November 25, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #15--Cremation

What does God think about cremation?

It really burns Him up. Zing! Just kidding.

There is no specific teaching about cremation in the Bible. There are some instances in the Old Testament of people being burned to death and of human bones being burned, but this is not cremation. It is, however, mentioned in 2 Kings 23:16-20 that burning human bones on an altar desecrates that altar.

Cremation was practiced in Biblical times, but it was not common for the Israelites or New Testament believers to have it done. Burial was by far the most common way of disposing bodies.

So should we do it?

One day God will resurrect our bodies and reunite them with our souls. The fact that a body was cremated doesn’t make it any more difficult for God to resurrect that body. People who died 2000 years ago have already been turned to dust. All cremation does is speed up the process of turning your body to dust.

The answer to this question exists in the world of Christian freedom. Pray for wisdom and do what you feel is right before the Lord and for your family.

Some people try to make the case that people were burned in judgment, like fire reigning on Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. You can’t apply the same idea to cremation. God did the judging in the Bible, and by that logic, any body burned in a fire would displease God.

It’s not a salvation issue either, so don’t worry about it.

Next up, a question about our pets. Do animals go to heaven when they die? Check out all of the Q and A series here.

November 24, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #14--Suicide

Will people who commit suicide go to heaven if they are Christians?

This is another one of those questions that go beyond being intellectual. It's also an emotional question. Most of us know someone who either took their own life, or have been affected by a love one taking there own life. But, this one is not as hard as people make it out to be.

Matthew 12:31-32—“And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven of men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”

This is the context of the verse: Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees. They are on the brink of making a decision that will bring irreversible consequences. They have just accused Jesus, the Son of God, of working by Satan’s power to cast out demons instead of by God’s Holy Spirit. They are in the process of and will ultimately reject Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah.

There is no sin that can be committed in this lifetime that cannot be forgiven by what Christ did on the cross. The only sin that cannot be forgiven is the ultimate rejection of God’s plan for salvation by a refusal to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. But, while you’ve still got breath in your body, this is still a possibility.

But isn’t that person playing God when they take their own life? Of course they are. But, all sin is playing God. It’s saying that your plan is better than God’s plan.

But they’re taking their own life and dying with that sin in their life? Chances are that all of us will die with sin in our life. And, all sin is equal in the sense that it leads to spiritual and physical death. If dying with sin in your life keeps you out of heaven, then we’re all in trouble.

The only thing that matters is a person’s salvation in Jesus Christ. Nothing can take that away: no sin, no matter how great or unpleasant. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates someone cannot receive eternal salvation if they choose to take their own life.

Next, we’ll look at how God feels about being cremated after you're dead. Check out all of the Q and A series here.

November 20, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #13--Age of Accountability

What happens to children who die before they accept Christ?

This is a tough one, because it goes beyond being simply an intellectual question. It’s an emotional question, too.

No doubt, we all know those who have suffered the loss of a baby or young child. We want to be comforting to them, and we also want to be comforted ourselves.

Scripture does not speak to this issue directly, but there are some principles that we can look towards when answering this question about infants and children who do not reach a stage of moral understanding and accountability when it comes to recognizing their need for salvation from their sin.

Dr. Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. Danny Akin, the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an article that speaks to this issue. You can read the article by clicking on the link.

First, God’s grace, goodness and mercy would suggest that God saves all infants who die.

  • 1 John 4:8—God is love.

  • 1 Timothy 2:4—God desires that all be saved.

  • In speaking of children, Jesus said in Matthew 18:14—“Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

Secondly, when the infant son of David and Bathsheeba died, David said two things in 2 Samuel 12:15-18: he would see the child again, and he comforted his wife. These show his confidence in the child’s eternity

Thirdly, the Bible makes a distinction between original sin (what we are born with) and actual sin (actively choosing wrong over right). Infants are unable to make this distinction of right and wrong.

Fourth, Jesus said in Luke 18:15-17 that the kingdom of God belongs to little children. This is in reference to our faith being a childlike faith, but it can also be speaking of those who live in heaven.

Fifth, some in Scripture are said to be chosen by God from the womb. The prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 1:8-2:21), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:15) were all chosen this way.

The one thing we have to remember is that God is righteous, just and good. That means that everything He does is right, just and good. We can always believe and know that God will act to accomplish His purposes, which is the best thing for humans and the universe.

Next, we'll look at what happens to people who commit suicide. Check out all of the Q and A series here.

November 19, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #12--The Antichrist

How will we recognize the Antichrist?

In John's first letter, he speaks of false teachers and refers to them as antichrists. This and 2nd John are the only books in the Bible that this term, antichrist, is used.

