Being My Brother and Sister’s Keeper

Social safety nets have long been a staple for the poor and underprivileged in this country. Falling on hard times in America used to mean rescue and recovery thanks to welfare from the government, assistance from local churches, and distributions from non-profit organizations. However, with shrinkage in local, state, and federal government dollars, and leaner contributions to non-profit groups, the spotlight now shines on the church.

With so many in need, is the church capable of mounting an offensive in the battle for social justice? Is there a divine imperative for the church to do so?

Among members of some conservative faith communities the answer to either question is a resounding no. There appears to be a growing belief that the church should remain aloof from the issues of social justice in this world. Since this world is not our home, we live with the kingdom in mind. However, in truth, some of us have become so heavenly minded we are no earthly good. So we no longer feel any obligation to be our “brothers’ keeper.” Additionally, an increasing number of the faithful no longer believe the church is a viable solution to social injustice, a belief that stands contrary to the words of Jesus.

In Matthew 26:11, Jesus offers a snapshot of His thoughts on the issues of social justice: “For you have the poor with you always. . .” What we have in His word is evidence of heaven’s awareness of those who are confronted by the daily inability to meet even the most basic needs of life. But, not just in His day; in ours as well.

You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.

Interestingly, the disciples would not have found anything new in what Jesus had to say. He merely offered a restatement of Deuteronomy 15. While the admonitions of the entire chapter are eye opening, we find the words of verse eleven most telling: “For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore, I command you, saying, you shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.”

Jesus virtually cries out for the need of social justice throughout the history of mankind. So, if the poor shall be with us always, what should the church’s response be to the needs of the poor, disenfranchised, hungry, homeless, naked, unemployed, abused, mistreated, or otherwise disadvantaged among us?

Americans are increasingly losing faith in the ability of the church to act in the struggle for social justice. This conclusion is drawn from the results of a July 2016 Pew Research Center study. Fifty-eight percent of respondents told Pew they believe religious institutions contribute some (38%) or a great deal (19%) to solving social ills. At just under 60% the numbers indicate that overall the percentage has declined dramatically in recent years, down from 75% in 2001.

Jeremiah 22:3 counsels, “Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor. Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.”

Additional marching orders are included in Psalm 82:3, 4, “Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; free them from the hand of the wicked.”

The words of Acts 2:44, 45 would be shocking, and seem down right socialistic to many conservatives in the church: “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. . .”

In the struggle for social justice, the question may rightly be raised: What will the church do to alleviate poverty and hardship? As usual, the perfect response is found in the words of Jesus. We read in Matthew 25:34-36, “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.”

The call to discipleship is the call to engage in the struggle for social justice. For those who answer the call there shall be a commendation of “well done.” Their reward, the result of faith, recognizing that to be about the Father’s business is to be their brother’s, and sister’s keeper. 




Mystery of the Last Prophet, Solved.

It may come as a surprise to learn that followers of the prophet Muhammad make use of the Bible to bolster their claims to be adherents to the “true” religion.

Deuteronomy 18:18 is one example of an effort to use a biblical passage to validate prophetic claims for the prophet Muhammad: “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him”

As Moses neared the end of his life and ministry, we find God preparing Israel for life without Moses. The prospect of losing their go-between with God caused nervousness among God’s people. Therefore, He admonished them not to follow the practices of neighboring tribes. Many of them when in need of guidance, or knowledge of the future, sought out witches, soothsayers, sorcerers, or mediums. God’s clear counsel warned Israel to avoid turning to the occult for the answers to life’s puzzles.

Additionally, God provided them with the blessed assurance that He would provide them a living connection between heaven and earth. So, smooth operations would continue because God would raise up another prophet just like Moses.

Islamic scholars have appropriated the promise of Deuteronomy 18, and declared that its prophetic insights referred to the coming of Muhammad as God’s prophet. This, they maintain is proof of the truth of Islam for all and to all who believe the Bible is God’s Word. In concurring with this misapplication of Scripture, Dr. Jamal Badawi, writing for islamicity.com states, “There were hardly any two prophets who were so much alike as Moses and Muhammad.”

