Friday, April 27, 2007

In The End Faith Is What Matters

In the Movie "Secret Garden" a boy is kept hidden because he is allegedly very sick. The Doctors say his legs are too weak to walk. The boy believes the Doctors. A girl visiting finds him. She challenges the boy, by telling him, "You do look sick, but it is nothing a little sunshine and good food will not help. And your legs could walk if you exercised them." The boy refuses to listen to the girl. However the girl eventually, convinces him to try to walk. The boy, of course struggles to walk a few steps; convincing the boy that he could walk. The girl saw beyond what the Doctor's saw. She followed her conviction that the boys body that was atrophied because of disuse. She saw a body that worked fine, but that the owner had refused to make work. However, in the end it boiled down to the boy believing that he could walk. The girl could have given him evidence and proof that he could indeed walk, but unless the boy believed he could he would have never walked.

Faith is at times defined as belief. All the proof and evidence in the world – whether internal or external - cannot replace faith. It is by faith that the just lives (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11). It is by faith that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8). Hebrews 11:6 says that, "… without faith it is impossible to please him." In John 14:8, 9 Phillip asked Jesus for evidence, Jesus in essence answered "I am your evidence." In Matthew 12:38-40 some Scribes asked Jesus for a sign, Jesus replied similarly. Jesus did not believe that evidence would be effective in making people believe, unless they chose to exercise the Faith given to them.

Let us consider what it says in Hebrews 11:1- 3,

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.
Hebrews 11:3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

This statement was true in Paul's day, is true in our day, and in the day before the Bible text was first written. Verse 3 says that our understanding of the world we live in comes through Faith not evidence from history, archeology, social or physical sciences. Trying to prove that the written narrative of the bible is reliable has its place, however how do you explain that from fallen Adam all the way to the writing of the Pentateuch, those who believed did so without a written narrative of the history of redemption. This is not to say that the Bible is not necessary. It is, however, important to say that the Bible is an instrument in God and men's hand to lead men closer to God. The Bible informs us of how we are saved in Jesus, the Word of God incarnate. In the end, you must believe that what the written Word says is true. Romans 10:17 says it clearly, " So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." The Bible is perhaps the most important way to hear the Word of God. However, without Faith the Bible is nothing more than a collection of interesting stories that paints a historical picture of how things were more than 2000 years ago. Let us read Hebrews 11:4:

Hebrews 11:4 By faith [and without the benefit of a Bible] Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

The same is the case of Noah, Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses (Hebrews 11: 7-11, 22-24.) This is the case even with those mentioned in Hebrews that had the benefit of Written Scripture, such as: "Gedeon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets" (Hebrews 11:32.) Were these latter ones better off because of the Written Scripture? They believed by Faith that what we know today as the Bible is the Written Word of God, without the internal or external proofs we have today. It is by Faith that we please God and are saved. Nothing can replace Faith effectively.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

FAQ’s of Prophecy

FAQ is an abbreviation for "Frequently Asked Question(s)". The term refers to listed questions and answers, all supposed to be frequently asked in some context, and pertaining to a particular topic. Depending on usage, the term may refer specifically to a single frequently-asked question, or to an assembled list of many questions and their answers. Originally the term FAQ referred to the Frequently Asked Question itself and the compilation of questions and answers was known as a FAQ list or some similar expression. Today "FAQ" is more frequently used to refer to the list, and a text consisting of questions and their answers is often called a FAQ regardless of whether the questions are actually frequently asked (if asked at all). This is done to capitalize on the fact that the concept of a FAQ has become fairly familiar online - documents of this kind are sometimes called FAAQs (Frequently Asked and Anticipated Questions). I thought that in this commentary we will tackle the have frequently asked questions about prophecy.

Q. What is a prophet?
A. In the Biblical Hebrew, the noun used for prophet is nabi. Nabi means a spokesperson or person authorized to speak for another. Another word used in the Bible is seer. A prophet is an ordinary person that has been gifted with a gift to hear or see things others cannot see.

