Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Meat of Idols - Part 2


From Acts 15 we learned that the Jerusalem Council had instructed the new Gentile believers to abstain from meats offered to idols. Yet, in 1 Corinthians, Paul seems to have contradicted the Council's ruling.

1 Corinthians 8:1-8 (KJV)
1 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.

Verse 1 set up Paul's argument. The topic of discussion is the eating of meats that had been offered unto idols. Paul then made a curous statement about knowledge and continued his line of thought through to verse 4, where he revealed that an idol, as a representation of a god, is really nothing. Paul based this on the fact that there is only one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If the gods don't really exist, then idols are nothing, since they represent something that doesn't exist. This understanding is the knowledge that Paul was referring to in verses 1 through 3.

To clarify, Paul was saying that everyone has knowledge of some kind. Basically, the Gentile believers knew that there were no other gods, beside God. Although this was a correct understanding, knowledge sometimes can cause arrogance and Paul felt that this knowledge about the gods could have this effect. On the other hand, charity or love can build up others. Verses 5 and 6 continue Paul's thought on the gods versus the one true God.

In verse 7 Paul recognized that knowledge exists on a spectrum. While the believers may have had a head knowledge regarding the non-existence of these pagan gods, some were not able to fully understand in their hearts. Their consciences would have convicted them if they ate any meat offered to an idol. Paul stated that these people had a weak or defiled conscience.

Finally, in verse 8 Paul clearly says that it doesn't matter what we eat.

Based on the words that Paul wrote, he was guilty of going against what the Jerusalem Council commanded, as well, as being guilty of going against the food laws in the Torah, where God said that what was eaten did matter!

However, remember that Peter had said that Paul's writings were difficult to understand. (See previous post.).

Paul was not a rogue apostle. There must be something else going on, or Paul should have been dismissed as a valid writer of Scripture. What is missing is that the concern was not really over meat that had been obviously offered to idols, since that was prohibited food according to the Jerusalem Council. Rather, the concern was over meat that had an unknown origin. Often meat that had been offered to idols was later put on sale in the marketplace. The purchaser wouldn't necessarily know the history of the meat. Also, when meat was served at someone's home, an invited guest wouldn't know where the meat came from. Many Gentile believers would be able to go ahead and eat the meat because they knew ultimately that even if it had been offered to an idol in the past, the idol and the god meant nothing. But not all believers were able to do that.

Paul's advice was as follows:

1 Corinthians 8:9-13 (KJV)
9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

The believers with more complete knowledge of the status of the gods were not to be stumblingblocks to those with lesser understanding (verse 9). If the weaker believer saw the stronger believer eat meat that the weaker thought had been offered to idols, would that embolden the weaker to violate his conscience and then be guilty of sin against Messiah (verses 10-12)? Paul concluded that if he would offend any brother by his eating, he would eat no meat. This is the charity that Paul referred to in verse 1.

This passage is about eating meat of unknown origins, it is not about ending the prohibition against eating meat offered to idols as commanded by the Jerusalem Council, nor is it about ending any of the food laws of Leviticus 11 and 14. It was about applying the rules in a real-life situation. This is definitely a case of where reading between the lines is essential.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Meat of Idols

During the days of Yeshua and His disciples, most of the world was entrapped in pagan worship. Coming out from that lifestyle and entering in to Christianity would have been a difficult adjustment. Family and friends would likely not have approved, would not have understood, and would not be above ridiculing the new believers. The temptation to conform to the greater society and return to paganism was real and persuasive. Yet, true belief demanded obedience to Yeshua, and the new believers would try.

The Jerusalem Council, also understanding the vast body of law that was contained in the Old Testament, felt that expecting new believers to immediately embrace and correctly observe the entire law would add to the difficulty that these new Gentile believers would go through. Therefore, they limited their obligation to four things according to Acts 15:20.

          1. Abstain from pollutions of idols.
          2. Abstain from fornication.
          3. Abstain from things strangled.
          4. Abstain from blood.

