Monday, January 25, 2010

The True Vine

Who is the True Vine?

By Dudley Hall

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. John 15:1

In the Old Testament era, Israel was considered the vine that God took from Egypt and planted in the promised land. One primary reference to Israel's role as God's vineyard is Isaiah 5:1-2,7:

Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; He built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes...For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!

When Jesus identified himself as Israel, he was making a huge point. He was doing what Israel was assigned to do, but couldn't. He was the Seed who would bless the nations that God promised to Abraham. The people of God would not be known primarily by their relationship to Abraham, but to Jesus the Christ.

It should be noted that Israel had failed at the assignment to display the true nature of God the Father as a nation of priests. She had turned her calling into a self-exalting superiority and generally excluded the nations. But she had succeeded in one thing: She had produced the Messiah. However, she could take no credit for this because it was the sovereign hand of God who worked through the good and bad decisions of the descendants of Abraham. No matter what she did, she could not prevent the Messiah's coming at exactly the right time. Jesus came in Israel's stead to do what she could not do.

Just as David had represented Israel as king, now the Son of David would identify himself as the Vine-Israel. Jesus is Israel in one person. So we can say that Israel succeeded in her role. Jesus did accurately represent God the Father, and he was the ultimate priest who brought man and God together. Jesus is the Savior. He saved Israel from failure just like he saves the Gentiles from wrath by doing for both of them what they cannot do for themselves.

Now in the last discourse with his disciples Jesus is giving an identity to his followers. They are the true branches of the true vine. Where Israel had been a false vine and produced wild grapes, this new people could display the fruit of his own life as they embraced their new identity. They were the new Israel in the sense that they would now have the assignment to display his true nature to the nations and bless them by presenting the gospel of Jesus and His kingdom. 

There aren't two vines. Jesus has stepped in and fulfilled Israel's role. He is the true vine. We as his disciples have the privileges of being connected to the very source of eternal life. Our job is to abide in the Vine.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Biblical Financial Management

Question: "What does the Bible say about managing your finances?"

Answer: The Bible has a lot to say about managing finances. Concerning borrowing, the Bible generally advises against it. See Proverbs 6:1-5; 20:16; 22:7, 26-27 (“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.... Do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you”). Over and over again, the Bible warns against the accumulation of wealth and encourages us to seek spiritual riches instead. Proverbs 28:20: “A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.” See also Proverbs 10:15; 11:4; 18:11; 23:5.

Proverbs 6:6-11 offers wisdom concerning laziness and the financial ruin that inevitably results. We are told to consider the industrious ant who works to store up food for itself. The passage also warns against sleeping when we should be working at something profitable. A “sluggard” is a lazy, slothful person who would rather rest than work. His end is assured—poverty and want. At the other end of the spectrum is the one who is obsessed with gaining money. Such a one, according to Ecclesiastes 5:10, never has enough wealth to satisfy him and must be constantly grasping more and more. First Timothy 6:6-11 also warns against the trap of desiring wealth.

Rather than desiring to heap riches upon ourselves, the biblical model is one of giving, not getting. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). We are also encouraged to be good stewards of what God has given us. In Luke 16:1-13, Jesus told the parable of the dishonest steward as a way of warning us against poor stewardship. The moral of the story is “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (v. 11). We are also responsible to provide for our own household, as 1 Timothy 5:8 reminds us: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

In summary, what does the Bible say about managing money? The answer can be summarized with a single word—wisdom. We are to be wise with our money. We are to save money, but not hoard it. We are to spend money, but with discretion and control. We are to give back to the Lord, joyfully and sacrificially. We are to use our money to help others, but with discernment and the guidance of God’s Spirit. It is not wrong to be rich, but it is wrong to love money. It is not wrong to be poor, but it is wrong to waste money on trivial things. The Bible’s consistent message on managing money is to be wise. If you need financial help, you can inquire more through Christian Financial Concepts –

Friday, January 22, 2010

Is OSAS right?

OSAS: Demystifying Hebrews 6 & 10 

by Paul K.

The whole Christian theology of salvation is both easy and simple, and yet hard and complex. One of the central things sincere Christians disagree on is the topic of once-saved-always-saved (OSAS). In other words, once you have received God's salvation, can you lose it?

