What you don’t know could hurt you…

I’ve always had an interest in Christian apologetics, and in my humble opinion I think everyone who is a Christian — and everyone generally — needs to at least be exposed to the evidences that Christians have to believe in God, Jesus as the Son of God, and the Bible. Christianity is NOT a blind faith, despite all the accusations of science-denier, history-denier, etc. In my experience, scoffers and skeptics are usually under-informed, having stopped listening and learning.

Wanting to be a lifetime learner I’ve been reading a couple books that I think you readers might also find interesting reading.

The first couple of books are ones that I’ve had in my library a while on archaeology. I’ve read them already, but a thoroughgoing review of them has refreshed in my mind the evidences that the Bible is fact and not a “pious fiction” — Pharaohs and Kings, by David Rohl and Solving the Exodus Mystery by Ted T. Stewart. The biblical issue at stake is the historicity of the Bible — the reliability of the history given to us in the Bible. Much archaeology over the last 150 years has been laboring under the mistaken identification of the biblical Pharaoh Shishak (2 Chron. 12:2ff) with a certain Pharaoh Shoshenq. They are similar-sounding names, but they are not the same Egyptian pharaoh. This archaeological mistake has thrown off the dates of ancient history by roughly three centuries; and it has created a substantial historical ripple effect, since almost all of ancient history from Greece to Babylon (including Israel) is based on Egyptian chronology that is dated 300 years too early.

Both the authors marshal substantial arguments based on odd and frequently changing Egyptian calendars, recent archaeological discoveries among the archives of neighboring kings and nations, often overlooked biblical and archaeological detail, and much more. And both authors agree that a new Egyptian and Greece to Babylonian chronology should be dated 300 later than the current ancient history books allow.

If the timeline were corrected, it would not be Rameses the Great who was the pharaoh of the Exodus (as The Ten Commandments portrays), but more likely Amenemhet IV, who 1) inexplicably died, 2) had no heir to sit on his throne, 3) left Egypt impoverished and virtually undefended, and 4) has no tomb or pyramid that has yet been discovered. Indeed, when the 300 year mistake is corrected, there are many more bibical/historical synchronisms that occur. Bottom line: The Bible has been historically correct all along, man’s accusations against the Bible as being unhistorical has really been man’s mistakes. Some sections of the books are a “slog” but for good reasons — it takes a little time and persistence to untangle the historical mistakes that have been made.

On a different apologetics subject, I’ve also been reading Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen Meyers. His area of expertise is biology and he is a serious scientist. The book in a nutshell is about how Darwinism (animals evolving slowly through micro changes to new a whole new species) has long had a real problem in the fossil record, namely the “Cambrian explosion”. The fossil record just below the Cambrian level has only a very few and rather simple life forms in its fossil record — but then the Cambrian level has tons of life life forms with different body types and complexity. How did such variety and complexity arise so quickly? Classical Darwinism has no answer; so evolutionary true believers have been groping around for almost 100 years to find some way to explain it. Meyers, with great, even-handedness explains the various theories for some kind of rapid evolution and then very rationally points to the fatal flaw in them all. The end result ultimately being that purposeful, deliberate, intelligent design (God) is the only possible explanation for the life on this earth and all its variety. Again, there are details of molecular-level biology (DNA, epigenetic information, HOX genes, and a whole lot of other stuff that you haven’t heard since high school — if then) that make the reading challenging, but the evidences found here for God as Creator are without equal — a tour de force.

Don’t be buffaloed or bullied by skeptics and scoffers. 2 Cor. 10:4, 5 — “for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

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Down but not out

What a wonderful encouragement the apostle Paul offers…

“we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”

2Cor. 4:8, 9

Some of you may not know, but about 7 months ago my sweet wife died. It was fairly sudden, ultimately resulting from an accident at home. The grieving process has been full of downs and ups, but by the grace of God there are more ups now than downs, so that I feel (as Paul put it) struck down but not destroyed. This has been due to God’s word, prayer, family, friends, and a great church family from both the Rock Hill church of Christ in Frisco, Texas and the Manchester NH church of Christ. I mention these two congregations last because I want to make a point: while none of the other supports (the Lord especially) are in any way unimportant, the importance of having a church family in times like this cannot be overstated.

