Bible Q and A – 2016

 

These Bible columns have been published in the Petersburg, VA, Progress-Index and emailed every Wednesday to about 500 subscribers in the U.S. and 25 foreign countries. Please email tomlovorn@comcast.net to be added to this service. Feel free to copy, paste, and print these for your use. I welcome your comments and further questions via email. The most recent column will always be first. If you want them emailed to you, please contact me. Older columns are archived on drop-down pages.

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Sun Stand Still

Q. Please explain how we are to understand the sun and moon standing still in Joshua 10:12. Rev. Steve Kane, Aldie, VA

A. Joshua 10:12-14 records where Joshua spoke to the Lord saying, “Sun, stand still over Gibeon and, Moon, over the valley of Ajalon….So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven and did not go down for about a whole day.”

When Joshua conquered the Promised Land, the surrounding Amorite kings, marched against the Gibeonites who had allied with Joshua. God told Joshua to fight those kings, and he assured their defeat (verse 8). As Joshua was sensing victory, the sun was about to set and the moon was already rising. The Amorites would surely get away under cover of darkness. Stepping out on faith, Joshua spoke to God – not to the sun or moon (verse 12) – claiming aloud that the night would tarry long enough to gain his promised victory.

Critics have used this to attack the veracity of Scripture saying the sun doesn’t move through the sky. They also laugh at Psalm 19:4-6 which speaks of the sun running a race across the horizon. Remember, however, that Scripture is written as it was spoken in the understanding of the people. Of course, the rotation of the earth allows for poetic license to speak of the sun and moon being in motion; but astronomers have discovered that the sun does actually move in its own orbit. Since I believe in a God who could create this whole universe in 6 days, I have no problem believing he knows how to stop heavenly bodies and freeze time for as long as he wishes.

Every year scientists discover natural laws that they didn’t know before. But, it really doesn’t matter how this happened; we should just believe it was God’s miracle at the exact time Joshua needed it. I draw 2 lessons from this account: Faith can move mountains so that nothing is impossible (Matthew 17:20). And, God can move (or stop) heaven and earth to come to the aid of those in his care, because we are more important than the sun! May we resolve in this New Year to trust him more.

Immanuel

Q. Is the correct spelling of Immanuel with an “I” or an “E”? Brenda Wills, Windsor, VA

A. You may use either spelling. The name is found only 3 times in the Bible. In Isaiah 7:14 and 8:8 the Hebrew spelling is with an “I.” In Matthew 1:23 the King James Version spells it “Emmanuel” using the Greek Transliteration. Most modern versions choose the original spelling “Immanuel” for all three references.

          It is amazing that 730 years before he was born, God told us his Son would be called Immanuel. We do call him that along with many other descriptive titles. True, his given name is Jesus, meaning “I Am Savior.” That name was also selected by God to reveal his character and mission in life.

          Although the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 given to King Ahaz may have had a lesser and immediate fulfillment by a natural-born child in his kingdom, Matthew 1:23 tells of its greater fulfillment. An angel told Joseph the prophecy pertained to his fiancée, Mary. Although “virgin” can mean just an unmarried woman, it may mean also one who has had no sexual relations. Luke 1:34 applies the latter meaning to Mary by her own testimony.

          Matthew 1:23 says Immanuel means “God with us.” Someone has noted that those 3 words sum up the whole Christmas gospel. “God” encompasses all the qualities of the Triune Godhead – Elohim, the Almighty Creator; Yahweh, the Covenant-Keeper; Yeshua, the One Who Saves; and Spiritus Sanctus, our Companion. “With” means he is among us and for us, and its present tense implies that he is with us now and forever. That covers the whole birth, life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus in spirit. “Us” implies all of humankind – people of every era, age, and situation of life. No one is left out. God came among us when Jesus was born. This is so amazing that his Advent deserves extraordinary celebration and praise. Yes, God is with us; but for the Christmas story to be complete I must ask: “Are you with God?” 

NOEL

Q. What does the word “Noel” mean? O.C., Colonial Heights, VA

A. The word “noel” is a French word for Christmas, derived from the Latin for Christ’s nativity. By common use it has become an alternate word for the gospel.  In our Christmas songs it usually refers to the announcement of the angels to the shepherds of Bethlehem.

In 4-5 B.C. (the usually accepted dates for the birth of Jesus), the three largest settlements of Jewish people were found in Israel, Persia, and Egypt. God sent announcements to each of these descendants of Abraham.

The Shepherd’s Field near Bethlehem was once owned by David’s father, Jesse, and may have been where David wrote Psalm 23. Earlier, it had belonged to Boaz and was the field where Ruth gleaned. In fact, the rock over-hang forming a shallow cave where shepherds kept their sheep may have been the threshing floor where Ruth slept at Boaz’ feet in Ruth, chapter 3. According to the Jewish Mishna that field was later dedicated for Temple use to raise sheep for sacrifice or Passover. Yet, the shepherds who raised those sheep were considered outcasts because they chose a vocation that required working on the Sabbath. But, to these “untouchables” God sent an angel host to announce the coming of the Good Shepherd.

The second largest contingent of Jews was in Persia where many chose to remain after the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Jewish priests there, called Magi in the Persian tongue, would know of Balaam’s prediction in Numbers 24:17. Upon seeing a brilliant supernova they chose, on their own, to lead a caravan to Jerusalem to find the prophesied King of the Jews. They didn’t follow the star across the desert because the star wouldn’t have led them to Herod! Disappointed at not finding a baby in Herod’s palace, Matthew 2:10 says they rejoiced when they saw their star again this time leading them the six miles to Bethlehem.

That night, when Joseph fled with his family to Egypt, he joined the third largest settlement of Jews. There, Joseph told everyone that Mary’s son was the Jewish Messiah. The Coptic Christian Church of Egypt traces its beginning to Joseph who told them about Jesus. Thus, God was letting all of Abraham’s descendants know the fulfillment of his “Noel” to their forefathers.  

Soul Mates

Q. Does the Bible have anything to say about soul mates? Tonya Brown, DFW Airport, TX

A. The term, “soul mate,” is not found in the Bible. You can find definitions from secular sources promoting the idea that a person for whom you feel a special bond, one perfectly suited to complement your temperament, or one who seems to bring out the best in you, is your soul mate. Married couples may believe their partner is their soul mate. Some may think they were created for each other, but only Adam and Eve fit that description! They forget that some couples find a second “ideal relationship” after the first mate dies.

          The philosophy of soul mates actually comes from a myth traced back to the Greek philosopher, Plato. He taught that men and women were created in one body but separated by the gods. That leads to the idea that we must search until we find our “other half,” or (as we men joke about our wives) “our better half.” That certainly is not true. Carried to the extreme one could believe he or she is less than complete without their “other half.” Constantly searching for the imaginary person in all the world who was made just for you can be a form of idolatry in that you seek fulfillment more in a person than in Christ.

The idea of “soul mates” being taught in the Bible has been debated among Bible scholars for many years. On the one hand we have Genesis 2:19 where God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a helper suited for him.” Read Matthew 19:4-6 for Jesus’ commentary on the Genesis account. Those adherents point to Bible characters who exhibited a special bond between them, such as: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Paul and Timothy. But, on the other hand there are those who point to Numbers 36:6 where God told the Israelites, “Let them marry to whom they think best.”

I think the real answer lies in such scriptures as Isaiah 43:7; Ephesians 2:10 and Revelation 4:11 where we are taught that our true Soul Mate is Jesus. We were created to bring him pleasure, and Paul says in Colossians 2:10 that he completes us. When his Spirit indwells and controls us, we move toward the same goal of glory to God; and that’s a true soul mate! 

Cain Killing Abel

Q. In Genesis 4 when Cain killed his brother Abel, why did God protect that murderer and threaten anyone who killed him? Judy Beach, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Genesis 4:8 records Cain killing his brother. Then, Cain fathered some pretty bad characters in his progeny, including Lamech who began the practice of polygamy by having 2 wives. Lamech also killed a young man just because he insulted him. And, Cain’s line went on to produce more and more sinful people, finally culminating in the vile conditions before the Flood.

Yours is a valid question as to why God didn’t just kill Cain right after he killed his brother. Yes, this was before the sixth commandment stated “Thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13). But, God had placed his law in Cain’s conscience; and Cain knew he was guilty because he lied to cover up his crime. However, instead of killing him, in Genesis 4:15 God placed a mark on Cain to protect him. He said in effect, “If anyone kills Cain, I will take vengeance on him seven-fold.”

I certainly don’t know the mind of God, but he may have been showing mercy because Adam was praying for his wayward son. Or, perhaps, at the beginning of the human race, God wanted to teach us the lesson of unchecked lawlessness. In America today, with the Bible and prayer removed from governmental functions, we see unchecked lawlessness in senseless killings and in all kinds of violent protests by people who think might makes right. Didn’t Martin Luther King, Jr., teach us peaceful protests over the long haul get things changed?

We remember that God gave Noah a chance to give us a world populated with righteousness, because everyone who survived the Flood trusted in God. Maybe God has given America a reprieve because of the prayers of his people in recent days. If we use accepted legal means to communicate our wishes to the new administration, maybe we will see a time again when Americans equally respect all races, colors, creeds, identities and professions. Then, perhaps chaplains will be allowed to preach and pray again in Jesus’ name and the IRS will stop targeting religious institutions. And, maybe even teachers can place their Bibles on their desks again. But, please don’t depend on a new president to do that. We, the people, while emulating the Prince of Peace, must work as if it all depends on us and pray as if it all depends on God.  

Corporate Worship

Q. What does the Bible say about the needs or requirements for corporate worship? Bo Godbold, Murrells Inlet, SC

A. The Bible has much to say about worship, both private and corporate. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the two because God won’t accept our corporate worship if our private worship doesn’t precede it sincerely. However, I’ll list a few references that deal primarily with corporate worship.

The first instance of the word “worship” is in Genesis 22:5 where Abraham and Isaac went to worship at Mt. Moriah. The first call of God for corporate worship is in Exodus 24 where God invited the leaders of Israel to come and worship him on Sinai.

From the first example of worship by Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, to Noah’s sacrifice after the flood in Genesis 8, to Abraham’s offering of a ram in place of Isaac in Genesis 22, Deuteronomy 26 commands the continuing practice of bringing some gift to God in worship. Therefore, after presenting ourselves with a pure heart to worship God, it seems he is pleased when we bring an offering as Psalm 96:8 says. God doesn’t need our offerings, but we need to learn to show our gratitude through denying ourselves of something precious and giving it in honor of the One who has given us all we have.

At various places the Scriptures tell us to worship God with our whole heart, with tithes and offerings, in repentance and faith, in praise and singing, and in prayers of confession and petition. Jesus worshipped at local synagogues by reading from God’s Word and commenting on its application. Also, 1 Corinthians 1:21 says God is pleased to save the lost by our preaching, so a gospel presentation with some kind of invitation in implied there. Although we can worship God privately away from church, 4 times the Old Testament tells us to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, which is God’s House. In fact, Hebrews 10:25 commands that we not forsake assembling ourselves in worship with other believers at appointed worship times.

Election Decision 2016

Q. Our country seems to be badly split going into this election. Does the Bible offer help to bring our country together? Lois Dungan, Arkport, NY

A. I am writing this before the 2016 elections are decided. Therefore, I can only speak in generalities; but, God always speaks in specifics.