With those words, Dr. Badawi asserts that, because Moses and Muhammad were so much alike, the birth and life of the prophet were the fulfillment of God’s Deuteronomy 18:18 promise. However, we find Muhammad nowhere in Scripture.

Furthermore, since God was speaking to Israel, when He said He would raise up a prophet from among their brethren, such a prophet would of necessity have to have been a Jew. Unquestionably, the prophet Muhammed was not Jewish.

Nonetheless, there is One whom the Bible indicates is like Moses, spoken of by God. Of course, that is Jesus, and He had much more in common with Moses:

• Moses was born a Jew of Hebrew parents (Exodus 2:1, 2). Jesus was, too (Matthew 1:1-16, John 8:42).

• Moses was targeted for death by royal decree (Exodus 1:15, 16). Likewise, Jesus (Matthew 2:16).

• Moses lived his early years in Egypt, and divine intervention miraculously saved him (Exodus 2:10). The same is true for Jesus (Matthew 2:14, 15).

• Moses fasted forty days and forty nights without food or drink (Exodus 34:28). Jesus also fasted forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:2).

• Israel received bread from heaven through Moses (Exodus 16:14, 15). Israel received through Jesus the Living Bread from heaven (John 6:35).

• As a shepherd, Moses led Israel through the wilderness (Exodus 3:1). As the Good Shepherd, Jesus leads His followers through the wilderness of sin (John 10:10, 11).

• As Savior of Israel, Moses delivered God’s people from slavery to Pharaoh (Exodus 6:11). As Savior of the world, Jesus deliverers God’s people from slavery to Satan (Romans 6:1-6).

• Moses offered his own life on behalf of Israel’s sins (Exodus 32:30-33). Jesus sacrificed His life on behalf of the sins of the world (John 17).

These passages and many others aptly identify Jesus as a Prophet like Moses. Because, like Moses, Jesus was a Jew, of Jewish parents, a Leader, a Prophet, a Lawgiver, the Savior, a Teacher, a Priest, a Healer, a Mediator between God and His people, and a speaker of God’s words.

Thus, Jesus is the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18 and that’s no surprise. The only real surprise is that having claimed to have read the Bible, so many have not yet come to recognize that as the Word of God, Jesus is the Prophet raised up like Moses. Still, He is much more. He is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, and the Messiah for all mankind.




The Lamb’s Declaration of Divinity

The words were delivered with the voice of authority that one might expect from a radio preacher.

For all his preaching power and zeal, this teacher of the Word could not have been more incorrect. For the Messiah there was no identity crisis. He did question the disciples as to their understanding of His identity when He asked in Matthew 16:13, “Who do men say that I am?” But as the Lamb of God, Jesus had a clear understanding of His dual nature. He was God, Who had come in the flesh. Some contemporary religionists reading the Bible might have missed His proclamation. But for those in Judea, who heard Him speak, the announcement of His Divinity was crystal clear.

That announcement came on the same morning that the scribes and Pharisees had expressed indignation because Jesus had spared the life of the woman they claimed had been caught in the “very act” of adultery. As they engaged Jesus, questioning His authority to heal the sick and to forgive sinners, the Jewish authorities were stunned to hear the declaration of Divinity spoken by Christ.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’ Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:58, 59).

The reaction of the Jewish leaders helps us to know the depth of the meaning of the words of Christ. They were outraged at the implication of his statement. There was no mistaking the meaning of those five words “before Abraham was, I AM.” They understood that Jesus was going on record in declaring Himself to be the “I AM,” who spoke with Moses at the burning bush.

The significance of Jesus’ testimonial was not swept away by the whirlwinds of confusion. His turn of a phrase was established in a very public way. He revealed His true identity. He was declaring the reality of the opening words of John’s gospel; in the beginning He was the Word. He was with God. He was God.

Were the Jews unsure of the meaning of His words? Not in the least. Indeed, John 10 shares this narrative: “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, ‘Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?’ The Jews answered Him, saying, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God’” (John 10:31-33).

Their response provides additional evidence of their understanding of His self-identification. However, they rejected His claim. “Blasphemer,” they cried. “Death,” they bellowed.