There are lots of folks in the general population who think themselves religious without going to church. They are the “give me Jesus, but you can keep the church” folks. Their numbers seem to have grown significantly since the advent of COVID and “church by streaming services”. But God commanded (yes, commanded) that Christians come together every first day of the week (Heb. 10:25, 26) for a lot of good reasons, but one of the chief really good reasons is…we need each other. We need each other for spiritual encouragement, especially when our loss or discouragement or affliction is heartbreaking.

And church encouragement is going to be different and better than ordinary social connection. The world will have its own way of comforting us, advising us, encouraging us, and supporting us — but, let’s be honest about it, they are seldom good and wise ways. The church’s spiritual encouragement will help put things into proper perspective, provide divine and time-tested wisdom for proceeding from here, and give a hope that is more than a kindly wish — a hope that is a confident expectation.

And the fellowship of the church isn’t the sort of thing that you can conjure up “on demand” as you run into occasional hard times. It is something that takes some time to cultivate. So, prepare now for the difficult times that will come — you know they will, right? Come back to church — the Lord’s church (not just any “church” will do) — in person — and find the blessing that God’s great plan for you in the church has provided.

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A Church Where Everyone Ministers

Are you involved in the church’s activities? This question might be answered in a number of ways by various people in the church. Some would say that they’re up to their eyeballs in church activities, while others, on the other end of the spectrum, would reply, “Well, I come to church—sometimes.” And still others might say that they’re up to their eyeballs in church activities, because they come to church services most of the time.

It’s interesting how the religious culture around us influences what we understand God’s expectations of us might be. Because the world around us is almost utterly uninvolved in religious life, we are sometimes tempted to believe that “more involved than them” is plenty and perhaps even pretty dedicated. But this is not how early disciples of Jesus understood their commitment to the Lord.

The New Testament carries plenty of encouragement for serious involvement in the life of the church and the purposes of God. 1 Peter 2:5, 9 and Revelation 1:6; 5:10; and 20:6 call all Christians priests — for example, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5). Priests are active—really active—in the business of God. Their lives revolve around service to God; they are sanctified to God for dedicated use in His service. 

However, this understanding began to “lose steam”, according to history, about the 2nd or 3rd century. Everett Ferguson wrote in Early Christians Speak: 

“…by the time of Cyprian in the third century the language of priesthood was no longer an Old Testament analogy but an established designation for officers in the church. Clement affords the first use in Christian literature of the language of ‘laity’ in contrast to ministers, In the Bible ‘the people’ (laos, from which laity is derived) is a noble concept, ‘the people of God,’ and refers to the whole of God’s elect. As God’s elect, all participated in the “priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5,9). Someone has observed that the organizational history of the second and third centuries, therefore, is not the story of the emergence of the priesthood but the emergence of a distinct laity not exercising a priestly ministry.”

And to this day, aren’t we often tempted to think in “clergy/laity” terms? 

And we do this to our detriment, because there are so many benefits to personal involvement in the church.

  • Our faith grows when it works — inactive faith is a dead faith according to James 2:14 and following verses. On the other hand, active faith grows, flourishes, and blesses others.
  • The church is healthier and more capable, when you contribute your involvement — 1 Corinthians 12 pounds the point that a healthy body always has healthy and active organs. We are the organs of the body of Christ. Without the activity and involvement of all of us, the body is less than completely healthy and is handicapped.
  • Other Christians are encouraged — nothing is more discouraging than to be the only one or one of the few involved; ask any minister. On the other hand, few things are more encouraging than when the whole body rises up in involvement and works together for the Lord’s cause. 
  • Fellowship is enhanced — fellowship isn’t limited to just eating together, is it? Some of the greatest fellowship of the church is in its work together.
  • The world is attracted by an active church and active disciples — the world is looking for something worth their time, effort, and heart; they are looking for meaning for their lives. An involved church tells the world that yes, there is something worth living and dying for.

Let me encourage you to be involved: worship and Bible class attendance, work days, Bible classes, Vacation Bible School when we have it, youth work, work around the church building and grounds, becoming a followup teacher, becoming an evangelistic teacher, becoming a home of hospitality, becoming an active encourager of other disciples, becoming a greeter at church, helping with the nursery, and so much more.

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Text of a Candle Light Vigil

On Friday, Feb 19, a terrible, terrible tragedy and crime occurred in Celina TX that has shaken this community, town, and region to its core. We’d like to think that such terrible things happen far away from us, and far away from our safe neighborhoods; but we’ve discovered a terrible truth that evil can happen right next door.