A foundation already laid for every Christian is the truth that the Bible is God's Word. He oversaw the authors who wrote the various letters and books, such that what they wrote was divinely inspired to be error-free and only truth. Because of this, every book in the Bible has the same Author: God. This is important to note in the area of searching out whether OSAS is true. We need to look at Scripture, confident that the same God who wrote, through His inspiration, the book of Romans, also wrote James and Hebrews--indeed, every book of the Bible.

God will not contradict Himself. If a passage in Romans says one thing, the same Divine Author is expressing truth by what is contained in Hebrews.

However, we need to do as Paul wrote:

"be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the Word of Truth." (2 Timothy 2:15) NASB

The King James Version says it this way: "...rightly dividing...." While all Scripture is written FOR us, not all Scripture is written TO us. For instance, when God ordered Joshua and the children of Israel to attack a town and kill every living thing in it, we can learn from it that God hates sin and judges it, but that is not an instruction for us today to obey. Here are three good rules of studying the Bible in context: Discern to whom a Scripture is speaking, what subject it is addressing, and what do the surrounding verses say?

Scripture teaches us things about what we were like--what was true about us--before we came to faith in Christ. We were:

- helpless and ungodly (Romans 5:6)

- spiritually dead in our transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13)

- separate from Christ, excluded from Israel, strangers to God's promises, having no hope, and without God (Ephesians 2:12)

- sons of disobedience (Ephesians 5:6)

- in spiritual darkness (Ephesians 5:8; Colossians 1:13)

- cursed by the Law (Galatians 3:13)

- condemned in our works (Galatians 2:16)

- sinners (Romans 3:23)

- deserving of death (Romans 1:29-32)

- straying sheep (1 Peter 2:25)

On and on the list goes.

Then, we came to faith in Christ. Scripture also teaches us things about what we are like--what is true about us--now that we believe. We are now:

+ justified and at peace with God (Romans 6:1)

+ spiritually alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5)

+ brought near to God (Ephesians 2:13)

+ children of God (Ephesians 5:1; 1 John 3:1-2)

+ children of Light (Ephesians 5:8)

+ saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9)

+ freed from the Law (Romans 6:14)

+ forgiven for our sins (Ephesians 1:7)

+ have eternal life (John 3:16; 6:47)

+ His sheep (John 10:27)

This list, too, goes on and on.

We who believe are born-again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:22-23); our salvation is protected by the power of God (1 Peter 1:4-5); we will never perish (John 1:27-28); we are joined to the Lord and one spirit with Him (1 Corinthians 6:17); we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); God abides in us and we abide in Him (1 John 4:15); we are already seated in heavenly places with Christ (Ephesians 2:6).

The evidence that once we believe, we are in an incredible place of eternal blessing, is overwhelming. Jesus said of His sheep (i.e., believers in Him), " one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 10:29) Mark it well: He said "no one." That includes you and me.

So, then, it is wise to research passages in Scripture that seem to say you can lose your salvation. I emphasize the word "seem." Remember our three rules of Context? "Discern to whom a Scripture is speaking, what subject it is addressing, and what do the surrounding verses say? When so many other passages paint a picture of glory guaranteed, we will do well to resolve what other seemingly contrary passages are really discussing.

Two such passages occur in Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10. To help clarify these, let's understand that a common mistake believers make in understanding the Bible is that they confuse how a believer gets saved, with what a believer is to do once they are already saved. None of us, when we first are saved, jump to instant spiritual maturity. By way of illustration, consider the growth stages of a human being. When we are physically born, we at first just lay there and wiggle our toes; then we crawl; then we toddle; then we walk, then we run. Also, physically, we know next to nothing. As we grow, we go through stages of physical, emotional and mental growth. The born-again experience is similar. Someone who is newly saved knows next to nothing, and has to go through stages of spiritual growth. We do this by learning from and feeding upon the Word of God:

"like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation." (1 Peter 2:2)

When we are first saved, we begin spiritually as little children, even if we are physically 100 years of age!

The Apostle John wrote about three stages of spiritual growth: little children, young men, and fathers.

Spiritually, about all we know when we are first born-again is that our sins are forgiven.

