Bible Q&A

(This Bible question and answer column  is published each Saturday in the Progress-Index newspaper of Petersburg, VA, and emailed each Wednesday to 550 people in 25 countries. These are current questions from live readers. To submit a question or request to receive this free email publication, please email tomlovorn@comcast.net. Previous columns are archived at www.tomlovorn.us.) 

Bible Q&A

By Tom Lovorn, Th.D.

(Hint: Use ctrl-F to search for key words)

 

Q. Do you believe the Rapture is near? J. N., Suffolk, VA

A. Many signs Jesus gave point to the “snatching away” of believers we call the Rapture. Many of these are being fulfilled all around us; however, I don’t believe in setting a date. Jesus said in Matthew 24:36 that no one knows the day nor hour of his return.

Some of those signs Jesus predicted in Matthew 24 are: our hearing of wars and rumors of wars, false messiahs, the gospel preached all over the world, persecution of believers, a falling away of many who once claimed to believe, increase of iniquity, and upheavals in nature such as famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. We’ve had those things to happen individually before, but Jesus warned in verse 33 to beware when all of them happen in rapid succession. Then, in verses 37-41, he described conditions of the Rapture; and in 1 Corinthians 15:50-56 we find the battle plan of Christ’s coming to take his own out of this world.

Bible scholars differ on the timing of certain other end time prophecies which may happen before or after the Rapture: a confederacy of Russia with the Islamic nations attacking Israel as described in Ezekiel 38-39, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, the establishment of Babylon (or Rome) as a world capitol, compromise toward a world-wide ecumenical religion, and one man claiming the ability to solve the world’s problems. However, I personally believe most of these remaining prophecies will happen after the Rapture.

Yes, I do believe God has been trying to get our attention in the last few months to say the Rapture is nearer than we may realize! Why? Because I think the last 2 signs that have to be fulfilled before Jesus’ return for his Church have already happened. They were fulfilled when Israel was regathered as a nation in 1948 (Luke 21:29-32 noting that the fig tree represents Israel) and when satellite communication made it possible to beam the gospel all over the world (Matthew 24:14) . I think the present world-wide calamities mark the beginnings of the final days of this age (Matthew 24:8). Remember, Romans 8:22-23 predicts the earth groaning for its redemption from the curse of sin. I believe it’s time to make peace with our Maker, Jesus Christ, and heed Luke 21:28 which says to lift up our heads because our redemption is drawing nigh!

Q. If God created everything and everything God created is good, where did evil come from? Rory Johnston, Las Vegas, NV

A. This is a pertinent question because of what happened in Las Vegas this week. There are those who say if there is a God, he can’t be good because he allows someone like Stephen Paddock to harm so many people. So, they ask the familiar question, “Why doesn’t God keep bad things from happening to good people?” Some skeptics even take the argument farther to reason that if God allows evil he must be bad. We like to picture God as always acting in righteousness toward us. That’s true, but righteousness doesn’t mean he has to be good according to our estimation. Righteousness means God is always true to his own character, purpose, and timing. But, remember, he wants to temper his judgment with mercy (Deuteronomy 5:9-10).

Genesis 1:31 says everything God created was declared to be good. However, included in that proclamation is the fact that God created us like himself with minds to make our own choices. We may choose to reject God and the good he intends for us. Where God and good are rejected we have evil. Evil is the result of yielding to the character of Satan rather than God’s example in Jesus.

“Why doesn’t God punish them immediately?” you ask. Let God, himself, answer that by what his Spirit told Peter, “The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think. Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins” (2 Peter 3:9, Good News Bible).

