Bible Q and A

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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  • Angels with Wings
  • New Year’s Prophecy
  • Birth Announcement
  • Refugee Crisis
  • Jacob and Leah
  • Knowledge in Heaven
  • Thanksgiving Origins
  • Apocalyptic Jihad
  • Persons in Trinity
  • Time and Place
  • Christians in Politics
  • Capital Punishment
  • Defending Ourselves
  • Ignorance of the Law
  • Universal Salvation
  • 7 Spirits of God
  • Contents of the Ark of the Covenant
  • Sins of the Fathers
  • Genealogy in First Chronicles
  • All Sins Forgiven
  • Who May Lead Lord’s Supper
  • 2 Chronicles 7:14
  • America’s Implosion
  • The Purpose of Pain
  • Transgender Issues
  • Jews Will Be Saved
  • Loved Ones in Heaven
  • Christian Persecution
  • Civil Obedience
  • Prayer Life of Jews
  • Worship Rituals
  • Holiness
  • Cain and Abel
  • Animal Sacrifices
  • Obey our rulers
  • Women in Church
  • Some Not Die Before Jesus Comes
  • Who were Abraham’s 3 Guests?
  • Do We Sleep After Death?
  • Will Antichrist altar time?
  • Is Baptism Necessary?
  • Taking the Supper Unworthily
  • The Unpardonable Sin
  • Why Preach the Burial of Jesus
  • Praying For His Sake
  • Salt and Light
  • America in Prophecy
  • Happy New Year?
  • Losing “Christmas”
  • Can God Forget?
  • Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters
  • Seeing God’s Face
  • A Man After God’s Heart
  • Space Travel
  • Dinosaurs
  • Before Pentecost
  • Is God Fair to Punish the Next Generation?
  • Righteous Anger
  • The Day of the Lord
  • Does God Repent?
  • Church and Politics
  • Is Church Necessary?
  • Mormon Beliefs About Salvation
  • A Biblical Response to ISIS
  • Demon Visitations
  • Can I Have Too Much Stuff?
  • Proper Praise
  • Why Do the Good Die Young?
  • Muslim Beliefs
  • Who Were the Resurrected Easter Saints?
  • How Races and Ethic Groups Derived
  • Is Sorrow for a Loved One Wrong?
  • Praying From Our Closet
  • The Bible and Meditation
  • Did Jesus Appear to Mary?
  • Bible Teachings About Racial Intermarriage
  • What does “pearls to pigs” mean?
  • Why do we need to pray repeatedly and persistently?
  • Is it a sin to call someone rabbi, father, or master?
  • Are “Blood Moons” signs of the Second Coming?
  • Are Christians ever at risk?
  • How may I know if a game is harmful?
  • What does our New Covenant teach about the tithe?

Angels with Wings

 

Q. Why do we almost always depict angels as women and babies with wings, but all of the angels in the Bible are men? The Reverend Doctor Andre Best, Richmond, VA

A. All we really know about angels comes from the Bible. Anything else is fiction or guesswork. God made the angels sometime before he created the universe. Job 38:4-7 describes God’s creative actions, and verse 8 says the morning stars and sons of God were there shouting and singing. Those are among our earliest titles for angels. Lucifer was created a cherub (not a baby, but a composite) angel walking among stones of fire and guarding the Throne of God (Ezekiel 28:14). He had already rebelled and been cast out of Heaven (Luke 10:18) when he came to Eden in Genesis 3.

          Psalm 104:4 informs us that angels are spirit beings, and fire is our closest physical understanding for their nature (2 Kings 2:11 and 6:17). As far as we know angels are gender-neutral who never marry (Matthew 22:30). Since they are a created race and their number is fixed, there are no baby angels; and humans do not become angels when we die. Angels were created to serve God and, at his bidding, to serve those who are saved (Hebrews 1:14). Being ageless, the angel Gabriel is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments some 500 years apart. 

          Some angels are sent as special messengers from God. You are correct that those angels who take on a temporary physical appearance are always described as adult males. For some reason early artists began depicting angels as babies, perhaps because of their purity and innocence. The idea of angels being female with wings comes from only one verse in the Bible. Zechariah 5:9 describes the prophet’s experience of seeing 2 women with wings like a stork. These are not even called angels, and they may not have been real since they were part of his vision. Other Scriptures tell of angels flying, but no wings are specifically mentioned. Since we feel less threatened by women, we fantasize that angels are females with wings.

          The word “angel” means “messenger.” The most powerful messenger in the Bible is the one called “The Angel of the Lord” in the Hebrew language. He identifies with God and seems to be pre-incarnate Jesus (Exodus 3:2, 6). He is the only Angel deserving of our worship and prayers.  

New Year’s Prophecy

Q. What should we look for in this new year? Do you think the Rapture will happen soon? H. A. Carpenter, Sebastin, FL

A. We are given partial end-time lists in the prophecies of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The most comprehensive list of “signs of the end” is the one given by Jesus in Matthew 24. These are not necessarily chronological, but they do tell you what to watch for.

          The misleading sign in Matthew 24:4-5 predicts false messiahs and religions. The military sign in verses 6-7a tells of at least two great wars and many smaller ones. The misfortunes sign in 7b-8 says disasters will increase all over the world. The martyr sign in verses 9-10 predicts the persecution of true believers. The moral sign in 11-12a speaks of the degradation of moral values. The misbelieving sign in verses 12b-13 says there will be a falling away from the true faith.

          The missionary sign in verse 14 tells of the gospel being preached all over the world. The merger sign in 15-28 explains the union of nations awaiting a world leader who will oppose Jesus at his visible Second Coming, described in 29-31. The miracle sign in verses 32-36 is a prophecy of Israel’s prominence in the last days and the Millennium. Finally, the multiplication sign in verses 37-44 predicts a great population explosion and the multiplying of evil in the last days.

          The best chronological listing of future events is found in John’s Revelation. Jesus gave characteristics of what is happening in this Church Age in chapters 2-3. If my understanding is correct, we’re living concurrently in the ages of the missionary church of Philadelphia described in 3:7-13 and the faithless church of Laodicea in verses 14-22. John symbolically experienced the Rapture immediately after the Church Age at the beginning of chapter 4. The events of chapters 6-18 will happen during the last seven years before the visible return of Jesus.

          As I understand them, the primary signs preceding Christ’s coming are the reestablishment of Israel in her land, a union of European nations moving toward electing a world leader, growing antagonism toward faithful Christians and Jews, and the gospel preached all over the world. Now, you decide how close we are to his coming!

Birth Announcement

Q.  Why was Jesus’ birth not announced to religious leaders? V. C., Colonial Heights, VA

A. In the first Christian century the three largest settlements of Jewish people were in Israel, Persia, and Egypt. Birth announcements were sent to each of these places where descendants of Abraham were sincerely awaiting fulfillment of God’s promise from Genesis 22:18.

          The Shepherd’s Field near Bethlehem was the same field where David guarded his sheep and perhaps wrote Psalm 23. Tradition says the rock over-hang forming a shallow cave where shepherds were known to keep their sheep was the threshing floor of Boaz mentioned in Ruth, chapter 3. According to the Jewish Mishna that field was later dedicated for Temple use to raise sheep for sacrifice. But, the shepherds who raised those sheep were considered outcasts because they chose a vocation that required working on the Sabbath. Yet, to these “untouchables” God sent an angel host to announce the coming of the Good Shepherd. Remember: It was the religious leaders who crucified Jesus!

          The second largest contingent of Jews was in Persia where many chose to remain after the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Jewish priests there, educated men called Magi, knew of Balaam’s prediction in Numbers 24:17. Upon seeing a brilliant supernova one night 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’s announcement. Thus, God was letting all of Abraham’s descendants know the fulfillment of his promise to their forefathers. Further, the angel expanded that promise to be good tidings of great joy for all people of goodwill toward God. Jesus said he didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. I’m glad the proclamation came first to shepherds, because if those who had no hope of Heaven could be saved, so can I! 

Refugee Crisis

Q. Is it wrong for Christians not to want Syrian refugees into our country? Janie Jahn, Yorktown, VA

A. Yours is a question hotly debated, and no answer I give will satisfy everyone. For instance: Last month it was reported that 51% of Americans believed we should accept refugees, but since Paris and California now 56% are against letting them in. Even though our president wants to admit a limited number of 10,000, over ½ of our governors say they will not be welcomed in their states. This is a real factor now that extremists are saying they will enter our country through our immigration system. They surely know we allow visitors from some 38 countries to come in on 90 day visas with no vetting.

          Political parties are at odds over this issue with 67% of Republicans against and 69% of Democrats for accepting Syrian refugees. Presidential candidates pretty much follow their party lines with some being more extreme than others. Yet, a strong majority of both parties (82%) agrees that we should help them where they are.

          Even though our government says it has a strong immigrant vetting system lasting from 6 months to 2 years (and even longer to check out those where terrorists are known to live), this cannot guarantee everyone. So, we ask: What if some terrorists slip through? Shouldn’t the welfare of our citizens come first? What will an influx of immigrants do to our economy, the job market, welfare, Social Security, our public school system, etc.?

          Many who have been influenced by our Judeo-Christian ethics say we can’t let the possibility of a few terrorists stop us from helping thousands in need. If we do, ISIS wins the propaganda war! Faith based organizations and individuals remind us that such scriptures as Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:34; and Malachi 3:5 teach compassion to strangers. And, Jesus taught in Matthew 25:41-46 about those who will be judged on how they receive strangers. Yet, I remember that though my heart goes out to strangers who beg me for a ride, I don’t pick up hitchhikers because my greater obligation is to stay safe for those who depend on me.

          Jesus also said in Matthew 10:16 to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Can we not be both wise and compassionate – vigilant and trusting God to help us do what we can? I think each of us needs to weigh all sides of this question and pray about our involvement. 

Jacob and Leah

Q. What do we know about Jacob’s first wife, Leah? Janie Lovorn, Petersburg, VA

A. A few mornings back when my wife and I were doing our devotional reading, Janie asked this question. Following the references in our devotional material and other scriptures, we discovered some interesting facts.

          Jacob’s Uncle Laban had 2 daughters of which Leah was older. Genesis 29 in the King James says she was tender eyed. That word literally means “weak.” This may indicate she had poor vision or a physical deformity of her eyes. The implication is that her younger sister Rachel was more beautiful.

          Leah could have been secretly in love with her handsome cousin, but disappointed to learn Jacob loved Rachel so much he was willing to work 7 years for her. So, Leah may have told her father: “I’m older and I should have first preference before Rachel!” Or, she could have been forced by her father to go along with his scheme. At any rate, Laban devised a way to keep the free labor coming from Jacob.

          Evidently, the tradition of a woman covering her face goes farther back than current Arab custom. Add to that the wedding festivities with much wine flowing and the darkness of the wedding tent, and we understand why Jacob couldn’t tell whom he had married. But, imagine how Leah felt when Jacob disgraced her the next morning by saying he didn’t want her. After fulfilling the required week with Leah, he was immediately given Rachel on promise of another 7 years’ labor.

          We can praise our God that he isn’t turned away by physical appearances, or some of us may not get in! First Samuel 16:7 says God looks upon the potential of each heart. Perhaps to make up for her disappointment, or because she was forced against her will, God actually blessed Leah more than Rachel. She had more children – 6 sons and the only daughter, compared to Rachel’s 2 sons (Genesis 35:22-26). Also, Leah was buried in the patriarchal tomb along with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Joseph (Genesis 49:31). According to Genesis 35:19, Rachel was buried by herself in Bethlehem. And, best of all, it was Leah who was chosen to be in the lineage of Messiah Jesus through her son, Judah. As God did for Leah, no matter your circumstances, if you ask him God can make you a part of Jesus’ family, also! 

Knowledge in Heaven

Q. Will we recognize our family and friends in Heaven? Irma Jenkins, Chesterfield, VA

A. To answer your question: Yes, I believe we will know everyone without having to be introduced. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 that in Heaven, “I shall know even as also I am known.” In 1 Corinthians 2:16, Paul also said that we have the mind of Christ. If we have his wisdom available to us here, surely we will know all we need to know in Heaven!

Matthew 8:11 teaches recognition in Heaven. Jesus said people in Heaven will be able to fellowship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. According to Ephesians 2:19-20, we won’t be strangers in Heaven but we’ll be fellow citizens with the apostles and prophets. We recall that, at Jesus’ transfiguration in Luke 9:28-32, Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus about his coming death in Jerusalem. Although Moses and Elijah lived hundreds of years apart, they knew each other and knew what was happening on earth.

The Jews referred to Paradise as “Abraham’s Bosom.” That means a place where friends welcome us with bear hugs! If our loved ones know we’re coming I expect them to welcome me when I arrive! Hey, our minds and memories won’t be erased in Heaven. I think our loved ones will be as we remember them best from earth. You may see a friend as a young man because that’s the way you remember him, but his grand children may see him as an old man because that’s the way they remember him. Age will be unimportant.

Remember this: Our family in Christ will always be our family. But, those who have been special in our relationships here will be even more special there. It was God who said it was not good for man to be alone. And, Revelation 21:3 promises that we’ll all be God’s children seeing him face to face and living forever with our Big Brother and our Heavenly Father.

I believe we’ll know our ancestors by name even if we’ve never met them. I’m excited to believe that, in Heaven, we’ll have all the time of eternity to meet and hear the experiences of members of our family line through the generations. Yet, the most important Person we’ll meet face to face will be our Savior Jesus when we sit at his feet and hear the wisdom of the ages! For those who have committed their lives to Jesus: These are special blessings we can claim this Thanksgiving and all through our lives.

Thanksgiving Origins

Q. Is Thanksgiving older than a pilgrim tradition? Dr. Don Crain, Mechanicsville, VA

A. Since our grammar school plays about pilgrims and Indians, we have tended to think Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony – or at least Presidents Washington and Lincoln – invented Thanksgiving.

Actually, the first mention of thanksgiving is in the Bible in Leviticus, chapter 7, where Moses gave instructions for an offering to restore peace with God. There, Israel was told they might include an offering of thanksgiving with their peace offering. This was optional, because in chapter 22, God said sacrifices of thanksgiving were to be self-initiated and of free will.

In Psalm 35 David said he would offer thanks before the congregation in public worship. In fact, the giving of thanks is the theme of many Psalms, such as 30:4; 50:14; 69:30; 95:2; 100:4; and the many other times they enjoin us to “Give thanks unto the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.” This was also Daniel’s habit to offer thanks 3 times every day. And, it is continued in the New Testament.

Eight times in the gospels Jesus, himself, gave thanks before eating or feeding others. In Matthew 11:25 and Luke 10:21 Jesus offered thanks in his public prayers, and in John 11 he gave thanks before raising Lazarus. In Luke 17 Jesus commended the one leper out of ten who returned to thank him for being healed. Paul admonished the Ephesians in 5:20 to give thanks in the name of Jesus for all things. Even the angels who live daily in God’s presence will offer thanks in Revelation 7:12. In Revelation 11:17 they’ll be joined by all the saints in Heaven thanking God for his awesome power.

I believe Thanksgiving transcends any religion or nation and is appropriate everywhere it springs from the heart’s desire to show gratitude. We’re fortunate that our forefathers and leaders today in America have set aside a season to encourage national Thanksgiving to God. I hope each of my readers will list their blessings and truly offer thanks to Almighty God, not just on one special day, but all year long! I am thankful for your friendship and support for these columns!

Apocalyptic Jihad

Q. What is Apocalyptic Jihad and is it predicted in the Bible? Hattie Cox, Richmond, VA

A. “Apocalyptic” refers to end times or the destruction of the world. “Jihad” for Muslims means a holy war or a war of duty to defend one’s religion and/or destroy unbelievers. Many people believe the motivation of ISIS is to cause the final Apocalyptic Jihad.

ISIS is one of the abbreviated names for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (or Syria). It is also called IS (for Islamic State) and ISIL (for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – the region around Syria bordered by the Taurus Mountains). Their current leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, preached a Ramadan sermon last year declaring himself a Caliph, or Muslim civil and religious ruler who is the successor of Muhammad. His “caliphate” refers to his government or the territory he rules over which is already larger than Great Britain.

Supposedly, Muhammad and those who recorded his verbal teachings predict the coming of their Mahdi, or Messiah, in the last days of earth. There have and will be false mahdis but the true one will be the Twelfth Imam Mahdi whose coming, they say, will coincide with the Second Coming of Jesus. In fact, they believe Jesus will help the Mahdi overcome evil by defeating the Anti-Christ. Islam teaches that, when their Mahdi comes, to whom Jesus will submit, there will a great Day of Judgment where all those who oppose Islam will be thrown into Hell, the “Pit of Blazing Fires”.

Radical followers of ISIS believe they can hasten their day of glorious victory by plunging the whole world into the final Apocalyptic Jihad. At the height of war and chaos the true Mahdi will come. All who fight this battle will be generously rewarded; those who die while killing their enemies will receive even greater reward in Paradise. Others will keep fighting in hopes to draw the Western World they call “Rome” to Dabiq, an area in Syria near the Turkish border. That will be their “Battle of Armageddon” after which Islam and Sharia Law will be established over the world.

Of course, Islamic Jihad is not mentioned in the Bible because it’s just another one of the “wars and rumors of wars” Jesus predicted before the end of the world (Matthew 24:6). They will not conquer the world! Remember, the True Word of God says Jesus is the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16) who is One with the Father (John 10:30), and he will not share his kingdom with anyone (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 11:15)!

Persons in Trinity

Q. Why is the Triune God depicted as separate Persons when we know “the Lord is One”? Sherry Hailey, Jetersville, VA

A. Keep in mind that God is a spirit (John 4:24), and because we are flesh and blood we can never understand him (Matthew 16:17). The Trinity is a mystery; but even though the word is not mentioned in the Bible, it is a revealed doctrine about God.

We usually think the Old Testament pictures God as one Entity (Deuteronomy 6:4), but if we look closely we can see him also as Spirit (Genesis 1:2), and in bodily form as the Angel-Messenger of the Lord (Exodus 3:2, 6). In the New Testament we see the three Persons more distinctly (Matthew 3:16; Luke 4:18.)