Whether Jesus ever uttered the words, I am God or not, the Jews certainly understood that He believed He was God. In John 5:18, we’re told, “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”

According to Scripture, Jesus did express Himself to be God. Was there any confusion among the Disciples? Absolutely not. Dr. Luke records Paul’s declaration in Acts 20:28, “ The Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Writing of Jesus, Paul in Philippians 2:6 describes him as one, “Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” In 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul reminds us that in Jesus “God was manifested in the flesh.” In Titus 2:13, we are admonished to look for the blessed hope “the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

On that hill far away there was no confusion regarding the identity of the One hanging on the middle cross. Not for the disciples, not for the Jews and certainly not for Jesus. He was the God of creation, Who loved mankind so much that He had kept an appointment on Calvary to become the God of salvation.




Time To Re-Friend Jesus

Jesus couldn’t possibly be the only way to God,” stated Oprah Winfrey on her signature television program in 2008.

So, is Jesus the only Way, or should we feel comfortable pursuing other avenues to eternity?

Among Christians, there is some confusion on this point. Although results from a poll taken by the Barna Group in 2015 indicate more than 150 million Americans profess faith anchored in Jesus, only 63% of professed believers agree that salvation comes only through Jesus.1

According to the Barna Group’s research, Jesus suffers even greater rejection as the only means of salvation among a narrow segment of the professed Christian population. While 37% of all professed believers deny Jesus as the only door leading to heaven, in this age of social media, an even greater number of millennials (those born between 1984 and 2002), or 44%, do not see a relationship with Jesus as the one true way to salvation. In essence they have un-friended the Son of God even as they seek other validation for entry into the Kingdom of Glory.

So, is it possible to know what to believe? Indeed it is, and we have God’s Word on it. God’s Word makes us aware of our available options as we journey in this life. Ultimately, the road of life leads in one of two directions. Revelation 20:11-15 identifies one of them. Those who choose this option have selected everlasting destruction as their final destination. Verse 15 shares these sobering words, “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

Trying to get to heaven without having our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life is like trying to walk to New York from Los Angeles by walking west into the ocean. The net result will be no bon voyage and no celebration at the end of the journey. Destruction is all that awaits those who make the effort to be saved without Jesus. However, Revelation 21:1-4 provides insight on the other direction life’s road takes. It leads to life eternal in the Holy City, New Jerusalem, whose inhabitants shall abide in the presence of God forever.

How do we earn a place in that city? We don’t! Jesus has done that for us. His life, death and resurrection have made it possible for us to have this hope of everlasting life. Possession of such knowledge helps to make the words of John 14:1-6 all the more thrilling to believers. Contained in the passage is a promise from Jesus that He would “go to prepare a place” for us, the New Jerusalem, that we might “be with” Him forever. And, He declares Himself to be “the Way” for acceptance into the city. So, not our merits, but His, make it possible for us to enjoy life eternal with God.

Jesus, Himself, declares that each of us must choose which direction we want to travel on life’s highway. Again, the two choices are compared, in Matthew 7:13, 14: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

So, which will it be: wide and broad or narrow and difficult? No one can choose for us. It’s a personal decision that each of us must reach. As we consider our options, it is prudent for us to consider Peter’s words in Acts 4:12: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

True, some talk of other options to life eternal. But, their speculations, theories and philosophies serve to remind us of the counsel of the wise man in Proverbs 14:12:

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

How many ways to salvation? Only one. And, in light of God’s Word, now would be the right time to re-friend Jesus.

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AMERICHRISTIANS

There is a perception among many Americans that ours is a Christian nation. As usual, this belief resonated throughout the 2016 Presidential election cycle, as it has in many others. Not only did candidates offer their positions on various issues, they could be heard regularly emphasizing the fundamentals of their Christian faith. Sadly, in politics, as elsewhere, a religious label has become nearly as meaningless as the labels advertisers use on their products—Organic, Natural, New and Improved.