Our hearts are broken over the victims, a mother and her two young teen children (a girl and a boy); our outrage is almost boundless toward the perpetrator; and our illusions of safety have been shattered. And that is why we have gathered together this evening to remember the victims, offer comfort and support to one another, and pray that such things never happen again.

We don’t know what went on in this house or the evolution of evil or madness that grew in in the husband’s heart; but we do know that there are better ways to deal with our emotions than letting them all loose: better ways to resolve family problems than violence and murder: better choices than rage, hate, and revenge: and better outcomes than this tragedy of death, destruction, and ruin. But these things seem to happen more and more these days. And it seems clear that as…

    • …people embrace the idea that they are justified in unleashing their anger and hatred in words and deeds, violence grows.
    • That when people believe that they are their own judge of right and wrong, that the world simply gets darker.
    • That as courtesy and kindness are deemed old-fashioned, that violent, provocative words multiply exponentially.
    • That as people believe that they really can’t help themselves, that there’s no God, no judgment, and no consequences in this world or the next — they become more hopeless, more self-centered, and more malevolent.
    • As people reject the ideas of responsibility, self-control, and God’s unchanging standard of right and wrong the world descends into deeper and deeper evil.

You see, when God is factored out, anything goes, civilization and society breaks down, individuals sink into hopelessness, the beastly law of the jungle prevails, and “might becomes right”. Mankind’s worldly wisdom always ends up at the same tragic destination.

So, what is there for us to do?

We can most importantly let this tragic event remind us of the profound need we have for God, to both guide us and comfort us. It is the Lord alone who can not only offer comfort and peace, but also makes things right in the end. The apostle Paul tells us that all things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28), and we can rely on both the promise and the Promiser in the here and now and the hereafter. It is in Him we must place our trust. Though we don’t know all the things that went on in the heart of the perpetrator, such acts are often the result of hopelessness. But God offers hope and justice and peace. Place your hearts and hands and lives into God hands in faith and obedience. He specializes in mending broken hearts, broken souls, and broken lives.

We’re reminded of this life’s transitory and fragile nature. The NT writer James compared life to a “vapor” — now you see it, now you don’t. COVID has already reminded of us this, but the kind of tragedies like the one on Hickory Lane are even sharper prompts — not so that we will invest so much more in this life, as much as that we should remember to “store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” (Matt. 6:20).

But this tragic event also reminds us how important community and relationships are — even in a age of COVID, social distancing, and masking. This evening is a wonderful demonstration of the community, support, comfort, counsel, and solidarity found in this neighborhood — manifested in this candle-light vigil. We should thank the organizers for this and for reminding us by all the candles here that there is more to our neighborhoods than superficial greetings as we jog by, or see each other as we mow our lawns, or pick our kids from school. There are friendships, sharing, and support to be found behind many a door, and that we must be our brother’s keeper.

It reminds us of how important compassion is…of how we need to be more aware of one another’s struggles…how we should reach out to each other with listening ears, encouraging words, and genuine concern.

This evening we remember, the three victims. Not many of us here knew them well, but we will always remember this tragedy. To all who grieve and strain to know why, no reason will be satisfying, but if I may offer a final couple of words of spiritual advice…

      • Pour your heart out to God in prayer; you’ll find no greater friend
      • Pr.3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”
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Christian Love, Part 2

Paul starts his teaching about Christian love in 1 Cor. 13 with some of the harder facets of this great virtue…

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Christian Love, Part 1

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Something to check out

As many of you who know me will know, I have moved from New England to Texas. I’m now the pulpit minister for the Rock Hill church of Christ in Frisco, Texas. One of the things that I’m doing is a Monday through Friday video devotional titled “Rock Hill Reflections” Below is a sample of the video found on Facebook Mon.-Fri — @rhcoc. If you find it useful you could “subscribe” to and get a daily shot of encouragement or something to think about. Let me know what you think. 🙂

Found Monday through Friday on Facebook, @rhcoc

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Calling God on the Carpet??

“Gird up you loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!”Job 38:3

Poor Job! Not only was he impoverished in a day, but he lost his family, and his health! And to make matters even worse, he was trying to understand what had happened to him with a mistaken point of view — which the rest of the world of his (and ours) often holds. His mistaken paradigm was “I’m good and should be rewarded; only the bad get punished.” To make matters even worse, his friends came to call on him to repent of stuff he didn’t do — because “The good are rewarded and the bad are punished.” Up until this verse quoted above Job had vigorously professed his innocence and begun to call on God to correct His mistake.

