because of this, all men are totally depraved, marred with original sin, and given over to the wrath of God. We find a divine tension in the fall of man: That humanity was a righteous and good creation and that this creation became fallen due to disobedience to God, which then leaves the creation cursed and the human soul tainted by sin, though still of great value to God. Given this state of depravity and sinfulness in man, humanity is exposed to the wrath of God. Yet God is a God not only of justice, but love, and offers with great love the free gift of forgiveness and new life in Christ (John 3:16 NIV).

God originally created humanity for the purpose of perfect union with Him (Genesis 1:26 NIV). Adam was made in God’s image, from the dust of the ground, which God breathed life into. Woman was made from the rib of Adam. Both were made in the image of God, meaning they were imbued with certain characteristics similar to God himself. These characteristics include a longing for eternal things (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV). It could also include the ability to reason, the ability to make free choices, and the fact that humans are imbued with an eternal soul. There are three primary views when considering the image of God’s meaning: the substantival view, the functional view, and the relational view (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 97). The substantival view postulates that the imago Dei is the fact that humans alone have souls (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 99). The functional view suggests that the imago Dei is not simply referring to the soul, but is referring to the authority given by God to humanity over the creation (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 103). In other words, the imago Dei primarily refers to God-like authority given to humanity over creation (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 103). The third view is the relational view which indicates that the primary meaning of the imago Dei is to reflect the fact that humans are fundamentally relational beings and made for community (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 106). Which view does the Salvation Army hold to? According to the Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine (2013) “Our capacity for human relationships reflects the nature of the Trinity and the steadfast love of God. This capacity finds an important expression in the family, and in the Church, when loving and responsible relationships are based on the making and keeping of covenants” (p. 111). The Salvation Army would therefore hold most closely to the relational view, that the imago Dei is the concept of humanity made for community. However, in the Handbook of Doctrine, each of the three concepts outlined previously are referenced in some way (p. 110-111). But the Salvation Army would most likely consider the relational view as the most important aspect of the imago Dei. I would tend to consider the substantival view to be the most accurate description of the imago Dei, though the functional view and the relational view do certainly hold strong merits and impressive scriptural supports. I see the substantival view as the most plausible because of Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV) which states: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” The eternity set upon the human heart is a reflection of the soul of man, and that part of man which longs for the eternal things of God.

When considering the fall of man in the Genesis account we must briefly consider the topic of the Genesis debate. The debate is centered around Genesis 1 and 2, and considers the question: How did God go about creating the universe, the Earth, and humanity? There are four primary views: The Young Earth view, the Day-Age view, the Restoration View, and the Literary Framework view (Boyd & Eddy, 2013). The Young Earth view indicates that everything was created by God in six literal days and on the seventh literal day God rested (Boyd & Eddy, 2013). The Day-Age view is that the universe is actually billions of years old and that the Genesis account of the “days” is actually symbolic of much longer periods of time (Boyd & Eddy, 2013, p. 80-81). The Restoration View is an interesting viewpoint that suggests there was a pre-creation before the creation of our universe, and God was actually starting over with the creation of Eden, postulating a great gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 (Boyd & Eddy, 2013, p. 86-87). The Literary framework view indicates that the days of Genesis are actually stages going from problems like the formless void and darkness, to the next stage of the solution, being light, heaven, and Earth, and the 2nd stage of the solution being the filling of the void with light, animals and humans (Boyd & Eddy, 2013, p. 90-91). The Salvation Army would most adhere to the Young Earth View, though not strictly (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013). Genesis views should not be used to create divisions in the church, the Genesis debate is an in-family debate, unlike issues like marriage and the sanctity of life (McDowell, 2009, p. 5). I think the most plausible view is the Young Earth view, and secondarily the literary framework view also holds many merits. The Young Earth view is the most reasonable in my view because a plain reading of the text indicates 24-hour days (McDowell, 2009, p. 5). And an old earth (evolutionary) view would put death before the fall, which is not consistent with scripture (McDowell, 2009, p. 5). Additionally, one of the best evidences for a young Earth is the presence of soft tissue in fossils (The 10 Best Evidences from Science that Confirm a Young Earth, 2012). Overall, the debate is intriguing and useful, but should not separate Christians working to evangelize the world.

Continuing forward: What does it mean in the fifth doctrine, that humanity disobeyed God and lost their purity? Unfortunately, through the willful decisions of the first humans Adam and Eve, humanity disobeyed God, attempting to play god for themselves. This temptation to sin was facilitated by the fallen being known as Satan, depicted in the form of a serpent in the Genesis account (Genesis 3:1-24 NIV). Therefore, the origin of sin is actually prior to the fall of man. The origin of sin was in the heart of Lucifer, who became Satan (Isaiah 14:12-15 NIV). Humanity embraced the temptation of Satan to “become like god” and as such all people born into the line of Adam are born with a sinful nature. God had created a lush paradise for Adam and Eve, with all sorts of fruit trees to eat from (Genesis 2:9 NIV). God laid out a single temptation, the tree of knowledge, and instructed Adam and Eve to never eat from it (Genesis 2:15-17 NIV). Unfortunately, they found the tree, succumbed to the will of the devil, disobeyed God, ate from the tree, and humanity and creation was cursed as a result (Genesis 3:6-7 NIV). Now we find ourselves in a cursed creation, in which nearly every tree is a temptation; we live in a forest of sin and brokenness, and there is only one tree, hidden in the midst of us, that can lead us back to paradise: The tree of the cross of Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:13 NIV). To say that humanity disobeyed God, and lost their purity is to say that Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, lost their purity by giving sin a foothold, and as a result all who are born in the line of Adam are born with the curse of sin (Romans 5:12 NIV). That’s what it means in the section of Doctrine five which states: “…that in consequence of their fall all men have become sinners…” (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. xv).