I think God relates to us as three separate Persons to help us understand his unfathomable love for us. He doesn’t just want us to think of him as a white-haired Grandfather watching us from the sky, neither does he want us to think of him only as a man far above us in perfection. Nor does he want us to think of him as an impersonal Holy Force. It’s hard for our finite minds to wrap around all those characteristics in one Being. Therefore, he comes to us as Father, Son, or Spirit revealing he is still the same God who created us in his image to have fellowship with him (1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 John 1:3). He loves us to the degree that he died for us so we can live with him forever (John 3:16). And, he lives within believers to guarantee our safe arrival in Heaven (2 Corinthians 1:22). I can respond to him better in three relationships.

First Corinthians 15:24-28 predicts the time when our salvation will be complete and Christ will deliver the Kingdom to his Father. Verse 28 says, “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” This verse may teach that, after Jesus and the Holy Spirit have done their separate works for our salvation and edification, they will reunite in the God-head that “God may be all in all.”

I don’t know about you, but I thank God that he cares enough about how I understand him that he divested himself of his mysterious Heavenly majesty to come to me as three Friends I can relate to!

Time and Place

Q. I think I’m saved, but my pastor said if I can’t remember the time and place when I trusted Jesus I may not be saved. Is that true? Anonymous in VA

A. I, too, have heard preachers say if you’ve made a conscious decision to follow Jesus, you’ll surely remember doing it. However, we humans have imperfect memories. When I asked my doctor about forgetfulness he told me to imagine my mind being like a file cabinet. When the cabinet is full, adding more papers will crowd out some of those which were previously filed. Over the years we forget more than we remember. I read that what you’ve learned is what you still remember after you’ve forgotten all you’re going to forget.

Personally, I don’t feel the time or place back then is as important as how you feel now. The angels are keeping God’s records on us (Revelation 20:12), and they will surely record the time and place when we trusted Jesus. We can ask them in Heaven if we can’t remember it down here! But, if you know now that you are basing your hopes for Heaven on the work Jesus did for you on his cross, then you are saved. John 10:9 records Jesus saying, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” If you’re basing your salvation on nothing else than your knowledge that you’ve asked God to forgive you because Jesus died to pay your sin debt, then, my brother or sister, Jesus says you’re saved!

If you’re not sure, do it again until you are sure! Remember the old formula of A-B-C: A – “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). B – “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). C – Confess: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved (Romans 10:9). Place yourself in John 3:16 and read it saying, “For God so loved (your name) that he gave his only begotten Son that if (your name) will believe in him (your name) shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

Satan wants to rob you of your assurance, because if you’re not convinced that Jesus has saved you, you can’t convince someone else to trust him. But, Jesus said in John 10:28-29 that no one can pluck you out of the Father’s hand. Just remember: You didn’t do anything to be saved, and you can’t do anything to lose it. God gave it as a free gift, and he doesn’t take his gifts back. That’s why we love to sing “Amazing Grace.”

Christians in Politics

Q. Should Christians be involved with politics? Charlie Vaughn, Yomba Indian Reservation, Shoshone Nation, NV

A. Readers, since this column falls under the heading of editorial opinion, I’m going to speak my opinion on a subject where I dare not be silent. Uninformed people often say that our Constitution and the First Amendment have established a separation between church and state. However, those words are not in the First Amendment. It does prohibit government from establishing a state religion, but it also says government may not hinder someone from practicing his or her religious beliefs.

It is unrealistic to believe that people of genuine faith can divorce themselves from the heart-beliefs that motivate their actions. That principle is what Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky, stood on. Whether or not you agree with her tactics, she was correct in claiming her guaranteed constitutional right not to be forced to violate her religious beliefs.

A vocal minority that believes Christians, and especially church leaders, should not be involved in politics has caused many believers to refrain from speaking on or serving in government. Over the last 40 years or more, our silence as Christians has allowed the transformation of our beloved land of the free to move toward a socialist nation as the federal government assumes 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. Some have even said that God will change our government if he wishes to do so. I agree with a friend of mine who said, “I have to wonder if God is not waiting for believers to stand up and speak up on the cultural issues of our day before he intervenes to affirm us.”

Yes, Christians have the right and obligation to promote and participate in a government that honors God and keeps all people free. Yes, preachers must expose evil wherever God leads them to speak on his behalf. No one may tell a man or woman of God what they may or may not speak if they believe they have the authority from God and it doesn’t contradict the Holy Bible. Jesus told us to let our lights shine (Matthew 5:16), and Paul even used political language reminding us we are ambassadors for the King of Kings (2 Corinthians 5:20). How can we do that if we fail to represent our King wherever his principles need to be interjected? Thank God for political leaders who risk criticism to lead our country back to the morals of God’s Word!

Capital Punishment

Q. Should Christians support capital punishment? Barbara Smith, Cumberland, VA

A. A dictionary defines capital punishment as the governmental decree that a condemned person be put to death for a capital offense. A capital offense is a crime worthy of execution. Capital punishment should not be confused with killing an enemy in war or breaking the sixth commandment. They are not the same. The sixth commandment speaks to the individual saying, “Thou shalt do no murder” (Exodus 20:13). Since murder is the unlawful, intentional killing of another person, capital punishment is the state’s right to remove those murderers permanently.

In Genesis 9 God was speaking to all of Noah’s descendants. In verse 6 God gave mankind the right and obligation to shed the blood of one who has shed the blood of another human. If a murderer declares life expendable, he has also decreed his own life expendable. The taking of another person’s life is the greatest offense against a person or society, therefore the taking of the murder’s life is the greatest punishment for that offense.

The Bible contains many examples of God’s judgment against people who rejected him. They were breaking the prime directive to love God with all their strength. Sometimes he punished them supernaturally as with the great Flood. At other times he approved their extinction at the hands of men to whom he gave that authority. Some major scriptures affirming capital punishment are: Exodus 21:12; Leviticus 24:17; Numbers 35:30 and Romans 13:4. In Romans 6:23 God stated that the wages of sin is death. The ultimate example of God’s authenticating capital punishment was when he took the penalty of death himself for all sinners who cry to him for forgiveness (Romans 3:25; 5:8).

Today, most democratic countries have abolished the death penalty. The major exceptions are the U.S., Japan, and South Korea. That decision should not be taken lightly. Satan will always try to convince us other ways are better than God’s ways. However, history has shown that when nations abolish capital punishment they lose their greatest deterrent in the battle to stop crime. Fear is the ultimate weapon, and dying is the ultimate fear. If God considered capital punishment to be the best weapon a nation has against murder, Christians should support it as a necessary and effective deterrent.

Defending Ourselves

Q. Was a pastor correct in telling me that having a permit to carry a concealed weapon is not being a disciple of God? Russell Ali, Bend, OR

A. This question is extremely relevant because of the times in which we live. When church members are being killed while they worship, many pastors are either packing or training men to guard their services. However, many true believers feel they’re showing a lack of faith not to depend upon God to protect them.

I know of no scripture that forbids self-defense when lives are in danger. Although Jesus’ character of pacifism taught the ideal of walking the second mile for a fellow human, pacifism and self-defense do not conflict. Jesus never told us to turn the other cheek when someone was trying to kill us. Certainly, our godly love even for our enemies wishes them no harm; and, a disciple of Christ doesn’t want to use his weapon to harm innocent people. Indeed, if someone threatens our life and the circumstances allow it, we would want to share the gospel and pray for their salvation. But, a criminal, intent on doing us harm, is not in the frame of mind to hear the gospel. I think that would be “casting our pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6).

Defending ourselves is not selfish if we stand in the gap for others (Ezekiel 22:30) or if we have family who depend on us. When 1 Timothy 5:8 says we are to provide for our household, I take it to mean we defend them also. The Bible is full of times when God allowed his people to defend themselves. In fact, God blessed David in 1 Samuel 17 when he defended Israel against Goliath. In the book of Judges, God gave a supernatural sign for Gideon to fight the Midianites and supernatural strength for Samson to fight the Philistines. Joshua 10:12 recounts how God even held the sun back almost a whole day for Joshua to win over the Amorites.

If we can find where Jesus, who taught and practiced pacifism, gave his apostles permission to carry weapons, would that settle this question? Well, read in Luke 22:35-38 what Jesus said just before he died, “‘When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, did you lack for anything?’ And, they said, ‘Nothing.’ Then he said to them, ‘But, now, he that has a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that has no sword, let him sell his clothes and buy one.’….And they said, ‘Lord, behold here are two swords.’ And he said unto them, ‘It is enough.’”

Being prepared and responsible to defend those who are testimonies of the truth, to me, does not negate one’s discipleship nor does it indicate a lack of faith.

Ignorance of the Law

Q. Why does Leviticus 5:17 say a person should be punished even if he broke a law without realizing it? H. C., Richmond, VA

A. Most of Leviticus 5 records laws God gave to Moses concerning trespass offences. A trespass was something that violated the rights of God or another person. The offender had failed to respect something that belonged to another. The penalty was to make restitution for that which had been violated plus one-fifth of its value added to it. Then, a sacrifice was to be offered to ask God’s forgiveness.

Leviticus 5:17 is a summary verse saying in essence that a person who committed a trespass was guilty and liable even if he was unaware he had sinned. The prescribed trespass offering was also called a negligence offering because a person usually committed it either without thinking before he acted or without knowing it was wrong. In either case he was guilty because he had broken God’s law.

This is the same principle today as a judge saying, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” That’s because it’s every citizen’s duty to know the laws and abide by them. Of course, today, a judge will take into account all the circumstances, and the sentence usually will be less harsh for something done in ignorance. The person with a “don’t care” attitude may have to pay full restitution.

In this chapter God was teaching the seriousness of every sin – even that which is committed innocently – because sin always incurs consequences beyond itself. However, once a conscientious person realized his or her wrong, they usually carried a burden of guilt. God knew that, and he provided a way to have that guilt removed. Notice how God cared for each individual: If they couldn’t afford the prescribed sacrifice of an expensive animal or payment in silver shekels, God would accept a less expensive one right down to pigeons or even some flour. These priestly regulations were for Israel under their old covenant. Theologians today usually only study them to see how they pointed to the work Jesus would fulfill for us in our new covenant. However, some practical lessons can still be learned from them, such as the seriousness of breaking laws whether we understand them or not and “Ignorance of the law is no excuse!”

Universal Salvation

Q. I heard someone say Romans 14:11 teaches, that since everyone will eventually bow before Jesus and acknowledge who he is, that means everyone will be saved. Is that correct? Tonya Brown, Safety Inspector, DFW Airport, TX

A. Paul wrote the epistle of Romans to believers in the capitol city where he had yet to visit (Romans 1:7; 15:24). He had heard of a contention between Roman and Jewish believers because of their different religious backgrounds. He wrote in chapter 14 to say they should not judge how their fellowman relates to God (Romans 14:3). God will be the Judge of that. So, Paul was talking to Christians about the Judgment Seat of Christ (see verse 10) where believers will give account of what we’ve done for Jesus since we’ve been saved. This is not a judgment determining Heaven or Hell. Paul was teaching that believers who act with prejudice toward other believers are not reflecting the character of Jesus who receives everyone on the basis of their faith.

Verse 14 reads in part, “…Every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Your question does not really relate to this verse since this verse is for those who are already saved. Your question concerns universal salvation, or the belief that everyone will be saved because they will eventually acknowledge that Jesus is God. This has been a topic of discussion for centuries. However, universal salvation is not biblical; it is a misunderstanding of a few scriptures while many more scriptures teach that a personal, vital faith in Jesus during our lifetime is the only way to be saved. Once a person is called before the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11), it will be too late to change his or her mind about Jesus. The record of who they honored on earth will be their witness on that day. That’s exactly what the next verse related to your question, Romans 14:12, is teaching. Each person, individually, will answer as to what they did about serving Jesus as their Lord.

Certainly, at the judgment of the lost, everyone will bow before Jesus who is God (Revelation 20:12). He is both the Agent of creation, Lord, and Judge of all. He is God who came to earth in a human body, and on that day there will be no question who he is. Even the demons believe who Jesus is and tremble, but they are not saved (James 2:19). Confessing that Jesus is God doesn’t save anyone; letting him be our personal Lord is the key to Heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). Those who confess who he is after they stand before him in judgment will not be saved if they haven’t served him as their Lord while they were living on earth.

7 Spirits of God

Q. What are the 7 Spirits of God in Revelation 4:5 and 5:6? Victor Flanagan, Vilott, TX

A. Jesus gave John a revelation of the future often pictured in symbols which may be hard to understand. The first chapter shows Jesus in supernatural glory in the midst of his churches. Chapters 2 and 3 are letters to 7 of the churches over which John was bishop. Since the number 7 may mean something is complete, those letters have messages for all churches. Those who interpret the Bible according to dispensations see the entire Church Age from the Cross to the Rapture described in these 7 churches.

If you believe John experienced the Rapture in Revelation 4:1, chapters 4 and 5 show us what will happen immediately after the saved are called up at the end of the Church Age. The redeemed of all ages are pictured as 24 elders around God’s Throne. Having received their crowns at the Judgment Seat of Christ, they are giving those crowns back to Jesus (4:10-11). Other beings are also in that scene: 4 beasts (4:6), angels (5:2, 11), the Lion of Judah appearing as a slain Lamb (5:5-6), every creature in the universe (5:13), and the 7 Spirits of God sent forth into the world (4:5, 5:6). All these extol God and the Lamb as worthy of all praise.

Most of us know who the Lion/Lamb is, and we know about angels and all created beings. The 24 elders are symbolic of the saved from the Old and New Testaments. Although they are slightly different, the beasts are probably the same 4 living creatures Ezekiel saw in his chapter 1 transporting the Throne of God. They are pictured a little differently here, but how would you explain something for which we have no words in our language to describe them? They appear to represent the highest orders of creation giving praise to God.

John also saw the 7 Spirits of God before his Throne. He first described them as burning lamps (4:5). That and the phrase in 5:6, “sent forth into all the earth,” give us the identity of these Spirits. This is another way of showing the complete Holy Spirit back in Heaven.

Remember when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost he appeared as 120 “burning lamps” the King James calls tongues of fire? They rested upon the 120 people present. Since then he has indwelt millions of believers the minute they confess Jesus as Savior. If the number 7 means complete, this is actually a wonderful assurance of our salvation. Since the Spirit is complete in Heaven that means no one will be left behind. He will bring every person he possessed with him to worship around God’s Throne!

Contents of the Ark of the Covenant

Q. Can you resolve the seeming discrepancy between 2 Chronicles 5:10 and Hebrews 9:4 concerning what was in the Ark of the Covenant? Tim Donovan, Jarratt, VA

A. Although the Bible never uses the word trinity, we can see that doctrine in many places. We worship one God who relates to us as 3 distinct personalities we call the Godhead or the Triune God. The angels around his Throne cry, “Holy, holy, holy” for the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Spirit). We see the triune nature of God in the articles of the Holy Place in the Tabernacle and Temple. The Table of Showbread pointed to the provision of God the Father; the Altar of Incense demonstrated the prayers of the Spirit being constantly offered for the believer; and the Candelabra predicted the work of Jesus, the Light of the World.

Again, we see the same 3 Persons in the Ark of the Covenant inside the Holy of Holies. Hebrews 9:4 tells us that either within or around the Ark was a golden pot of manna for the provision of the Father, Aaron’s rod that budded signifying the life-giving Holy Spirit, and the Tablets of the Law (Ten Commandments) pointing to Jesus who fulfilled the Law for us. Galatians 3:24 says the Law was our schoolmaster bringing us to Christ.

However, 2 Chronicles 5:10 says there was nothing in the Ark except the stone tablets. This appears to be a description of the Ark at the time it was placed in Solomon’s Temple. Yet, the original Hebrew text here allows for the possible interpretation that the writer was telling what was in the Ark at the time Moses had it built at Sinai (also called Horeb). If that is not the case, then perhaps those 2 items were lost when the Ark was carried into battle and captured by the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:1). Better yet, maybe the writer knew that the manna and rod were not within the Ark, but everyone understood they were included along with it.

There are some things for which we just do not have explanations. For these, we have the testimony of Jesus that God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). So, we accept what we cannot understand with earthly logic and wait until we “know even as also (we are) known” in Heaven (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Sins of the Fathers

Q. How are we to understand the scriptures that say God will punish the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generations? Jane Jahn, Yorktown, VA

A. This threatened punishment is recorded 4 times in the Old Testament. You will find God speaking this warning in Exodus 20:5, which is part of the first of the Ten Commandments. He also said it in Exodus 34:6-7 when God proclaimed his name (or character) to Moses. Notice that he wants to be known most of all as one who shows mercy to thousands. Moses repeated this back to God in Numbers 14:18. Again, we find this judgment restated in Deuteronomy 5:9. When something is repeated in Scripture this many times, we should take notice. In the first and last references God particularly applied this warning to Israel if they left their worship of him and turned to the false gods of their heathen neighbors. For us, this applies to anything in our lives we place ahead of God.

I think God was reserving the right to punish the sins of the fathers to the third or fourth generation if their children deserved it. But, look at the positive aspects of God’s character preceding that statement in Exodus 34:7. Verse 6 says, “God is merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, (and) forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Certainly, one with those character qualities will be fair! Remember that 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 the sins of their elders, they will be punished the same as their fathers. It is so important that we set the right example for our children!

This threat was surely intended to cause Israel to realize the terrible consequences of all sins, especially the worship of false gods. However, if you read Ezekiel, chapter 18, in its entirety you can see God’s prediction of how it can be in our age of grace. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. But, if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right….he shall surely live, saith the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:4, 9). Today, God judges each person by his or her particular sins (Ezekiel 18:2-4). But, for those who have placed their sins on Jesus, there will be no eternal punishment.

May God help us to worship him above all else and lead our children to do the same. Then, we must model before them the rest of God’s character as stated in Exodus 34:6 if we want his continuing blessings on our families and our nation.

Genealogy in First Chronicles

Q. Do we have a reason why such a long genealogy occupies the first 9 chapters of First Chronicles? Sharon Harbaugh, Williamsburg, VA

A. As far as we know the first national Israeli history was recorded by the prophet Samuel in the 2 books that bear his name. Someone else continued their history in First and Second Kings. Upon returning from Babylonian captivity, Ezra is credited for writing the 2 books of Chronicles. Ezra makes reference to some other historical registers someone carried to Babylon, but those records have been lost to us. First Chronicles is similar to 2 Samuel while adding genealogies and more details to some events. The 2 books of Chronicles are actually combined to make the last book in the Hebrew Bible and thus repeat genealogies and events which were so important to the Jews.