Acts 15:29 repeats the list, but changes the wording of the first prohibition to:

          1. Abstain from meats offered to idols.

Although Christianity has used this section of Scripture to support the claim that these four things were the only obligations placed upon the new Gentile believers, there are actually many things missing. Were theft, covetousness, and bearing false witness considered acceptable? Of course not! The list of four was not meant to be a complete set of obligations.

What it does represent is a list of four things that separated the new believers from their old pagan lifestyle. In their worship meat was offered to idols. By eating that meat, the pagan participated in the worship of that particular deity. Animals that had been strangled and were full of blood were also used in their meat offerings. The way these animals were killed violated God's law and could not be used for consumption. Sexual immorality was oftentimes a part of pagan worship. These four things were a kind of make or break list.

If the new believers wanted to immediately be accepted into the local body of Messiah, they had to forgo these pagan worship related items.  There was no sitting on the fence, or being half hearted believers.  Leaving these four things behind represented a complete break with paganism and brought the believers into fellowship with the body of Messiah.

After giving their declaration about the four prohibitions, the Jerusalem Council added this verse.
Acts 15:21 (KJV)
21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

The new Gentile believers were expected to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath day where Moses was read every week. They would learn the rest of God's requirements as time went on.

This method that the Jerusalem Council decided upon was a loving and gentle way of incorporating the new Gentile believers into the Christian congregation. The changes would be difficult, but they now belonged to a body of believers that would help and support them.


Monday, April 22, 2013

A Colossian Confusion Clarified

When Peter wrote the following about Paul's writings, he sure knew what he was talking about.

2 Peter 3:15-16 (KJV)
15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

Paul's letters speak of things that are hard to understand. The concepts, sentences, and even the words are difficult. Is it any wonder, then, that Paul is often misunderstood? In the second chapter of Colossians there is at least one example of Paul's wording that has caused some misunderstanding.

Colossians 2:13-17 (KJV)
13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

In verse 13 it is evident that Paul was addressing believers because of the phrases, "he quickened" and "having forgiven you all trespasses." They were also Gentiles as evidenced by the phrase, "uncircumcision of your flesh."

Paul described what happened as these Gentiles became believers (verse 14). Something was blotted out that had been held against these believers. It was taken out of the way and was nailed to Yeshua's cross.

I have read many statements and commentaries that have said that the thing blotted out, taken out of the way, and nailed to the cross was the law. Several Bible translations like NIV have clearly interpreted the verse in this manner. However, that really is not what the verse says. It was the handwriting of ordinances that was against the believers that was blotted out. The Greek is "cheirographon tois dogmasin," which conveys the idea of a bond or record of debt that is found in decrees or ordinances (See also NASB). It is this bond or record of debt that is blotted out, taken away, and nailed to the cross. In other words, the indictment against believers has been removed by Yeshua's paying the penalty for their sin.

Verse 15 shows that the removal of that record of debt spoiled demonic principalities and powers by eliminating their right to the believers. This was a triumph over those evil powers.

Therefore, (verse 16) the Colossian believers were not to allow any man to judge them regarding meat, drink, holydays, new moons, or sabbaths.

Traditionally, this verse has been used to prove that no one should insist that these items be observed as the law proscribed. Again, this cannot be what is meant by the verse. The subject is still that record of debt. It is because the record of debt is removed that no one should judge these believers regarding these ritual items. The law was not removed, so if the new believers failed to observe the laws regarding meat, drink, and so on, they would be engaging in sin. It is inconceivable that Paul was recommending that the Colossians sin!

Also, it must be remembered that the Colossians were Gentiles. When they were saved and their lifestyles changed, the observance of those ritual items in accordance with the law must have seemed silly or stupid to the unbelieving Colossians. But Paul's argument was to remind the Colossians of the victory that Yeshua won over the principalities of evil by His death and resurrection. The opinions of their unbelieving neighbors didn't matter.

