Friday, December 2, 2011

"Why should I read the Old Testament?

The Bible is a progressive revelation. If you skip the first half of any good book and try to finish it; you will have a hard time understanding the characters, the plot, and the ending. In the same way, the New Testament is only completely understood when it is seen as being built upon the foundation of the events, characters, laws, sacrificial system, covenants, and promises of the Old Testament. If we only had the New Testament, we would come to the gospels and not know why the Jews were looking for a Messiah (a Savior King). Without the Old Testament, we would not understand why this Messiah was coming (see Isaiah 53); we would not have been able to identify Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah through the many detailed prophecies that were given concerning Him (e.g., His birth place (Micah 5:2); His manner of death (Psalm 22, especially vv. 1,7-8, 14-18; Psalm 69:21, etc.), His resurrection (Psalm 16:10), and many more details of His ministry (Isaiah 52:13.; 9:2, etc.).

Without the Old Testament, we would not understand the Jewish customs that are mentioned in passing in the New Testament. We would not understand the perversions the Pharisees had made to God's law as they added their traditions to it. We would not understand why Jesus was so upset as He cleansed the temple courtyard. We would not understand that we can make use of the same wisdom that Christ used in His many replies to His adversaries (both human and demonic).

Without the Old Testament we would miss out on numerous detailed prophecies that could only have come true if the Bible is God's word, not man's (see the major and minor prophets) (e.g., Daniel 7 and following chapters). These prophecies give specific details about the rise and fall of nations, how they will fall, if they will rise again, which powers would be next to emerge, who the major players would be (Cyrus, Alexander the Great, etc.), and what would happen to their kingdoms when those players died. These detailed prophecies are so accurate that skeptics charge they had to have been written after the fact.

The Old Testament also contains numerous lessons for us through the lives of its many fallible characters. By observing their lives we can be encouraged to trust God no matter what (Daniel 3), and to not compromise in the little things (Daniel 1) so that we will be faithful later in the big things (Daniel 6). We can learn that it is best to confess sin early and sincerely instead of blame-shifting (1 Samuel 15). We can learn not to play with sin, because it will find us out and its bite is deadly (See Judges 13-16). We can learn that we need to trust (and obey) God if we expect to experience His promised-land living in this life and His paradise in the next (Numbers 13). We learn that if we contemplate sin, we are only setting ourselves up for committing it (Genesis 3; Joshua 6-7). We learn that our sin has consequences not only for ourselves but for our loved ones around us and conversely that our good behavior has rewards not only for us but for those who are around us as well (Genesis 3; Exodus 20:5-6).

The Old Testament also contains vast quantities of wisdom that the New Testament does not share. Many of these are contained in the Psalms and Proverbs. These bits of wisdom reveal how I can be wiser than my teachers, what various sins will lead to (it helps us to see the hook that the bait is hiding), and what accomplishments in this world hold for us (nothing!). How can I recognize whether I am a fool (moral fool, that is)? How can I inadvertently turn people off without trying? How can I open doors to lasting success? How can I find meaning in life? Again, there is so much there that is just waiting to be found by one who truly wants to learn.

Without the Old Testament, we would not have a basis for standing against the error of the politically correct perversions of our society in which evolution is seen to be the creator of all of the species over millions of years (instead of them being the result of special creation by God in a literal six days). We would buy the lie that marriages and the family unit are an evolving structure that should continue to change as society changes, instead of being seen as a design by God for the purpose of raising up godly children and for the protection of those who would otherwise be used and abused (most often women and children).

Without the Old Testament, we would not understand the promises God will yet fulfill to the Jewish nation. As a result, we would not properly see that the Tribulation period is a seven-year period in which He will specifically be working with the Jewish nation who rejected His first coming but who will receive Him at His second coming. We would not understand how Christ's future 1,000-year reign fits in with His promises to the Jews, nor how the Gentiles will fit in. Nor would we see how the end of the Bible ties up the loose ends that were unraveled in the beginning of the Bible, how God will restore the paradise He originally created this world to be, and how we will enjoy close companionship with Him on a personal basis as in the Garden of Eden.

In summary, the Old Testament is a mirror that allows us to see ourselves in the lives of Old Testament characters and helps us learn vicariously from their lives. It sheds so much light on who God is and the wonders He has made and the salvation He has wrought. It shares so much comfort to those in persecution or trouble (see Psalms especially). It reveals through repeatedly fulfilled prophecy why the Bible is unique among holy books—it alone is able to demonstrate that it is what it claims to be: the inspired Word of God. It reveals volumes about Christ in page after page of its writings. It contains so much wisdom that goes beyond what is alluded to or quoted in the New Testament. In short, if you have not yet ventured in depth into its pages, you are missing much that God has available for you. As you read it, there will be much you do not understand right away, but there will be much you will understand and learn from. And as you continue to study it, asking God to teach you further, your mining will pay off in brighter treasures still.

Recommended Resource: A Survey of the Old Testament by Paul Benware.