It’s often difficult to distinguish any difference in the actual conduct of politicians who have embraced the label Christian. Even the media has joined in the chorus of religious affirmation. Throughout the electoral process, media pundits have kept an eye on how evangelicals, especially those in southern states, were viewing respective candidates. The clear suggestion being made is that religion is important in every aspect of American life, even politics. But is that true? The question of the nation’s Christian stature is perhaps a topic for another time. However, the current state of religion in America certainly should draw our attention.

pewpoll religion trend

Data from a 2015 Pew Research Center study shows that in this professed Christian nation, the percentage of the population who claim some religious affiliation is is declining. A sampling of some 35,000 adults across the country has revealed that the number of Americans who maintain belief in God, have a daily prayer life, and engage in regular church attendance, has dropped over the past few years. Additionally, while the percentage of American adults professing belief in God has dipped slightly from 92% to 89%, the number of Americans who declare with absolute certainty that God exists has plunged from 71% to 63%. Which raises an interesting question: Are believing, praying and attending church weekly the markers of authentic Christianity? It may be that rather than question whether America is a Christian nation, perhaps the central question should be:

Are Christians in America, Christians at all?

A study of God’s Word reveals that self-professed labels, a legalistic approach to serving God, is hardly adequate to qualify one as a Christian. Yet, there is no mystery as to the characteristics that define what it means to be a Christian. The Bible provides us with an enormous amount of information.

Certainly, John 3:16 is one important indicator. Those who believe on Jesus “shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” However, it’s important for us to understand that belief in Jesus is more than mere admiration of the sacrificial life and death of the Lamb of God. Such belief needs to translate into action. Christians take action to respond to the words of Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:3. They seek the “new birth.” For Christians being born again means taking the steps Peter outlined in Acts 2:38 as he called believers to repentance, baptism, and acceptance of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The importance of the Holy Spirit’s arrival is found in the work of transforming the hearts of believers, so as to bring alive the words of 2 Corinthians 5:17 that to be in Christ is to be “a new creation.”  Further, 1 Corinthians 11:1 counsels that Christians should be followers of the example of Christ, just as Paul was.

For those who are redeemed by Jesus, Christianity is much more than the wearing of a religious label. To be a Christian is to model the life of Christ, a victorious life lived not one day a week, but every moment of every day. To live each day as led by the Spirit of God enables believers to move beyond the religious labels of our society, while projecting the reality of Philippians 1:21, “for me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”




Three Dangers for Atheists

There are no atheists in foxholes.” It’s one of those quotes that Christians love to repeat. And, often we share it as if it offered needed validation to our own experience with Jesus. Attributed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the phrase suggests a clear inference, one in which Christians might take some comfort. What it says to the faithful is, when the going gets tough, even atheists turn to God. But is it true that when given sufficient hardships, those professing not to believe in God seek His help in times of trouble?
Atheism is on the increase in the United States. Between 2007 and 2014 the number of atheists in the country nearly doubled. A report from the Pew Research Center indicates that of the slightly more than 326.4 million citizens in the nation, 3.1% of those living among us, roughly 10.1 million, claim to be atheists.
Most dictionaries define an atheist as someone who does not believe in the existence of God. This leads us into a compound conundrum in our consideration of the response of atheists to life’s problems. The Pew report shares that 8 percent of professed atheists have also expressed a belief in God. Further complicating the picture is data indicating that 9 percent of Americans today deny that God exists, even as they shun the atheist label. Meanwhile, a significant number of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews are reported to have indicated that they do not believe God exists. Clearly, it is not an issue that can be neatly packaged.
Troubling Responses
The Pew research is very telling when it comes to the viewpoints of atheists. Ninety percent of atheists say that religion holds no importance in their lives. Very nearly all atheists (97%) say that “seldom” and “never” are two words that describe their prayer life. And, fully two-thirds of professed atheists report that very rarely, and almost never, do they share their opinions regarding religion with religious people. Not too surprising is the finding that when faced with questions of morality (right vs. wrong), 99 percent of atheists say they do not seek guidance from religion. On questions of right and wrong, nearly one third of atheists said science is their primary source of guidance. Meanwhile, the primary sources of direction on ethical matters for 44 percent of atheists were “practical experience and common sense.” Based on the findings of the Pew Research Center, there may indeed be atheists in foxholes. But, so what? Why should that matter?

