In The News: The Coronavirus

The Coronavirus, specifically COVID-19, has affected nearly all of us in some way.  It has dominated the news in the U.S. and around the world for the last several weeks.  Travel has been restricted.  Schools and universities have postponed classes.  The NBA, NHL, and MLB have cancelled or suspended play.  The same is true with the March Madness basketball tournament, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and other sporting events.  Other events such as SXSW have been cancelled.  Some businesses have closed.  Some cities look like ghost towns.  Shelves in grocery stores are empty, as many hoard in fear of what may happen, while others buy up stock and try to resell at substantial markup.  The Dow Jones Industrial has fallen nearly 30% YTD.  I have never seen anything quite like this.

What I Plan To Do

1.  I plan to continue to trust God. He is ultimately in control.  “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?…  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angel nor principalities nor powers, nor things to come, nor height, nor death, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:28, 35, 38-39).

2.  I plan not to fear. The words “fear not” or “be not afraid” occur frequently in the Bible (KJV: 74 – fear not; 29 – be not afraid).  A Christian does not need to panic or live in fear.  “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).  “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  Yes, the disease is real.  It can kill.  However, the Christian can say, “O Death, where is your sting?  O Hades, Where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55); and even, “to depart and be with Christ… is far better” (Philippians 1:23).

3.  I plan to be prudent. I will wash my hands, frequently.  I will use hand sanitizer, when possible.  I will go less to public places.  “A prudent man foresees evil (danger,. ESV) and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished (suffer for it, ESV)” (Proverbs 22:3; 27:12).  Does this refer to sin, or dangers in life more generally?  Many think the latter.  The ESV Study Bible comments on Proverbs 27:12, “It takes wisdom to distinguish between rightful courage and foolish walking in danger.”  The Mosaic Law set forth sanitation laws [waste disposal (Deut. 23:12-14); bodily discharge (Lev. 15); contact with dead bodies (Lev. 11:24-28, 39-40; Num. 19:11-ff); food and water safety (Lev. 11:34-36; 15:12); isolation of the diseased (Lev. 13-14; Num. 5:1-4); things touched by the diseased (Lev. 15:12)].

4.  I plan to live the Christian life. I plan to live a life which magnifies Christ (Philippians 1:20), and to help others, especially spiritually (Philippians 1:21-24).

Consider the following quotations: (a) Marcus Aurelius (121-180 A.D.) said, “It is not death that man should fear, but he should fear not beginning to live.”  We have one life.  Let us redeem the time (Ephesians 5:15-16; Colossians 4:5).

(b) In 1527, the Bubonic Plague was found in Wittenburg.  Martin Luther said this in a letter to Johann Hess, “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us.  Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it.  I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and this perchance infect and pollute other… If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 43, p. 119-138 from Roy Askin, Read Luther’s Letter About Plague, lcms.org).  This is good advice.

(c) C.S. Lewis wrote, “On Living in an Atomic Age,” in 1948.  “In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb.  ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’  I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railroad accidents, an age of motor accidents.’  In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.  Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways… If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends… not huddled together like frightened sheep thinking about bombs.  They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds” (Matt Smethurst, C.S. Lewis on the Coronavirus, thegospelcoalition.org).  In the words of Tim McGraw, let us live like we are dying.  We will all die of something (unless we happen to be alive when the Lord returns).

5.  I plan to appreciate each moment. There are no assurances of tomorrow (James 4:13-14).

6.  I plan to use changes of normal routine for good. This is an opportunity to spend more time with family.  This is an opportunity to spend more time in prayer and Bible study.  This is an opportunity to passionately urge others to get their lives right with God.  Death is coming to all.

What Should Churches Do?

1.  Should we assemble or not? (a) If you have reason to believe that you are or might be infected, please keep yourself from the church assemblies (Lev. 13-14; Num. 5:1-4).  However, let us know if you need help in your sickness (James 5:14).  (b) If you are elderly, feeble, or compromised immunity, have respiratory problems, or are at high risk of contracting this disease or passing it on to others no one will judge you for staying home for the time being. This is not, in my judgment, forsaking the assembly (Hebrews 10:25)  (c) Some churches have modified their numbers of meetings each week.  Some have cancelled services altogether.  There are no plans to do so where I preach at this time.  I plan to continue to be there as long as I am healthy and meet with other saints who desire to assemble (though we may be few in number).  Jesus died for me.  I want to honor him.  The early church members, at times, met in peril of life.  Some still do in various places today.  I have met them.  I will not stay away simply because I might get sick.  I don’t stay away each flu season.  However, I am speaking as a healthy person with a strong immune system, and with no highly vulnerable person in my home (not all are in this situation).