          Yes, our country is deeply divided. Each side feels strongly their party is best for our nation. So, no matter who wins, nearly half of our country will be disappointed. Maybe disappointed isn’t strong enough: Perhaps I should use such words as distraught, demoralized, shocked, sickened, fearful, or even angered.

          We know whoever wins will not please almost half of the population. That’s a tremendous hurdle, no matter how strong the personality, or how carefully they move to bring hope to the nation. So many insults have been hurled, so many terrible secrets have been revealed and so many lies told, it may take years before we trust our political leaders again. Therefore, we must trust the only Righteous One. Psalm 19:9 says, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” And, Titus 1:2 says God cannot lie.

          Speaking through the writer of Proverbs the Lord says in 8:15, “By me kings reign and princes decree justice.” God also revealed to Daniel in a night vision that he, God, “removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21). Knowing the God of Heaven is in control, Paul wrote in Romans 13:1, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” And, Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 that prayers should be offered with thanksgiving for all men, “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”

          Therefore, knowing that “he has said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’” (Hebrews 13:5), we should trust that God is working his purpose out and that all things are working together for good to those who love the Lord (Romans 8:28).  

 

Ark of the Covenant

Q. Where is the Ark of the Covenant today? Hattie Cox, Richmond, VA

A. The Ark of the Covenant, also called the Ark of Testimony or the Ark of Moses, was a chest approximately 52 inches (4.3 feet) long and 31 inches (or 2.6 feet) high and wide. It was made of acacia wood and covered in gold.

          The Ark and its contents symbolized the presence of Israel’s God. According to Hebrews 9:4, contained in the Ark – or at least beside it – were the tablets of the Ten Commandments, a golden pot of manna from Israel’s wilderness journeys, and Aaron’s rod that budded and bore almond nuts. To me, the manna represented the provision of the Father, and Aaron’s rod pictured the life-giving Holy Spirit. According to Galatians 3:24, the Law was the schoolmaster leading us to Jesus who fulfilled all its requirements. Behind the veil and over the Ark was the Shekinah glory of God pulsating with fire. It rose up through the Tabernacle roof to become the pillar of fire and cloud that led Israel to their Promised Land.

          What happened to this special Ark? Many historians say it was destroyed when Nebuchadnezzar burnt the Temple. One Jewish tradition says Jeremiah hid it in a tunnel under the Temple mount. The Second Book of Maccabees records that God told Jeremiah to move the Ark “to the mountain where Moses met God and saw his inheritance.” That could either be Mt. Sinai or Mt. Nebo (Pisgah) where Moses died. Orthodox Ethiopian Christians claim King Solomon gave the Ark to the Queen of Sheba for safekeeping. They say it now resides in a small, unadorned, block chapel in Aksum, Ethiopia. A priest guards it for his lifetime, never letting anyone see it until the next priest takes over at his death.

          In Revelation 11:19, John was encouraged by seeing a vision of God’s temple with the Ark in Heaven. However, Revelation 21:22 says there is no temple in the Holy City. There may be a temple in Paradise now, but we won’t need one in Heaven because believers will see the full glory of God face to face then (Revelation 21:3).    

Halloween

Q. Should Christian believers be heavily involved in current Halloween practices? Lucy Teachey. Richmond, VA

A. I think believers should be careful about what our Halloween observance teaches our children. If we shouldn’t teach our children to play with guns, we certainly shouldn’t teach them to play around with Satanic practices. Proverbs 22:6 urges us to train our children in the right way so that they will grow up to make the right choices.

It’s a well-known fact that Halloween is the most revered night for Satanists. Disguised as innocent fun, more mischief and wickedness is done on that night than on any other. Hiding behind masks, people do everything from practical jokes to immoral atrocities, including sacrificial offerings to Satan.

God’s Word warns in Leviticus 19, “You shall not…practice divination or soothsaying….Do not turn to mediums or spiritists: do not seek them out to be defiled by them.” And, Deuteronomy 18 reads: “There shall not be found among you anyone who…uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.” We need to teach our children that supernatural evil as well as anything that glorifies human suffering is to be avoided (1 Timothy 6:11; James 4:7).

Therefore, it’s time for the Church to either divorce itself from present Halloween practices or use them to defeat Satan at his own game. Many churches now sponsor a fall festival or carnival to give children a safe alternative to asking “Trick or Treat?” from strangers. Others actually use that night for evangelistic purposes or wholesome visitation with their neighbors.

Of course, the irony of this modern holiday is its beginning as “All Hallows Eve,” a time to honor the memory of saints. However, like many other sacred institutions, Satan has corrupted it from its original purpose. Today, its commercialism is second only to Christmas. If we truly want to keep Christ in Christmas, let’s start the season by keeping Christians out of unscriptural Halloween practices.

What Jesus Wrote on the Ground

Q. What did Jesus write on the ground in John 8:3-11? Bert Stevens, S. Prince George, VA

A. That passage tells of the Scribes and Pharisees attempting to trick Jesus. They brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to ask Jesus what should be done about her. This was actually an unintended compliment to the compassion of Jesus.  If he said, “Stone her!” the people would not believe his teachings about kindness. However, if he defended her, he would be breaking the law of Moses which demanded death for adultery. Instead of answering them, Jesus wrote in the dust. 

Since the Bible doesn’t tell us what he wrote, there have been many theories.  Some have said that he was simply doodling on the ground to ignore the Pharisees and showing he didn’t consider their intended trickery worth answering. Others say he was casting some magic spell on the men to make them drop the stones they had brought to stone her.

I prefer to think Jesus wrote or drew something that each man saw differently. I think each man saw his own “secret” sin revealed. Then, Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (verse 7) As each man realized Jesus knew of his own hypocrisy, one by one each man dropped his stone and slithered away into the night (verse 9). After that, Jesus asked the woman where her accusers were. She replied that there were none, and Jesus said an amazing thing to her. He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (verse 11).

I think Jesus considered the sins of her accusers to be worse than her sin. Perhaps she had been “set up” so they could trick Jesus. Or, Jesus looking into her heart may have seen that she was truly repentant. Maybe this happened so she could believe on Jesus and be saved. Then, all her sins would be truly forgiven! At any rate, this is the only account in the Bible of Jesus, the man, ever writing anything (although his Spirit wrote the Bible). What he wrote here was in the dust, which was certainly blown away shortly. That’s what he does for the sins of all those who trust in him. Psalm 103:12 teaches our sins will never come against us!        

Evil Punished

Q. Why does God sometimes wait so long to judge evil? C. M., Colonial Heights, VA

A. Let me give you the bottom line answer first and then I’ll give some Biblical examples: The mercy of God is the reason! Second Peter 3:9 in the King James reads in part, “The Lord is…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” I like the way the Good News Bible helps us understand that whole verse: “The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think. Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins.”

When God created us in his image, he gave us the ability to choose to obey him or reject him. In giving guidelines to help us obey, he also had to state what will happen if we choose not to obey. God doesn’t delight in punishing evil; that’s not his purpose. His purpose is to bring all people into a holy relationship with him. So, he gives them time to repent and turn toward him. Only when he has proven they won’t honor him does he keep his promise to punish. That’s the mercy of God toward both the evil and the good!

Let’s look at some Biblical examples of God’s timing: Genesis 6:3 says, “My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” Some teachers believe that was the time God gave Noah before the Flood would come. Why would he wait? Perhaps to give Noah time to build a boat to save his family and to give sinful men time to repent.

Why didn’t God give the land of Canaan to Abraham right when he promised it in Genesis 12:7? Genesis 15:16 says the sins of the inhabitants had not reached their peak at that time. Genesis 50:20 says God didn’t punish Joseph’s brothers for selling him into slavery because God would use Joseph later to save his family.

These few examples just remind us that we can’t know God’s reasons unless he reveals them to us. But, we can trust his mercy. God is righteous toward evil and merciful toward faith. Both actions come in his timing. If you know Jesus as your Savior you can claim the same mercy of Isaiah 54:8, “In my anger I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer.”

 

Jesus Died on Friday

Q. How can one justify a Friday crucifixion and a Sunday resurrection and believe Jesus’ words that he would be in the grave 3 days and 3 nights? Wilbert Lassiter, Dinwiddie, VA

A. Since the first Christian century, those closest to these events have put the crucifixion on Friday and the resurrection on Sunday. 

          As to Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:40, “3 days and 3 nights” was a common Jewish idiomatic expression meaning “on the third day.” We have idiomatic expressions. When a speaker is said to “chase rabbits,” everyone understands he got off subject. Jesus followed the language and customs of his neighbors. When they said “40 days,” they meant about a month. They said a father “loved his heir and hated the siblings.” He didn’t hate them, he just bestowed more blessings on the heir (Romans 9:13). Neither did Jesus mean, in Luke 14:26, that we must hate our parents to follow him.

          The dates we observe are confirmed by the Levitical Calendar God gave to Moses. The 6 major feasts and 1 fast predicted the life events of Jesus in chronological order. He was born on the Feast of Tabernacles. John 1:14 in the original language said “The Word…tabernacled among us.” Next came Passover when Jesus died as our Passover Lamb. The night the Jews observed Passover was Thursday. However, since it was after sunset, it was considered Friday, the day Jesus later died. The Feast of Unleavened Bread followed on that Saturday when Jesus was in the grave on the day the women swept all crumbs of leaven out into the ground. He “who knew no sin” became sin for us and lay buried in the ground. That following Sunday was the Feast of First Fruits when Jesus became the first fruit of our resurrection.

He also fulfilled Pentecost, the Spring Harvest, bringing the first Christian harvest of 3,000 souls. He has yet to fulfill Trumpets when he raptures the Church. The Day of Atonement will follow when God declares all our sins atoned by his Son. The mind of God has amazingly worked these dates to have Jesus fulfill everything that was predicted thousands of years before. What a wonderful God we serve!

Antichrist Alive

Q. How can we know if the Antichrist is on the scene today? Pastor Russell Fail, Virginia Beach, VA

A. The short answer is: We can’t! That is, we can’t know for certain until God reveals him. Second Thessalonians 2 says he won’t be recognized for who he is until “He who now letteth…be taken out of the way” (verse 7). Many Bible students believe this is a reference to the witness of the Holy Spirit being removed in the Church at the Rapture. Until that time, the “man of sin…son of perdition” is being withheld to “be revealed in his time” (verses 3 and 6).

The setting for Antichrist’s take-over is further described in 2 Thessalonians 2: There will be a great falling away from biblical morality. Men and women will be deceived more and more into committing unrighteous acts. As a result, God will send them a strong delusion to believe Satan’s lies because they refuse the truth of the Bible. Antichrist, a Gentile from the area originally ruled by ancient Rome, will be given world-wide authority to solve earth’s problems. He will be accompanied by a Jewish advisor who works amazing “magic” that astounds people. Both men are further described in Revelation 13.  

If you think any of the above is happening today, you must also watch for these signs: Miraculously, Antichrist will survive an assassination attempt; although at first he appears to be for Israel, eventually he will turn against them and persecute all who believe in God. However, his ultimate identification will be that, somehow, his name is connected with the number 666. When he sits in the rebuilt Temple of God allowing people to worship him as God, Jesus will return to destroy him.