Lastly, in verse 17, most translations give the impression that those ritual items are only, or merely, shadow, but that it is the body of Yeshua that is substance or is reality. These italicized words are not in the text and are interpretations of the various translators. Rather, the words themselves convey the idea that these ritual items are a shadow of the things that are to come. (Earthly reality vs eternal or heavenly reality) But all these things are about Messiah.

Seen in the proper light, this passage of Scripture, while difficult, is about the Colossians cancelled debt due to Yeshua's death, and their embracing a Torah observant lifestyle in the face of objection from the surrounding unbelievers.

Friday, April 19, 2013

What Does It Mean To Be Holy?

When we are saved and are born again our desires change from being self-centered to God-centered. What does God require? How can we please Him? One such requirement is found in 1 Peter.

1 Peter 1:15-16 (KJV)
15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;
16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

We are told here, that because God (the one who calls us) is holy, we need to be holy in all manner of our conduct (KJV = conversation). Peter's rationale comes from the Old Testament. "Be ye holy; for I am holy."

If we have been called by God into a personal relationship with Him and we are trying to do those things that are pleasing to Him, we should desire to follow this command and seek to be holy. But what does it mean to be holy? There are definitions that we can apply to this situation. I personally like the idea that holiness is being set apart for God's service. Yet, that doesn't necessarily point us to the details of how we can be holy. Instead, I think the best way to find out what holiness entails is to go back to the sources of Peter's quote and look at the contexts of those verses.

The first appearance of "Be ye holy as I am holy" is found in Leviticus 11. This is the chapter that outlines what foods are acceptable and what are not.

Leviticus 11:43-45 (KJV)
43 Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby.
44 For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
45 For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

In verse 43, God told the Israelites not make themselves abominable by eating any of the creeping things that were described in verse 42, because then they would be defiled. Verse 44 relates the defiling of themselves and how instead they were to be sanctified and made holy, in the same way that God is holy. Verse 45 repeats "Be holy for I am holy" and states that this is required because God brought them out of Egypt and He is their God.

The second appearance of "Be ye holy as I am holy" comes from Leviticus 19.

Leviticus 19:1-4 (KJV)
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.
3 Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.
4 Turn ye not unto idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God.

In this passage God begins by stating the command to be holy and then begins a list of things that the Israelites were to do. Verse 3 speaks about honoring parents and keeping the sabbaths. Verse 4 is a prohibition of turning to and making idols. Again, the reason is that God is the God of the Israelites.

The last appearance of "Be ye holy as I am holy" comes from Leviticus 20.

Leviticus 20:7-8 (KJV)
7 Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God.
8 And ye shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am the LORD which sanctify you.

Surrounded by various commands, God inserts His requirement for sanctification and holiness. Verse 8 finishes the thought by saying that the way to fulfill this requirement is by keeping and doing God's statutes.

When Peter wrote his first epistle, he reiterated God's requirement to be holy. However, he didn't give a full explanation. He relied on a quote that he expected his readers to be familiar with. The way of holiness lay in obedience to the Word of God. But what was the Word of God at the time of Peter's writing? It was the Old Testament. It contained all that was needed to know regarding how to be holy.

Do we dare ignore the Old Testament's definition of holiness, in part,  by refusing to acknowledge the Ten Commandments, by eating pork, and  by ignoring the seventh day sabbath? We do so at our own risk. If God truly is our God we need to obey all His commands.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Old Testament God vs The New Testament God

There seems to be much evidence that the God of the Old Testament was a stern, unloving, and authoritarian god. When the Israelites came into the land of Canaan, God gave many commands that today's society finds repugnant and cruel. Disobedience to the law also brought swift and sometimes deadly punishment.

On the other hand, the God of the New Testament was all about turning the other cheek, loving one's enemies, and giving mercy. How can these two descriptions of God both be true? Are there two gods? Has the God of the Old Testament softened His heart and changed His mind and methods?