2.  Let us care for those in need. Some will need help.  For example – an elderly person, wanting to avoid public places, may need help getting groceries.  Some may need financial help.  This will hit some very hard.  Let us be helpful, when and where we can (Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 2:44-45; 4:32; 6:1-7; Galatians 2:10; 6:10; 1 John 3:16-18).

3.  Let us have more daily contact, especially with those who cannot attend. Let us make phone calls, send texts, and emails even if personal visits are ill advised.  Let us “exhort one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13).

Priorities

Oh how I wished that people cared as much for the eternal as they do the temporal.  The Coronavirus will infect a certain percentage of humanity, and it will kill a much smaller percentage of humanity.  People are concerned.  People want to be tested.  Let me tell you about another disease.  This disease has infect nearly 100% of the human population since Adam and Eve.  It will kill the vast majority of those infected.  I am talking about sin (Romans 3:23; 6:23).  [No, one does not catch this disease from others as one does the flu and the Coronavirus.  I am simply using the term infection accommodative.]   However, how many even want to test themselves to see if they are infected?  Many do not have enough concern to soberly examine themselves from the scriptures.  Many will not agree to a Bible study.  Some postpone such for a more convenient season.  There is a remedy for this disease.  However, how many feel any need for urgency?  Many feel no sense of urgency to accept the remedy.  Even though, they may know that they are in sin.  They may plan to respond one day, but not today.  Yet, this disease is not just deadly; it has eternal consequences!

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What Does It Mean?

Most Bible students want to have a clear answer to the meaning of every detail in the Bible.  Many feel compelled to supply an answer, even when the Bible does not provide one.  Let’s look at some examples.