What Are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

In the spring of 1947 an Arab shepherd chanced upon a cave in the hills overlooking the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea that contained what has been called "the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times." The documents and fragments of documents found in those caves, dubbed the "Dead Sea Scrolls," included Old Testament books, a few books of the Apocrypha, apocalyptic works, pseudepigrapha (books that purport to be the work of ancient heroes of the faith), and a few of the books peculiar to the sect that produced them.

Approximately a third of the documents are Biblical, with Psalms, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah - the books quoted most often in the New Testament - occurring most frequently. One of the most remarkable finds was a complete 24-foot-long scroll of Isaiah.

The Scrolls have made a significant contribution to the quest for a form of the Old Testament texts most accurately reflecting the original manuscripts; they provide copies 1,000 years closer to the originals than were previously known. The understanding of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic and knowledge of the development of Judaism between the Testaments have been increased significantly. Of great importance to readers of the Bible is the demonstration of the care with which Old Testament texts were copied, thus providing objective evidence for the general reliability of those texts.

Taken from "Setting the Stage for the Messiah" by Discover the Book Ministries (used by permission).

Monday, November 28, 2011

Did Jesus Only Appear to be Human?

[Editor's note: Ignatius served as the third bishop and patriarch of Antioch and was a student of the apostle John. He died as a martyr in Rome soon after writing this letter.]

But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, He became man in appearance [only], that He did not in reality take unto Him a body, that He died in appearance [merely], and did not in very deed suffer, then for what reason am I now in bonds, and long to be exposed to the wild beasts? In such a case, I die in vain, and am guilty of falsehood against the cross of the Lord. Then also does the prophet in vain declare, "They shall look on Him whom they have pierced, and mourn over themselves as over one beloved." These men, therefore, are not less unbelievers than were those that crucified Him.

But as for me, I do not place my hopes in one who died for me in appearance, but in reality. For that which is false is quite abhorrent to the truth. Mary then did truly conceive a body which had God inhabiting it. And God the Word was truly born of the Virgin, having clothed Himself with a body of like passions with our own. He who forms all men in the womb, was Himself really in the womb, and made for Himself a body of the seed of the Virgin, but without any intercourse of man. He was carried in the womb, even as we are, for the usual period of time; and was really born, as we also are; and was in reality nourished with milk, and partook of common meat and drink, even as we do.

And when He had lived among men for thirty years, He was baptized by John, really and not in appearance; and when He had preached the Gospel three years, and done signs and wonders, He who was Himself the Judge was judged by the Jews, falsely so called, and by Pilate the governor; was scourged, was smitten on the cheek, was spit upon; He wore a crown of thorns and a purple robe; He was condemned: He was crucified in reality, and not in appearance, not in imagination, not in deceit. He really died, and was buried, and rose from the dead ....

Taken from "The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians" in Writings of the Early Church Fathers.

Friday, November 25, 2011

"If I am saved and all of my sins are forgiven, why not continue to sin?"

The apostle Paul answered a very similar question in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” The idea that a person could “trust in Jesus Christ” for salvation and then go on living just as he/she lived before, is absolutely foreign to the Bible. Believers in Christ are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Holy Spirit changes us from producing the acts of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) to producing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The Christian life is a changed life because the Christian is changed.

What differentiates Christianity from every other religion is that Christianity is based on what God has done for us through Jesus Christ—divine accomplishment. Every other world religion is based on what we must do to earn God's favor and forgiveness—human achievement. Every other religion teaches that we must do certain things and stop doing certain other things in order to earn God's love and mercy. Christianity, faith in Christ, teaches that we do certain things and stop doing certain things because of what Christ has done for us.

How could anyone, having been delivered from sin's penalty, eternity in hell, go back to living the same life that had him on the path to hell in the first place? How could anyone, having been cleansed from the defilement of sin, desire to go back to the same cesspool of depravity? How could anyone, knowing what Jesus Christ did on our behalf, go on living as if He were not important? How could anyone, realizing how much Christ suffered for our sins, continue sinning as if those sufferings were meaningless?

Romans 6:11-15 declares, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”

For the truly converted, then, continuing to live sinfully is not an option. Because our conversion resulted in a completely new nature, our desire is to no longer live in sin. Yes, we still sin, but instead of wallowing in it as we once did, we now hate it and wish to be delivered from it. The idea of “taking advantage” of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf by continuing to live sinfully is unthinkable. If a person believes himself to be a Christian and still desires to live the old, sinful life, he has reason to doubt his salvation. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Recommended Resource: Got Questions? - The Book.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Get Ready for Spiritual Warfare?

When it comes to the Christian life, we will either gain or lose ground. We will either win or lose. But we have to be involved in the spiritual battle. Spiritual pacifists will be knocked down, because the Christian life is not a playground, but a battleground.

It is up to us to fight the good fight of faith. So we need to suit up and learn the principles from God’s Word that teach us how to be more than conquerors in Jesus Christ.

First, we need to put on the full armor of God as we engage in the spiritual battle. Ephesians 6:11 tells us, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (NKJV).

