29 May, 2006

The Supposed Unfairness of a Silent God

The words of Pope Benedict XVI on well-publicized visit to Auschwitz:
"To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible - and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a pope from Germany. In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can only be a dread silence - a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?"

What the pope, and so many other Christians fail to realize is that God's apparent 'inaction' is, in fact, God's plan being carried out. Could God have prevented the slaughter of so many Jews? Absolutely. Could God have prevented WWII from even occuring? Of course. However, God's plan and purpose has been in effect since the beginning of time and this plan is unquestionably good and perfect, and as difficult as it can be to grasp, it's perfect even when it involves the death and destruction of families, tribes, countries and even entire cultures. Whether or not we think this is "fair" really isn't our call to make. "Fair" is an emotional response, not a response based on faith (as a sidenote, I wonder how people consider it 'fair' that a person must suffer unspeakable agony in hell for eternity after leading a sinful life that lasts, at most, 80 years and yet it's unfair when a few unbelievers perish in a natural disaster...)

Nonetheless, I find the pope's comments incredibly ironic considering the history of the Catholic Church, specifically the Inquisition during which thousands of 'heretics' were tortured and killed. We never read of similar questioning regarding God's silence during this particularly dark period in Christian history...

Regardless, we should all take comfort in the words spken by Jesus: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"

Perhaps the lesson in all of this is that God's chosen people, the Jews, have experienced, and survived countless, and current, attempts of genocide. A basic understanding of prophecy shows that this has been done, and is being done for a reason, whether it's to isolate the nation of Israel against the armies of the world (Zec 12:3 "And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.") or to regather the Jews to their homeland (Isa 43:6 "I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth;") or to maintain a global mistrust and dislike for the Jews (Psa 44:14 "Thou makest us a byword among the heathen, a shaking of the head among the people." From the Jews being led captive to Babylon in the Old Testament to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 to the Spanish Inquisition to World War 1 & 2 to today, God is shaping the minds and powers of the world in a way that He sees fit in preparation for the coming of Christ.

Zec 14:2 "For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity..." No doubt there will be people in the last days who will wonder why God "remains silent" in the face of such horrific destruction of His people as described in Zechariah, but our instructions are to remain faithful, ever watchful. We would do well to remember the words written by Isaiah: "And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him." (Isa. 8:17)

22 May, 2006

A Little Less Da Vinci

On his website, Dan Brown says the following about the Da Vinci Code: "The Da Vinci Code is a novel and therefore a work of fiction."

Other then stirring the pot, why is the novel being treated as historical fact by Christians around the world? How is fictional work even debatable??? How about we spend more time reading Scripture and using it as an accurate account of Christ and his ministry rather then wasting our breath telling the world about how we feel in response to a little bit of made-up religious drama.

The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction. The end.

17 May, 2006

Who Are The Deceivers?

Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been men and women who have turned away the hearts and minds of otherwise good people searching out God and His instructions for believers. The New Testament refers many times to ‘false teachers’ and ‘false prophets’ and it was obviously a problem during Christ’s time as much as it is today. In Matthew 24:4, Jesus says “…take heed that no man deceive you.” (cp. 1 John 3:7) It’s an interesting statement because it implies that learning and coming to a knowledge of God can be accomplished solely by the individual without anyone else getting involved. With no one else involved, there’s no man to “deceive you”. 1 John also talks about deceivers as those who “went out from us”, suggesting that these deceivers were once part of the 1st century ecclesias but who had fallen away and were now trying to lead as many astray with false doctrines as possible (see also 2 Peter 2:1-3).

Jump back to Deuteronomy 13. This chapter tells us that false teachers and false prophets were very much alive and well even during the time of Moses. The deceivers in verse 1 are “prophets” and “dreamers”. The deceivers in verse 13 are listed as a “brother” or “son of your mother” or “your son or your daughter” or a “wife” and even a best friend. It’s obvious what the problem is: those people who leading others astray were the ones with whom the closest relationships were shared. Mothers, fathers, brothers, church leaders…Note that this isn’t a concept that’s confined to the Old Testament. The deceivers who “went out from us” are the very same people mentioned in Deuteronomy 13. Matthew 23:27: “…for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.”

