Many book reviews tend to rehash in compact form the contents of a book. I am not going to do that here. To attempt it would be an injustice to the book itself. But I highly recommend The Unseen Realm by Dr. Michael S. Heiser.
Dr. Heiser, a professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages, takes us on a journey and exposes not only the supernatural world described in passages of the Old Testament, but shows how the New Testament references these passages, how it fills out our Christian worldview, and reclaims the purpose God has for man.
Many of us have read Genesis 6:1-4. And there have been questions about what it means (I'm sure you've asked them too). But, have you read Deuteronomy 32:8 ESV? Or how about Psalm 82? This is where the journey begins by looking at the original Hebrew texts as well as the worldview of an ancient Israelite. Questions about angels, demons, giants and even about God Himself are tackled point by point in scripture and in the ancient Semitic texts of the region. This book will help you fully understand God's plan for man's salvation and our place in his world -both earthly and heavenly.
For more information on Dr. Heiser, visit his website at https://drmsh.com
Ever have a disagreement with a fellow Christian that go so heated that feelings were hurt? It happens. As Christians, we try to have very civil disagreements with others in the hope of showing Christ. But, there are times when even as we try, things get heated.
This is true even of the early church in the New Testament.
And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Here, we see that Paul and Barnabas, companions from the beginning of Paul's ministry, separated over their disagreement about Mark. We can see both sides of the argument: Paul's belief that burn me once shame on you, burn me twice shame on me. Barnabas' belief that Mark should get a second chance, that everyone has a moment of fear. But as we read the rest of the text, both went their separate ways and continued their work for the LORD.
These moments happen. They have to. We don't stop being sinful human beings when we come to Christ. If anything, we become more aware of our failings. So what is the takeaway? It's never ok to be purposefully disrespectful just because you disagree. But we do tend to get angry which is a valid emotion provided we do not sin. If we find that things are moving into a heated area, we should say our peace, then walk away. The enemy will take advantage of the moment to sow strife (and we are all too willing to participate without his influence). If we find ourselves being overly defensive about our position or argument, we should take a step back and re evalute. We should also be willing to listen to honest criticism. If we never think we are wrong, that is a sign we are not living in a repentant attitude.
We cannot get along with all other Christians as personalities clash, but we can make choices that though painful, are for the betterment of the church and the Gospel. And we can begin thinking about ourselves in a more sober manner.
Social Media is repleat with slogans and memes that denote a host of ideas and views. But strangely enough, many Christians are posting messages and memes dealing with the idea of Karma.
The big issue is they completely misunderstand what Karma is and why it is contrary to the Christian worldview. Let's look at what many believe Karma is. Many Christians believe Karma is just getting what you deserve. They get some of this idea from a bad reading of Galatians 6. "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life" Galatians 6:7-8
Paul is stating that if you live for this life only (that is, in your sins) you will reap judgement. But, if you live according to the Spirit of God (that is, in salvation), you will reap eternal life. No where does is say that if you steal, something will be stolen from you, etc.
But is that Karma? Let's look at a proper definition of Karma.
Karma noun(in Hinduism and Buddhism) the sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.
Karma is what decides how many reincarnated lives one must live in order to achieve Nirvana which is a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. It represents the final goal of Buddhism/Hinduism.
This flies completely in the face of the Christian worldview which states "And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him." Hebrews 9:27-28
If you are a Christian, you cannot believe in Karma or you are living in a contradiction. Karma removes the idea of salvation through faith in Christ alone as someone's fate is determined by their actions. Do good things, get good Karma and end your cycle of death and rebirth early. Do bad things, get Bad Karma and continue the cycle of death and rebirth until you "get it right". Also, the rebirth cycle doesn't mean you are reborn as a human. You could be reborn as a snail or some other living form to learn your lessons.
The Gospel teaches that you are born as a creation of the Living God - created in His image, but that we choose to break His laws (sin). This is the cause of suffering in the world. But Christ came to live a perfect life though tempted in all things. He died a criminal's death on a cross and rose again from the dead, taking the punishment for our sins upon Himself and giving us forgiveness of sin and eternal life through trust in Him alone.
Karma and the Gospel are not the same thing and are, in the final analysis, incompatible.
For several years now, Thanksgiving has been met with a wave of protest from woke groups who claim the holiday is racist and celebrates the theft of land and the genocide of indigenous peoples by European settlers. However, history has something to say about that.
