Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Resolution For Every New Year

There was a teacher in a Sunday Bible class that asked a woman to read from the Book of Numbers about the Israelites wandering in the desert. She began, “The Lord heard you when you wailed, ‘If only we had meat to eat!’ Now the Lord will give you meat. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, or ten or twenty days, but for a month—until you loathe it.” When the woman finished, she paused, looked up, and said, “Hey, isn’t that the Atkins diet?” As funny as that reaction sounds, diets like this are often synonymous with New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions today seem similarly shallow. That is probably because they are typically focused on our flesh (our passing identity) rather than our the spirit (our enduring identity). And, too often our spiritual resolutions barely meet the heights worthy of resolve.

What if I could share advice for your New Year that you knew would never fail to be good advice? Did you know that there is a piece of advice that has never failed one Christian ever?  That advice is to read healthy portions of God’s Word as a daily discipline. To illustrate how powerful and life transforming this advice can be, have you ever heard a Christian say, “One of my problems last year was that I read the Bible too much”? Likewise, have you ever heard a genuine Christian say, “Well, I daily read my Bible, but it seems worthless to me”? Rather, don't we observe far too many Christians who are far more faithful to consumption of other media and similar disciplines while not being faithful to the regular ingestion of God’s Word? Have you ever encountered a Christian that faithfully ingested God's Word daily yet did not benefit from it? We observe far too many Christians who fail to regularly read the Bible as an active discipline in their lives. It is amazing how many times we hear a mature Christian say, “Wow, I never knew that was in the Bible.” Don’t get me wrong – the Bible is a large book and there is always something new to be gleaned every time we read it. But, if you have been an adult Christian for several years, is there any good reason why you would not have read God’s Word cover-to-cover several times over with resolve to continue this repeated discipline indefinitely?

To make this point even more firm, below are a few things God says about reading His Word as a daily resolve:

  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
  • Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
  • Matthew 4:4, “Jesus answered [to Satan], ‘It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’’”
  • Joshua 1:8, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
  • Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Need God say more? John 1:1 reminds us that Jesus had a name before He was given the name of Yeshua in Bethlehem. His name was the Word. Jesus was and is the Word of God. That Word, as God, became flesh to die for us and rise again to live as our Eternal King. It is the Word of God in which God’s gospel is embodied. It is the Word of God, through Jesus, along with His Holy Spirit that is effectively God with us. And, the Word of God gave us His written Word that we might consume it tangibly as often as we need it. And, is there a moment when we don’t need it?

With regards to defending the Gospel, reading God's Word daily is absolutely vital. This blog has repeatedly contended that the real battle for defending the Gospel happens primarily in our minds and only secondarily in our speech. In order to be prepared to deal with challenges to the Gospel that we allow in our minds, our minds need to be trained daily to think more like God and less like corrupt flesh. That way, no thought can enter in without being surrounded and put into submission to the God who dominates that mind. If, however, our mind is not so trained by daily ingestion of God's Word, it is the Godless thought that has an improved chance of survival. 

Christian, consider yourself implored to read a healthy portion of the Bible every day. My suggestion is the One Year Bible, which assigns a portion of the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs to every day of the year (One Year Bible Online). Doing this is not a burden – but quite the opposite. Those who do this every year testify that it has changed their lives and made them more full. By reading God's Word every day, God speaks to you every day without fail. You will hear His voice more clearly every day, even audibly if you read aloud. You will learn more intimately how He speaks, how He thinks, and how He loves. You will learn His heartbeat. And, as often as you do it, it is that often you will learn more. I don’t know what daily learning about God looks like in eternity. But, today, it looks like His adopted son or daughter reading their Father’s loving and earnest advice every day as if his or her life depends upon it. And, for this adopted son, it does.

You can purchase the book "Reason If You Will - How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith" by clicking HERE. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Disregarding “Exodus” – A Post Script

Last week I posted my review of the movie "Exodus: Gods and Kings". In short, the movie is horrible by almost every measure and Hollywood agrees. Shortly after posting my review, I was approached by a dear friend and elder in the Faith. He had very kind words regarding my review. In addition, he encouraged me to also address the veiled attack on God from the movie’s Pharaoh and his criticism about God killing children. I genuinely believe in the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit. So, when a brother whom I look up to advises me to do something that clearly benefits God’s Kingdom, I do it, since God often speaks to me through such men.

What my friend was referring to was the scene just after God killed all of the first-born of Egypt. After this, Moses went to visit Ramses. Ramses met him holding his dead child in his arms. The emotional Ramses then gestured the dead boy towards Moses and yelled at him that only fanatics could worship a god who kills kids. In other words, “What kind of God kills children?”