Christians can’t afford to take any one person’s views or words as factual truth. Discovering what God would have His believers do can easily be found within the pages of Scripture. Using God and Scripture as a guide will ensure we aren’t lead astray by any number of deceivers, no matter how long we’ve known them or what role they play in our lives.

2 Timothy 3:1-7 “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

12 May, 2006

There's a New Bishop in Town

For anyone following the news and for anyone who's given this story a moment of your time, the Episcopal Diocese of California recently elected a heterosexual bishop last week, Mark Andrus. The gay candidates received only a handful of votes. However, Andrus is a liberal homosexual-rights supporter. This turns out to actually be a great move by the Episcopal Church because now they've got themselves a spiritual leader who supports both sides of the fence. When you're trying to appease society, what better way to do it then by voting in someone who shifts with public opinion.

These days, defending basic Biblical institutions such as marriage, sexuality, and differing roles of men and women are grounds for public mockery because they're "out-dated" and "old-fashioned". However, commandments written thousands of years ago don’t make them wrong because of their age. If God tells us homosexuality is wrong, then it's quite obvious that homosexuality is wrong. What's there to argue?

Interestingly enough, according to news reports, Episcopalians differ over whether the Bible permits ordaining gays...

09 May, 2006

The Interesting Thing About Palestine

The ideas the that Palestinian people are fighting for their land have been accepted by almost everyone. Israel is either viewed as an occupying force, or Palestine is viewed as a fanatical nation fighting for something that isn't theirs. However, no matter which side one is on, the crucial bit of information is this: There is no such thing as a country called 'Palestine' and there is no such thing as a 'Palestinian people'.

The Jews (Israel) didn't displace anyone because no one permanently resided in this particular area of Israel. It was a land inhabited by nomadic tribes and nothing but deserts and swamps. When Mark Twain visited the area, he wrote he found nothing but a wasteland. During the 19 years that the territories, including Jerusalem and Gaza, were occupied by the kingdoms of Jordan and Egypt, no one talked about a Palestinian state, not the Arab countries, not the United Nations, no one. Not even the Palestinians themselves said anything about a Palestinian state or a Palestinian people, because nobody had ever even heard of a Palestinian people.

"There is no such country [as Palestine]! 'Palestine' is a term the Zionists invented! There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria", an Arab leader is quoted as saying. 'Palestine' was a word made up by the British after World War 1 ("Falastin" in Arabic and "Palestina" in Hebrew).

"Palestine" is often incorrectly considered to have its roots in Biblical "Philistine". However, the Philistines (usually referred to as 'Sea People') occupied the west coast of Canaan (present day Israel) and weren't native to the area (which is ironic considering the Palestinians aren't either). "The Philistines lost their independence to Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria by 736 BC, and revolts in following years were all crushed. Later, Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylon eventually conquered all of Syria and the Kingdom of Judah, and the former Philistine cities became part of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. All traces of the Philistines as a people or ethnic group disappear. Subsequently the cities were under the control of Persians, Jews (Hasmonean Kingdom,) Greeks (Seleucid Empire,) Roman and subsequent Empires." (encyclopedia)

The facts are simple:

1) There never was a Palestinian state or a Palestinian nation. There are no Palestinian people, per se. Rather, these are Arabs living in a region that historically has been called many things, including "Palestine."

2) Israel did not go to war against a Palestinian state and occupy its land. Rather, Israel was attacked by six Arab countries at once (1948 Arab-Israeli War). She defended herself, defeated her attackers, and won the so-called territories, not from the Palestinians, but from Jordan and Egypt.

3) Jerusalem was never the capital of any state but Israel. It was certainly never the capital of a country that never existed. On what grounds should the Palestinians get any part of it?

4) Most Arabs living in Palestine today are not indigenous to the region. It was not until after the Jews had changed deserts and swamps into a productive and thriving land that the Arabs started migrating there. Arafat himself was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt.

This is why there won't be peace in the region until Christ returns, perfectly in line with Bible prophecy. The battle for land and legitimacy between Israel, Palestine and the Arab countries around it, will continue to rage until the end of time, regardless of how many agreements and treaties are signed. Arabs/Palestinians won't stop looking for opportunities to destroy Israel to take back what they claim is theirs and Israel won't stop defending itself against these incursions. Whether there is a Palestinian state or not, there will be no peace. The hatred runs too deep and too strong to be resolved by man.