  1. The burning bush. “So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed.  Then Moses said, ‘I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn’” (Exodus 3:1-2).  What is the significance of the burning bush that was not consumed?  Many suggest that it is symbolic of Israel oppressed in Egypt, but not consumed.  All I can say is “perhaps.”  Perhaps this is a symbol of Israel.  Or, perhaps it is simply God’s way of gaining the attention of Moses.
  2. Blood on the doorposts and on the lintel.  “And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin.  And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning.  For the LORD… when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you” (Exodus 12:22-23).  What is the significance of the lintel and the doorposts?  A recent suggestion is that they were to cover their names, which were written on the lintel and on the doorposts, in blood.  It seems that the Egyptians believed that the way to eternal life included: (a) Preserving the body  (Therefore, they practiced mummification), and  (b) Preserving the name [Therefore, they constructed the doorway in stone and etched their names into it. Israelites may have adopted the custom of etching their names in the lintel and doorposts of their houses.  L.S. Baker Jr. suggests, “When God required the Israelites to paint the blood they collected from the Passover lamb on the doorposts and lintels, he was asking them to cover their names with the blood of the lamb.  By doing this, they were taught the rudiments of salvation.  Their names on stone did not ensure life in the hereafter.  Only the blood of the lamb could do that” (Ministry International Journal for Pastors, Sept. 2009)].  All I can say is “perhaps.”  Perhaps they had adopted this custom and God is teaching them a lesson.  Or, perhaps this is simply God’s condition.  Perhaps, the blood of the lintel and the doorposts simply covered the inhabitants of the house, all who were found within the entry of the house.
  3. Moses’ raised hands. “And so it was when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.  But Moses’ hand became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it.  And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side…” (Exodus 17:11-12).  What is the significance of raising the hands? Some Christians have suggested that this pictures Jesus’ hands later being stretched out on the cross. Is this reason? It seems more like eisegesis than exegesis. Some Jews have another explanation. The Tamud reads, “The text implies that whenever the Israelites looked up and dedicated their hearts to the Father in heaven, they prevailed, but otherwise they fell” (Dennis Prager, The Rational Bible: Exodus, p. 192 quoting Talmud Mishnah Rosh Hashana 3:8).  Was this designed to teach a lesson about dedicated hearts?  Such seems a stretch.  Could this be teaching that victory is from above and not from Israelite might on the earth?  I believe that this is the point.
  4. Boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk. “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19).  Why was this law given to Israel?  Some suggest that it was given because of an idolatrous practice. Maybe, it is so. Some believe that it was given because the practice showed disrespect for the parent-child relationship.  Many other explanations have been set forth.  Someone wisely said, “The truth is that we do not know for sure why God commanded this.  But it does not really matter, since the Israelites knew exactly what they were not to do, even if they did not fully understand why.  So while there is a problem in understanding the purpose of this passage, there is no problem in understanding its meaning” (Exodus 23:19, defendinginerrancy.com).
  5. The use of spit and clay.  “He spat and touched his tongue” (Mark 7:33).  “And when He had spit on his eyes…” (Mark 8:23).  “He spat on the ground and made saliva, and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with clay” (John 9:6).  Why did Jesus use spit and clay to heal?  It was not necessary.  He healed in other ways, and sometimes from a distance (Matthew 8:8-13; 15:28; Mark 1:31; 2:11; 3:5; 5:41-42; 7:29-30; Luke 17:11-14; John 2:6-11; etc.).  Some believe that the spit and clay are reminders of creation.  God formed man out of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7).  He is the potter (cf. Jeremiah 18).  Even so, Jesus’ works demonstrate that He is doing the works of God (cf. John 3:1-2).  What about the spit without clay?  Some suggest that saliva was thought to have healing properties.  Therefore, Jesus takes something that they did, and did something far beyond what they had ever seen [much like the use of oil (Luke 10:34 cf. Mark 6:12-13)].  Others believe that this is teaching humility.  Spitting on one was an insult (Numbers 12:14; Deuteronomy 29:5; Job 17:6; 30:10; Isaiah 50:6).  He was teaching that one must be humble enough to accept His conditions to receiving the benefit.  All that I can say to these suggestions is “perhaps.”  It is true that man must be humble enough to submit to His conditions for the benefit (cf. 2 Kings 5:9-14; John 9:6-7; Acts 2:36-38).
  6. Jesus’ writing on the ground. “But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear them” (John 8:6).  What did Jesus write?  The text does not say.  Some have suggested that He wrote Jeremiah 17:13, which reads, “Those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.”  Jesus said merely a day earlier, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37 cf. 8:2).  Some believe that He actually wrote their names on the ground. This is an interesting suggestion. Some have suggested that He wrote the words of Hosea 4:13-14, showing their hypocrisy.  All I can say is “perhaps.”  Or, perhaps He was simply doodling, ignoring them.

My point is this: we may not always know why things were done, in the Bible, as they were done. We may not always know why we are to do certain things, or why God chooses to do things a certain way. However, we should trust Him enough to do what He tells us.  The blind man did not receive his sight until He complied with Jesus’ conditions for sight (John 9:1-7).  Naaman was not cleansed of leprosy until he complied with the instructions of Elisha, a prophet of God (2 Kings 5:9- 14) .  Consider the words of the familiar song, Trust and Obey, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey” (song: Trust and Obey by J.H. Sammis).

 

 

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In the News: The Old Asked to Leave

KXXV (ABC) Waco recently ran the following story: “Cottage Grove, Minn. – A struggling Minnesota church is asking its older parishioners to leave in hopes of making it more attractive to young families.

Grove United Methodist Church in the St. Paul suburb of Cottage Grove is closing in June, with plans to relaunch in November.  The present members, most of them over 60 years old, will be invited to worship elsewhere, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. The church is asking that they stay away for two years, then consult the pastor about reapplying.

‘I pray for this church, getting through this age discrimination thing,’ William Gackstetter said at church on a recent Sunday as the gray-haired heads around him nodded in agreement.

But church officials said the congregation needs a reset and the best way is to appeal to young people…

According to reports, the church is struggling with finances and membership.  The church switched to lay ministry 7 years ago due to membership.

This means that the sermons are done by church members weekly.

They have a weekly attendance of 25.” (Struggling Minnesota Church Asks Older Members to go Away, January 22, 2020, KXXV.com).

The A.P. originally ran this story on January 20.  However, they have now issued this correction.  “The Associated Press, relying on information from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, erroneously reported that the church was asking older congregants to leave in hopes of becoming more attractive to younger families.  The church, which also has a campus in nearby Woodbury, has asked current members to wait 15 to 18 months after the Cottage Grove campus re-launches before returning to worship there, but it didn’t single out older members in that request” (Associated Press Correction: Struggling Church Story, KTTC.com).