Oddly, we find both descriptions in the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 12:18-21 (KJV)
18 For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
19 And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
20 (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)

As the Israelites came to Mount Sinai, they were met with sounds, sights, and commands that were terrifying. They couldn't touch the mountain or they would be killed. The voice they heard sounded like thunder, and there was fire, blackness, darkness, and tempest. Even Moses, the man of God, was exceedingly afraid.

The Old Testament God was certainly no one to mess around with! Wait . . . .

Hebrews 12:22-24 (KJV)
22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

Instead, believers today come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, angels, and men made perfect. This sounds so much better than the Old Testament God. Yes, they still come to God, the Judge, but they also come to Yeshua, the mediator of a new covenant, that speaks of better things than that of Abel (Old Testament saint with a pleasing sacrifice). Hebrews continues:

Hebrews 12:25-28 (KJV)
25 See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:
26 Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
27 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:

In this section, the writer of Hebrews revealed that he was making a comparison, although perhaps an unexpected one. In verse 25, the reader is cautioned not to refuse Him that speaks, meaning the before mentioned God of the New Testament. He then goes on to say that if the Israelites who refused the God of the Old Testament had not escaped, HOW MUCH MORE shall the refusers of the God of the New Testament not escape. This God of the New Testament will shake not only the earth, but heaven as well. In fact He will, in the future, bring much destruction upon the earth. Only His kingdom will not be moved, therefore let us have grace, whereby we may serve God with reverence and godly fear.

The writer of Hebrews seemed to have understood that the God of the Old Testament was viewed negatively and with fear, whereas the God of the New Testament was viewed positively and with love. But this comparison is inaccurate according to Hebrews. The passage ends with this:

Hebrews 12:29 (KJV)
29 For our God is a consuming fire.

There is only ONE God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He has, also, not changed His mind or methods. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. He was a consuming fire then and is He is a consuming fire now. He is not to be messed with.

But don't forget the description of the New Testament God! Even though God is a consuming fire, He is also love and mercy. For those who turn to Him, to serve and follow Him, there is abundant mercy and loving kindness. Yes, there is only One God of the Old and New Testament!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Stiffer Law

The Mosaic Law is often viewed as a burden. There are food laws, laws about uncleanness, laws about keeping Sabbaths, and a multitude of laws that many Christians of today simply don't understand. Isn't it good that the law has been fulfilled and we aren't obligated to follow this burden any more?

Yet, when Yeshua said in Matthew 5:17 that He didn't come to destroy the law or the prophets but to fulfill it, He added the following:

          1.) The law would not pass away until heaven and earth passed away (Matt. 5:18).

          2.) Whoever would break the least commandment or teach others to break it would be called the least in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:19).

          3.) Whoever would keep the least commandment or teach others to keep it would be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:19).

          4.) Unless a person's righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees, that person would not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20).

Although Christians have traditionally believed that they are not responsible to follow the law any more, Yeshua's statements in Matthew 5 contradict that idea. Besides saying that the law would not pass away, that Christians are obligated to keep even the least commandment, and that their righteousness must be greater than that of the Pharisees, who were viewed as the most holy of people during Yeshua's time, the remainder of Matthew 5 demonstrated that Yeshua, in fact, made the law seem even more stringent.  From verse 21 to verse 47 Yeshua compared the faulty understanding of the Mosaic Law to the correct understanding of God's intent of the Mosaic Law.

Matthew 5:21-22 (KJV)
21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

The Jews knew that murder was forbidden by the Mosaic Law, but Yeshua included unrighteousness anger as well.

Matthew 5:27-28 (KJV)
27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Again, adultery was a sin according to the Mosaic Law. Yeshua included lust.

Matthew 5:43-44 (KJV)
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Here, the Mosaic Law had required that the Jews love their neighbors. They took that to mean that they did not have to love their enemies, but Yeshua included enemies and furthered the law by stating that good was to be done to them, as well as praying for them.