For those called out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9), there is the matter of a responsibility before God of fulfilling the “Great Commission.” Having been delivered from the bondage to sin, the redeemed have an obligation to help others become liberated, too. So, concern for atheists is fueled by Christian love. Such concern is anchored in three clear dangers for atheists:

  1. The danger of trying to live life without learning and doing the will of God. Psalm 14:1 tells us, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.” A lack of belief in God leads to a total disregard for God’s Word, the Bible, where we find the revealed will of God which offers instruction for victorious living.
  2. The danger of not believing God exists. Hebrews 11:6 informs us that “Anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists.” Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). Where there is no belief in God, there will be no faith. Where there is no faith, one will not know God.
  3. The danger of shutting God out of our thoughts. Psalm 10:4 offers this admonition: “The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts.” Atheism through its rejection of the reality of God will rely upon the sciences of men, or worse yet, personal experience and common sense to guide in matters of morals, ethics, and ultimately salvation. Lord help us all when this becomes the case.

 
Life’s trials may never drive an atheist into the proverbial foxhole, where at last they will call upon the Lord. That’s why Christians have been commissioned as witnesses of the mercies and grace of God. To tell others of God’s faithfulness is the responsibility of every born-again child of God. Even in those relationships where others declare they don’t want to hear about God, the Lord Himself will provide opportunities for us to testify of His goodness to us.
Atheists believe their course of action is correct. However, it’s imperative that counsels of the wise man be remembered from Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
Those who deny the reality of God walk among us, and with us. And, while their praise of God may be silent, because our desire, like His, is to see them in the kingdom, our testimonies of Him must not be silent.




PETER AND THE POPE

March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. As he assumed the new name, Pope Francis, the Vatican reported him to be the 266th direct line successor to the first pope, the Apostle Peter.

Pervasive biblical misinterpretation established this religious myth of Peter and the Pope.


Now, after nearly three years at the helm of the Catholic Church, nine out of 10 Catholics responding to a survey from the Pew Research Center say they are very positive toward Pope Francis. Meanwhile, 65% of all Americans see Pope Francis in a favorable light. Perhaps that explains the nearly non-stop television coverage received by the pope during his visit to the United States in September of 2015. While the pope was in America, the U.S. Press Corps reported enthusiastically about the pope’s visit, his address before a joint session of Congress, and the over-all meaning of his sojourn to America. Interestingly, although there was plenty of analysis on the pope’s congressional speech, much speculation on the nature of talks between the pope and the president, and a lot of reporting on the pope’s common touches, there was not a single question raised regarding claims made by the Vatican on behalf of the papal office, or the present office holder.

For example, there was no discussion as to whether the Apostle Peter was the first pope. And, where was the analysis of the question, “Did Jesus build the Christian Church upon Peter?” Nor, was there any debate as to the legitimacy of the assertion there is an unbroken line of succession from Peter to Pope Francis. Does the Bible support these teachings?
One of the greatest religious myths may well be that Jesus appointed Peter head and foundation of the church. The idea springs from a misunderstanding of Matthew 16:18,19: “ you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Jesus said He would build His church upon “this rock.” Was that Peter? Never.
The word Jesus used was translated petra, which in the Greek language of the New Testament means a rock. Meanwhile, He called Simon, Petros, which is the Greek word for stone. Without other texts, we might be confused into believing the church had been built on the rock, Peter. However, Romans 9:33, 1Corinthians 10:4, and 1Peter 2:8 clearly establish that Christ is the Rock, not Peter.

Was Peter the first pope and was he in charge of the Church? Nothing in Scripture says so. In fact, the first use of the term was not until the 12th century A.D. Taken from the Latin word, papa, the literal meaning of pope is papa.2 Even if he wasn’t pope, wasn’t Peter in charge of the church? In Galatians chapter two, Paul states that in Antioch he had to rebuke Peter because of his apparent bigotry directed at Gentile believers. If Peter had been the head of the Church, it would have been very unlikely that Paul would have confronted him in such a public manner.

Ok, but didn’t Jesus give Peter the keys of the kingdom and declare whatever Peter would bind on earth would be bound in heaven? Yes, but what were the keys of the kingdom? Luke 11:52 tells us that God’s Word, the Bible, contains the keys to the kingdom. So, acquisition of knowledge regarding God’s love for mankind, and salvation through Jesus are the keys of the kingdom. Were the keys given exclusively to Peter? Not according to Jesus. In John 17:14, praying to His Father, Jesus said, “I have given them your word. . .” It was not to one, alone, that the keys were given. All who seek them have access to the keys of knowledge contained in God’s Word.