They are asking all to leave.  Most of whom are older members.  The aim is to attract younger families.

“While older members will not be physically barred from attending, the expectation is that they will not.  ‘We are asking them to let this happen’ (Lead Pastor) Wetterstrom said.  ‘For this to be truly new, we can’t have the core group of 30 people’” (Minn. church says it never asked older members to leave, by Ed Payne, January 23, 2020, fox19.com).

Here are my thoughts:

  1. If young families will not worship with older members, the problem is with them, not the older members. The church should be for all ages.  The young evangelist, Timothy was taught to treat church members as family.  The older men and women were to be treated as fathers and mothers; and the younger men and women were to be treated as brothers and sisters (1 Timothy 5:1-2).  The young evangelist, Titus was to speak to older men and women, and younger men and women (Titus 2:1-8).  Youth should not be despised (1 Timothy 4:12, cf. 1 Corinthians 16:10-11; Titus 2:15), but neither should those who are older.
  2. It can actually be an enriching experience to have Christian interaction with those of other ages. The older members may have a great deal of wisdom and experience to share.  Older women are to “admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed” (Titus 2:3-4).  The younger members may have energy and physical abilities that the older members may no longer possess.  All are needed and should be able to work together and compliment one another in doing the work of the church, to the glory of God.
  3. The church should welcome those from different demographic backgrounds. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28; cf. Colossians 3:11).
  4. Man, many times, tries to shape the church to his own liking.  Some want only those of a certain race to attend.  Some want only those of a certain socio-economic standing to attend.  Some want only country people to attend.  While others want only city people to attend.  Some cease to evangelize after the church reaches a certain number, because they are only comfortable in a church of a certain size. For some, personal preference is king. The question is: What does Jesus want? It is, after all, His church. He is king. It is not about what we may selfishly want.  It is about service.  May we get busy serving God, and serving one another.
  5. The attraction of youth and numbers is not the most important thing. It is more important to honor Him, by doing things according to His revealed will.  Their reset may, or may not, work numerically.  However, it is not according to His revealed will.  If a church stays small, or even dies out serving Him, it is sad.  However, it does not need to be viewed as defeat for the faithful. Paul said, “For what is our hope, or joy or crown of rejoicing?  Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19).  Let us, in this life, continue to “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).  The aim should be, “Whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).
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Do We Have Absolute Truth?

We do not know all things.  In the physical realm, not all has been discovered (Proverbs 25:2 cf. Job 38 – 42).  In the spiritual realm, not all has been revealed.  We do not know when the Lord will return (Matthew 24:36, 42, 44; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 cf. Matthew 24:42-44).  We do not fully know the nature of our existence to come (1 John 3:1-2 cf. Philippians 3:20-21).  There are secret things.  Moses told Israel, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and our children forever…”  (Deuteronomy 29:29).  God is all-knowing (Psalm 139:1-4; Isaiah 40:13-14; 46:9-10; Matthew 12:36), not man (Psalm 139:6; Isaiah 55:8-9; 1 Corinthians 1:25; 1 John 3:20).

However, we can know what God has revealed to man.  Consider: (1) Moses told Israel, “…Those things which are revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29).  Moses implied that they could understand God’s revealed will sufficiently enough to do it.  (2) It is written of Ezra, “Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).  Ezra believed that he could understand the law well enough to do it, and to teach it.  (3) Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).  God’s word is truth (John 17:17).  It is knowable.  It provides the answer to man’s sin problem (John 8:32 cf. 8:34).   (4) Paul wrote to the saints at Ephesus, “…when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4).  He believed that his writings could be understood.  (5) Peter wrote to some saying, “You have purified your soul in obeying the truth…” (1 Peter 1:22).  They had been able to understand it well enough to obey it.  (6) Peter exhorted brethren to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).  This growth comes by feeding on the word (1 Peter 2:2).