From the beginning, the pilgrims were outcasts. Not only were Puritans outcasts from the Church of England, but the pilgrims themselves were even an outcast sect of the Puritans. The Pilgrims were referred to as Separatists. The trip to the New World was so they could create their own community far away from the persecution of the King. Their trip was financed by a private firm and the Pilgrims were to pay them back from fishing and growing crops (something the Pilgrims had no knowledge of). The lands they came to were not inhabited when they came ashore and they were a small group of 101.
The Algonquian speaking peoples populated what is the southern part of New England (and much of the US). The tribes of the east coast had been trading with the Dutch for over 100 years. Some Euro traders soured this relationship when they began kidnapping and enslaving native tribes people. In 1616, disease was introduced to the native population that filled the east coast which had wiped out several confederations including much of the Wampanoag upon whose land the Pilgrims landed. The Pilgrims saw that the land had been cleared in the village of Patuxet, but were amazed to find no one. The Pilgrims would later meet Samoset of the Abenaki tribe who spoke some English and explained what happened. Samoset would introduce the Pilgrims to Squanto who was the last remaining member of the Patuxet and who himself was only saved due to being captured by Spaniards and sold into slavery. He was bought by and Englishman who set him free, taught him to read and speak English and who taught him Christianity. Squanto himself was converted. He was then sent back to his homeland by the English. Sqyanto served 20 years as interpreter for the Pilgrims and taught them fishing and agriculture techniques that saved the colony from hunger. Squanto and Samoset introduced the Separatists to Massasoit, sachem of the Wampanoag. They would form a bond and treaty of mutual protection that would last 50 years.
It wasn't until later years that other groups that settled in other parts of New England that trouble began as those settlers began warring against the natives. The Pilgrims themselves, however, had a good relationship with the Wampanoag tribe. It should also be noted that a plot was discovered that Squanto sought to overthrow the Sachem Massasoit (amongst other allegations). The Pilgrims eventually handed Squanto over for justice at the hands of the tribe. It was at this moment that foreign ships appeared in the harbor. Fearing it was the French, William Bradford changed his mind stating he must identify the ship before handing over Squanto. The Wampanoag left in anger at the delay. Squanto later died of a fever with William Bradford by his side. Bradford later described his death,
In this place Squanto fell sick of Indian fever, bleeding much at the nose (which the Indians take as a symptom of death) and within a few days died there; desiring the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen's God in Heaven; and bequeathed sundry of his things to English friends, as remembrances of his love; of whom they had a great loss.
Thanksgiving feasts were common in England. There was no "first Thanksgiving" per se, but rather a harvest feast. There was another by other colonies during the same period. As America grew, communities had Thanksgiving/Harvest feasts. By the 1860s, different states and Canada had Thanksgiving feasts at different times. There's even a recording of a Thanksgiving feast in Texas at a Mission in the 1500s. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln commemorated a day of Thanksgiving to thank God for blessing the Union during the civil war. This was after a campaign for such a day by Sarah Joseph Hale written in letters for 40 years. Most states had taken to the last Thursday in November for a day of Thanksgiving which was also "Evacuation Day", a day marking the exit of the British Army from America after the Revolution. The final date was recognized after reconstruction ended in the 1870s. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the next to last Thursday as Thanksgiving day to increase the holiday shopping time. However, in 1941, he signed a new resolution marking the 4th Thursday in November as Thanksgiving day.
So what does all this have to do with racism? Well, in a word, nothing. The actions of both Europeans and Americans against native peoples have been grouped together and blamed on both Columbus and the Pilgrims. However, the Pilgrims themselves never took such actions against the Narraganset. The Native peoples themselves had just as much political intrigue and violent tendencies as any other people group and wars between tribes were constantly fought as each tribe took slaves and land. Today, Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks to God for all that He has done for us. The call of racism is a misguided attempt to bring to light the crimes committed centuries ago and it is untruthful at best. So this season, study the true history of the Pilgrims and their relationship with the Narraganset as well as other settlers and their awful treatment of native tribes. And then, give thanks to the creator of us all and pray for reconciliation through Christ Jesus who is LORD of all and LORD over all.
Natasha Crain wrote a great article last year on what an apologist does when they believe they have cancer. Little did I know at the time that 6 months later, I would get the news: Stage 2 colon cancer.
I've tossed back and forth about writing this but I felt two points I wanted to make were worth writing about.