The phrase “put on” carries the idea of doing something once and for all. It speaks of permanence. The full armor of God is not something we put on and then take off again. We are to keep it on all the time.

Second, we need to be aware of the fact that Satan is not the equal of God. The devil would like us to think that whatever God can do, he can do, as though they were two sides of the same force.

Although Satan is a powerful spirit being, he is far from God’s equal. You see, God is omnipotent. God is omniscient. God is omnipresent. God can do anything that He wants to do, anywhere and anytime.

Satan is none of those things. He has limitations as to what he can do.

Third, we need to realize that the devil will primarily attack us in the realm of the imagination. The apostle Paul mentioned this in 2 Corinthians 11:3: “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (NKJV).

The devil knows that if he can get us to think about something, we are only a step away from actually doing it. He knows that our minds are “command central.” It is here that we reason. It is here that we remember. It is here that we dream.

Our minds are the hard drive, the place where everything originates. Satan knows that it is only a short step from a thought to an act.

Last, we need to understand that the devil works with two very close allies: the world and the flesh. “The world” is the world system that is hostile toward God. It is living for personal gratification, our own will above all else.

Then there is the flesh. When the Bible speaks of the flesh, it speaks more of the depraved, fallen human nature in which we are gratifying sensual appetites.

Taken from “The Winnable War” by Harvest Ministries (used by permission).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Question: "What happens to those who have never heard about Jesus?"

All people are accountable to God whether or not they have “heard about Him.” The Bible tells us that God has clearly revealed Himself in nature (Romans 1:20) and in the hearts of people (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The problem is that the human race is sinful; we all reject this knowledge of God and rebel against Him (Romans 1:21-23). If it were not for God's grace, we would be given over to the sinful desires of our hearts, allowing us to discover how useless and miserable life is apart from Him. He does this for those who continually reject Him (Romans 1:24-32).

In reality, it is not that some people have not heard about God. Rather, the problem is that they have rejected what they have heard and what is readily seen in nature. Deuteronomy 4:29 proclaims, “But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” This verse teaches an important principle—everyone who truly seeks after God will find Him. If a person truly desires to know God, God will make Himself known.

The problem is “there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11). People reject the knowledge of God that is present in nature and in their own hearts, and instead decide to worship a “god” of their own creation. It is foolish to debate the fairness of God sending someone to hell who never had the opportunity to hear the gospel of Christ. People are responsible to God for what God has already revealed to them. The Bible says that people reject this knowledge, and therefore God is just in condemning them to hell.

Instead of debating the fate of those who have never heard, we, as Christians, should be doing our best to make sure they do hear. We are called to spread the gospel throughout the nations (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). We know people reject the knowledge of God revealed in nature, and that must motivate us to proclaim the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Only by accepting God’s grace through the Lord Jesus Christ can people be saved from their sins and rescued from an eternity apart from God.

If we assume that those who never hear the gospel are granted mercy from God, we will run into a terrible problem. If people who never hear the gospel are saved, it is logical that we should make sure no one ever hears the gospel. The worst thing we could do would be to share the gospel with a person and have him or her reject it. If that were to happen, he or she would be condemned. People who do not hear the gospel must be condemned, or else there is no motivation for evangelism. Why run the risk of people possibly rejecting the gospel and condemning themselves when they were previously saved because they had never heard the gospel?

Recommended Resource: What About Those Who Have Never Heard? by Ronald Nash.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Should Christians celebrate Halloween?"

Answer: Whether or not Christians should celebrate Halloween can be a very controversial topic. Some Christians celebrate Halloween simply by dressing up in a costume and having fun, seeing it as innocent and harmless. Other Christians are equally convinced that Halloween is a satanic holiday established to worship evil spirits and promote darkness and wickedness. So, who is right? Is it possible for Christians to celebrate Halloween without compromising their faith?

Halloween, no matter how commercialized, has almost completely pagan origins. As innocent as it may seem to some, it is not something to be taken lightly. Christians tend to have various ways to celebrate or not to celebrate Halloween. For some, it means having an “alternative” Harvest Party. For others, it is staying away from the ghosts, witches, goblins, etc., and wearing innocuous costumes, e.g., little princesses, clowns, cowboys, super-heroes, etc. Some choose not to do anything, electing to lock themselves in the house with the lights off. With our freedom as Christians, we are at liberty to decide how to act.

Scripture does not speak at all about Halloween, but it does give us some principles on which we can make a decision. In Old Testament Israel, witchcraft was a crime punishable by death (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 19:31; 20:6, 27). The New Testament teaching about the occult is clear. Acts 8:9-24, the story of Simon, shows that occultism and Christianity don't mix. The account of Elymas the sorcerer in Acts 13:6-11 reveals that sorcery is violently opposed to Christianity. Paul called Elymas a child of the devil, an enemy of righteousness and a perverter of the ways of God. In Acts 16, at Philippi, a fortune-telling girl lost her demon powers when the evil spirit was cast out by Paul. The interesting matter here is that Paul refused to allow even good statements to come from a demon-influenced person. Acts 19 shows new converts who have abruptly broken with their former occultism by confessing, showing their evil deeds, bringing their magic paraphernalia, and burning it before everyone (Acts 19:19).