Before these final signs are given we believe Jesus will rapture his Church before the world’s final tribulation to wait in Paradise for our return with Christ. Until all these signs are evident, the only way to discern the signs of the times is to give ourselves to God and ask his Spirit to enlighten us from his Word.

Jesus, the Only Way

Q. How can God be fair to punish people who have never heard that Jesus is the only way to be saved? Barbara Smith, Cumberland, VA

A. Jesus did not stutter when he said in John 14:6 that he is the only way to God. If there is any other way, Jesus is a liar. His closest followers believed in him so much that they endured lions, swords, and crucifixions. Still, they testified in Acts 4:12 that there is no other name whereby we must be saved.

          The Apostle Paul was so sure of this truth that he wrote in Romans 1:16 saying the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. In so stating, he put the responsibility on each person to believe the evidence God gives them. Remember, John 1:9 teaches that the light of Jesus is available to every person on earth, and Romans 1:20 states those who refuse his light have no excuse. How is that?

          Romans 1:19 says the knowledge of God has been revealed in every person because God has shown it to them. “In them” is the testimony of conscience, and “to them” is the testimony of creation. God guarantees that every person with a rational mind can know there is a God by the outward evidence of creation and the inward evidence of conscience. Creation is such proof of a Creator that the Bible says the person who disbelieves in an Intelligent Designer is a fool (Psalm 14:1). Romans 2:15 teaches that God placed in every person a conscience to guide people toward his moral laws.

Therefore, Romans 1:21 states, if they refuse these witnesses, their heart will become more darkened because they refused the obvious evidences God gave them. But, verse 17 teaches that those who believe those first evidences – so that they have a little faith – will be given more faith. To those who want to know more about God, he will reveal more light. If they keep stepping in the light, they will eventually come to Jesus who is the light showing every person the way to God.

I am convinced that God will get a Christian witness to everyone who wants to know how to be saved if they are willing to follow the light he gives them. Therefore, if someone is unsaved, it’s because they don’t want to know the True God. In the judgment God will be fair to judge every person by the light they refused (Romans 2:11-12; Luke 12:48).          

Christian Citizenship

 Q. Should Christians refuse to vote if they don’t like either major candidate? Judy Beach, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Since this column is an editorial, I can speak my personal beliefs as editorial comments. I believe all people with Biblical morals should vote. And, I believe they should let those values guide their choices. It is unthinkable that people of genuine faith could divorce themselves from their duty to God and their fellowmen. Two principles will guide my voting choices, and I hope they will help you if you’re not sure you’re going to vote, or you’re undecided for whom to vote.

First, my Christian citizenship in God’s Kingdom teaches me the responsibility of my influence. Jesus told us to let our lights shine (Matthew 5:16). I believe if Christians are expected to preach, teach, and live their Christian convictions, we must express them when we have the opportunity to influence our government. In my opinion, it is the lowest form of indifference to refuse to vote when this is a freedom men and women have fought and died for, and oppressed peoples around the world wish they had the priviledge to vote without harassment.

Every 4 years our citizens have the obligation to help establish a government that honors God and keeps all people free. Romans, chapter 13, is about Christian duty in secular government, and Paul says in verse 7 that we are to give honor where honor is due. Christian Americans owe the honor of their participation in government because it is ordained by God (Romans 13:1).

 Second, your duty is to vote for God’s principles above party loyalty. You’re not going to find a party platform where you agree with every plank. Neither are you going to find a perfect candidate. Whether you like a party’s candidate or not, vote for the party that comes closest to your Biblical values, and pray that God will change its leadership. But, even if God doesn’t change a leader’s character, he can still use any person to accomplish his will.

Over the last 40 or more years, our silence as Christians has allowed the transformation of our beloved land of the free to move toward an atheistic, socialist nation where people with ungodly motives have assumed more and more control. Far too many in the “silent majority” have failed to stand up for their beliefs, serve in the political arena, and vote their convictions. Please don’t be one of those! You can register to vote, even online, in Virginia through October 17.

 Calamities from God

Q. Because of the many natural disasters in our country and world-wide sorrows, I wonder if God is trying to get our attention. Nancy Voigt, Colonial Heights, VA

A. God is always trying to get our attention. He created us to fellowship with him and to do his will (Psalm 100:3; Revelation 4:11). God wants to speak to us every day in the wonders of nature, through the Bible, by his Spirit, and through his messengers. In order to hear him, we must be available to listen. If we don’t, how can we begrudge God’s doing what he must to get our attention? Many of the recent hardships in America are considered “acts of God” because we have no control over hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, drought, and fires. Maybe God, in mercy, is reminding our once-Christian nation that he is still on the Throne.

Scripture does record many times when God allowed turmoil to show his displeasure. The worldwide Flood of Genesis 7 is an extreme example. But, lesser examples are found in such passages as 1 Samuel 12:18 and 1 Kings 18:45. Although he doesn’t always cause our afflictions, he may allow the consequences of a rebellious world and wrong choices to draw us to remember his words. In his mercy he sends rain and sun on the just and the unjust (Matthew 12:45). If he judges it necessary to send natural disasters, it’s logical to assume that Godly people may get some of the fall-out.

Jesus said in John 16:33 that we’re always going to have tribulations in this world. However, believers can have comfort knowing that he has the power to see us through them. In Matthew 24, Jesus predicted upheavals in nature that would be signs of his soon return. The tragedies we’re hearing about now all over the world could well be the beginning of sorrows referenced in Matthew 24:8.

It’s fitting that our hearts empathize with those who are hurting. We should pray especially for those being persecuted by evil people. It’s good that we share their grief, because Jesus taught us to care. In Matthew 25:40 Jesus said when we help a brother or sister in need, we’re honoring him. Remember that Ephesians 2:10 says we were created to do just that. When calamities get our attention it’s always appropriate to consider if God may be speaking. Our answers will come in prayer and meditation on his Word.

Does God Repent?

Q. If we believe God makes no mistakes, how are we to understand his repenting in 1 Samuel 15:11? Justin L., Round Lake, IL

A. The King James Bible in 1 Samuel 15:11 records God’s saying to Samuel, “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king.” In most other versions that verb vacillates between forms of “repent” and “regret.” The Hebrew word for repent there actually means “to sigh or breath heavily” as if disappointed. Yours is a valid question, however, since verse 29 says God is not a man that he should repent, or regret his action. They are the same word, but the context determines its meaning.

Let me share how I reconcile the thought of an all-knowing God regretting something he has done: I understand it best by remembering that we often describe God in anthropomorphic terms; i.e., we refer to him with human characteristics. We talk of God as having eyes and ears, heart and hands; but Jesus said in John 4:24 that God is a spirit. Yet, God describes himself with human qualities so we can better understand him. In Psalm 34:15 God inspired David to write, “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.”

Thinking of God as repenting or regretting some previous action is a way to understand why God changes his attitude toward a person. Our English word “repent” means to make a 180 degree turn and go in the opposite direction. If we think of God as repenting, it simply means that he has changed the way he will relate to someone. And, that’s because the individual has changed his devotion. If he has learned his lesson and made a positive change, God may then bless him. If he was once serving God but begins to disobey, God may punish him.

When God is said to repent, it certainly doesn’t mean that God has made a mistake; or, in this case, that God didn’t know King Saul would be a poor king. God knew full well what Saul would do, but he was the best man for the job at that time. God let him do good for Israel as long as he obeyed God, but when he began disobeying, God removed him.

How slow we are to learn that God usually lets us do what we’re determined to do, because that’s the best way to teach us to trust his way! We still learn best by trial and error. So, we can still believe an all-wise God never makes a mistake. When he “changes direction,” it is ultimately for the good of his children (Romans 8:28).

Elijah and Elisha

 Q. Why aren’t Elijah and Elisha considered “Major Prophets”? Russell Brandon, Anchorage, AK

A. I take it that you’re speaking of the usual 5 divisions of the Old Testament as being books of Law, History, Wisdom (or Poetical), Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets. We know the books called “Law” also contain the early history of Creation, Fall, Flood, Division of Nations, and the story of Abraham. That classification is called Law because the larger subject portion of those first 5 books of the Bible detail the laws God gave to Israel. Those books, also, are called the Pentateuch (5 books) and believed to be written originally by Moses.

          The distinction between the Major and Minor Prophets is largely due to the length of their writings. Since Elijah and Elisha were not writing prophets, they are not included in the division called Major Prophets.

          However, Elijah and his protégé Elisha are, indeed, major characters in the early history of the Kingdom of Israel. They are called miracle- working prophets of whom Elijah is considered the first, but actually Elisha has more miracles recorded than Elijah. They ministered at a time when Israel was slipping rapidly into apostasy. God allowed supernatural acts to confirm their ministries as they confronted evil where they found it. Most often, it was their kings who were leading their people farther from God’s ideals.

          The New Testament does not dwell so much on the individuals, Moses and Elijah, as on the groups they typify. Moses represents all the requirements of holiness to be practiced from God’s laws. Elijah represents all the prophecies the coming Messiah would fulfill. Many of those prophecies were actually stated years after Elijah in the periods of the major and minor prophets.

          These Godly men, Moses and Elijah, appeared at the Transfiguration of Jesus and are thought to be the Two Olive Trees of Zechariah 4 and the future Two Witnesses of Revelation 11. They give testimony that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah because he kept all the laws and fulfilled all the prophecies required for his first coming. Regardless of how they are classified, Elijah and Elisha are major prophets in the Bible account.

Sins of the Fathers

Q. In Exodus 20:5 is God being fair to hold children accountable for their parents’ sins? Pat Stawarz, Prince George, VA

A. Have no hesitation to state it: God will always be fair (Genesis 18:25)! If he ever seems to be unfair, it’s because we do not know all the circumstances. However, you are right that the verse following the second Commandment in Exodus 20 (“make no graven image”) seems out of character for a righteous God. That verse says God is a jealous God visiting the iniquity (perverseness and its consequences) of the fathers to the third and fourth generations of those who hate him. The adjective “jealous” there has a double meaning. It does mean he gets angry if we worship anyone or anything ahead of him. But, it also conveys the idea of zealousness to enforce what he has said.

Notice, too, that God didn’t say he will punish the third or fourth generations for their fathers’ sins. He said he will visit (direct or allow) the results of their sins to afflict the children. That is, the results of the fathers’ sins will continue to reap repercussions for their children, like ripples on a pond. Example: If we use up natural resources, our children may not have them. In addition, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers” can mean the children will reap God’s judgment for choosing their fathers’ lifestyle. In Bible times, as it is today in many countries, 3 or 4 generations might live in the same house under the authority of the family patriarch. If children follow what they have learned from their elders, they will be punished the same way as the fathers.

In all this, the fairness of a righteous God will punish each person for their own sins. Ezekiel 18:20 makes this plain: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father; neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” Yet, the next verse back in Exodus 20:6 says God will show mercy to thousands of those that love him. He may allow the consequences of sin to affect a few, but thousands will be blessed by the deeds of those who love him.     

 

“The Rock That Followed”

Q. Please explain “the Rock that followed them” in 1 Corinthians 10:4. B.W., Disputanta, VA

A. Speaking of Israel in the wilderness, Paul wrote, “they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” There are varying opinions for understanding this.

First, however, we must think of the logistics of caring for a minimum of one million people for 40 years in a desert wilderness. At least twice God provided quail to give them meat. Daily he provided manna that could be gathered from the ground and made into bread. He even kept their clothes and shoes from wearing out. But, what about water for drinking, cooking, washing, and for their livestock?