"I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven." (1 John 2:12)

In our spiritual infancy, we also do know that God is our Father:

"I have written to you, children, because you know the Father." (1 John 2:13c)

As we grow into spiritual teenagers, we learn the Word of God, and are able to use it to battle the devil and his temptations to sin:

"I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one." (1 John 2:2:13b)

"I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the Word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one." (1 John 2:14b)

As we grow to spiritual adulthood, we get beyond merely knowing thing "about" God, to knowing God Himself:

"I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning." (1 John 2:2:14a)

Sometimes those who think you can lose your salvation, are thinking that people who are sinning "too much" must have lost their salvation, when in reality they are spiritually immature and have not yet grown to be "strong" and haven't yet learned to "overcome the evil one." (1 John 2:14b)

Sometimes believers get so much grief and trouble for being a Christian that they get tempted to back-off from being demonstrably a Christian. This was the trouble with the Christian Hebrews to whom the writer (we don't know who the human author was) was sending the letter to the Hebrews. They were suffering so much for being Christians that they were turning away from following Christ to going back to Moses, the Law and the temple sacrifices. This clearly was what Hebrews was written to address.

"For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it." (Hebrews 2:1)

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:23)

"But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward." (Hebrews 10:32-36)

The letter to Hebrews addresses why the Hebrew Christians should not turn away from Christ, for Christ is superior in every way. To turn back to Moses and the Law would be to abandon the superior for the inferior. Hebrews demonstrates that Christ is superior to angels (Hebrews 1:4-14); superior to Moses (Hebrews 3:1-19); that Christ is our rest from works (Hebrews 4:1-9); and that Christ has a higher order priesthood, a priesthood of the order of Melchizedek.

It is here in reference to Melchizedek that the writer gets down to the business of concern about the spiritual growth of the Christians who were wavering, being tempted to go back to Moses and the Law:

"Concerning him (i.e., Melchizedek) we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing." (Hebrews 5:11)

The Hebrew Christian recipients of the letter apparently were not grasping deeper spiritual truth. He says that they ought to have grown into spiritual maturity; instead of being babies needing to be fed, they ought to have been the ones teaching the spiritual babies. Yet, they were needing spiritual food fit for spiritual babies (i.e., elementary principles=milk) instead of spiritual food fit for spiritual adults (i.e., teachings about Melchizedek = solid food).

"For by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their sense trained to discern good and evil." (Hebrews 5:11-14)

So, starting Hebrews chapter 6, the writer to the Hebrews urges them to leave behind "baby food" (i.e., elementary teaching) and press on to maturity, and lists several "basic" (i.e., baby) Christian teachings.

"Therefore leaving behind the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment." (Hebrews 6:1-2)

Now, since the writer urged them to press on to maturity (verse 1), he brings up a possible problem.

"And this we will do, if God permits." (Hebrews 6:3)

"If God permits." What on earth can he mean? Is there a situation where God would NOT permit someone to "press on to maturity," and if so, what could that situation be? The writer then gives a list of certain conditions to explain what he means by "if God permits."

"For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come." (Hebrews 6:4-5)

Notice the above steps demonstrate a progression of spiritual growth. First, they demonstrate that the person was "enlightened." This means they came to saving faith, that is, became a believer.

"I pray that the eye of your heart may be enlightened." (Ephesians 1:18a) Paul wrote that to believers, meaning, saved people.

Then the writer to the Hebrews says "have tasted of the heavenly gift." We are told over and again that eternal life is a gift of God.

"...the gift of God is eternal life." (Romans 6:23b)

The next step mentioned is "have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit." This is a Christian-only experience. Only saved people have the Holy Spirit--unbelievers do not.

"...if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him." (Romans 8:9b)

Up to this point, all these conditions apply to baby Christians. Next, some spiritual maturity gets added to the list: "have tasted the good word of God." Remember the "young men" (i.e., spiritual teenagers) that John wrote about?

"I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you..." (1 John 2:14b)

The writer adds yet another element of spiritual maturity: "and the powers of the age to come."

This condition corresponds to John's "young men" teaching about overcoming the evil one:

"I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one." (1 John 2:13b)

So, the situation where God would NOT permit someone to "press on to maturity" involved someone who is not only born again, but has gone on in spiritual growth toward maturity, either John's "young men" (i.e., teenagers) or "fathers" (i.e., adults) stage. The expression "(tasted) the powers of the age to come" indicates this is no beginner in the faith, no spiritual just-got-saved "newbie."