But, the authority to bind and loose belongs to Peter, right? The Bible says, no. In Matthew 18:18 Jesus tells all of His followers that whatever we bind or loose on earth will be bound or loosed in Heaven.

William Cogan, writing in A Catechism for Adults3 raises an interesting point:
Question: Does Jesus require us to follow the Pope in matters of religion?

Answer: Yes, because obedience and loyalty to the Pope are among the chief requirements of the Lord’s plan for unity in His church.

It is true that God requires unity in His Church. Equally true is the fact that the Vicar of Christ is the unifying factor in church unity. However, the Vicar of Christ is not based in Rome. John chapters 14 and 16 inform us of that the One who helps, guides, and convicts us of sin is the Holy Spirit.
No matter where the media places its attention, as believers in God we must always be focused on God’s Word.

1BBC World News, March 14, 2013
2Merriam-webster’s.com
3A Catechism for Adults, by William Cogan, 1975 ed., pp. 55,56)..




Love’s Color

On the night that Dylan Roof repaid love with hatred in Charleston, South Carolina, far more than 21 years of racial animus was suddenly put on display. Roof merely reflected a mindset that has permeated the thinking of far too many Americans, even Christians, since the founding of the republic. From the beginning, many Southern White Christians, and more than a few in the North, held to a belief of European superiority. Accordingly, because slaves lacked a European heritage, they were considered intellectually and socially inferior.
Amazingly, that point of view was defended as having a biblical foundation. Proponents quote the Apostle Paul who said in Ephesians 6:5, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling.” And in Titus 2:9 he wrote, “tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect.” In fact, we find many passages of Scripture that refer to slaves without a single prohibition against slavery.

Okay with God?

While God never ordained slavery, in allowing it He did give guidelines. The many Bible passages addressing slavery were not endorsements of the practice. Writing for about religion.com, Sam O’Neal has noted that far from affirming the slave trade in America, biblical references to slavery were intended to protect slaves from maltreatment by their owners. However, the absence of “thou shalt not own slaves” in Scripture, gave Christians in the South a very tenuous justification for supporting the ownership of slaves. Thus, throughout the nation’s history, Christians have endorsed slavery without even a slight twinge of conscience. Perhaps that explains why the irony of hate-filled Christianity is lost on so many professed believers.
Take for example members of the so-called “Christian Identity Movement (C.I.M.),” which has spawned the likes of the young Roof who, early in 2015, took the lives of nine precious souls at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church. C.I.M. theology teaches that Black lives don’t matter. Their basic tenets include, “the White, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic … people are God’s true, literal Children of Israel,” according to kingidentity.com, a site dedicated to the movement. That such a twisted view of God’s Word could germinate in the heart of a troubled young man is not surprising. What is shocking however is just how readily Christians in America, from the nation’s inception until today, have embraced such distorted views of Scripture in order to justify not only the slave trade in the United States, but the tyranny of segregation as well. Equally shocking was the ease with which Southerners were able to visit upon people of color a social order of brutality, cruelty, and oppression—all in the name of the Almighty. And then they assembled to worship God in the belief that He condoned their conduct.
Incredibly, most Americans missed the irony in the collision of lofty principles and stark reality. True, there was talk of holding “these truths to be self-evident …” Yet in the midst of the celebration of liberties, non-Europeans were afforded few occasions for celebration. Institutional slavery gave way to de facto segregation, Jim Crow, racial intolerance, and systemic bigotry. Post Civil War America continued to use the Bible to buttress support of laws preventing descendants of slaves from living among, going to school with, or marrying those of European heritage. But does the Bible speak against such activity?