There are other examples about divorce, oath taking, etc. Finally Yeshua ended by saying this:

Matthew 5:48 (KJV)
48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Yeshua was requiring more than the following of a bunch of rules, but perfection of righteous behavior. He was helping the Jewish people of His day, and by extension, Christians, who follow Him today, understand the true requirements of the Mosaic Law. On the surface, Yeshua's laws seem to be even stiffer and more of a burden than the Mosaic Law. Consider this:

Leviticus 19:2 (KJV)
2 Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.

To be holy is to be set apart for God's service. To be holy requires perfect righteousness. God's Law, the Mosaic Law was intended to be a guideline for the people to understand how to be perfect in holiness. So,Yeshua didn't really add anything to or subtract anything from the Mosaic Law. It was already there in the Old Testament. Yeshua only clarified God's intent and gave examples to help the people understand.

So, is the law still a burden? No one is able to follow it completely. In fact, all humans are sinful. But isn't this where Yeshua's sacrificial death comes in? He paid the penalty for our sin and by our trust in His work on the cross we can be clothed with His righteousness and filled with the Holy Spirit, giving us victory over sin and the enablement to live in accord with His law, the Mosaic Law.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Our Never Ending Winter

The crash of thunder and a cat flying out of my bedroom woke me this morning. With high hopes, I went to the window desiring to see bare grass and rain, rather than the snow that was predicted. But my eye was met with a white wonderland of falling snowflakes and a snow covered lawn and driveway. Where is spring?

Online there are many expressing the same feelings of frustration and impatience. Punxatawney Phil (the groundhog) has even been indicted for falsely predicting an early spring. I've also seen an image of him lying on the ground with a gun next to him, obviously dead from the remorse he's felt over his error.

As we sigh and realize that there's not much to be done about the never ending winter we're experiencing this year, we still can look at the calendar and know that this cannot last really forever. In just a couple of months our a/c's will be running at full blast and we'll be trying to imagine what that cold snow was like.

This is life, and our winter is just a small glimpse of a larger panorama that encompasses all our life experiences. There are good times and bad. We look forward to wonderful events and we dread the unknowns. We laugh. We cry.

But there is God! When we belong to Him, He holds our lives in His hands. Nothing happens without His knowledge and nothing happens that He didn't allow. We can trust Him to take us through life and bring us safely to eternity's doors.

Have you repented of your sins and turned to God, trusting in Yeshua's righteousness, which is  available because of Yeshua's death and resurrection? If so, you will overcome the never ending winter and will find an eternal life with Yeshua. If not, there will never be an end to life's winter. Please repent today!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Are Denominations a Sign of Disunity?

There are many today who believe that denominationalism is not approved by God and that it is a sign of disunity. But is this true?

Ephesians 4:3-6 (KJV)
3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

From Ephesians it is evident that God desires believers to be unified, since there is really only the one body of believers in Messiah.

1 Corinthians 1:10 (KJV)
10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

1 Corinthians even goes as far as stating that there should be no divisions among believers and that they should be joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

Therefore, denominations would appear to be contradictory to the will of God. But which denomination is the correct expression of true Christianity? Which is THE CHURCH? The Baptists would say theirs is. The Methodists would say theirs is. The Eastern Orthodox would say theirs is and so on. Perhaps, becoming non-denominational is the answer. Well, the Lutherans might object to that. The Anglicans might also disagree. Perhaps ecumenism is the answer? Hmmm. I think the Old Order Mennonites might resist that attempt. The Plymouth Brethren might also find that less than acceptable.

Could a totally unified church body under one belief system really exist?

God's Word can be confusing. No matter how we try there is no way that all Christians would agree totally with one interpretation of the Bible. Although there is a core of central beliefs that clearly describe salvation, most everything else can be disected and reasoned in more than one way. Add to this the mix of all the traditions, inclinations, and perspectives of believers and it is obvious that it would be impossible to erase the vast differences between them. Perhaps we shouldn't try. Perhaps Biblical unity can exist in denominationalism.