Surrendering to Death
The Christian worldview is that those who are in Christ - that is, those who have repented (GR metanoeó) and put their trust in Christ, are forgiven of their crimes against a holy God, are made into new creatures and will be bodily resurrected on the last day. So why on earth should a Christian feel fear at the news they have Cancer?
I realized that I wasn't afraid to die per se, but rather of dying itself. The idea that this life was over. I had thoughts about my wife, my daughter, my family and friends. But I hadn't ever resided myself to the fact of dying. I had to be Ok with dying. Ok with my daughter growing up without her father, my wife being a widow. Ok with never accomplishing some goals. I new I would be with my God in all of His glory, but it was at this point that I understood what it meant to let go of this world.
So just how has the study of apologetics helped in dealing with my cancer diagnosis? Before I new what state it was and what we were looking at, I had to trust Christ no matter the news. This was much easier to do based on what I knew about the truth of the Gospels. Every argument for Christianity you can think of did not come to mind, but rather this thought "either I trust Him, or I don't". If I didn't, time to get busy being an atheist. If I did, time to get busy trusting and not worrying. The evidence for Christianity acts like a seawall. You see the waves of doubt, anger, sadness, and death coming for you. But the evidence reminds you of the truth, and you put your trust in Christ. Faith is not merely an intellectual assent, but rather an active trust. But the information that led you to that faith is a solid foundation.
As it turns out, the LORD has other plans for me at this time. The surgery I had removed all of the cancer. There was no spread to lymph nodes. I have to do a 6 month round of chemo, but this is for preventative measures and it's an oral pill. This has also made me begin to live healthier. In fact, I've started training in Gracie (Brazilian) Jiu Jitsu. I'm also heading to Scotland in the fall for a missionary support trip.
But I have confidence in the LORD that if all had fallen apart, He would have remained the same God and I would have been able to trust Him still.
I heard an argument for abortion over the weekend that basically stated an abortion is no different than removing life support for a comatose patient who is brain dead and only being kept alive by artificial means.
At first, this may sound like a good argument for abortion. But I believe it fails horribly before it even gets off the ground.
When someone is put on artificial life support, it is due to the ceasing of normal, biological means to provide oxygenated blood to the body due to injury or illness. In the case of those who are brain dead, often family make the decision to end life support so that their loved one can die with dignity. One may even include feeding tubes in the equation, but you could make an argument that those who cannot swallow or have the mental capacity to properly feed themselves use feeding tubes and no one would think to remove that tube to end the suffering of not being able to eat normally. But we have to remember that those who are not brain dead and are not incapacitated have the ability to breathe on their own and even feed themselves in most cases and we would say they have a right to life.
Umbilical Cords are not artificial life support
During pregnancy, the unborn child is attached to its mother via the umbilical cord. The cord provides Oxygen and removes Carbon Dioxide through the unborn child's heart as well as providing nutrients from the mother. But here is where the difference between life support and pregnancy lies. The unborn child is being kept alive exactly how they should be during a pregnancy. There is nothing artificial about it. The womb is the natural habitat of an unborn child and the biological mechanism that feeds and supplies blood to the child is the natural, biological method of life for the unborn child.
If an abortion is performed, life support is not merely removed from the child, but rather the child itself is killed intentionally. When artificial life support is removed from a comatose patient, artificial breathing is removed and the patient is allowed to naturally die from either the lungs not being able to supply enough oxygen or the brain's inability to send signals to the lungs to function. These are clearly different circumstances. The reason a family makes the tough choice to end life support is because they understand fundamentally their loved one has already died, only their bodily functions are being kept in motion. The natural, biological means of life is no longer present in their loved one. But in the unborn, the natural, biological means of life is present and functioning normally just as it should be. For life support to be removed from the unborn, in effect the mother would have to be killed.
Clearly, this is not what happens during an abortion.
But what is the pro life position on the question of end of life decisions?
As Scott Klusendorf of LIfe Training Institute has stated, "The fundamental principle of the pro life position that is demonstrated above is we should never intentionally take the life of an innocent human being. But it doesn't follow from that position that we should always resist natural death.
The question facing us is when does treatment for the patient become permissible to remove? The answer to this question is guided by two principles:
At that point, what you are doing is not anti-life, you are simply trying to make the patient as comfortable as possible."