Q. What is the job of a prophet?
A. Again from the Hebrew, the verb naba, which means to prophesy.

Q. What exactly is prophesying?
A. To communicate – normally orally or written - what is heard or seen.

Q. Who does the prophet represent or speaks for?
A. In the context of our discussion, the prophet represents and speaks for God. All prophets speak for their god. True prophets speak for the Living God.

Q. Who chooses the prophet?
A. God himself chooses them. He calls them. (Isaiah 6: 1- 8; Jeremiah 1: 1 – 9; Moses in Exodus 3)

Q. Are prophets different than regular human beings?
A. Not in nature. They are sinners, just like any other. They are different than other human beings in their willingness to serve God. This does not make them special. Serving God is a choice any human being can make. This does not mean that all that choose to serve will be prophets. That is God’s prerogative. We read about the distribution of gifs in 1 Corinthians 12: 11 - But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

Q. Are the words of the prophet the Word of God?
A. Only when he is prophesying. Normally, as a spokesperson, the prophet speaks in his own language and style. However, the essence and principle of what he says is from God. There are times when God may tell the prophet to say things exactly as instructed. This again is God’s prerogative.

Q. How do you know the words of the prophet are indeed from God?
A. Many quote the verse that the prophecy must happen. However, this was not true for Jonah. Even so, God’s purpose was accomplished. God does not delight in the killing of people. We read in Luke 15:7 “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” A better text is Isaiah 8:20, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

Q. Is prophecy always about the future?
A. Often it is. However, you will find that all foretelling prophecy ends up pointing to Jesus and the different phases of the plan of salvation. These prophecies are meant to encourage as well as to educate those live by Faith. Most prophecy is to reveal and rebuke Sin. It is to bring people to repentance and back to God.

Q. Are there any prophets in our day?
A. As the lesson says, the fact that Jesus warned about false prophets lets us conclude that they are true ones also. Another fact is what it is written in Joel 2 about the last days,

Joel 2 : 28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

We are in the last days, are we not?

Q. What happens if I reject the prophet and/or what the prophet is saying?
A. You reject God. Rejecting God has its consequences. Rejecting the prophet and or what the prophet says will result in the same consequences.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Go Ask The One Who Wrote It

A man writes a note expressing his views on a certain subject. He sends this note to some of the people he knows. He wanted their opinion and their input. The people that received it read the note, and afterwards they started to discuss the content of the note. Many thought he meant one thing, while others thought he meant another. Days passed by and no one got back to the author of the note, but they continued to argue amongst themselves over what they thought the writer meant on the note. Finally, they gave the note to a man known for his practical wisdom. He read the note as the people waited in expectation of what the reader would say. The reader nodded when he finished reading. The people asked him, “Well, what do you think?” The reader said, “I really think this is worth pondering. It could be interpreted in many ways. So I do not know…” They all waited to see if he said something else. Then suddenly the man spoke, “Well you all know me to be a very practical man.” “We know that is why we are asking you,’ said the crowd. “And, I think this needs a practical solution.” “And that is?” asked the impatient crowd. The man said very matter-of-factly, “Well, I am going to find the person who wrote this note and ask him personally, what he meant by this.” The man left the premises to find the author of the note. Meanwhile, the crowd stood in place quietly mumbling, “Why did we not think of that?” I believe the Bible presents a similar situation. God inspires men to write it. We read it. We do not readily understand it. So, we discuss and philosophize amongst ourselves what we think God meant. But, we do not ask God Himself what He meant in His Word.