Other books in the Bible refer to a supreme Antichrist who will come and oppose God and his people. 2 Thessalonians refers this Antichrist as a man of lawlessness, and Revelation 13 calls him the beast coming out of the sea. Daniel 7 and 9 speak of him as someone who will oppose God’s authority, oppress believers, abandon previous laws and institute his own system, and will appear as Israel’s friend, but will become Israel’s persecutor and occupy Jerusalem as the capital of his empire.

John is speaking of false teachers, but his readers would have known about the predicted ultimate Antichrist who would fulfill the image of several Old Testament passages that led to a Jewish expectation of an archenemy of God who was to rise just before the reign of the Messiah.

This individual will emerge in a time of rebellion, which in The Revelation probably refers to a revolt against God and the power of law. He will set himself up in God’s temple, sort of like a couple of Roman emperors who desecrated the temple just before and just after Christ was on earth.

The question here is, what is God’s temple? Will the Antichrist come from the Christian church or will the real temple have to be rebuilt? Or, will he simply just be in opposition to God?

The book of Revelation can be a confusing book. But, it’s not as crazy as people make it out to be. It is very specific type of literature known as apocalyptic literature, and it looks a lot like other 1st century apocalyptic literature. When you know how to read and decipher that kind of literature, a lot of questions (not all of them), but a lot of them are easier to answer. Also, realizing that John was writing this to seven churches in Asia Minor late in the 1st century helps you make more sense of what’s going on.

If someone would have said to John, "did you know that people in a land that has not yet been discovered will be reading these words 2000 years from now?", he probably wouldn’t have believed it. Remember that he thought Jesus would come back in his lifetime.

Revelation was written to 1st century Christians in Asia in the form of apocalyptic literature, and not to 21st century Americans in Mississippi. However, there is information here that is pertinent for us.

Revelation 13 gives a vivid description of a beast and a dragon and how men worshiped them. This is not a literal beast and dragon. It is imagery and metaphor. In fact, John’s audience would have probably recognized that John was referring to the Roman emperor Domitian who claimed to be either God or Nero come back to life.

Daniel gives numbers about the length of the anti-Christ’s reign, but as in most apocalyptic literature, it’s probably more safe to assume that these numbers are metaphorical and not literal. There are lots of things associated with the Antichrist, like the number 666 and the “mark of the beast”.

Lots of people try to use weird formulas and deductions to try to find the name of the Antichrist or make predictions about what the mark of the beast will one day be. Some have even pointed to things like bar codes, credit cards, and medical I.D. bracelets as the mark of the beast. So far, all of them have been wrong.

Revelation 13 mentions three evil beings: the dragon, beast #1 (from the sea) and beast #2 (from the land). Think of this as the unholy trinity that is trying to be like God. The number 666 falls short of the number that is used for God’s perfection, 777. This, then, may be a representation and not a literal number, as is common in apocalyptic literature.

Trying to discern names or figure out the mark of the beast misses the point of John’s symbolism. Trying to identify who the Antichrist might be by choosing some awful, godless person or movement in any time period is a distraction from the faithful life of following Christ that biblical apocalyptic literature consistently calls us to. You can fill hundreds of books with the names of people who have at one time or another been identified as the Antichrist, and been proved 100% wrong.

So, how will we recognize him?

We may or we may not until its too late. But, even if we did know who he was, we couldn’t stop him. When it’s God’s time for the final things to start moving into place, it’s His plan…not ours.

And, those believers who are alive when this happens, will get to see Jesus return and destroy him. So we shouldn't be upset or afraid of the Antichrist to come, because it means Jesus is right behind him.

Tomorrow we'll look at a question about children who die before they have an understanding of the Gospel. Do they spend eternity in heaven? Check out all of the Q and A series here.

November 18, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #11--Judgment

When does the great judgment happen for believers? Before they enter into heaven, or after they have been there awhile? Is there more than one judgment?

Many passages in the Bible teach about the final judgment of believers and unbelievers:

Revelation 20:11-15 “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according wo what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

So when will the judgment take place?

Revelation 20 says that it will take place after what is called the millennium, where Jesus reigns on earth in peace for 1000 years, and afterward Satan is set free for one final rebellion. Fire will rain down from heaven and defeat Satan and his armies and then the great judgment will follow as described in the previous verses.

So are their two judgments, or just the one?

Well, this sort of goes back to the question of the rapture, and if you believe that there are two Second Comings of Christ. If you do believe this, then you mostly likely have to believe in at least two judgments. Here is how those who hold to this view explain their belief:

Matthew 25:31-32 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the sheep from the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”

This is the first judgment, or the judgment of the nations. This determines who enters the millennial kingdom. There is also a judgment of the believer’s works (a.k.a., the bema judgment) where Christians will receive degrees of reward. This judgment is described in 2 Corinthians 5:10. Finally, there is the great white throne judgment where the unbelievers are punished, seen in the previous verses from Revelation.

