Thursday, April 30, 2009

More on the Miss California Controversy

If you aren’t aware of the Miss California Controversy, please see my earlier post on the subject called “The Thought Police Strike Again”. What has happened is that Miss California’s answer to a loaded question has set off a firestorm of hate speech, hyperbole, and abusive language on the part of the political correctness crowd. A pageant official said in a recent statement that in essence she has no right to her own opinion, which actually makes no sense when you think about it. What he was really saying was that she must tow the party (i.e., PC) line. Any other opinion is invalid.

These are the same people who proclaim “tolerance” as a cardinal virtue, and claim to support the American way. I guess their version of the American way excludes free speech these days. Pray for our country, that the tyrannical grip of political correctness and intolerance gets supernaturally loosened.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Are You Going to Heaven?

I was working with my confirmation class recently, and I said something that surprised them.

I asked what a “saint” is, and after some discussion, I told them it is someone who is either already in heaven, or who is sure he or she is going there.

“You mean there are saints who are still living?” they asked.

“Yes,” I replied, and pointed them to the various introductions St. Paul made to the readers of his letters, calling them “saints” as we find in Ephesians 1:1-2:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. NRSV

Then I told the class that I’m a saint according to that definition. “I’m St. Anthony. What do you think of that?”

Then they asked how I could be so sure that I’m going to heaven. That, of course was the perfect opening to discuss salvation by grace through faith. I told them it’s not on my own merits that I’m destined for heaven, but only on the merits of Jesus Christ, whom I’ve consciously trusted for my eternal destiny. I quoted Ephesians 2:8-9 to them:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. NRSV

I told them I’m not being presumptuous in any way – that the only thing I have done is trust in Jesus. He did all the work. The works we do after trusting our lives to Jesus are done in obedience to God’s will for us, not to earn salvation.

I also told them that once you’ve truly committed your life to Jesus, you can’t lose your salvation, nor can you do anything to add to it. This blew their minds, because we live in a works-based world. God’s way is grace-based – big difference! Unfortunately far too many faith traditions are also works-based: you either have to add to what Jesus did on the cross (penance, works of supererogation), or you can lose your salvation despite what Jesus said in John 6:39-40:

“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” NIV

So when Christians talk about salvation and going to heaven, that’s what they mean. As it says in the old hymn, "When The Saints Go Marching In":

Up there I'll see the Savior
Who redeemed my soul from sin;
With extended hands He'll greet me
when the Saints go marching in.

Will you be in that number, when the saints go marching in?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

More Anti-Catholic Bias

Recently President Obama spoke at Georgetown University, a Jesuit school in Washington, DC. Obama’s advance men ordered that all religious symbols in the university’s auditorium that might get on camera must be removed or covered up. Amazingly, that Catholic university complied!

I’m not saying the president was involved or even know about it, because the President of the United States wouldn’t get involved in such details. However, the fact that his advance men requested such a thing shows the extent to which this nation has departed from its core values and the First Amendment of the Constitution.

It also shows how political correctness has completely taken over academia, even such venerable Catholic universities as Georgetown. Pray for this country, that God will stop this spiral downward into the abyss of tyranny by the “enlightened” few (the mavens of PC) and we will start to practice real tolerance, respect, and we will honor diversity of opinions and religious practice.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Thought Police Strike Again

In the recent Miss USA competition, Miss California USA Carrie Prejean was asked whether other states should follow Vermont’s lead in legislating same-sex “marriage.” Her answer cost her the Miss USA title, because it wasn’t politically correct.

Prejean said, “In my family, I … believe marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that’s how I was raised.” An honest answer, but as she said, “I knew at that moment, after I’d answered the question, I knew that I was not going to win because of my answer — because I had spoken from my heart, from my beliefs, and for my God.”

The thought police were not pleased. Perez Hilton, a gay-activist blogger, was the judge who posed the question to Prejean. He called it the “worst answer in pageant history” and called Miss California profane names. “That is not the kind of woman I want to be Miss USA,” he told MSNBC. “Miss USA should represent all Americans. And with her answer, she instantly was divisive and alienated millions.”

I guess if you aren’t politically correct in our thinking, you get called all kinds of names (such as divisive, intolerant, homophobic, hateful, etc.) and get disqualified for whatever position you were striving for. So much for tolerance, respect for those who differ from you, and all that. But you have to give Prejean credit. She said she would give the same answer again. “Bottom line is, I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman,” she told NBC. “It’s not about being politically correct. For me, it was being biblically correct. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

No matter what position we take on any issue, we have to stop this tyranny now. The thought police can not continue to rule this country with an iron fist. We can’t continue to let them get away with this, or we will lose more and more of our freedoms.

Disclaimer: quotes and portions of this post were taken from an article on

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beware of Deceptive Teachings – Part 5

This is a continuation of a series of posts concerning deceptive teachings. Please see earlier posts on this subject to understand the conclusions I am drawing in this post.

VI. Conclusion

There are spiritual powers whose job it is to deceive us, tempt us, and pull us away from God. In this series of posts we hopefully learned how to protect ourselves against them. God has provided us with the tools that enable us to defend ourselves. In Ephesians chapter 6, the Apostle Paul used the weaponry of a Roman soldier to describe our spiritual defenses. These bear repeating because they summarize what this series of posts is all about – protecting yourself spiritually. In Ephesians 6:14-17 we have:

-the belt of truth,
-the breastplate of righteousness,
-for shoes, the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace,
-the shield of faith, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one,
-the helmet of salvation, and
-the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Since we have available to us these weapons to protect ourselves against deception and false teachings, let’s use them. Let me end with a final warning about the last days that Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:1-5), which I believe we are seeing right now:

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! NLT

Unfortunately we are seeing this happening because so many people are not exposed to the Word of God and solid biblical teachings, so they can’t discern truth from fiction. They’ll believe what somebody says just because he or she has the title Rev. before his or her name, or the abbreviation Ph.D. after his or her name. Sadly, we can’t always believe what we hear or read from Reverends or Doctors. We see falsehood in the church (most preachers come out of seminary totally confused, with their faith shaken by what they are taught), from some preachers on TV (some, however, are very good, such as Charles Stanley), and from various authors claiming to tell the real truth about Jesus, God, the End Times, or other spiritual matters. Usually what they write about is anything but the truth!

