Thursday, May 24, 2012

Judges that give Two Thumbs Off

I'm going through Judges with the youth group and came across a really rough story that gave me a pretty strong warning.  Judges is a tough book to study and go through because it was a time when everyone, including most of God's people, had turned away from God and were living in tremendous sin.  The time period is summed up at the end of Judges with its final verse.

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.  (Judges 21:25)

Imagine a world where nobody cared what God or anyone else thought.  Imagine a place where everyone did whatever they wanted and whatever they thought was right.  People took what they wanted and only looked out for themselves.  This is the time of the judges.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Apparent Contradictions: Does the Changeless God Change His Mind?

We've all heard that the Bible has contradictions.  I've been taking some time to debunk some of them and you've voted this next one in today.  So feast your eyes on these next two verses and think about them for a moment.

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?  --  Numbers 23:19

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.  --  Jonah 3:10

Friday, May 18, 2012

Feature Friday: Avengers - Made To Be Ruled

**Teensy Weensy Spoiler Alert: I'm gonna use a quote from the movie but nothing that really ruins the plot.  Just wanted to give fair warning to my spoiler paranoid friends.

Finally, a movie that has it all!  Its been a long time since I saw a movie this good.  Obviously, Avengers is an action packed flick with loads of special effects and crazy combat scenes.  But its more than just an explosion fest to herald in the epic summer movie season.  This movie actually has substance.  The dialogue is great and the movie touches on some great themes such as the strength of teamwork and the question of what makes a true hero.  Be warned, there is some swearing and obviously violence, but nothing over the top.  I highly recommend it and give it two thumbs up!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

When Dad Says No

That's a picture of my daughter Michaela.  Before you call DCFS, I'll fill you in on a secret: The picture is totally photoshopped.  I love her with all my heart and I delight in her.  I'm happy when she smiles and it makes me sad to see her upset.

This morning, I was holding her and eating my breakfast.  She is at the point now where we are feeding her the standard mushy baby food but also giving her a few small solids like Cheerios.  So every time I brought my English muffin up toward my mouth, she would reach out to grab it and try to eat it.  I'd lovingly look at her and say, "No, no, no, this is for Daddy."  She'd stare at me with her pretty eyes and start playing with the tablecloth.  I'd take another bite and she would reach out again.  This happened the whole time I ate.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Apparent Contradictions: God or Satan?

 First order of business, I apologize for my lack of updates lately.  I took a trip to California two weekends ago with family and was busy before and after prepping and catching up.  Now I'm back and hope to resume my normal Tuesday, Thursday, Friday routine.

You guys have voted in the next apparent contradiction for me to debunk today and it is the one found in the following verses.

Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go, number Israel and Judah."  -- 2 Samuel 24:1

Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.  --  1 Chronicles 21:1

Both of these passages are telling the story of the same exact event.  So the question is "Who incited David to number Israel?"  2 Samuel says that God did it.  1 Chronicles says that Satan did it.  Is the Bible calling God and Satan the same person?  Did the author of Samuel (likely Samuel) and the author of Chronicles (likely Ezra) disagree?  What's the deal?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Apparent Contradictions: God sends an evil spirit

How many demoniacs were there in the region of Gerasene... one or two?  If God can't change, knows the future, and is never wrong then how did the prayers of Abraham and others change God's mind?  Was Jehoiachin eight or eighteen when he became king?  If God cannot be tempted, then how was Jesus tempted three times by the devil?  Who incited David to number the people... God or Satan?

There are a number of things that are quite confusing at first glance in the Bible.  One such category of confusing parts are the apparent contradictions.  As Christians, we have to be honest and open about these.  We can't cover our eyes and shout at the top of our lungs whenever someone brings them up.  We have to be ready to respond with a reason for our faith as 1 Peter 3:15 tells us.  There are statements made in the Bible that do indeed look like contradictions.  But I believe when you examine the original languages, culture, context, and study hard, you will find that they are not truly contradictions.  I'd like to spend some time examining these individually and will begin tossing them up on the poll for you to vote on.

The first apparent contradiction we will look at involves these two verses.

Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy!  --  Psalm 99:9

The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand.  --  1 Samuel 18:10

The conflict arises when we understand what the word holy means.  To be holy is to be apart from sin.  When the Bible says that God is holy, it means that He is sinless and separated from sin.  If this is true, then how can God send an evil spirit to Saul?  Is this not an evil or sinful action that incriminates God?

What is the Evil Spirit

"Evil spirit" comes from the Hebrew ruwach-ra’a.

The word ruwach means spirit. It refers to the immaterial part of life that moral creatures have such as humans or angels. Whenever the Bible refers to a spirit sent from God, it always means some sort of divine agent like an angel.

This word ra’a can be translated as both evil or harmful. But it does not mean evil in the sense of sinful but in the sense of bad. For example, the word ra’a is used in Hebrew to describe spoiled fruit or the Chinese food you left on the counter for three days with no refrigeration. That food is now evil, ra'a, harmful, bad. So this spirit is not necessarily “evil” in the sense we normally think of with that word today.  Just as we would not call the spoiled Kung Pao Beef sinful, this word ra'a is not always referring to a moral quality.  Instead its referring to what sort of effect something has on a person.  Its better to translate ra'a using the word harmful as the ESV Bible does.  

So, in the context of this passage, it is best to translate this as a harmful spirit or angel. This is a divine agent sent by God with the purpose of harming Saul.

Is it Sin for God to Harm Someone?