The first 9 chapters of First Chronicles do contain a lengthy genealogy beginning with the first man, Adam. Chapter 10 then starts a history of the kings of Israel. The reigns of King Saul and King David are described in detail. Then, this first book ends with another genealogy of the early workers at Solomon’s Temple. Second Chronicles continues Israel’s history beginning with King Solomon and going all the way through the Babylonian captivity until King Cyrus released the Jews to return to their homeland.

We must remember that the Jews had been resettled to Babylon for 70 years. Most of the original adults had died and many in the younger generation had intermarried with other tribes and local citizens. Much of their history was in danger of being forgotten. When the captives were freed by Cyrus to return and rebuild their nation, many of them didn’t know their tribal ancestry. God had given specific territories to each tribe and family. I think Ezra was giving them a refresher course to help them trace who they were and where they were supposed to settle upon their return.

Those genealogies in Chronicles and Matthew and some other places may seem boring to you but they wouldn’t be if your name was in them! They testify to the truth of Scripture: These were real people and each one was important. Let these lists remind you that God knows your name and every person is important to him. If they are not named in his earthly books, they are certainly in the records the angels are keeping on all of us.

All Sins Forgiven

Q. When we ask forgiveness is it necessary to list every sin? What if we can’t remember everything we’ve done or what we’ve confessed before? Tim Donovan, Jarrett, VA

A. God knows we don’t have perfect memories. However, God is perfect in all his ways (Deuteronomy 32:4), and that means His memory is perfect. He knows every sin even if we might have forgotten it. And, what if we’ve already confessed it? It won’t hurt to confess it again! But, remember that God looks on our hearts more than the words we may or may not say (1 Samuel 16:7). When we honestly desire to be clean before God, His Spirit will pray for anything we might have forgotten (Romans 8:26).

Yes, God’s memory is perfect, except for one fault: He doesn’t remember the sins that have been covered by the blood of Jesus. Hebrews 10:17 says, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” Whose sins is He writing about? Verse 10 in that same chapter says it is those who are “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Notice that the “once for all” includes all our sins. And, what does God do with those sins? Psalm 103:12 tells us: “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” There is no east or west pole so “never the twain shall meet.”

God will do that because the forgiveness of our sins is not based on whether or not we remember to confess them. Forgiveness of sins is based on the perfect work of Jesus when we claim Him as our Savior. Remember the gospel song we sing: “Jesus Paid It All”? That’s good Bible doctrine. When you trust Jesus to forgive you and save you, He takes away all your sins – past, present, and future. Actually, you don’t have to ask Him to forgive any sin, because they are already forgiven by Jesus’ shed blood.

Why does the Bible keep saying we ought to confess our sins? Because that confession is for us, not for God. God already knows them; we need to remember we have committed them and remember the price Jesus paid that they may be forgiven. When we confess them, the Spirit will remind us if we need to ask forgiveness of our fellowman or make restitution (James 5:16). And, confessing them will help us remember not to commit them again.

Who May Lead Lord’s Supper

Q. Does the Bible say who may conduct a Lord’s Supper in a home or place other than church? Marian Baker, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. No, the New Testament doesn’t specify who may administer the Lord’s Supper. Jesus was the only “Minister” said to lead in the Lord’s Supper, and he initiated it! The only recorded time when church leaders may have administered Communion is in Acts 6 where 7 men were appointed to take the “daily ministrations” to Grecian widows. Although they are not called such in that passage, those men are believed to be the first deacons. The “ministrations” they delivered may have been food from the common evening meal or it may have been the Lord’s Supper, or both. We are not told.

Acts, chapter 2, describes the first meetings of the early church. They met in community fellowships in each other’s homes and shared the evening meal “with gladness and singleness of heart (verse 46). Tradition says the “breaking of bread” in verse 46 was the Lord’s Supper which ended each meal. They used their last piece of bread and their last beverage to remember Jesus. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:26 that they were demonstrating the Lord’s death until he comes again. It is highly unlikely that they had an apostle present in each home when they observed the Lord’s Supper; so a layman or woman, likely the host, led Communion.

By the way, the scriptures describing the Lord’s Supper do not mention wine, rather they call it “the cup” (Matthew 26:27; 1 Corinthians 11:26-28). However, we believe it was wine because Jesus said in Matthew 26:29, “I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (The wine used for Passover was mixed with 4 parts water.) The only time the ordinance is called Communion is in 1 Corinthians 10:16, and it is only called the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:21. Catholics call this sacrament the Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving,” because in Matthew 26:27 Jesus “gave thanks” at his Last Supper (another term for the Lord’s Supper, although it is never called such in the Bible).

You should follow the rules of your church or denomination in serving the Lord’s Supper, but Scripture does not prohibit any believer from remembering and celebrating Jesus’ broken body and shed blood either privately or with other believers. Like my family has done, you may conclude a meal by sharing a piece of bread or cracker and a sip of beverage or water in Jesus’ name. Just remember that 1 Corinthians 11:27 warns us not to partake of it irreverently.

2 Chronicles 7:14

Q. Please comment on 2 Chronicles 7:14 as it applies to our time. Owen Van Cleave, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Some people say the Old Testament doesn’t apply to our Church Age today. While it’s true that the instructions God gave to Israel along with their covenant at Sinai were primarily for that nation, many Old Covenant principles, such as the 10 Commandments, are timeless instructions by our Maker for all nations. This is also true for the renewed covenant God spoke when Solomon dedicated the Temple. There, in 2 Chronicles 7:14, God said, “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.”

Notice that God didn’t name Israel; that would have limited this covenant. Instead, he addressed all those who are called by his name or who identify with the character of his name. Today, Christians are his people, called by the name of the Second Person of the Godhead, redeemed and purchased by his blood. Paul said in Romans, chapter 9, that believers in the faith of Abraham are God’s true people. Therefore, we need to look often at this covenant as applying to believers today.

A covenant is a two-way promise where each party commits to do certain things. God will do his part to hear our prayers. If he hears – and doesn’t turn a deaf ear because of our sins (Isaiah 59:2) – he will answer according to his greater purpose and timing. Also, God promised to forgive our sin and heal our land if we keep our part of the covenant. No one can deny that our land and world need divine healing today. We need only look at Jesus’ predictions of the end times in Matthew 24 to see that God is trying to get our attention. Our part is to humble ourselves before God and to pray – not selfish prayers that begin with, “I want…” or “Please give me…”, but we are to pray seeking God’s face. That means to seek the smile of his approval. To do that, we must turn from our wicked ways. Notice that God didn’t say that sinners must turn from their wicked ways; God’s people must keep our vows to remain holy before him. To be holy means to be separated from the world – separated to the morals and ethics of God’s Word.

So, if you’re anxious over the direction our nation is taking; if you worry about the problems we face in government, the economy, moral issues, crime, or physical calamities, God has given us the answer. He and he alone will heal our land when we keep the first part of this covenant. Don’t look to government, the courts, or national leaders to solve our problems; they helped to create our problems! Look to God. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 121, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip: he who keeps you will never sleep.”

America’s Implosion

Q. Is America heading towards a terrible implosion or a great awakening? Joel Rosenberg, Jerusalem, Israel

A. No, I do not know Reverend Rosenberg personally, and he didn’t ask this question for my column. But, he did send it to me and hundreds of others who subscribe to his email “Flash Traffic.” Mr. Rosenberg is a prolific writer, evangelist, and (I believe) a prophet for these days. Let me paraphrase and comment on his blog this week.

Joel Rosenberg said there are only 2 possible outcomes for America’s future. Either God will judge us for our national sins, or he will answer the prayers of his people and send the great awakening we so desperately need. We cannot continue to stick our collective heads in the sand and ignore what has happened to our country.

Violence is at epidemic proportions. The terrible mass murder inside a place of refuge in Charleston is just one example of the scores of killings we hear every day. Racism, suspicion, and hatred are turning us against our neighbors. Vigilantes are pursuing their own perceived avenues of justice; even our pastors are now packing guns. And, our police officers are afraid to do their job for fear they will be the ones prosecuted. Cities are forced to spend thousands of dollars on body cams. Poverty is growing, breeding more crime, while drug and alcohol abuse is epidemic.

If all this wasn’t bad enough, families, which are the basic units of every society, are imploding all around us; and the sacred institution of marriage is being abandoned. The Supreme Court will rule any day on the definition and future of marriage. Abortions are occurring at more than one million a year; since 1973, Americans have murdered 57 million of our own children through abortions.

Our government can’t help us because everything about Washington is suspect. We have more political candidates running for office than ever before and none of them can guarantee to put America back where she once was. Abroad, Iran is closing in on the Bomb. ISIS is exploding across the Middle East and gaining a foothold in Europe; and China, North Korea, and the Kremlin are growing more aggressive. Many Americans have little or no hope for the future or confidence in the Church because we have kicked God out of our schools and government and watered down his Word in our pulpits.

But, there is hope. God gave us 2 Chronicles 7:14 for such a time as this. If believers will mean business in repenting and praying, God has promised to hear those prayers and heal their land. Now is the time for all America to pray!

The Purpose of Pain

Q. Is God punishing us when we feel pain? Sharon Harbough, Williamsburg, VA

A. Certainly not! Pain is a universal result for all people because sin corrupted the original Eden (Romans 5:12). Even unborn babies react to pain. As far as we know all the animal kingdom feels pain and even some plants show reaction to mutilation. Therefore, we can’t say God is always singling someone out when they are in pain. Of course, in the Bible sometimes pain and disease were sent personally from God upon those opposing him. Read 2 Kings 5:25-27 and Acts 12:23. However, not all pain is sent directly from God.

Some pain is inherited; other pain may be caused by accident or illness. Pain will naturally occur as our body ages or otherwise changes. We may bring pain on ourselves or affliction may be caused by others. But, there’s always a reason for pain; and, for believers, it’s a blessing because God has promised that all things work for the good of those who love Jesus (Romans 8:28).

Think of pain as a physical blessing because it’s a computerized warning system built all through our bodies to tell us something is wrong. Pain drives us to get help. That’s why leprosy in the Bible was so terrible: People couldn’t feel pain to warn them that body parts were infected until the skin began to decay.

Pain may also be a blessing spiritually. C. S. Lewis wrote that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Sometimes God sends or allows pain to cause us to draw closer to him. Severe pain has a way of purifying our thoughts from earthly concerns to heavenly realities. The psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:75, “In faithfulness you have afflicted me.” And, God said to Isaiah in chapter 48, verse 10, “Behold I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”

Remember that when God took the human form of Jesus he experienced everything that will ever happen to us, including pain. He voluntarily suffered intense pain in the rejection of his people and his crucifixion. But, his pain gave way to resurrection and our salvation. Believers can walk the valley of the shadow of death bravely if we think of discomfort in dying as temporary birth pains bringing forth Heaven.

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 has the final answer. Neither should any person who has deep rooted moral beliefs to the contrary “roll over and play dead” just because someone else believes otherwise.

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.

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 in spite of the criticism which will surely come. Additionally, we are to love 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 last year, which says it better than I can: “Resolved, that the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, June 10-11, 2014, 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.”

Moses’ Sin

Q. In Numbers 20, why was Moses’ sin so drastic that it kept him from entering the Promised Land? Connie Swineford, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Scripture doesn’t make it completely clear why God was so harsh on Moses, other than the reasons given in verse 12. God said Moses did not believe Him and didn’t sanctify Him before Israel; therefore he would not lead them into their Promised Land. We don’t know everything that happened between Moses and God to cause this, but we can certainly use our sanctified imagination.

Moses’ faith might have wavered. Verse 12 hints the possibility that Moses didn’t believe God would do this, maybe because God had been angry before at the grumbling of the people. Or, perhaps Moses had assumed too much intimacy with God and failed to show God’s holiness by thinking his own anger could defend God’s honor.

Again, we don’t know; but, maybe Moses’ pride came into play thinking “How dare these people not obey me!” Or, perhaps Moses was taking too much credit for the miracle: “Must we bring you water out of this rock? (verse 10)” Of course, we know Moses disobeyed God by striking the rock instead of speaking to is as God had said. Since God always says what He means and means what He says, He must always be obeyed explicitly.

I see a spiritual prediction here possibly showing why God rebuked Moses so harshly. If the rock represented Christ as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:4, Jesus would only need to be smitten one time to die for our sins. After that, we simply ask Him and He gives the Water of Life freely. Moses had smitten the rock previously in Exodus 17:6; this time he was told to speak to it. However, in his anger at the people, Moses struck the rock.

Finally, let me suggest that we might be overlooking the simplest reason: Moses’ time on earth was over; God had a better Promised Land for him in Heaven! Moses was only called to lead Israel to Canaan. He had done that. A warrior leader would be needed to lead them into the land to conquer and possess it. Joshua was that battle strategist they would need. And, by the way, Moses did enter the Promised Land at the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:3)!

We would do well to learn the lesson of complete obedience to God while leaving the best way and time to Him.

Jews Will Be Saved

Q. Please explain Romans 11:25-26. Tim Donovan, Greensville Correction Center, Jarratt, VA

A. Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans before he had visited the capitol. He knew there were believers there who needed further instruction in the Christian faith. He prayed that God would allow him to go to Rome when the time was right (Romans 1:10). In the meantime, he wrote the fullest explanation of our Christian beliefs of any New Testament epistle.

In Romans 11 Paul anticipated that Jewish believers in Rome would be asking when their fellow citizens in Israel also would be saved (verses 1-2). Verse 25 in the King James Bible reads: “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” He continued in the first part of verse 26 to say, “And so, all Israel shall be saved.”

The good news of the gospel in this age was still a mystery to most Jews. Their Old Testament bible did not prepare them for a time when God would be dealing primarily with non-Jewish nations. And, Paul didn’t want them speculating as to whether God would keep his promise to Abraham that the Jews were his special people. So, he revealed what God must have taught him, i.e., that God had a larger purpose for this age. He had promised Abe that all the world would be blessed by his descendants. Therefore, for now God was allowing Israel to remain blind, in part, to the gospel. That means some Jews would be saved, but not the majority at that time. God was waiting for the Gentile world to have a chance to hear and respond to the gospel. When this Age of the Gentiles is finished at the Rapture God will fulfill that promise to save Israel. The Rapture will take the Holy Spirit in the Church out, but the Spirit will still be at work primarily with the Jews after that (2 Thessalonians 2:7; Revelation 7:4).

How would they be saved? The same way all Christians are. Individually, they will repent and receive Jesus as their promised Messiah. Enough of them will be saved that Paul could say all Israel will be saved one day. In Romans 11:27-29 Paul reminded his readers that God had promised he would take away Israel’s sins, and he will keep his world. Just as believers in Paul’s day were saved by God’s mercy, all those from now until the end times who call upon him will be saved by that same mercy.

Loved Ones in Heaven

Q. Will our family and friends that we know now be the same in Heaven? Luke McAllister, age 6, Auckland, New Zealand

A. Many Christians believe that, in what we call Heaven, the same saved people we know here will continue over there with life much as it is like here, but in a perfect state. They will look much the same as they did here; live on the same earth glorified, and excel in doing the same things they were gifted to do here – but without the effects of sin’s curse.

Matthew 8:11 teaches recognition in Heaven. Jesus said people in Heaven will be able to fellowship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. According to Ephesians 2:19-20 we won’t be strangers in Heaven, but we’ll be fellow citizens with the apostles and prophets. We remember that in John 17 Jesus prayed for all the saved to be one with him in Heaven. That surely implies a special relationship with Jesus and, I believe, with all our saved friends from down here.

Jesus also said in Luke 15:10 that even the angels get in on the celebration when a new person is born into the family of God. At Jesus’ transfiguration in Luke 9:28-32, Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus about his life events. Although Moses and Elijah lived hundreds of years apart, they knew each other and knew what was happening on earth.

Luke 16:19-31 records Jesus’ parable about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Verses 23-25 teach that, after they died, Lazarus and Abraham remembered each other although they were in different destinations. Family and friends who go to Heaven ahead of us will be waiting to welcome us there. That’s what “Abraham’s Bosom” means. That’s another name for Paradise meaning that it’s a place where friends welcome us with bear hugs!

Hey, our minds and memories won’t be erased in Heaven. I think our loved ones will be as we remember them best from earth. You may see a friend as a young man because that’s the way you remember him, but his grand children may see him as an old man. Age will be unimportant.

Remember this: Our family in Christ will always be our family. But, those who have been special in our relationships here will be even more special there. It was God who said it was not good for man to be alone. And, the book of Revelation promises that we’ll all be God’s children living forever with our Big Brother and our Heavenly Father.

Christian Persecution

Q. Why is God allowing the terrible persecutions of Christians and others by ISIS, etc.? Olivia Osterbind, Chesterfield, VA

A. Through the ages those in power have persecuted those who opposed them. Terrible things have been done even in the name of God. But, James 1:13 teaches that no temptation to do evil comes from God. John 8:44 says Satan was a murderer from the beginning. He is the opposite of Christ; where Jesus taught love Satan instills prejudice. Where Jesus taught compassion Satan teaches men to fear or distrust those who are different.

Satan is the mastermind behind those evil movements today. The Bible predicts in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 that, after the influence of the Holy Spirit in the Church is removed at the Rapture, Satan’s full character will be revealed in the final Man of Sin, the Antichrist. Since the Devil has always wanted to kill the people of God, in the last days he will persecute or kill those who sing the songs of Moses and the Lamb (Revelation 15:3). The Jews follow Moses’ teachings and Christians follow those of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Our country has a Judeo-Christian background, so Satan’s followers today plot to destroy “the great satan” (which they call the U.S.) and believers in the God of The Book.

Why doesn’t God intervene and stop ISIS from beheading Christians? Revelation 6:9-11 says God is waiting for the final saints to be martyred before he takes revenge. Remember: Death is not the enemy of believers; it merely ushers God’s children into his presence. Neither can death keep God from avenging himself against his enemies. After they die, he will resurrect them for judgment and eternal punishment (Revelation 20:15).

We don’t know God’s reasons for allowing evil to continue except what he’s revealed in his Word. In 2 Peter 3:9 he says he’s not willing any should perish, so he must be giving evil people time to repent or seal their own doom. Their continued persecution becomes the opportunity for God’s children to prove their loyalty to him and be rewarded. Also, Isaiah 57:1 says God allows the righteous to die to escape more evil to come. Those saints safely under God’s altar in Revelation 6 are leaving the outcome to God. We, too, must believe that God will accomplish his purpose through all things. Even persecuted believers may claim that all things will work together for good (Romans 8:28).