A good example of an author who writes falsehoods is Dan Brown. He has something against Christianity in general, and the Catholic Church in particular. His books may be entertaining, but you can’t take them seriously. They are pure fiction, and contain erroneous history. He comes to mind because he has a new movie coming out called Angels and Demons which is anti-Catholic (as usual).

So be prepared – don’t fall victim to the falsehoods of this age, whether they come from a movie, novel, scholarly work, or even from a sermon. Be prepared. Let’s take God’s warnings seriously and use all that God has provided for our defense and protection. As Jesus said, “The truth shall make you free.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Beware of Deceptive Teachings – Part 4

This is a continuation of a series of posts concerning deceptive teachings. Please see earlier posts on this important subject to understand the reasons for my concern.

V. Test the Spirits

According to Scripture, we should also test what is being told to us using several other criteria in addition to what I mentioned in earlier posts. Jesus told us we will know somebody is an imposter by his or her fruit, meaning the aim or result of what the person is doing. Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-18:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” NRSV

For example, are they glorifying God, or glorifying themselves? Are they endeavoring to build up the Kingdom of God, or build up themselves or their ministry? Are they more interested in relieving you of your money than in saving your soul? Are they pushing a worldly agenda, or are they preaching God’s agenda? Jesus goes on to say that not everyone who proclaims him “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21):

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” NRSV

So we can’t just take what somebody says at face value, even if they are proclaiming Jesus as Lord. We must look beyond words to the person’s goals, and the intended fruit of their efforts. Another way of testing is to see if preachers are telling people what they want to hear, or telling them God’s truth, uncomfortable as it may be. Again, Paul advises Timothy, telling him to stay true to the Gospel of Jesus…

because the time will come when people will not listen to the true teaching, but will find many more teachers who please them by saying the things they want to hear. They will stop listening to the truth and will begin to follow false stories. (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NCV)

We certainly can see that now, where people prefer false teachings to what the Bible says. That’s because biblical truths are not always politically correct or some biblical teachings make people uncomfortable. Teachings of human origin are usually more attractive because they often tell us what we want to hear. Also, false teachings may make us feel good, or they may rationalize our own sinful acts. A teaching from God may be less palatable because it calls sin “sin” and points out our shortcomings, which makes us uncomfortable. The Apostle John gave us good advice in 1 John 4:1:

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. NLT

One way to test what we hear is given by St. Paul in Romans 16:17b-18:

Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people. NLT

So test to see if people are serving their own personal interests rather than serving God. It should be obvious. Sometimes they might not seem to be serving their personal interests, but they are watering down the Gospel. We see a lot of this with some of the TV preachers. Joel Osteen comes to mind. He is more of an advice-giver like Dr. Phil than a preacher. He talks more about the power of positive thinking (Norman Vincent Peale warmed over) than preaching the truth and the power of the Gospel. I call what he preaches Christianity Lite – all the preaching but only half the power. While he is an engaging and a good speaker, he downplays the Gospel of Jesus Christ, salvation, and all of the other things that make up the Christian faith. If you want his kind of advice, you’re better off with Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, or Oprah.

More on this topic in a future post.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Beware of Deceptive Teachings – Part 3

This is a continuation of a series of posts concerning deceptive teachings. Please see earlier posts on this important subject to understand the basis for my concerns.

III. Know the Bible

Jesus said in John 8:32: “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” We can know the truth – God’s truth – by studying the Bible and depending on the Holy Spirit for discernment and understanding. The Bible used to mean nothing to me, but now I rely on the Holy Spirit to guide me, and it all makes much more sense! The Apostle Paul said this about the value of studying the Bible (in 2 Timothy 3:13-14a, 16-17):

But people who are evil and cheat others will go from bad to worse. They will fool others, but they will also be fooling themselves. But you should continue following the teachings you learned…
All Scripture is given by God and is useful for teaching, for showing people what is wrong in their lives, for correcting faults, and for teaching how to live right. Using the Scriptures, the person who serves God will be capable, having all that is needed to do every good work.

The Bible conveys God’s truth, tells us the teachings of Jesus, and equips us for every good work. In addition, we can protect ourselves against deceptive teachings by testing anything we hear against Scripture. If something contradicts the clear teaching of the Bible, then it’s false. Here’s an example of using Scripture to test teachings from Acts 17:10b-12:

When [Paul and Silas] arrived [in Berea], they went to the Jewish synagogue. And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men. NLT

The people of Berea searched the Scriptures to verify that Paul’s teachings were consistent with the Bible (in their case, it was the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament). We should always do the same, and it’s a lot easier when we are familiar with the Bible.

IV. Preaching Another “Gospel

Along those same lines, we should test what is being told us to make sure a teaching is consistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul warns us about false “gospels” and it’s interesting to note that ancient false “gospels” have actually been found. These false or Gnostic “gospels” were found in clay jars at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. These false “gospels” were written in the years 350-400, well after Paul’s death in the year 64. However, there were already false “gospels” being preached in Paul’s time, as we read in his letter to the Galatians (Galatians 1:6-7):

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. NRSV

Later in that letter, Paul asks in frustration (Galatians 3:1a): You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? (NRSV) So we should know the Bible, especially the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so we won’t be sucked into false and misleading teachings. We should test anything we hear against Scripture, depending on the Holy Spirit for guidance and discernment. Then, unlike the Galatians, we won’t be fooled or bewitched by false teachings that attempt to lead us astray.

More on this topic in a future post.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Beware of Deceptive Teachings – Part 2

This is a continuation of a series of posts concerning deceptive teachings. I believe we are being bombarded with false and misleading teachings that either distort or water down the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of these false prophets claim to be more “enlightened” than those “primitive” people who knew Jesus but didn’t understand him, or those second generation believers who came to the faith and learned about Jesus directly from the Apostles. According to these false teachers, the early church fathers and mothers distorted Jesus, invented certain things about him, and generally presented a false picture of Jesus. New “scholarship” from such groups as the Jesus Seminar has supposedly revealed the “real” Jesus, not this imaginary God-man invented by those poor, misguided souls who actually knew him (such as the Gospel writers). Because of these pervasive misleading teachings, I am writing this series to warn you to beware.

