Wednesday, August 13, 2014

We Shall Judge Angels

The Corinthian church was a piece of work. This cosmopolitan city bred a talented crew, but they were also a cantankerous bunch. Church member sued church member in courts of law, and naturally, Paul felt the need to admonish them.  “If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?” (I Cor. 6:1)

After that he says something very intriguing, almost as if we should already understand it. “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (verse 3)

What did he mean by this?

A judge sits in a court of law, judges the innocence or guilt of a party based on the evidence and the law, and then pronounces a sentence on a guilty party. Did Paul really mean that we are to judge angels?

This begins to make sense if we realize that some angels do need judging. The world beyond the physical has some strange goings on, a good deal of which is on the Dark Side. Scripture and tradition from many religions, not just the Judeo-Christian ones, speak of these forces, and some even openly worship them. Much of the evil in the world can be traced at its root to the influences of the gods of this world.

You bet they need judging.

Which brings us to the question that some amateur and not-so-amateur theologians have bandied about: what will be the fate of such demons? We know that at the return of Christ these spiritual entities will be dealt with (Luke 7:31, Revelation 20:1-10). But people disagree on what that fate might be.

Some, quoting Ezekiel 28, claim that Satan will be destroyed.  “I threw you to the earth. I made you a spectacle before kings. By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching”. (Ezekiel 28: 17 – 18)

Others, looking to Jude, say they will be banished to the outer reaches of the universe, in exile forever. “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home – these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day … They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars for whom blackest darkness is reserved forever.” (Jude 6, 8)

Some would consider this to be an even more excruciating punishment than annihilation.

This brings us back to Paul’s enigmatic statement to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that we will judge angels?”

So let me put a third theory on the table. Maybe the final fate of these angels – these fallen angels – will be annihilation, or maybe it will be banishment forever. Or maybe, just maybe, the final decision is yet to be made because it is we who will judge these angels. Maybe their fate will be in our hands. Maybe we will get to decide.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Rich Fool

“Fool! This day your life will be required of you!” (Luke 12:20)
Once there was a rich fool, Jesus tells us. We don’t know if he started off as a fool, but for certain something happened that made him that way. One year his farm was so productive that his barns were full, his storage bins were full, and his silo was full. His harvest was so great that he was dumping it on big heaps on the ground.

He decided to solve the problem by tearing down every building he had built and replacing them with ones newer, bigger, and better. In fact, the way he calculated it, his harvest was so successful he would never have to work again. It was now time to just kick up his feet and party for the rest of his life.

And that’s when God calls him a fool.

It sure would be nice to win the lottery or find the estate of a long-lost uncle, but would it really be a blessing? In the neighborhood where Jesus lived it was assumed (as is sometimes assumed today) that if someone had riches, it was a sign that God held him in special regard. While we don’t want to talk for God, common experience should inform us that this isn’t always the case. The wicked often do prosper. The fact is, this man had something unusual but pleasant happen to him (sudden, great riches), yet he is held forth as a miserable failure.

If we’re looking for a reason for this verdict, the text hints at the answer: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Verse 21)

This is not to suggest that prosperity and wealth are of themselves a special kind of evil. Nor is the intent to limit the discussion to riches alone. The intent here is to illustrate that whenever God or the vagaries of life hand us good things, whether monetary or otherwise, they are essentially worthless and definitely meaningless if we want to hoard everything for ourselves. Blessings only take on meaning if our vision is greater than ourselves.

This rich fool had great material wealth, but that was only part of the story.  His wealth also freed up time. That time could have been used to serve others. He was clearly a man of talent, or else he would not have been such a successful farmer. But he used his time, talent, and treasure to serve himself. This is where he failed. This is where he was a fool. Taking your time, talent, and treasure and hoarding it all up for yourself does advances the Kingdom of God not one whit. Great blessings can be curses if the center of attention is inward.