Let’s continue: What does it mean to say that humanity has become totally depraved? The concept of “total depravity” is that the sinfulness generated by the fall has affected the entire scope of human personality (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 114). “We are sinful in disposition so that even attempts at righteousness are tainted with sin” (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 114). So the concept of total depravity is an indication of the scope of sin’s full effect on the human condition, and the inability of humanity to respond rightly to God and make ethical decisions (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 114). Original sin was the origin of this depravity, and through the sin of Adam, all became sinners in his lineage. Original sin, and total depravity are thoroughly supported by the scriptures (Perman, 2018). Some supporting scriptures for original sin and total depravity include: Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:2, Proverb 22:15, Genesis 8:21, and importantly, Psalm 14:2-3 (NIV) which states: “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Perman, 2018).

Finally, we consider the concept of the just result of the fall of man: full exposure to the wrath of God. The wrath of God is not meant to indicate wild fury or uncontrolled anger from God, but in stark contrast shows the holiness and love of a just God who must deal with the problem of sin (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 115). The love of God calls us to repentance, and reception of the free gift of grace in Christ. Yet the love of God also extends to judgment, condemnation, and setting the world free from the scourge of sin (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 115). It’s our sin, through our choices, and the original sin of Adam, that exposes us to the just wrath of God (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 115). God’s ultimate purpose is to create a new heavens and new Earth in which sin has no place; therefore, God must deliver justice to those who refuse to turn to Christ, from their sin (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 115-116). Ultimately God offers up his only Son as a propitiation (a substitutionary atonement) for the sins of all of humanity, and the offer is open to all those who would simply believe in Christ and turn from their sinful ways.

In conclusion, the Salvation Army clearly affirms the truth of the doctrine of the fall of man recorded in the book of Genesis. The Salvation Army affirms the divine image of God as relational, the creation of the world in a young earth context, and the total depravity of man as an expression of the overarching influence of sin. Humanity lost its way when Adam and Eve sinned against God. Ultimately each person born is born into the sinful fallen nature, and is justly exposed to the wrath of God. But the offer of salvation in Christ is open today, though one-day God will set all things right, punishing sin, and renewing the heavens and earth in righteousness. As 1st Corinthians 15:22 (ESV) says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”



References

Boyd, G. A., & Eddy, P. R. (2009). Across the Spectrum: understanding issues in evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

McDowell, S. (2009). The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible .

Perman, M. (2018, February 25). What is the biblical evidence for original sin? Retrieved February 26, 2018, from https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-the-biblical-evidence-for-original-sin

The 10 Best Evidences from Science that Confirm a Young Earth. (2012, October 01). Retrieved February 26, 2018, from https://answersingenesis.org/evidence-for-creation/the-10-best-evidences-from-science-that-confirm-a-young-earth/

The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine (2nd ed.). (2013). London: Salvation Books.


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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Bible: Is it trustworthy? Is it the Inspired Word of God?


Notice: This is a personal blog. The views on this blog do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's employees, affiliates, or partners. The views on this blog are solely of those making them, based on the teachings of the Bible, in the Spirit.


Doctrine one of the Salvation Army states, “We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and that they only constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice” (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013). The meaning of this doctrine is fundamentally three-fold: The 66 books of the Old and New Testament are given by an all-powerful God through the inspiration of human authors, infallible in regard to their depiction of all of reality, and are the only primary authority of all activities and faith practices of Christians.

The first doctrine of the Salvation Army is a beginning point which establishes the Bible as the inspired authority and guide for Christian practice (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 1). According to The Handbook of Doctrine, “It carries God’s authority, is the revealer of truth, and the guide for Christian living” (p. 1). God chose to reveal himself through scriptures which he inspired through the writings of human authors (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 1). God made himself known through the Old and New testaments which make up the canon of the Holy scriptures (p. 2-3). God worked throughout history to communicate, through mere humans, his plan of salvation to the world (p. 10). So what does it mean that God communicated his words through human authors? To say that the scriptures are given by inspiration of God, means that the scriptures are “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There are three primary views when considering the inspiration of scripture: the mechanical view, intuition view, and dynamic view (Garrett, 1990, p. 133). The mechanical view is that God was dictating to the human author, meaning the human author was little more than a secretary recording God’s words exactly. The intuitive view is a low, liberal view of the scriptures as little more than the deep thoughts of man (Garrett, 1990, p. 133). And the dynamic view is the idea that God spoke through flawed human authors, so the various books of the Bible are the truth given by God, with human participation in the process. In essence, the dynamic view is that flawed humans translated to the best of their ability, the truth of God given to them by God. I believe the dynamic view is the most accurate given that by nature God prefers to work through flawed people. He worked through Moses, Elijah, Jacob, Joshua, John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul and many other flawed humans, but inspired by God to do great things. The scriptures are given by inspiration of God, recorded through the personal experiences, historical framework, and cultural contexts of various authors over thousands of years. The mechanical view is a safe view in my thought, in that it preserves a high view of the scriptures, while the intuitive view is a heretical viewpoint. Anything that diminishes the scriptures so significantly is a threat to evangelical Christianity, and the hope of the gospel.