II. Warnings in the Bible

All of the false teachings and deceptions we find in the world are not a surprise to God – we see many passages in the Bible anticipating them. False teachings and deceptions started almost immediately after Jesus left this earth, and they will get worse in the later days. We are already seeing these things– listen to these warnings and see if they don’t reflect what is happening these days. The first warning is from Colossians 2:8-10 using “The Message”, a highly paraphrased version of the Bible:

Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings.

But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything. (The Message)

I think that describes a lot of what we’re seeing today. I think of people with agendas who distort biblical teachings to fit those agendas. We see a similar warning from Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15a:

These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. NLT

This next warning is from the Apostle Peter and it sounds very familiar because we can see it happening today. Again this is from the highly paraphrased version of the Bible, “The Message” (2 Peter 2:1-3a):

But there were also lying prophets among the people then, just as there will be lying religious teachers among you. They’ll smuggle in destructive divisions, pitting you against each other — biting the hand of the One who gave them a chance to have their lives back! They’ve put themselves on a fast downhill slide to destruction, but not before they recruit a crowd of mixed-up followers who can’t tell right from wrong. They give the way of truth a bad name. They’re only out for themselves. They’ll say anything, anything that sounds good, to exploit you. (The Message)

Today we are seeing even religious leaders who can’t tell right from wrong, who give Christianity a bad name, and who are out to exploit the faithful. Such false teachers buy into worldly ethics and morals rather than godly ones, pushing their own agendas rather than God’s. Another warning comes from the Apostle Paul to his young protégé Timothy about how people will turn away from the truth (1 Timothy 4:1-2):

Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead. NLT

There are many other warnings in the Bible along these lines. As you can see from all this, we are the target of constant attacks that try to drive us away from faith in Jesus. If we allow ourselves to be deceived and follow the ways of the world, the quality of our lives will suffer. In addition, we won’t be living fulfilled lives, we’ll be more vulnerable to temptation, and we’ll miss out on God’s blessings. In future posts on this subject we’ll take a look at how to protect ourselves against these attacks and deceptions, which I believe are especially common today and easily spread by the mass media.

More on this important topic in a future post.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Real Men Are Responsible

I saw in the news recently that women in Afghanistan are still being mistreated by men. Young girls are forced into marriages with much older men, wives are beaten, and other terrible things are still being done to girls and women. This, of course, is the result of an ancient culture that is unenlightened and primitive. That’s not an excuse, just a fact.

Then I wonder, why do we see women and children abused by men in more “enlightened” cultures, such as right here in the good ol’ U. S. of A.? I guess some men are still unenlightened and primitive, often learning to abuse from their unenlightened and primitive fathers. These things tend to perpetuate themselves, but the chain must be broken.

I guess I’m the eternal optimist, but I’m still shocked when I hear of a father who couldn’t care less about his family, won’t watch the kids on the occasional evening when his wife wants to go somewhere, or would rather watch TV than spend time with his kids. Of course some men have to prove to themselves that they “still have it” and so get involved with other women. The result of all these is a disintegrating family, which damages the kids for life.

I ask those guys, why did you bother to have children if you don’t care about them? Why did you even get married if you don’t want to spend time with your wife? Why can’t you act like a grown-up and be responsible? Don’t you realize that your stupid behavior is making all men look bad? The media latches on to this bad behavior, and so men are caricatured in sitcoms such as Two and a Half Men and The Simpsons, to name just two, giving the false impression that all men are like that. Men, grow up and be a real man!

It is God’s plan for men and women to marry, and for the man to be protective and caring about his wife and family. In several places in the New Testament, men are encouraged to love their wives. Women are never encouraged to love their husbands, but rather to respect them (in so many words). It’s difficult to respect someone who is a slug, a slob, is disconnected, is never home, or couldn’t care less about the family he is supposed to be responsible for. Respect must be earned. By the way, once you start acting like the man you’re supposed to be, you’ll be amazed at the changes in your wife and kids. It may take a while, but it will be worth the wait.

Men, don’t be like the Afghans. We are supposedly more enlightened, so act like it. Earn back that respect that is due you by fulfilling God’s purposes for your life – such as being a good father and husband, for example.

Friday, April 17, 2009

America a Christian Nation?

Recently Newsweek had a cover story on the state of religion in the United States. I didn’t read the article, but I read a critique of it. The critique found fault, not so much with the statistics, but with the author’s interpretation of them. You can find the critique on the Christianity Today website. You may want to read it to get some insight into the state of Christianity in the U.S. today.

Reading that critique brought to mind the claim that the U.S. is a Christian nation, or at least was one. Some disagree with that statement, others agree. I would like to shed some light on that debate. Whether you agree or disagree depends on what you mean by “Christian.” Let me start by providing several definitions of “Christian” and then giving a brief history lesson.

(1) The term “Christian” can mean somebody who is devoutly Christian in that he or she believes the fundamentals of the faith and lives out that faith daily. In this sense of the word Christian, the believer has placed his or her trust in Jesus for his or her eternal destiny, and considers Jesus Lord of his or her life. This would include evangelicals and fundamentalists (although the definitions of these are subject to significant variation, depending whom you talk to); many Roman Catholics who take their faith seriously (many don’t); and mainline Protestants who have made Jesus their Lord and Savior. I’ll use the term “Evangelical Christian” to distinguish this type of Christian.

(2) The term “Christian” can also mean those who consider themselves to be of the Christian religion, but don’t accept many of the orthodox beliefs of the faith. They don’t attend church regularly, don’t live out their faith, and haven’t made Jesus their Lord and Savior. Their belief system is usually a conglomeration of Christianity, New Age, and other non-Christian beliefs such as reincarnation. This category includes some mainline Protestants, some who consider themselves “evangelical” but really aren’t according to the standard definition, and Roman Catholics who really don’t practice their faith but interestingly consider themselves staunch Catholics. I’ll call this category “Nominal Christians” to distinguish them from the other categories.