This is a great question and worthy of an answer. But, before we answer the question, let’s first address whether this question was ever asked by Pharaoh. Keep in mind that the only source material for this story is the Bible. And, this quote is found nowhere in the Bible. The reason it is absent is because I believe it was never said. The reason I believe it was never said is because Pharaoh believed himself to be a god. And, as a god, Pharaoh was a brutal murderer of Israelite children. In fact, from the pages of the Bible (a.k.a. history) we note that Pharaoh had a system for controlling the number of Israelite slaves by throwing their new-born baby boys into the Nile River to drown and/or be brutally eaten by crocodiles (Exodus 1). Second, Pharaoh was a gruesome slave task master. He worked the Israelites literally to death and cared very little for their children, much less their adults. These facts would not have been lost on Pharaoh. And, after the 10 plagues including the death of his own first-born son, this Pharaoh was far from arrogant any longer. He was more than publicly humiliated. The last thing he would have done was to play the pot calling the kettle “black.” What Pharaoh actually said in response to Moses and God is recorded faithfully in Exodus 12:31-32, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!”

But, even though Pharaoh probably did not voice the earlier critical question regarding God, it is a question that apparently the writers of this screenplay would like answered. Therefore, I am guessing that there are a number of others who might ask as well. After all, this is not a new criticism. Many modern critics have even used such examples from the Bible to claim that the God of the Old Testament is not pro-life. After all, can you defend a God who kills children?

First, God is not a man, period. He needs no defense. Only men are hopelessly in need of defense. Rather, God is the Maker of all mankind and the Giver of all Law. As the supreme Giver of Law He is not subject to it. There is no law regarding the taking of life that applies to God. Such laws apply only to the Creation, not the Creator of life. Since God is the Creator and Giver of all life, He is 100% just every time that He takes life away. And, there is no life that He will not ultimately take. After all, are you aware of a life that should be excused? Since God is not subject to any law, He is righteous with every move that He makes. As the Creator of all men there is no child that God did not create. And, there is no person whose life God will not take. And, He later did not even spare His only Son of the most brutal of deaths.

Second, God did not just take the lives of children that night in Egypt. He took the lives of every first-born, man, woman, child, and livestock. It just so happens that some of those were children. The argument that singles out the dead children is probably guilty of Special Pleading at very least.

Third, God did not just take the lives of the first-born Egyptians. God took the lives of every human that ever was and ever will be. God is only carrying out the choice that we made as mankind. We chose our own death (Genesis 3). God is faithfully and justly carrying out our choice. Therefore, He will take every life eventually and in a variety of ways. The taking of these Egyptians is not unique in its end result.

Fourth, God took the lives of these Egyptians rather humanely. He took them in their sleep. That is much more than can be said of how Pharaoh took the lives of Israelites. Since God must take these Egyptian lives in accordance with their own choice and in keeping with His own word, is there another method the critics would suggest for taking their lives? Are the critics above God in their “wisdom”?

Fifth, these particular Egyptians, I am sure, will not be wringing their hands before God’s Judgment regarding the manner of their deaths (so, neither should we). Rather, these Egyptians will be keenly focused upon the manner in which they lived. And, they lived in a manner that justified the brutal killing of Israelite babies and the gruesome enslavement of an entire people group. It is the height of hypocrisy for modern day attackers of the Bible to ignore the more grotesque sins of the truly guilty in an attempt to impugn the innocent. By analogy, that is less than the moral equivalent of crying foul at the State over the painful needle prick of a lethal injection of a serial killer of children.

Lastly, God gave these Egyptians an out. He warned them and even promised them that if they simply follow the rules of the Passover, they would be spared. After 9 spectacular plagues that clearly proved the miraculous, almighty and just hand of the Creator, you would think they would wise up and follow. If it were you after you witnessed those first 9 plagues, would you doubt this God? Would you stubbornly ignore the Passover protections? Well, if you are reading this and have never accepted the free gift of the perfect atoning death of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, then your answer is probably “yes.”

This same Passover protection from this same God who conducted those 10 spectacular plagues, is available to you today. This time of year, we celebrate the season when God gave the ultimate gift, His one and only Son. Jesus is the Passover Lamb who, though innocent, was brutally killed in order to save you from your own choice of eternal death. All you have to do is receive the protection. In a proverbial sense, you are the first-born Egyptian. Are you willing to receive God’s free protection today? If so, click HERE.