Next we consider the concepts of infallibility and inerrancy. What does it mean to say that the scriptures of the Old and New Testament are truthful? There are two primary views within evangelical Christianity, infallibility and inerrancy. The view called inerrancy is held to by many modern Calvinists and evangelicals. It is the teaching that the scriptures are absolutely perfect and without any errors (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 17). Though the term “inerrancy” was not used until recent time, the concept of the scriptures being “without error” is as old as the scriptures themselves. The idea that the scriptures have errors didn’t come about until the 17th century (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 17). Inerrancy is a difficult view to prove, given that we don’t actually have access to the original copies of the manuscripts. Inerrancy as a position doesn’t apply to manuscript copies, according to the view, because errors arose from the copies that were made over time (Boy & Eddy, 2009, p. 18). But inerrancy is a faithful view in that it reflects a very high view of the scriptures as given by God and without errors of any kind. This makes it a safe view in our times, times of moral relativism, post-modernism, and truth set on the chopping block. Next we consider the view of infallibility. This view indicates that the scriptures of the Old and New testament are absolutely trustworthy in regard to their teachings on Christian faith and practice (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 24). Infallibility is the view of John Wesley and the most common view within the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. This view acknowledges that the scriptures do contain some minor copying errors, and minor glitches that don’t in any way affect the truth of the scriptures. In essence, the foundational truths of scripture are preserved perfectly. The infallibility view upholds a high view of scripture in seeing the scriptures as God-given truth, accurate, and useful in regard to Christian faith and practice. My concern is that the Bible is useful for much more than Christian faith and practice. It’s useful as a guide for wisdom, as a guide for history, useful for discerning scientific truths, and as a guide for understanding the world as it truly is. The infallible view would argue that the Bible is inaccurate in regard to science and history (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 26). This is not an accurate view of the scriptures, in my view. According to Dr. Andrew A. Snelling (2011) “The Bible never claims to be a science textbook. Nevertheless, the Bible claims to be “true from the beginning” (Psalm 119:160, KJV), so every specific reference about science must be accurate.” Additionally, the Bible has been used to unearth countless archeological treasures, supporting the historical efficacy of the Bible (Williams, 2017). However, the infallible view acknowledges the fact of minor contradictions in the gospel accounts, which there are such examples, and this is an important fact to acknowledge if we are to be truly honest about the scriptures (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 27). In conclusion, I would indicate that the Salvation Army would lean more toward the infallible view, but I personally would lean more toward the inerrant view.

Finally, we address the topic of authority. What is the authority over humanity? What is the authority over the Salvation Army? What contemporary issues does the church face in regard to scriptural authority? According to the Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, “The inspiration of scripture requires that it’s authority supersedes all other sources of revelation as the primary source of Christian revelation” (p. 11). The Bible is the word of God, and it doesn’t change. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). In contemporary society there is a danger of looking to change meanings and issues in the Bible, such as marriage between man and woman, and other contemporary issues to attempt to remain “relevant” to the culture. But the word of God is timeless, and although contemporary issues change, God’s teachings regarding such issues do not change (Numbers 23:19). Scripture is clear on so many issues, and it speaks truth to power in times like these. In the cultural climate as it is today, most claims to scriptural authority will be challenged and resisted (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 23). The Handbook indicates that obedience to the word of God is first obedience to Jesus Christ (p. 21). This is certainly true, and it goes on to say that certain absolutes exist within the scriptures. This is also true. Therefore we should be very wary of voices calling on us to change the scriptures to suit our cultural desires. Continuing forward, there are many authorities that affect Christian life. Items like historic creeds of church tradition are considered useful by the Salvation Army, but are not considered authoritative in the supreme way in which scripture is. There are other authorities that the Salvation Army recognizes, like church tradition, Wesleyan-Holiness teachings, the doctrines, the leading of the Holy Spirit, personal revelation, and so on, but the primary authority over all Christian faith and practice in the Salvation Army is the Bible (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013).

In conclusion, the meaning of the first doctrine of the Salvation Army is quite clear. The teachings of the Bible in regard to faith and Christian practice are absolutely infallible, timeless, truthful, inspired of God, through mere human authors, and stand authoritatively over all concerns and practices of the Salvation Army. The sacred scriptures of the Old and New Testament were delivered to humanity by God, are reliable, authoritative over each believer, and useful for life, salvation, holiness, and all Christian practices.