Civil Obedience

Q. With so many violent protests happening today, does God expect our citizens to obey governments that oppress them? Name withheld by request

A. There are many people who are disillusioned with our national government’s increasing intrusion into private life: the NSA listening to our phone calls and reading our emails, the IRS targeting conservative Christians and those who don’t agree with the present power structure. Ordinary citizens don’t like being forced to buy something they don’t want or to conduct business which goes against their religious and moral beliefs. Local leaders feel Washington is overstepping states’ rights by sending federal agents to investigate and prosecute city and state governments. Lately, ethnic minorities have felt they’re being targeted by civil authorities. Law abiding Christians are asking the same question as the one voiced above.

The short answer is, “Yes!” Romans 13:1 says we are to obey those who have the rule over us. Verse 5 implies that we do so, not because they are always right or good, but “for conscience sake.” That means we obey them because “there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (verse 1). Daniel 2:21 says God removes rulers and sets up rulers. Trust God that he knows what he’s doing; he has an over-all plan that’s bigger than you or me. He wants society to be organized (1 Corinthians 14:40). Without laws we would have anarchy. However, if rulers don’t do what they should, commit them to God; he will remove them in his time. “Vengeance is mine…I will repay” (Romans 12:19).

Certainly, it’s not God’s ideal that leaders violate our spiritual consciences or Biblical morals. But, our actions should always be superseded by love (Matthew 22:38-40). As Romans 13:7-8 says, we must render to others their dues. The offices ordained by God deserve honor even if the people who occupy those offices don’t honor God. If we take Acts 5:29 as our standard, believing we must obey God rather than men, we will pray for guidance and react through established channels.

May 7 is National Day of Prayer, but every day ought to include prayer for our nation and leaders. God does expect us to love and pray for our leaders while we obey those laws that don’t violate God’s higher laws. Praise God, in America we have an avenue to change our government by voting our consciences and voicing our concerns in non-violent ways.

Prayer Life of Jews

Q. Was it the custom of Jews to offer personal prayers or only ritual prayers in corporate worship? Clarence Potter, Chapel Hill, NC

A. The worship rituals God prescribed for Israel’s priests and Jewish oral traditions list many prayers to be offered in corporate worship. Over time, other worship prayers were added from reciting the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), the Psalms, or portions of the Torah (the five books of Moses). Regular communal prayers away from the Temple began as a substitute for animal sacrifices after the Temple was destroyed. Some synagogues asked respected rabbis to write prayers for personal and worship use. They still believe that whenever ten men (the required number to have a local synagogue) pray in a synagogue, the divine Presence is there.

More recently some rabbis dissuade personal praying in preference for communal prayers. These teach that individual prayers do not ascend until there has been a heavenly investigation to determine if the individual is worthy, whereas public prayers in worship ascend immediately to God. Beginning in the late Middle Ages participants began swaying as they prayed or studied the Torah based on Proverbs 20:27, “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord.” Imitating a fire which is never still, the penitent sways like the flame of a lamp.

However, the Old Testament records many times of personal prayers. Genesis 24:12 tells about Abraham’s servant praying for God’s leading to a potential wife for Isaac. And, we all know the story of young Samuel praying, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth!” Judges 16:28 records Samson’s personal prayer for vengeance on his enemies. Elisha prayed in 2 Kings 6:17 for God to open the eyes of his servant to see the spiritual warfare around him. An outstanding record of personal praying is David’s own testimony in Psalms 55:17, “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.” In Daniel 6:10 the prophet obeyed that injunction in the face of personal danger. In fact, every time an Old Testament patriarch or saint talked with God it was a prayer.

Most Jews have always believed that God embraces any prayer that is offered willingly and from a sincere heart.

Worship Rituals

Q. Why did God impose such elaborate worship rituals for Israel’s holiness? Janie Lovorn, South Prince George, VA

A. Beginning about Exodus 19 and continuing all the way through Leviticus, God spelled out specific and sometimes difficult ways he was to be worshipped and sin was to be atoned. This included observances of his commandments and construction of his house of worship with all its furnishings and priestly garments. Also, God gave instructions for the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests, and he described distinct rituals and offerings for certain sins. Penalties were spelled out in detail so much that one of my seminary professors said every Jewish boy had to memorize some 636 “thou shalt nots.”

As I prayed and studied over this, God settled my mind with the realization that Israel was God’s covenant nation, chosen and honored above all nations to show the world the terrible consequences of disobedience. Sin is so awful and complicated that even those elaborate rituals only temporarily covered specific sins until they were committed again. Then, the offerings had to be repeated. National sins were atoned on the Day of Atonement, but those sacrifices had to be offered every year (Leviticus 16).

As unique as Israel was beholding God’s mighty power and hearing his voice, they still rebelled individually and corporately. Each time they sinned something had to die to reinforce the lesson that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:22). But, the blood of bulls, goats, sheep, or doves could never really satisfy the demands of God’s perfect holiness (Hebrews 10:4). All those pointed to the helplessness of man to save himself and, ultimately, to the perfect sacrifice of God’s sinless Lamb (John 1:29).

Something else jumped out at me in my studies. When Aaron was sanctified to be Israel’s high priest, Leviticus 8:23 says Moses put some of the blood of his sacrifice upon Aaron’s right earlobe, his right thumb, and the big toe on his right foot. As I prayed over the meaning of this, a picture came to my mind of Jesus hanging on the Cross. He had to have a crown of thorns so that some of that blood could drip on his earlobe. And, the blood from the nails ran down on his hands and feet. The right side was the side of pleasure and authority. In that act I believe God sanctified Jesus as our High Priest. Then Jesus offered himself as the only Sacrifice that could mark our sin debt “Paid in Full!” (John 19:30).

Holiness

Q. What does the Bible mean when it says God is holy and we are to be holy as he is holy? John Forehand, Richmond, VA

A. The first time “holy” is mentioned in Scripture is Exodus 3:5 where God told Moses to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. This was ground made holy by God’s presence. “Holiness” is found the first time in Exodus 15:11 where God is described as glorious in his holiness. Exodus 39:30 tells us the Jewish High Priest wore inscribed on his mitre, or turban, “Holiness to the Lord.” That implies that striving for holiness must be a conscious act of our minds.

I say the above to point out that holiness is a sacred quality referring only to God or something associated with him. We could say holiness is the sum total of all the attributes of God which make him unique from man. It includes his perfect love and righteousness, his mercy and grace, and also his unbiased judgment and wrath against evil. Evil is the absence of righteousness, which means being right and doing right. You may think most often of God’s holiness in terms of his purity. He is without sin and untouched by evil. Or, perhaps you picture holiness as his radiant glory. Moses’ face shown reflecting God’s glory after being in his presence (Exodus 34:29). Anything that elevates God in your mind above human frailty is part of his holiness.

So, you can see that holiness is a term implying comparison. We think of the holiness of God in comparison to the sinfulness and weakness of man. To strive for holiness is to try to be more like God. We maintain distinctions between ourselves and the world around us. How do we do that? Knowing that holiness only comes from God, we spend time with God in order to become more like him. That may be in the study of his Word, the Bible; in prayer; or in worship with fellow believers. In all these there should be a conscious effort in the sanctuary of our minds to emulate God (1 Peter 1:16).

Believers are already holy: We are saints (from the Latin sanctus meaning holy). We have the Holy Spirit of Jesus residing in us, but we become more holy as we work with his Spirit to reproduce the character of Christ in us.

Cain and Abel

Q. Why is Cain not mentioned in Adam’s genealogy? Wilbert Lassiter, Dinwiddie, VA

A. The fourth chapter of Genesis tells of the first couple bearing their first children. The first verse plainly says Adam was the father of Cain. When Eve said she had gotten a man-child from the Lord, it doesn’t mean God was Cain’s father in the sense that he is the biological father of Jesus. Nor does it imply that Eve’s temptation and sin with the Serpent, Lucifer, was one of sexual intercourse, as some have suggested.

Commentators are pretty evenly split as to whether Cain and Abel were twins. Nowhere in the Bible are we told they were twins; yet, the sentence structure of verse 2 could be understood as happening concurrent with Cain’s birth. We’re not told that she conceived again with Abel. However, in the scheme of Biblical interpretation, I don’t see this as important.

Cain means “to get” or “to acquire.” Eve said she had acquired a son with the help of the Lord. Abel may mean “vanity,” but it may also mean “to pasture” or “a place of pasture, a meadow or plain.” Where Eve may have named Cain quickly after the circumstances of his birth, she may have waited to name Abel after she saw his interest in pasturing sheep. Or, perhaps she had a premonition of the brevity of his life and called him “Vanity.” Some have suggested she was disillusioned with the way Cain was acting and her hopes for his brother were vain.

The intent of chapter 5 seems to emphasize the genealogy of Seth rather than that of Adam. We already were given Cain’s genealogy in chapter 4. Perhaps God revealed to Adam that Seth’s line would fulfill the promise of Geneses 3:15. After all, the Bible is the story of redemption and that story climaxes with the life of Jesus. Adam had many other children (Genesis 5:4), but they are not named in his genealogy since its purpose is to follow the line of the promised Messiah.

God is its author and the Bible is His-Story. He has revealed what he wants us to know, and we should be careful about adding something God has not included (Revelation 22:18).

Animal Sacrifices

Q. Why did God require so many animal sacrifices throughout the Old Testament? Evelyn Entsminger, Colonial Heights, VA

A. God makes his own rules for reasons which we cannot judge. His holy character cannot abide sin. Sin is thinking or doing anything contrary to the will and character of God. Therefore, no one is worthy to enter his presence; “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And, God has said “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Since, “the life of the flesh is in the blood: and (God has) given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: (therefore) it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11).

Every sin requires the shedding of blood. Instead of concentrating on how many animals were killed, think how many times the people of Israel sinned! If God was willing to substitute the death of an animal without blemish for sin, it’s a wonder that every animal Israel possessed didn’t die! But, instead of requiring the shedding of blood for every time they sinned, he accepted a daily morning and evening sacrifice between special services like holy Sabbaths and Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement. On that day once a year God accepted a single sacrifice for the whole nation.

Someone has said the shed blood meant death to the animal in payment for sin, but it also meant life for the sinner as a sign of his forgiveness. When an animal died it sent the sobering message that the sinner deserved that death if God had not allowed the animal to take his place. Therefore, the lesson was repeated: Disobedience is serious business and must be paid for by the shedding of blood.

All the other complicated rituals God required of Israel remind us how difficult it is to be holy enough to enter God’s presence. In fact, we can never reach that perfection ourselves. But, surely you know all the worship rituals of the Old Covenant pointed to the Lamb of God who would fulfill all requirements and substitute his sinless life for everyone who trusts in him (John 1:29). Furthermore, we worship him this Easter because, not only did he pay our sin-debt, he conquered death for us as an extra benefit so that our souls – now considered sinless – may live eternally in fellowship with God.

We can have a blessed Easter because Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19)!

Obey Our Rulers

Q. Did Paul really mean in Romans 13 that we ought to obey all who have the rule over us, even corrupt leaders? W. H., Riverside Regional Jail, Prince George, VA

A. Yes, Romans 13:1 says, “The powers that be are ordained of God.” Daniel 2:21 also says it is God who sets up rulers and removes them. So, we need to remember that God has the whole world in view, and his plans are bigger than us. He has a reason for everything he does. We must trust him to accomplish his purposes while at the same time keeping his promises to us.

God wants society to be organized (1 Corinthians 14:40). Without authority we would have anarchy. If you have the right to disobey, then others have that same right; and their reasons might not be as noble as yours. Just trust God. If rulers don’t do what God wants, he will take care of them in his time: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay” (Romans 12:19).

However, I believe Scripture shows that God doesn’t want anyone to violate our spiritual consciences. I believe once a ruler goes against God’s laws which were established for the good of mankind – such as the Ten Commandments and the injunctions Jesus preached in his Sermon on the Mount – when a leader breaks those, that leader is acting illegally and your responsibility to him or her is dissolved (Acts 5:29).

It is true, many – if not most – rulers today are corrupt and have no good intent for God’s children. Paul said in that same Romans 13, verse 7, that we are to render to them their dues. Then, he explains in the next verse that what we owe them is to love them. That love will work no ill toward them (verse 10). If they are working ill toward us, they’re not fulfilling God’s laws. But, we should always, “Love your enemies, bless them who curse you, do good to them who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45).

Women in Church

Q. How should we understand 1 Timothy 2:11-15 where Paul writes about women keeping silent in church, not teaching men, and being saved through child birth? Lisa Stone, Houston, TX

A. Late in his life, Paul wrote what we call his “pastoral epistles” to Timothy and Titus, young pastors he had mentored. In some of Paul’s writings he passed on definite instructions he “received from the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:23) or something he had learned “by the word of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15). We should understand these to be God’s words to us through Paul. But, there are other times when Paul expressed his own opinion which may not be literally binding today. Note that in 1 Timothy 2 Paul said, “I exhort” (verse 1); “I will” (verse 8); and “I suffer” (verse 12). These are his personal practices drawn from the customs of his day.

First century Christian etiquette looked down on outspoken women in church. This was a carry-over from Jewish worship where women stood or sat quietly in the background while men led worship rituals. Women recently converted from paganism might take advantage of their new freedom to become too vocal in church. This would be frowned upon by their society and turn potential converts away. We could compare this to today’s younger preachers coming to the pulpit with no tie and their shirt tails out. Some of the older generation are turned off by this. But, customs change; and we would do well to roll with the tide when eternal values are not at stake.

As far as women being “saved through childbirth” (verse 15), note Paul’s reference to Adam and Eve. He probably means that the so-called “curse” upon Eve was fulfilled as she had children, but ultimately fulfilled in “the child-birth” (literal translation) of Messiah. Woman’s gender following through and delivering that One promised in Genesis 3:15 allowed salvation to both men and women who respond in faithful obedience. That would explain the change to the plural pronoun in the middle of that verse.

To answer your question: This chapter might best be studied by determining the spirit of Paul’s writings and applying it to today’s situations. Of course, we must not change the important truths of gospel essentials

 

Some Not Die Before Jesus Comes

Q. Please explain Matthew 16:28 where Jesus said some of his listeners wouldn’t die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom. Hattie Cox, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. When Scripture seems paradoxical, we must not doubt that Jesus knows what he’s talking about because his word is always truth (John 17:17). Only Jesus knows exactly what he meant in Matthew 16:28 because there are several possible interpretations. You know that interpretation from one language into another completely different culture is not an exact science. Several of those Greek words have different shades of meaning.

The verb translated “see” may also mean “to perceive or understand.” So, Jesus could have been saying, “Before you die some of you will understand (more fully about) the Son of Man’s Kingdom. “Coming in” may also be rendered “going to” or “accompanied by.” If so, Jesus was speaking to those who would see him going to his Kingdom or accompanied by those of his Kingdom. That could refer to his ascension or to the first verses of the very next chapter when Jesus was accompanied by Moses and Elijah from his Heavenly Kingdom.

I have found that God gave the King James translators an unusual ability to select the right words that believers would rely on for over 400 years. Most likely, the King James is correct in rendering this verse as it is translated. If so, then it may be speaking of Christ’s rule over his Church since verse 18 is about establishing his Church. Other commentaries suggest it is a prediction of his Kingdom-power seen at his resurrection and ascension. Perhaps it refers to the Spirit of Jesus returning at Pentecost to birth the earthly kingdom of his Church.

Again, we recall that Jesus told Martha in John 11:26 that believers never really die: “Those who live and believe in me will never die.” Each of us who truly trusts Jesus will see him in his Kingdom! All these are possible solutions to this verse. Therefore, we must “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). We read, pray, read or ask for the commentaries of other believers, and pray some more until God reveals the lesson he has in his Word for our particular need.

Who were Abraham’s 3 guests?

Q. Please comment on the 3 “men” who visited Abraham in Genesis 18. Allen Slaughter, Las Vegas, NV

A. Abram, whom we know better as Abraham, is introduced near the end of Genesis 11. Through no effort on his part, Abraham was chosen strictly by God’s wisdom and grace to bring his family from a pagan land and inherit the land God was giving to his descendants forever. Further, God promised to make him into a nation through whom God would bless the world. Those who bless Israel will be blessed by God; those who oppose Israel will answer to God.

However, Abraham and his wife Sarah had waited beyond the normal expectancy for childbirth and they had no children of their own. When Abraham was 99 and Sarah was 89 years old, God personally came to assure them they would have a son the next year. Genesis 18 tells us 3 “men” seemingly appeared from nowhere walking to Abraham’s tent. As they talked to Abe, it became obvious the outspoken “man” was the Lord. Chapter 19 identifies the other 2 as angels.

When we see God in a physical form we believe this to be Jesus. He’s the only Person of the Godhead with a physical body, and he created us like himself. Some of the many theophanies, or pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus, are: God walking with Adam and Enoch, Melchizedek coming to Abraham, and the many references to The Angel of the Lord where the definite article is used with Angel in the Hebrew. This Angel speaks interchangeably as God.

After God allowed Abe to intercede for Lot in Sodom, he seemingly vanished. However, the 2 angels went on to Sodom and their story is continued in the next chapter. Angels usually appear as men. These angels in Genesis 19 had such perfect physical bodies that the men of Sodom wanted them. Judgment followed on the homosexual sins of those cities. These chapters teach us God is not far from any of us; he answers prayer in his timing; God hears when we intercede for others; but mercy or judgment follows depending on our response to God.

 

Do We Sleep After Death?

Q. Please comment on the misunderstandings of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16. Wendy Sprouse, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. In those last verses of 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul was correcting a misunderstanding that those who died before Jesus returns will miss going to Heaven with him. But, Paul assured them in verse 15 that believers who are already dead will not miss the Second Coming of Jesus. In fact, he said in verse 16 that, when Jesus comes, the dead in Christ will rise first.

Immediately after that, believers who are still alive will be caught up to meet them in the air. We call this first phase of Christ’s return the Rapture based on the word in verse 17 translated as “caught up.” (Because the Latin Vulgate translates the Greek “harpazo” with the Latin word “rapio,” Bible scholars coined the word “Rapture.”) It refers to the sudden, invisible, snatching away of the saved, both dead and alive, at some time (usually thought to be 7 years) before Jesus returns visibly with his saints and angels.