This week’s scripture reading makes a bold statement: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” 2 Timothy 3:16. In the Biblical Greek the word inspired is translated from the word “theopnuestos.” Literally, this term mean, “God breathed out.” In other words, God exhaled the writings of the Bible on the authors. God did this, not by giving the authors of the Biblical books inspired words, but by inspiring the writers. One of my favorite writers elaborates on this,

The Bible is written by inspired men, but it is not God's mode of thought and expression. It is that of humanity. God, as a writer, is not represented. Men will often say such an expression is not like God. But God has not put Himself in words, in logic, in rhetoric, on trial in the Bible. The writers of the Bible were God's penmen, not His pen. Look at the different writers. It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man's words or his expressions but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts. But the words receive the impress of the individual mind. The divine mind is diffused. The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the word of God. (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 21)

So when God exhaled to these Holy men they “spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” 2 Peter 1: 21. The same power that God used to give life to Adam, when God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7), is the same power God used to inspire the authors of the Bible. This power gave life to man, and also gives life to the Words written in the Holy Writ.

So, that the Bible belongs to the Spirit of God. The Bible is a Spiritual thing. And, Spiritual things are “spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Only those who have received that Spirit of God understand the things of the Spirit. Only those who receive the Spirit can discern spiritual things. To understand the Bible in its purest simplest form –as the Truth as it is in Jesus - we need the same breath that God gave to those who wrote it. If the Holy Spirit is the author, and He dwells in us, then He should be able to tell us exactly what He meant when then men He inspired wrote as moved by Him.

The Bible says that “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). Jesus Himself says to all,

Matthew 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
Matthew 7:8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

To the above quote the Apostle James may have added, “Ye have not, because ye ask not” James 4:2. Jesus also said that the Father is more than willing to give us the Holy Spirit if only we ask for Him (Luke 11:13). Will we continue to discuss amongst ourselves? Or, will we go back to the One that wrote it and let Him breathe His heavenly wisdom upon us?

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Friday, April 06, 2007

The Bible's Prevalent Motif

The Bible's Prevalent Motif

A motif is a recurrent thematic element in an artistic or literary work. Although the Bible is much more than a literary work it has identifiable motifs. Some motifs in the Bible are: Love of God, and the shedding of blood as expiation for Sin. Another prevalent motif in the Bible is this: God always searches or reaches out to/for man. This is the case from the start. Let us read from Genesis 3: 8-11,

Genesis 3: 8And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
Genesis 3: 9And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
Genesis 3: 10And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
Genesis 3: 11And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

This sets a pattern for the rest of our history. For 6,000 years there has been a dynamic of man choosing evil, and afterwards hiding when he believes he has been caught. In his guilt he either drives himself into more evil and hiding further, or he tries to find a way to appease God, whom man believes is against him, because of the evil committed. God looks at the hiding man and says to him, "What are you doing behind there? It is dark there. Come out so we can see each other and talk freely." Man replies, "I am hiding from you. I know you must be angry at me for I have disobeyed you. You must want to kill me for what I did."

Afterwards God looks at the man looking to appease Him, and says to the man, "What are you doing there? Why are you so busy? Please, stop. Turn around to me. I want us to talk." The man responds, "I am trying to make restitution for the evil I have done. I know you must be angry at me, and probably want to kill me. So, I am doing my best to show that I can do better. Perhaps I will change your mind."

God looks at them with sadness. He says, "Do they not know? Are they not listening? If I wanted them dead I would have killed them by now. Have they not read in my Word when My Son told Nicodemus, in John 3: 16 and 17 that I God have '…so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.' Because, 'There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one' (Romans 3:11,12). All 'like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). They reject My free gift to them, which has been so costly to Me. They reject My unconditional and eternal love. They reject my mercy and grace. They reject Me."

This is the common thread in the Bible. God goes after man. Man runs away from God. Man believes in his heart God hates him. God wants to show man that that is not the case. So God goes after man again. But, man continues to reject God and delights further in the evil he does. So, God has no choice but to let man suffer the consequences of his choices. The wages of Sin is death (Romans 6:23a). Those who choose Sin will die eternally.

Thankfully, not all men will die. Some have chosen the Light of God and come out of hiding in the dark. Some have chosen the gift of God, which is "eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23b). They have accepted by Faith the good works of Christ that grant Salvation, and stop trying on their own through their own works. They have accepted God's love, mercy and grace. They chose to let God reach out to them, and allowed God to stay with them. Will you choose to be part of this group?
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