Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Q&A: [Recently] you were talking about Jesus' appearances to the apostles and you said he breathed the Holy Spirit in to them. But haven't we learned that the Holy Spirit is a person based on the language used in Scripture?

Q&A: [Recently] you were talking about Jesus' appearances to the apostles and you said he breathed the Holy Spirit in to them. But haven't we learned that the Holy Spirit is a person based on the language used in Scripture?

Absolutely!! The Holy Spirit is, indeed, a Person and equal to God the Father and God the Son. Several passages in the New Testament use a personal pronoun like "he" or "him" when speaking of the Holy Spirit. (Personal pronouns are only used for persons.) When we speak of impersonal forces, such as wind or gravity, we would correctly employ a non-personal pronoun like "it." Additionally we see in the Scriptures that personal traits are ascribed to the Holy Spirit (i.e. He can be lied to and grieved).

I'm assuming from your question that you are troubled by the language of Jesus breathing on the disciples as if it somehow makes the Spirit appear more like a force than a person. Let's look at the passage in question:

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit." John 20:21-22 (ESV) 

First of all, there is absolutely nothing about this passage that suggests in any way that the Holy Spirit is less than a Person. The fact that Jesus breathed on them is incredibly important and full of meaning.

Do you recall how the first man became a living being? The Bible tells us God formed him from the dust of the earth and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. (Genesis 2:7). But sin entered into God's otherwise perfect creation, and now, according to Jesus, man needs to be REBORN. (John 3:3) How was that rebirth accomplished? Once again God breathed into mankind the breath of Life. But this time, it was the Spirit of Life Himself—the One who imparts eternal life to all who place their faith in Jesus.

So the fact of Jesus breathing on the disciples is hugely important. It not only points us back to the original creation of man, but it also shows us how God accomplished the re-creation of the man or woman of faith, and how they are now infused with the Holy Spirit and made children of God.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Q&A: Is there anything in God's Word forbidding a believer to get a tattoo?

Not really. People love to quote Leviticus 19:28 which says:

You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD. (ESV)

But this prohibition was centered around forbidding the Israelites to mimic the worship practices of their pagan neighbors. Since modern tattoos are not connected with pagan worship practices it really doesn’t transfer.

I think the best consideration for either getting or not getting a tattoo is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 which says:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. 

The first consideration every Christian ought to have concerning a tattoo is whether the Lord has given the go ahead. According to the passage above, your body no longer belongs to you. It’s His—bought and paid for by His blood—so you need to make sure He’s okay with it.

Secondly, any consideration for a tattoo needs to be in keeping with the exhortation to “…honor God with your body.” Is the tattoo something that will bring honor to the Lord?

Finally, Christians are to be influenced by the Word—NOT the World! If the motivating factor for getting a tattoo is simply because they’re popular then you might want to reconsider your decision. As a believer, you are to be led by the Spirit of Christ, not the spirit of the world.

Now, I understand that these comments don't touch on the issue of someone who has gotten a tattoo which they now regret. It's not uncommon for an individual to come to Christ after having received one or more tattoos of questionable or even objectionable content. What does a person do in such a case?

Looking at a tattoo that only reminds you of your foolish past is probably similar to the memory the Apostle Paul retained of his own life before Christ. It wasn't something he was proud of, and he even wrote to the Corinthians about it saying:

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 1 Corinthians 15:9 (ESV) 

But this statement wasn't meant as an expression of self-regret or self-disappointment. Instead Paul's past was a vivid reminder to him of the grace that had been shown him and his new calling as an apostle. Paul knew that he wasn't worthy of God's love and attention, and he certainly wasn't worthy of his position in God's Kingdom. His past only underscored that truth, and continually reminded him of the depth and beauty of God's unlimited grace.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Q&A: How do we recognize those who are out to destroy our faith?

QUESTION: How do we recognize those who are out to destroy our faith (i.e. the swine we may be casting our pearls to)?

I find this a very insightful question mostly because people don't often associate casting pearls before swine as a potentially dangerous activity. It's mostly just seen as a waste of time. But check out the warning of danger issued by our Lord:

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot AND TURN AND ATTACK YOU." Matthew 7:6 (ESV my emphasis

It's truly amazing how many Christians ignore those last five words, but there's an unmistakable warning in this verse. Let's see if we can unpack it a little and discover where that danger comes from.

Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs...

Immediately before this verse, Jesus had been talking about not being critical and judgmental of others. But with this verse we're reminded that we can't throw out discernment altogether. Frankly,  there are some precious spiritual truths that should not be given to those who will only receive them with derision and contempt. Just as a dog or a pig has absolutely no appreciation for the value of a pearl, there are some people who place no value on God's Word or His promises.

...lest they trample them underfoot and turn and attack you.