So in the case of someone who is comatose and brain dead, removing a breathing tube is not what is killing them, in fact, we would say that they are already dead, we are simply oxygenating their blood to keep the body functioning.
But with abortion, we are intentionally taking the life of the unborn who are not being kept alive though artificial means.
This is the fundamental difference between these two ideas and yet the similarity is the intention behind the act.
The debate over homosexual behavior has taken many surprising turns. The national debate has involved a Fast Food franchise and a maker of Duck Calls. It has involved extremes from Fred Phelps and his clan to groups like GLAAD comparing the whole thing to the civil rights movement of the mid 20th century.
What is missing from all of this is honest discourse. And what is missing from those who tell us that what they are doing is ok is "why it's ok?".
We hear arguments like:
So, for the Christian who believes that God teaches homosexual behavior is sin and that those who practice this need repentance and forgiveness, the message they give to LGBTQ people is very important.
Ultimately, the discussion boils down to desire. It's at this point that the discussion breaks down most often because neither side really understands their desires, their position as a human being in a fallen world, and how God views all of humanity.
So let's take a look at desire. Most homosexuals would say that they desire romantic/sexual relationships with those of the same sex and that they did not choose these desires anymore than a heterosexual chooses their desires for opposite sex relationships. I believe this is true, but not for the reasons most homosexuals or Christians believe. [though, I believe these homosexual desires developed at an early age rather than a person being born with them "out of the box"]
I do not believe God created people with homosexual desires. Homosexual desires are a result of the fallen, sinful state every person finds themselves in. It's no different than my desire to sleep with multiple women or someone's desire to get as drunk as they can, etc. Desire is not the benchmark for God's holiness or His creation. People desire many things - Money, Sex, Power. All of our sinful actions can be traced back to a desire. As a Christian, we must see ourselves before our salvation. The bible says we were "enemies of God". Enemies. At our hearts, we were evil. So it should not be surprising that people have sinful desires.
A big question here is "how do I know my desires are sinful?". The only real answer to that is to put it up against God's standards. We know from Romans 1 that homosexual behavior is sinful. Now, notice that I said homosexual behavior. Having a desire and entertaining that desire are two different things. Simply being attracted to the same sex is not sinful in itself [that is, that the desire exists] unless you were to dwell on such thoughts [as Jesus says, "if a man lusts in his heart...]. This is an important distinction for a Christian to make as he/she approaches those in the LGBTQ community in conversation about this issue. It is no more sinful than being tempted. Jesus was tempted in all things, but did not sin.
Now, instantly, someone will say "well, Jesus never said homosexual behavior was a sin!". Well, what did Jesus say? In Matthew 19, the Pharisees asked Jesus about the lawfulness of divorce. His response tells us many things about the Old Testament:
"He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Here, Jesus not only affirms the OT, but He also tells us what God's design for marriage is. Held up against this standard, the only holy marital desire is that of a heterosexual nature. We must ask ourselves if we should give in to any desire we have? If I have a desire for lying, should I lie and not be held accountable because I was born that way? What about theft? We could list many more but you understand the point.
So, when someone says they can't help the way they feel, they are correct. Only the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as a result of salvation through faith and repentance can change desires. But, desire is not an excuse for sin. And it may be that the desire itself does not change, so the Christian must then choose to remain pure and, perhaps, unmarried.
When we as Christians see our own selfish desires that are to be crucified daily, we can understand a homosexual's position and can offer understanding. Truth with gentleness and respect.
And for those in the LGBTQ community, understand that God does love you just as you are. But you are in no different a position than I or anyone else. Salvation comes by grace through faith in Christ alone. And repentance leads to faith.
Be prepared to have honest conversations. Discard bumper sticker slogans. Let go of the Us vs. Them mentality.
Is There Any Evidence Outside of The Bible For the Events Surrounding the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ?
As we celebrate Easter, we are subject yet again to the onslaught of "historical" specials detailing the "real" facts surrounding Christianity. Surprisingly, there are still those out there who believe Christ Himself did not exist - a retelling of pagan myths.
So how can we verify the existence of Christ outside of the Bible? Is there any historical evidence?
The answer is a resounding YES! There are many pieces of evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth and for his crucifixion by the Romans. Let's focus on one particular ancient historian - Tacitus.