Does it take exceptional intelligence or education to understand, at least on some basic level, God’s Word?  I do not believe that it does.  (1) God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).  Does He desire the impossible?  (2) The gospel was (is) to be preached to “every creature” (Mark 16:15).  This does not sound like the message was intended for only those who are Mensa members (an organization open for those in the top 2% of I.Q.’s).  This does not sound like it was intended for only those with D.D.s, Th.D.s, or Ph.D.s.  (3) Mark wrote of those who listened to Jesus, “And the common people heard Him gladly” (Mark 12:37).  Vincent’s Word Studies comments on “the common people” saying, “Not indicating a social distinction, but the great mass of people: the crowd at large” (studylight.org).  (4) Moses instructed Israel, “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).  Why teach it, if their children were not capable of understanding it, on any level?  (5) Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation…” (2 Timothy 3:15).  Timothy understood, at least some things from scripture; and he did so from childhood.

A couple of things are needed.  (1) It takes will or desire.  One needs a will to do His will (John 7:17).  One needs to hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).  One needs to desire God’s word (1 Peter 2:2; Psalm 1:1-2; 19:7-11).  (2) It takes effort (Proverbs 2:1-5).  It takes diligent work (2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Peter 1:5-8).  The wise spend time thinking about God’s word (Psalm 1:1-2; 119:97-100, 147-148).

I have known those whose Biblical knowledge grew rapidly; and, I have known of those whose Biblical knowledge did not grow, or grew little.  A new convert, with little familiarity with the Bible at the time of conversion, becomes well-studied and knowledgeable in only a few years.  Another, with a similar starting place, shows no or little growth decades later.  What is the difference?  Many times the answer lies in desire and effort.

While I believe that it is possible to understand God’s revealed will, this does not mean that all will.  (1) Some are untaught or ignorant of God’s word (2 Peter 3:16).  They do not invest the time and effort (Proverbs 2:1-5).  Are we?  (2) Some are unstable (2 Peter 3:16 cf. 2:14).  They are not grounded firmly enough to withstand false teaching.  Are we?  (3) Some desire things to be a certain way (Isaiah 30:10; Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11; John 3:19; 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12; 2 Timothy 3:6; 4:3; 2 Peter 2:18).  One should approach God’s word asking, “What does this mean?” not “What do I want it to mean?”  Do we?  Let us examine ourselves

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Does Truth Reveal One Plan of Salvation?

What is truth?  It is reality.  The New Testament declares that God’s word is truth (John 17:17; Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5-6).  God’s word declares spiritual reality.  This is what the New Testament declares.

According to the New Testament, each accountable person, living in this age, must do the following things to be saved and make it heaven.  One must: (1) Hear God’s word (Mark 16:15-16 cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Acts 18:8; Romans 10:17).  (2) Believe the message (John 8:23-24; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 18:8).  (3) Repent of sins (Luke 24:46-47; Acts 2:36-38; 3:19).  (4) Confess belief in Jesus (Acts 8:36-38; Romans 10:9-10).  (5) Be baptized for the remission of sins (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38 cf. 3:19; 22:16).  (6) Live faithfully (Romans 8:5-6; Galatians 6:7-9; Colossians 1:21-23; 1 John 1:7-9; Revelation 2:10).  This is what I believe that the New Testament teaches.  It is either propositionally true or false.  The New Testament either teaches these points or it does not.  There is no middle ground.  “To hold that the Bible is ‘propositional’ is to say that the explicit statements of the Bible affirm that something either is or is not the case.  The reality of this contention is self-evident.  One need only open the Bible and point to any statement to see that this is the case.  If the Bible does not consist of propositional truth, then it says nothing to anyone at all” (Dave Miller, Piloting the Strait, p. 131).

No Firm Stand

Some among us seem to have an aversion to taking a firm stand on these issues.  Here are some possible reasons.  (1) Sometimes it may be that they want to be “politically correct” and not offend (John 12:42-43 cf. Galatians 4:16; Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).  One might say, “This is what I believe for my life.  You follow what you think is best for your life.  Who can be sure?”  This mindset thwarts evangelism.

(2) Sometimes it may be that they feel inadequate to defend their position.  One might reason, “If I take a firm stand, then I may be called on to defend my position.  Therefore, I will openly take no firm stand.”  Few people want controversy.  However, in matters of salvation, “Is there not a cause?” (1 Samuel 17:29).  One needs to prepare himself to defend the truth (Jude 3; 1 Peter 3:15; Philippians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 9:16; 2 Corinthians 5:11; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15).  If one does not know how to defend the truth, then one should recruit another to help him.  The body of Christ should work together (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:14-30; 1 Corinthians 3:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Exodus 17:8-13).