The problem was, of course, that Job was wrong and God was right.

It’s a common problem even today, and I’m not just talking about the question of why bad things happen to good people! We live in a world that has some very strong opinions about what is right and wrong, about what is correct and incorrect, what God should be approving of and what He should not be approving of. The issues range from questions of morality, what is true, true religion in general, what political party God must belong to (really?), and even about spiritual reality like Heaven and Hell. And in many a mind, the assumption is that prior teachings, found in the Bible itself (the very word of God), must be wrong and what we currently think must be right.

In the book of Job, God calls Job’s call for correction of His will on the carpet, “Gird up you loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!” God calling on Job to compare his abilities to God’s, his knowledge to God’s, his power to God’s, his wisdom to God’s. After a fashion, He was challenging Job to see if Job could “measure up”.
The same questions really should be asked of self-important, modern men and women today. Will we really ask God to check His work? Reconsider right and wrong? Withdraw His commands about sexuality, gender, roles, church, worship, priorities, and morality? Will we really try to play the teacher and “bleed all over” the Bible with our little red pens? We must be really smart to “school” the Creator of the Universe; the One who ordered the stars and planets; and the One who made man, woman, marriage, and family. We must be super-extra smart to know better about the changes that “must” happen with modern culture than the One who has foreseen things to the end of time. Yep, God needs to sky-write “Gird up you loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!”

After God helped Job to realize how weak, foolish, ignorant, and limited he was as a human being with an awesome tour-de-force of God’s infinite power, wisdom, and knowledge; all Job could say was, “I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did know know. Hear now and I will speak — I will ask You, and You instruct me.” (Job 42:3,4).

The solutions to the world’s problems, the solution to religion’s problems, the solution to the church’s problems boil down to the epiphany, in which we finally admit, “I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me…I will ask You, and You instruct me.” It’s the best teaching anyone could ever have, and the best prayer anyone could ever pray.

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The LORD Showed Moses His Back

 

Moses was called the friend of God. With Moses the LORD spoke “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11 and Numbers 12:6-8). At one point, then, Moses asked of God a special favor, “I pray You, show me Your glory! (Exodus 33:18)” God answered his request by telling Moses, that he would hide Moses with His “hand”, pass all His goodness before him, but only ultimately let Moses “…see My back, but My face shall not be seen. (Exodus 33:19-23)” This was simply because no man can see God’s face and live (Exodus 33:20). Of course, God doesn’t have a literal face and literal back; rather, these are metaphors for the full glory of God versus a diminished version of the glory of God. Thus, Moses was shown a diminished version of God, which was enough to cause Moses’ face to shine (Exodus 34:29) for a while. What a grand privilege!

We may envy Moses perhaps; but the principle actually applies even today to Christians today. You may have never thought of it this way before, but we have also been shown the “back” of glory.

Consider for example, that Jesus (divinity, equal to the Father) came in the flesh and as the apostle Philip asked (very much like Moses) to be shown the Father, Jesus said, “Have I been so long with you, and you do not know Me?” Moses had to content himself with the “back” of God; but what Christians have may be better than His “back”; we’ve had God live among us — Emmanuel. While among us, He showed us God’s mercy, compassion, wisdom, fiery anger at sin, forgiveness toward repentant hearts, focus on spiritual things rather than on material things, and more. Not God’s full glory, but glory enough to swell the heart with wonder and humility.

Connected to this, every Christian baptized into Christ has been granted the promise of Acts 2:38, the Holy Spirit indwelling us as the presence of God, an honor without equal in this world; but one day we’ll see and dwell with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to face (see 1 Cor. 13:12).

Right now, we are already God’s redeemed people. However, one day we will be “bought back” from this fallen world, doomed to death and corruption, and be full redeemed in resurrected bodies living in a new heaven and earth of perfection in the very presence of God (see Romans 8:18-25).  

While still living in this world, we are now saved, although we have the potential to fall away again (see the parable of the sower, Matthew 13). One day, however, but we will understand full salvation; a full and final rescue from a sin-filled, tragedy filled, sickness and pain filled, and death filled world (Revelation 21:4). A world so wondrously different that we cannot even imagine it (1 Corinthians 2:9). 