Also, there is also another misunderstanding springing from these verses. It’s a doctrine still taught by some churches today. They call it “soul sleep” and believe the saved will remain unconscious in their graves until Christ’s return. It’s true: Three times in 1 Thessalonians 4, dead believers are referred to as sleeping. However, that’s a metaphor used all through the Bible for those who are dead (Psalm 13:3; John 11:13). It refers to the body sleeping.

It’s clear in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 that Paul believed when we’re absent from the body we are present with the Lord. We know Jesus told the believing thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Do you think Jesus enjoys the company of sleeping bodies? No; when Lazarus died, Jesus told Martha in John 11:26, “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 that Jesus will bring with him those who have been sleeping. He meant that our bodies sleep in the grave but our spirits go to be with Jesus at death until he brings them back to enter resurrected bodies. Therefore, from verse 18 we can “comfort one another” and claim with verse 17 that from the moment we are saved, “So, shall we ever be with the Lord.”

 

Will Antichrist Altar Time?

Q. Does Daniel 7:25 teach that Antichrist will be able to alter the laws of physics and time? Van Rowe, North Franklin, CT

A. Daniel 7:25 is only part of the story of Daniel’s vision. This vision covers the whole 7th chapter and should be studied in context by consulting several commentaries. You may find differing interpretations since it’s a vision with lots of symbols. Verse 25 tells of a powerful world ruler who will “think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.”

I think this vision builds on the previous vision in chapter 2 where the king dreamed of a great image of future world powers. We understand those nations to be Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The 4 beasts Daniel saw in chapter 7 are probably those same 4 ruling powers in the past. However, the 10 horns, or powers, springing from the 4th beast appear to be in the future when a revived power like Rome will set 10 rulers, or “princes,” over the nations of the world. Commentaries disagree whether that power will be a political system, a nation, or a religious entity. One of those 10 “princes” will subdue 3 rulers and eventually rise to rule over all 10 groups. We call him Antichrist. He will be opposed to everything God stands for and will persecute those who become saved after the Rapture. I see nothing supernatural implied here. Verse 25 simply means he will attempt to do away with religious holy days and laws, maybe even rewriting the 10 Commandments. God will, as we say, “give him enough rope to hang himself” and, finally destroy him at the Second Coming of Jesus.

That’s a very simplified interpretation of most of this chapter. However, there are important parts of Daniel’s vision we must not overlook. While describing the terrible last days of earth, verses 9-10 remind us God is still ruling from his Throne, and verses 13-14 show the coronation of God’s true Prince. Verses 18, 26-27 tell of the ultimate triumph of the saints who will reign with Jesus forever.

Of course, before all this happens, Jesus will rapture those who are saved and ready for his coming (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Those who become believers after that will have to deal with Antichrist. However, I remind us that Antichrist’s reign is limited to a time, times, and half a time, which is 3 ½ years; but the reign of Christ with his saints is forever!

 

Is Baptism Necessary?

Q. Do any Scriptures teach that baptism is necessary for salvation? Rev. Justin Laib, Chicago, IL

A. There are two kinds of baptism; one is necessary for salvation, the other is not. The Bible teaches that spirit baptism is a part of our salvation experience; and, thus, is necessary. However, a person may be saved without water baptism, as several in the New Testament were (Luke 7:44-48; Matthew 9:2; Luke 18:13-14; Luke 23:39-43). Therefore, we conclude that water baptism is primarily a symbol of spiritual baptism, which is the ultimate reality. By spirit baptism I mean the invisible work of God’s Spirit who immerses us under Christ’s blood and places us in his spiritual Body when we are saved (John 1:33; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Without the Spirit’s work we cannot be saved.

If water baptism were necessary for salvation it would be stressed every time the gospel is presented, but it is not. Paul never made water baptism a part of his gospel presentations (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). In fact, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that Christ did not send him to baptize. Dr. John MacArthur asks in his website (www.gty.org) if water baptism were necessary, what good would it have done Paul to preach? No one would have been saved! And, remember, there’s no record of the Apostles’ baptisms; yet, who would doubt their salvation.

Such scriptures as Acts 15:11; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; and Philippians 3:9 teach that salvation comes by grace through faith, with no external act implied. This is the overall teaching of Scripture. Scripture is infallible, but our understanding is not. Therefore, we must interpret baptism by overall Biblical teachings.

The scripture most quoted for the necessity of water baptism is Acts 2:38. However, the Greek preposition “eis” translated in the King James as being baptized “for” the remission of sins is translated in Matthew 3:11; 12:41; Luke 11:32; and other places as “because of.” Thus, we should be baptized in water because our sins have been forgiven through faith. Water baptism by immersion is a way we proclaim the gospel by which we were saved (1 Corinthians 11:26). Christ commanded it for every believer (Matthew 28:18-20) as a sign that we have identified with his death, burial, and resurrection for our salvation, but let’s not limit God by saying he can’t save us unless we get wet!

 

Taking the Supper Unworthily

Q. My inmates are asking about the Lord’s Supper: Does it promise healing? What constitutes taking it in an unworthy manner? Gene Mims, Prison Chaplain, Prince George, VA

A. The Lord’s Supper is variously called Last Supper, Memorial Supper, Eucharist, or Holy Communion. Eucharist is from the Greek meaning “thanksgiving” and refers to the thanks Jesus gave before distributing the bread and wine. Holy Communion implies that the Supper is a time to commune with God in praise and thanksgiving.

Mark and Luke are the only gospels that record the actual account of Jesus’ Memorial Supper, although the other 2 gospels mention events of that evening. The best scripture to understand the Supper is 1 Corinthians 11:23-29. There, we have Jesus’ own meaning for the Lord’s Supper, since Paul said he got his understanding directly from the Lord.

In verses 24-26 Jesus gives the purpose for the Supper: It is to remember his body and blood given for our justification. True remembrance will proclaim the gospel as we recall the meaning of the Supper. The broken bread reminds us of the body of our Savior broken by whip, nails, thorns, and spear to pay the physical death that sin demands. God’s law in Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” The shedding of Jesus’ blood, symbolized by the fruit of the vine, removes all barriers for our spirits to reunite with our Creator.

There is no hint of any magical healing powers other than the presence of God’s Spirit who has all power (Matthew 28:18). Catholics consider Holy Communion to be a sacrament necessary for salvation. They believe, when a priest blesses the elements, they are transubstantiated into the actual body and blood of Jesus. Protestants generally understand the Supper to be symbolic of the greater act of Jesus’ death paying our complete sin penalty. Therefore, the Supper is meaningful only for those who have actually repented of their sins and trusted Jesus for salvation.

Although there may actually be no physical harm to unbelievers who partake, Paul cautioned against taking the Supper in an unworthy manner. That happens when believers partake flippantly without a spirit of grateful worship. Through Communion, Jesus offers us a time for worship and recommitment to the commission he left with believers (Matthew 28:18-20).

 

The Unpardonable Sin

Q. Please explain Matthew 12:31-32 which we call the unpardonable sin. Sharon Harbaugh, Williamsburg, VA

A. Those verses say, “I tell you that all manner of sin and blasphemy may be forgiven; but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven unto men. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of man can be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven in this world or the world to come.”

We must understand those verses in context. The Jewish leaders had just accused Jesus of receiving his power from Beelzebub, which is another name for the devil. Jesus, then, warned them of the danger of resisting the Holy Spirit when he is witnessing about Jesus. A person can only be saved by responding to the Spirit’s conviction about Jesus (Romans 10:9). We can be forgiven if we speak against Jesus, because he died to forgive all the sins of those who trust him. But, to refuse the Spirit when he calls us to repentance and faith in Jesus cannot be forgiven, because Jesus is the only way to be saved (John 14:6).

“Blasphemy” here does not mean cursing, although that can be a form of blasphemy. It means to oppose, reject, or vilify someone by saying untrue and evil things about them. The Spirit’s reason for coming is to point people to Jesus (John 16:14). To blaspheme the Holy Spirit means to reject his witness about Jesus. Therefore, the unpardonable sin is the complete and final rejection of Jesus as Savior. That’s the only sin that cannot be forgiven. And, there’s no second chance after death. If someone puts off receiving Jesus as Savior too many times, even the grace of God can be worn out. If God removes the conviction of his Spirit they cannot be saved.

Some people believe that suicide is the unpardonable sin because a person will die before he has the chance to confess his sin. However, we’re saved by trusting the work Jesus did to pay for our sins (Ephesians 2:8; John 10:28). The truth is that no sin is so great that it cannot be forgiven if a person is saved. First John 1:7 says, “The blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanses us from all sin.” Therefore, a believer can never commit this sin.

 

Why Preach the Burial of Jesus?

Q. I’ve heard preachers say our gospel witness should include the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Of what significance is his burial? Emily Williams, Poulsbo, WA

A. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus said that as his followers go everywhere we should be witnesses to him. This is repeated with different words in Acts 1:8. The witness we are to share is called the gospel. Our word “gospel” comes from the old English for “good-spell,” meaning “good news.” It is, indeed, good tidings of great joy (Luke 2:10) that those who are separated from God because of their sins can be forgiven. They can live in fellowship with God and have the assurance of Heaven when they die.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 Paul said our gospel witness should include accounts of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Those who accept our gospel in repentance and faith, personally claiming the death of Jesus in payment for their sins, are saved. That is, they are saved from the judgment of God – a living death in eternal torment.

This drastic action was motivated by God’s love for mankind (John 3:16). We speak of his mercy and grace. These are unmerited favors whereby God, in mercy, doesn’t give us what we deserve; and, in grace, he gives us what we don’t deserve. Those character qualities of God caused him to take on a human body and come to earth as Jesus. Being God, Jesus lived without sin so that he could be the perfect Sacrifice for our sins (John 1:29).

We have the witness of his death because, by dying, Jesus fulfilled God’s decree that our sins deserve death (Romans 6:23). We include his burial because that proves his disciples knew he was really dead, and his burial was necessary for his resurrection. And, his resurrection proves him to be the Conqueror of death. God had spelled these events out in the Jewish Levitical calendar of feast days. First came Passover when Jesus died as our Passover Lamb (Exodus 12). That was followed the next day, on the Sabbath, by the Feast of Unleavened Bread when unholy bread was swept out of their houses into the ground (Exodus 12:15). Jesus, representing our sins, remained buried in his tomb that day. And, the third day after Passover – the first day of the week – was the Feast of First Fruits, when Jesus set the example as the first fruit of our resurrection.

Paul wrote in Romans 6:4-5 that if we have been buried with him, planted in the likeness of his death and dying to our sins, we will be resurrected with him to eternal life.

 

Praying For His Sake

Q. I know we’re supposed to pray “in Jesus’ name,” but please explain what it means to pray “for his sake.” Hattie Cox, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. You’re right to remember that Jesus told his disciples to pray in his name. In John 16:23-24 Jesus said, “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Up until now you’ve asked nothing in my name; now, ask and you shall receive so that your joy may be full.” We understand that to be a promise to all believers.

First, let’s be sure we understand what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. I believe to pray in his name means you must have permission or authority to ask in his name. When I was in college, it was a comfort to carry a blank check on my father’s bank account. Dad had given his bank permission to cash a check where I signed his name by me. My friends couldn’t do that no matter how much they needed help; the bank wouldn’t honor their signatures. Jesus gave permission for his family to “write checks” in his name. But, does that mean we have a “blank check” to fill in whatever we want?

Certainly not! There was a limit to what I could write on my dad’s check and Jesus limits us to asking in his name. Remember that, in the Bible, names indicated character. To pray in Jesus’ name means to ask according to his character; i.e., ask things that Jesus would like to give you because they agree with his will and promote his cause. James 4:2-3 says we don’t have blessings because we don’t ask; and if we ask but still don’t get our request, it’s because we’re asking for the wrong reason. So, if we don’t know what to pray for but we sincerely want to honor God, Romans 8:26 promises that the Holy Spirit will take our desires and mold them with his own pleading groans until they become what God wants for us. Then, God will grant it; and what he gives will always be for our good (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28).

I think that answers the last part of your question. To pray “for Christ’s sake” means we sincerely want God’s will more than our selfish requests. Therefore, we’re willing to trust him for the best time and method and even the best answer to our prayer. So, we ask; but however he answers, we’re willing for it to fit into his overall plan and extend his kingdom. That’s praying the prayer God always answers: “Not my will, but thine be done!”

 

Salt and Light

Q. I know Jesus said we are to be salt and light to our world, but how does he mean for us to do that? Loyd Kindiger, Chattanooga, TN

A. Yes, Jesus made those statements in his Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 5:13-14. He also said in Matthew 16:19 that we have the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. What do those have in common? Penetration! Salt must penetrate meat to season it; light must penetrate darkness to illuminate it; and keys must penetrate what is locked to open it. That’s how we should be salt and light and use our keys.

We must take our salt where people need it, and remember that salt makes people thirsty. We need to live our witness before them to make them thirsty for our gospel. We let our light shine where there is darkness, and we use our keys where people are locked away from the truth of God’s Word. Those are deliberate actions, not just silent witness alone. Dr. Adrian Rogers said we don’t shine light on light or add salt on salt. We have to get out of our comfort zone – outside our churches and outside our circle of Christian friends to deliberately plan to reach the unsaved. Jesus reminded us in verse 16 that we must not hide our light under a bushel but put it on a candlestick to shine God’s love to everyone around us.

And, what better time is there than now when our country is at its lowest morals? Much of our nation is doing what Isaiah 5:20 predicted: They are calling evil good and good evil. God said “Woe to those who do such!” All around us it seems that common sense has left the building! Political correctness allows the minority to make decisions for the majority. So, we are afraid to sing our National Anthem or say our Pledge to the Flag or have public prayers asking God for safety and blessing because it may offend someone. We cut our army and navy while opening our borders to whoever wants to come in. We tie the hands of our law enforcement officers and then release hardened criminals on technicalities.

2015 is the ideal time to take the church out of the box and let the church be the church! You may only be like the flame of a birthday candle; you may only be one grain of salt or one tiny diary key, but with other believers giving ourselves to God’s Spirit we can be part of God’s mighty army! Matthew 16:18 says the gates of Hell can’t stand against us. Let this be the year you let the salt out of the shaker and the light out from under the basket!

 

America in Prophecy

Q. As we approach another year of the Lord’s abundant blessings on the USA, do you believe America is mentioned in prophecy? Dr. Paul DeVries, President, New York Divinity School, New York City

A. Certainly America is not mentioned by name because the New World had not been discovered when the Bible books were written. Yet, America was not a surprise to God. There are many prophecies concerning unnamed gentile nations, such as “the isles of the sea” (Genesis 10:5; Isaiah 66:19; Jeremiah 31:10).

Another interesting prophecy that might refer to America is in Revelation 12:14 which predicts the woman (Israel) will be rescued from the Dragon (Satan) by eagle’s wings. Could this be America, with our national symbol of an eagle, airlifting believing Jews to Petra? Verse 17 may imply that a coalition of Jews and Christians may have saved the believing Jews.

For the rest of this column let me draw on the blog of Joel C. Rosenberg, whom I consider to be a prophet for our age (http://flashtrafficblog.wordpress.com).

Mr. Rosenberg poses the question: “Is America facing a ‘Jonah’ moment, or a ‘Nahum’ moment?” I summarize: Jonah was sent to Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria, to warn that evil nation of God’s impending judgment. The Ninevites believed his message and repented in fasting and mourning. God heard their earnest prayers and had mercy on them, sparing them from the destruction he had planned. About 100 years later, the next generation of Ninevites again had forsaken the Lord, and God sent Nahum to warn them. This time they did not repent, and their city was destroyed.

America has had the greatest preachers of all time warning thousands in stadiums and by electronic media. When our people repented in the past, God poured out his Spirit in the First and Second Great Awakenings bringing sweeping revivals across our land. Those were our “Jonah” moments. Today, the warnings are going forth from faithful preachers and even from natural calamities. If Americans do not seek God’s forgiveness, we may face our “Nahum” moment of God’s displeasure. The best new year’s wish we could have for America would be that every citizen would turn from our sins and seek God’s favor so that he would heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14). Let’s pray that 2015 would be such a year! Then, our prophecy will be with the Rollcall of the Faithful recorded in Hebrews 11.

 

Happy New Year?

Q. How can we sincerely wish our friends a “Happy New Year” with evil so rampant and the future so uncertain? Pauline Cloud, Colonial Heights, VA

A. The uncertainty of the future makes that wish even more important, especially if you make it more than a wish: Make it a prayer!

Like you, I read and watch the news every day and hear of terrible acts of atrocity, not just in foreign countries, but right here in our beloved America. We can expect those of false religions to hate and kill indiscriminately because they have never been taught Christian values for human life or known “the peace of God that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Even if they are not Christians, they have heard the principles of democracy which teach the equal worth of every person. But, our own citizens are rejecting the rule of law and turning to mob violence and personal vigilante justice. If they don’t like the ruling of lawful courts and juries, they seek their own revenge. It reminds me of those times in Biblical history when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” and it led to anarchy (Judges 17:6; 21:25).

You might ask: Are these times any worse than previous times? Probably not. History records that evil cycles and seems to take over from time to time until either good people or God intervenes. And, after a time of peace, Satan begins his dastardly deeds all over again. Does any of this surprise God? Certainly not. Revelation 5 shows that the future is in the hands of Jesus (verse 5) and God is still on his Throne (verse 1). Jesus promised “in the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). If Jesus defeated Satan and death at his Cross and Resurrection, he’s already proven he can keep his promises to those who trust him.

So, don’t let Satan, or your fears rob you of the excitement of unlimited joys to come. Because there was a Christmas you may plan on a Happy New Year. God had Jeremiah to record in 29:11, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” There is no evil in Heaven, and the One who guarantees our arrival there will keep us until we reach Home (Revelation 21:27; Ephesians 1:14)!

 

Losing “Christmas”

Q. In light of schools taking “winter breaks” and employees told to say “happy holidays,” are we losing the uniqueness of Christmas? Dora Gurganus, Capron, VA

A. No, Christmas will always be unique. People all over the world consider it to be the most special time of the year. Even the merchants whom we blame for commercializing Christmas (as if they could do it without us!) propagate the uniqueness of Christmas. No other holiday lasts over two months! People may deny it, ignore it, or fail to keep its true meaning, but no one can do away with Christmas; it’s a real historical event that happened.