There are problems with this view. If you read the entire passage in Matthew 25 where it speaks of Jesus separating the sheep from the goats, there is no mention of a millennial kingdom. It does, however mention eternal punishment and eternal life. So, this seems to be speaking of the same judgment as the great white throne. Also, there is no mention in Scripture of God dealing with anyone’s eternal destiny based on what nation they are from.

While many people hold to the view of different judgments, this is a fairly new theory in regards to church history. It comes from a theological system called "dispensationalism", which is widely held by many evangelicals.

My conclusion, based strictly on what the Scripture says, is that there is one judgment. Jesus is the judge (2 Timothy 4:1). At this judgment unbelievers are judged (Romans 2:5-7), believers are judged (Romans 14:10-12), the angels are judged (1 Corinthians 6:3), and also believers will play a role in the work of judging (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).

Two follow-up questions from our series:

1) Does Revelation mean 1000 years literally? Well...depends on who you ask. Apocalyptic literature is fond of using numbers metaphoricaly (as in 1000 being a "complete and whole" number), but it could very well mean literal years, too. There are people on both sides of the debate, and no one has definitive proof.

2) Aren't we judged when we die before we get into heaven? See the above answer. We are. The question stems from confusion about what happens if there is more than one judgment.

Tomorrow, we'll look at a question about the Antichrist. Check out all of the Q and A series here.

November 13, 2008

Turning Point Weekend

This weekend, I get the privilege of speaking to our Student Ministry's fall retreat called "Turning Point Weekend. Byron Malone and our Student Ministry staff do an excellent job, and I'm ecstatic to be the speaker. Several folks in our First Singles and Young Adult ministries help out, so it will be great hanging with them too.

Check out some of their creativity in these weekend promo clips:

Hat Tip to H. R. Sweat for the videos.

November 12, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #10--The Rapture

What's the deal with the rapture? How will it affect those on earth and those already in heaven?

I bet if you were honest, you'd admit that there was a time when you couldn't find someone you were looking for, or couldn't get anyone on the phone, and you secretly began to wonder if the rapture had happend, and you'd been "left behind". Admit it.

I want you to forget about all the things you’ve heard, the Left Behind books that you’ve read. Forget all those Thief in the Night movies we talked about yesterday, and I want to talk to you strictly from Scripture.

The word “rapture” never appears anywhere in the Bible. It’s from the Latin word raptus which means “caught up”. There is only one verse in Scripture that deals with the idea of believers being “caught up in the air”:

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord together.”

No text in the Bible speaks of this idea of the rapture and the Great Tribulation together. So, ideas have to be formed by taking verses from one part of the Bible and putting them together with verses from another part of the Bible. This has led people to divide themselves up into basically three camps:

Pre-tribulation View—believers will leave earth before the great persecution begins

  • There is some scriptural support for this

  • Daniel 9:20-27 is the most common passage alluded to

Midtribulation View—believers will only experience half of the great persecution

  • This one is a hard case to make from Scripture and is unlikely accurate

  • The few proponents of this view point to verses like Revelation 11:15-17 and place the rapture in Revelation 14.

Posttribulation View—believers will experience the entirety of the great persecution and Jesus will come back again

  • There is scriptural support for this

  • This view sees the events of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 happening at the same time.

I’ve now told you everything the Bible says about the rapture. But, let me tell you a couple of more things that are important for you to think about when making up your mind about what you believe about this. It’s good for you to search the Scripture and make up your own mind.

#1—If you believe that Christ will rapture the church before the tribulation begins (the whole “left behind” idea), then you must believe that Christ will have 2 "Second Comings". He will come back to rapture the church before the tribulation, then return again at the end of the tribulation to establish his kingdom on earth. This is a hard case to make from Scripture.

#2—The idea of the church being raptured out of this world before the Great Tribulation is a relatively new idea. Before the mid-1800’s, the belief that believers would disappear from earth before the tribulation began (the rapture) was completely unknown throughout the history of the church. It was proposed and made famous by an Irish evangelist named John Nelson Darby. People who we look to, even in recent church history (like Johnathan Edwards, John Wesley, John Newton, George Whitefield), these guys never heard of, nor held to this belief.

#3—the Greek word used for meeting the Lord in the air is the same word that was often used for a welcome and escort provided for a returning king or visiting dignitary to an ancient Roman city. You see this same word in the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13) with them going out to meet the groom and escort him to his new bride’s parents home. It's also used in Acts 28:15 when the Roman Christians leave town to meet Paul on the highway and escort him back to their city. This suggests that Jesus will descend from heaven to earth at the second coming and that his followers will form a welcoming party to meet him part of the way and then escort him back to earth in triumph. Those on earth will meet Christ in the air, and that will be preceded by those who are in heaven somehow coming back with Christ by rising from the dead.

