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His Master's Voice
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|Written by: C. W. Booth|
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Is This the End?
Given the recent wars, acts of terrorism-beheadings, mass murder of Christians in Pakistan, strong earthquakes, and devastating tsunamis someone wrote and asked, “Does all this horror add up to the signs that this year is the beginning of the end per Matthew 24?” Below is my email response:
Dear Brother X,
Jesus said that no person, not even Himself, knew the day or hour. Moreover, seeing wars and earthquakes is only the introduction to the end, it is not part of the end (Matthew 24:6-8). When "all the nations" (all, every one of the nations) begins killing and persecuting Christians just because they are Christians, that is an indication that the end probably has begun (Matthew 24:9), though again, it is not a guarantee that it is the end even then.
Whatever we may think, there really are nations where persecuting Christians to death is not sanctioned by the government. Most of Europe is safe, the US is safe, Canada is safe, some parts of Asia are still safe, much of South America is safe for Christians. For that reason, I do not think the end has yet begun, no matter the present wars on terrorism, volcanic activity, or earthquakes.
For this reason, that the end has seemingly not yet begun, we must work all the harder to see the world evangelized while there is yet time. The time is ever shorter.
To put this matter into an historical perspective, consider what the first "Protestants" went through in Europe. Germany's "Holy Roman Empire" decided to field an army to literally exterminate all Calvinists from Europe. Brother slaughtered brother just because of his faith in Christ. Then, England's Anglican Church began a persecution of Calvinists in much the same way.
As a Protestant/Calvinist it must have seemed that no matter where one fled in the known world, the world was out to exterminate you because of your faith in Christ. But was that the end? No, and it was not even the beginning of the end.
Given that historical perspective we should not be quick to jump to the conclusion that any given catastrophe, man-made or natural, is the end of time. We must think much larger in scope, much more globally. It is coming, but local and continental upheavals are likely too small a sign of its impending approach.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Health Insurance: We Asked for It
In 1 Samuel 8-10 the story is told how the people of Israel rejected God as their sole king and demanded that He give them a human king. It was a very bad idea, so said God and Samuel, but God gave them their desire anyway. So it is with today’s health insurance law--it is a very bad idea but God has given the people the desires of their heart.
Nonetheles, in spite of the bad ideas we Americans come up with at times, God reigns over all. At least that is still a good idea against which the Democrats can craft no functionally destructive law.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Ironic Wording Regarding the Spirit in Zechariah 4:6
Zechariah saw a set of visions from God. He served as a prophet during the rebuilding of the temple when some of the obedient Jews returned from Babylon after the exile (the disobedient Jews chose to remain in relative luxury in Babylon after they were released from slavery).
In chapter 3 Zechariah is given a vision of the coming Messiah as both a branch and a rock with seven eyes. The rock will in a single day remove the sins of all Israel.
In Zechariah chapter 4 the prophet gets a vision of God; from God, yes, but also of God. God is represented symbolically as a seven armed, seven eyed, golden lampstand and two olive trees, one tree standing on either side of the golden lampstand; the trees ceaselessly feed the seven lamps with oil so that it never is extinguished.
The prophet does not immediately grasp the significance of seeing God in three parts, so he asks the angel multiple times, “What are these?” Initially, rather than explain each symbol the angel utters a quote from God, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit.”
Later the angel reveals that the lampstand with seven eyes is God, the one olive tree is Joshua (the high priest at the time), and the other tree is Zerubbabel (governor of Jerusalem who initiated the rebuilding of the temple). But the angel also reveals that Joshua and Zerubbabel are merely symbolic substitutes for the true persons represented by the olive trees. The angel calls the trees the anointed (literally: “sons” or “members”) of the Lord. In short, the lampstand and the olive trees represent the three persons, the three members, of the one God, the Trinity.
That there should be such a picture of the trinity in the Old Testament is not really surprising, though it is faith affirming. It is reminiscent of when Abraham saw the Lord as three persons by the oak trees of Mamre (Genesis 13).