Scripture Speaks

If any Scriptural passage drives a nail through the balloon of bigotry, John 3:16 certainly does: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son” (KJV). It would be difficult to find more inclusive words.
Christians who have attempted to use God’s Word to keep God’s people separated by skin color have totally missed the point of the birth of the Lamb of God. Paul says in Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (KJV). Paul reiterates this sense of oneness in Ephesians 2:9, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (KJV)
The promise of redemption was made to no one race, but
to the human race. Acts 17:26 reminds us “And hath made
of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth” (KJV).
Although steeped in Judeo-Christian principles, America has nonetheless suffered from the sub-division of its population according to an artificial ethno-anthropological framework that perpetuates the myth of the superiority of one race over another. As a result, bigotry has become rooted in the national character. However, in the body of Christ there is no room for bigotry. Again, Paul makes the point in Romans 2:11, “There is no partiality with God” (KJV). In fact, it is apparent from the Word that bigotry is a sin before God. James 2:8, 9 states, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. . .but if you show partiality, you commit sin” (KJV).
The reality of God’s family has long been sung by children: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and Yellow, Black and White all are precious in His sight.” When it comes to color, the primary concern for every child of God is neither Black nor White nor Brown. The only color that matters is the red blood of the Lamb of God that washes away our sins, and unifies us as the body of Christ. That’s the color of love.




GRANDMA’S NO ANGEL – THE TRUTH ABOUT ANGELS IS ACTUALLY COMFORTING.

How does a parent handle the death of a loved one, when talking with children? On more than one occasion, apparently to soften the sting of death’s cruel intrusion, parents sometimes say, “your grandma has gone to heaven to be an angel with the Lord.”

To make a child feel better by telling them that the dead transition from this life to a new assignment as an angel seems like a good idea. What parent does not want to comfort and reassure their offspring? But, is it true that humans who die go to heaven to be angels?

Scripture describes two types of angels, only. In Genesis we learn of cherubim (plural for cherub), armed with a flaming sword, stationed by God near the tree of life (Genesis 3). The Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6) acquaints us with another type of angel, seraphim (plural for seraph). Whereas cherubim have two wings, the seraphim are said to have six.

There is one other supposed classification of angels that has been mistakenly identified—archangels. Tradition has even provided names for three archangels: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Of the three, God’s Word calls only Michael an archangel. The term is never applied to any other. The myth of multiple archangels is erroneous on at least two levels.

The word archangel comes from the combination of two Greek words: ark, which means first in political rank or power, a prince or ruler and “angelos” which means messenger. So rather than being a type of angel, archangel is a title given to Michael, who is not merely another angel. He is the prince or commander of the angels. Jude 9 presents Michael, the archangel, contending with the devil for the body of Moses. The only other reference to him is in the narrative of Christ’s Second Coming, when the Lord descends with a shout and “the voice of the archangel.”

Amazingly, not all angels serve God. Revelation 12 tells of conflict in heaven. Two-thirds of the angels remained loyal to God, while one-third united with Lucifer in rebellion. So, angels may be righteous or wicked.

Angels are supernatural beings, created by God. Even Lucifer, who would later become the devil, owes his existence to God (Ezekiel 28). The word, angel, translates as messenger or envoy, someone sent by God to carry out His purposes. Among their many functions, angels declared God’s edicts (Genesis 22), proclaimed special events (Genesis 16), protected God’s people (Exodus 14), and administered Divine justice (Psalm 35).

Angels also played an important role in the earthly ministry of Jesus. It was the angel, Gabriel (never referred to as an archangel in the Bible), who informed Mary of her miraculous conception. The shepherds learned of the birth of Christ from angels. And, following His wilderness temptations, angels ministered to Jesus.

We know, too, that angels are powerful creatures, who: excel in strength (Psalm 103), are mighty (2 Thessalonians 1) and are great in power and might (2 Peter 2). So awesome in power are angels that in 2 Kings 19, during Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem, a single angel broke the back of the assault by killing 185,000 Assyrians in a single night. Indeed, Jesus believed in the power of the angels, telling His disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52).

Although information is limited, a key understanding of angels can be found in Psalm 8:5, “What is man that You are mindful of him… For You have made him a little lower than the angels.”

The Psalmist helps us to understand that angels are not humans, promoted to angelic positions after death. Angels are created as angels. Humanity is not progressing toward angelic status. And, as reiterated in Hebrews 2, we are made lower than the angels. Nonetheless, we are special in God’s sight.

God created all angels and humans. And, not once does the Bible suggest the prospects of humanity dying, only to be elevated to new positions as angels. When a loved one dies, his or her body returns to the dust of the ground and their breath returns to God. Then, depending on the nature of their relationship with the Lord, they await either the resurrection of the righteous or the resurrection of the unrighteous.

