Thursday, April 19, 2018

THE PROPHETS OF GOD AND THEIR PROBLEMS WITH GOD




We tend to regard the Prophets and Apostles as spiritual giants. However, they struggled as we do:

·       Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:17-18)

It also seems that they had issues with God. For a while, Elijah’s presence brought blessing upon a widow of Zeraphath and her son, but her son suddenly died. Elijah, therefore, accused God:

·       “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” (1 Kings 17:20)

Nevertheless, the Lord healed the son through Elijah.

The Prophet Jonah’s issues with God were even more antagonistic. He rejected God’s calling to preach to Nineveh and fled. It even seems that he preferred death rather than service. Nevertheless, after being swallowed by a great fish, Jonah agreed to preach to Nineveh. However, the very thing that Jonah had feared came to pass. They repented and God relented from His promise to destroy Nineveh.

However, instead of rejoicing with the Lord, Jonah became angry (Jonah 4:1) and wanted to die, but God tried to teach him that he was his own worst enemy:

·       “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” (Jonah 4:3-4)

Of course, Jonah’s anger wasn’t serving him well. However, God didn’t give up on Jonah and continued to provide object lessons to expose his anger and rebellion for what they were. Overnight, He provided Jonah with a plant to shade him from the intense sun. God then destroyed the plant, and Jonah foolishly became angry at it – another teachable moment:

·       When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:8-11)

God reasoned with Jonah to win his heart through his mind. Without any clear resolution, the Book of Jonah ends abruptly with these verses. Did Jonah learn God’s lessons? Did he repent of his anger, his self-centered worldview, and his rebellion against the Word of God? We are not told. However, we do see the patience and graciousness of God on his behalf. Despite, Jonah’s rebellion, God remained faithful to His Prophet.

To win the mind is also to win the heart. Our faithfulness to our Savior must be secured by reason through our minds. This is the place of real transformation (Romans 12:2). We too have our issues with God, and He also has to instruct and humble us.

However, we tend to think that we are miles away from the example of Elijah, who had raised the dead child. However, it is evident that this child was healed not because of Elijah’s great faith, but because of God’s faithfulness.

We despair of having faith like Elijah who had prayed for a drought, and there was drought, and who prayed for rain, and there was rain. However, we often fail to see that Elijah had accomplished what he did not by virtue of His great faith, but in accordance with the Word, the instructions of God (1 Kings 17:1, 9; 18:1, 36). He merely did what God had told him to do:

·       And at the time of the offering of the oblation [in his confrontation with the priests of Baal], Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. (1 Kings 18:36)

Instead, we wrongly conceive of great faith as a matter of intense effort to rid from our minds any doubts or feelings that might betray a lack of confidence. Instead, servants are required to be faithful to the Word of their master no matter what internal conflicts His Word might provoke. Only in this resolve does our strength rest. To go beyond His will and Word is to proceed alone.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

ISRAEL’S REJECTION OF THEIR GOD




My Jewish people are unwilling to connect the dots, dots which lead back to a God who had chosen them and had promised to bless them if they followed Him.

Hank Pellissier has provided some telling statistics about the extent of God’s blessings to Israel:

·       Nobel Prizes: Since 1950, 29% of the awards have gone to Ashkenazim (the largest group of Jews who lived in Europe and spoke Yiddish), even though they represent only 0.25% of humanity. Ashkenazi achievement in this arena is 117 times greater than their population.

·       Hungary in the 1930s: Ashkenazim were 6% of the population, but they comprised 55.7% of physicians, 49.2% of attorneys, 30.4% of engineers, and 59.4% of bank officers; plus, they owned 49.4% of the metallurgy industry, 41.6% of machine manufacturing, 72.8% of clothing manufacturing, and, as housing owners, they received 45.1% of Budapest rental income. Jews were similarly successful in nearby nations, like Poland and Germany.

·       USA (today): Ashkenazi Jews comprise 2.2% of the USA population, but they represent 30% of faculty at elite colleges, 21% of Ivy League students, 25% of the Turing Award winners, 23% of the wealthiest Americans, and 38% of the Oscar-winning film directors.
These blessings coincide with the promises of blessing that God had made to Israel:
·       “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God…He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.” (Deut. 8:11-19)

Along with this, God had warned Israel that they would turn away from their God, and that He would allow the surrounding nations to destroy Israel and to take the survivors into captivity. However, He also promised that if they turned back to their God, He would restore them to their Promised Land. Amazingly, this restoration has occurred three times already:

1.    Patriarchal (1850 BC) – Exodus and Conquest under Joshua (1410 BC)
2.    Babylonian Captivity (586 BD) – Return under Zerubabel  (532 BC)
3.    Roman Dispersion (70 and 136 AD) – State of Israel (1948)

These three returns are historical anomalies. No other people group has ever experienced this, even once. However, my Jewish people remain unfazed by these events.