There is also this to consider:

Revelation 13:4-8 (KJV)
4 And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?
5 And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.
6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.
7 And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

At some time in the future there will be a one world religion. It will not be about worshipping the true God, but rather ultimately Satan (verse 4 - the dragon). Is is possible that the world and society is quickly moving in this direction? Is Satan at work attempting to create his one world religion? Are some of the trends, even in Christianity, like ecumenism, being used by Satan to diminish the distinctives of Christianity, to pull people away from the truth, and to move towards a unity of religion far removed from Christianity? Is it possible that the cry we hear today about the need for this false unity in the Church to also be a ploy by Satan to ignore Bible truths in order to attain so-called unity?

Biblical unity is living at peace with those in the body of Messiah even if they differ in the non-essentials. Christians must stop maligning and treating with condescension other true believers in Yeshua. We must learn to recognize fellow believers and to allow them to worship as they wish. But in the essentials (and admittedly sometimes these are hard to identify) believers must not lose sight of truths that are non-negotiable. Denominations help us to do that. Creeds and statements of belief can help.

The bottom line of this discussion is that God is the one who has allowed denominations for the purpose of gathering like-minded believers together. There is nothing wrong with this unless denominations become arrogant and act like no other group has the truth. In fact, denominationalism will help us stand against the pressures of society's trend to erase Biblical differences and to come together to worship that which is not God.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Most High God - Daniel 3:19-23


Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, having been confronted with an ultimatum from King Nebuchadnezzar, stood in opposition to the king. They would not bow down to the large image that he had erected. What would be the result?

Daniel 3:19-23 (KJV)
19 Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated.
20 And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace.
21 Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
22 Therefore because the king's commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had enjoyed special favor from King Nebuchadnezzar since the time of Daniel's telling of Nebuchadnezzar's dream and what it meant.  This, however, changed when they refused to worship the image. Verse 19 describes the great fury that he felt towards the three men. As a result, not only would the men be cast into the fiery furnace, but he ordered that the furnace be heated seven times higher than what was normally done. Then in verse 20 the king carried out his threat and had his most mighty men of the army bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and cast them into the fiery furnace fully clothed (verse 21).

The fiery furnace was probably shaped like a large beehive with an opening in the top where the three men would be cast into. There was also a door or opening at the bottom where the fire was regulated and the burned material could be removed. This would have been the opening at which Nebuchadnezzar would be able to observe what happened to the three men. (Showers, Renald E. The Most High God, The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry Inc., Bellmawr, NJ, 1982. p.34.)

Because the furnace was heated to such a high degree the strong men that had brought the three men to the top of the furnace by an inclined plane, were killed by the intense heat and flame. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fell into the furnace.

The chance of escape was slim. Nebuchadnezzar had definitely taken precautions to prevent any opportunity.
          1. The men were bound.
          2. The men were fully clothed so that the fire would catch quickly.
          3. The fire was extremely intense.

Yet, would God rescue the men or would His purposes be furthered more by their deaths? We'll deal with this next time.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Vows of Mount Sinai


Remember that we have been "counting the Omer." We are counting up to the 50th day after the Feast of First Fruits. That 50th day must be pretty important for God to command our counting those days. What did Pentecost or Shavuot (the 50th day) represent?

After the Israelites left Egypt and had secured their freedom from slavery, God headed them in the direction of Mount Sinai. On the 47th day God told them to prepare for that 50th day.

Exodus 19:10-11 (KJV)
10 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes,
11 And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.

On the 50th day God was going to come down in the sight of all the people! In preparation the people were sanctified and they washed their clothes. They needed to be holy in order for God to meet with them.

Exodus 19:16-20 (KJV)
16 And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.
17 And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.
18 And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
19 And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
20 And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.

God actually came down onto Mount Sinai and He spoke, requesting Moses to come up into the Mount. Moses complied and what was he given? Chapter 20 of Exodus begins relating the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Mosaic Law. This was the important event that occurred on the first Pentecost!

Let's remember, too, God's purpose in giving the Law.