Exodus 17 records when the Jews needed water God told Moses that he, God, would stand upon a rock (probably by his pillar of fire) which he wanted Moses to strike. When Moses struck the rock a river of water gushed from it (Psalm 78:20). Although the Pentateuch doesn’t tell us this, the Jewish Hagadah says the rock itself followed them, always nearby continuing to provide water in the desert. Another oral tradition says, not the rock, but the river that sprang from that rock was never so far away that Israel couldn’t get the water they needed. Some commentaries suggest that Paul meant Israel carried the water with them as they traveled.

Although I cannot say how God continued to provide streams in the desert, I offer my understanding of 1 Corinthians 10. Verse 6 says Paul saw Scriptural examples in that account. That word “examples” means illustrations or types. Therefore, Paul’s whole thesis in chapter 10 is that the same provision God made for Israel is available for believers today. God led Israel by his pillar, he protected them in the sea, he fed them miraculous food, and he provided their water from a rock (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Therefore, when Paul called it a “spiritual Rock,” I believe he was picturing the rock as a type of Christ who always follows and provides those same blessings for those who trust in him. Further, his River of Life springing in our souls (John 4:14) will never run dry. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Jesus following me; I want to follow him!

Christian Conscience

Q. What is our conscience? Is a Christian’s conscience different from that of an unbeliever? Latane Jenkins, Chesterfield, VA

A. Your conscience is part of your human psyche (your mind). God created it when he gave you the abilities of self-awareness and rational thinking. Notice that it’s spelled with two words, con and science. Science comes from the Latin scire meaning “knowledge,” and con means “with.” So, you’re thinking with knowledge. What knowledge? The value system you have been taught. Simply stated, your conscience recalls what you have accepted as right or wrong.

          Your conscience reacts subconsciously, “under your knowledge.” You are not aware of it until you do something related to what you have been taught. It gives you good feelings when you agree with what you know to be right. But, it can give you bad feelings when you do that which you know to be wrong. It is not true that a bad person “has no conscience.” He has a conscience, but not everyone’s conscience reflects the same values. Your conscience is trained by what you believe, and it changes as your knowledge and values change.

          Socially speaking, our conscience is trained by our parents, our schooling, our peers, and our circumstances. Later we design our own values by what we want to accomplish in life. In addition, in Romans 2:14-15 Paul teaches that God has put knowledge of himself and of basic right or wrong in every person. Therefore, everyone is “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). When people go against their God-given understanding that abusing a fellow human is wrong, Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:2 sin has seared their conscience. 

When a person is exposed to Bible study and hears what is right or wrong, his mind builds a value system. When that person becomes saved, the Holy Spirit, then dwelling within him, draws on his Biblical values to convince him of right or wrong. Hebrews 9:14 says the blood of Christ not only saves us, but it cleanses our conscience so we understand what honors God. We call that our Christian conscience. To fail to obey our Christian conscience is sin (James 4:17).

Praying for the Unsaved

Q. When I pray for the unsaved may I pray for their physical needs, or does God only respond to prayers for their salvation? Janie Jahn, Yorktown, VA 

A. Many people remember the parable of Jesus in Luke 18:9-14 about the Pharisee and the publican praying. All the publican prayed was, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus said he left more justified than the Pharisee who prayed about his many accomplishments. From that, people have concluded that the only prayer God hears from the unsaved is their prayer for salvation.

          What God hears or doesn’t hear is a question I can only speculate about. However, I believe God hears every prayer just as he knows every thought. And, I think you may pray for the needs of the unsaved because he has said he cares for everyone. We were all created in his image (Genesis 1:27); we were created for his pleasure (Revelation 4:11); and he is not willing that any of us should perish (2 Peter 3:9; Titus 2:11).

Therefore, I believe God wants everyone to pray to him. And, there’s no limit to the nature of those concerns. All prayers may include requests for protection in times of danger, healing in times of sickness, or finances in times of need. It may be that, through answering the prayers of the unsaved, they will realize his love and care and be drawn to trust him. But, of course, the only prayer from the lost that we know he will surely answer is their prayer of repentance and their cry for salvation (Jeremiah 33:3).

          So, yes; you may ask God’s blessings on those who do not know him. This shows the character of God being developed in you. And, keep on praying for them. God will not overrule their wills, but he may use your prayers to draw them to himself. Just because he may not answer all their prayers doesn’t mean he won’t answer your prayers for them. “If you shall ask anything in my name [in his will and character and for his glory], I will do it” (John 14:14).   

 

Good Over Evil

Q. If God created everything and rules over all, how can we have such evil in the world? Rory Johnston, Las Vegas, NV

A. This becomes a pertinent question when many today are saying if there is a God, he can’t be good because he allows harm to come to people. They ask, “Why doesn’t God stop ISIS from killing believers and snipers from ambushing policemen?” Psalm 145:17 says God always acts in righteousness. That’s true, but his righteousness isn’t defined by our standards. Righteousness means God is always true to his own character and purpose. And, remember: He sees the whole picture!

Genesis 1:31 says everything God created in the beginning was declared to be good. God created us like himself with minds to make our own choices, and he said that was good. That means he gives every person the freedom to choose God’s ways or to reject the good he intends for us. Where God and good are rejected we have evil. Just as cold is the absence of heat and darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good. Evil is what we have when we reject God’s standards.

Knowing that we might succumb to Satan and reject the good, God has written (and miraculously preserved in the Bible) instructions for how we are to use the goodness he has created so as to overcome evil. It is not God’s plan that people kill others out of hatred (Exodus 20:13). But, he has given them the right of free choice. He has warned them; and when they sin, either they or a substitute has to die for their sins (Romans 6:23). If they refuse God’s substitute Savior, they will experience an eternal living fate worse than the deaths they have caused. For those who turn to God he has provided a Savior, Jesus, who lived and died so that evil will be abolished one day. In the meantime, God offers peace and comfort to those who are plagued by evil and harm. To help us endure evil, he gives hope that those safe in Jesus will be reunited for eternity. Those gifts are available through our faith in the atoning work of Jesus whose peaceful reign is not shaken by evil.

God’s Last Conversation

Q. I know the patriarchs conversed with God, but where is the last recorded conversations in both testaments? Roane Lovorn, Atlanta, GA

A. In the Old Testament, chronologically speaking, I believe Zachariah recorded the last 2 way conversation with God. I could have missed some, but if I’m correct, the last conversation is actually one God predicts will happen in the future. When Israel recognizes their Messiah, Zechariah 13:9 says, “…They shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, ‘It is my people;’ and they shall say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

          If I am correct, do you see how appropriate this is? This is the climax of the whole Old Testament story! Since God began to fellowship with Adam and Eve, but they broke that fellowship by sinning, the rest of the narrative builds toward the time when that fellowship will be restored. This last conversation with God in the Old Testament points toward the continuing story in the New Testament of how God will bring that reconciliation to pass.

          It can happen because God has taken the initiative to bear the guilt of man’s sin. He came as the sinless Man, Jesus, to take our sins on himself. He has said, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). However, when individuals ask him, the Judge will apply the death of Jesus in payment of our sins; and our fellowship with our Maker will be restored.

          The story comes to full conclusion with the last conversation in the Bible. Appropriately, it’s the next to last verse in the New Testament. Revelation 22:20 records Jesus saying, “Surely I come quickly,” and John’s reply is the prayer of every believer, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

          When he comes, the earthly story will end; but, the heavenly story will just be beginning. The fellowship will be restored, never to be broken again. Revelation 21:3-4 correctly makes it a great exclamation: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

Dan and Ephraim

Q. In Revelation 7 where John listed the 12 Tribes of Israel, why are Dan and Ephraim left out? Lucy Teachey, Chester, VA

A. It’s coincidental you should ask this question because I’m reading Dr. Mark Becton’s book on Revelation, A Confident Peace: Letting Revelation Change the Way You Live, (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2013). Dr. Becton, who is Sr. Pastor of Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, VA, gave me permission to draw from his book.

          Dr. Becton says there are some 19 different listings for the 12 tribes in the Bible. We don’t always know why some names are changed and some tribes seem to be left out. However, in this case, we do have some indication why these two may not be listed in the tribes from whom 144,000 Jewish missionaries are sent to preach Christ to the world as their completed Messiah. By the time of the Tribulation the Church will have been raptured, and God will be using Jewish believers to bless the world as he promised Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3.

It may be that, although Dan and Ephraim are still among God’s chosen people, he will not use Dan here because Judges 18:30-31 records a time when the people of Dan set up an idol in the tabernacle of God and worshipped it. Likewise, Ephraim in Hosea 4:17 also served idols. Psalm 78:9-11 adds insight, also.

However, as Dr. Becton points out, a more pertinent question for today concerns why God blesses the ministries of some Christians more than others. All believers are recipients of Christ’s Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, and all true followers of Christ want to be instrumental in leading others to salvation. However, some seem to be used by the Spirit more than others. If Dan and Ephraim are examples to us, then we learn that “God wants messengers who are reliable” (Becton, p. 147).

When you and I act upon the knowledge we have and faithfully use our spiritual gifts as we are led, God will open more doors of service and grant us more victories. Jesus said in Luke 16:10 that he who is faithful in little will also be faithful in much. As we grow in our obedience we will grow in faith and service (Romans 1:17).  

America’s Solution

Q. Our country is in such bad shape, what can the average citizen do to stop our downward spiral? Jim Beach, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. For our upcoming national birthday we need to remember that our country was founded to ensure individual freedoms. Yet, today people of faith are no longer free to express Biblical convictions. As a result, violence and killings fill the evening news; corruption and deceit are everywhere. Government is trying to control every area of our lives, and political correctness is the watchword of the day.

What can the average American do? Each of us must accept the fact that our country isn’t going to get better if we don’t do something and do it now! Realize that you are a soldier in a revolution to return America to her former strength politically, economically, militarily, and especially spiritually. You have a voice and your voice is as important as anyone else’s.

Express your voice by every avenue available. Speak up in public forums and know what your leaders stand for. I heard that over 460 governmental positions are up for reelection this year, so we have a chance to make a difference. Vote for those of like values and encourage moral men and women to run for office. Support financially those who will take your convictions to the state house and the White House. Write letters to the editor and make use of social media to spread your discontent. Sometimes peaceful civil disobedience is necessary to draw attention to unjust laws. If enough people refuse to obey them, history has proven they can be changed.

To the spiritually discernable, God is trying to get our attention with fires and storms, droughts and floods, and even insect-born disease. People, only God can control these! And, once he has our attention he’s already given us the solution in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14. It doesn’t take the majority of our citizens wanting to please God; a minority of truly devoted believers can use the only weapon that will work: Prayer! “…If I send pestilence among my people; if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” 

Praying for Enemies 

Q. In many Psalms David seems to curse his enemies and pray for revenge. Is it right for Christians to pray for revenge? Marian Baker, Richmond, VA

A. In doing a word search for “enemies” through the Psalms, I found that, most often, David was simply asking God not to let his enemies triumph over him. In a few Psalms David called his enemies God’s enemies, and he predicted that God would avenge the righteous. I only found a few Psalms, such as 6:10; 54:5; and 143:12, where David directly asked God to punish or destroy his enemies.