(3) The last category of “Christian” consists of what I call “Secular Christians” or “Cultural Christians.” They were brought up in a culture that has is roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition, they may have been brought up in the Church but haven’t been in one in years (although more and more people today are completely unchurched), and they know very little about the Christian faith yet consider themselves Christian in some sense. This category includes fallen-away Catholics, and those who consider themselves Protestant but really don’t have anything to do with religion.

America is certainly a Christian nation in that our culture has its roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Most of our immigrants came from Europe and had strong Protestant or Catholic backgrounds. Most of the founders of the nation were devout Christians, or at least had a profound respect for Christianity (despite what revisionist history tells us these days). Our major holidays have Christian roots (Christmas, Easter) or were first celebrated as a Christian event (Thanksgiving).

If you say America was a Christian nation in the sense of Nominal Christians, that would be true as well. At least up until recently, I suspect most people with a Christian background were baptized, got married in the Church, and had a Christian funeral. So the majority of people were at least Nominal Christians, with a significant segment of the population being Evangelical Christians.

If you consider America as a Christian nation in the sense that most of the population were Evangelical Christians (as defined above), that position is questionable but not completely in error. To understand our religious heritage, you have to go back to colonial times. And now for the history lesson.

America had three periods of spiritual revival during which many people became evangelicals. The First Great Awakening took place in the period 1730-1755; the Second Great Awakening happened 1790-1840; and the Third Great Awakening occurred 1850-1900. If you look in the hymnal, you’ll see that many of the great hymns of the faith were written in the 1800s.

These revivals profoundly influenced political thought and brought many to the faith, including our founders. I believe our nation and system of government would be quite different if it hadn’t been for the First Great Awakening. So given these revivals and their influence on American life, especially during our nation’s formation, one could possibly argue that the U.S. was a Christian nation in the evangelical sense, at least in its first 100 years or so.

What we need of course is a Fourth Great Awakening. Some say there has been one in the second half of the 20th Century, but if we are to keep our religious heritage intact and vibrant, we need a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this country. So pray for revival! It’s happened before, and it can happen again. That prospect scares some because they think this country will become a theocracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Look at what came out of the First Great Awakening (see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as well as state constitutions): respect for individual rights, significant freedoms, no establishment of a state church (which is the separation of Church and State as it was originally intended, not the revisionist concept we have today), freedom to worship as you choose, freedom of speech, the press, and assembly. So tell me, what’s there to fear from a stronger and more vibrant Christianity?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Beware of Deceptive Teachings – Part 1

I. Introduction

There are a lot of false teachings out there. There are books (sadly some are on best seller’s lists) with what I believe to be questionable theology (compared with the traditional understanding of various doctrines). There are sermons and TV programs which either distort or water down the Gospel. There are so-called preachers whose goal it is to relieve you of as much of your money as they can by giving you false teachings and empty promises.

Some of these false teachers say that certain parts of the Gospel were added on later, that they weren’t part of the “original” writings but were later inventions. Yet we have very early manuscripts, and they all include these “add-ons.” Like it or not, we have to take the Bible as we find it, not add to or subtract from it. We have to believe that the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit – which doesn’t necessarily mean we have to take the Bible literally in all cases, but believe that it contains God’s truth, without error. We have to accept what we read – even those parts we might not care for – and then deal with them with the help of the Holy Spirit.

We should protect ourselves against such false teachings, against buying into the lies of this world, and against being diverted from God’s truth. We can inoculate ourselves against deceptions and temptations by understanding the teachings of the Bible, by our strong faith in Jesus Christ, by living according to biblical principles, and by testing anything we hear using the methods given to us in the Bible.

When you read the New Testament, you see a lot of warnings about false prophets, erroneous teachings, and deception from Satan. With so many warnings, I think we should take them seriously. In this series of posts I’m going to let the Bible do most of the teaching, because it gives us clear directions in this matter. I hope you will take them seriously.

More on this important topic in a future post.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Meaning of Easter

I. Introduction

Easter is the holiest of Christian holy days. Those who may not be familiar with the Bible may wonder what all the excitement is about. There is a hymn that tells the main points of the story of the Resurrection. It is called “Up from the Grave He Arose” and the refrain goes like this:

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Jesus arose from the grave, despite the heavy stone and the guards. It was a mighty triumph over his foes. Who are those foes? In one sense, his foes were the evil men who schemed to have him executed. In another sense, his real foe was Satan and the forces of evil. In still another sense, his foe is death, which couldn’t hold him, as the hymn says: “He arose a victor from the dark domain,” meaning he was victorious over the dark domain of physical death. Because he arose victorious, we can be assured that we will live forever in glory in our resurrected bodies, which the hymn says: “He lives forever” to reign with his followers, the saints, in heaven (that’s you and me). “He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!”

II. Jesus Was Really Dead

Skeptics say Jesus didn’t really die, he just passed out, and later came to in the coolness of the tomb. However, the Romans were very efficient in what they did – nobody ever survived a crucifixion. We read in Mark 15:44-45 that the Roman officer informed Pilate that Jesus was dead. In the Gospel of John, we learn why the officer could confidently say Jesus was dead (John 19:33-36): a Roman soldier stuck a spear in Jesus’ side, and blood mixed with water came out. In his Gospel, John inserted a parenthetical statement stating that this was an eyewitness account. He did that to remove any possible doubt concerning Jesus’ death. So it’s clear to me that Jesus really died, but then we have to ask, was he really raised from the dead?

III. Jesus Is Really Alive

John R. W. Stott, a British Christian leader, once said: “Christianity is in its very essence a resurrection religion. The concept of resurrection lies at its heart. If you remove it, Christianity is destroyed.”