Tacitus was a Roman historian and senator (AD 56 - 117). He served under Emperor Vespasian (who laid siege to Jerusalem). In his Annals of AD 116, he wrote about the fire of Rome during the reign of Nero and described the following:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular - (Annals 15:44)
It is clear that Tacitus is no friend of the Church. In fact, he is a sympathizer with persecution. But here, he outlines several historical facts for us.
1. Tiberius was Emperor during the time of Christ's death
2. Christ was crucified by Pontius Pilate in Judea
3. Nero persecuted Christians and blamed the fire in Rome on them to defer suspicions away from himself
4. Christians taught that Jesus rose from the dead (the superstition)
5. Rome became a center for the Christian faith and was spreading throughout the world from there
The basic picture painted by Tacitus is one painted by the Nicene creed.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
Tacitus shows that indeed Christ lived and died by Pontius Pilate on a Roman Cross and his followers preached that He was resurrected.
This is but one piece of evidence in a tremendous cumulative case that points to Jesus being the risen Son of God.
When we think of objective morality, we think of a moral code that from outside ourselves - that is, it's not reliant on the collective opinions of human beings, but is transcendent of that. And as Christians, we believe that morality is grounded in God.
However, many atheist argue that even if God exists, morality would not be objective. "How is that?" you may ask. Well, it depends on what we mean be objective and subjective.
When something is subjective, it means it depends on the subject (in this case, us) for it's meaning. So, if I say chocolate ice cream is the best, it's a subjective opinion as it's based on the subject, me. When we say something is objective, we mean that it's mind independent. It's doesn't rely on opinion to determine it's truth. So, if we say objective morality is dependent on God to determine it's truth, atheists will argue that it then is not really objective as it depends on a mind (God) and is therefore subjective. It is here where 2 misunderstandings arise both for the theist and the atheist.
We need to be careful when we use the term "Objective Morality". Dr. William Lane Craig purposefully uses the term "Objective Moral Values and Duties". This is because those abstract objects - the values and duties - even if created by God have an intrinsic value unto themselves. For example, if God created green grass, the grass would still be green in and of itself no matter if an intelligent mind were behind it. The grass is still objectively green. The same would be said for moral values and duties. The values and duties have intrinsic moral distinctions in and of themselves. So rape is still wrong objectively even if God determined that truth which brings us to our next misunderstanding.
When we say God is the standard for morality, we aren't simply stating that God decided this was right and this was wrong. We are saying God Himself is the standard - that is - His character is the standard for determining moral truths. It is not as if there is a higher moral standard that God ascends to as that would make that standard God. It is for this reason that the infamous Euthyphro Dilemma fails. "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" It is odd that Plato's question posed to the Greek gods is then posed to God, but it is a fair question. However, it's a false dichotomy as God's character is the standard for moral truth. So something that aligns with God's character is good while anything that departs from His character is evil.
Now we have seen that in fact, moral values and duties are objective and the argument against this fails.
If you've sat in Church recently, you've probably heard sermons on being a better parent or having a better marriage. There may be classes on how to manage your finances better or on being a better leader. And while these are based on sound, biblical principles, we can mistake Christianity for a self betterment plan. It's at this point that our faith can become nothing but a therapeutic moralistic deism.
What I mean is this, many preachers preach messages that are all about us. We strive to have better lives - to live the American dream in some cases. We want to be successful, heal all of our pains and anxieties and have the best life now. Problem is, God doesn't promise us this. We tend to think if we are just good people and live our lives by a moral code and acknowledge God, we are then Christians. But the bible teaches something else.
Over and over again, Jesus said "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Repentance is a change of mind, heart, and direction towards our sin. It is turning away from sin while turning to God. It is then that the Holy Spirit dwells within us as we are made new creations in Christ - forgiven for our sins and made righteous in Christ as we are reconciled to a Holy God. There are no promises of success in life. In fact, the early Christians suffered greatly because of Christ. Jesus told His disciples in the upper room "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)
If we come to Christianity because our lives are falling apart due to divorce, job loss, or sickness, Jesus cares about those things and helps us to deal with them. But there is no promise of a resolution that we want. And if we have not acknowledged our sins before Him, we are still in them and are enemies of God. We come to Him on His terms, not ours.
The danger is a watered down Gospel that is nothing more than the same type of feel good, self help message that gurus the world over are teaching. If the message you are consistently hearing is about a better you and not about reconciliation and submission to a Holy God through Christ Jesus, it may be time to seek God's guidance as to where you should fellowship.