Even that seems harsh to us since Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount to “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). And, Paul wrote in Romans 12:19 that we are not to take revenge ourselves but allow God to repay evil. We will do well to remember Malachi 3:6 where God said, “I change not.” He is still “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). 

Therefore, we must realize that the Old Testament was a kindergarten leading to the mature teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Temporary lessons we learn in kindergarten will be replaced by the permanent lessons of responsible adults. I read somewhere that we cannot expect pre-Christian people to act “Christian.” In Psalms and other scriptures, cursing their enemies was really a plea for God to vindicate right in his own way. As David did, many Old Testament writers believed they were defending God’s honor; and they would not sit still when their God, his people, or his teachings were abused, neglected, or blasphemed.

Believers in the New Covenant should not seek revenge against our enemies, but rather show the attitude of Christ in praying for them and treating them with respect. After all, just as we believe they are wrong; they believe we are wrong.  So, we leave revenge in God’s hands; and “the Judge of all the earth (will) do right” (Genesis 18:25).  

Cremation

Q.  I’ve been comparing the cost of cremation vs. interment. Does the Bible prohibit cremation?  Sharon Harbaugh, Ocala, FL

 A. Most crematoriums use extreme heat and evaporation to reduce human remains to ashes, although there is an alternate process using water and chemicals. Cremation is popular today largely because it’s less expensive, and it may not require internment in a cemetery plot. Most families who choose cremation follow it with a simple memorial service and the family’s choice to keep, bury, or otherwise dispose of the ashes.

The Bible doesn’t mention cremation as a common practice, nor does it specifically prohibit it. I have found that, when the Bible is silent on an issue, God leaves the choice to us. However, Christians should always study scriptural principles and precedents while praying for guidance to make God-honoring decisions.

Consider these scriptures that may discourage cremation: Genesis 19 tells of fire destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and Revelation 20:15 says everlasting fire is the fate of the wicked.  Numbers 11:1 records God’s sending fire to consume the complainers among the Children of Israel. First Corinthians 6:19-20 teaches that our bodies are not our own because we are bought with a price to be the temples of the Holy Spirit. And, the most obvious objections come from the example that Jesus was buried and that, “We are buried with Christ” in baptism (Romans 6:4). Then, there’s the Christian tradition of burying the body facing east so we will rise to meet Christ as he comes from the east (Matthew 24:27).

By contrast, many other scriptures associate fire with God in a positive way. In his first chapter, Ezekiel saw God as a Being of fire from his waist down, and Hebrews 1:7 says angels are fiery ministers. Elijah was taken to God accompanied by a chariot of fire. Leviticus 9:24 and Exodus 29:18 say burnt offering were a sweet savor to God. First Samuel 31:12 tells of valiant men retrieving the bodies of King Saul and his sons to burn them rather than let the Philistines desecrate them.

If God can retrieve the molecules of bodies which have decayed, been buried at sea, eaten by wild animals, blown to bits, or burnt in a fiery building and make new celestial bodies for us, surely he can do the same for those cremated. I believe cremation is a matter of personal preference, neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture; therefore, we should respect the decisions individuals and families make for final remains.

 Demons in America

Q. Why do you think inexplicable acts of random violence are happening all across our beloved country? Is this a judgment from God? Emily Williams, Seattle, WA

A. I’m glad someone is noticing what I’ve been concerned about for some time. Every day we hear of murders, rapes, mutilations, and other terrible things happening seemingly for no obvious reason. Tempers boil and road rage flares. Snipers shoot randomly at passersby. Mob violence erupts without regard to laws or peace officers. A few days ago we heard about a man who drove across country to kill a professor who did nothing more than disagree with his college project.

          Personally, I do not think this is the judgment of God; I think it is the absence of God! I believe it is the consequence of our removing divine protection. Second Chronicles 7:19-22 states what God would do to Israel if they “forsook the Lord God of their fathers.” Surely his Word applies to any nation in covenant with him. Our forefathers entered into covenant with God. The Mayflower Compact said its purpose was “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” The Declaration of Independence stated our “firm reliance on protection of divine Providence.” Since then, other leaders have given us the national motto, “In God we trust,” and the pledge to our flag declaring us “One nation under God.”

          However, in recent years we have made it illegal to read the Bible and pray to Jesus in governmental functions. Crosses that have brought comfort for years are being removed, and military chaplains are forbidden to minister in the name of Jesus. The Ten Commandments upon which our country’s laws are founded are being removed. The Church has lost its uniqueness, and its gospel has been watered down by political correctness.

          I believe God respected our request and is removing his protection. Therefore, we are under demonic affliction. Satan and his demons have free reign because they are no longer being held back by the Spirit of God (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12). Jesus, himself, warned us in Matthew 5:13, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour….It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” More evil will happen until we return to the God of our fathers!

 ISIS and Antichrist

Q. Is the leader of ISIS the predicted Antichrist? Miranda B., Aledo, IL

A. ISIS is one of the abbreviated names for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (or Syria). Last year their current leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared himself a Caliph, or Muslim civil and religious ruler who is the successor of Muhammad.

          Many people believe Baghdadi wants to cause the final Apocalyptic Jihad that will hasten the coming of Islam’s predicted Mahdi, or Messiah. The followers of his brand of radical Islam may be fighting in hopes of drawing the Western nations they call “Rome” into a third world war. After they win that final battle, Islam and Sharia Law will be established over the world.

          There are several reasons why Baghdadi does not fit the Biblical description of the future Man of Sin called the Antichrist: Second Thessalonians 2:7-8 teaches that the influence of the Holy Spirit in the Church will be removed at the Rapture (the first phase of the Second Coming of Jesus) before the Antichrist is revealed. That has not happened yet. 

Revelation 6:2 shows Antichrist riding a white horse carrying a bow with no arrows and a crown that has been given to him. That predicts a peaceful conquest which is certainly the opposite of Baghdadi’s terror tactics of persecution, suicide bombings, and beheadings.

According to Daniel 9:26, the Antichrist will come from the people who destroyed Jerusalem (in 60 A.D.) and that was the Romans. Daniel 7 and other prophecies indicate that he will come from the area oiginally occupied by the Roman Empire. Baghdadi is not from Europe and certainly does not identify with the Western World.

Daniel 9:26-27 also teaches that Antichrist will enter into an agreement with the Jews. Baghdadi hates the Jews. Therefore, serious Bible scholars conclude that the ISIS strategy is simply one of the “wars and rumors of war” Jesus predicted to happen before his return (Matthew 24:6). If Jesus delays his return, ISIS will run its course and be either diminished or destroyed by forces against it.    

Second Amendment

Q. Does the Bible have anything to say about our Second Amendment rights which we’re hearing so much about in the current political climate? Christine Stawarz, Prince George, VA

A. The Second Amendment was drafted by James Madison in 1789. It and the other 9 amendments, forming what we call the Bill of Rights, were ratified and added to our Constitution in 1791. They are understood to state the inherent rights of every citizen.

          The Second Amendment reads, “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” One of our statesmen said its intended purpose was to support the natural rights of self-defense, resistance to oppression, and the civic duty to act in concert in defense of the state.

          Although Isaiah 9:6 predicted the Messiah would be called the Prince of Peace, it is a reference to the heart-peace he gives to believers and to his future millennial reign when “there will be peace in the valley” (Isaiah 11:1-9). It is true that Jesus said in Matthew 5:39 his followers should turn the other cheek when we are smitten. But, we must not take that out of the context of love which Jesus was preaching. He was not talking about defending ourselves in a life-threatening situation; he was teaching that we should resist our natural reaction in order to help a fellowman learn the ideal response of love. God’s love in us should cause us to forgo our own concerns to seek the best for others.

          True: Jesus taught that we should, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). However, Jesus never said we should not defend ourselves from danger. In fact, in Numbers 22:31 the Angel of the Lord, whom we suppose to be preincarnate Jesus, had his sword drawn against the false prophet Balaam. In our present culture of lawlessness and greed, believers have permission from Jesus in Luke 22:36 to carry a sword. He also said in Luke 11:21 (CEV), “When a strong man arms himself and guards his home, everything he owns is safe.” 

Homosexuality

 Q. Why does the Bible say homosexuality is wrong? K. Miller, Richmond, VA.

A.  I’m glad you didn’t ask why God hates homosexuals! God has stated his love many times in Scripture. John 3:16 reminds us that God so loved everyone in the world that he gave the only son he ever fathered to pay their sin debt so that everyone who receives Jesus will be saved. Peter also recorded in 2 Peter 3:9 that “The Lord is…longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” So, God loves each of us even though we all sin by disobeying the rules God gave for our good.

Now, you’re asking a good question: What makes homosexuality wrong? To answer that we have to go to the beginning of Creation. When God created the first couple he gave them his Prime Directive. God told them in Genesis 1:28 to multiply and fill the earth. Why did he say that? Because Revelation 4:11 says we were created for God’s pleasure. In John 15 Jesus called us God’s friends. So, God made male and female to have children who we teach to love God so God can have more friends to give him pleasure. Circumcision among the Jews reminded them of that original command that sex should be used for God’s purpose. Obviously, homosexuals can’t produce children to be God’s friends. Therefore, this is a serious sin against God’s Prime Directive. Young people should not experiment with it because it can become a snare that’s very hard to escape. And, because sin is pleasurable, they may think they were born that way.

Homosexuals are not bad people, but they’ve made a bad choice. God has spelled out in such places as Leviticus 20:13 and Romans 1:26-27 that homosexuality is a sin which he considers an abomination. Therefore, people are obviously not born that way. God would not condemn their actions if they couldn’t help it. And, the fact that many former homosexuals have changed their lifestyle also means they weren’t born that way. Consciously or unconsciously, therefore, people have chosen that which God told us not to do. And, social acceptance of defiance against God doesn’t make it right. Yet, the good news is that God came in the person of Jesus to pay sin’s death penalty for everyone who turns from sin and asks God’s forgiveness. And, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, God promised that he will help us overcome any temptation. So, anyone who is trapped in any sinful habit can have victory over it with God’s help. That’s why we call the Bible’s message Good News!

Transgender Issues

Q. What is a Biblical response to the transgender topic so much in the news now? Misi Rose, Midlothian, VA

A. In spite of the acceptance of GLBT sexuality being pushed upon the public today by media attention and political correctness, that doesn’t make it right in the sight of the One who is the final authority. Neither should any person who has deep rooted moral beliefs, such as the N.C. Governor, “roll over and play dead” because someone believes otherwise. Proponents of this issue are following the same carefully planned agenda that crept on us so softly that we awoke one day and found our neighbors accepting homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle.   

As far as the transgender question, God has already given us his answer. Genesis 1:27 tells us, “So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Regardless of what someone perceives himself or herself to be, they are what God created them to be. Revelation 4:11 teaches that we were created to bring God pleasure; that’s our bottom line in life. That’s more important than satisfying our confused notions of sexuality.

Although our fallen society believes otherwise, our Biblical response to any subject which is contrary to God’s written Word, is to state what God says. Christians must stand our ground without compromise, while at the same time loving each person as one for whom Christ died and consider him or her worthy of our witness and concern.