The Resurrection of Christ from the dead is foundational to our faith. The Apostle Paul was so convinced of the Resurrection that he boldly wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is worth nothing, and your faith is worth nothing. NCV

So how can we be certain that Christ really rose from the dead? Skeptics have many different possibilities to discredit the Resurrection. Maybe you’ve even had some doubts yourself – after all, resurrection from the dead is a pretty fantastic claim. But the facts support that Jesus truly did rise from the dead.

FACT: The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:5b-8a about all the people who actually saw the Risen Christ. Paul wrote this to the Corinthians about those eyewitnesses, which included himself:

[Jesus] was seen by Peter and then by the twelve apostles. After that, Jesus was seen by more than five hundred of the believers at the same time. Most of them are still living today, but some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all he was seen by me… NCV

FACT: Many of the people mentioned by Paul were still alive when he wrote this to the Corinthians. Therefore, his account would have been immediately refuted if what he wrote was untrue.

FACT: The Apostle Peter had this to say along those same lines (2 Peter 1:16):

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. NRSV

Most of those eyewitnesses were martyred rather than deny the Resurrection – pretty strong proof as far was I’m concerned. Nobody’s willing to die for a lie! Furthermore, the Resurrection was prophesied in the Old Testament, predicted by Jesus in the Gospels, and written about as a fact in the Epistles. Therefore, based on the evidence we have to conclude that the Resurrection is real, and Jesus is bodily alive in heaven.

IV. The Resurrection’s Meaning to Us

The Resurrection is real. So what? How is that important to us 2,000 years later? Christ’s Resurrection is important to us because we can be assured that our faith is not misplaced when we trust in Christ. Knowing our faith isn’t misplaced is important these days, because it seems that we can’t trust anyone anymore. Unscrupulous people like Bernie Madoff have swindled unsuspecting investors out of billions of dollars. Most recently the owner of a prestigious New York City modeling agency left his clients short by thousands of dollars they had earned. There are Internet scams, phone scams, mortgage scams, debt relief scams, car warranty scams, and home repair scams. But because of Christ’s Resurrection, we can be sure that our faith in Jesus isn’t in vain.

Every other religious leader who ever lived is dead – Jesus is alive. Every other belief system is man-made – Christ came from God, as confirmed by the Resurrection. Most other belief systems make you earn your way to some sort of better state – heaven is guaranteed based on God’s grace and our faith in Jesus. Christians don’t have to earn their way to heaven – Jesus did it all for us.

Like many of you, I came from a tradition that taught that you had to do additional things to gain or keep your salvation. What a relief to know it isn’t up to me – God the Father accepted what Jesus did on the Cross on yours and my behalf. Moreover, the Resurrection validates all that Jesus taught about himself being the way, the truth, and the life.

Because he raised Jesus from the dead, we can be assured that God will deliver on his promises. What are these promises of God I’m talking about? One is the promise that we also will be resurrected, just as Jesus was. We read about the future resurrection of believers in 1 Corinthians 15:20. St. Paul wrote this to the church in Corinth:

But Christ has truly been raised from the dead — the first one and proof that those who sleep in death will also be raised. NCV

We won’t just be disembodied spirits floating around in heaven, or ghosts wandering the earth in search of peace. We certainly won’t be reincarnated, doomed to living one life after another until we get it right. Instead, we will have new, improved, and imperishable bodies in heaven, as we read in 1 Peter 1:3-4:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. NLT

Like me, you may not be thrilled with your present body, but the new one you will eventually receive at the resurrection will be much better. As Peter wrote, “pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” I can’t wait!

Other promises of God for those who put their faith and trust in Jesus are:
-You have the Holy Spirit to help you while on this earth.
-You can come before the throne of God in prayer at any time.
-You have Jesus interceding with the Father on your behalf.
-You get to spend eternity in the presence of God Almighty.

Followers of Christ have been given so much – why would anybody want to miss out on these blessings?

V. Conclusion

So what can we conclude from all this? First of all, we can conclude that since Jesus was truly raised from the dead, then he is who he said he was: the Son of God and the promised Messiah. If he is the Son of God, then shouldn’t you and I honor him, and not keep him on the back burner of our lives?

Secondly, since Jesus was truly raised from the dead, then we can trust in the promises of God. If we can trust those promises, shouldn’t you and I know what they are? I just mentioned some, but there are many other promises in the Bible. One that can really help get us through the tough times we are facing is very familiar to us, yet how often do you and I apply it to ourselves? “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1) What a promise of comfort and God’s provision during times of trial!

Thirdly, since Jesus was truly raised from the dead, it is a sign that God approved of what he did on Good Friday for you and me. What Jesus accomplished on Good Friday was to reinstate us to our rightful position as children of God if we choose to receive that gift of God. If what Jesus accomplished was all part of God’s plan for us, shouldn’t we make sure we are a part of that plan?

How do we get on board with God’s plan for us? We do that by having a relationship with God thru Jesus Christ – that is, by making him the most important person in our life. That takes a conscious effort, something that I can tell you from personal experience is quite a change in direction. But as I learned, once you’ve made that commitment, your whole life improves and you have a much better outlook than before. If you already have a relationship with Jesus, now might be a good time for you and me to deepen it. How do you deepen it? The same way you deepen and improve any relationship – by togetherness and time spent.

Let’s remember that God created us for a reason, and Jesus died and rose again so that we could live out that reason. Simply stated, the reason we were created is to know, love, and serve God, and glorify him in all we do. If you want to have a fulfilled life now and a wonderful eternity in heaven, then put your faith and trust in the risen Christ.

Jesus was sent to the earth for you and me, died for you and me, and rose again for you and me. As I found out, it may seem strange at first making Jesus number one in your life. But stranger things have happened. Just remember, “The best news the world ever had came from a graveyard.” “He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thoughts on Good Friday


Jesus’ entrance into the world was rather low-key. His birth went unnoticed by all except a few shepherds. He was born in a barn, not in a palace; of humble parents, not the elites. Most of his life was spent in quiet obscurity in a small village in Galilee. Then he went on the road, and began to attract quite a bit of attention.