Even if they refuse to say “Merry Christmas” no one is left out of its celebration. We light our homes and businesses because “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2). We give gifts because God started the custom when he “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16). We decorate trees because “then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice….Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee” (Psalm 96:12; Isaiah 14:8). We place stars or angels on top of our trees because high above the trees a star appeared in the East and an angel appeared to shepherds (Matthew 2:2; Luke 2:9).

We enjoy our Christmas parties because the Christmas Angel said, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10). We give to the poor because Jesus taught, “When you prepare a feast call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind and you will be…repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13-14). We send Christmas cards because “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world” (Matthew 24:14).

So, no matter if people don’t wish you a Merry Christmas or acknowledge Christ’s birth, just smile and wish them the blessings of this Holy Season. You and I know they ­are a part of the most celebrated event in the world. Instead of reminding them that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” maybe we should tell them they are the reason for the season. After all, the Son of God came for them. Don’t you be guilty of leaving him out of his birthday celebration!

 

Can God Forget?

Q. When Scripture says God was reminded or that he remembered something, does that contradict the doctrine that God is omniscient, or all-knowing? Tonya Brown, DFW Airport, TX

A. In just the first Bible book of Genesis you can find recorded 3 times when “God remembered” (Genesis 8:1; 19:29; 30:22). Those verses speak of God’s remembering Noah, Abraham, and Rachel. They are the first of many times God’s Word says he remembered something or someone. Does that mean that God had forgotten those 3 patriarchs? Certainly not!

We know the Bible does teach that God knows everything, even before it happens (Job 34:21; Proverbs 15:3; Isaiah 40:26; Hebrews 4:13). So, what do those phrases about God’s remembering really mean? They are anthropomorphic expressions relating God to human characteristics so we can understand him better. We can resolve this problem by understanding the translation. The Hebrew word translated “remembered” doesn’t mean something has been forgotten; rather, it means that something has been brought to mind – in the spotlight of God’s attention.

Another example of the need to understand terminology is Exodus 2:24. That verse says, “God heard their groaning (of Israel in Egyptian bondage), and God remembered his covenant…” Are we to imply from this verse that God had not heard Israel’s groaning before this? No; it means he was moved to action because of their cries and he rehearsed the covenant promises he had made to Abraham. It also implies timing so we know the time was right for God to act. The corresponding Greek word in Revelation 18:5, translated as God remembering the sins of future Babylon, means God was listing her sins so that he could punish each one of them.

So, once we realize the differences when we translate words into the thought pattern of another culture we can understand better what something really means. These instances never imply that God is not omniscient. They simply clarify his renewed attention. We can be glad Psalm 103 teaches we are in the center of God’s attention: “He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust….But, the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him.”

 

Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters

Q. What does Ecclesiastes 11:1 mean when it says “Cast your bread upon the waters and you will find it after many days?” Hattie Cox, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Jewish tradition points to King Solomon as the writer of Ecclesiastes. Verse 1 simply calls him “the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” The word “ecclesiastes” means preacher or one who gathers an audience. This Old Testament book is the journal of someone who sought for happiness and the meaning of life in wisdom, riches, sex, and worldly pleasures. However, he found everything he tried to be “vanity of vanities” with no lasting value “under the sun.” The writer finally reached his conclusion in the last 2 verses: “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”

Remember: We cannot take every statement in Ecclesiastes as a positive principle to obey. We must study it in the context of a pessimistic author who is telling us what not to do to find fulfillment. However, it does contain some pithy witticisms that we should take positively. One such proverb is the one you mentioned from 11:1.

This saying may have originated with the Egyptian practice of sowing seeds on the flooded Nile delta so that the well-watered seeds will have a head start sprouting when the flood waters abate and the seeds sink in the wet ground. Another possible setting involves merchants who send their ships off to bring back grain for marketing. A Scriptural example for this is Proverbs 31:14 where the virtuous woman brings her food from afar.

Therefore, I understand this proverb to teach the principle of “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Whether it’s taking a chance on your seed sprouting in flooded ground or investing in overseas commerce, you won’t win if you don’t enter the race! However, it can also teach the laws of spiritual harvest: You reap what you sow; you reap later than you sow; and you reap more than you sow. We may take those either positively or negatively.

Of course, the Christian seeks the leading of God’s Spirit in our decisions, realizing that our possessions are only of value when we invest them in worthy endeavors that honor the Lord.

 

Seeing God’s Face

Q. How are we to understand Bible references to seeing God’s face and other tangible aspects? Does God have a body? Beneil Watts, Louisville, KY

A. You’re right that the Bible speaks of God’s face, eyes, ears, arms, hands, fingers, and feet. We also have accounts where Jacob claimed to have seen God’s face (Genesis 32:30) and Moses saw his backside as God passed by (Exodus 33:23). Genesis 18 tells of God and 2 other “men” visiting Abraham and eating with him. Then, of course, we have the Genesis records of Adam and Enoch walking with God and in Exodus 33:11 Moses talking with God “face to face.” Isaiah 6 describes the prophet seeing God high and lifted up in his temple. Yet, Jesus said in John 4:24 that God is a spirit; and Exodus 33:20 intimates that no man can see God in his full glory and live.

The Jewish Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4 says that God is one, but the nouns of that verse indicate a triune nature. The Bible shows God relating to us as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit (Ghost). Since he is so far beyond our comprehension we accept his mystery in faith and picture him the only way we can: in human terms. These accounts where Scripture describes God with human qualities are called anthropomorphic. That means they are not to be taken literally, but God allows himself to be described in human terms so we can relate to his motivations and actions.

To answer your second question: Yes, God does have a body. We call that body Jesus. Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23 name him Emmanuel, God with men. In John 14:9 Jesus told his disciples that when they had seen him they had seen the Father. Therefore, I believe when Old Testament men walked or talked with God, they were walking and talking with Jesus!

When Scripture says we were created in God’s image it could refer to our triune nature of body, mind or soul, and spirit. Or, since Jesus has always existed even before he was born of Mary, maybe we were fashioned in his physical image. Jesus is in Paradise today with that glorified physical body he showed to his followers after his resurrection (Luke 23:43; 24:42).

One day we will see him face to face when God dwells in our midst (Revelation 21:3; 22:4). Until then we are content to see him by faith, feel him in our spirits, and hear him through his Word, the Bible.

 

A Man After God’s Heart

Q. In light of David’s sins how can he be called a man after God’s own heart? Evangelist Steve Freeman, Colonial Heights, VA

A. David was a sinner, as we are; but his sins were more public and recorded for all to read. The Bible records that David was an adulterer, a murderer, a bigamist with 9 wives, and a man who couldn’t control his children or his army. Indeed, we may rightfully ask how God could call David a man after his own heart.

But, God did say that about David. He made that statement through his prophet Samuel when God rejected Saul as King of Israel. First Samuel 13:14 records God’s appraisal that the man he had chosen to replace Saul would be a man after God’s own heart. Did God not know what David would do? Certainly, and Acts 13:22, written after the fact confirms that David was such a man.

When God said that about David he did not mean that God’s heart guided David so that everything David did was pleasing to God. We know David was a man subject to his temptations as we all are. That was a statement of David’s sincere desire to please God. First Samuel 16:7 says God doesn’t judge by outward appearances as men do, but he looks upon a person’s heart.

What do we know about David’s heart? The Old Testament books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles tell us many good things David did; however, the Psalms he wrote tell us more about his heart. Many of the Psalms later became hymns of worship for Israel, but they began as the personal cries of David’s heart. Over and over he revealed his search for God’s favor and his desire to please God.

Further, we never have an instance in which David worshipped an idol or anything other than his God. He sought God’s heart. And, because he did, God placed his sins upon God’s Lamb – slain from before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). Therefore, God decreed David righteous, a man after God’s own heart. He will do the same for you and me when we seek to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

 

Space Travel

Q. Does the Bible have anything to say about space travel? Carl Perry, Hopewell, VA

A. Certainly, we would not expect the Bible to speak directly to space travel since such an idea was unknown to the human writers of Scripture. However, nothing takes God by surprise, so he may have inspired the writers to shed light on that subject, although it was unknown to them.

When Genesis 1:1 says “God created the heavens and the earth,” the Hebrew word for heavens is indeed plural. The Jews believed in 3 heavens: the atmosphere around us where the clouds float, space where the stars reside, and spiritual Heaven – God’s home. We see this in 2 Corinthians 12:2 where Paul gave what might be a personal testimony of his own visit to the third heaven. Also, in Genesis 1:16 we’re reminded that God “made the stars also.” That’s almost an afterthought as if this were no big deal for God.

God created the universe, including the earth and space, for his purposes and man’s pleasure. In fact, Isaiah 45:18 says God created the heavens and the earth to be occupied by man. Even the 2 great lights that shine on our planet were made for mankind to know times and seasons, days and years (Genesis 1:14). In Genesis 1:26-28, when God gave Adam dominion over everything, he included the realm of the birds, ie., the heavens.

Later, David let his imagination wander in Psalm 139:7-8 saying that if he were to travel to heaven, he would find God there. This is not the usual Hebrew word for God’s home, but David was speaking of the spatial heaven, the realm of the stars.

I believe where the Bible places no prohibition we are free to decide what we think about it. Therefore, I don’t see the Bible prohibiting space travel, or undersea travel for that matter. I don’t believe we’ll find humanoids on other planets, but I do think we’ll find God’s footprint there. Read Psalm 104 for a beautiful record of God’s creative power.

You know, I think Jesus believes in space travel because John 14:3 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17 tell of the future space travel when believers are caught up in the clouds to meet Jesus. Later, when God gives us a new heaven and earth as mentioned in Revelation 21:1, I think we will have all the time of eternity to will ourselves all over that universe to marvel at the glories of God’s creative mind (1 Corinthians 2:9).

 

Dinosaurs

Q. Are dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible? Fossil remains prove they existed; what happened? Jeremy Chan, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada

A. Outside of the Revelation, there are 22 biblical references to dragons. Many of these may be describing varieties of dinosaurs remembered from previous ages. I believe behemoth in Job 40 was a dinosaur. And, if there were such a thing as a fire-breathing dragon, then leviathan in chapter 41 describes one. Isaiah 27:1 supports my theory. Leviathan is also mentioned in Psalms 74 and 104.

Many earth scientists ascribe the demise of “prehistoric” animals to the impact of a tremendous meteor, but the Bible gives a better answer in the Biblical Flood. Genesis 1:6-7 tells of waters held above the firmament of earth’s atmosphere. Those waters may have formed a vapor canopy which would shield the sun’s ultraviolet rays and cause a greater air pressure. Under those circumstances plants and animals could grow much larger, and giant winged reptiles could fly in heavier air.

After the world-wide Flood described in Genesis 7 all air breathing animals and people died except those in Noah’s Ark. The Flood rained down the water vapor canopy. That release of air pressure and the resulting water and earth turbulence caused the deaths of giant animals and plants and restricted their regrowth. For survival on the Ark, God sent Noah 2 of all undomesticated animals and 7 of all domesticated types so the earth would be more hospitable for man. If there were any varieties not on the Ark, they died. Even if smaller varieties or babies of the larger species were on the Ark, they were among the unclean animals. Therefore, since there were only 2 of them, if one died they became extinct.

I subscribe to the young earth age theory the Bible implies. The same archaeological evidence that proves dinosaurs existed also proves man was upon the earth then. Footprints of humans and dinosaurs appear in the same rock strata; and, at least in one instance, a man’s footprint is inside a dinosaur’s print. If, in Job 40:15, behemoth was a dinosaur as it appears to be, then that verse clearly says it was created at the same time as man, not in an earlier age.

 

Before Pentecost

Q. What were they doing in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost? J.S., Hampton, VA

A. In Acts 1:4, just before Jesus ascended, he commanded his followers to wait in Jerusalem “for the promise of the Father.” That promise was the coming of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus had predicted in John 14. Since every important event in Jesus’ life had already been spelled out in the Jewish levitical calendar, the next event was Pentecost. Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles; he died on Passover; he was buried during the Feast of Unleavened Bread; and he was the first-fruit of our resurrection on the Festival of First Fruits. Fifty days later the Jews would return to Jerusalem from all over the world to celebrate the Feast of Fifty Days (Pentecost). That was their spring harvest festival, like our Thanksgiving.

The first chapter of Acts tells us 120 believers, including all the Apostles except Judas, along with Jesus’ mother, brothers and sisters, were “in one accord” in the upper room of Jesus’ last supper. During this time they surely prayed, worshipped, and studied the prophecies to review how Jesus had fulfilled them.

Acts 2 tells us it on the actual day of Pentecost when faithful Jews were carrying out the rituals spelled out in Leviticus 23. At Pentecost, each person brought 2 loaves of bread. They were to be made of mixed grain from all the grain of their spring harvest. The grain was ground into fine flour with leaven (yeast) added. This was different from the bread of Passover, which was unleavened. Leaven symbolized sin which spreads as rapidly as yeast in dough; therefore, that unleavened bread represented Jesus who was without sin. Passover bread was flat, hard, and tasteless, symbolizing the suffering of the undesirable Christ. The bread of Pentecost was yeast bread and good to eat. Since yeast is symbolic of sin, this bread represented sinful people. It came from mixed grain, meaning different kinds of people. It was offered as a wave offering before the Lord and then eaten with the Thanksgiving meal of their harvest.

I believe the 2 loaves of mixed grain represented the Church composed of Jewish and Gentile believers who have been waved (dedicated) to the Lord. So, it was on this day that the Spirit birthed the Church! As Peter preached on the day of harvest celebration, the Spirit reaped a great harvest of 3,000 souls.

When the Spirit broke the sound barrier as he came to earth, Dr. Luke could only describe that sonic boom as the “sound of a mighty, rushing wind.” That explosion, like they’d never heard before, would have brought the whole city to gather outside Mary’s upper room. Then, the Spirit bestowed the power (wind), the purity (fire), and the purpose (tongues) for his Church. May we allow him to equip us today to reach all people for Jesus! And, let’s praise God for fulfilling the great promises in his Word!

 

Is God Fair to Punish the Next Generation?

Q. Did God mean it when he said he would visit the iniquity of the fathers upon their children to the third and fourth generation? That sounds unfair. J.B., Richmond, VA

A. I find at least four times in the Bible where God made that statement, so he must mean it. He said it in connection with the second commandment when he gave the Ten Commandments to Moses in Exodus 20:5. There it’s set among the most important verses of the Old Testament. The next time God said it is when he declared his name, or his character, to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7.

Remember when Moses inquired the meaning of God’s name, “I am,” at the Burning Bush? Exodus 3:13-14 records God answering in effect, “I am what I am!” He meant no one but God can explain his character and none can compare to him. Later, when Moses went back up Mt. Sinai to get the second set of Commandments after breaking the first set, God mercifully answered Moses’ question. When Exodus 34:5 says God proclaimed the name of the Lord it means God revealed his true nature and character to Moses.

God wants to be remembered by the character he stated in Exodus 34:6-7. Yes, he may punish the sins of the fathers to the third or fourth generation of their children if they deserve it. But, look at the positive aspects of his character preceding that statement. God is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, (and) forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Certainly, one with those character qualities will be fair!

As to the fairness of punishing the children for their father’s sins, I believe God was stating his option to do that if the children were like their father. 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 seen or heard from their elders, they will be punished the same way the fathers will.

Yet, God’s ideal is stated in Deuteronomy 24:16 saying, each person will bear the iniquity of their own sins. However, if children choose to live as their father did, they will bear the same consequences as he. May God help us to imitate our Heavenly Father and big Brother!

 

Righteous Anger

Q. What constitutes “righteous anger?” B. Hughes, Hopewell, VA

A. When I think of “righteous anger” I think of anger that is justified in provoking someone to correct a bad situation. But, for that action to be “righteous” it must be selfless and not for personal vindication. We usually call it “righteous indignation” which means we’re taking a stand against something that is offensive to us.

Anger in itself is not wrong. It’s simply a response to something that agitates us. Usually, we think of anger in a negative sense because it may enrage us. But, the Bible teaches that people can be angry for good reason and respond in ways that honor Jesus. In fact, Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be ye angry and sin not.”

Jesus should be our example in all things. He became angry when his Father’s house was becoming a den of thieves. All 4 gospels record his cleansing of the Temple but John adds something to the synoptic accounts of his driving the animals out. John says he didn’t release the doves but simply told the sellers to take them away. Perhaps that’s because the coins could be picked up and the larger animals could be rounded up, but if the doves were set free they would fly away. Jesus never harmed anyone or their property in his righteous indignation.

The Bible uses “wrath” to describe God’s anger. It means God’s laws have been broken. When God acts in wrath it is always righteous anger because he’s justified in retaliating. “Vengeance belongs to me (God)…the Lord shall judge his people” (Hebrews 10:30). He promises to punish evil and save his people from those who mistreat them. Only God can judge righteously (Genesis 18:25) because as “the Judge of all the earth” only he knows the motives behind each action.

On the other hand, when men claim to react in righteous anger they need to be sure correction is their only goal. Jesus taught in Matthew 5:22 that personal anger which causes us to devalue an individual, made in God’s image, puts us in danger of Hell fire. Longsuffering, or self-control, is a gift of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22) available to all believers. All our actions, especially those of anger, need to be controlled by God’s Spirit. Sometimes it’s better to say or do nothing than to react in anger.

 

The Day of the Lord

Q. What do the Bible writers mean when they refer to “the Day of the Lord?” Milton Entsminger, Colonial Heights, VA
A. That expression is used in different forms to refer to different times, but all of them point to a time when God has or will intervene decisively in human affairs to show his power and accomplish his purpose. Although in the past he sometimes used human instruments or natural calamities, it was God who was directing judgments or blessings toward human behavior. In the future, that time of his unmistakable presence will climax his rule of righteousness.
Scripture calls the times of God’s judgment by different names. It may be called the day of God, the day of the Lord Jesus, the day of Judgment, the last day(s), or just “that day.” What is called a day may actually extend over months, years, or throughout eternity. It may refer to a specific time of chastisement on God’s sinful people in anticipation of their repentance, or a time of deliverance and avengement on their enemies. At other times these phrases may point to the end of the world, the Rapture, or the Glorious Appearing of our Lord at his Second Coming. It can anticipate the Judgment, Paradise, or the Millennium reign of Christ. In short, it is God’s Day when his Will will be done and he will have the last word!
Most of the time the inference is negative, meaning a day to be feared and avoided if possible. Joel 3:14 calls it a time for decision – God decides his punishment for sin, and the people decide their response. First Thessalonians 5 calls it a time of surprise, like a thief in the night, because the timing is God’s and not men’s. However, for those prepared by faithful obedience, the inference is positive as it anticipates a time of reward and great blessings. Isaiah 35 calls it a return to paradise and Joel 3:18 likens it to an abundant harvest when “the mountains will drip with new wine and the hills will flow with milk.”
In summary, the Bible reaches 3 conclusions about that “day.” (1) It is a time of God’s ultimate power as he is victorious and vindicated. (2) It is a day of God’s wrath destroying evil and his mercy establishing righteousness. And, (3) the purpose of its record from the past and its prophecy for the future is, according to 2 Peter 3:11, to cause people to consider their present relationship to God.