Again, it's important to not get too caught up in the details, but rather focus on the fact that there IS a Second Coming somewhere in the future. That means that we should try and lead as many people to go with us as possible.

Next, we'll look at what the Bible says about The Judgment at the end of this age. Check out all of the Q and A series here.

November 11, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #9--End Times

Are we seeing the end times happening right now?

You might want to grab a cup of coffee. This is going to be a little lengthy.

People freak out about the end times. How many of you have ever watched an “end times” movie growing up in church? Thief in the Night was one of the more popular ones when I was growing up. Back in the 80’s, we watched these movies made in the 70’s. They involved people disappearing in the rapture, and they would scare you to death. I couldn’t sleep for weeks.

You may not realize this, but probably a lot of what you believe about the end times is based on what someone else told you. And probably what you believe or what you have heard was not so much based on what the Bible says, but it’s based on someone's interpretation of what the Bible says.

So, as we approach this subject, don’t freak out. I want to try to give you a brief overview of what the Bible says about the end times in response to your questions, and show you what we can know for sure, and what is speculation and opinion. I’m going to simply scratch the surface of all the arguments that exist about the end times. It would take weeks or months to exhaustively examine every passage and argument, and if you're looking for more reading on the subject, I'll be happy to recommend some things for you.

So, are we seeing the end times happening right now?

Simple answer: yes we are. 100%, yes we are.

How can I be so sure?

Because we have been living in the “last days” for about 2000 years.

When the New Testament speaks of “the last days”, it is always speaking of the time between Jesus’ First Coming and his Second Coming. Something that you need to understand when you are reading the NT: every writer of the New Testament understood themselves to be living in the last days.

John 21:21—“When Peter saw him (John), he asked, ‘Lord what about him?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’ Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die.”

The rumor in the early church was that the apostle John would not die until Jesus returned. They thought they were living in the last days. In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given to the believers. Peter clearly understood this to be a fulfillment of a prophecy from the book of Joel…he quotes that prophecy:

Acts 2:17—“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.”

Clearly, they understood that this prophecy was being fulfilled, and that these were the last days. Peter, again:

2 Peter 3:3—“First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.”

The writer of Hebrews: Hebrews 1:2—“In these last days, he has spoken to us by His Son…”

So, are we living in the end times? Yes we are.

Now, when someone asks this question, what they really mean is this: is Jesus about to come back? Right?

So, is Jesus about to come back? What does the Bible say about his 2nd coming?

1. There is one return of Christ, and it is a sudden, personal, and visible, bodily return of Jesus Christ.

  • Matthew 24:44 “So you must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

  • Acts 1:11 “[The angel said, ] ‘This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’”

  • Revelation 1:7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds and every eye will see him.”

2. We should long for Christ’s return.

  • Titus 2:12-13 “[God’s grace teaches us] to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

3. We don’t know when it is going to happen.

  • Matthew 24:44 “at an hour you do not expect”

  • Matthew 25:13 “Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Since I’ve lived in Hattiesburg, I’ve gotten 4-5 emails or pamphlets that people have sent me telling me that the things that are going on in the world today indicate that Jesus is about to return. What happens is that people take the Bible in one hand, and put the newspaper in the other, and they start connecting the dots.

You cannot decipher when Christ is return this way. It’s not a code to be cracked. If it is, then there are a lot of people who are getting mixed signals.

Many people have tried and failed to predict Christ’s return. In September 1988, Edward Whisenant said that Christ would return on the 12th. Thousands of copies of his books were sold and many otherwise sober-minded Christians read it and believed it. I remember being in Mrs. McPherson’s 5th grade class and a bunch of my friends freaking out because their parents had bought into this. Across the nation, some even pulled their kids out of school to be together as a family when Jesus came back…which he didn’t.

This kind of stuff isn’t just silly, but it’s disobedience to God’s Word. We do not know when it will happen. It is possible to have an unhealthy obsession with this kind of stuff!

My challenge to you is to figure out what you believe about end times theology, and don’t dwell on it constantly. Back to the list...

4. I said this earlier, but there is a lot of disagreement over the details of the last things. So we have to be careful about building concrete theology on passages that we are unclear about.

The Bible does, however, give us some things that will happen before Christ returns:

1. The gospel preached to all the nations

  • Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

o 2. The Great Tribulation

  • Mark 13:7 “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginnings of birth pains.”