Let me quote portions of the resolution adopted by my denomination  which says it better than I can: “Resolved, that the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention…affirm God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception;…and be it further resolved, that we grieve the reality of human fallenness which can result in such…manifestations as gender identity confusion and point all to the hope of the redemption of our bodies in Christ;…and be it further resolved, that we extend love and compassion to those whose sexual self-understanding is shaped by a distressing conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity; and be it further resolved…that we love our transgender neighbors, seek their good always, welcome them to our churches and, as they repent and believe in Christ, receive them into church membership; and be it further resolved, that we regard our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.”

Lessons from Job

Q. I get lost in the book of Job. What is this book saying? Olivia Osterbind, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Bible scholars believe Job is the first Bible book to be recorded, even before Moses wrote the first 5 books in the Bible. This is where textual analysis helps us. The oldest copies we have show Job to be a crude, epic poem.

          We may consider ancient people to have been unsophisticated, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t smart! They knew that stories passed down from previous generations may get their facts mixed up. But, memorized poems remain almost unchanged. So, they made the story of Job an oral poem taught to their children until someone wrote it down. This earliest of books deals with the same question as relevant as today’s newspaper. People still ask: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

          Job teaches us that much of what happens in the physical realm is the result of the spiritual realm. God reigns above all, and God cares for everyone (2 Peter 3:9). All suffering doesn’t come from God or sin. Satan may directly cause some of our sufferings (Job 1:6-12). God allows suffering for his reasons, but his reasons are always for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28). He doesn’t condemn doubt or despair. If God allows believers to suffer, it may be to strengthen our character or draw us closer to him. Suffering has a way of sorting the important and dispelling the unimportant. Be assured: God is love (1 John 4:8). Our answers may not come until we stand before him, but God will always prove himself to be fair (Genesis 18:25). God takes note of the innocent and the righteous.

          There is also another important truth revealed in this early book. Two ancient creatures are described in chapters 40 and 41 which probably are extinct today. Behemoth and leviathan are responsible for many stories about dragons and sea serpents. Many scholars believe behemoth is a dinosaur, and Job 40:15 says God created it and man at the same time. That one verse confounds atheists by telling us God created all things, and it confounds evolution by telling us both behemoth and man were created at the same time.         

How to Read the Bible

Q. How are Bible believers to understand scriptures like Ecclesiastes 9:5 that say, “the dead know not anything”? Judy Beach, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Many errors are made when we read Scripture out of context. You can “prove” anything from the Bible if you take a few words or verses out of their intended meaning. The Holy Bible is an amazing book breathed by the mouth of God (2 Timothy 3:16) and applied by his Spirit, who accompanies it, for any serious student (1 Corinthians 2:10). But, it can be misunderstood if we don’t know the human author, the intended audience, the circumstance and purpose, and the literature style. Not only does language change require a modern understanding of ideological phrases, but culture change requires that we understand the historical setting and local customs of that time.

          Poetry is to be understood differently from prose. Poets may take “poetic license” with symbolic words and phrases while prose writers usually say what they mean. The so-called Wisdom Books of the Bible offer a unique challenge to the translator. Often, Hebrew poetry, such as Psalms, is written in couplets with the second line either repeating the first line in different words, or completing the thought of the first line, or saying the opposite of the first line. However, a narrative poem, such as Job or Song of Solomon, moves straight through the story. Satirical writings such as portions of Job and Ecclesiastes reflect an incomplete theology of pessimism. You have to be careful when you quote them. The book of Proverbs contains both promises you may claim and principles which are ideal hopes yet to be fulfilled. You need to know which is which.

          So, you ask, “How can I know which is which?” Study all verses with a trusted Bible commentary and look up words in a Bible dictionary or different version (2 Timothy 2:15). Better yet, ask a trusted Bible teacher! Yes, the Holy Spirit can give you lessons from any Scripture if you ask him, but the shallowness or depth of your understanding usually depends on your own initiative.

          Such Scriptures as Ecclesiastes 9:5 and 10, Psalm 6:5 and 88:10 seem to imply there is no life or knowledge after death. We must recognize those as incomplete theories from pessimistic emotions. Or, at least, they are speaking of the spiritually dead who will never know the joy of having all their questions answered in Heaven (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Lot Giving Daughter to Mob

Q. In Genesis 19:8 why would Lot offer his daughters to an unruly mob? Margaret Swinson, Richmond, VA

A. We’re told in 2 Peter 2:8 that Lot was a righteous man but he left his nomadic lifestyle to settle in the sinful city of Sodom. When 2 angels, appearing as handsome men, came to his city something in Lot told him to offer them the protection of his dwelling. That evening when the men of Sodom demanded to have their way with Lot’s guests, Genesis 19:8 says he begged them to take his daughters instead.

          Lot’s action shocks us because we have been taught the Judeo-Christian worth of every person. No such values existed in Lot’s day. However, the strong ethic of eastern hospitality demanded that he protect guests under his roof. Having been around Sodomites for a while he believed these “men” would be abused and perhaps killed when the mob finished with them.

          Why offer his daughters to appease the crowd? The culture of that day gave little rights to women. They were considered the property of their husbands or fathers. Even today in modern Muslim cities women can’t drive; women clerks cannot sell to a man alone in a store; and women must use separate purchase lines. Strict Muslims may enforce honor killing of a female who disobeys her male masters.

Lot may have felt his daughters would be safe in a mob who wanted sex with men. However, I believe Lot did not actually expect his daughters to be taken because he was using oriental exaggeration. It was, and still is, accepted speech to exaggerate to make a point. Even Jesus used this method when he said in Matthew 5:29-30 to pluck out your eye or cut off your hand to keep from sinning. He didn’t expect his hearers to do that; he was using exaggeration to emphasize the greater penalty of sin. I think Lot was attempting to shock the men by saying what they were doing was as wrong as a father allowing his daughters to be abused by a mob. Later, we see what God thought of those sinful practices when he destroyed those cities. Everyone has rights, but when a person’s perceived rights infringe on the rights of others they must be stopped. 

David’s Census

Q. How could God be angry at David in 2 Samuel 24 for taking a census when in verse 1 it seems that God caused him to do it? Todd Anderson, Fresno, CA

A. In Exodus 30:12 God told Moses he could count the Children of Israel to ensure that each one paid a redemption or temple tax to support their worship leaders. If they did not pay the 5 shekel tax, God might send a plague. Even in Numbers 3 when God allowed the tribes to be counted for army duty, he still expected the tax to be covered (verses 44-48).

          Second Samuel 24:1 tells us God moved David to take a census. Then, the later part of chapter 24 says God punished David for taking this census. However, the parallel account of this same event in 1 Chronicles 21:1 says Satan led David to do this. I do not see a conflict here; rather, both reasons are possible.

Let me pause to remind us that we’re not sure who wrote the original book simply called Samuel. It resembles manuscripts by the prophets Nathan and Gad during the United Kingdom. Chronicles was written, perhaps by Ezra, after the return of exiles from Babylon seemingly to correct misconceptions from Samuel and Kings.

          So, the writer of Samuel saw God behind David’s actions because God initiates or allows everything that happens. Yet, the later writer of Chronicles attributed this action to Satan’s temptation. David, being the man of blood that he was (1 Chronicles 28:3), may have had a thirst for war. Then, his pride led him to count the able-bodied men he could draft as soldiers (2 Samuel 24:9) rather than depend on God for his defense. Later, David repented and asked God’s forgiveness, but that forgiveness came with the price of a plague (2 Samuel 24:10-16). As bad as the price was, it probably was not as devastating as war would have been with many fine soldiers being killed.       

             Though God is the Prime Mover of all things, it was Satan who used David’s sinful pride to cause God to have to punish disobedience. First Chronicles 21:1 says Satan was striking at Israel. Satan is always against the people of God, but we must never let him use us to oppose God’s revealed plans. Today, Americans need to be reminded that our country must stand with Israel because of God’s decree in Genesis 12:3 that we will be blessed as we bless Abraham.

Not Everyone Saved 

Q. I was told that before the world comes to an end everyone must be saved. Is this true? Millie Hayward, Petersburg, VA

A. No, Millie, the Bible doesn’t promise that everyone will be saved before Jesus comes. The person who told you that probably had in mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10. There, Jesus said the gospel of the kingdom must be preached all over the world before the end comes. In the last few years advances in technology have made that prophecy a reality.

          Our Southern Baptist Convention, as well as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and many other missionary organizations, now claim that the gospel is available by satellite everywhere in the world and there are missionaries near (if not in) every tongue, tribe, and nation. Many missionaries who labor under adverse conditions claim Revelation 5:9 that promises someone will be in Heaven from every kindred, tongue, people, and nation. That encourages them that their efforts will help reach someone from their target people group.

          Jesus answered that very question in Luke 13:23-27 when his disciples asked him who would be saved. There and in Matthew 7:22-23 he said workers of iniquity will be lost, and even many who call him Lord will not be saved. The parable of the soils in Matthew 13 seems to teach that ¾ of the world will be unsaved.

          Many so-called signs of the times that Jesus predicted in Matthew 24 have already been fulfilled. We’ve seen wars, false prophets and gospels, rejection of Judeo-Christian morals, calamities all over the world, population explosion, hatred toward believers, and the multiplying of evil. Jesus said when we hear of these things happening at the same time, they are signs of his soon return. I believe, among those events, the last 2 signs holding back the Second Coming of Jesus have been fulfilled: Israel has returned to her homeland and the gospel is being preached around the world. That means everyone should repent and forsake our sins, and keep our eyes upon the eastern sky because our redemption draws nigh (Luke 21:28).

Easter Saints 

Q. A preacher mentioned the first Easter saints from Matthew 27:52. Who were they? K. H., VA

A. Matthew 27 records the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus. Matthew 28 records his resurrection. However, there is a phrase in the middle of Matthew 27:53 which probably should be in chapter 28. It tells about the saints who arose “after his resurrection.” These may be called the first Easter saints.

          Hades was the name the Jews gave to the realm of the dead. It was where all dead souls went. They believed it was in the heart of the earth and was divided into two compartments. By the time of Christ, the Jews called the place of the unsaved Gehenna or Hell, so named for the Valley of Hennom, the garbage dump of Jerusalem where trash fires burned constantly. Jesus drew on that analogy in Mark 9 to describe Hell as a place where the fires were never extinguished. That compartment was also called Torments (Luke 16:23). That Hebrew word meant “the rack.” It was where the enemies of God were sent. Revelation 20:14 teaches that Hell is a temporary punishment for the unsaved until they enter their final abode called the Lake of Fire, which is eternal.

          Those who were saved from the Old Testament era waited in the other compartment of Hades. It was a holding area they called Abraham’s Bosom. That title simply referred to the embraces of greetings exchanged in that pleasant place. Still, it was a world lacking the beauty of what we understand about Paradise or Heaven.

          Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 3 teach that Jesus descended to Hades after his death and announced his victory over death. After his resurrection, Matthew 27 says many dead saints arose and appeared to their loved ones in Jerusalem. I believe these were allowed to stop off and give testimony to Jesus as he led them up to establish Paradise. That’s a Persian word meaning a beautiful garden. Since Jesus told the believing thief he would be with Jesus that day in Paradise, we understand that’s where saints now wait with Jesus until we all enter Heaven, the New Jerusalem, together.