What does this have to do with us? It can be difficult sometimes given how volitile and eomtional the situaton is, but as Christians, our role isn't to take sides and become sympathizers with one group or the other. Everything happening in the Middle East, certainly everything that affects Israel directly, is happening for a reason. God is putting things into motion that will ultimately lead to the return of Christ and so we put our trust in Him that the situation playing out in front of us is for the ultimate good. By looking at the situation this way, by understanding the facts instead of getting caught up in the emotions, we're able to step back a bit and look at the situation from a more understanding perspective.

Our attention instead should be on recognizing the signs of the times, making sure our lamps are full, reaffirming our faith, and looking for the soon return of the one true King who will bring stability and peace to a land that hasn't known rest for thousands of years.

04 May, 2006

What'll They Think of Next?

There are seven candidates running for the bishop of the Episcopal church in California (Episcopal is included under the 'Anglican' umbrella). Three of the seven candidates are openly gay.

Question: When did people start going woefully wrong???? Oh right. Genesis Chapter 6. And then the Flood came and destroyed mankind.

Let's find out more about the bishop situation in California. Bill Atwood of the Ekklesia Society, an Episcopal aid network based in Carrollton, Texas, says "I don't think there's any question they'll be compelled to elect a partnered gay," Atwood said. "I think they've got a mistaken understanding of issues of justice. Huge portions of the Episcopal Church are theologically adrift."

Bill sums it up perfectly. These people are "theologically adrift". What a great phrase. I'd be tempted to substitute "theological" with "Scripturally" but that's just me. I think Bill has the gist of the situation nonetheless.

And then there's Susan Russel. Unlike Bill, Susan isn't quite getting it. Susan Russel is a member of Integrity which, according to their website is "a nonprofit organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender [LGBT] Episcopalians and our straight friends...Integrity [is] the leading grassroots voice for the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Episcopal Church and our equal access to its rites." Integrity supports the non-heterosexual members of the Episcopalians. These non-heterosexual believers even have an acronym. LGBT. Go figure.

(It's also worth mentioning that "episcopal" means "overseer". It's held that only a person in a line of succession of bishops dating back to the Apostles can be a Christian bishop, and only such a person can validly ordain Christian clergy...)

Back to Susan. Susan is thrilled with the situation in California. She says the diocese (an administrative territorial unit for the Church) has no obligaton to elect a heterosexual. Susan argues that a "radical conservative fringe" is to blame for any anti-LGBT sentiment. Given that the mainstream Anglican church is already at odds with the Episcopal Church over homosexuality, this is prime hunting ground for Ms. Russel. "For any elector to allow the current political climate in the global church to hamstring the Holy Spirit would be working against who we are when we're at our best as a church," she says...

So now the Holy Spirit is moving to get LGBT bishops into office.

Will the radical conservative fringe please stand up.

Cue the second Flood.

The Dangers of New Testament "Christianity"

The definition of Christianity as found in the encyclopedia: "Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians call Jesus Christ, and New Testament accounts of his life and teachings. With an estimated 2.1 billion adherents in 2006, Christianity is the world's largest religion. Christianity began as a Jewish sect. Christians call the Hebrew Bible the Old Testament. Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity is an Abrahamic religion."

Considering the roots of Christianity, I wonder at what point in history Christianity turned into strictly a New Testament religion and why?

Jesus is certainly the focus of Christianity but there's SO much more to things than simply reading accounts of his life in only half of the Bible. Scripture is literally filled to the brim with hundreds and hundreds of wonderful prophecies of his life (Isaiah has over 100!!) and indeed the book of Psalms, for example (which has over 80 Messianic prophecies alone), gives us amazing prophetical insight into the emotions Christ felt at various times in his life. This kind of information isn't presented the same way in the New Testament. While we're still apt to treat Jesus with the respect he deserves, ignoring the Old Testament by viewing it as an inferior and irrelevant brother to the New Testament, we miss out on the understanding and emotion that helps us grasp his emotional and mental state when experiencing the things he did.

Reading the Bible as a whole makes us realize what an incredible book it really is. That Christ, the focus of our beliefs, can be found in prophecies and foreshadowing from Genesis 1 right through to Zechariah is nothing short of incredible. It gives even more weight to the importance of God's Son when we realize that He set up everything since the beginning of time to point forward to Christ.