They are aware of the fact that they have experienced intense persecution throughout their history, but they seem to be reluctant to associate them with God’s warnings:

·       If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law… Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations…Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deut. 28:58, 64-65)

·       You will become a thing of horror and an object of scorn and ridicule to all the nations where the Lord will drive you. (Deut. 28:37)

After Hitler, my people proclaimed “Never again.” However, they remain blind to the surrounding threats and to their Savior, as the Prophets of Israel declared that they would. God had ordered the Prophet Isaiah to warn Israel to wake up:

·       “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Isaiah 6:9-10 (ESV)

They also remain blind to the many prophecies that Israel will reject their promised Messiah as they had their own Prophets:

  • Isaiah 53:3-6 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
  • Psalm 118:22-24 The stone [the Messiah] the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
  • Isaiah 8:14 and he [the Messiah] will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.
  • Isaiah 49:6-7 he says: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." This is what the Lord says--the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel--to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation [of Israel], to the servant of rulers: "Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."
When I confront my Jewish brethren with these facts, they yawn. They do not want to be shaken from their sleep. Nevertheless, their is hope. Their Messiah remains faithful:

·       “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:10)

Mourning brings repentance, and repentance brings salvation.


THE DEATH OF JUSTICE, MORALITY, AND WESTERN CULTURE




Unremarkably, Jesus claimed that humans are of more value than sparrows:

·       “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7 ESV)

As obvious as this fact might be to us, it is impossible to prove without invoking the Creator. Why not?

To a cow, another cow has more value than a human. To a pigmy, a fellow kinsman is more valuable than a corporate CEO. These examples illustrate the fact that without God, all valuations are personal and subjective.  In any absolute sense, we cannot even claim that non-life has more value than life without an Absolute Standard. Without God, it would be like grading an arithmetic exam without absolutely correct answers.

This has massive implications when we consider society. There has to be some sort of consensus if we are going to amicably and harmoniously live together. However, in our postmodern culture, we now lack any common objective basis to establish such a consensus.

Many realize this problem and have feverishly tried to establish an objective basis for law and morality. For instance, isn’t it obvious that human life more valuable than non-life? Well, it depends on who you talk to. Some radical environmentalists claim that there are already too many humans, and we are consuming large quantities of resources. Therefore, we should consider ways to eliminate some. Meanwhile, communists had been very happy to eliminate the “oppressors.” The eugenicists were happy to eliminate the less “fit” or desirable. What makes them wrong? Are there any facts or objective standards that we can marshal against their points of view?

Some argue that our biology, intuitions, or human empathy are the bedrock of objective truth. However, empathy means different things for different people, and our intuitions are evolving. This observation raises another conundrum – By itself, what “is” (biology) cannot dictate what “ought to be” (values and life).

Besides, if one species is deemed to have more value based on his degree of intelligence or empathy, then it would follow that any individual should also be deemed to have more value based on his intelligence and empathy. And then, who will make this determination? Society, of course! So much for the concept of human equality!

As far as what the eye sees, we are not equal. What then is the basis of equality? Certainly, there are no measurements of science that can establish our equality. There is no rational basis for it apart from a God who created us all in His moral likeness.

Yes, our moribund Western culture can continue to believe in equality out of habit or a sheer act of the will. However, if it lacks any rational underpinning, it will eventually evolve into oblivion.

In desperation, we might resort to a pragmatic, cost/benefit rationale. Based upon this, we might argue that, for our good, we must regard people as of equal value. However, such a notion can exist only as a myth. Based upon pragmatic reasoning, we are already forfeiting “equal value.” Already, we euthanize those we consider less valuable than we. We abort babies and applaud voluntary euthanasia.

As our traditional God-based values continue to erode, we will begin to “progress” to involuntary euthanasia, even for the “enemies of the State.” This too will be understood as necessary and pragmatic.

When we are lost in the woods, we try to backtrack to find our way to safety. However, Western society refuses to do this. The West had once been great, the gold-standard of the rest of the world, although it is no longer PC to say so! Instead, we have been raised on the myth of the “Ugly American.” However, we are now surviving on our prior capital and reputation. The world still trusts in the West. 