What, then, does the Hebrews writer say about this person?

"and then have fallen away." (Hebrews 6:6a)

The Greek word for "fallen away" is "parapipto." As far as I can tell from my study tools, it is found nowhere else in the New Testament. It carries the idea of "to fall around" or "fall aside," meaning in the area of, such as to the side of where a person should have been standing. This is supported by the warning Hebrews gives earlier:

"For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it." (Hebrews 2:1)

So, "parapipto" is where someone has chosen, or allowed themselves, to "drift away from it."

In the context of the letter to these particular Hebrew Christians, "parapipto" is supposing that someone became a believer, grew into maturity, and then chose to abandon faith in Christ for another religion, in this case, was going back to Moses and the Law. So, if this person does this, what happens next?

" is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame." (Hebrews 6:6b)

What does it say is impossible? "To renew them again to repentance." This does NOT say they lose their salvation, as salvation is not in view here. What is in view, is somebody who is saved whom God will not permit to "press on to maturity." Repentance simply means to change your mind. In Hebrews 6:1b, "repentance from dead works and of faith toward God" means to change your mind about depending on your works (which are dead) to save you, and instead to change your mind to depend on Christ to save you.

Context is everything. When someone deliberately turns away from Christ, they will not be allowed to change their mind back to faith in Christ. That is what it means when it says "it is impossible to renew them again to repentance," and why (in verse 3) it says "if God permits" (meaning there is a situation where God will NOT permit it).

So, why won't God permit it?

"...since they crucify to themselves the Son of God and put him to open shame." (Hebrews 6:6b)

Let's illustrate this with an example. Suppose a famous Christian who is the president of a famous Christian Bible school suddenly announces he doesn't believe the blood of Christ and His crucifixion solved mankind's problem of sin, but that Buddha had a better way, and forsakes Christ for Buddhism. Think of the shock waves that would send through the students, the faculty, and Christian communities around the world. Think of how it would affect the students and how it could damage their faith. After all, some students might reason, "If so-and-so, who is such a learned Christian, doesn't think Christianity is true, why should I study it?" Think of how the unbelievers in the media and the world at large who learned of it would mock and ridicule Christians, casting shame on the name of Christ saying, even one of their own has recanted. How they would laugh Christians--and Christ--to scorn!

Then suppose that former school president announces, "You know what, I guess I was wrong--Christ's death on the cross really did count for me after all." He is crucifying Jesus to himself all over again. First time he believed in the crucifixion, now after going away from the cross, he's trusting again in the crucifixion. How do you think the students would react, or for that matter, how the unbelievers would react? They would not, could not, trust him again. The unbelievers would certainly jeer, saying, "Oh, so NOW you believe?" The name of Jesus Christ would be put to open shame. This what the verse is saying by "since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame."

This, God will not permit. For someone advanced in Christian maturity and knowledge of the Bible, to do a "parapipto" involves such an injury against the faith they once held so strongly, that there's no coming back. Christ's blood still saves them, but with such a regression into complete unbelief, they will never again have more than "baby" stage faith--if that. God will not permit them to "press on to maturity."

Yet, they are still saved. Being saved isn't just a mindset. Being saved means being born-again. When that happens, the Holy Spirit literally indwells a believer, and a new life force, a spiritual one, now exists inside the believer where that life did not formerly exist. Nothing in the Bible makes a case for where that spiritual life force gets "un-born again" or "taken back" by God.

Quite the contrary, Scripture says that the believer is sealed with the presence of the Holy Spirit who is given as a pledge that we will have an inheritance in heaven:

"In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed--, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory." (Ephesians 1:13-14)

We all start out spiritually dead. (Ephesians 2:1) Those who believe in Christ become spiritually alive (i.e., born-again) (1 Peter 1:23) and are protected by the power of God to make sure they get to heaven. (1 Peter 1:4-5)

A farming illustration follows in Hebrews 6 in verses 7-8.

"For the ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned." (Hebrews 6:7-8)

The writer says that ground that drinks up rain produces useful vegetation. This represents a believer who stays the course, which is the very thing the writer to the Hebrews is urging the letter's recipients to do. For someone who fits the description of the exception case of verses 4-6, there is no fruit coming out of their life, but only thorns and thistles. Both of these latter are injurious to the hand of the one who touches them. They are "worthless."