Dogs and swine were considered filthy and useless in ancient Jewish society. Pigs were unclean under the Mosaic Law, and wild dogs ran in packs, rummaging through garbage and even attacking people on occasion. Therefore it's not hard to see how the reference to dogs and swine in the Matthew passage would point to those hostile to the Kingdom of God and the Good News that we share. And whenever there is a hardened rejection of God's message, there will always be the possibility of God's people suffering some kinds of personal attack.

Matthew 7:6, therefore, calls us to walk in a level of discernment concerning those with whom we share the spiritual realities of the Lord. It behooves all believers to ask God for a heightened understanding concerning those we should and shouldn't approach.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Q&A: If God is real, why does he allow so much suffering in this world?

QUESTION: How would I go about answering a nonbeliever who asks, "If God is real, why does he allow so much suffering in this world?"

This question takes on many forms, but essentially it centers around WHY a God who is thought to be all powerful as well as loving and kind, would allow evil and suffering to exist as part of our human experience.

People ask this question because they assume since God is the Creator He must have created suffering and death since it is so prevalent in our daily lives. The fact is, the world in which we live is "fallen" — corrupted and polluted — and it contains many things that are not part of God's original design.

The Bible tells us God never intended the world to include sin, suffering and evil. Even death wasn't part of God's plan for mankind. All those things came about as a result of man's rebellion against God. Ultimately we have no one to blame for suffering and evil but ourselves.

In order for God to rid the world of suffering He would have to abolish all sin. And to do that He would need to eliminate all sinners — which kind of defeats the point since no one would be around to enjoy this new sin-free world.

But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t working to eliminate suffering and death. In fact, He has already begun the process by sending His Son to pay the penalty of our sin through His death on the cross. You see, before the CONSEQUENCES of sin can be dealt with, the PENALTY of sin had to be taken care of first.

With the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus, events have been set in motion which will eventually bring about God's plan to completely eliminate sin, suffering and death. The promise to accomplish this is scattered all throughout the pages of Scripture, and the next event in God’s redemptive time-table is the return of Jesus Christ for His Bride, the Church.

So why is God taking so long? The Apostle Peter responds to that question this way:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV84) 

This means God is giving mankind time to take advantage of the wonderful promise of forgiveness He has made available to any who might accept it.

When you’re talking to unbelievers about God’s plan to redeem this fallen world, don't forget to ask them if they have accepted God’s offer of forgiveness through His Son. This is our hope, and we need to share it while there's still time.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

3 Questions on Prayer

QUESTION 1: If I am praying for a friend to become a Christian, and that person has a free will, how does my prayer impact their situation?

I get this question quite often. When Christians realize that God honors a person's freewill choices they naturally begin to wonder what possible good their prayer might do for those who have yet to come to Christ.

But when we pray for those who are lost we are asking God to move powerfully to draw that person to Himself, and to use all of life' situations to further open their heart toward His saving grace and mercy. Furthermore, we are praying for God to use others to challenge and encourage them to properly consider such important matters.

We can scarcely begin to understand all the ways God might answer such a prayer, and even though the final choice remains with the person for whom we are praying, our intercessions are sorely needed on their behalf. Don't stop praying!

QUESTION 2: If I am praying for something and God answers, does that mean He would not have answered that way if I hadn't prayed? (Doesn't God do good things for people simply because He is a good God?)

It's very possible you would not have received an answer had you not prayed. James tells us:

You do not have, because you do not ask. James 4:2c (ESV) 

But if we don't receive something from God (due to our not asking) that doesn't mean He isn't good. It simply means we didn't take advantage of His gracious invitation to bring our needs before the throne of grace. Prayer is a privilege, and Jesus told us it works.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11 (ESV) 

Notice that verse above ends with the words, " those who ask Him!" I suppose God could have arranged things in such a way as to be the mysterious benefactor who sends a support check once a month while never being seen or known. But the fact is, He wants to have a relationship with His children. And although He certainly can work sovereignly on our behalf, responding to our needs even when we haven't sought His assistance, for the most part God desires that we come before Him in prayer. He wants us to talk to Him, and He wants to speak to us in return.

QUESTION 3: If you pray for something for a long time and do not see an answer, how do you know if God wants you to persevere in prayer, or if He is simply saying no?

This is a good question, because I don't believe that the lack of a response from God is the same thing as a "no." What kind of father answers his children by simply ignoring their questions?

Too many times believers give up on prayer, assuming they've received a no, when in fact God wants them to continue seeking His will. Jesus taught about not giving up in prayer. I would encourage you to read Luke 18: 1-8.

The real question ought to be: How long is too long to pray about something? Some prayers have their own expiration date simply because the thing we're praying for is no longer required or the deadline for God's direction is past. But there is a passage in Luke that has always intrigued me concerning prayer, and it has to do with Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.