References
Boyd, G. A., & Eddy, P. R. (2009). Across the spectrum: understanding issues in evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Garrett, J. L. (1990). Systematic theology: biblical, historical, and evangelical (4th ed., Vol. 1st). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.
Snelling, A. A. (2011, April 01). Scientific Accuracy. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from https://answersingenesis.org/is-the-bible-true/5-scientific-accuracy/
The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine (2nd ed.). (2013). London: Salvation Books.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Parables of Jesus: Matthew Chapter 25


Video Message:


Recently I went to see the movie Darkest Hour with my dad at the theatre, a stunning film revolving around the decisions and speeches of the great leader Winston Churchill during the dark days of World War II. The whole world was at the brink of collapse.

Let’s go back in time: It’s 1939 and darkness is spreading through Europe. The Nazi military seems unstoppable. There is a genocidal regime so terrible that it’s exterminating millions of Jews and Christians. Think about how it must’ve felt for the people of Great Britain. They saw Austria fall, then they saw Poland fall. Then even the mighty French army is crushed and the Nazi flag flies over Paris. You send your troops to help the French, but in just a few weeks, they are forced to flee in retreat. Europe, conquered by the Nazis. And it seemed there was no hope for civilization left. Imagine that situation, and your Winston Churchill, prime minister, shivering at the thought of the fall of not only Great Britain, but of all free people on Earth.

This reminds me of the situation we are in as the church today. Our forces are crumbling. Corps are seeing decreased attendance, and are in danger of shutting down. And we’re afraid to face that reality. We’re losing. And we seem to be losing ground each day.

Thankfully Jesus lives, and we are his people. We are the soldiers of the Salvation Army, and as such we have a great calling ahead of us.

I imagine Winston Churchill felt the same way when he looked across the channel toward occupied France. Or when he felt the concussive force of bombs dropping over London. Is this the end? He must’ve wondered. But sometimes it takes just one man, one woman, willing to believe in the impossible, who can change everything.

Winston Churchill was courageous. He said “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Great Britain fought on. And eventually the war was won.

Similarly, we are soldiers in a grand campaign. And as soldiers our job is to obey the orders of our commanding officer, the Lord Jesus. And he has commanded us in the great commission: To make disciples of all nations.

There is so much corruption, poverty, immorality, and brokenness in this world. But at times like these, when everything seems to be crumbling, God loves to work mightily. It's at times like these that we'll know through and through, that it was only by God's power that we could overcome such darkness.

So as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, as warriors, we must stand the test. We must fight the good fight. We must do what the master has taught us. Jesus gives us instructions in Matthew chapter 25, regarding what he expect of his disciples in these fallen times.

1.The Ten Virgins - First of all we see that Christ calls us to be on our guard, alert, and ready for His return by storing up zeal and practicing spiritual disciplines to remain strong in the faith. It says in our first parable from Matthew 25: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.” –Matthew 25:1-10

There is always the danger in life to forget who we are, and drift away from our daily Christian practices. Our God knows that, and He reminds us clearly and warns us that we must continue steadfastly in the faith.

How can we do this? We can read our Bibles each day, and pray daily. This isn’t a sprint competition; this is a long distance run. We don’t know which day will be our last. We don’t know when Jesus will return. So we must be prudent, just as the virgins were prudent in storing up oil for their long journey.

2. The Talents - Next we turn our attention to the parable of the talents. The parable begins in this way: “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.” –Matthew 25:14-15

So we see a master, and his slaves. The master is going away, so he entrusts certain measures of wealth to three of his servants. Then we see the story develop, time passes, the servants make their decisions and the master returns. The first slave uses the wealth to double the master’s profits. So he is rewarded. The second slave does the same, with a smaller amount, doubling that amount. And once again the slave is rewarded. The third slave insults the master, accuses the master of not even having authority over his own possessions and then says that he buried the money, and returned what he had been given to the master. The master rebukes the slave, and takes the wealth away from him, and gives it to the faithful slave. And it concludes in this way: “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” –Matthew 25:29-30

We of course want to be the faithful servant of Christ. We want to be the servant that wisely invests his talents and gives a return to the master. Each of us, just as if we’d been given $20,000 dollars, or 50 acres of property, have each been given gifts, talents, and special abilities. We’re usually pretty well aware as to what they are. For me, one of my gifts is writing. So I ask myself, how can I apply this gift of writing toward God’s kingdom? We should seek to take our gifts, which God has given for his glory, and apply them to the glory of his kingdom. Part of investing our talents, is developing them. How has God gifted you? Are you talented at public speaking? Develop that skill and put it to use. Are you musically talented? Develop and hone that skill to the glory of God.

3. The Judgment – Finally we address the 3rd and final parable of Matthew chapter 25. In this account we see Christ reward those faithful sheep who have followed the shepherd, and achieved victory through the struggle.

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” –Matthew 25:34-40

Jesus says if we do these things, if we visit the sick, and the prisoners, if we feed people who come to us in need, then there is this reality: The people we feed, and visit and serve, they are actually Jesus. Behind the eyes of each person you and I serve, are the eyes of Jesus, looking back at us.

I started my work with the Salvation Army working intake at a homeless shelter. I used to hand out Bibles to every person that came in to the shelter. I loved that part of it. And in the story in our heads, that’s where it ends. We nobly feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and they give us a big hug, and say “oh thank you sir.” And then they accept Jesus as their savior.