In Zechariah’s vision there is irony. Which one of the three members is the Spirit? Is He the lampstand, the left olive tree, or the right olive tree? All of them. God is spirit. The Father is spirit. The Holy Spirit is spirit. And at the time when Zechariah had this vision, Jesus had not yet been born as a human, so He too was spirit. Three spirits, one God.
What is the irony? Some people today, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, say that the Holy Spirit is not a person at all. They say He is an impersonal force, a power, like an unthinking electric current sent from God to accomplish work. Examine the passage and the words used: “Not by might [“force” would be a better English word to translate the Hebrew here], nor by power [or ability or strength], but by my Spirit.” Not by force but by Holy Spirit.
That is why I find the wording so ironic. God represents Himself in the vision as three objects and then explains the objects as all being a symbol of Himself as one Spirit, one God. Moreover, He states that His will is accomplished not by force or by power, but by His Spirit. Do not these very words mean that His Spirit is not a force or a power? His Spirit is His three-part self, and He always accomplishes His will.
Note: It is even more faith affirming to read chapters 13 - 14. These prophecies predict the coming of the Messiah as a shepherd who will be stricken down (13:7).
13:8-9 describes the great tribulation where two-thirds of the earth’s population will die, however, out of this carnage the Jews as a nation will turn to Christ as the Messiah.
14:3-7 explains how YHWH in the person of the Messiah will return to earth, to the Mount of Olives, and in that one day He will defeat all the rebels of the world who have marshaled against Israel. Verse 5 states that all the saints (the resurrected/raptured holy ones) will return with Him.
14:9-21 describes the 1000 year reign of Christ from His throne in Jerusalem.
Here again is a great irony for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They deny that Jesus is YHWH God. Yet, Zechariah 14:9 states, “And the LORD [YHWH] will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD [YHWH] will be the only one, and His name the only one” (Zechariah 14:9). Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses admit that God the Father will never literally set foot on this earth to rule it, yet, this verse plainly states that the LORD [YHWH] will reside in Jerusalem as king over the earth, and that King’s name will be the only name for God spoken on the planet. Further, 14:3 states that it is YHWH’s feet that will stand on the Mount of Olives before He assumes the throne. Of course it is actually Jesus who is the King of Kings and who comes to the Mount of Olives and rules the nations with a rod of iron, and His name is the name of God, YHWH. Jesus was, is, and will be God.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Only a God like You -- A Song without a Truthful Meaning
Music is a serious spiritual gift: http://thefaithfulword.org/music.html, http://thefaithfulword.org/2006marchblogarchives.html#2.
In addition music is a fearsome mode of worship. Nonetheless, the theology and doctrine in many of our songs is subsumed into an inferior role by the exuberance of the melody. In other words, it is very common to hear someone say, “Yeah, I thought the words were kind of odd but the tune makes me feel great, so I love this song.”
One song that makes my inner theologian cringe is “Only a God like You” by Tommy Walker. It causes the singers to proudly boast:
For the praises of man I will never ever stand For the kingdoms of this world I'll never give my heart away Or shout my praise My allegiance and devotion My heart's desire and all emotion Go to serve the Man Who died upon that tree
…To only a God like You Do I give my praise
Yet, no worshipper means this as either a literal truth or as an ideal reality to be sought. For example, during political seasons almost every congregant will stand in honor of their nation and will praise with applause the brave men and women in uniform who defend this country, even while singing songs of patriotic praise to this nation while in church. Everyone will rise to their feet in honor of the passing American flag. At the Olympics athletes will place their hands over their hearts in silent pledges of allegiance to their secular governments as their counties’ national anthems are played and the stands are full of Christians rhythmically shouting, “U…S…A…U…S…A!!!!”.
And football season? It has been observed that “Only a God like You” is enthusiastically enjoined by congregants and pastors actually clothed in football jerseys in praise of the quarterback of the home team during playoffs. That Sunday night, when the home team takes the field, will not these same people be jumping to their feet shamelessly shouting praise and honor to their team? Soccer fans will do no differently, and to a lesser extent, so will baseball fans.