Hope in Jesus

The common people loved him – they saw hope in his message, and compassion in his actions. They even wanted to make him king after he miraculously fed the 5,000 with a few loaves and some fish. It is understandable that the people wanted to make this miracle-worker their king. After all, they were terribly oppressed, both by the Romans and their own religious leaders. In Jesus they saw a glimmer of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation. Most of them had lost their land and were now sharecroppers on the farms their ancestors once owned. They were overtaxed, in debt, ruled by a foreign power, mistreated by their own leaders, and were in desperate need of relief.

A King

So we can understand why the people yearned for king who would restore them – and provide food as well! Of course Jesus was already a king, just not the kind of king the people were expecting. When Pilate asked him if he was the King of the Jews, Jesus replied (John 18:36-38a):

“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”
Pilate said, “So you are a king?”
Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
“What is truth?” Pilate asked

Conditions Today

Many of us can appreciate why the people were looking for relief. We may feel hopeless and fearful as we look into a questionable future. Will I still have a job? Will we lose our medical benefits? Will I be able to make the mortgage payments? Will my vehicle be repossessed? Will I have enough money to retire on?

These are troubled times, and now, more than ever, we need Jesus in our lives. We need Jesus, not on the periphery, but at the center of our lives, which is where he belongs. If we do that, will Jesus make sure we keep our job, make the mortgage payments, or give us enough money to retire on?

Maybe, maybe not. But even if he doesn’t do those things, there are still significant advantages to having a relationship with Jesus. Many of those advantages are spiritual, and spiritual things last into eternity, while the things of this world are temporary. Through faith in Jesus we have eternal life, meaning we spend eternity with God in heaven, which will certainly be a lot better than life on earth. Another advantage is that we have the Holy Spirit to help us, guide us, comfort us, and give us peace while we are on this imperfect planet. We can boldly approach the throne of God, and God will listen to us, and give us answers.

We have these privileges because of what happened on Good Friday – Jesus died so that we might live. Jesus’ death opened the door for us to have a relationship with God. Why does his death open that door? Because of his death, our sins are forgiven and forgotten, and we are declared righteous before Almighty God. Since we have been declared righteous because of our faith in what Jesus accomplished on the cross, we can have fellowship with God.

Without the Cross, the door to a relationship with God would be closed. As followers of Jesus we now have nothing to fear from death, because we know what’s in store for us on the other side – heaven. In addition, we are freed from slavery to sin, because those things we used to do no longer have the appeal they once did.

God’s Plan

So that’s why it’s called “Good” Friday – because much good came out of what appeared to be a tragic situation, a miscarriage of justice. What appeared to be a gross injustice resulted in God’s justice being satisfied. How was God’s justice satisfied? God’s justice was satisfied the only way it could be, by Jesus’ sacrifice. This was God’s plan from the beginning, which we see in such Old Testament prophecies as Isaiah 53.

On Good Friday, the righteous died for the unrighteous, the innocent for the guilty. This was the reason Jesus came to earth, and this was the reason Jesus allowed himself to be arrested, tortured, and killed by evil men. Only the Son of God was an adequate sacrifice, once for all, to satisfy God’s need for justice regarding the sins of the world. By his death, he replaced the temporary sacrificial system based on the law with a New Covenant based on grace through faith.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NRSV)

Now there are no barriers between God and us – all we have to do is believe that Christ died for our sins and accept that gift of eternal life. When we consciously do that, we have made Jesus our Savior, placing our full trust in what he did on that cross on a bleak Friday in Jerusalem.


As I said earlier, the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life was rather low-key. The end, however, was pretty spectacular. It wasn’t really the end, but rather a new beginning. Sinful men put him to death, but he overcame the cold grip of death and rose from the dead that glorious Sunday.

“Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes!”

Forty days later he ascended bodily into heaven, where he sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us as our High Priest. After the darkness of Friday came the bright new dawn of Sunday. Yet without Good Friday there could not have been a Resurrection. Without Good Friday, there could not have been forgiveness of sins. Without Good Friday, God’s plan for the human race would not have been fulfilled, and we’d all still be separated from God – dead in our sins.

Similarly, it may seem like Friday for us these days, but have faith – Sunday’s coming! Things may seem gloomy right now, but have faith – Sunday’s coming! We may be going through some tough times, but when we come out of them, we will be stronger and better, so have faith – Sunday’s coming! So let us keep in mind the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Meaning of Holy Thursday


When we think of Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday), what usually comes to mind is the Last Supper and the establishment of Holy Communion. Those are the main events of that Thursday evening Seder. But a lot more happened that evening, such as the washing of the disciples’ feet, predictions of disloyalty, and a fair amount of teaching.

Overview of John’s Gospel

The Gospel of John has the most detailed account of the Last Supper – five chapters, but leaves out the establishment of Communion. I presume that’s because John’s was the last Gospel written, and he knew that was well covered by the other three Gospels. John’s account of that Thursday evening over those five chapters covers these events and teachings:

In John Chapter 13, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples – something not recorded in the other three Gospels. He also predicted Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and he gave a new commandment to love one another. The term “Maundy” Thursday comes from the Latin for “new commandment”: Latin Vulgate Bible says “mandatum novum do vobis.”

The teachings and prayers of the following four chapters is often refered to as Christ’s Upper Room Discourse. In the next chapter, Jesus told the disciples he is the way to the Father when he spoke these famous words that evening (John 14:1-2, 6):

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?"

Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus also promised the Holy Spirit would come, and he gave the disciples (and us) his peace:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, NRSV)

Jesus taught about the vine and branches, the Holy Spirit, to love one another, and the world will hate you because of him. Jesus ended the evening by praying for himself, his disciples, and future believers in what has come to be called his High Priestly Prayer. After this, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The 18th chapter of John’s Gospel begins with these words (John 18:1):

After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. NRSV

On Palm Sunday Jesus was hailed as King and Messiah as he passed through the Kidron Valley on his way into Jerusalem. Four days later, he walked through that valley once more, anticipating that the next valley he would encounter was the valley of death.

Theme of Christ’s Ministry

When we look at the events of Holy Thursday and Jesus’ entire ministry, we can see a theme emerge, and that is one of servanthood. Loving and serving others is the major thrust of Jesus’ ministry on earth, and we see it in the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The cynics of the world say, “Take care of yourself first. Look out for number one, do unto others before they do unto you.”