But in reality that’s not often what happens. What often happens is you’ll see that person again, making progress, then slipping back, over and over, and it can be very difficult to deal with. And I recall I’d hand out Bibles, and a week later I’d go over to the book case in the main room of the shelter, and collect the Bibles I’d given out. They’d been left there. So, I’d just hand them out to new people! That’s the challenge of ministry. It’s not easy. The truth is, in this sort of messy ministry, they are Jesus to us.

So how do we put this into practice? Sometimes we can have the mistaken idea in ministry that it’s all about the pastor. And the congregation becomes the audience. But that’s exactly backwards. The chief role of the pastor is simply to teach, lead, and then step back, and empower Christians to do the real work of ministry.

We are good soldiers of Jesus Christ. And so it is our duty to serve. Let other churches and congregations be vacant audiences to show time services. But in this army we are soldiers.

So what ministry is God calling you to serve in? God could be calling you to volunteer with a feeding program. God could be calling you to serve in children’s ministry. Or maybe God is calling you to start a Bible study? Be creative. Think about your talents and gifts. What is a unique way that you could serve?

We are purchased with the blood of Christ, our lives are not our own. Jesus has purchased us, He owns us, and therefore we must do as He instructs us. It amazes me that Christ would choose you and I, with such a peculiar and specific love for each of us. It's what spurs us to do anything. Not to buy His love, not to earn it, but because we already have it in Christ.

So we will fight. We must fight. Remember that we are faced with a world rapidly crumbling. People are so confused in our day and age, and sin is rampant. We are in desperate need of good soldiers of Jesus Christ. We’re the last line of defense. Time is running out. But just like Winston Churchill, perhaps you’ll be one of those people who determine in their minds that God will change history. As William Booth the founder said, “God loves with a great love one whose heart is bursting with a passion for the impossible.”


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Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Victories and Tragedy of King Solomon the Wise


Today we’re looking at the saga of King Solomon of Israel, the decisions he made, the impact he had, and the legacy he left behind. How did Solomon impact Old Testament history? What were some historical and cultural facts that played into Solomon’s reign as king? And what larger biblical themes play out in regard to who God is in Solomon’s story, and how can those truths apply in our modern world? We’ll see that King Solomon was a clear example of how God blesses and calls those whom he loves, yet our propensity to sinfulness and pride mire even the most beloved of God. This all points us to the need for the savior Jesus Christ. King Solomon was both a testament to the goodness of God and the deceitfulness of sin. But we see that in the end, God has the final victory even in the life of King Solomon.

Solomon was the last son that King David had during his life, and Solomon was a result of David’s marriage with Bathsheba, the woman he took from another man, whom he had killed (2 Samuel 11 NIV). Solomon was a child of David’s old age. David had tired of constant war in the kingdom, and so he named his last son “Solomon” which means “the peaceful one” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary). Nathan called him “Jedidiah” which means “beloved of God” which echoes the name of David “beloved” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary). Nathan cared for and raised Solomon along with David and his court. When David was very old one of his other sons Adonijah attempted to claim the throne from Solomon but failed, and Solomon was made king over Israel.

Solomon reigned as king over Israel for 40 years, from about B.C. 1015-975 (Smith’s Bible Dictionary). He achieved a great deal during the first half of his reign as king. The construction of the temple of the Lord began in Solomon’s 4th year of reigning and was completed in his eleventh. He also constructed a giant palace, which began in his 7th year and was completed in the 20th. His reign over Israel saw the nation at the height of its influence and power, renowned across the world, wielding massive armies, huge treasure troves, and unparalleled wisdom in King Solomon himself.

Solomon is most well known for being an exceedingly wise king, at least in his early years. Famously, Solomon went up to the high place at Gibeon and made a sacrifice to the Lord (1st Kings 3). While there Solomon had a dream where he saw the Lord, and God offered to give him what he would ask for. Solomon famously replied: “…Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” -1st Kings 3:9 (NIV)

This response pleased the Lord, and so God gave Solomon great wisdom and additionally God gave Solomon wealth and honor. And God indicated that if Solomon would be careful to follow the instructions of the Lord he would have a long life, and there would be no one like him before or after (1st Kings 3:10-15 NIV).

God blessed King Solomon and his wisdom was unmatched in the ancient world. According to 1st Kings 4:32-34: “He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.”

Unfortunately, King Solomon became greedy, prideful, and power hungry, expanding his wealth, taking many foreign wives, collecting thousands of horses and chariots, and accumulating great wealth, which are all acts clearly prohibited for kings in Deuteronomy 17:14-20.

Solomon established alliances with Egypt and Tyre through marriages. It’s clear that during the reign of Solomon Israel became increasingly powerful, with his acclaim reaching across the ancient world (1st Kings 4:31 NIV). Many foreign kingdoms were feeble compared to the might and power of Israel at this time, coming to Solomon to offer up tribute.

According to 1st Kings 4:20-21 (NIV): “The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.”

The high point for Solomon came at the completion of the temple of the Lord, with a great celebration and Solomon dedicated the temple to the Lord and prayed to God in regard to it (1st Kings 8 NIV). At the height of Solomon’s accomplishments, the Lord once again came before Solomon in a dream. The Lord indicated His pleasure with the temple and the fact that His presence would abide there. But the Lord offered Solomon a choice: Observe the statutes of the Lord and follow all of His ways, you and your descendants, and you will be blessed and Israel will be great. But if you do not obey the Lord, and turn away from the Lord, the temple would come to ruin, and Israel would become a broken bygone country among the nations (1st Kings 9:1-9 NIV).