 

Does God Repent?

Q. Does God change his mind? Marian Baker, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. I believe your extended question might be: If Scripture teaches that God knows everything before it happens, how can it say God repents or changes his mind? Perhaps you have in mind such passages as Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14; and Jonah 3:10 where God repented, or changed his mind, of some action he began.

You know, of course, the 3 supernatural qualities that belong only to God: omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. God alone is all powerful, all present, and all knowing. Neither Satan, nor any other creature including humans, possesses these attributes. Isaiah 42:9; 1 John 3:20; and Romans 8:29 are a few scriptures that teach God’s omniscience. Your question implies that if God knows the outcome of every action, why would he need to change his mind?

Indeed, God does know the outcome of things before they happen (Psalm 139:1-6). I often ask my Bible classes: “Did it ever occur to you that nothing ever occurs to God?” He already knew it beforehand. And, God is constant; there is “neither shadow of turning” with him (James 1:17). God’s ultimate purposes are unchangeable, but his course of action may appear to change when he’s accomplished his will in us.

Just as God’s promises may be conditional on our actions, his judgments may also be conditioned upon our response (Jeremiah 18:8-10). God always knows what he’s going to do, and he doesn’t change that (Numbers 23:19). When he warns us of punishment and we repent, he can show his mercy in forgiving us. This gives us an opportunity, not to change God, but to bring ourselves into his eternal purposes. What parent among us hasn’t done the same? We may threaten our children within an inch of their lives but our purpose is to reform them and then show our love by forgiving them.

Even though God’s thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9), we can be assured that God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9) and that the Judge of all the earth will do right (Genesis 18:25). There are some boundaries we may not cross without reaping judgment (Matthew 12:31), but there are others intended to change us and draw us closer to our loving Heavenly Father (Deuteronomy 29:29).

 

Church and Politics

Q. How involved should the church be in politics? Effie Taylor, Richmond, VA

A. This is a good question and pertinent since this is an election year. Of course, we’re not talking about the Church (capitol C, meaning Christ’s universal, invisible body of all believers) but about churches (small c, meaning local bodies of Christian believers). Christ’s Church is above local politics since universal government rests upon his shoulder (Isaiah 9:6).

However, we can’t really speak for a local congregation either because each church is composed of members with individual rights and freedoms. So, a church will be as involved in politics as its individual members choose to be. As Christians we are responsible for our influence in all venues. If Christ expects us to be good business men or women, good neighbors, and good moral examples before others, then he expects us to carry those same Biblical principles into our political involvements. Whether we run for office or campaign for specific values or vote our convictions, we are to do so as Christian ambassadors for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Individual church members should be involved in all levels of government as they feel led. Yet, when it comes to church officials personally or vocally involved in politics they should have the blessing of their constituents. Mind you, a church leader is a citizen with the same political rights as anyone else; but, if he or she runs or campaigns, they should disassociate themselves from their church unless they have permission to speak for them.

Jesus taught us the principle of equal involvement and responsibility when he said in Mark 12:17, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” From scriptures like this our forefathers believed in separation of church and state. That means the church must not dictate to the state, nor the state to the church. However, the state has the same responsibility to ensure freedom and protection to the church that it does to all other entities. And, we as Christian citizens have the same responsibility to be salt and light to the political arena as we have to society in general (Matthew 5:13-14).

Jesus told us in Matthew 5:16 to let our lights shine. That means each of us must pray and work for Biblical values while standing against governmental oppression (Ephesians 6:13). Are you doing your part?

 

Is Church Necessary?

Q. Do Christians really need to attend church? Anonymous
A. You may certainly be saved without joining a church, or being baptized, for that matter. Neither church attendance nor baptism saves anyone (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are saved by turning from our sins and asking Jesus to forgive us, believing that his death on the Cross paid our sin debt to God. God’s Word then tells us to be baptized and learn all the things Jesus taught (Matthew 28:19-20). A Bible believing, teaching church is the instrument the Holy Spirit most often uses for our edification. Although church doesn’t save us it is, however, proof of our serious intent to make Jesus Lord of our lives. And, I have reason to doubt your salvation experience if you haven’t entered into that contract with Jesus. Having left your sinful lifestyle you then invite his Spirit to guide your life.
We could almost say Hebrews 10:24-25 is a command not to forsake Christ’s church. The intent of the original language is that we “Encourage one another to love and do good deeds.” How do we do that? By not failing “to assemble (in church) as some do, but encourage one another even more earnestly as you see the day (of Christ’s return) approaching” (author’s translation). Our life together in a local church makes the Lord visible to our world, and our unified prayers have the promised power of God‘s Spirit (Romans 8:26; James 5:14).
Those not involved in regular structured worship and Bible study are inevitably stunted in their own spiritual growth, and they contribute little or nothing to the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom. We mutually build up others when we share our spiritual gifts and carry one another’s burdens in regular joint worship (Galatians 6:2). In church we admonish one another and submit to one another for accountability (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:21). To fail to attend church when you’re able is the height of selfishness. You show you care nothing for promoting the work God has promised to do through his Church. Nor do you care to obey Christ in the testimony of your own spiritual growth. God didn’t tell you to enjoy church (although you will if you have the right attitude), but he did tell you to support his work.
We must attend church to please Jesus. Jesus died for the Church and one of his final requests to his Father before he died was that his followers would be brought to complete unity (John 17:20-23). Did you know Jesus never promised to be with you when you disregard his desire? But, he did say he would be present “when two or three are gathered in his name” (Matthew 18:20). Yes, you need the church and the church needs you!

 

Mormon Beliefs About Salvation

Q. What do Mormons believe – especially about salvation? Margie Randall, Crosby, TX

A. Although I do not agree with these statements, I found a google search on “Mormons” revealed the following: Mormon is the narrator of the story of early settlers in America to whom Jesus supposedly appeared and revealed his plans for a future true church. Some 400 years after Christ, Mormon began writing his story on golden plates which his son, Moroni, finished. Then, Moroni buried the plates in New York state. Mormons believe around 1823 Jesus sent Moroni back as an angel to lead Joseph Smith to find and translate the plates. Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) upon Mormon’s book. Therefore, his followers are called Mormons.

To answer your question about salvation, I read that Mormons say all people are “saved” by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, salvation to them simply means their resurrection. They believe that, after death, all human spirits go to a temporary place to await the Second Coming of Jesus. Good spirits wait in a paradise but the spirits of bad people are punished during this time. When Jesus returns, everyone will be resurrected (saved) to spend eternity in 1 of 3 heavens.

For Mormons, the highest heaven is reserved only for the most faithful LDS members. Males who have obtained priesthood may be exalted to gods and given rule over their own planets. Since they believe their planets should ideally be populated by their own offspring, Mormons originally took multiple wives. Now, males awaiting godhood may select and guarantee their wives in the afterlife by a Celestial Marriage ceremony where the selected spouse may not even know about it. The second heaven is for keepers of the Old Testament law. All other people will be in the lowest level of paradise.

Some of their requirements include mandatory tithing; abstention from alcohol, tobacco, and coffee; obedience to all official decrees of their presidents who they call prophets; and belief that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are separate Gods with human bodies able to procreate. Mormons believe in multiple worlds and multiple gods who were once human as Jesus was before he became God of this planet. Mormons teach their young men to volunteer 2 years for missionary service.

In contrast to these doctrines, I suggest you read what the Bible says in such passages as 2 Corinthians 11:14; Galatians 1:8; Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8; John 14:6; John 3:16 and John 17:17.

 

A Biblical Response to ISIS

Q. What is the proper Biblical response to terrorist groups like ISIS? Sandra Redfearn, Cheraw, SC

A. The radical Islamic movement we call ISIS was begun in the early 1990s by a Jordanian named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who was angry because his ideas and his Sunni Muslim minority were being ignored by the larger Shiite leadership. His opportunity for recognition came when he organized Iraqi dissidents to fight the US invasion of Iraq. First calling his followers the Party of Monotheism and Jihad, he later renamed it IS, short for Islamic State. As his movement spread across Iraq it was called ISI, the Islamic State of Iraq. Upon moving into Syria, it became ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Embraced for a time by bin Laden, Zarqawi later broke from al-Qaeda because they were not radical enough. But, in 2006, Zarqawi was killed when U.S. planes bombed his headquarters.

The present leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, changed the name back to IS because Baghdadi wants to be Caliph of an Islamic state that includes much of the Middle East. Enforcing the extreme elements of Sharia Law, he intimidates his opponents through forced subjection by threats of annihilation.

Stuck with the name ISIS, the movement is more political than religious. The minority Sunnis are striking back at the Shiites with military tactics taught by the former leaders of Saddam’s army. They are popular because they’re the underdog rising to power and they take care of their supporters by providing food, medical care, schools, and other necessities the Shiites refused them for so long.

Backed by oil-rich resources, military training and weapons, and the belief that Allah wants Sharia Law to dominate the world, ISIS is spreading rapidly. Baghdadi believes terror tactics of persecution, suicide bombings, and atrocities like public firing squads and beheadings will cause others to cower before them.

 

Demon Visitations

Q. When people believe they have been visited by their dead loved ones, am I wrong in assuming that ghostly encounters are demonic? Tonya Brown, DWF Airport, TX

A. No, I do not think you are wrong. I believe our parents were right to teach us there are no such things as ghosts. That’s true if you’re thinking that ghosts are the spirits of dead people. Ghostly apparitions, however, may be very real. But, they are not dead people returning; nor are they aliens from another planet. Indeed, they may be demonic.

I believe the spiritual world is very real all around us, perhaps in another dimension. There are many things that are real beyond the spectrums of our senses. We can’t see spiritual beings with physical eyes unless they reveal themselves. The Bible seems to imply we have guardian angels and there are angels (and demons) over countries or people groups (Matthew 18:10; Psalm 91:11; Daniel 10:113 and12:1). Rarely has anyone seen angels, but, in hindsight, we may later recognize their influence (Hebrews 13:2). The Bible records a few instances when saints have been allowed to return for God’s purposes (1 Samuel 28:15; Matthew 17:3). However, since the unsaved go immediately to Hell, no unsaved person has ever returned from Hell. Luke 16:26 says there is a barrier no one may cross. And, since revelations from God are finished with the Bible (Revelations 22:18), I don’t believe he sends saints to deliver messages today.

It’s not unusual for grieving persons to want to believe their loved ones are watching over them and even contacting them. The job of watching over us is given to angels, not mortals (Daniel 4:17; Revelation 20:12 ). Those who think unsaved loved ones have appeared to them are either imagining them, dreaming, or their mind is playing tricks on them. The only other possibility is that demons may pretend to be our dead companions. Since demons are eternal spirits, they know all about us and can appear to reveal things only our departed loved ones would know. That’s all part of Satan’s game to discredit the Bible and trick us into believing God is not in charge.

In John 8:32, Jesus taught that we can know the truth about things and that truth sets us free from delusions. All we need to know about the spiritual realm is found in God’s Word, the Bible.

 

Can I Have Too Much Stuff?

Q. How can I tell if I have too much “stuff”? Evelyn Entsminger, Colonial Heights, VA

A. God is the true Maker of all things. Everything we invent or accumulate originated in the mind of God. He is the Prime Mover who makes all things – visible and invisible – possible (John 1:3). He allows us to have the possessions that surround us. So, if we have things that improve our lives, whether for work or pleasure, we should thank him. All things were made for him and lent to us because, in God’s mind, we are more important than things (Proverbs 16:4).

However, Satan has seen to it that things may have a strange hold over us. We think we own them; but, if they become obsessions that we sacrifice time, money, and integrity to own, they really own us. Jesus told the parable in Luke 12 of a man whose life revolved around the things he gathered for himself. Then, in verse 15 Jesus said: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of things which he possesses.”

Have you considered why God allowed you to have the conveniences you enjoy today? It’s certainly not because you are more deserving than poor people in third world countries. Perhaps we all should remember what God told Abram in Genesis 12:2-3 and consider that we’ve been blessed to be a blessing to others.

A good way to tell if we have too much “stuff” would be to ask ourselves what place it occupies in our thinking and what we plan to do with it. Let me quote from the NIV Essentials Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), p. 1183: “We know when we have too much stuff when anxiety or greed, which is idolatry (see Colossians 3:5), keeps us from sharing with others; when we find our contentment in what we buy and own rather than in whom we love; and when we find our identity in what we possess rather than in our relationships – both with God and others….The remedy to our anxiety and acquisitiveness is to ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ (Matthew 6:33a).” Then, we may trust God that all things we truly need will be given to us as well (Matthew 6:33b).

In short, we can know we have too much stuff when keeping it or acquiring more becomes more important than sharing it or using it to benefit others in Jesus’ name.

 

Proper Praise

Q. In many churches we applaud the musicians or technical teams for their presentations, but shouldn’t we be praising God rather than men? Russell Ali, Bend, OR

A. I totally agree! Any Spirit-filled worship leader knows he or she is praising God, and they don’t intend praise for themselves. David prayed in Psalm 30:12 that any glory given to him would always be praise to God. It’s true that we all enjoy compliments, and our churches would never intentionally boost any performer’s pride. But, thanks for reminding us that the congregation needs to be encouraged to praise God for the inspiration we receive through talented individuals. First Peter 4:11 says, when we minister, we should consider our talents as coming from God so that God may be praised.

I hesitate to use the word “performers,” but I don’t know what else to call those who lead us in worship through their talents. I know our worship should never be a performance for others or to gain praise for ourselves. Every part of our sacrifice of praise should come from our hearts directed toward God’s heart. I might add: Sometimes praise band instrumentalists and drummers may need to remind themselves that the words need to be heard more than the accompaniment. First Corinthians 14:16 teaches that no one can say “Amen” if they don’t understand what we’re saying.

I know some well-meaning worship leaders may sometimes think they are the performers, the audience is the target, and God is watching from the wings. However, I believe speakers and musicians should consider God as the target, themselves as cheerleaders, and the congregation as performers before the Audience of One.

Now, let me meddle a little: When we as worshippers sing our praises, are they directed toward God? Are we really praising God in our spirits, or is our head stuck in the hymnal or fixed on the screen? And, do we listen in every sermon for a personal message from God? Let God be praised in all things, especially in his house in a service directed toward him.

 

Why Do the Good Die Young?

Q. With so many young people killed in the downing of the Malaysian airliner and the war between Israel and Gaza, it makes me wonder: Does the Bible say why the good die young? Christine Stawarz, Prince George, VA

A. The Bible does teach that life and death are in our Creator’s hands and he’s very much involved in our world (Deuteronomy 30:19). I believe he has a time for each of us to be born (Ecclesiastes 3:2), and he knows everything that will happen to us in our lifetime (Psalm 139:16; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Matthew 10:26). He may not cause everything that happens, but he is aware of and he allows all things for his purposes. An example is God’s allowing Satan to afflict Job (Job 1:12) so he might reward Job for faithfulness.

Even though he knows when we will die, God may not cause it. Bad things happen, not because God wishes them for us, but because they are the result of bad people or bad choices. Though wicked men may seem to succeed, the Bible teaches that the angels are keeping records and, in the afterlife, people will be rewarded or punished by the degree of their deeds (Revelation 20:12; 22:12).

Yes, God may allow evil people to kill good people, even in their youth, so he can prove how evil Satan and his cohorts are (John 8:44); and by contrast prove how merciful he is (Psalm 86:5). We can see God’s mercy in the comforting assurances of his Word and in sending his Son to save us and take us to his home where there is no more death (Revelation 21:4). Everything God does is motivated by love (John 3:16).

That leads me back to your question: Yes, the Bible does give us a hint as to why the good die young. Isaiah 57:1-2 reads in the New International Version: “The righteous perish, and no man ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” God may remove some people in their youth or prime because he wishes to spare them agony to come. But, be assured that if there’s any chance for them to be saved, God will give them the benefit of the doubt (Genesis 18:25b; 2 Peter 3:9).

 

Muslim Beliefs

Q. What do Muslims believe? Daryel Major, Richmond, VA

A. Time and space here permit only a brief summary of some Muslim beliefs as I understand them. Muslims follow the tenants of their religion called Islam, which means “submit.” They submit in complete obedience to God whom they call Allah. That name simply means “The God,” because they acknowledge no other God. They are monotheistic and consider theirs to be the true religion as revealed by the angel Gabriel to Mohammed and recorded in their bible, the Qur’an (Galatians 1:8). Since then, lesser prophets have added their revelations to other sacred writings. Unlike the Bible which Revelation 22:18-19 says is complete, their clerics may receive new visions which adherents are obliged to obey.

Muslims trace their faith back to Abraham through his son Ishmael. They say Ishmael is the true son who was offered to God instead of Isaac (Genesis 22:2). In addition to complete obedience to God and his prophets, they believe in angels, revelations through visions and dreams, and a coming Day of Resurrection and Judgment. Everything that happens is already predetermined by Allah; each Muslim’s job is to learn Allah’s will from his cleric and obey. In so doing he will confirm his own salvation (Acts 4:12). Essential to their faith is the keeping of the Five Pillars which are: Testimony (declaring no other God but Allah and no original prophet but Mohammed), Prayer (when called to prayer 5 times daily), Alms-giving (to the needy during their feast-times), Fasting (for the month of Ramadan), and Pilgrimage (to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if they are able). Read Ephesians 2:8-9.

They believe Jesus was a good man whom they accept as a lesser prophet, but his and God’s words as recorded in the Bible have been corrupted and are unreliable (2 Timothy 3:16). Jesus will appear with Mohammed at the Judgment to confirm Mohammed as the true messenger of God. Christianity to them is the worship of 3 Gods, and therefore is false as is Judaism.