The one who falls away (i.e., "parapipto") not only has no more fruit for God, but their unbelief is also spiritually injurious to those his unbelief touches. What is coming out of his life is worthless and harmful, and "fruit" of that sort is fit only to be gathered and burned up to protect people. That's why God won't permit them to "press on to maturity." They had some maturity before, and threw it away. Later in Hebrews, the writer urges again those Hebrew Christians suffering terrible things because of their faith, not to throw their faith away (i.e., don't give in and return to Moses and the Law):

"Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward." (Hebrews 10:35)

A "parapipto" person does "throw away" their confidence (i.e., faith) in Christ, and their life gets no blessing from God anymore. But, because such a person was redeemed by faith in Christ and became born again and was joined one spirit with Christ (1 Corinthians 6:17), he still possesses eternal life. God will not curse one of His children, for He has redeemed us from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13), but sadly that is as much as that person will get from God in this life, as Scripture says, the "parapipto" person will "come close to being cursed." (verse 8).

Such is the fate the writer to the Hebrews is warning the Hebrew Christians about, since they seem to be stuck in spiritual "baby" mode. He writes that they ought to have been teachers by now, but weren't. (Hebrews 5:12) He is warning them against "parapipto."

However, the writer then reassures them. While such a condition as described in Hebrews 6:4-8 is possible, he is confident that these believers are not ones in that condition described.

"But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking to you in this way." (Hebrews 6:9)

Still, verses 4-8 warn of what COULD happen if these Hebrew Christians (and us, for that matter) abandon Christ for something else. For the early Christians, it was Moses and the law. For us today, it could be anything else that would replace our faith in Christ, such as science, philosophy, a cult, devotion to a political cause, etc.

As we have just seen, Hebrews 6 is not describing losing one's salvation. While some Christians believe Hebrews 6 and 10 teach that you can lose your salvation, ironically, the letter to the Hebrews actually demonstrates OSAS! Look at the following two verses:

1) "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10)

2) "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." (Hebrews 10:14)

We who believed "have been" (i.e., happened in the past) "sanctified...once for all." Focus on that. The offering of Jesus's body is "once for all." Again, in that second verse, we are told (concerning the offering of Jesus's body) that "He has perfected (us) for all time."

Once for all... For all time...

When we believed, Jesus perfected us "for all time." That's once-saved-always-saved. How much clearer does it have to be?

Eternal life is a gift from God (Romans 6:23), and we receive it and the Holy Spirit the moment we put our faith in Jesus Christ. (John 6:47; Ephesians 1:13) Keeping in mind that eternal life is a gift from God, let us look at what Scripture says about gifts from God:

"For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." (Romans 11:29)

The gift of eternal life, therefore, will NEVER be revoked! Once saved, always saved. We cannot lose salvation by our sins, for Christ has paid for all of them (Colossians 2:13; 1 John 1:2; John 10:28). We cannot even lose it if we falter in our faith, such as the situation described in Hebrews 6. (2 Timothy 2:13)

The ONLY way we can be denied eternal life and a home in Heaven with God for all eternity, is if we never take that first step to place our faith in Christ. Yes, if someone denies Jesus Christ by refusing to place faith in Him, then he will be denied by Jesus on the Day of Judgment. That person will hear the terrible words of Jesus Christ:

"And then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.'" (Matthew 7:23)

"Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matthew 25:41)

Think of those words: "I never knew you." They do not say, "I knew you once, but then I didn't know you anymore," as would be the case if Hebrews 6 taught you could lose your salvation. The words say, "I NEVER knew you."

For the one who has believed in Christ, the very opposite is true. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them..." (John 10:27a). Jesus KNOWS those who placed their trust in Him, yes, even those who failed later by "falling away" (i.e., "parapipto").

Only persons Jesus has never known go to hell. A believer, He has known, and He grants unto him eternal life, which cannot be revoked. A believer is a sheep that was lost, but now is found, and shall never perish. (John 10:27-29)

Think of the words of the beloved Christian hymn, "Amazing Grace":

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see."