Personally I do not think it is wrong to enjoy supporting a sports team or to be patriotic toward one’s own country. Yet, it is hypocrisy to make proud boasts to God in song about one’s decision to never stand for, applaud for, or cheer for any human enterprise when the boaster neither intends to follow through nor can even honestly tolerate the idea of striving toward such a false “ideal.” It is self-deception to claim you will give no praise, honor, allegiance, or service to anyone but “a God like You,” unless you think the quarterback for which you cheer is a god like God.
Certainly, to give praise and honor to a fellow human when it is due them is perfectly valid and biblical (1 Corinthians 11:2, Proverbs 27:2, Genesis 49:8, Psalm 49:18). What is not valid is to claim you are too holy and too in love with God to ever stand and praise anyone but God when, all along, you know good and well that you will praise others.
Now I praise you [Corinthians] because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. (1 Corinthians 11:2)
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:2)
And that brings us to a second problem with the song. There really is no other God like God; so why sing “Only a God like You could be worthy of my praise” when we really mean “Only You, God, could be worthy of worship.” It is not like there are a boatload of other gods who could be like God in even a little thing. Should we not be teaching our children and the newer believers that there are no other gods like God at all (Exodus 8:10, Deuteronomy 33:26, 1 Samuel 2:2, 2 Samuel 7:22, 1 Kings 8:23, 1 Chronicles 17:20, 2 Chronicles 6:14, Psalms 71:19, 77:13, 89:8, 113:5, Isaiah 46:9, Micah 7:18)?
"Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, (Isaiah 46:9)
He said, "O LORD, the God of Israel, there is no god like You in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing lovingkindness to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart; (2 Chronicles 6:14)
"Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me. Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; Yes, let him recount it to Me in order, From the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming And the events that are going to take place. Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any other Rock? I know of none.'" (Isaiah 44:6-8)
Lastly, a large fault in the song, “Only a God like You,” is that it is anthropocentric, man-centered. It is more about what man insincerely boasts he will do for God and less in praise of what God has done or who God is. Man boasts about his own loyalty, yet, his boasts are glaringly false ones, “for the praises of man I will never ever stand…or shout my praise.” So the congregation sings a song of proud lies about themselves up toward God and feels really good about it.
Such songs as this embrace and teach a philosophy that exemplifies the essence of hollow, shallow, puff-me-up vain worship. Of course, it sure has a great tune.
[Note: The above essay was originally posted as a blog. As such, it was open to public commentary. Below are select comments from the public and by the author which are considered helpful in bringing comprehension to the topic or in advancing the dialogue.]
you know, it is just a song, it doesn't have to mean anything
Actually, it is not "just a song" and it does need to "mean" something.
First, it is used in worship, so it must reference God "in truth" as well as "in Spirit." This song is untrue, as shown.
Second, it is not really a song, it is a prayer. The singer is addressing himself/herself to God, as in a prayer. This makes one's prayer a lie. That is vain worship.
Third, songs are supposed to edify, that means to accurately teach the nature of God, especially in a worship service (1 Corinthians 14:26, Psalms 119:172-174, Psalms 119:53-56, Colossians 3:16, Isaiah 38:19,20).
Since songs/music are instructive by nature, any song that teaches improperly about God during a worship service is vain (empty, meaningless, hollow, selfish) worship. And in truth, vain worship is not genuine worship at all.
A friend just wrote on Facebook and asked: "I'd love to know what you'd say about 'I'm trading my sorrow'. A song I refuse to sing - or even lip sync during a Sunday a.m., or any other time."
Here is what I answered: That is another good example of a shallow song. Trading "pain" "shame" "sickness" for "joy," but what happened to SIN??? Also he misuses Nehemiah 8:10 (joy of the Lord is my strength -- http://thefaithfulword.org/2008juneblogarchives.html#25 ).
Agree w/ you that we end up singing things that we don't really mean in our worship. If we really considered the words we spoke/sung...
We just sang this song last week or the week previously in our church. And you won't believe this, but I was really thinking about the words and thought "that's not true," thinking about allegiance and devotion to kingdoms of this world and I thought yes I do give allegiance and devotion to my country. And I agree with the rest of what you said. And as to the poster who said it's only a song--it's not only a song--it's supposed to be worship! ?I'm not familiar with "I'm tradiig my sorrow" is that the title?