Exodus 19:5-8 (KJV)
5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
7 And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.
8 And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.

God was gathering a people unto himself, that would be a kingdom of priests, and would be a holy nation. Notice, too, that the people answered by saying that "all that the Lord hath spoken we will do!" Yet, the Law had not been given yet. They were responding without even fully knowing the requirements.

Does this remind you of any other common practice?

Many of us have stood before the holy God with a life partner and declared lifelong wedding vows. The Israelites, in effect, were entering into a covenant relationship with Almighty God in much the same way as a bride and groom do on their wedding day. Yet God had already pledged His commitment to His people. We are reminded of it when we drink the Fourth Cup at the Passover Seder, the Cup of Praise.

Exodus 6:6-8 (KJV)
6 Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments:
7 And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
8 And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the LORD.

Yet, as amazing and wonderful this event is, it provided a foreshadowing of at least two other events. After Yeshua's death and resurrection, the Jews were in the process of counting the Omer. When the 50th day and the Feast of Pentecost or Shavuot arrived and the believers were likely in the Temple,  the Holy Spirit came upon them and changed them forever. The second event has yet to come.

Revelation 19:4-9 (KJV)
4 And the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia.
5 And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great.
6 And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
9 And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

One day Yeshua's Kingdom will be established on the earth and the believers will participate in the marriage supper of the Lamb. He will have His people!

Wow, that counting business IS pretty important!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Count Up to Pentecost (Shavuot)


About a year and a half ago I began a countdown to two very important events. I was expecting not only my first grand baby, but my second as well. The babies were due about a week apart and I had pregnancy tickers on my desktop to remind me of the development of these two little ones and the passage of weeks until their due dates. Finally, last May they were born, not a week apart, but three (One needed to come early.). It was a time of rejoicing that will live long in my memory!

It is common to count down to an important event, but how many times have you heard of somone counting up to an event?!

When we are in the middle of the "counting of the Omer," we count up, beginning with the first day and ending with the 49th day (Pentecost being the 50th day.). Many, I'm sure, have wondered why the count has traditionally been done that way. Not being Jewish, I really don't have any answer to this, but I do have some impressions.

Certainly, the counting is meant to be a way of marking when Pentecost (Shavuot) occurs, and it is meant as a connection between the Feast of First Fruits and Pentecost,  but it seems that it would have been easier to mark it by a date, similarly to the 14th of Nisan marking the day when the Passover lambs were killed. There must be some importance, then, in the counting itself.

If you are counting up, does that highlight the coming event in some ways more than if you were counting down? Perhaps, although this is certainly a subjective impression. But let's run with that idea.

Passover and the Exodus from Egypt is the central redemptive event in Judaism. What possibly could compare to the way the Israelites' lives were changed from slavery to freedom? If God wanted the people not to rest on the great miracles they had participated in during the Exodus and wanted them to move forward, to look for that next important step, maybe a count up would do just that. But what was so important about Pentecost, that God decidedly shifted His focus to it?

Most Christians believe that Pentecost was the beginning of the church, but Pentecost's history began during the days of Moses and the Israelites. Since they were wandering around in the desert and had not planted any crops, the Feast of First Fruits and Pentecost were not actually celebrated until they came into the land.

Leviticus 23:10 (KJV)
10 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest:

It is believed, however, that something very important occurred on what would have been Pentecost.

Exodus 19:1-6 (KJV)
1 In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.
2 For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.
3 And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;
4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.
5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

Fifty days after the Passover (in the first month) the Israelites came to Mount Sinai (in the third month). When Moses went up onto Mount Sinai, God told him to tell the Israelites that if the people would obey His voice and keep His covenant, they would be God's treasure above all people.

This event was a milestone in the life of the people that marked another significant change for the Israelites. Is it no wonder that God commanded the people to remember Pentecost, not only as a time of gratitude for the wheat harvest, but for the establishment of the covenant as well?

As we "count the Omer" are you joyfully anticipating the coming celebration of Pentecost?

More on this next time.