          The significance of this is that Jesus arose on the Jewish holiday called the Feast of First Fruits. It was when the first fruits of the spring harvest were waved before God at the Temple to ask him for a great harvest to follow. Jesus became the first fruits of our resurrection to be followed by every Christian believer. Our spirits go to Jesus upon death but our bodies will be resurrected at the Rapture. It was fitting on that holiday that Jesus transported Old Testament saints as a first-fruits offering to God. We will follow as his continued harvest of souls.

Intelligent Design

 Q. Do you agree with evolutionists who say a meteor struck the earth millions of years ago and killed all the dinosaurs? Harold Carpenter, Red Bank, England

A. One reason evolutionists believe in a prehistoric world like “Jurassic Park” is because fossils do reveal a time when huge animals, insects, and plants occupied the earth; and huge flying reptiles ruled the air. For such animals and plants to have existed, the earth’s atmosphere must have had more oxygen and greater air pressure. Therefore, the larger animals would have produced more carbon dioxide for larger plant growth; and dense air pressure would allow pterodactyls to fly.

            This is far different than anything we see today. Earth scientists theorize that if the earth were one large land mass, (as Genesis 11 might suggest with 10:25 possibly allowing continental drift) a huge meteor impact could have caused the demise of giant plants and animals. Yet, neither a sufficient crater nor remains of such a meteor can be proven beyond doubt. Also, Darwinians say it would take millions of years for fossils to produce oil and coal and for chasms such as the Grand Canyon to form. Yet, they also agree that for skeletal remains to be found intact, they must have been trapped suddenly and buried under great pressure.

             The Bible gives explanations for all these. Genesis 1:6-7 tells of the dividing of waters below and above a “firmament,” or atmosphere. The waters above the firmament formed a vapor canopy to shield the earth from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and make temperatures constant. It could also hold the oxygen and carbon dioxide down which would cause a greater air pressure. Under those conditions plants and animals could grow much larger, and giant winged reptiles could fly in heavier air. Evidence proves man was also upon the earth then because footprints of humans and dinosaurs appear in the same rock strata. If, in Job 40:15, behemoths are dinosaurs, as they appear to be, that verse says they were created at the same time with man.

            The universal Flood was an act of divine judgment on a sinful earth. From Genesis 7:11 we surmise the “windows of heaven” rained down the water vapor canopy. That release of air pressure and the resulting tides caused the deaths of giant animals and plants. The churning and belching of earth could have easily trapped running animals. The resulting great pressure could have created fossil fuels and canyons in a relatively short time. The eruption of Mt. St. Helens proved this is possible.

            Since only 2 of unclean animals were on Noah’s Ark, if one died they became extinct. So, the truth of God’s Word, not evolution, gives us the most logical explanation of things as they are today being the result of intelligent creation, design, and judgment.  

Disciple or Apostle?

Q. In Matthew 10:1 twelve men are called Jesus’ disciples, but in the next verse they are called apostles. What’s the difference?  Jane Jahn, Yorktown, VA

A. Most of the time there is no difference;  the words are used interchangeably. By definition, disciples are learners or pupils. Most often, we use the word to mean the twelve men Jesus chose to be his closest followers; but it may also mean any devoted fan of Jesus. Luke 6:19 indicates Jesus had many disciples, but he chose twelve from among them.

Most Bible teachers agree that the “disciples” who sat at Jesus’ feet for his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1 were a mixed group of followers. It was customary for those who were serious about learning  from a teacher to sit closest to him. (Look for your most anxious learners to sit near the front in church!) Mark 2:18 mentions that John the Baptizer and the Pharisees also had their own disciples. John 1:35 and 40 tell us two of the Baptizer’s disciples followed Jesus: Andrew and John, although he never names himself.

In Matthew 10:2  certain disciples were called apostles. Again, by definition, apostles were those who were sent for a mission, like commissioners, delegates, ambassadors representing another person. Apostles certainly had to be disciples, but not all disciples were apostles. Therefore, the correct term for the twelve men Jesus chose, trained, and commissioned were his apostles. After Judas’ betrayal, Matthias was selected (Acts 1:26); and later Paul claimed to be an apostle called by Jesus and the Father (Galatians 1:1).

For the first year or so of Jesus’ ministry, his future apostles followed him sporadically when they could get time off from their jobs and families. Later, we find Jesus calling them full-time as in Matthew 4:18-22. These were not “cold calls” where they didn’t already know Jesus; they had been following him since his  baptism (John 1). Even so, Jesus is still calling for disciples today who, after serious thought and prayer, will commit the rest of their lives to serving Jesus (Luke 14:33). Have you left all to follow him regardless of the consequences?   

Worship in Spirit

Q. What did Jesus mean in John 4:24 by saying God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth? Connie Swineford, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. All through the Old Covenant Israel worshipped God by observing the rituals Moses had given them in application of the 10 Commandments. In the lifetime of Christ, the Pharisees were considered Israel’s most religious men because they kept all of those requirements. They tithed everything, even garden vegetables. They kept all of the fasts and feasts; and they were known to pray for long hours. They knew their scriptures, and they were present every time the Temple opened. That’s what good Christians do today; yet, Jesus said they were not worshipping God. He called them hypocrites who turned his house into a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13).

          Hebrews 10:1 says those Old Testament regulations were a shadow of things to come because they would be fulfilled by Jesus, as Romans 10:4 says. Therefore, Jesus could tell the woman of Samaria that God is a Spirit who may only be worshipped truly in our spirits. You see, our worship now in our New Covenant is not based on ritual; instead, it is based on relationship. The Bible is our etiquette book on how to worship God, but it’s different from other etiquette books because its instructions are written in generalities. But, its application is written by the Spirit on the heart of each true worshipper.

          Just being sincere isn’t enough. Sincerity is a good thing, but a person may be sincerely wrong. All false religions follow outward rituals because they sincerely believe that’s what they are supposed to do to please God. But, they do not have an inward relationship with the True God, because he may be approached only by way of Jesus. Unless one personally knows God’s Son and follows the individual leading of his Spirit, they are not worshipping. In fact, they can’t worship!

          So, unless you have met with Jesus when you come to church or when you have your devotional time, you have not worshipped. Worship is conducted in our spirits. If you have not talked with God and felt him communing with you in the quietness of your mind, you have not worshipped.

Heaven’s Languages

Q. What language will we speak in Heaven? Bill Grosz, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. This is a question that is often asked, but the Bible doesn’t specifically answer it. However, there are some Scripture hints that lead to several possible answers.

          The most obvious answer is that we’ll speak the language God taught to Adam and Eve as he walked and talked with them in Genesis 3:8. Was that ancient Hebrew? The handwriting which God wrote on the Babylonian palace wall in Daniel 5:25 seemed to be a mixture of ancient Chaldee and Hebrew. But, it was so old none of Belshazzar’s wise men could interpret it. Then, Acts 26:14 tells us God spoke to Saul, whom we know as Paul, in the Hebrew tongue. So, ancient Hebrew is one possibility for our Heavenly language. If so, God will have to teach it to us as he did to Adam!

          Another possible answer to your question is that we will each speak our native heart language but we will be able to understand each other. This was the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2:6. You will recall that Philippians 2:11 says every tongue will profess that Jesus Christ is Lord. So, that sounds like we’ll speak our own languages. Revelation 1:15 tells us the voice of Jesus sounded like many waters. I think that was Jesus speaking in all the languages of the world at the same time. When I heard many languages praising God together at an international conference, it sounded to me like the roar of a waterfall.

          Finally, Zephaniah 3:9 says God will give the people a pure language that we may all call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one voice. Some have said that may be the “tongues of angels” Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:1. Others suggest our Heavenly language will be music, which is understood in any language; or perhaps it will be the language of love – God’s love returned to him and others. We know from John’s writings that Jesus is the Word sent from God to men. John 10:16 promises one fold and one shepherd where we’ll all hear the voice of Jesus. Since 1 Corinthians 12:13 implies that we will have all the knowledge we need, we’ll surely have no trouble communicating in Heaven! 

Remembering the Lost in Heaven

Q. Will we remember our lost loved ones and friends in Heaven? Betty Belle Isle, Petersburg, VA

A. Two things I remember from my professors concerning this question are:

1- Since we will have the mind of Christ, we will remember them. However, we will know they brought it on themselves and deserve what they got since God will always be fair (Genesis 18:25).

2- They will not be brought to mind; because, since they were never born again, it will be as if they were never born (Isaiah 26:14). 

          I remember that Dr. John Piper’s answer to this question was something like this: God will personalize our memory experiences. We will forget and remember things in accordance with that which will maximize our enjoyment of God. If remembering something enhances our praise, we will remember it; if not, we will forget it.

          Here are some Scriptures relating to your question: Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.” Isaiah 26:14 in the New English Translation reads, “The dead do not come back to life; the spirits of the dead do not rise. That is because you came in judgment and destroyed them. You wiped out all memory of them.” And Psalm 34:16 repeats the same thought: “The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.”

          They vexed our spirits in life; why should God let them continue to bring us sorrow in eternity? Those in Heaven will know God is righteous and holy, and whatever happens to the lost is because they chose it. They had no time for the Bible, the Gospel, or God’s Spirit. They trod underfoot God’s gracious invitation and his supreme love revealed at Calvary. They had no interest in going to Heaven and would not be happy there. To send them to go where they have nothing in common with the redeemed would be God’s overruling their choice and their worst fate!

          Other than these, I find no specific answer for this question except to remember that Galatians 5:22 says one of the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit is joy. Also, I remember that Revelation 21:4 promises there will be no sorrow or pain in Heaven. Therefore, I conclude that if we do remember them, it will not dampen our joy.

Lower Parts of the Earth 

Q. Please explain Ephesians 4:8-10 about Jesus descending to the lower parts of the earth. Clark Meadows, Colonial Heights, VA
A. There are 3 major schools of thought on how to interpret Ephesians 4:8-10.
(1) Descending and ascending refer to his coming to earth from Heaven. The word “descend” means to step down and “ascend” means to step up. “The lower parts” means earth is lower than Heaven. He fulfilled this when he was born in Bethlehem and when he ascended to his Father.
(2) There are those who say “descended first into the lower parts of the earth” simply means he was buried in the earth before he ascended.
(3) “Descended” also could mean that while his body was in the grave, in his spirit he went to Hades, “the realm of the dead,” believed to be in the heart of the earth. There, he announced his victory over Satan. We have reason to believe this is the intended meaning because of 1 Peter 3:18-20. Peter wrote, when Jesus died, he was alive in his spirit and he went to “preach to the spirits in prison.” The next verse tells us who those spirits were. They were the spirits of the unbelievers who died in the Flood (and probably he meant all unbelievers since then). Jesus didn’t “preach” meaning that he gave an invitation to be saved; “preach” there means to announce something.
           Ephesians 4:8 says after he announced his victory, “when he ascended on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts to men.” We believe this is when he brought those who were saved during the Old Testament out from Hades and took them up to where he established Paradise (a “beautiful garden”). That’s where the believing thief on the cross was the first resident (Luke 23:43) and where the spirits of all believers in this age go to await the Second Coming.
          This understanding seems to explain Mathew 27:52-53 which says, when Jesus arose, many spirits came out of their graves and appeared in Jerusalem. I believe these were the spirits Jesus was bringing from Hades up to Paradise, and he allowed them to appear in order to give testimony that Jesus was their Messiah. Releasing their captivity, he rewarded their faithfulness when they entered Paradise. Believers today will be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ when we enter Paradise (2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 4:4).