3. False prophets doing miraculous things

  • Mark 13:22 “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles…”

4. Signs in the heavens

  • Mark 13:24 “But in those days, following that distress, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”

5. The coming of the man of sin and rebellion who is the last and worst of a series of antichrists, or false prophets, that 1 John 2:18 talks about.

6. Large numbers of Jews will trust in Christ.

  • Romans 11:25-26 “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.”

So have these things been fulfilled, or have they not? And, how can we tell?

The truth is, we don’t know. We don’t know if these things have been fulfilled, or if they haven’t. It’s possible that some have, and it’s possible that they haven’t. But we cannot say for certainty.

The best things for us to do:
1. Read and understand the Bible in context
2. Be prepared for Christ’s return
3. Be humble in our understandings and interpretations of end time events

Beware of people who see the prophecies of the book of Revelation as being fulfilled in current events. Every time throughout history that people have made these claims about the prophecies being fulfilled in their eras, they have been 100% wrong. Tthat should warn us against believing the same things in our time, too.

If someone speaks a prophecy about what God is going to do, or is doing in current events, and then they are proven wrong, then what does it make that person? A false prophet.

Eugene Petersen, the creator of The Message Bible says this in his book, Reversed Thunder: “One of the unintended and unhappy consequences of St. John’s Armageddon vision is that it has inflamed the imaginations of the biblically illiterate into consuming end-time fantasies, distracting them from the daily valor of dogged obedience, sacrificial love, and alert endurance. This is exactly what St. John did not intend as even a cursory reading of Revelation makes evident. When people are ignorant of the imagery of prophets and gospels, and untutored in the metaphorical language of war in the story of salvation, they are easy prey for entertaining predictions of an end-time holocaust…conjured up from newspaper clippings on international politics. Jesus told us quite clearly that the people who make these breathless and sensationalist predictions are themselves false Christs and false prophets that they are pretending to warn us against.”

In the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 13:1-18), prophets who spoke on God’s behalf, but then their predictions didn’t come true were stoned to death. Of course, we don’t hold to that, but that should give us reason to write them off and pay them no attention.

Deuteronomy 18:22 “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message that the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptiously. Do not be afraid of him.”

A follow-up question was asked: Is there a difference between the end times and the events described in The Revelation?

There is a view of The Revelation that says, "yes", and it is called "preterism". You can read more about it by clicking on the link. Most evangelicals, however, hold that The Revelation describes future events as opposed to past events.

As with most "end times" theology, it's a pretty complicated journey to figure all of the different views, so good luck in your endeavors.

Tomorrow, we’ll cover questions about “The Rapture”. Check out all of the Q and A series here.

November 10, 2008

Q and A Revisited: #8--Adam and Eve

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons?

Now, this is one that has been argued for thousands of years. Churches have split, denominations have been formed, brother has fought against never stops!

My gut on this one, is who cares?!?! This is one of those questions that youth ministers like to throw out to get people thinking...or arguing!

But, since someone cared enough to ask it...

How to you get a belly button? It's a scar from your umbilical cord. Clearly they didn’t have umbilical cords if they were created by God…so no, they did not.

But don’t you think they were jealous when that first son was born? Don’t you think their kids were upset that they never had to dig the lint out of those things?

You know, a lot gets made about Adam and Eve. Let me remind you this: Genesis is not a science book; it’s a book about theology.

The important part is not science and how the earth was created. The important part is the God who did the creating, and Genesis is meant to point us to Him.

So, I will leave you with this thought. When you picture Adam and Eve…how old do you think they were when they were created? 20 years old...30? My guess is at the youngest 15 or 16, right?

So they were created in a mature state as mature adults, most of us would agree. If God can create two adults in a mature state, and create them to appear years older than their actual creation age, then couldn’t he also create a universe that was in a mature state, appearing older than it’s actual creation age?

Something to think about...

Someone asked a follow up question about dinosaurs. Did they really exist, and if so, then why aren't they mentioned in the Bible?

Dinosaurs did exist. If they didn't, then we've got some weird explaining to do about the fossils that have been found.

But are they mentioned in the Bible, or not? The Hebrew word, tanniyn, is used to describe animal and it is usually translated as "sea serpent" or "dragon" into English. Could this be a reference to a dinosaur? Maybe. Truth is, we don't know.

The question also has to do with whether you believe the earth is relatively young (6000-10,000 years old) or relatively old (millions of years). The Bible is inconclusive as to the exact age of the earth, and both sides can point to evidence in science and the Bible to back their claims.

So, some things we can be clear on: 1) God is the Creator, 2) dinosaurs did exist. They may or may not have been in the Bible, and most likely they died out sometime during or shortly after the flood (Genesis 6). Anything beyond this is speculation. Nothing that science has discovered can rule out the idea that dinosaurs and humans lived together in the pre-flood world. Fossils in North America and Western Africa, along with petroglyphs and cave drawings provide evidence that this could have been the case.