 Actually, no. Its very natural for us to think of harm or pain as a bad thing.  But harm can be a good thing and often it is.  It is a pain in your hand as you reach out to a fire that tells you not to touch the flame. It is pain when a parent smacks the bottom of a toddler who keeps trying to run into the street that teaches them not to take that dangerous action anymore.  Harm can be a good thing and there is no reason not to believe God was using this harmful spirit for good. In fact, Romans 8:28 tells us that God uses all things for the good of those who love Him.  

Why Did God Want to Harm Saul?

The harmful spirit came after Saul began growing jealous of David.  Saul knew God had removed him from being king but instead of stepping aside he clung to the throne.  As David rose in popularity, Saul wanted him dead and would even throw spears at him.  This harmful spirit may have been a way God was trying to rebuke and discipline Saul to get him off of his violent path. God allowed David’s music to ease the harmful spirit on Saul. This gives more reason to believe that God was using this whole experience to try to break Saul of his jealousy and get him to embrace David.


God does not sin.  At first glance this may look as if God is guilty of doing evil, but, when we look closely and carefully, we see that God is still holy and good.  The passage is best translated with the words "harmful spirit."  God uses this harm to bring about repentance and good like a father might lovingly discipline a child.

Please send me any apparent contradictions you've found in the Bible, vote at the top right of the site for the next one you'd like me to cover, and be sure to look deeper when you think you've found a contradiction in God's Word!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Faith, Works, and Salvation

At young adult life group last week, we talked about James 2:14-26.  The whole passage is summed up in these two verses.

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.   --  James 2:17-18

It got me thinking about the tricky relationship between faith, works, and salvation.  Why is it tricky?

Faith is of the utmost importance in the Christian's life.  In fact, without faith, there is no forgiveness, no relationship with God, and no salvation.  Hebrews 11:6 says, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him."

So what about works?  Are works as important as faith?  Most people I've talked to say that you need to do good things to get to heaven.  Is that true?  The Bible is very clear that no amount of your own good works can get you into Heaven.  Take a look at Romans 3:10-18, Isaiah 64:6, and Galatians 3:11 if you disagree with me.  The Bible tells us that the only way for us to be saved is faith in Jesus.  Again, check out John 14:6, Galatians 2:16, and Ephesians 2:8-9 if you think there is some other way.  

But works can't have nothing to do with it right?  James just said that without works, faith is dead.  According to James, there is real, living faith and fake, dead faith.  How do I know which one I have?  James says that the key is works. 

But wait a second, I thought we just said that our works don't save us!  We did, but that doesn't mean that works aren't a part of the equation in some way.  Like I said, there is a very tricky relationship between faith, works, and salvation that is easy to get wrong.  Let's look at the options for how faith, works, and salvation interact in a different way.

Option 1: Works = Salvation + Faith

We talked about this one already.  Galatians 3:11 says, "Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith."  Works do not save you, so this one can't be right.  It also looks pretty backwards to say that works produce faith.

Option 2: Faith + Works = Salvation

This one is a much more commonly held belief.  Many people believe that they need to believe in Jesus in order to be saved and forgiven.  But they don't stop there.  They also believe that they need to be a good person.  Basically, Jesus did some of the work to save them, but they have to pitch in their fair share of the load.

The problem with this view is that verses I've previously mentioned like Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly tell us that we are saved by faith alone and that works has nothing to do with it.  Holding this view is very arrogant because you are looking at Jesus' finished work on the cross and saying, "That couldn't possibly be enough to save me.  I'll add all of my amazing good deeds to what Jesus did for me and that will surely win my salvation from God.  Jesus couldn't do it alone for me, but with my help, we got me saved."  

Option 3: Faith = Salvation + Works

If faith alone saves me, then where do my works come in?  Look again at James 2:17-18.  What is it that the works are doing?  They are showing or revealing the person's faith.  Works are a bi-product of having faith and they serve as evidence of that faith.  Faith in Jesus doesn't just produce one thing, it produces two.  Faith in Jesus produces salvation and good works.  This is what the Bible is talking about when it speaks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.  Its the faith that causes a Christian to take action.  Because we believe, we obey. 

Whenever I come across passages in the Bible like this, I try to ask myself two things.

Am I trying to earn God's love, forgiveness, or favor by any works of my own?

This is an important question because I think it is in our nature to try to earn God's love.  We innately feel like we have to be good enough, pray hard enough, or whatever the case may be.  Its hard to truly accept that God's love and our salvation is a no strings attached gift from Christ.  So, I find it helpful to check myself every now and then to see if my motives for reading the Bible, serving in ministry, or obeying God have begun to take the oh so subtle turn toward earning God's favor.  If they have, I repent and remind myself of the amazing grace God has poured on me, not because I earned it, but because He loves me.

Does my life display works that confirm my faith is real and not fake?

Its also easy to just let your faith and relationship with God go into auto-pilot.  You keep doing the same old and stop any real sort of growth.  When this happens, people around you don't even notice very often because the same old seems good enough to them.  Really, the only people who can honestly tell tend to be ourselves and God.  So, we need to make it a habit to check in on ourselves and honestly ask if our relationship with God has been vibrant and life-changing lately.  If not, we need to pull out of auto-pilot and spend time seeking God to bring our hearts and affections back to Him. 

So spend some time today evaluating your own faith and thank God that salvation is a free gift from Jesus that you don't have to earn!

PS: I hope to address the theology question about David/Saul and God sometime this week.