In conclusion, when a lot of verses/passages say you are saved eternally, and one other verse/passage seems to say you can lose that salvation, you can sure you are missing the context somehow on the one. God can't contradict Himself.

Once saved, always saved. It's by grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8-9). It's eternal life, not until-the-next-time-you-blow-it-life. It's "they shall NEVER perish." (John 10:28) It's being given an inheritance with the Holy Spirit as a down-payment. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

Believers, hear this loud and clear! God went to too much trouble to purchase your freedom! It cost Him the life of His Son. He's not giving you up for anything in this universe or beyond!

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:37-38)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Is it right to use the picture of Jesus on a website?

Image Or Idol

Q. Re the picture of the hooded (”shepherd”?) on your home page: is that supposed to be Jesus Christ? I’m sure we don’tneed to have an IMAGE of our Savior. Perhaps the Ten Commandments even forbids it …? I tend to associate images with the worship in the Roman church. I look forward to your response as I count the issue as important.

A. Here’s what the commandment says.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:4-5)

God Himself ordained that images of cherubim be made for the mercy seat (Ex. 25:18 & 2 Chron. 3:10) and woven into the veil in the tabernacle. (Ex. 26:31) There were images of palm trees (2 Chron. 3:5) and pomegranates (2 Chron. 3:16) through out the Temple. The bronze laver rested on the back of cast images of 12 bulls (2 Chron. 4:3-5) There were images of almond blossoms and flowers carved into the menorah (Ex. 37:17-24)

These were all carved (graven) images and likenesses, but since none of them was worshiped as an idol they were not violations of the commandment.

The artist’s rendering of the Lord on our site is not an idol either. We do not bow down to worship it. It’s a picture. If images themselves were forbidden, then every book, photograph, drawing, painting, movie, video, TV show, etc, etc, ever made would be a violation of the commandment. It’s when the image becomes an idol and you bow down to worship it that you’ve violated the commandment.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Why God in Haiti?

Question: "Why does God allow natural disasters, i.e. earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis?"

Answer: Why does God allow earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, typhoons, cyclones, mudslides, and other natural disasters? Tragedies such as the 2004 tsunami in Asia, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 2008 cyclone in Myanmar, and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti cause many people to question God’s goodness. It is distressing that natural disasters are often termed “acts of God” while no “credit” is given to God for years, decades, or even centuries of peaceful weather. God created the whole universe and the laws of nature (Genesis 1:1). Most natural disasters are a result of these laws at work. Hurricanes, typhoons, and tornados are the results of divergent weather patterns colliding. Earthquakes are the result of the earth’s plate structure shifting. A tsunami is caused by an underwater earthquake.

The Bible proclaims that Jesus Christ holds all of nature together (Colossians 1:16-17). Could God prevent natural disasters? Absolutely! Does God sometimes influence the weather? Yes, as we see in Deuteronomy 11:17 and James 5:17. Numbers 16:30-34 shows us that God sometimes causes natural disasters as a judgment against sin. The book of Revelation describes many events which could definitely be described as natural disasters (Revelation chapters 6, 8, and 16). Is every natural disaster a punishment from God? Absolutely not.

In much the same way that God allows evil people to commit evil acts, God allows the earth to reflect the consequences sin has had on creation. Romans 8:19-21 tells us, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The fall of humanity into sin had effects on everything, including the world we inhabit. Everything in creation is subject to “frustration” and “decay.” Sin is the ultimate cause of natural disasters just as it is the cause of death, disease, and suffering.

We can understand why natural disasters occur. What we do not understand is why God allows them to occur. Why did God allow the tsunami to kill over 225,000 people in Asia? Why did God allow Hurricane Katrina to destroy the homes of thousands of people? For one thing, such events shake our confidence in this life and force us to think about eternity. Churches are usually filled after disasters as people realize how tenuous their lives really are and how life can be taken away in an instant. What we do know is this: God is good! Many amazing miracles occurred during the course of natural disasters that prevented even greater loss of life. Natural disasters cause millions of people to reevaluate their priorities in life. Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid is sent to help the people who are suffering. Christian ministries have the opportunity to help, minister, counsel, pray, and lead people to saving faith in Christ! God can, and does, bring great good out of terrible tragedies (Romans 8:28).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Biblical perspective about suffering

"Why Me?"