(3) Sometimes it may be that they feel intimidated by scholarship and important men.  One might reason, “Man A teaches X.  Man B teaches not X.  Man A and Man B are both intelligent, well studied men.  Therefore, how can I decide?”  Our salvation deserves greater mental effort than this.  The Bible instructs, “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  Thomas Warren commented on this verse saying, “This means in regard to religious doctrine which one encounters, one is under the solemn obligation to put the doctrine to the appropriate test.  The appropriate test for religious doctrine is to determine whether it is taught by the Bible” (Warren, Logic and the Bible, p. 87).  “One must study the Bible for himself (Acts 17:11).  One must correctly handle the evidence which he gathers by drawing only such conclusions as are logically warranted by the evidence which is relevant to the matter” (Warren, p. 126).

(4) Sometimes it may be that they do not believe that enough information has been given to draw a conclusion.  This may be true for somethings [e.g. Did Lot journey to Egypt at the same time as Abram? (Genesis 12:4-5, 10; 13:1).  Likely, he did; but such cannot be known with certainty from the text.  Did Joseph, husband of Mary, die before Jesus’ ministry began?  He is not seen in scripture after Jesus was a youth (Luke 2:42-52).  Moreover, Jesus, on the cross, seems to entrust the care of his mother to John (John 19:26-27).  However, we do not know from scripture exactly when Joseph died].  However, salvation issues are another matter (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:2-4; Acts 20:32).  Do you think God left us without sufficient information to know what to do to be saved?

(5) Sometimes it may be that they do not want to believe that so many of their neighbors, coworkers, colleagues, friends and family are lost.  But, wishful thinking does not change things.  The Bible warns that few will be saved (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24 cf. 1 Peter 3:20-21; 1 Corinthians 10:1-12).  Moreover, there is a law in logic known as The Law of Excluded Middle.  It states, “Every precisely stated proposition is either true or false” (Warren, p. 44).  The Bible either teaches that the six earlier mentioned points are necessary for salvation or it does not.  There is no middle ground.  Instead of refusing to believe what the Bible teaches, let us busy ourselves in an effort to save souls (Acts 8:4; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 2:9).

(6) Sometimes it may be that they misunderstand God’s relationship to His word.  Some have offered hope to family members, upon the death of one outside of Christ.  They might say, “I know what the Bible says, but who knows if God might extend clemency in the end” (See Mac Deaver, Faith and Knowledge, p. 21).  This implies that one cannot fully trust what the word of God says.  Mac Deaver has written, “God is above law in the sense that (1) he can change the law or cancel law when the doing of such does not causes God to in any way incriminate himself (he took the law of Moses out of the way, Colossians 2:14), but God is not above his own law in the sense that (2) he can fail to uphold the integrity of that law (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2 cf. 2 Timothy 2:13).  If God’s law says that a certain group of people will be lost, nothing can prevent that from occurring… I do not claim to know how much this notion of special clemency has affected the church over the years, but the sad fact is that it has been taught for quite some time and no doubt has contributed to a weakened position on the part of some regarding their attitude toward those who die in sin” (Deaver, p. 22).

Arrogant?

Is it arrogant to claim that this is God’s plan of salvation as revealed in the Bible?  Absolutely not.  First, one cannot obey this plan of salvation without acknowledging that he is in sin and lost.  It requires humility.  Second, anyone can obey this plan of salvation (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47; Romans 1:16; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).  All men stand on level ground at the foot of the cross.  There is no place for arrogance (Galatians 6:14; Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Timothy 1:15-16).

 

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Serving Only When it is Convenient

What would happen if the man-in-need scenario from the parable of the Good Samaritan were recreated?  How many would stop to help?

John Darley and Daniel Batson, two Princeton University psychologists, conducted a study, in the early 1970’s.  Princeton Theological Seminary students were individually approached.  The students were asked “to prepare a short, extemporaneous talk on a given biblical theme, then walk over to a nearby building and present it.  Along the way to the presentation, each student ran into a man slumped in an alley, head down, eyes closed, coughing and groaning” (Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point, p. 164).  Who would stop to help?

Three variables were included in the experiment.  “First, before the experiment even started, they gave the students a questionnaire about why they had chosen to study theology… Then, they varied the subject of the theme the students were to talk about.  Some were asked to speak on the relevance of the professional clergy to the religious vocation.  Others were given the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Finally, the instructions given by the experimenters to each student varied as well.  In some of the cases, as he sent the students on their way, the experimenter would look at his watch and say, ‘Oh, you’re late.  They were expecting you a few minutes ago.  We’d better get moving.’  In other cases, he would say, ‘it will be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head over now.’” (Gladwell, pp. 164-165).