Whether it’s your time, talent, or treasure, use those gifts to honor God. Enjoy them, exercise them, but do all to the glory of God.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Harry Truman Was Right

“Do you want to know what I think causes the ruination of lots of men? Three things ruin a man, if you want to know what I believe. One’s power, one’s money, and one’s women.” (Quoted in Merle Miller’s Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry Truman, Page 355, Berkley Publishing Corp., Copyright 1973, 1974).

Truman said he came to that conclusion based on his study of history. “You read your history and you’ll find out.” (P. 356)

It’s well documented that Mr. Truman was an intense student of history, much of which was self-taught. But we might suspect that history was not his only guide, that his take was validated by another source with which he was well acquainted: The King James Version of the Bible, specifically Deuteronomy 17:16-17. It reads as follows:

“But he [the king] shall not multiply horses to himself [i.e., military power], nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the Lord hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.”

The Contemporary English Version phrases it this way:

“The king should not have many horses, especially those from Egypt. The Lord has said never to go back there again.  And the king must not have a lot of wives—they might tempt him to be unfaithful to the Lord.  Finally, the king must not try to get huge amounts of silver and gold.”

Think in terms of every sleazy or disgraced public official that you can think of. It’s an odds-on likelihood that the Truman/Historical/Deuteronomic template fits.

Here’s Harry Truman’s exegesis, again from Plain Speaking:

“If a man can accept a situation in a place of power with the thought that it’s only temporary, he comes out all right. But when he thinks he is the cause of the power, that can be his ruination. 
“And when a man has too much money too soon, that has the same effect on him. He just never gets to understanding that getting enough money to eat and getting a roof over his head is the thing that throughout history most people have spent their lives trying to do and haven’t succeeded. … If you’ve got too much money too soon, it ruins you by setting you apart from the most of the human race.  
“And a man who is not loyal to his family, to his wife and his mother and his sisters can be ruined if he has a complex in that direction. If he has the right woman as a partner, he never has any trouble.” (Ibid)

Truman claimed he could name former colleagues who “got mixed up in that way. But we won’t do it now.” Mr. Truman, you don’t have to tell us now. We get the point. We see it all around us.

It’s no wonder that one of the sauciest quotes to come out of his mouth was this little gem: "My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference." 

These days we could use a little touch of Harry’s plain speaking, and along with it his other qualities of historical and scriptural perspective.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Passover Bread

What kind of bread was used at Jesus’ last Passover? In Greek, it was called “artio”, which literally means “bread.” Noting that there is a perfectly good word for “unleavened bread” (“azumos”) in the Greek language and correctly noting that this word in the Gospels is used to describe the bread that Jesus broke, a number of people have begun to use leavened bread at their Passover, or Lord’s Supper, services.

They further make the point that when Jesus was introducing the bread and wine as Christian symbols, it was not yet the Days of Unleavened Bread, and therefore using leavened bread would have been perfectly appropriate.

It’s instructive to look at another place where the word “artio” appears in the Greek New Testament.

For purposes of this study, we’re going to take a look at an event that occurred just after the resurrection, the account of which is described in Luke 24:13 – 35.  In verse 30 we find the Greek word “artio”: “Now it came to pass as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” (NKJV)

Note that the text does not use the word “azumos” (unleavened), but instead uses the word “artio” (bread).  Jesus is here depicted as breaking “artio” and giving it to the two disciples in whose home he was a guest.

The context of this event begins in verse 1, where some women discover that the tomb of Jesus is empty. This was “the first day of the week, very early in the morning.” The women hurry to the apostles, and Peter goes to the tomb and verifies that it is indeed empty. We know from the entire crucifixion/resurrection story that all these events happened during the Days of Unleavened Bread.

We are then introduced to two disciples on the road back to their home in Emmaus, one of whom is named Cleopas (verse 18), and presumably the other being his wife Mary. The risen Jesus approaches them and begins a conversation. Verse 13: “Now behold two of them were travelling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem.”

“The same day”. That would still be the first day of the week, and the events described here could have carried into the evening of that day. The point to be made is that this was still during the seven-day festival we know of today as the Days of Unleavened Bread, or Passover season, and these two devout disciples would have been eating unleavened bread during these days.