Either way, it's best to stay close to the Biblical account and worship the God and Creator that it points us towards.

Why Religion is Stupid

Monks from competing sects began brawling on Sunday at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Israel. This is the traditional (yet unauthenticated) site of Jesus' burial and resurrection. Six different sects of monks divide control of this church, and they often fight over the stupidest things concerning the church. This time it was a group of Armenian monks fighting a group of Greek Orthodox monks over the START OF A PROCESSION commemorating the 4th century discovery of the cross where Christ was BELIEVED to have been crucified. One of the Greek monks was running a little late, and they were afraid that if the procession started, it would somehow subvert their authority and they would lose their claim to the site.

Watch for the young monk in the red robe in the video. He sucker-punches one of the other monks, then goes WWF-off-the-top-rope onto the Israeli police. Based on all the junk that Israeli police put up with in a day, this is probably not the smartest move. Something tells me that after dealing with the West Bank and constant terrorist threat all day, a monk in a red and pink robe isn't too much of a problem.

If you read church history, you'll know that this kind of stuff is one of the reasons for the Great Schism of 1054 A.D. when the church split into East and West.

Other stupid disputes between these six sects include a disagreement over where to put a fire exit (again on fears that it will subvert the claim to the site of one of the worries about public safety, I guess..."hey, want to die where Jesus, died?"), a refusal to come to an agreement about fixing a part of the roof that could collapse, and a ladder that was placed on a ledge over the entry that was put their in the 1800's that no one will remove because they don't know who has the "authority" to move it.

This is religion at its worst. This is what happens when tradition and icons take priority over the gospel message. This what happens when something physical (that may or may not be the actual site of Jesus' resurrection) takes precedent over the spiritual.

A quote from the MSNBC article: After the brawl, the church was crowded with Israeli riot police holding assault rifles, standing beside Golgotha, where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, and the long smooth stone marking the place where tradition holds his body was laid out.

Now, THAT has to make you proud.

By the way, monks...Jesus doesn't live there anymore. You're supposed to believe that. If you did, you'd realize that there is no eternal or spiritual significance to the site other than it being a pretty ornate tourist destination.

How about focusing on living out the teachings of Jesus as opposed to arguing over who gets to guard a rock.

And, someone just move the ladder.

November 06, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #7: Church of Christ and Music

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Why does the Church of Christ not use music in their worship services, yet we do?

In college I played in a Christian rock band, and we were once booked by a Church of Christ. Immediately after I hung up the phone with the guy who booked us, I started thinking about the fact that they were a Church of Christ. I called back and said, “you know we’re not an a cappella group, right?” He laughed out loud, then told me that they were pretty progressive compared to most other Churches of Christ.

Churches of Christ actually do allow music in their worship services, but many of them only allow a cappella music, which is music with no instruments. Some of the more progressive churches do allow instruments, but many still hold to only using voices to create music. There is no official church rule about instruments, but their congregations divide themselves by "instrumental" and "non-instrumental".

So what reasons do the "non-instrumental" congregations use for their choice to leave out instruments? They base this off some of the following verses:

Ephesians 5:19—“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” There is singing, but no instruments mentioned.

Colossians 3:16—“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” Once again, singing, but no instruments mentioned.

They argue that since there is no mention of instruments in the New Testament, then instruments should not be used. Even though instruments are used in the Old Testament, such as David using a harp to play worship music, these instruments do not appear explicity in the age of the church.

That’s a dangerous logic to use, when you get down to it. The New Testament doesn’t mention folks driving cars either…but Church of Christ members drive cars. Even if you only want to make the case that these things are only pertaining to worship, the logic falls apart. The Bible never gives an order of worship that churches should use in services, but Churches of Christ uses orders of worship. There is no mention of pews in the sanctuaries, but they sit in pews. This list could go on. It’s sort of a picking and choosing of what they will use and what they won't use.

It’s much better for them to say, “I prefer a cappella music to music with instruments”. That’s not wrong at all. There is nothing wrong with prefering one style over the other, or even using it in worship.

What’s wrong is to say, “this is the only way” or “this is Scriptural” when it comes to the style of music used in worship. Remember that there is no such a thing as "Christian music". There are only Christian lyrics. Anyone who tries to make a claim that certain musical beats or instruments are not "Christian" goes well outside the boundaries of Scripture, and are in danger of making heretical claims.

Scripture has nothing to say about the style, beat, timing, or types of instruments that can be used in worship. From organs to electric guitars, what matters is the hearts that are behind the worship, and whether we are approaching God's presence in humility and willing to be changed by our time in that presence. Turning our minds attention and our hearts affection towards God is true worship, regardless of the music that is used.