We're told that Gabriel appeared to Zechariah while he was on duty in the Temple, and announced the coming birth of his son. The actual words from Gabriel are fascinating because he said: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John." (Luke 1:13 NIV)

Did you catch that? Gabriel said that Zechariah's prayer had been heard. I can imagine Zechariah asking, "Prayer? WHAT prayer?!" It's pretty obvious he hadn't prayed that way for a long time. The text clearly tells us that his wife was past her child-bearing years, and it's also pretty apparent from the passage that Zechariah had no expectation of Elizabeth becoming pregnant, because Gabriel's words were met with nothing but doubt. (Luke 1:19-20)

So Zechariah's prayer had come before God, but wasn't answered until long after he had stopped praying. With that in mind, how long is too long to pray about something? Depending on what you're praying for, I would say keep going until the Lord shows you otherwise.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Exaltation of Our Feelings

Over the past several years I have been watching as born again Christians slowly give more and more credence to the place of how they feel about their lives. Let's face it, we're all pretty intimately connected to our feelings since they're hardwired in humankind, but the emphasis they've been given has been growing with each new generation to the place where feelings have become our go-to source for determining our reality. The frightening part for believers is that feelings now take precedence over faith.

The way many believers classify things like their eternal salvation is now more likely to involve feelings rather than faith. If someone "feels saved" they will experience a satisfaction with that sensation and try their utmost to hang on to it. But if they encounter feelings that suggest they are NOT saved, they are just as likely to be plunged into despair.

The same barometer is used for prayer. "Pastor Paul." someone will say to me, "I don't feel like God is hearing my prayers." Or someone else asks, "I'm feeling unfulfilled in my marriage. What should I do?" Still another prays for forgiveness but still feels guilt.

In each of these instances feelings are exalted as the single most important means of measuring truth and reality. My marriage is defined by how much I feel in love with my spouse. My ministry is defined by much I feel fulfilled and my relationship with God is defined by how much I feel accepted and loved.

As a pastor my job is to continually point believers back to the authority of the Word, and that is exactly what I do. For the one who feels unforgiven, I tell them to read 1 John 1:9 which contains a wonderful promise of forgiveness to those who confess their sins. We read the passage together and I highlight key words in an attempt to make it more understandable. But after finishing my exhortation based on that Scripture the individual looks at me and says in a pained voice: "Yeah, I see that...but I still don't feel forgiven."

What I've just witnessed is a believer exalting their feelings over and above the authority of God's Word. They know what the Word says, but they choose to believe their feelings instead. Feelings become the final, authoritative guide to judging what is real and what is not.

It's hard for me to overstate the danger this kind of thinking invites. To elevate the heart of man as the means of determining what is true or false is the height of foolishness. Believers forget that their own hearts have been revealed in Scripture as unreliable—purposely deceitful and entirely beyond understanding.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? 
Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) 

In light of this passage from Jeremiah, believers need to repent of this modern form of idolatry and return to the only One who can truly be the guide of all truth, and that is God, Himself. The challenge will be turning a deaf ear to the voice that once guided their every thought and decision and returning to the Lord who created them and Who knows what is best—even when feelings tell them otherwise.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Q&A: What does God say about a believer taking a life, such as with capital punishment or killing in defense?

QUESTION: What does God say about a believer taking a life, such as with capital punishment or killing in defense?

This is a very important question, and when it comes to taking a life, the Bible does make a distinction between murder, which is taking a life for vengeance or some other indiscriminate reason, and the taking of a life for the purpose of punishment or military action, which  assumes a defensive act.

Within the context of Israel's theocratic rule established in the Mosaic Law, God explicitly outlined a system of capital punishment for certain crimes. This practice was certainly active prior to the Mosaic Law and is still enforced in many lands to this day. Capital punishment is actually founded on the principle that all life is sacred.

The idea behind capital punishment is that the decision to take a life is never made by the ones who were hurt by the crime, but rather by those whose responsibility it is to impartially determine the motive and severity of the offense and to deliver an appropriate and justified response. I'm fully aware that some people believe that taking a life for a crime is never justified, and I respect that opinion, but it simply isn't supported biblically.

Part of the confusion in this matter stems from a rather unfortunate rendering in the King James Version of the Bible in the Ten Commandments which says:

Thou shalt not kill. Exodus 20:13 (KJV) 

At face value this would seem to place a divine prohibition on the taking of any life for any reason. However, the more modern translations clear up the confusion by correctly rendering this verse as:

You shall not murder.  (ESV) 

The Hebrew word refers specifically to premeditated murder and also carries the connotation of human death caused through carelessness or neglect. Thus death brought as the result of justice or military action is not in view here.

The Apostle Paul spoke of the right of governmental authorities to dispense justice in Romans chapter 13. He wrote:

Romans 13:1-4 (ESV) 
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 

This is admittedly a challenging topic and many people are very passionate in their opposition to the taking of life for any reason—including justice or military action. However, the God who created the universe and those who inhabit it determined a system of justice that included the taking of life in certain situations. Far from marginalizing the sacredness of life, this idea actually serves to underscore and affirm that life is precious and should be protected.