Why? Why me? Why my family? What is the meaning of this suffering? These are familiar questions which are asked by Christians and non-Christians alike. No one is immune to suffering and adversity. "Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7, KJV). There are the pressures of want, need, sorrow, persecution, unpopularity, and loneliness.

Some suffer for what they have done; others suffer because of what people do to them. Many suffer because they are victims of circumstances which they cannot control.

Pain is distressing. There can be nights of agony when God seems so unfair and it seems that there is no possible help or answer. Temporary relief may seem adequate, but the real solution to suffering is not to isolate it in an attempt to do away with it, nor even to grit our teeth and endure it.

The solution, rather, is to condition our attitudes so that we learn to triumph in and through suffering. When the Apostle Paul sought relief from his "thorn in the flesh," God did not take it away, but reassured him with: 

"My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9, KJV). In another encouragement to the Corinthians, he wrote, "And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8, KJV).

Except for physical pain, handling suffering seems to be a question of attitude: "What am I going to do in the face of suffering in order to learn from it and use it for my advantage as far as God's eternal purposes are concerned?"

Billy Graham comments: "Nowhere does the Bible teach that Christians are exempt from the tribulations and natural disasters that come upon the world. Scripture does teach that the Christian can face tribulation, crisis, calamity, and personal suffering with a supernatural power that is not available to the person outside of Christ."

Some of the most pathetic people in the world are those who, in the midst of adversity, indulge themselves by wallowing in self-pity and bitterness, all the while taking a sort of delight in blaming God for their problems. Job's attitude is an inspiration: 'Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15).

The sufferer will be blessed if, in the midst of great agony and despair, he can look into the face of his Heavenly Father and, because of His eternal love and presence, be grateful. Our response to suffering should lead us to look beyond it in the attempt to see God's higher purposes and
what He wants to teach us.

What are some of the Reasons for Human Suffering?

(1) We may bring suffering upon ourselves. Dissipation and lack of discipline bring unhappy consequences. Long-term abuse of our bodies may bring on sickness. Wrong choices come back to haunt us.

You may ask the caller: "Do you think this is happening to you because of your own bad judgment or intemperate actions? What can you do to alleviate your suffering?"

(2) Sometimes God is taking corrective action because of sin and disobedience. God will correct and discipline His own. Through chastening He proves that He loves us and that we are truly His own (Hebrews 12:5-11).

(3) God may permit suffering so we learn to respond to problems in a biblical way. Scripture tells us that Jesus "learned obedience from what he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8, NW). Our goal should be not merely relief from suffering but rather learning to please God by being responsive and obedient to Him and to His Word (see Romans 12:1,2).

(4) Sometimes God permits us to suffer to teach us that pain is a part of life. Nowhere does the Bible say that the Christian will not suffer adversity! Paul points out in Philippians 1:29, KJV, that it is "given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake." Adversity can be a gift from God.

Christ did not evade the Cross to escape suffering. Hebrews 12:2 says he "endured the cross, despising the shame." Why? "For the joy that was set before him." He knew that the final word was not crucifixion (suffering); it was resurrection (victory).

We may suffer briefly, or all our lives. But let us not give up hope or engage in self-pity or bitterness. The end-result is what we all look forward to. Being with the Lord in heaven will put all things into perspective!

(5) God may permit suffering for our well-being. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28, NIV). We must accept this by faith and pray that God's highest good will come as a result of our suffering.

Only through adversity are some of the deeper lessons of life learned. Trust God to work out His own will and purpose in us so that we might be more Christlike (see Romans 8:29).

There is no redemptive merit in our suffering as there was in that of Jesus, but if we are faithful under adversity we may be able to share in "the fellowship of his sufferings" (Philippians : 10, KJV).

(6) Sometimes God permits suffering to speak through our life and testimony to comfort others. Jesus said that the sufferings of the blind man in John 9 were so "that the work of God might be displayed in his life" (NIV).

God might work in your life through suffering to inspire others by your example in adversity. Those who endure adversity can sympathize and identify more effectively with others in their sufferings. We comfort others in the way we are comforted, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God" (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4, (NIV).

The Billy Graham Christian Worker 's Handbook, (Minneapolis: World Wide
Pub., 1984), pp. 223-225