Malcolm Gladwell explains the finding of the study, “If you ask people to predict which seminarians played the Good Samaritan (and subsequent studies have done just this) their answers are highly consistent. They almost all say that the students who entered the ministry to help people and those reminded of the importance of compassion by having just read the parable of the Good Samaritan will be the most likely to stop… In fact, neither of those factors made any difference.  ‘It is hard to think of a context in which norms concerning helping those in distress are more salient than for a person thinking about the Good Samaritan, and yet it did not significantly increase helping behavior,’ Darley and Batson concluded.  ‘Indeed, on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way.’  The only thing that really mattered was whether the student was in a rush.  Of the group that was, 10 percent stopped to help.  Of the group who knew they had a few minutes to spare, 63 percent stopped.  What this study is suggesting, in other words, is that the convictions of your heart and the actual contents of your thoughts are less important, in the end, in guiding your actions than the immediate context of your behavior” (Gladwell, p. 165).

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. May we not live so hurried in our lives, that we do not take time for real urgent needs. There are physical needs that deserve immediate attention (Luke 10:25-37).  There are spiritual needs that deserve quick attention (Luke 15:1-7).
  2. May we have the wisdom to have the proper understanding of priorities. Consider these Bible teachings: (a) Mercy over sacrifice (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:9-13; 12:1-8); (b) People over animals and Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17; 14:1-6 cf. 12:24); (c) Care of family over religious giving (Matthew 15:4-6); (d) Care for family, brethren, and then others (1 Timothy 5:4, 8, 16; Galatians 6:10); (e) Love is owed to others (Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Galatians 5:14); (f) Love of God comes first (Matthew 22:34-40); (g) Obedience to God over man (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29).  It is not unusual for men to have difficulties with priorities.  Some would pass by one needing immediate help, after being hit by a car and left for dead, because they have to make it to Bible class.  Some would give away their last dime to a stranger leaving their family in a bind.  Some would make one wait until after the sermon to be baptized, even though the person made clear they were ready before the sermon or worship assembly started.  It is important that we understand Biblical priorities.
  3. May we do good to others as we have opportunity (Galatians 6:10). We are the salt and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-14).  We are to live for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31; Philippians 1:20; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:11-12).
  4. May we remember what Paul instructed Titus. He told him that God’s people are to be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).  Again, “Remind them… to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1).  Again, “I want you to affirm constantly, that those who believe in God, should be careful to maintain good works.  These things are good and profitable to men” (Titus 3:8).  Finally, he said, “And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they be not unfruitful” (Titus 3:14).  Four times in the last seventeen verses of the book of Titus, Paul emphasized the need for a lifestyle characterized by good works.
  5. May we be doers of the word. May we be doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22).  May we be doers of the word and not preachers only (Romans 2:1-3, 17-24).  God wants us to not only listen to His word, He wants us to live it.  God wants us not only to preach His word, He wants us to practice it. May we seek to imitate the Savior.  Jesus was no less busy than any of us.  Yet, He always seems to have had time for others in need (e.g. Luke 17:11-19; 18:35-43).  He “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38).  He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).  Doing good opened up opportunities to reach the lost.  When we go about doing good, we too may have opportunities open up to reach the lost.

What will you do the next time you encounter an urgent need?

 

 

 

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Eastern Religions: Shintoism and the Unification Church

These two religions are from the far east.  Shintoism is from Japan.  The Unification church (Moonies) is from Korea.

Shintoism

There are about 150 million followers of this religion in the world.  Most are in Japan (Shintoism, Number of Followers, Shintoreligionuk.weebly.com).

The origin of the religion is not known.  The name Shinto began to be used after Buddhism was introduced into the country in the 6th century A.D., to distinguish traditional religion from Buddhism.  Shinto means “the way of the gods.”

Shintoism is a religion of ancestry worship.  “’Shinto gods’ are called Kami.  They are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility.  Humans become Kami after they die and are revered by their families as ancestral Kami.  The Kami of extraordinary people are even enshrined at some shrines” (Shinto, japan-guide.com).