After this Solomon completed many great feats, he accumulated a massive army, many horses, great wealth, built great ships, high walls, and great cities. The whole world sought audiences with King Solomon, including the Queen of Sheba (1st Kings 10 NIV). He gathered 666 shekels of gold each year, and accumulated many jewels and rare treasures. He gathered massive amounts of silver, so much so that silver was as common as stones in Jerusalem. His wisdom was unparalleled among the nations and lesser kingdoms and peoples came before King Solomon offering tribute and wealth to Israel.

We see a great downturn in 1st Kings chapter 11, although Solomon had already been disobeying the Lord in other ways prior, Solomon’s marriages with many women of foreign kingdoms truly began to change who Solomon was as a king. It says in no uncertain terms “His wives led him astray” (1st Kings 11:3 NIV). In 1st Kings 11 (NIV) it continues indicating: “He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.” King Solomon’s heart was divided as he grew older, and his many wives and concubines guided him toward false gods. And despite all of Solomon’s wisdom, the seduction of his wives, along with these false gods successfully turned his heart away from wisdom. The Lord had spoken directly to Solomon twice, and still Solomon turned away from the living God. And so the Lord spoke to King Solomon a 3rd time indicating His anger, and declared that the kingdom would be torn away from him, and he would be replaced by an unworthy subordinate (1st Kings 11:11-13 NIV). God also promised to raise up an enemy against the kingdom, though for the sake of David the Lord promised that these things would occur after Solomon had passed.

Trouble began to stir in Israel, and Jeroboam became powerful in the kingdom, but then rebelled against Solomon. Solomon tried to have him killed, but he fled to Egypt. King Solomon later died, and his son Rehoboam followed after him as king. Just as the Lord promised, due to King Solomon’s disobedience, the kingdom of Israel was ripped apart and divided, and Rehoboam suffered greatly for Solomon’s sins.

Solomon’s legacy is quite full of contrary themes. King Solomon worshiped God almighty and established the temple, yet Solomon was later turned to foreign gods. “The Song of Solomon” is a beautiful book of the Bible depicting true love between husband and wife, yet later Solomon would give himself to foreign women, and eventually have 700 wives and 300 concubines. Solomon led Israel to great prominence and power in the ancient world, yet he enslaved over 160,000 people put to work in the forests of Lebanon (Smith’s Bible Dictionary). King Solomon penned much of the book of Proverbs and most likely also penned Ecclesiastes, yet the foolishness of his decisions in disobeying the kingly laws of Deuteronomy, and his endless pursuits of treasure and pleasure ruined his kingdom. He left a lasting legacy of wisdom and power, yet the kings who followed Solomon were corrupt and ruined the progress Solomon had made. In fact, one can attribute the division of Israel into Judah and the northern kingdom to Solomon’s slave labor programs, and his sexual immorality. The great kingdom Solomon had established once again dwindled into obscurity and would eventually be completely destroyed and driven into captivity in Assyria and Babylon.

King Solomon had so much wisdom, yet he was seduced by the pleasures of this life. He penned the proverbs, but those proverbs could not save him from the wayward woman he wrote about (Proverbs 5-7 NIV). Solomon asked for a discerning heart from God, yet later in his life the scriptures say Solomon’s heart was divided. But perhaps the book of Ecclesiastes was Solomon’s work of repentance, declaring that all the pleasures he sought were “meaningless, meaningless!”

So what can we learn about who God is from the life of King Solomon? I think there’s several things we can learn. Firstly, wisdom is exceedingly important to God. And God delights in giving his people wisdom. God is the source of all wisdom, and God is the one who grants wisdom. Wisdom does not have human origin, but is a gift of God, and God delighted in giving this gift to Solomon. Wisdom’s importance is great; which Solomon wrote in Proverbs: “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverb 4:7 NIV).

Secondly, sin is exceedingly seductive, especially sexual sin. If the wisest man who ever lived could be seduced and carried away by sin’s seductiveness, then it is clear that sin is exceedingly appealing. Solomon allowed the door to be opened to sin, and very often, once the door is open it is exceedingly difficult to close again. Perhaps pride was the chief sin that Solomon failed to recognize in himself. Perhaps Solomon thought “I can handle it” when he married the many women he married, and assumed that nothing could turn his heart from God. Yet that’s exactly what happened. The influence of his wives led him to begin to worship false gods. Sin is seductive. And if the greatest and wisest king in Israel’s history was seduced by sin, then we should be twice as concerned with shunning even the mention of sin.

Thirdly, we see that sin has serious, long lasting consequences. The sins of one man, King Solomon deeply impacted the history of Israel. The sins of Solomon can be directly attributed to the division of the nation into Judah and the Northern kingdom. Solomon’s sin affected his son Rehoboam as well. Despite all of the accomplishments that King Solomon had as king, expanding the kingdom and building the temple, his sins meant that in the future the temple was destroyed and the nation was crushed by Babylon and Assyria. Similarly, in our modern day and age, we must be aware that our sins can have long lasting consequences on society. Our personal sins can affect our entire family, and the sins we allow in the public square can tear apart society all together. We often fail to recognize the full dangers of sin, and we must be aware of how pervasive and destructive sin is on society and our future.