We must admit that, since God created everything, he created Satan; and he even made possible the absence of good which we call evil. Yet, knowing that we might succumb to Satan and reject the good, God has written and miraculously preserved in the Bible instructions for how we are to use the goodness he has created so as to overcome evil (Exodus 20:1-17). But, when we do sin we have a Savior, Jesus, who lived and died so that evil will be abolished one day. In the meantime, God offers peace, comfort, and hope to those who are suffering from evil people or natural calamities. Those gifts are available through each person’s faith in the atoning work of Jesus who promised never to leave those who love him. And, the righteousness of God is seen in every act of kindness and consolation when bad things happen.

 

Q. If we believe God makes no mistakes, how are we to understand his repenting in 1 Samuel 15:11? Justin Laib, Round Lake, IL

A. The King James Bible in 1 Samuel 15:11 records God’s saying to Samuel, “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king.” In most other versions that verb is translated with forms of “repent” or “regret.” The actual Hebrew word for repent means “to sigh or breath heavily” as if to be sorry. The same word is used again in verse 35, “The Lord repented that he made Saul king over Israel.” However, verse 29 says God is not a man that he should repent, meaning God would not change his mind about Saul. Is this a contradiction?

We often speak of God as having eyes and ears, heart and hands. In Psalm 34:15 David wrote, “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.” However, we know Jesus said in John 4:24 that God is a spirit. Yet, God allows us to think of him in terms we can understand.

Thinking of God as repenting or regretting some previous action is a way to understand why God may change his behavior toward a person. Our English word “repent” means to make a 180 degree turn and go in the opposite direction. That’s what we do when we repent of our sins. If we hear that God has repented, it simply means that he is no longer acting toward that person as he used to act. And, that’s because the individual failed God’s expectations and reached a point of no return. It certainly doesn’t mean that God has made a mistake; or, in this case, that God didn’t know King Saul would be a poor king. God knew full well what Saul would do, but he was the best man for the job at the time the people were demanding a king (1 Samuel 8:5). When a better man named David came along, God chose him.

When Saul continually disobeyed God, God eventually stopped blessing his reign and prepared to remove him. Knowing that, we can still believe an all-knowing God never makes a mistake; he’s just teaching us in terms we can understand. When we sin, it doesn’t take God by surprise. He may repent in that he cannot bless us in our sins, but he’s still the Heavenly Father of those who come to him by faith in Jesus.

Q. Does Daniel 7:25 teach that Antichrist will be able to alter the laws of physics and time? Van Rowe, North Franklin, CT

A. Daniel 7:25 is only part of the story of Daniel’s vision. This vision covers the whole 7th chapter and should be studied in context. You may find differing interpretations since this is a vision full of symbols. Verse 25 tells of a powerful world ruler who will “think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.”

I think this vision builds on chapters 2 and 7. The great image of world powers in chapter 2 and the 4 beasts of chapter 7 both refer to the past nations of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. However, the 10 horns, or powers, springing from the 4th beast (chapter 7, verse 7) appear to be in the future when a revived power like Rome will set 10 rulers, or “princes,” over the nations of the world. Whether that revived Roman power will be a political system, a nation, or a religious entity we are not told. However, one of those 10 “princes” will subdue 3 rulers and eventually rise to rule over all 10 groups. We call him Antichrist. He will be opposed to everything God stands for and will persecute those who become saved after the Rapture.

I see nothing supernatural implied in verse 25. It simply means Antichrist will attempt to do away with religious holy days (“times”) and laws (the 10 Commandments maybe). God will, as we say, “give him enough rope to hang himself” and, finally destroy him at the Second Coming of Jesus.

That’s a very simplified interpretation of that verse. However, there are other important parts of Daniel’s vision here we must not overlook. While describing the terrible last days of earth, verses 9-10 remind us God is still ruling from his Throne, and verses 13-14 show the coronation of God’s true Prince, Jesus. Verses 18, 26-27 tell of the ultimate triumph of the saints who will reign with Jesus forever.

Of course, before all this happens, Jesus will rapture those who are saved and ready for his coming (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). From those left behind, those who become believers will have to deal with Antichrist. However, I remind us that Antichrist’s reign is limited to a time, times, and half a time, which is 3 ½ years; but the reign of Christ with his saints is forever! 