Age of Earth

Q. How can we reconcile the age of dinosaurs with the Biblical account of Creation and a young earth? Michelle Wagner, Chester, VA

A. We can’t. Truth and error don’t mix. The evolutionary chain with its accompanying ages is a theory upon which even the smartest people cannot agree. Every year or so you hear some earth scientist say things are a different age from what we heard before. And, radiation dating is unreliable at advanced ages.

Evolution and its advanced age for earth is an invention of men who prefer to believe Satan’s lies rather than God’s truth. Satan’s intent is to discredit the Bible. Men go along with that because, if the Bible isn’t true, that means there will be no accounting for our sins – no judgment and no eternal Hell.

Men’s theories trace the beginning of our universe back 4-6 billion years to a supposed “Big Bang” which started the whole thing.  But, where did the basic materials in that “Bang” come from? And, what caused it? Physical laws teach us that something cannot come from nothing! Order cannot come from chaos, much less the precision of our universe and the complex ecological systems of planet Earth and its inhabitants.

We must believe the Bible because Jesus said in John 17:17 that God’s Word is truth. God says He created everything (Isaiah 45:12). That’s the only logical response that answers every question. God did it, and there’s nothing impossible for him! Three times in Genesis 2:2, Exodus 21:11, and Exodus 31:17, God recorded that he created everything in 6 days. And, the ages given for the people he created with the universe give us an approximate earth age of around 6,000 years.

As for the age of dinosaurs, God tells us in Job 40:15 that he made Behemoth (a dinosaur) at the same time he made man. That reaffirms the Genesis account of the creation of everything in 6 literal days. How do their fossil remains appear to be so old? God could have created them with the appearance of age to see if we believe what he says. Adam and Eve were created full grown in a fully grown garden. We do best when we believe God says what he means and means what he says!

Jesus and His Father

Q. If Jesus and God are one, how could he say: “Father, why have you forsaken me?” And, how can we call him the Son of God? Ralph, Richmond, VA

A. God is a Being unlike us. He is the only Being in the universe who is all-present, all-powerful, and all-knowing with no beginning and no ending. Only he is three distinct Persons; yet he remains one God. He has the ability to separate his nature so that he may relate to us with the different personalities of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). All three Persons of the Godhead are equal in attributes and equally God. We cannot explain that which we call the Trinity.

          We can only know about God what he reveals to us. Because someone may say the wrong thing about God’s nature, he wrote in hard copy what he wants us to know about himself. The Bible is the only book God wrote with his Spirit uniquely inspiring the writers to say what he wanted them to say. Jesus said, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17).

          Luke, chapter 1, records how God placed himself in the womb of a woman and was born with no earthly father. That’s how we call Jesus the Son of God. God created us to have fellowship with him. When we disobey him, those sins break our fellowship with God. So, God had Paul to write in Romans 6:23 that the result of our sins is spiritual death. However, since Jesus never sinned, he chose to take our sins upon himself and take our penalty of death.

          When Jesus hung on his cross bearing the sins of all who trust in him, 2 Corinthians 5:21 says he became sin for us. That’s when his Holy Father could not look upon him, and that’s why Jesus cried in Matthew 27:46, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” However, God did not forsake Jesus permanently, because death did not hold him. After Jesus arose and returned to Heaven, God came to earth again as the third Personality we call the Holy Spirit. He is still here. Because he is a Spirit he can indwell the bodies of everyone who serves Jesus as their Lord.

          Jesus has promised that he will return one day to take all true believers to his home (John 14:3). Then, we will know God in the fullness of his nature and live with him forever (Revelation 21:3). This promise is ours to claim when we ask God to place our sins on Jesus. Then, we believe he has done this and we try not to sin again choosing to live for Jesus as our Lord.        

Snow in Israel

Q. Did it ever snow in Israel? Dale Heiskill, Richmond, VA

A. Short answer: Yes. Most people probably think of Israel as desert country, but that’s because God kept his warning in Deuteronomy 11:8-17. He turned their land of milk and honey into a hard, dry land because of their rejection of him. Actually, Israel is roughly on the same latitude as our southern states of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. They do get snow, but not every winter and not all over the country.

          From Exodus through Revelation snow is mentioned 24 times in the Bible. Often, as in Numbers 12:10, it’s used to say a person’s leprosy was “white as snow.” In 2 Samuel 23:20 a brave man named Benaiah went down into a pit of snow to kill a lion. A familiar passage is Proverbs 31:21 where the “virtuous woman” kept her family well clothed in the snow. Daniel 7:9, referring to God, and Revelation 1:14, referring to Jesus, speak of their garments and hair being white as snow.     

          References to snow in Matthew 28:3 and Mark 9:3 help us determine the true location of the high mountain where Jesus was transfigured. Constantine’s mother, Queen Helena, selected many of the Biblical sites that tourists still visit today. Some of them are accurate; others are questionable. Helena had a church built on the smaller Mount Tabor to mark the Transfiguration site. But, Mt. Hermon a few miles away is snowcapped most of the year. The references comparing the garments of Jesus being “white as snow” lead most Bible scholars to think he was probably in the snow line on Mt. Hermon.

          One scripture about snow is especially precious to believers. Isaiah 1:18 records God saying, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” When the blizzards come, remember that those who place their sins on Jesus will be as pure in God’s sight as fresh fallen snow when the sun rises the next morning.

Day of Worship 

Q. Is it true that Christians didn’t worship on Sunday until Emperor Constantine ordered it? A History Class of Prince George High School, Prince George, VA

A. No; Christians have been celebrating the first day of the week, Sunday, as a day of worship since Jesus’ resurrection and his appearance with worshippers on that day (John 20:19; Matthew 18:20.) At first, early believers still considered themselves good Jews who kept the Sabbath rest and rituals. In addition, they had special evening services in house groups around a common meal on Sunday (Acts 20:7) ending with “breaking bread,” a term for the Lord’s Supper. As persecution from the Jews grew stronger, Christians began to worship only on the Lord’s Day. In the middle of the first century, Paul referred to this practice in 1 Corinthians 16:2. Sunday was well established as the day of worship by the later part of the first century when John wrote about it in Revelation 1:10.

          In the second and third centuries a few theologians began arguing that believers were still obliged to observe Saturday as the Sabbath. However, most of the major church leaders explained that the Sabbath was a part of the Old Covenant God made with the Jews. It symbolized working to earn one’s rest at the end of life. In God’s New Covenant of grace we receive our salvation at the first of our Christian life and we’re on his “honor system” to work the rest of the “week” because we are saved. They pointed out that there is no commandment in the New Testament to worship on the Sabbath day.

          The arguments progressed, until Constantine proclaimed an edict in 321 A.D. stating that Sunday would be the Roman day of rest when all businesses would be closed. Farmers, shepherds, and cattlemen, who must continue their work, were exempt. Some Eastern Orthodox countries and Seventh Day Christians do not agree with this and still consider Saturday as their day of rest and worship. Faced with this same question, Paul surely remembered that Jesus said in John 4:24 the Father seeks those who will worship him in a true spirit; he didn’t specify the day. Therefore Paul wrote in Colossians 2:16 that we not judge one another by our days of worship; for, after all, we are now under that New Covenant of grace!

Worshiping Demons

Q. Why are sexual freedoms and a woman’s right to abortion wrong if our Constitution guarantees individual rights? Anonymous in Prince George, VA

A. Our government may consider certain actions lawful, but everyone must eventually answer to the rules of the Ultimate Judge (Revelation 20:12). His Commandments are for our good (Exodus 20:3-17). When God prohibits the abuse of sex and that which we call abortion, he is actually warning us about the forbidden worship of ancient idol-gods. Do you think no one worships Baal and Molech today? Think again!

          Listening to Dr. Adrian Rogers on BBN, I was reminded that God didn’t create the Devil. God created a perfect angel called Lucifer (Ezekiel 28:15) and gave him freedom of choice. Lucifer chose to rebel, and Revelation 12:4 hints that he led perhaps a third of Heaven’s angels to rebel with him. Since Lucifer, called Satan and the Devil, is not omnipresent he extends his power through his angels whom we call demons. Two of them were very powerful in the Old Testament and remain among our strongest adversaries today. Their influence is more wide-spread worldwide than all the agents of terrorism.

          Baal and his female counterpart Asherah were the demons of sexual abuse worshipped with male and female prostitutes while participants hoped to gain fertility of children, crops, and livestock (1 Kings 14:23-24). Today, every time we engage in sexual unfaithfulness, adultery, homosexuality, or any sex act outside heterosexual marriage, we are worshipping the demon Baal.

          Molech was the demon Satan placed in charge of destroying children (Leviticus 18:21). Molech was personified as an idol with outstretched arms burning with fire. Women sacrificed their children into his arms (2 Kings 23:10; Psalm 106:37). Satan has always hated our offspring because each child is created in the image of God, and God loves them (Mark 10:14-16). Think of the times Satan came after children: Pharaoh killed the boy babies of Israel in Egypt, and Herod killed the babies of Bethlehem. Today, each abortion is a sacrifice to Molech. And, Satan laughs with glee!

          Yes, you are free to make individual choices. But, when you do these things, don’t say, “The Devil made me do it!” You chose to do it! The good news, however, is that God can forgive any sin when we repent and ask forgiveness in Jesus’ name (2 Peter 3:9; John 3:15). Not only will that defeat Satan, 2 Chronicles 7:14 promises it will help to bring God’s blessings back on our land!

Health and Wealth Gospel

Q. Is it true what I heard from a TV evangelist that God wants to bless us, and if we’re not blessed it’s our fault? Connie Swineford, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. I guess your answer depends on whether you’re talking about material or spiritual blessings. Yes, God’s character is one of grace (2 Peter 3:9), which means he is predisposed to bless those of good will toward him (Luke 2:14). However, those blessings may not be recognized by the unspiritual.    

          Several popular TV pastor/evangelists are preaching what we call a “health and wealth gospel.” They teach that, in Jesus’ name, we can claim anything we want if we do certain things: “If you are basically good and do what you believe God wants you to do, he will give you your hearts’ desire for health, success, and prosperity. If you don’t have those things, it’s your fault: you must be sinning somehow.”

          I see 2 basic errors in that supposition: First, we cannot bargain with God, because we don’t have anything to bargain with! God doesn’t love us because of what we can give him. By creation, he already owns everything we have. He loves us for what he can make of us when we “let go and let God.” Any goodness we have comes from God who decrees us righteous when we place our sins on Jesus (Romans 4:5).  

          Second, God does bless those who love him; but, those blessings may be spiritual in nature, and the best of them will not come in this life. Yes, he can give health and wealth and a Midas touch; but, most of us couldn’t handle those. When everything went well we would forget the One who blessed us (Deuteronomy 8:11-18). Therefore, God usually spaces out our blessings. As we learn to accept them humbly, he gives more until he’s ready to pour out the whole measure in Heaven.

          Remember that Jesus said his followers might suffer loss and persecution in this life, and some will be killed for his sake (Luke 21:12-19). But Jesus said to rejoice when that happens because our reward will be great in Heaven (Romans 8:35-39). Proverbs 30:8 teaches we should seek neither poverty nor riches. Philippians 4:11 and Hebrews 12:1-2 and 13:5 say we should be content with what we have and use it to honor Jesus.                  

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