You can purchase the book “Reason If You Will – How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith” by clicking HERE or on the book cover on the top right of your screen. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Disregarding “Exodus: Gods and Kings”

I don’t normally write movie reviews. In fact, this might be my first. I am a movie buff. And, when movies hold the Bible as their subject matter, I am often tempted to share my thoughts. That said, when the movie “Noah” was released earlier this year, I was able to easily resist the temptation since at the time it felt like such an unnecessary waste of my time to even watch it. Then along came “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” Why the different reaction regarding “Exodus” versus “Noah” you might ask? Well, they are alike in that they are both riddled with significant distortions of their source material (the Bible). But, where they are different is in their depiction of God, Himself. And it was the depiction of God in “Exodus” that served as the primary inspiration for this review.

This blog has long contended that the true battle over faith and reason begins with God’s identity. So, when a popular movie attempts to distort the identity of God, while ironically using the Bible as its source, I will likely weigh in. And, the chief distortion that this blog has often addressed concerning God’s identity is the repeated use of anthropomorphism. In simple terms, anthropomorphism is when we humanize something that is not human – in this case, God. Prior to sitting down, I was genuinely excited to see this movie and was somewhat engaged right up until the burning bush scene where we finally meet God. And, in this movie, God is depicted as an 11-year-old boy. And, not just any 11-year-old boy. But, this 11-year-old boy is petulant, childish, whiny and willing to resort to temper tantrums with the equally childish Moses. There are some pundits who have defended this as possibly representing something other than God. But, when Moses asked for the boy's name, the boy responded, “I AM.” For those of us who follow scripture, that is the name explicitly reserved for God. Therefore, all doubt is removed as to who this character is in the movie. From this point on I had to force myself to stay seated for the rest of the film.

As with most religious assertions, it is regarding God’s identity where this movie truly begins to fall apart in dramatic fashion (pun intended). Don’t get me wrong - it was a horrible movie even from a non-spiritual perspective. The plot was disconnected, the acting was sub-par, the music was not memorable, the character development was jerky and lacking, the special effects were not novel, and in a nutshell, the whole mess was boring. In fact, every memorable and entertaining aspect of the famous Moses/Exodus story was entirely neutered by this movie. The baby in the basket on the Nile was a passing mention, they marginalized the burning bush, naturalized most of the plagues, made the Red Sea parting virtually a mass bathing, and even transferred God’s etching of the Ten Commandments to Moses. I left wondering if there was anything this movie got right. I still can’t think of anything significant. Imagine seeing a movie about Humpty Dumpty with no wall, no fall and no horsemen. That would be a like analogy. But, all this distortion of the narrative might be remotely watchable if they just attempted to portray God rightly. But sadly, they did not.

Watching God depicted as a sulky boy is beyond detestable. I have seen God poorly depicted before as an old man, a young man, a woman and even an animal. But, I find a rotten boy to be the worst depiction I have seen yet. It is Isaiah 40:18 that asks the rhetorical questions, “With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him?” A couple verses later, these questions are answered by the great Prophet, “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. ‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing…The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” I don’t think an undisciplined brat even begins to rise to the challenge of comparison. Then again, nothing will. But, so many other possible depictions come so much closer than a screaming child.

There is more I could say about this movie. But, the failed depiction of God probably sums everything up. By getting that wrong, this movie was destined for spiritual failure from its beginning. And, by the way, it was even unfaithful in its closing scene. The movie ends with Moses very old and traveling in a covered wagon stabilizing a box (not the Ark of the Covenant) holding the tablets of stone. He then peaks outside the wagon to see God (the 11-year-old boy) walking next to the wagon following Moses as he did throughout the movie. Then, as they catch each other’s attention, the boy stops and stands still, thereby disappearing into the crowd that is closely following the moving wagon. It was as if Moses no longer needs God so God disappears. But, based upon the Isaiah passage above, isn’t spiritual reality exactly the opposite? Isn’t it we that pass away and God who continues on? Isn’t it God who goes before us and not us before Him? Isn’t it God that never leaves us while we repeatedly leave Him? Isn't it God who is always faithful, and especially so to His children?

Christian, if you have read this blog in time, you can save yourself the money and watch a more entertaining film. If, however, you have already seen the movie, I trust you have found this review to be faithful. Challenge what you have seen against God’s word. Only one of the two is lacking. And the identity that is lacking should be obvious to His children.

You can purchase my book, “Reason If You Will – How to Answer Questions Regarding Faith” by clicking the link/book cover at the top right of this page. And, you can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.