So, should a Christian celebrate Halloween? Is there anything evil about a Christian dressing up as a princess or cowboy and going around the block asking for candy? No, there is not. Are there things about Halloween that are anti-Christian and should be avoided? Absolutely! If parents are going to allow their children to participate in Halloween, they should make sure to keep them from getting involved in the darker aspects of the day. If Christians are going to take part in Halloween, their attitude, dress, and most importantly, their behavior should still reflect a redeemed life (Philippians 1:27). There are many churches that hold "harvest festivals" and incorporate costumes, but in a godly environment. There are many Christians who hand out tracts that share the Gospel along with the Halloween candy. The decision is ultimately ours to make. But as with all things, we are to incorporate the principles of Romans 14. We can’t allow our own convictions about a holiday to cause division in the body of Christ, nor can we use our freedom to cause others to stumble in their faith. We are to do all things as to the Lord.

Recommended Resource: Halloween: What's a Christian to Do? by Steve Russo.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"What does the Bible say about the end of the world?"

The event usually referred to by the phrase “end of the world” is described in 2 Peter 3:10: “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” This is the culmination of the events referred to in the beginning of that verse as “the day of the Lord,” the time when God will intervene in human history for the purpose of judgment. At that time, all that God has created, “the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), He will destroy.

The timing of this event, according to most Bible scholars, is at the end of the 1000-year period called the millennium. During these thousand years, Christ will reign on earth as King in Jerusalem, sitting on the throne of David (Luke 1:32-33) and ruling in peace but with a “rod of iron” (Revelation 19:15). At the end of the 1000 years, Satan will be released, defeated again, and then cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:7-10). At this point, the end of the world described in 2 Peter 3:10 occurs. The Bible tells us several things about this event.

First, it will be cataclysmic in scope. The “heavens” refers to the physical universe – the stars, planets, and galaxies—which will be consumed by some kind of tremendous explosion, possibly a nuclear or atomic reaction that will consume and obliterate all matter as we know it. All the elements that make up the universe will be melted in the “fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:12). This will also be a noisy event, described in different Bible versions as a “roar” (NIV), a “great noise” (KJV), a “loud noise” (CEV), and a “thunderous crash” (AMP). There will be no doubt as to what is happening. Everyone will see and hear it because we are also told that “the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”

Then God will create a “new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1), which will include the “New Jerusalem” (v. 2), the capital city of heaven, a place of perfect holiness, which will come down from heaven and descend to the new earth. This is the city where the saints—those whose names were written in the “Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 13:8)—will live forever. Peter refers to it as “the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).

Perhaps the most important part of Peter’s description of that day is his question in verses 11-12: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” For Christians, this means we should live our lives in such a way that we reflect our understanding of what is going to happen. This life is passing away quickly, and our focus should be on the new heavens and earth to come. Our “holy and godly” lives should be a testimony to those who do not know the Savior, and we should be telling others about Him so they can escape the terrible fate that awaits those who reject Him. We wait in eager anticipation for God’s “Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Why does God allow evil?"

With people thinking about the September 11 terrorist attacks on the tenth anniversary of the horrific event, many are again asking the age-old question: "Why does God allow evil?" The Bible describes God as holy (Isaiah 6:3), righteous (Psalm 7:11), just (Deuteronomy 32:4), and sovereign (Daniel 4:17-25). These attributes tell us the following about God: (1) God is capable of preventing evil, and (2) God desires to rid the universe of evil. So, if both of these are true, why does God allow evil? If God has the power to prevent evil and desires to prevent evil, why does He still allow evil? Perhaps a practical way to look at this question would be to consider some alternative ways people might have God run the world:

1) God could change everyone’s personality so that they cannot sin. This would also mean that we would not have a free will. We would not be able to choose right or wrong because we would be “programmed” to only do right. Had God chosen to do this, there would be no meaningful relationships between Him and His creation.

Instead, God made Adam and Eve innocent but with the ability to choose good or evil. Because of this, they could respond to His love and trust Him or choose to disobey. They chose to disobey. Because we live in a real world where we can choose our actions but not their consequences, their sin affected those who came after them (us). Similarly, our decisions to sin have an impact on us and those around us and those who will come after us.

2) God could compensate for people’s evil actions through supernatural intervention 100 percent of the time. God would stop a drunk driver from causing an automobile accident. God would stop a lazy construction worker from doing a substandard job on a house that would later cause grief to the homeowners. God would stop a father who is addicted to drugs or alcohol from doing any harm to his wife, children, or extended family. God would stop gunmen from robbing convenience stores. God would stop high school bullies from tormenting the brainy kids. God would stop thieves from shoplifting. And, yes, God would stop terrorists from flying airplanes into buildings.