Christianity should be centered on the whole Bible, not just limiting itself to half of God's Word. Not only do we recognize the significance of Christ more fully, but we come to a deeper, more intimate understanding of God when we read the OT with the same fascination as the NT. We read about the things He did with the children of Israel, the signs He showed, the miracles He did, His love, His mercy and His anger and it's humbling in the most extreme sense to think that the same God we read of in infinite detail in the Old Testament is exactly the same God who hears our prayers and actively works in our lives today.

Rom 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

03 May, 2006

From Church to the Home

There's an article in the Toronto Star today about "churchless religion" which should be an inspiring read to all those who find the benefit of free personal study rather then an education under the watchful eye of the church. Beyond the idea of personal study, it's also great to see people learning and discussing the Bible in an open forum with other interested people. Whether or not this is a long-term trend is obviously yet to be seen but needless to say, it's incredibly refreshing to know there are people out there willing to try and come and to an understanding of God's Word on their own, in their own time, using their own mental capacities instead of underhandedly being spoonfed by "Bible experts".

"He likes the idea that there are no leaders, though the unpaid hosts of the groups tend to act as facilitators of the discussion or suggest Bible passages to be read if no one else does. Regional networks are organized to help home churches with logistical questions of how to organize a weekly gathering, and to pool resources for charity work such as helping developing countries or the disadvantaged closer to home, Zdero says.
But the networks make a point of not acting as spiritual guides, handing down spiritual interpretations or edicts, as might be expected from a church's central organization.
"Each home church remains a self-governing unit," he says.
People are attracted to home churches because they allow people to explore their faith on their own terms, he says, with people who share their views. Costs are shared, but rarely add up to more than it would cost to have a few friends over for dessert once a week."
(Toronto Star, May 3, 200 "Religion, but no church required")

What a great concept: Unpaid group facilitators directing the discussion. Exploring faith and Scripture. Discussing the facts. Aiming for a common understanding. Where opinion is valued and a difficult or awkward question isn't seen as an act of war. This is the epitome of Bible study.

As a regular attendee of these 'in-the-home' Bible discussions with fellow members of my church, I can't express how rejuvenating it is to sit in the same room as a group of people who share the same beliefs I do and then search out God by studying Scripture together. Exploring the Bible using a common ground of understanding provokes great conversation and is often an incentive for private study. I'm not saying a churchless format is the way to go or that group study is the limit we should be going to as servants of Christ, but rather the "assembling together" (Heb. 10:25) of believers, beyond the occasional Sunday morning, is of vital importance as we "see the day approaching". Not only is in-the-home group study a great, casual way to build on relationships with fellow believers, but it also makes meeting together around the memorial table on a Sunday morning a far richer experience. What better way to remember Christ's death and resurrection then with people you love and trust explicitly?

01 May, 2006

The Declining State of Morality

I came across an interesting chart the other day:

God's morals, provided through His commandments and teachings, the very things He requires His believers to follow, remain unchanged since the beginning of time.

The morals of the world have been in a freefall ever since man was created. The product of freewill and a resounding refusal to follow a supreme authority.

Christians morals are caught somewhere between God and man but are inevitably giving way to the pull of the world.

The decline in the morals of believers is evident from the unBiblical practices embraced by mainstream Christianity in an attempt to side with the majority: Woman ministers, acceptance of homosexuality, the discarding of baptism and head coverings, the loss of cohesive unity within churches, involvement in politcs, the promotion of feel-good messages instead of the diligent study of Scripture, etc. etc. In an attempt to appease the fickle and judgmental masses, churches have allowed the push of the world to dictate doctrine. As a result of relaxed standards, Christians everywhere are losing touch with God's requirements and instead are looking for acceptance in a world that doesn't accept God's supreme authority.

Religions who maintain a strict adherence to God's precepts without wavering are labelled "conservative" and "out of date", the equivalent to being left in the dust by people who are "with it". Christianity should be viewed as an island in the middle of ocean, standing up to criticism, holding fast the things taught by God regardless of the consequences. Instead its become a house of sand, molded and shaped by the very waves it once strove so hard to withstand. It's a sad state of affairs but one that isn't without hope if we follow the example of Peter and the apostles:
Act 5:28-29 "Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men."