Jesus says, “love one another, serve one another, be humble, do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Jesus gave powerful demonstrations that he himself – even though he is God – didn’t come to be served, but to serve. If we look at his public ministry, he spent most of his time serving others. He healed the sick, forgave sinners, even raised the dead, preached to the people, and taught his disciples.

That Thursday, he gave still another demonstration of having a servant’s attitude. He washed his disciples’ feet, an unpleasant job considering the filthy streets they had been walking through wearing open sandals. To make sure everybody got his message, he said in John 13:12b-17:

“Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” NRSV

To emphasize the point further, he gave the new commandment to love one another, then reinforced it by saying later on (John 15:12-13):

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” NRSV

On Friday, Jesus demonstrated the ultimate act of love – he did lay down his life for his friends – you and me. It was the greatest act of serving – he died so that we may live. Jesus went to the cross voluntarily, because it was God’s will that the world would be saved through him.


In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus did what no one else would stoop to do, even though any one of the disciples could have done it. In dying for our sins, Jesus did what no one else was able to do – only the Son of God could accomplish what he did. This washing of the feet was not an act of weakness, but was done out of strength and confidence, as we read in John 13:3-5 (NRSV):

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

When we do good things for others in the name of Christ, we also are doing so out of strength, love, and commitment, not out of weakness. So let’s not forget the lesson of Holy Thursday: Jesus came to serve, and we should do likewise. Jesus was rewarded for his obedience to the Father by his Resurrection, and now he is sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven. We, too, will be rewarded for serving others when we get to heaven, but our main motivation for serving should always be to glorify God. So let us commit to having a servant attitude, just as Jesus did.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Worship History and Styles – Part 4

This is the next in a series of posts on historical forms of worship, the background of Israelite worship, and modern forms of worship.

V. Differences in Worship Today

We see some of these practices today in Christian worship, which has become ever more diverse.

1 Style of Music

For example, there is diversity in style of music: contemporary praise vs. traditional hymns vs. new forms such as Taizé from France.

2. Style of Worship

There is diversity in style and atmosphere of the service: formal vs. casual; carefully planned vs. spontaneous; traditional hymns vs. contemporary praise music.

3. Congregational Response

There is diversity in the congregational response to worship: emotional outpourings vs. more reserved.

4. Congregational Participation

There is diversity in how participative and expressive the congregation is in worship, such as clapping, raising hands, shouting “Amen”, waving.

5. How Worship Conducted

There is diversity in the nature of the service: solemn ritual such as a mass, or quiet and meditative such as a Quaker gathering.

6. Emphasis of the Service

There is diversity in the emphasis of the service: sacramental vs. proclamation of the Word.

7. Offerings of Talents

Finally, we see worship done in various ways through the offerings of talents: a solo, a choir, sacred dance, playing an instrument, a skit, etc.

VI. Conclusion

I’ve discussed these to help put worship in its historical context, especially since Christians believe Israelite worship points to Christ and his sacrificial death on the cross. I’ve also wanted to show that there are different forms of worship, many of which have their roots in the Bible.

God has placed in our hearts the knowledge of himself, our need for atonement, and the fact that God deserves our worship. Through Scripture and the Person of Jesus Christ, we now know God much better. We Christians also know that we don’t have to atone for our sins through sacrifices, because Jesus did it all for us. Therefore, we worship God because he is worthy, and in thanksgiving for all he has done for us. So let us look to worship as a privilege, a pleasure, and a purpose for our lives.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Worship History and Styles – Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts on historical forms of worship, the background of Israelite worship, and modern forms of worship.

IV. Ancient Israelite Worship Practices

In addition to the worship laid down by God, there were other ancient Israelite worship practices. The reason I want to discuss them is so we can see the biblical origins of some of the practices in Christian worship in this post.

1. Proclamation of the Word

A number of times in the Old Testament the people were gathered to hear the Scriptures read[1] to them. For example, King Josiah gathered the people together (2 Kings 23:2):

The king went up to the house of the LORD, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD. NRSV

As synagogue worship developed, reading the Scriptures became a major component of that form of worship. Today in the Protestant service, the high point is the proclamation of the Word, which consists of the Bible readings and sermon.

2. Music

Music in worship goes back to ancient times – the Psalms are ancient hymns, which were set to music. Psalm 149:3-4 refers to both music and dancing in praise of God:

Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre. For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory. NRSV

3. Other Practices

When people prayed, they lifted hands, knelt, bowed, or prostrated themselves. Regarding lifting hands in worship, the psalmist writes in Psalm 63:4:

So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. NRSV

Regarding prostrating yourself, we read that when Moses prayed to the Lord, he did what Muslims do today at their call to prayer (Numbers 20:6):

Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. NRSV

Regarding bowing, it says in Exodus 34:8: And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.

We occasionally read about dancing before the Lord, as King David did in 2 Samuel 6:13-19. His wife didn’t approve – she didn’t think it was dignified for the king to do such a thing. (2 Samuel 6:14, 16b):

David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod… Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. NRSV

We read in the Bible about cheering and shouting on occasion. For example, notice that 2 Samuel 6:15 says:

So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns. NLT

Psalm 81:1-3a, 9-10 refers to the various ways of praising God:

Sing aloud to God, our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
Raise a song, sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon…

There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt

More on this topic of worship in a future post.
[1] Deut 31:11, Josh 8:33-35, 2 Ki 23:2, 2 Chron 17:7, Neh 8

Friday, April 3, 2009

Worship History and Styles – Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts on historical forms of worship, the background of Israelite worship, and modern forms of worship. Hopefully this exposition about worship will resonate with you as we approach the Christian Holy Week and the Jewish Passover.

II. Ancient Middle Eastern Worship

We know a fair amount about worship in the ancient Middle East from the Bible, from archaeology, and from ancient writings.