While this solution sounds attractive, it would lose its attractiveness as soon as God’s intervention infringed on something we wanted to do. We want God to prevent horribly evil actions, but we are willing to let “lesser-evil” actions slide—not realizing that those “lesser-evil” actions are what usually lead to the “greater-evil” actions. Should God only stop actual sexual affairs, or should He also block our access to pornography or end any inappropriate, but not yet sexual, relationships? Should God stop “true” thieves, or should He also stop us from cheating on our taxes? Should God only stop murder, or should He also stop the “lesser-evil” actions done to people that lead them to commit murder? Should God only stop acts of terrorism, or should He also stop the indoctrination that transformed a person into a terrorist?

3) Another choice would be for God to judge and remove those who choose to commit evil acts. The problem with this possibility is that there would be no one left, for God would have to remove us all. We all sin and commit evil acts (Romans 3:23; Ecclesiastes 7:20; 1 John 1:8). While some people are more evil than others, where would God draw the line? Ultimately, all evil causes harm to others.

Instead of these options, God has chosen to create a “real” world in which real choices have real consequences. In this real world of ours, our actions affect others. Because of Adam’s choice to sin, the world now lives under the curse, and we are all born with a sin nature (Romans 5:12). There will one day come a time when God will judge the sin in this world and make all things new, but He is purposely “delaying” in order to allow more time for people to repent so that He will not need to condemn them (2 Peter 3:9). Until then, He IS concerned about evil. When He created the Old Testament laws, the goal was to discourage and punish evil. He judges nations and rulers who disregard justice and pursue evil. Likewise, in the New Testament, God states that it is the government’s responsibility to provide justice in order to protect the innocent from evil (Romans 13). He also promises severe consequences for those who commit evil acts, especially against the "innocent" (Mark 9:36-42).

In summary, we live in a real world where our good and evil actions have direct consequences and indirect consequences upon us and those around us. God’s desire is that for all of our sakes we would obey Him that it might be well with us (Deuteronomy 5:29). Instead, what happens is that we choose our own way, and then we blame God for not doing anything about it. Such is the heart of sinful man. But Jesus came to change men’s hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit, and He does this for those who will turn from evil and call on Him to save them from their sin and its consequences (2 Corinthians 5:17). God does prevent and restrain some acts of evil. This world would be MUCH WORSE were not God restraining evil. At the same time, God has given us the ability to choose good and evil, and when we choose evil, He allows us, and those around us, to suffer the consequences of evil. Rather than blaming God and questioning God on why He does not prevent all evil, we should be about the business of proclaiming the cure for evil and its consequences—Jesus Christ!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Person God Uses

Have you ever wanted to be used by God?

I believe it is a God-given desire to want to serve the Lord. But maybe you've wondered what qualifications the Lord looks for in the life of a man or woman that He would use. In the Book of Joshua, we can find at least seven principles that apply to the person God uses.

Principle one: God uses people who realize they are weak. In Joshua 1, God told Joshua to "be strong and courageous" a total of three times in four verses. Why? It was probably because He knew Joshua was afraid—and understandably so.

Moses was gone. Now God had raised up Joshua to lead the people of Israel, and he hardly felt adequate for the task.

It isn't a bad thing to discover that we are weak. In fact, it is quite good. As Warren Wiersbe has said, "You can never be too small for God to use—only too big."

Principle two: God uses people who are faithful. Joshua had been Moses' helper, or as the New King James Version puts it, "Moses' assistant" (see Joshua 1:1). Joshua was the guy who was there to help Moses get the job done.

He had been born in Egypt and, along with Caleb, would be the only Israelite from the great exodus to survive the wilderness wandering and make it into the Promised Land. Joshua was a faithful man and a worthy successor to Moses.

Principle three: God uses people who study and live by His Word. God told Joshua, "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night . . . " (1:8 NKJV). If you want to be used by God, then you need to know the Word of God. "Meditate in it day and night," God said to Joshua.

The word meditate means, "to ponder, to consider, to contemplate." This is where you will have the authority when you are used by God.

Principle four: God uses the person who is patient and waits on His timing. Imagine wandering around the wilderness for 40 years, and finally you are on the brink of entering the Promised Land. Then God says, "Pass through the camp and command the people, saying, 'Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you will cross over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land . . . ' " (1:11 NKJV).

We need to learn to wait on God's timing, because there is a time and a way to do what God calls us to do.

Principle five: God uses the person who cares about lost souls. There was a lost soul to be saved before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, and her name was Rahab. God would not judge Jericho until Rahab had been reached and told what to do to avoid this judgment that was coming when the Israelites attacked.

God's heart always is to save people. Every soul is precious to Him. God always cares about individuals, and so should we.

Principle six: God uses the person who sets himself or herself apart. Joshua told the people, "Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you" (3:5 NKJV). The word sanctify means, "to set yourself apart, to live a holy life."

It comes down to this: if you want to be used by God, then you will want to live a life that is right before Him. You don't need to be perfect. But you need to be someone who is attempting to live a godly life.

Principle seven: God uses the person who knows how to work with others. A good leader will communicate with and encourage the people with whom he or she works.

That is what Joshua did. He called the people together and encouraged them. They were about to undertake a very difficult task. It was going to take faith. He was saying to the people, "Hear what God is saying to you, and let's move forward."