Commenter, you wrote: "I was really thinking about the words and thought 'that's not true,' thinking about allegiance and devotion to kingdoms of this world and I thought yes I do give allegiance and devotion to my country."
Excellent demonstration of discernment during worship!
Commenter, you also wrote: "And I agree with the rest of what you said. "
That just may be the first time ever! Your insights are always challenging and helpful, Denise. Thank you for your ongoing comments and observations.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
My Son Asked: Did God Tell Abraham to Commit Murder?
As a result of a Sunday School lesson, my son wanted to know whether it was ethical, moral, and holy for God to command Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac? Was not God violating His own laws for humanity which forbade murder? Son, here is my answer.
To address this question properly it is necessary to start at the beginning. God is a self-existing being. As a living being, He has a nature, even though His substance is that of a Spirit. Scriptures inform that God’s nature is that of perfect love, perfect holiness, perfect justice, perfect mercy, all powerful, all present, and all knowing.
Although God is all powerful there are many things God cannot do. God cannot be something that is in opposition to His nature. That means God cannot do something to violate His nature. Therefore, God cannot sin. God cannot lie. God cannot be unjust. God cannot be unloving. There is much God cannot do because it is not in His nature.
God decided that it would be loving, in fact the ultimate expression of love, to create humanity so that man could experience life with Him. But since He knew man would rebel and sin, He further decided it would be eternally loving to craft a means of saving those humans who would place their faith in Him as Creator and Savior. This plan included having to give of Himself, His own Son, to endure all the indignities every man experiences, including suffering, pain, and an ignoble death.
To have stayed in the garden all man had to do was nothing. Literally. Instead, man rebelled by actively breaking the one and only law he was given, “Do not eat from that one tree.” When man sinned, he earned death for himself. Man voluntarily gave up an eternal life in the paradise of the Garden of Eden in exchange for the pleasure of sin.
Everyone sins, so everyone deserves to die, and everyone will die. God decreed this. The time of any man’s death is divinely determined, and God reserves for Himself the right to set that schedule.
When a human decides to take the schedule for someone else’s death into their own hands, and they kill someone else without obeying the rules that God gave for causing the death of another, that person is committing murder. But when God decrees when a person should die, that is not murder, for that is God’s right as the perfectly holy Creator.
God decreed to Abraham that Isaac was to die as a sacrifice. As sinners, everyone deserves death, and sooner or later will die. If Abraham had decided when Isaac should die, and killed him of his own initiative, that would have been murder. Cain’s murder of Abel was of that nature, and so God judged Cain guilty. But Abraham was obeying God’s scheduled death for Isaac, and that was a demonstration of faith.
Of course, God had planned all along that Isaac be the fulfillment of numerous prophecies and promises. God allowed Abraham’s faith to be tested, then stopped the sacrifice and told Abraham it was not yet time for Isaac to die after all. Needless to say, I suspect both Isaac, a young man at the time, and Abraham were both relieved.
God was not advocating murder nor tempting Abraham to sin. For, it is God’s design that all people die, and He alone sets the timing of any person’s death. When He commanded that during their exodus from Egypt that the Jews kill the wicked, idolatrous, sexual deviant, and murderous inhabitants in the land that became Israel, it was not murder because God’s justice and timing demanded this course of action.
Today God does not give prophetic orders to any given person to go and kill another. Rather, God uses His laws of the New Testament to direct men on how to conduct themselves justly, which in rare instances includes the proper execution of guilty persons exclusively by the seated government. As for the scheduled death of all others, God keeps that secret to Himself alone.
God does not and cannot sin. God never calls on us to sin. He never used prophetic directives to require men to act in an unholy manner. He never uses the Word of God to compel men to act unrighteously.
Through prophetic revelation God did command Abraham to initiate a sacrifice of Isaac, but that unpleasant action would not have been a sin in that specific instance. Happily, God replaced Isaac, Abraham’s only son, with an animal sacrifice, a ram. Later, God would substitute His own only Son as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole of humanity. God is not only perfectly holy and just, He is perfectly loving and merciful--it is in His nature.
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