1. Fertility Rites

The focus of ancient Middle Eastern worship was fertility, both agricultural and human. Some of his worship even included child sacrifice, as we read in these instructions from Moses in Deuteronomy 12:30b-31:

Don’t say, “How do these nations worship? I will do the same.” Don’t worship the Lord your God that way, because the Lord hates the evil ways they worship their gods. They even burn their sons and daughters as sacrifices to their gods! NCV

Fertility rites also involved temple prostitutes, which are mentioned several times in the Bible as something to be avoided.

2. Ba’al Worship

The main god of the ancient Middle East was Ba’al, the sun god, and his equivalents such as Bel (which we find in the name “Jezebel”). Baal’s female consort was Ashtoreth, the moon god. God told the Israelites time and again to worship only him, not the false gods of the region, as we read in the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:2-5a):

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God...

III. God’s Specified Worship

God not only told the Israelites how not to worship, but God laid out in excruciating detail how they were to worship the one true God, Jehovah. The main components of this God-given worship in the Law of Moses were:

1. Animal Sacrifices

Israelite worship focused on atonement for sins through the sacrifice of an unblemished animal at the tabernacle and later the temple. Christians believe that these animal sacrifices point to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The reason we don’t have to sacrifice animals any more is that Jesus accomplished the ultimate sacrifice, once for all. The Book of Hebrews goes into this in some detail.

2. Offerings

Another component of ancient Israelite worship was the giving of various kinds of offerings. In particular, the giving of the first fruits of your harvest to the Lord was both a personal sacrifice and a statement of faith. You were giving up instant gratification, and you were trusting in God to bring in a good harvest – similar trust when we give to the church today.

3. Keeping the Sabbath

Another important aspect of Israelite worship was keeping the Sabbath. Before synagogue worship, the Sabbath was strictly a time of rest. Synagogue worship developed when the Jews were away from the temple in Jerusalem during their Babylonian captivity. So eventually keeping the Sabbath not only involved resting, but also worshipping in the synagogue.

4. Holy Days

Another component of Israelite worship was observing the various holy days established by God in the Law of Moses, such as:
Passover (Pesach),
Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”),
Booths (or shelters; Sukkot – remembering their ancestors in the wilderness),
Weeks (or Pentecost or Shauvot), and
Trumpets (now the Jewish New Year - Rosh HaShana “head of the year”).

Since the Law of Moses was given, two other holy days have been added: Purim and Hanukkah.

5. Ceremonial Law Observances

The last major component of Israelite worship given by God was to keep what is called the ceremonial law: dietary laws, and other day-to-day rules. The ceremonial law involves rules that have nothing to do with morals or ethics, or the functioning of government.

More on this subject of the history of worship in a future post.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Worship History and Styles – Part 1

In an earlier series of posts I talked about the importance of worship. In this next series, I’d like to demonstrate how God put a desire and inclination to worship into all people. I would also like to review historical forms of worship, the background of Israelite worship, and modern forms of worship.

As we learned in my series of posts on worship, it is important to God, so it should be important to us. It is our main purpose in life, as A.W. Tozer put it: “God made us to be worshippers. That was the purpose of God in bringing us into the world.” Rick Warren, in his book The Purpose Driven Life, stated that worship on earth is a rehearsal for what we’ll be doing in heaven – worshipping God.

I. Archeological evidence of Worship

Artifacts of worship have been discovered in just about every culture over thousands of years. It appears, given the consistency of the archaeological evidence, that God has put into the hearts and minds of human beings the following:

1. Supreme Being

First, God has given us the innate knowledge that there is a supreme being who created everything and must be honored. Over time, this knowledge became corrupted and many societies worshipped multiple deities instead of the one true God revealed to Adam and Eve. These cultures developed a god for every major aspect of life: fertility, weather, war, water, sun, moon, etc.

2. God Expects Worship

Second, God has given us the innate knowledge that God expects worship from the people he created. Occasionally this knowledge became corrupted, and was replaced by the concept of an angry god who needed to be constantly appeased. Nothing is farther from the truth. God is to be worshipped, we now know, because he is worthy, not angry.

3. Animal Sacrifice

Third, God has given us the innate knowledge that God expects animal sacrifice to atone for our transgressions as part of that worship. What God instilled in us is spelled out in Leviticus 17:11:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. NRSV

Hebrews 9:22 in the New Testament echoes what is stated in the Law of Moses:

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. NRSV

Altars for sacrifice have been uncovered in many different ancient cultures all over the world. Unfortunately this understanding of the need for sacrifice became corrupted, so human and even child sacrifice emerged in various societies.

4. Eternal Spirit

Fourth, God has given us the innate knowledge that we have an eternal spirit that lives on in the afterlife. We can see evidence of that belief in the burial customs in different cultures.

More on the history and styles of worship in a future post.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Environmentalist Rip-Off

Within the constraints of our budget, our church is trying to be as green as possible. One thing we did was to replace all of our incandescent bulbs with the new energy-saving fluorescent bulbs. We expected to save money both by lower usage of electricity and by the fact that these expensive bulbs were “long-lasting.”

The fact is, these new bulbs don’t last nearly as long as the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. For some reason, these newly-installed bulbs are failing less than a year after they were installed. While we are hopefully saving some money by lower electricity usage, that savings is probably being more than offset by the high failure rate of these expensive bulbs.

I’m wondering, is this another rip-off of the American consumer? Obviously the labeling and advertising are misleading, because these aren’t long-lasting at all. I’m now wondering whether the wattage printed on the packing is true as well. I suspect these unscrupulous manufacturers are cashing in on the “going green” movement by selling us substandard goods at a high mark-up (made overseas, of course, so they can make truly obscene profits).

Moreover, some environmentalists are now raising concerns that these bulbs, when discarded in a landfill, may pollute more than incandescent bulbs. What makes this even more of a rip-off is that I read somewhere that by some date in the future, we won’t even be able to buy incandescent bulbs any more. So we’ll be stuck with higher cost bulbs that may or may not be good for the environment. Of course we aren’t being offered LED lighting, because that would significantly reduce electrical usage and be truly long-lasting. Why aren’t these being offered? It makes you wonder how serious the government and industry is about saving energy.

Once again, the American public pays the price for questionable benefits and inferior technology.