Joshua was communicating with the people he was leading, and he was encouraging them. If you want to be used by God, then this is what you need to do.

The Bible says, "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him" (2 Chronicles 16:9 NKJV). Will you be that person He can use?

Pastor Greg Laurie

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

But God's love for us never changes.

I’ve known people who appeared to be in an impossible situation. A few years later, however, they were in a terrific place, either in terms of their circumstances or their emotions. The reason? They never gave up. Instead of sulking in self-pity, they chose to believe God, step out in faith, and climb out of the emotional pit. Sometimes nothing can lift our hearts like the love of God. Friends abandon us. Colleagues try to bypass us. Even our families may fail to understand us. But God's love for us never changes.

About 20 years ago I met a girl at my work. She was introduced by my friend. I had a brief conversation with Major Naidu, her Father over the phone. She had some problems with her parents because she is a Rank organization member. Ayn Rand and her organization is well known by most people who are atheists. I remember her last name as Naidu .She was totally carried away by the ideologies she was exposed to. She is an atheist to the core and nobody is going to change that. She carried a book ‘Fountainhead’ and she used to quote from that. So I was not aware of the book, nor ever read any of the books of the Rand Network.I started a conversation with her and with almost more than one hour we were not having any fruitful conversation.

I called my friend who is an excellent counselor and explained the situation to her. She told me to send her and she will talk to her. So she had spent about 5 hours with her. Finally she gave up because Ayn Rand’s worldview is a single track philosophy. They think by reading certain quotes from her books they have achieved something. No one can talk as good as them. Unfortunately they are atheists.You cannot have a fruitful discussion about God. If you want this translated into Ayn Rand's philosophical and simple language, it would read: 1. “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” or “Wishing won’t make it so.” 2. “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.” 3. “Man is an end in himself.” 4. “Give me liberty or give me death.”

If you held these concepts with total consistency, as the base of your convictions, you would have a full philosophical system to guide the course of your life. But to hold them with total consistency—to understand, to define, to prove and to apply them—requires volumes of thought. Which is why philosophy cannot be discussed while standing on one foot—nor while standing on two feet on both sides of every fence. This last is the predominant philosophical position today, particularly in the field of politics.

Even when we act unlovable, God continues to love us. When we are undesirable, He embraces us. When it seems that the world has turned against us, God's love remains. He has promised never to leave us hopeless.

If you have done your job instilling values in your kids in the earlier years, they already know when they’re doing wrong as teenagers. You don’t have to tell them again and again and again. That badgering will wear out your welcome in their increasingly independent life. They are already struggling with feelings of guilt and confusion, so they need a positive, encouraging voice in those teaching moments.

Please note that I’m not saying you should approve of what they’re doing or forsake your role as a parent. What’s right and wrong doesn’t change, and consequences still need to be applied. What I am suggesting is that you maintain your relationship in such times in a way that you will be able to continue to speak truth into their heart and be heard. Start by talking through various options that were available to them, until they can identify for themselves what would have been a better course of action. This process promotes independence and good decision making skills.

Allow Independence to Grow…

It’s common to hear a teen say, “I don’t need you anymore. I can do it on my own.” There’s something in the heart of parents that doesn’t want to hear those words (sometimes delivered in a loud and angry tone), but those are good words. They show a drive for independence that your child will need to launch into life on his own. Now, in reality you and I both know that if you shut off the electricity to his room he’d find out real quick that he does still need you, but don’t let those words drive a wedge between you.

Instead accept those words for what they are and work to find ways to promote independence. Along with their desire to be independent in their decisions, make them responsible for their own daily life, like getting out of bed in the morning, managing their own finances, and getting a job for a few hours a week. This is a great way to show them the responsibility that goes along with being independent. There’s a difference between struggles in the home that occur due to outright rebellion and those due to hormones and the normal growing process. A rebellious teen will end a fight with a slammed door and a feeling of satisfaction. A teen who is trying to process a changing world and find her place in it is more likely to show up with an apology a few minutes later (or at least act apologetic). Full blown rebellion is an intentional rejection of parents and their values—a deeper hatred for the parents and their values–and it’s actually pretty rare.

If we respond to the hard times and struggles our teens are having as if they are rebelling, we run the risk of alienating them and damaging our relationship at the time they need it most. I encourage you to try to get beyond the surface to understand exactly what you’re dealing with…and remember the transfer to independence that’s underway throughout the process.

In Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

Colossians 2:9-10
New International Version

So, of course, do the Bible and Christian tradition. Unlike the heroes of Rand, the Bible rarely portrays its chief characters as relentlessly good. Abraham tried to pass off Sarah as his sister. David committed adultery and murdered his rival. Peter is coward and rock, thoughtful evangelist and impulsive motor mouth. Paul's teaching provides for all time the essential infrastructure of our Christology, but his temper (to take one example) bursts out of his writings with disturbing power. Yet in all of these characters, flawed as they are, we see God at work, correcting them, calling them, drawing them to himself, transforming them. "I want to be like that."