Next, we'll tackle one of the more fun questions involving the navels of Adam and Eve. Check out all of the Q and A series here.

November 05, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #6--Church Attendance

Does God expect us to be in church every Sunday?

Our pastor, Jeff Clark, says, “yes”. It’s the worst sin you can ever commit to miss a Sunday. Ha!

Let me throw out a verse to you: Hebrews 10:25—“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Now, I could say, “God’s Word says it, so you do it.” But, guilt is not a good long-term motivator. Let’s look at the whole context and at the reasons why it’s a good idea to regularly meet together:

Hebrews 10:19-25—“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised his faithful. And let us consider who we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another."

There is a reason that we meet together: to encourage each other on towards love and good deeds. Gathering together as a body of believers every week allows us to learn from God’s Word and to learn from and be encouraged by each other.

On the other hand, the question, “does God expect us to be there every week” is a question of law…of a rule. Is it God’s rule that we be there every week? Well, we don’t live under the law anymore. We don’t live a "rules based faith".

The question is not, do we have to go every week. The question is “why shouldn’t I want to?”.

Sometimes the church becomes a place that is less than encouraging and it falls short of spuring each other on to love and good deeds. That happens because we’re human. So, it’s up to us as the church (remember that the church is people, and not a building) to make it the kind of place that Scripture says it should be.

Saying, “I don’t want to go every week” is to say, “I don’t feel the need to be encouraged or to encourage; and, I don’t feel the need to love and be loved, or do good things and encourage others to do the same."

That puts us in the category of people that the writer of Hebrews takes to task.

Fellowship is one of our church's core values, and it’s one of the Biblical purposes of the church. That's reason enough for us to live it out.

Tomorrow is an interesting question about the Church of Christ and their lack of use of instruments in their worship. Check out all of the Q and A series here.

November 04, 2008

President Obama

Regardless of your politics, you have to admit that it is an amazing thing to witness the election of the first non-white president in American history. Less than 50 years ago, many people of color could not get equal treatment in restaurants, much less in the highest level of government. Now, that has all changed, and it's pretty fair to say that this is the end of institutional racism in our country.

On the other hand, it is equally amazing to see that we have elected the most liberal senator serving to the most powerful office in the world. I wrote a post back in May about why I thought that Barack Obama is the perfect postmodern candidate. The nation has spoken, and whether it is a revolt against the last eight years or not, the message is pretty clear: we want our government to play a bigger role in our everyday lives and we we want to move towards a much more socialized way of doing things.

Those on the evangelical left who have accused those on the evangelical right of being "single-issue voters" on the issue of abortion have claimed that an Obama presidency will do more to decrease the number of abortions than a McCain presidency would. They will now have a chance to see if they are correct.

If you consider yourself a Christian, then our mandate from Scripture is clear: Romans 13:1-7. Paul implores the Romans, who are under the rule of the abhorrent Nero, to submit to the authorities that are in place, since they are only there because God has allowed it. You may not agree with Obama's stances and policies, and you may find some of them outright disgusting. But, as of January, he is our president, and I will pray for him.

I hope you join me. He is certainly no Nero.

He's not the Biblical anti-Christ, either. I am dumbfounded at how many thinking and intelligent adults have made this claim over the past few weeks, and how clear of a misunderstanding of Scripture this shows. You could fill the books of history with those predicted to be the anti-Christ (Hitler, Stalin, Bush, Reagan, JFK, bin Laden, etc....Thomas Jefferson even thought that the apostle Paul was the anti-Christ) and 100% of those predictions have been wrong. In fact, I would never make this claim until you are absolutely sure of it without a shadow of a doubt. So many of the passages about the anti-Christ in the Bible are written as apocalyptic literature, so no one can be 100% certain that the anti-Christ is even a person. It could be an entity like a country, a governing body, or simply a metaphor for a false gospel.

Ephesians 5:15-17 implore us to be wise, and this includes the way we live and speak. We need not disqualify our witness because of fear or defeat (Paul reminds us that we are not to live by fear either: 2 Timothy 1:7).

God has always worked to draw His people towards Himself regardless of what was going on in the nations, and our future will be no different. If President Obama delivers the utopia that he has campaigned for, and our nation becomes more giving, caring, Christ-like and generous, and moves us into more of a "culture of life" mentality then he will get my vote in four years.

If his policies lead our country into more hardship, division, recession and a "culture of death" mentality, then that's the great thing about America: we can vote for the next person who promises us the world.

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #5--Graven Images

Doesn't the Old Testament and New Testament talk about making images to worship God? If so, then why do we have so many pictures and symbols that "resemble" Christ?