Q. Do you believe God is trying to say something by the terrible weather we are having? Hattie Cox, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Let me share some of what Joel Rosenberg, Christian author and resident of Jerusalem, emailed in his blog this week:

Less than 2 weeks ago Hurricane Harvey dropped 33 trillion gallons of rainfall on the U.S., which experts say was a once-in-one-thousand-year event. This past weekend Hurricane Irma was the largest storm on record to sustain 185 mile-per-hour winds for 4 days. It will take years to recover from these. And, Hurricane Jose is close behind. At the same time, Mexico experienced the worst earthquake in a century at 8.1 on the Richter scale while also being walloped by a category 2 hurricane.

Record-breaking floods are devastating Asia with reports that half of Bangladesh, Nepal, and India are underwater. In Bangladesh alone 100,000 homes are destroyed and forty million people face severe and potentially life-threatening food and water shortages.

Russia is preparing to mass upwards of 100,000 troops on the borders of three NATO countries for a series of army games some experts fear is the prelude to war. The genocidal slaughter of Christians by ISIS continues in Syria. North Korea has tested a hydrogen bomb and ballistic missiles which they say are capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. And, tensions over the Temple Mount and Israel’s settlements in the Western Bank are spiking again.

The Hebrew Prophet Haggai quoted God saying, “Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all nations…and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations” (from Haggai 2:6- 22). And, our New Testament confirms in Hebrews 12:25-29, “See to it that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from him who warns from heaven. And his voice shook the earth then, but now he has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens’” (Hebrews 12:25-26).

You decide if God is trying to get our attention! If so, he says in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that we must humble ourselves, turn from our wicked ways, and pray for our nation to be healed.

Q. When God punished people in the Old Testament, was he trying to get even? Michaela Stawarz, Prince George, VA

A. We can only know about God that which he reveals of himself in his Word. However, we must remember that he is the same God in the Old Testament as he is in the New Testament. In Malachi 3:6, God said, “I change not.” We tend to think of him in terms of his love revealed in the New Testament (Ephesians 6:23), but we remember his wrath in the Old Testament. Yet, the same God said in the Old Testament, “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live” (Ezekiel 18:32).

          God’s punishment in the Bible is judgment, not revenge. “Getting even” goes against God’s nature; judgment does not. When God says, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay” (Romans 12:19), he’s not talking about revenge but judgment. The sinner brings judgment on himself by rejecting the many warnings God gives all through the Bible.  

The holy nature of God requires judgment to be offset by mercy. Think of them as two sides of the same coin of God’s character. Which we receive depends on our response to God. The God who called as Jesus, “Come unto me” (Matthew 11:28), will gladly give mercy to those who come. Those who reject his call to emulate his character will reap his judgment.       

          However, even then, we can think of God’s judgment as an extension of his mercy. If he didn’t punish sin, evil would continue unchecked. But, judgment is like the blue lights on the patrol cars intended to slow traffic more than just catch one speeder. Before Jesus took the punishment for believers, judgment fell on sinners. But, God’s true character is seen when we let Jesus bear the punishment for our sins. He will do that if you will ask him.

Q. Why did God require the Old Testament rituals of the Jews? Betty Motley, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. The Ten Commandments recorded in Exodus 20:1-17 are God’s principle laws for the good of all societies. They were given to the Jews as stewards to show what God deems best for every person. All the other worship rituals and social regulations in the Pentateuch are extensions of the Commandments. They were given to help the Hebrew people keep the original Commandments.

Believers, today, may better understand those demands if we think of them as a picture of God’s own character of holiness. They were the way God was teaching the Jews that they had been set apart to show the world what God is like. They reveal justice tempered with mercy, disobedience punished and righteousness rewarded.