"I forget what is behind" is a statement that assures us Paul was not the type to live in the past. He says, in effect, "I disregard my own accomplishments as well as others' offenses against me. I refuse to dwell on that." This requires humility.

This becomes especially clear when you examine Paul's past. Just look:

Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
(2 Corinthians 11:24–27)

Think of all the people Paul could have included on his "hate list." But he had no such list. With humility, he forgot what was behind him. He intentionally disregarded all those wrongs against him.

In order for us to forget wrongs done against us, God must do the erasing. (See Joseph's example in Genesis 41:51.) Isaiah, the prophet of Judah, puts it in these terms:

"Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your husband is your Maker,
Whose name is the LORD of hosts;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
Who is called the God of all the earth." (Isaiah 54:4–5)

The Lord God promises us we can forget, because He personally will take the place of those painful memories.

To you who have had a shameful youth, to you who have lost your mate, the living Lord will replace those awful memories with Himself. What a great promise! That makes the forgetting possible. Left to ourselves, no way! But with the promise that God will replace the pain with Himself—His presence, His power, His very life—we can "forget what lies behind."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What Is The Sin That “Leads To Death”?

Answered by a good friend in the Lord - Brentriggs on July 10, 2011

A reader asks:

Please explain 1John 5:16-17. What is a “sin that leads to death?” I thought all sin led to death. Can you explain?

All sin does lead to death. That’s clear from Genesis through Revelation. So what is this passage talking about? What is a sin that “does not lead to death?” Let’s take a look….

To start, you need to back up a couple of verses. In verses 14-15, we find John telling us about the certainty of answered prayer IF we ask according to His will. We know His will by learning it from the Bible and being led by the Holy Spirit. We are told in no uncertain terms that IF we pray according to God’s will, then He WILL hear us and WILL grant us what we ask.

We know that this is not a blanket “purchase order” for Christians, because we all know from reality that God does not give us everything we pray for… in fact, most Christians would argue God RARELY gives us what we ask for (which should be a clear indication of some needed introspection).

What could be the obvious reason for not getting what we ask for from God? Answer: we aren’t praying according to His will. For some reason, we either don’t know it, have it wrong, or don’t understand it, but one thing is certain – it isn’t God’s will, or He would give it. That is a clear promise.

Given that background, we move to verses 16-17:

  • 1 John 5:16-17 – If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death. (NKJV)

Remember, you can’t jerk verses off the page and treat them as “stand alone” (known as “prooftexting”). You have to take them in context.

In context, we move from hearing about the certainty of answered prayer – conditional on asking according to God’s will – to a specific example of praying according to God’s will – in this case concerning “a sin leading to death” – and NOT getting your request. That leads us to need to find out “WHY?”

It concerns one specific type of prayer request relating to prayer for someone who has committed “a sin leading to death.”

What kind of sin is that? We aren’t specifically told, but the context and the way it is written make it apparent the passage is talking literally about a sin that will lead to physical death in this life. Sometimes we “spiritualize” Scripture and miss the plain meaning. We think of “leading to death” more of a symbolic way of saying “a sin that keeps you from being saved.” In this verse and context, the more obvious interpretation is that physical death is the meaning.

It is not referring to one specific sin or a certain list of sins but rather the types of premeditated, willful, unconfessed sin that causes God to finally decide to take that person’s life. It is a sin that finally reaches the end of God’s tolerance for reasons known only to God. There are some verses that touch on this:

  • 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 (the sin of sexual immorality in the church) – In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (NKJV)
  • 1 Corinthians 11:30 (irreverence concerning the Lord’s Supper) – For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. (NKJV)
  • Acts 5:5 (lying to God) – Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. (NKJV)

Verses 16 & 17 seem to be saying – keeping verses 14-15 in mind – that “God will give you whatever you ask according to His will but not if you are praying for a sinner whom God has already determined will lose his life because of some sin that has been committed.”

In this case, the intercessory prayer – which is promised to be granted in verses 14-15 – will not be answered… and God is telling us why it won’t be answered so that His promise is not untruthful in verses 14-15. Once God has decided that physical death is inevitable, for reasons only He knows, then prayer on that person’s behalf is no longer effective.

John shows the obvious by contrasting the opposites: there IS a sin leading to death, and there IS NOT a sin leading to death. Since we know all sin leads to spiritual death, and can only be atoned for by the blood of Christ, it becomes obvious that physical death is the meaning in these verses.

We are also indirectly comforted knowing that not all sin (and obviously not most) leads to God’s decision to take away someone’s life. God is patient and merciful. It seems obvious that you really have to push God to get Him to decide that your physical life has been forfeited.

However, we should not ignore or neglect the opposite truth: sometimes a person can sin in such a way that God may choose to end their physical life because of it. Very sobering.

This appears to be true for Christians as well as the unsaved. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is addressing a worldly, struggling church, but still addresses them as true Christians. In 1Cor 11:30 he points out that some of them had died because of taking the Lord’s supper in an “unworthy manner.”