A few years ago, The Passion of the Christ movie debuted while I was doing college ministry in Virginia. A few college guys I knew refused to see the movie because they thought that any image depicting Jesus was a graven image, and therefore sinful. Knowing these guys as well as I did, I think their motives were a little suspect. I actually think that they thought of Jesus as more of "theirs" and didn't like that His story was now available to a much wider audience...without their approval.

So, are pictures of Christ graven images? Can we have artistic depictions of Jesus without displeasing God?

How many of you grew up with this picture of Jesus hanging in your church:

My non-scientific polling would suggest A LOT of you did. So, were all of our churches being sinful? Let's see what the Bible says.

Exodus 20:4-5—“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.”

Is the second commandment meant to stifle artistic expression of God?

The OT uses 14 different words for idols. The word used here, “pesel”, means a statue; a literal, carved statue is what it is describing. It tells us not to make a statue “in the form of anything”. The word “form” applies to real or imagined pictorial representations.

But remember, context is always key.

This is not a prohibition of creating art. This is a discussion about worship.

This commandment speaks to the issue of using images that would rival God. The actual commandment is “you shall not bow down to them, or don’t make an idol and then bow down to them in worship”. Even if that image is to represent God, don’t do it. Don’t create something concrete in order to represent something that is infinite and indescribable. Plus, remember that Israel was to be set apart from the rest of the nations surrounding them. Worshipping idols would resemble too much what the Egyptians were doing, the country they had just left. Egyptians worshipped the sun plus images of fish, birds, cows, etc.

So, the Israelites were not forbidden from making images of these things. Instead, it was forbidden for them to make a likeness of God to be used as a part of worship. When God instructed the building of the tabernacle, he included representations of the created order in its structure and decoration, so clearly it was permitted.

Bottom line, it’s not wrong to have artistic depictions of Jesus, the cross, God, etc. It would, however, be wrong to worship them. If you need to see a cross, or a picture of Jesus to worship, then that’s a problem, too.

Idolatry, whether it is overt (such as worshiping statues, etc.) or covert (putting things ahead of God in your heart and priorities) is always wrong.

Tomorrow, we'll look at whether God expects us to be in church every Sunday, or not. You can find all of the Q and A series here.

November 03, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #4--Tattoos and Body Piercings

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What does the Bible say about tattoos and body modifications? Isn't plastic surgery the same thing?

Leviticus 19:28 “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”

An easy answer, right?

Not so fast! Remember that everything we read in the Bible has to be viewed through the lens of context and culture. We have to ask, "is this a principle for a certain people during a certain time, or is it a principle that is normative and should be followed even today?"

Look at the verse just above it—Leviticus 19:27 “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard."

Well, most of us men are sinners then because I just trimmed my sideburns this morning. But, do we live under the law anymore? Of course not!

These verses actually deal with pagan mourning practices. The real point of the verse is “do not look like the pagans and do what they do. Be different from them.”

What about how we treat our bodies, though? There are no explicit verses in the NT that deal with tatooing or body piercing. None.

Teenagers, though, we are told to honor our parents (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1), so when it comes to their rules for your body, do what they say whether you agree or not. There is no reasons listed in the New Testament that would lead us to believe that God wants us to get piercings and tattoos.

But, if you are looking for some guidance on this issues, there are some verses that can serve as a guide.

1 Corinthians 10:31—“So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God”

The best rule of thumb in these situations is captured in Romans 14:1-23. It’s a discussion about whether it’s OK to eat meat that was sacrificed to idols. This decision boils down to conscience and how it affects your relationship with Christ.

Romans 14:22-23—“So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eatinig is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

If in your heart, it doesn’t seem right, then don't do it. If getting a tattoo, a piercing, plastic surgery is not for God’s glory and with a clean conscience, then don’t do it.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 are verses about sexual immorality, but it fits this situation too: “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."

I did get a follow-up question about a bondservant having his ear pierced intentionally, so let me address that. This is a reference to Exodus 21:5-6 and refers to the rights of Hebrew slaves. People could sell themselves into slavery if they were poor or in debt. They could only do this for six years, then they had to be released. If a male servant wanted to remain in permanent service, then his master would pierce his ear with an awl to show that he was a willing servant.

So, if you want to use this as a justification to pierce your ear, then we'll be glad to make you a willing servant around the McGuirk house. I'm having a hard time keeping up with the pinestraw in my yard. I won't even charge you for the awl-piercing, which I'll be happy to do myself!

Tomorrow, we'll look at a question about whether it's proper for us to have images of Jesus on display, or whether those qualify as "graven images." You can check out all of the Q and A posts here.