In time past, those who believed in Shintoism believed that they were a special people.  In Shinto tradition, the Japanese islands were created by two Kami, Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikodo (Shinto, religioustolerance.org).  Her rulers were thought to have descended from the sun-goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, who was also the offspring of the two previously mentioned Kami (ibid).  Furthermore, Japan was thought to be protected by Kami.  The Mongols twice tried to invade Japan in the 13th century.   Both were unsuccessful.  Typhoons destroyed the invaders ships, and forced retreat.  “The Kamikaze, or ‘divine wind,’ that destroyed the invading host gave the Japanese the belief that they were a divinely protected people” (Encyclopedia Brittanica, Vol. 10, p. 65 © 1979).

Some of these beliefs were shattered by World War II.  The Emperor, Hirohito, made this statement on January 01, 1946, “The ties between us and our people have always stood upon mutual trust and affection.  They do not depend upon mere legends and myths.  They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine, and that the Japanese people are superior to other races and fated to rule the world” (Humanity Declaration, Wikipedia.org).  Religion and government were separated.

There is no developed moral teaching in Shintoism.  “It is a striking fact that the religion of Shinto provided no moral code.  It depends solely upon the promptings of conscience for ethical guidance” (Shintoism and the Japanese nation; jstar.org).  Many Shintoists blend Confucian or Buddhist ethics with their Shinto beliefs.

The Unification Church

The numbers are uncertain.  The Washington Post said this in 2012, “Scholars estimate that there are now 100,000 Unificationists worldwide and a few thousand in the U.S., far fewer than the multi-million membership the church claims” (Unification Church Founder, Sun Myung Moon dies at 92 by Daniel Burke, washingtonpost.com).

The origin of this church is known.  It started in the year 1954.  The location was South Korea.  The founder was Sun Myung Moon.

What is known of Moon?  He was born in 1920, in what is today North Korea.  He was raised in the Presbyterian Church.  He claimed, that at age 16, Jesus appeared to him in a vision asking him to finish His unfinished work.

What was left unfinished according to Moon?  “Although Jesus was able to create the conditions necessary for humanity’s spiritual salvation, he did not marry and thus, according to Moon, did not complete God’s plan… Having married and raised the ‘ideal’ family, Moon called on members of the church to follow his example and thereby participate in God’s plan for restoration” (Unification Church, brittanica.com).  “The unification movement… believes that God’s original intent was for Jesus to form a perfect marriage in order to redeem humanity… Because Jesus (the second Adam) was executed before accomplishing his mission, a ‘third Adam’ was needed to form this perfect marriage and complete Jesus’ task… the perfect man would marry the perfect woman and become the ‘true spiritual parents of human kind.’  Members of the Unification church regard Moon and his second wife, Hak Jan Han, as their ‘true parents… This emphasis or marriage is the reason for Moon’s famous mass weddings… Couples are ‘removed from the lineage of sinful humanity and engrafted into God’s sinless lineage’” (9 Things You Should Know About the Unification Church by Joe Carter, thegospelcoalition.org).  According to them there were two falls in Genesis.  A spiritual fall occurred when Eve had sex with Lucifer.  A physical fall occurred when Eve then had sex with Adam.  Jesus supposedly provided the remedy for the first fall and Moon the remedy for the second, so that God’s kingdom may appear on Earth (McDowell & Steward, Handbook of Today’s Religions; britannica.com).

Accusations have existed.  Moon was twice imprisoned by communist forces.  Supporters claim that he was persecuted for his faith.  Critics claim it was for capitalistic pursuits and bigamy.  In 1955, Moon was arrested by South Korean authorities and charged with draft evasion and sexual promiscuity.  The charges were dropped.  There were reports of Moon purifying female members by sexual intercourse with himself.  Moon was convicted in the U.S. of tax fraud in 1982.  He was given an 18 month sentence.  He served 13 months of the sentence.  Supporters believe that this was religious persecution (Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, p. 338-ff).

Here is an interesting note.  The Washington Times was founded by Sun Myung Moon in 1982.

Thoughts

  1. The Bible teaches that truth is not subjective (Proverbs 16:2; 16:25). Jeremiah wrote, “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).
  2. Jesus finished His work that He came to do (John 19:30 cf. John 5:36; 17:4). Where does the Bible hint that Jesus was supposed to marry and bring into existence the model family?  The Law, nor the Prophets, nor the Psalms mention this (Luke 24:44).

    

 

 

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