We have eternal, new life here, in the forms of our walk following after Christ and God’s promise. But one day we’ll get to live that same kind of life forever in a new heaven and earth — the promise fulfilled — a life greater and more glorious than any we’ve ever known or known about!

We know joy here, but one we’l know fullness of joy forever.

We are indeed sons even now, inheritors of the wonderful things God has in store for us; but only as “minor children”; one day we’ll “gain majority” and be full inheritors.

Every Sunday we have fellowship in communion with the Lord and with others; but this weekly communion is just the poor shadow of the grand banquet in Heaven

The list could easily go on, but the point is that as many blessings and privileges that we know here, we will know more fully at Jesus’ second coming. All that God will show us now is the “back” of the blessings, but one day we will see them face to face in all their glory and fullness.

While on earth below, we might grow weary and discouraged with things as they are; but we must always be mindful that the joys, promises, blessings, and hopes we have in Christ in the here and now are only — can only be— the “back” of those joys, promises, blessings, and hopes. The fullness to come is more, so much more.

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Is the End Coming?

I’ve observed several blogs and email warnings crossing the internet over the past several days speculating that the End is near. It is all in the context of, first, the COVID-19 pandemic, and second, a lot of political radicalization that has painted “the opposition” as being the anti-Christ. So, whatever it’s worth in an ocean of internet opinion on the subject, I thought I would weigh in with some important observations from the Bible.

First, the Bible tells us that the End will indeed be a turbulent time, but only for Christians. Jesus said that when the End comes that people will be going about their daily lives as if nothing were wrong: “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the day of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did to understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matt. 24:37-39). Notice that men will be making plans for the future as if there would be many more days ahead. Paul’s teaching was in accord with this, too, “For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape” (1 Thess. 5:2,3). 

However, things will be different for Christians; Satan will be loosed and God’s people will be under malevolent attack, surrounded as in a siege (Rev. 20). Jesus put it on a parallel with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (AD 70) in His dual prophecy of Matthew 24. 

Secondly, you should know that before the the End comes, there will a great anti-Christ, however, he/she will be, generally speaking, universally hailed as a great leader and even a god. The tendency down through the centuries has been to label every authority that we don’t like as evil and an anti-Christ. The Pope, Hitler, Stalin, and others have been so labeled in the past. Today different parties point the finger at Trump or Pelosi, depending on your political leanings. The book of 2 Thessalonians 2 gives us more details, and I would invite you to read it for yourself; but suffice it to say that the things said in that prophecy don’t match anything that we can see in current events.

But what about the current pandemic? The Bible tells us that there will be disasters, earthquakes, famines, plagues, wars, and more that will continue to curse the world; but they are not signs of an imminent end of the world. Sometimes they are punishments from the Lord (I know this is politically incorrect to say these days, but it is very biblical), sometimes they are just random things that happen in this old fallen world, and sometimes they are the consequences of men’s sins. But the Bible tells us that we may expect such catastrophes in the normal course of history from time to time. 

So, while it is absolutely certain that the End will come, that Jesus will return, that this world (and universe) will be destroyed, that all of the dead will be raised, and that everyone will be judged by the great Judge Jesus; it does not appear that any of the events that are roiling our current lives are signs that the end is near.

But now, if I may, I would like to say a word to those who are suggesting to others that the End is truly near, that we are in the “end times”. Although I am confident that your intentions are good; you want to motivate people to finally come to the Lord. But there’s a problem that you might not have thought about. When Christians go around telling people that the Lord is coming very soon, and it doesn’t happen, it disappoints and gives the Bible and all of Christianity a bad name. When it doesn’t come to pass, it destroys faith and makes it almost impossible to reach them again — “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Now, I don’t say all this to pat everyone’s hand and say, “Don’t worry about things, you have plenty of time to come to the Lord.” The end of the world may not be at hand, but our individual ends could come within an hour of reading this. Any one of us could get infected with COVID-19 and be one of the unfortunate folks who dies from it; you could cross the street and get sideswiped by a car; you could pick up something heavy and have a stroke; etc. Jesus’ counsel is to get ready and remain ready to meet your Maker. You get ready by becoming a Christian: believe in Jesus as the Son of God, repent of sin, confess Jesus as Lord, be baptized for forgiveness of sins, follow Jesus faithfully — including to church.

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