Can we categorically say that they must not have been truly saved? That would be pretty presumptuous – just as presumptuous as assuming the warning and consequences in those verses don’t apply to us today. Something to think about next time you partake of Communion.

In summary, this verse is stating that God will not grant a prayer request when it concerns someone whom God has already judged worthy of physical death because of a particular sin – but this does not invalidate God’s promise to grant us our requests when they are made “according to His will.”

As a secondary lesson, use this lesson as a demonstration of how to interpret the Bible IN CONTEXT. Far too often, Christians attempt to USE and INTERPRET verses as if those verses existed in a vacuum all by themselves. It is the sole reason we have so much confusion and error in Christianity.

Have a great day in the Lord. Feel free to email me if you have questions or comments.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

India hosts more believers now than at any time in its 4,000-year history

In Uttar Pradesh, Dr. M. A. Raju, a Christian neurologist, heads the Mujwa Mission Hospital. Raju is convinced that this most densely populated region of India is the key to its future. His strategy for spreading the gospel is centered on providing quality health care and basic education for the poor. Great work being pioneered in India is yielding fruits. With its people turning to Christ in waves, India hosts more believers now than at any time in its 4,000-year history.

Raju has a deep brown face fringed with an ice-white beard. Born in south India to a family of Christian doctors, Raju trained at Vellore, a well-known Christian hospital. Doubting his childhood faith, Raju spent years searching for a belief system that would sustain him. He pondered the great Hindu epics, practiced yoga, worked a stint with Mother Teresa in Kolkata, and studied Islam. His greatest influence turned out to be Francis Schaeffer, the late Christian author and apologist whom he first read in medical school and later spent a summer with at Schaeffer's retreat in L'Abri, Switzerland.

Raju carried his questions on to Israel, where he worked in a Christian hospital for Arabs. There he met a Scottish nurse who was struck by his kindly way. "He was the first really Christian doctor I had ever met," Rani says with a smile. Raju settled his remaining doubts, married Rani, and moved to England. He became a highly successful neurologist while working on the side to integrate psychology with Christian faith. He offered seminars on pastoral counseling to groups all over the United Kingdom.

He was pulled back to India, first raising money for missions, then becoming involved in planning and strategy. Finally in 1991, he and Rani moved to India with their four English-born children. Seven years ago, he took over Mujwa, a sprawling mission hospital that was about to shut down after a long decline. Raju could not bear to see it lost. "Wherever missionaries have gone, whatever their mistakes, the Holy Spirit is there. It's very difficult to get a beachhead. I didn't want to give it up."

The hospital's buildings were in disrepair, and local hostility was high. Several times fundamentalist mobs invaded the grounds, beating up staff. But Mujwa, while still ramshackle, is on the upswing. The hospital first concentrated its resources on basic medical care for the most poor. Soon, other ministry opportunities popped up. The grounds serve as a training center, preparing hundreds of primary school teachers and church planters, and offering vocational training—for electricians, air conditioning technicians, tailors, dental technicians, and others.

Holistic Model

Today, everything at Mujwa is geared to spiritual, social, medical, and economic transformation. A visit to a nearby village takes me to one of Mujwa's informal primary schools. Traveling on narrow roads through lush fields, we reach an unpaved track that ends at narrow streets snaking between mud houses. On open land next to the village, boys play cricket with handcarved bats. Since this is a school day, their presence indicates how little the village values education.

'Jesus came in a dream and said to me, "Don't worry, I will make your people come up." '— says Tissani, a Dalit teacher. But the government schools are terrible, everyone says. The teachers are often absent and show little interest in students' welfare. Mujwa offers to help villages start a school if they provide a teacher—a villager who has a high-school education and a good reputation.

Mujwa does not seek Christian teachers, because the few who identify as Christians are often alienated from the village. Rather, Mujwa offers two months of teacher training that includes immersion in Christian teaching and worship. Most of the time, they say, teachers begin to follow Christ during their training. The 220 teachers who have stuck to the job get tremendous respect in the village because of their role. And they begin to bring others to Christ.

Such inclusive approaches have met a tremendous spiritual openness. Evangelists saw only a handful of baptisms around Mujwa in the previous generation. They have seen 8,000 in the past five years.(1)

I met Dr. Raju in September of 2007 in Varanasi and found him to be a simple, God fearing, and humble Brother in the Lord. I spent about a week in Mujwa ,Bhadohi and Allahabad. I saw the dedication and the mission orientation of the people who were working there. His strategy for spreading the gospel is centered on providing quality health care and basic education for the poor. May God use him very mightily in the days to come.

It's not the amount of our work that's important, or the status of it, or the notoriety of it. It's the faithfulness with which we do exactly what He has assigned us. Our lives and labors call for perseverance, persistence, patience, and prayer.

If God has assigned our daily tasks, He'll produce an eternal harvest. Don't give up; and don't worry if the work seems small, the costs large, or the results meager. Just be faithful to the will of God--nothing more, nothing less.


(1) India's Grassroots Revival, (pg 4,5) July 7th 2011 ,Christianity Today, by Tim Stafford


Raj Kosaraju