Based on this we can reasonably conclude that they would not have had any leavened bread in their house, that they would have offered only unleavened bread to a Jewish guest, and that this Jewish guest who was also the risen Messiah would not have broken leavened bread and offered it to fellow countrymen.

So why does Luke use the word “artio” in this passage? Maybe because “artio” is a simple generic word for bread of any kind, just like the English word “bread” is a generic word of the same order?

None of what is said here proves one way or another what kind of bread Jesus shared with his disciples on the night he was betrayed. It only shows that “artio” can be either leavened or unleavened, just like the word "bread" in an English-speaking household.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

About Those Blood Moons

The Blood Moon Prophecies have become somewhat of a topic in many prophetic circles. The main biblical text used to explain this astronomical phenomenon can be found in Joel 2:30-31:

“And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fires and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome Day of the Lord.”

Commentators read this and conclude, not without reason, that this passage refers to solar and lunar eclipses. They then refer to astronomical charts and look for unusual alignments of solar and lunar eclipses while lining up those arrangements to significant events in the history of Israel. They then postulate, based on the wording in Joel, that one such future alignment of eclipses will presage the return of Christ.

Thus was born the discussion around what is known as “the tetrad”. A tetrad is a series of four consecutive lunar eclipses, each with six full moons in between. The tetrad which occurs in 2014 – 2015 is unusual because all four of those lunar eclipses occur on annual High Days (Passover in the Spring and the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles in the Autumn) and the period also coincides with solar eclipses (“the sun turned to darkness”).

To those interested in prophecy the coinciding of eclipses with Holy Days suggests a portent of some kind of divine intervention, and they note that the founding of the State of Israel and the Spanish Inquisition seem to coincide with similar line-ups of the sun, moon, and Earth.

But as some researchers have pointed out, many of the purported events prefigured by High Day blood moons actually occurred before the sighting of the blood moons. Are we to conclude that the events were precursors of the blood moons instead of the other way around? And should we not ask whether the biblical phrases “sun turned to darkness“ and moon into blood” are in fact the same things as eclipses of the sun and moon?

Let’s take a look at a specific event in the New Testament where the Scripture mentions a unique astronomical event that was associated with a turning point in history. It’s in Luke 23:44-45, and it refers to the moment of Jesus’ death:

“Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two.” 
The “sixth hour” refers to the sixth hour of daylight (noon), and the “ninth hour” refers to three in the afternoon.  Question: Was this three hour period the time of a solar eclipse?

We can be 100% confident that it was not. Remember that Jesus’ death occurred just before the onset of a High Day, specifically the first Day of Unleavened Bread, which always occurred on the 15th day of the first month. In the Hebrew calendar, that would be the time of month of the full moon. The only eclipse that could possibly happen at a full moon is a lunar eclipse. There can never be a solar eclipse at that time of the month.

What, then, can we make of an apparent solar eclipse at the time Jesus died? The easiest explanation would be to conclude that this was not a solar eclipse but some other phenomenon, and if that’s true, then there is reason to question whether the darkening of the sun and blood moons really refer to eclipses at all.

The astronomical signs we read about in scripture have more to them than simple, predictable revolutions of heavenly bodies. Here is how Revelation 16:12-13 describes it:

“And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casts her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.”

Jesus describes it this way (Matthew 24:29):

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.”

Finally, in the context of the passage in Joel (Joel 2:10):
 “The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble. The sun and moon grow dark, and the stars diminish their brightness.”

Earthquakes, stars growing dark and even falling from heaven, all apparently at the same time: more than phenomena caused by predictable conjunctions of heavenly bodies. I don’t know exactly how all this will unfold, but the lesson to take from this is one that so many need to learn over and over again. Prophetic interpretations are many. Don’t order your life around the latest New York Times bestseller.