The play of life has one final act, when the Lord Himself shall descend with a shout, the voice of the archangel and the trump of God. And, the dead in Christ shall rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16). That is also when the change promised by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 shall take place, when mortality shall become immortality and corruptible shall become incorruptible.

Comfort and encouragement for children and adults can be found in God’s Word. No need to create fairy tales about humans becoming angels. Solace can be found in knowing that when Jesus comes again, we shall join Him and our loved ones, who died in Him. And, we will be together forever, never having to say goodbye, again.




SIGN ME UP

As questions go, theirs seemed simple enough. “What will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” The earthly ministry of Jesus was winding down. Enjoying a rare moment alone with Him on the Mount of Olives, the disciples had begun peppering Him with questions about His departure, and His promised return. News of His imminent departure had stunned them. Word that He would be returning had no doubt provided some comfort. But, clearly, not wanting to be taken by surprise when He returned, they raised an essential question, “what sign should we look for?”
The question must have brought a smile to the heart of Jesus. After all, ever seeking signs from God, mankind seemed to habitually misinterpret signs given by God, or routinely ignored them. His own birth was a prime example. The signs had been everywhere that God’s promise of a redeemer had been fulfilled in Bethlehem. Still, the vast majority of God’s people missed that
magnificent moment.
M. H. Manser has observed that the reality and authority of God are confirmed supernaturally through the signs He ordains. “Signs,” wrote Manser, “may serve either as a warning to those in rebellion against God, or as encouragement for those serving God. And, in His description of signs in the world prior to His second coming, the imagery offered by Jesus was stark, portending a time of turmoil for mankind when the earth would be littered with the wreckage of conflict, pandemic depravation, and the aftermath of widespread natural disasters.”
We now find evidence for each of these in events occurring in our time period. As a result, some Christians teach that because we see these events, the end is here. But, is that true?
In this age of social media and around-the-clock cable fare, it is easy to assign significance to the political upheavals, natural disasters, and current events that fill our daily news cycles. Despite our best efforts, peace on earth cannot be found. Wars rage in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria, Ukraine, and other hot spots around the world. The Asia Pacific region has been racked by typhoons and tsunamis. The earthly landscape seems to be an animated billboard of signs heralding the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus. This has resulted in any number of professed prophets declaring that these events are signs of the end. Such conclusions might even seem reasonable, considering Jesus’ response to the disciples’ request for signs of the end. Since, globally, it is now possible to find much of what had been foretold by Jesus, doesn’t that mean the end of the world is at hand? Actually, it does not.
As often happens, when some Christians rehearse the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, they miss key aspects of the signs referred to by Jesus. It is true that the Lord spoke of conflicts and calamities, but a careful reading of the passages involved reveals what is often overlooked. Clarification is offered in Matthew 24:6, “But the end is not yet.” According to Jesus there is more to come. In fact, He reiterates in Matthew 24:8, “All these are the beginning of sorrows.”

For those who have chosen to embrace a relationship with the King of Glory, these signs are not a time for distress.

Based on current events, and their misreading of the signs, some have chosen to sound the alarm, causing fear and concern among God’s people. However, we can avoid confusion through a faithful reading of God’s Word. Jesus counseled in Luke 21:9, “But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately.”
There is no need to guess when the end shall arrive. The Lord has provided in His Word wisdom for His people regarding end time events. Nations shall war. Earthquakes will cause devastating temblors. Famines will spread. Pestilence will gain a global foothold. But, these signs merely represent the beginning of the end. However, for those who have chosen to embrace a relationship with the King of Glory, these signs are not a time for distress. To the contrary, these signs confirm that their faith has not been in vain. Jesus is about to return.
The final signs, marking the end of the age and the return of Jesus, will be reflected in the seven last plagues. Revelation 16 reveals the nature of those signs. In Egypt, the children of God were protected under the banner of the blood as the plagues fell. When the seven last plagues fall, the children of God will be likewise protected under the banner of the blood. The fulfilling of this prophetic truth will be the ultimate sign that our redemption is completed. That shall be a clear sign that we will see Jesus as He is, and we shall be as He is. A sure sign that eternity is ours to live.