Islam is divided into 2 main denominations, the Sunni (largest) and the Shia, based on who they believe was the rightful successor to Mohammed who had no children. Differences between these 2 groups can become violent. In fact, radical followers of either group may try to make converts by force believing the Qur’an gives them permission to kill those who refuse to “submit.” Fundamental Muslims say the world must submit to Allah now. Moderate Muslims say the world will submit to Allah one day, and they can bide their time as good citizens and neighbors until they are called to a Jihad, or holy war, by their clerics. That said: Islam is more than a religion. It is also a system of politics and military conquest based on Sharia Law (teachings of the Qur’an applied by their prophets) which they believe will eventually cover the whole world as everyone submits to Allah (Philippians 2:9-11).

 

Who Were the Resurrected Easter Saints?

Q. Who were the saints who arose in Matthew 27:52 and what is the significance of this?Kenneth Harris, Hopewell, 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 should be in chapter 28. It tells about the saints who arose “after his resurrection.” You may ask where they came from.

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. That compartment was also called Torments (Luke 16:23). That Hebrew word meant “the rack.” It was where the enemies of God were sent.

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 in 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 either at the Rapture or at his Second Coming. 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.

 

How Races and Ethnic Groups Derived

Q. Where did the races and ethnic groups come from if Noah and his family were the only people left after the Flood? Tonya Martin, LaCrosse, VA

A. Genesis 9:18-19 names Noah’s sons and tells us that the whole earth was repopulated by them after the Flood. Genesis, chapter 10, explains how the various nations came from the sons of Noah. The last verse of that chapter is a summary restating what was said before. A good Bible commentary can clarify the modern nations and people groups that stemmed from those Biblical nations.

Some Bible scholars believe that until Babel the earth was one great land mass, and the continents separated as part of God’s judgment on Babel. Mind you, many modern scientists and Bible teachers disagree with that. Those who hold to that theory base their belief on the simple statement in the middle of Genesis 10:25 that reads, “…in his days (Peleg’s) was the earth divided.” That coincides roughly with the time of Babel.

In Genesis 9:1 after the Flood, God commanded Noah and his descendants to replenish the whole earth. A hundred years or so later Noah’s descendants were still together. Led by Nimrod, the first king mentioned in the Bible, these people refused to disperse. Instead, they built a rallying tower to remain around (Genesis 11:4). The ruins of that tower seem to indicate that it was an observatory (“whose top…unto heaven,” v. 4) to chart the worship of the stars we know today as the Zodiac and horoscopes people still consult.

When God confused their languages family groups could not understand other families, so they were forced to go off on their own. If the Continental Drift theory is correct, that’s when God caused the earth to split into the continents and islands we have today. Isolated from others, their similar ethnic characteristics developed from centuries of intermarriage among their people group and the effects of their environment. Again, if this theory is true, it would explain how some of all the animals could come to Adam to be named (Genesis 2:19) and again to Noah for his Ark (Genesis 7:7-9).

Otherwise, the races and people groups still came from Noah’s sons and they just naturally developed over time as influenced by their habitations and tribal customs.

 

Is Sorrow for a Loved One Wrong?

Q. I know Jesus gave us wonderful promises of comfort, but it is wrong to feel sorrow when we lose a loved one? Alan Chandler, Linthicum, MD

A. Feeling sorrow or grief when we suffer loss is not wrong or even sinful. It just proves we’re human. To be emotionless is not human because humans are made in the image of God, and we feel emotions just as he does. The Bible records God’s feeling the gamut of emotions. Deuteronomy 9:8 tells us of God’s anger; Psalm 16:11 shows joy with the Lord; Genesis 6:6 says the Lord grieves, and 2 Corinthians 1:3 speaks of God’s comfort. Of course, John 3:16 tells of his great love that motivated the giving of himself to save us. That one promise alone gives us comfort even in our grief.

Because we are like God we may know comfort but feel sorrow at the same time. In the latter verses of Romans, chapter 7, Paul recorded opposite emotions warring within himself, and in Philippians 1:21-24 he described another emotional battle. He wanted to go on to Heaven but he knew his friends needed him here. Like Paul, we have 2 citizenships. Our sorrow is of the earth but our comfort is from Heaven.

The key to conquering our grief is in controlling our emotions. We have minds able to control our emotions rather than letting them control us. Romans 12:2 speaks to this very subject. Paul wrote that we can transform our attitudes by renewing our minds to think from God’s viewpoint.

First Thessalonians 4:13 says we can sorrow, but not as those who have no hope. That means our sorrow is diminished by the comfort of hope. That hope springs from our faith in the fact of God’s promises and the assurance that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Let that faith and fact work together to bring comfort even when you grieve at the loss of a loved one. If they were saved, you have the assurance from such Scriptures as 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 that when we’re absent from the body we’re at home with the Lord. Revelation 21:4 says in Heaven there will be no more suffering, pain, sorrow, or death. Claim that promise for them and believe it for yourself.

I find it helps to picture myself as simply saying, “Farewell” rather than “Goodbye.” My loved ones in the Lord are only on a journey with the Lord, and they will return when he comes back (Jude 1:14; Revelation 19:14, 8).

 

Praying From Our Closet

Q. In Matthew 6, did Jesus really mean the Father expects us to pray from inside a closet?Rev. Bud Goude, Gloucester Point, VA

A. You’re referring to a statement from the Sermon on the Mount, the only full sermon of Jesus we have recorded. It covers chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s gospel. This Sermon has been compared to the Ten Commandments in a kind of mathematical formula that states: As the Commandments are to the Old Testament, so is the Sermon to the New Testament. That simply means Bible scholars see the rest of the Old Testament as an application of the use and misuse of the Commandments. Likewise, they see the Sermon on the Mount forming the platform for Jesus’ new Kingdom in the rest of the New Testament.

In Matthew 6 Jesus spoke about lasting rewards from the Father opposed to the temporary accolades of men. Speaking of the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders who paraded their piousness for the applause of men, Jesus said that was the only reward they will get. They were not earning brownie points in Heaven! Jesus contrasted the wrong way to give to the needy, the wrong way to pray, and the wrong way to fast with the right ways to give, to pray, and to fast – ways God will reward. No pretense is needed before God because he sees the true motives of our hearts.

In verse 5 Jesus said play actors pray loudly and piously in public to be seen of men. In contrast, Jesus used the common oriental teaching method of exaggeration in verse 6. He said, “But, when you pray, enter into your closet; and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father in secret.” I do not think he meant we have to enter into a literal closet to pray. He meant the closet of our minds. We can pray in our thoughts because God reads our minds and motives. Then, we won’t be trying to impress people with long and wordy prayers. We can just say what we mean to God, and he will know the true intent of our hearts. In fact, Romans 8:26 promises that the Spirit will help us pray rightly. Jesus said the Father will reward that kind of sincere, personal praying. I believe that reward will be either the answering of our prayers on earth or in Heaven.

Just as Jesus didn’t mean we can only pray from a closet, he certainly wasn’t condemning public praying. Jesus prayed in public and, later in this same chapter, he taught his Disciples a beautiful prayer we often repeat publicly while praying it in our hearts.

 

The Bible and Meditation

Q. Does the Bible say anything about meditation to get in touch with our own bodies? M. J., Midlothian, VA

A. The Bible says a lot about meditation, but always that meditation is directed toward God, his word, and his works. In the Old Testament, Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2, along with Psalm 119:15 and 97, say we are to meditate upon the law, or the teachings, of the Lord day and night. Psalm 77:12 promises the psalmist would meditate on the works of the Lord and talk about the things he has done.

In the New Testament, Paul wrote to the Philippian church in chapter 4, verses 8 and 9, that if they wanted the peace of God they should think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of a good report. And, he told Timothy in his first epistle, chapter 4, verses 13-16, that the young preacher should give attention to reading, exhortation, doctrine, and the spiritual gifts God had equipped him to use.

Romans 8:10 says when we are in Christ the old sinful nature of our body is dead because of sin but our spirits are alive with the righteousness of Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 4:10 Paul said that we should bear the death of Jesus in our bodies that we might share in his life. That means that the things of the body are not as important as following the Spirit of Jesus in us.

So, I don’t find that the Bible says we should meditate to be in touch with our bodies. Remember: These bodies, as wonderful as they are and made in the image of God, are contaminated by sin and will one day be exchanged for glorified, eternal bodies (1 Corinthians 15:49-52). In the meantime, while not being overly anxious about our bodies, we certainly should not abuse our bodies because – sinful as they are – they are still the temple of the Holy Spirit if we are saved. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians in 6:19 that our bodies are not our own but they have been bought with a price: the precious blood of Jesus. Therefore, our meditation and attention should be to know and obey God’s Word and to praise him for his glorious works.

 

Did Jesus Appear to Mary?

Q. Why didn’t Jesus appear to his mother after his resurrection, whereas he did appear to at least 517 other followers? Jim B., Petersburg, VA

A. Let me make it clear that this is an opinion question which the Bible doesn’t answer for us. Therefore, I can’t give a specific answer; however, I can make some educated guesses.

Scripture tells us Jesus appeared over some 40 days to the women at his tomb, to Peter, and to his brother James. He also appeared in the upper room to his followers without Thomas and the next week to the Twelve including Thomas. He appeared to 2 followers on the road to Emmaus and their families, to his disciples with Peter at the Sea of Galilee, and to some 500 followers on a hillside.

Why didn’t Jesus appear to his mother? Maybe he did! Mark 16 and Luke 24 name some of the women at the tomb on Resurrection Sunday. Among them is “Mary the mother of James.” This probably wasn’t Jesus’ mother, but she may have been. First century believers knew Jesus had existed long before Mary conceived him, and this was written later when James, the half- brother of Jesus, was the leader of the Jerusalem church.

Again, when Jesus appeared to Cleopas and another person on the Emmaus Road that first Easter, Luke 24 says he went home with them for supper. Since John 19:25 says Mary had a sister married to Cleopas, it’s very likely Mary and Jesus’ siblings were staying there for Passover. If so, they saw him at supper and again later that evening when they gathered in the Upper Room (without Thomas). We do know that all his family were saved and present when the Spirit came at Pentecost (Acts 1:14).

Jesus had reasons to appear to Mary Magdalene, Peter, James, and many other followers. But, he had already broken ties with his mother at the Cross when he entrusted her to John. Besides, knowing how people would esteem Mary, he didn’t need to spotlight her again. Maybe he did appear to Mary, but we have no specific record of it.

 

Bible Teaching about Racial Intermarriage

Q. Does the Bible forbid the intermingling of the races? P. S., Prince George, VA

A. The only prohibition I know from the Bible is that believers (Old Testament Jewish believers and New Testament Christian believers) are not to intermarry with non-believers. God knew if the Jews intermarried with their pagan neighbors they would be tempted to accept the idol gods of those neighbors as in Judges 3:5-7. Second Corinthians 6:14 teaches that New Testament believers should not be yoked unequally with unbelievers. For Christians, the marriage relationship is a type of Christ and his Church being one in all things (Ephesians 5:21-32).

However, those prohibitions have nothing to do with one’s race, if there is such a thing as different races. Technically, every person on earth is of the same race: homo sapiens. Racial prejudice is a terrible sin; it is pre-judging, and Romans 2:1-11 forbids such. It classifies whole groups of people as being unworthy of our respect and attention.

Most Christians like to think we’re color-blind when it comes to other “races” because we respect all people. However, we should examine our attitudes and admit that we, like most people, often, consciously or unconsciously, exclude those of other social standings or skin colors. We excuse it by saying it’s just human nature. But, it’s not human nature! Acts 17:26 says God made all people of one blood; that is, we all came from Adam initially and later from Noah. Racial characteristics are the result of inbreeding and environmental effects of people in a given area.

The Bible is color-blind! Moses married a black woman in Numbers 12:1 and a black man carried Jesus’ cross in Matthew 27:32. The Bible crossed lines of geography and gender when Rahab of Canaan and Ruth of Moab came into the line of Christ, and Jesus spent several days with the Samaritan woman in John 4. We should be color-blind when it comes to ministering to anyone who is in need. And, we should be color-blind for sharing the gospel and worshipping with all people who sincerely want to worship our Lord. To love, respect, and accept all people as equals simply means that we consider everyone to be our brother or sister because our Heavenly Father made us all in his image.

 

What does “pearls to pigs” mean?

Q. What did Jesus mean in Matthew 7:6 when he said not to give holy things to dogs or pearls to pigs? Rev. Charles Vaughn, Yomba Indian Reservation, NV

A. In Matthew 7 Jesus was winding down his only full sermon recorded in Scripture, “The Sermon on the Mount.” The theme of this entire sermon hinges upon one word: Sincerity. Jesus was teaching that God looks upon the heart. He isn’t impressed by what we say, do, or don’t do. He is concerned with the motivation of our hearts. God wants sincerity in our worship and in our dealings with others.

So, when Jesus said in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not that you be not judged,” he was saying don’t be judgmental. That’s the ecumenical theme we hear everywhere today: “Just love everybody and coexist.” However, in verse 6 Jesus seemed to be breaking his own rule when he implied that we shouldn’t waste our time with those he called dogs and pigs. In his day dogs were filthy scavengers and wild pigs were ravenous flesh-eaters. Both were likely to harm people. A sensible person wouldn’t expect dogs to appreciate holy relics or pigs to value precious jewels. The animals would sooner come after the person offering those things to them. Jesus is simply being practical. In the midst of saying, “Don’t pre-judge people and consider them unworthy of your attention;” he said, “However, be wise and discerning enough to realize some people won’t accept your help.”

The introduction to this sermon in 5:1 says Jesus was speaking to his disciples – those who followed and believed in him. When they went forth ministering the gospel Jesus would soon give them, they should not waste their time with obstinate people who would rather turn on them than believe. By practicing verse 1, they were to be non-judgmental and offer the gospel to everyone, but by practicing verse 6 they should realize some people will close their hearts to God and his servants. So, move on to those who will be open and responsive. This is the same thing Jesus taught them in Matthew 10:11-15, ie., to shake the dust off their feet at those who refused their message and let God avenge his messengers. John also warned in 2 John 1:10 not to welcome or bid Godspeed to those with a false gospel. Yet, Jesus taught elsewhere that we should pray for and welcome those who may eventually respond to our gospel.

 

Why do we need to pray repeatedly and persistently?

Q. I’m curious, why was Jesus teaching in Luke 18:1-8 that persistence is needed in my prayers? Isn’t it a sign of faith to ask once and wait patiently for the answer? Jeremy Chan, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada

A. The parable you referenced in Luke 18 is about a widow who kept asking an unjust judge to grant her petition. At first, he refused; but because of her persistence he granted her request. Jesus said in verse 7 that God hears the continued prayers of his elect night and day. Although he “bears long with them,” ie., he seems slow to answer; he will surely avenge his elect “speedily.” Is that double-speak? No: that Greek word, tachos, refers to the speed of the act itself. It means when the full avengement comes it will happen suddenly – in God’s timing.

The lesson of persistence in praying is also taught in Matthew 7:7-12. There, the verb tenses imply that we are to “ask (and keep on asking)…seek (and keep on seeking)…knock (and keep on knocking).” This hard lesson of continuing to ask while we wait for our answer is also taught in the examples of many Old Testament saints such as Job, David, and Daniel. Today, many sincere believers seem to think a sign of maturity in their faith is to ask only once and trust God to answer when he’s ready. And, surely there are times to do that. Yet, there seem to be more scriptures teaching that we should keep on asking while we’re waiting for our answers. It’s alright to ask why!

To keep asking while we’re waiting is for our benefit, not God’s. For one thing, it proves our asking is not a passing fancy. Persistence builds excitement; excitement builds hope; and hope builds a faithful character. That faith will help us prepare to receive our answer when it comes. Rather than concentrating on our problems, that faith will keep our eyes on God and what he’s doing to answer our prayers when the time is right.

Look at it this way: If the Spirit has inspired you to ask for something that you need to glorify God and do his work, don’t give up just because God doesn’t grant your petition ASAP. Give him time to move Heaven and earth, to rearrange time and eternity, to intervene in peoples’ lives and do everything else that’s necessary to bring your answer.

The key is this: Think of God as your Heavenly Daddy (Romans 8:15) who wants to answer your request in the best way for you. Don’t give up just because he seems to be taking his time. Keep on asking him and growing in anticipation because you know that he will answer when the time is right and the lessons are learned. What he gives will be even better than what you asked!

 

What does our New Covenant teach about the tithe?

Q. Does God require the tithe through our local assembly or may we use it to help people in need? Tonya Martin, Lacrosse, VA

A. The tithe was a law under the Old Covenant. I still believe the tithe is the Lord’s. In Genesis 14:20 God led Abraham to tithe before the Jews knew they were supposed to do it. Also, in Genesis 28:22 Jacob promised to tithe before the law of the tithe was stated in Leviticus 27:30 (“The tithe…is the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord.”). And, Jesus told the Jews in Matthew 23:23 not to neglect the tithe. I do not find where God has taken that back. If it was pleasing to him before he commanded Israel to tithe, it’s surely a way for believers to acknowledge our stewardship today.

If they had to tithe in the Old Testament, then our goal under grace ought to begin with the tithe and add what we can as we feel led. Although the New Testament does not command the tithe, it teaches that all we have belongs to God (1 Corinthians 6:20). We are to give as God’s Spirit leads us individually. That means we pray about how much to give and where to give. Our guide for giving under our New Covenant is found in 1 Corinthians 16:2. There, we’re taught to plan our giving and put it away until a worship gathering. Then, we should give as God has prospered us. Further, 2 Corinthians 9:7 says we should give joyfully from our hearts.

The Old Covenant said in Malachi 3:10 to bring all the tithes into the storehouse. They only had 1 storehouse: the Tabernacle/Temple. Our New Testament instruction doesn’t say which storehouse, that’s for you and the Spirit to decide. However, if you’re a member of a church that honors God, you have an obligation to support that good work as you feel led. Having done that, I believe you’re free to pray and give an additional offering where your heart leads you (1 John 3:21).

I tithe my salary through my church and give my extra income tithes, and whatever I can add to it, to mission causes that are dear to my heart. Sometimes, I feel led to help individuals in need; and I believe God is pleased when I do that. In fact, it’s my practice to dedicate a few extra dollars and put them back in my wallet for the needy person I see on the street corner. Then, I can’t say I don’t have anything to give! I’ve already given it to God, and I let him lead as to how I use it. Remember, under our New Covenant God is looking on our hearts, not on the “letter of the law.”

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