Nor is it even PC to say that we’ve lost our way. This would suggest that we once had the way.

Today’s ruling dogma is multiculturalism, the celebration of the “sameness” and equal value of all cultures. In order to do this, we have destroyed any concept of objective justice and morality. We are now adrift without an anchor. If all cultures are of equal value, then there is nothing in Western culture worth preserving, right? However, we refuse to see the price we have paid to the point that our debt can no longer be repaid.

Arthur Allen Leff (1935–1981) was an atheist and professor of law at Yale Law School, who argued that the rejection of God was also the rejection of any “coherent ethical or legal system”:

·       The so-called death of God wasn’t just His funeral, but was the elimination of any coherent ethical or legal system…As it stands now, everything is up for grabs…Napalming babies is bad, starving the poor wicked, buying and selling people is depraved—but, ‘Sez who?’ God help us.

Do we understand that when we killed God killed the possibility of any stable and coherent foundation for our lives?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

FAITHFULNESS TO GOD’S HOLY WORD IS FAITHFULNESS TO GOD




What does it take to be a faithful man of God? The same thing that it takes to be a faithful ambassador – fidelity to the will and word of the one we represent. King David was a man “after God’s own heart.” In what way?

·       David did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. (1 Kings 15:5)

Jesus had been the exemplar of this principle:

·       “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:49-50)

In contrast, our tendency is to re-interpret and even re-formulate God’s words in a way that is congruent with our lives, culture, and contacts. In this way, we worship our own reasoning above the Word of God. We deny the teaching that “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

As King Saul grew in confidence, he began to rely upon his own judgments instead of the Word. The Prophet Samuel confronted Saul about his failure to follow God’s instructions:

·       “Behold, to obey is better than [animal] sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

Saul had made an idol out of his own reasoning and had rejected the “word of the Lord.” This constituted rebellion against God, the antithesis of faithfulness. To reject His Word was to reject God and to disqualify oneself from service.

God had sent an unnamed “man of God” to testify against King Jeroboam of Israel, who attempted to have him killed. However, the Lord struck down the King with leprosy. On his way back to Judah, this “man of God” was met by an “old prophet” who had heard about his exploits and invited him back to his house. However, the “man of God” informed the “old prophet” that this violated the word he had received from the Lord:

·       And he said, “I may not return with you, or go in with you, neither will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place, for it was said to me by the word of the LORD, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by the way that you came.’” (1 Kings 13:16-17)

However, the “old prophet” convinced him otherwise:

·       And he said to him, “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’” But he lied to him. (1 Kings 13:18)

As a result of violating the Lord’s instructions, the “man of God” forfeited his life. I find this account highly troubling. For the most part, the “man of God” had been faithful to the Word. From our human perspective, it seems that he had made a very innocent mistake. Death seems to be a very steep price to pay for a “minor” infraction. Perhaps, instead, we need to be shaken from our causal approach to God’s Holy Word.

Moses had also committed what seemed to be a minor infraction. God had told him to merely speak to a rock for the water to flow forth. However, Moses struck the rock as he had obediently done once before (Exodus 17). However, before God, this represented a major transgression, so much so that Moses had to die before entering the Promised Land. God explained:

·        “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (Numbers 20:12)

Later, the Lord described Moses’ disobedience as “rebellion” (Numbers 20:26; 27:14)! In both places, the Lord accused Moses of failing to uphold Him “as holy in the eyes of the people.” Why? When we violate God’s Word, we violate God. Aaron also had to die prematurely:

·       …”because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 32:51)

Why so punitive? If God’s appointed leaders do not meticulously uphold the Word, no one else will.

Israel was always required to follow God’s Word precisely:

·       “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you. (Deuteronomy 4:1-2)

Gods is holy and so is His Word. To violate His Word is to violate God. To love God is to love and uphold His Word and not to add or subtract or pick-and-choose from it:

·       “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3)

Faithfulness to God was a matter of faithfulness to His Word, and, according to Jesus, this same principle pertains today:

·       Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” (John 14:23-24)

To be a friend of God is to obey God and not to replace this with the unbiblical notion of experiencing God:

·       “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14)

I write this because the notion of obedience to God is looked at as burdensome. However, Jesus associated obedience with joy:

·       “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:10-11)

There is joy in doing His Word. This is not just a matter of “does and don’ts” but also life and peace. Jesus found joy in faithful obedience to the Father (John 4:34). This also pertains to us.