Fourthly, God will have the last word. Despite all that Solomon accomplished, it all came to ruin. Yet God had the last word in the life of King Solomon. Despite all of Solomon’s mistakes, God brought Solomon to repentance. In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon wrote: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” God will have the last word in our lives, despite our sins, despite all our mistakes, God offers us chance after chance to repent and turn again to Him.

In conclusion, King Solomon had a massive impact on the history and life of the nation of Israel. He was a wise, Godly king for many years, but later allowed himself to be led astray. Solomon was a great king of Israel, yet his decisions caused much harm to the future of the kingdom. Today we can learn from the example of King Solomon, that seeking wisdom from God is a mighty quest to partake of; but we must also remember that sin can seduce and lead astray even the best of us if we under-estimate it’s power.

References

Hindson, E. E., & Yates, G. E. (2012). The Essence of the Old Testament: a survey. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic.

Smith, W. (1884). Smiths Bible Dictionary. Chicago, IL: The John C. Winston Co.




Sunday, March 4, 2018

Wrestling with God: Five Things I Struggle with in the Scriptures

Often it is assumed that followers of Jesus don't struggle with the tough questions of faith.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We struggle just as anyone else struggles.  I have my beliefs, and the evidence for them, but I also struggle with tough existential issues, like the reality of evil, the problem of suffering, and such other issues for those who consider the state of the universe and the human heart. 

I struggle with these issues on an intellectual level.  I also struggle with them in my personal life.  C.S. Lewis wrote two books about the problem of suffering that are instructive, "The Problem of Pain" looks at the intellectual problems of pain, in which C.S. Lewis remarks "I'd write another chapter on suffering if this headache would go away."  Indeed.  The second book, "A Grief Observed" is the raw brutal meditations of C.S. Lewis after the death of his love.  Guess which is more instructive regarding the problem of suffering?  

The first issue I'd like to talk about is just that, the problem of suffering.  It's an interesting problem, and it's felt first.  And secondary is the attempt to understand it intellectually.  First, it's a feeling, second a thought.  

We wrestle with these questions.  I wrestle with these questions.  But I've seen enough evidence and seen and experienced enough of God's presence and action in my life to firmly believe that Jesus Christ is a true, living savior, and that the books of the Bible represent the true timeless unchanging word of God.  Yet I still struggle with these questions, but I don't wrestle with myself, I engage in exchange with none other than God himself.  Think of it, to settle and discuss these questions with God himself!  It's a great honor.  And God is only too kind and thoughtful in the process, engaging me, answering me, and changing in me, how I perceive things, by expanding my own perception.  God is a deep, philosophical, scientifically minded artist, with a great and amazing ability to respond simply, yet profoundly.  Yet God can be quite complex when he wants, but always the wiser one, he often answers simply and brilliantly.  Should we expect any less from an infinite creator?  I suppose not.  Let's look at these wrestlings that I wrestle with. 

Eternity. To know the face of God, is to know madness.  Well, no.  Actually that's from Battlestar Galactica.  But when we consider the infinity of God, we come against the very limits of our comprehension.  How could God be eternal, without beginning or end?  It goes against everything I understand about our finite reality.  Time is fundamental to reality.  I'm based in time, my entire existence is based in time and space.  How am I suppose to even consider the reality of a timeless being who created time itself?  There would be no time without God having designed it.  It's the same with the whole universe, and I suppose, the 4th heaven, the place where God exists.  But if there is only God who is eternal, then the environment he lives in can't be eternal, because God is the only eternal one.  

But it boggles my mind.  What does it mean?  What does it say about the nature of reality, the universe, the laws that govern everything to say that God is eternal.  Why does God exist?  What is the reason for God's existence?  Does that mean that the universe beyond our universe, the true reality is fundamentally not a cold-dark place as we think of our universe, but actually quite different?  

Does God wonder why He exists?  I suppose He doesn't, he's self existent.  He's never not existed.  It's crazy.  Before alpha, and after omega, God existed.  If we went to the beginning of the universe, God is there, if we went before the universe even existed, before time or space itself, God is ever-present, timeless, perceiving time like we perceive space. 

Am I humble enough to admit that there are some things that not even I could understand?  Or any human for that matter?  Given the expanses beyond us, the galaxies and nebula, and all the harmonious uniformity, I think that yes, I can say that some concepts will be beyond my reality, like the very concept of eternity, or an eternal all powerful intelligent being we call Father.  


The Problem of Evil. When I consider the life of a human sex trafficking victim, the idea that this girl, just a young girl, would be kidnapped, enslaved, beaten and raped repeatedly on a daily basis, until she's given up all hope and become a slave within even her mind, and then be raped tens of thousands of times, until she literally dies of being raped so many times.  That is evil, pure, total, complete evil.  The evil is so extreme, so powerful, so "boss universal" and it seems to be in such control in our world, that the concept of a loving God, it's difficult isn't it?  