For a more in depth analysis, read:

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Let God Decide

Say “Joshua”, and people think “Jericho”. But Joshua was an integral part of the Exodus story from Egypt to the Holy Land, a span of time that exceeded forty years.  He was effectively Moses’ second in command throughout much of that period, and he had much to learn.

One time Moses came to the limits of his frustration with the people of Israel, and effectively, in his completely transparent way, tells God, “Fix it or kill me, because I don’t want to deal with this anymore.” (Numbers 11:14-15).

Part of the problem was Moses’ own management style, and the solution was to delegate responsibility to others. Verse 16: ‘So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather to me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them. Bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you.”’

These seventy men were to take on some of Moses’ responsibilities. They would be closer to the people and thus be more aware of their needs.  Moses would no longer have to be burdened with minutia but could focus on the big picture. And these seventy would be a ready-made parliament to provide advice and consent.

When they had all gathered together, God “took of the Spirit that was on him [Moses] and placed the same on the seventy elders. And it happened when the Spirit rested upon them that they prophesied, although they never did so again.” (Verse 25)

Here is where Joshua comes into the picture. Two of these seventy had ignored Moses’ instructions to assemble before God. They had remained in the camp with everyone else. In spite of this, the Spirit of God came upon them anyway, and they too began to prophesy. (Verse 26). Joshua was intent on stopping them. These two men had not followed the instructions they were given, and in Joshua’s eyes had forfeited their right to perform the duties assigned to them.

But Joshua was wrong, as Moses pointed. “Oh that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them!” (Verse 29)

The lesson here is that God gives his Spirit to whomever he chooses, and you and I don’t get to decide how God does it. Just because somebody sits in a different building with a different denominational name out front, it does not mean that God isn’t working with them. They might have slightly different beliefs and practices and might even have some questionable doctrinal positions, but if they exhibit the gifts of the Holy Spirit in their lives, no one should minimize or quench that Spirit.  Even Jesus’ disciples needed to be warned about this attitude. When someone other than those in Jesus’ inner circle was casting out demons in Jesus name, the disciples wanted to put a stop to it. But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” (Luke 9:49-50)

In this world where so many are against us, we need all the friends on our side that we can get. If people are doing good things in the name of Jesus, or if people are persecuted for holding fast to the name of Jesus, who am I to pass judgment on them? God will decide who are his people and who are not.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Good Biblical Films Are Often in Disguise

In recent weeks the world of entertainment has released a bevy of films built around religious and biblical themes. The effort is a noble one, but the big question is whether such films will reach a larger audience and act as a source of light to the culture at large.

Personally, I have my doubts. Even though some of these movies had an excellent box office, I suspect that the audience was by and large those who already have an active, healthy interest in religion. Put differently, the films were preaching to the choir. That’s not a bad thing, but it has only a limited ability to affect a positive change on the culture as a whole.

Jesus once told a parable about a man who went out to sow some seed. The seed (in this parable that seed represents the Word of God) falls on different types of soil.  Because most of the seed falls on soil that was not adequately prepared, it failed to take root. Sowing seed in a society that is becoming increasingly secular is sowing it on rocky soil or worse. Without properly prepared soil films such as “God Is Not Dead” will have limited impact in its reach.

The world right now is in need of a C.S. Lewis who can tell stories with solid values that appeal to all without hitting them over the head with a big, black King James Bible.  The key is to tell the story and let the story speak for itself. Jesus’ teachings were wrapped in storytelling and the lessons have lasted for 2,000 years and counting.

Overtly religious content has a market and a good one, but at the same time films with a veiled Christian worldview also need both our box office support and our endorsement. How about movies like “Blind Side” or “42”? How about the life lessons in “Remember the Titans”, or a movie about the true meaning of love as modeled beautifully in “Frozen”?  Or movies that address moral dilemmas such as the 2013 Superman movie “Man of Steel”? Or that semi-dark though ultimately triumphant masterpiece “Les Miserables”? And then there is the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Many movies of this type have graced our screens the past few years, and they should be appreciated for what they are. No more than that, but definitely no less. These have the power to prepare the soil to receive the seed.