This is probably the biggest issue levied against Christianity: If God, why evil? Remember what the ancient philosopher Epicurus said: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. 
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

God allows evil to play itself out in time and space, because of the massive issue of free will and choice.  God made a universe, which is intrinsically based on freedom of choice.  If God then stepped in every time I was about to make a bad decision, there would be no choice.  The universe just isn't like that.  Choice is part of every situation.  So through the choices of beings God created, evil came into the world.  Yet we blame God, when we should be blaming the people who DO the evil: People.  Yet we blame God?  God is able to set all things right, and He is willing, when the proper time for that comes.  Epicurus' dilemma is a false dilemma, oversimplifying the situation, and failing to understand the context of the universe, human will, and the factor of time.  


God will set all things right and deal with every evil.  Every pedophile, every child sex slaver, will stand before God and give an account, and God will deal with them justly. God will also deal with us justly, because we've all sinned.  We like to point out the evil in the world and then point at God and say why!  How often do I realize the three fingers pointing back at me?  

God didn't cause the problem of evil, and if we want to simply it to it's logical conclusion, the problem of evil is not outside me, or around me as much as I must first consider that the problem of evil is fundamentally within me.  

Why evil?  Why pain?  People do evil.  Our ancestors did evil in God's sight, when paradise was available to them.  They messed it up.  And now evil is part of our lineage, sadly.  But Christ came into the world, died on the cross, to wipe away our sin, and offer us a new life, and a new future in the kingdom of God, if we will simply receive that free gift. 

The slaughter of Christ on the cross. The concept of the crucifixion is quite plain: Sin is punishable by death.  Jesus Christ, the God-man came to die in the place of me, if I'll believe the gospel.  So in other words, the Creator, if I'm left to my own devices in this life, would kill me, for my sins.  That's intense.  That's wild. 

It's completely alien to my understanding of everything in the world.  I can't imagine a situation where it fits my conception of how God ought to be, in my mind.  But that's probably a good thing.  Because I haven't been right about a lot in my life.  

Truly the only way to understand the penal substitution of Christ, that Christ took my penalty for me by being slaughtered on the cross and temporarily spiritually abandoned by God the Father is through the outreaching prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit.  I can't understand any of this without the Holy Spirit teaching me about it.  It's completely alien to my natural understanding.  It's foolish madness to my flesh, but the salvation of God himself when the Spirit explains it to my mind and emotions.  

The Sacrificial System of the Old Testament. The concept of animal sacrifice, of the pouring out of blood, by sacrificing animals, that stand in for the person who has sinned, that's crazy to me.  It's bizarre to me, it's creepy to me, it's ancient, archaic, and mean, and harsh, and ugly, and completely arbitrary.  Once again this is how my mind perceives things outside the Spirit of God.  I can't understand it.  

And I love animals.  I really, really love animals.  I have two cats and a dog.  I love birds, pets, wild animals, squirrels, rabbits, I just love them all.  I think as humans originally designed to live in harmony with animals, that's natural, even in the darkened nature.  

Then again, imagine if you had to kill bird, or a cat, and spill it's blood on an altar if you sinned.  That would really make me think twice about lying, stealing, or sleeping with a random girl.  I'd have to think twice.  And I'd actually have to face the reality of the evil of sin.  

We think we're so sophisticated in our day and age. Unborn babies are murdered by the millions each year across the Earth, and most of us just let it happen.  And we even criticize people who dare to speak up against abortion.  It's pathetic.  We sit by as millions go without food, clothing, and shelter.  We sit in our luxury.  And we balk at God taking sin deathly seriously?  Sin takes so much blood in our world.  Our own sin is pouring it out day and night, as babies are sucked from wombs, as people starve and go without basic shelter or clothing, their blood is poured out and we can't understand God's sacrifice?  It's very interesting.  We like to judge God, and ask these questions of Him, brazenly, arrogantly, but we don't look at our actions or the actions of the human race, everyday.   

Hell.  Probably the single most terrifying and fearful concept in the Bible is the concept of hell, outer darkness.  This place, as it's depicted, terrifies me.  It chills me to the bones.  

I would prefer a system, a reality, a moral construct, where all humans can be saved and will be saved.  I know that everyone has free choice.  But I would prefer perhaps a system where people would go to hell after they die, if they rejected God in their lives.  But then maybe after a few months we could let them out? And give them a chance to know Jesus as savior?  But that's not how it works.  And who am I to question God's perfect judgment?  

We won't talk about hell, or God's judgment.  We just need to love people! Well, there's a lot more to it than that. We need to talk about hell. Because it's a real place.  And we want people to understand about it and not go there.  

God indicates that "now" is the time of salvation.  There is no time later.  The door is open now to know Jesus.  But one day the door will be closed.  I don't fully understand that.  But someday, perhaps I will.

A closing thought, is that fundamentally, as Christians, we can either question God, argue with God, which is OK, but eventually, we have to decide, either we're going to essentially trust Him and dare to trust Him even if we don't understand, or we're going to go our own way.  I choose to trust God.  It's a choice.  I don't fully understand.  I struggle.  But I choose to trust Him, that He is right and holy and is doing everything according to true cosmic justice and mercy.

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