Those regulations should have helped the Jews recognize their Messiah because they were completed in the character of Jesus. That’s why Romans 10:4 says Christ is the end of the Law. He fulfilled those ritual requirements for us. In addition, the Levitical calendar of feasts and fasts predicted the main events in the life of Jesus. In Colossians 2:17, Paul said they were a shadow of things to come (see also Hebrews 10:1).

Someone has said every Jewish boy had to learn 365 “Thou shalt nots” – one for each day of the year. If you think it would be impossible to observe all those commandments, you’re right. There is no way we can make ourselves holy like God even if we could live up to every regulation and keep every ritual. For years, the Jews laboriously observed every requirement and still failed to keep God’s favor. God had to come, himself, as Jesus to credit his sinless record to all those – Jews and Gentiles – who will repent of sin and trust Jesus for their salvation. 

Q. Why do you think baptism is so important that Jesus commanded it in Matthew 28:19? John Forehand, Richmond, VA

A. Baptism is important because it demonstrates God’s whole plan to restore our fellowship with him. We can trace the beginning of baptism to the Laver in the Tabernacle courtyard where priests washed their hands and feet before entering the Tent of Meeting. Later, priests were immersed for ceremonial cleansing in the Brass Sea at Solomon’s Temple.    

          Scriptural baptism is by immersion (Matthew 3:6, 16; John 3:23; Romans 6:4). Immersion is the only mode which demonstrates the gospel. John the Baptizer was commanded to immerse those repenting of their sins in preparation for the coming Messiah. Jesus allowed John to baptize him as an example for us. Even though Jesus taught his disciples how to baptize in John 4:1-2, he never told them to baptize when he sent out the Twelve and the Seventy on preaching missions (Matthew 12:5-8; Luke 10:1, 9). That’s because the gospel wasn’t complete until after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus had to return in post-resurrection appearances to command baptism because it couldn’t symbolize the full gospel story until then.

          Baptism doesn’t save us but it’s an outward sign of what’s happened on the inside, and it’s important for its three-fold testimony: As the new convert is laid back under the water and raised (1) he is portraying the gospel showing how Jesus died, was buried, and was raised for our salvation (Romans 4:25). The believer is also demonstrating that (2) he has died to his former life without God, and that life is buried as he is resurrected to serve Jesus as his Lord (Romans 6:4). Again, Baptism also testifies to the convert’s belief that, (3) if he should die and be buried before Jesus comes, his body will be resurrected to live with Jesus (John 6:40). God wants everyone to be convinced of these truths, so he commanded that we show them visually by baptism. 

Q. How did we get our Bible as it is today? Kim Kirks, Disputanta, VA

A. The word “Bible” comes from the Greek, biblos, meaning “book.” It has one Author, the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), using some 40 human writers over a period of at least 1,500 years. Yet, it has one theme: the story of how God used the nation of Israel to provide salvation by his Son who is now calling believers into his Kingdom (2 Timothy 3:15). Job is believed to be the first book written down and John’s Revelation is the last.

          The official arrangement of Scripture is called a canon. The Old Testament canon was selected by a council in 90 A.D. The New Testament canon was accepted by common agreement as early as the late 200s. It and the Old Testament were officially confirmed by church councils in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D.  The Apocrypha, meaning “hidden writings,” is the name given to books not chosen to be in the Protestant Bible. They were rejected because they were not written in the original language of their supposed time, because they used pseudonyms claiming to be Biblical people when they were not, and because they contained legends and myths which could not be substantiated. When Jerome translated the Latin Vulgate for the Catholic Church he did not know the apocryphal books had been discredited, and he included them. Those books can be found in Bibles used by the Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons.

          The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and ancient Aramaic (the people’s dialect) with no punctuation, no capitols, no spaces, and no vowels. These were added when the words were spoken. Therefore, we have minor differences in various versions. The New Testament was written in Greek and first century Aramaic. James is believed to be the first New Testament book to be written and Mark the first gospel. We are indebted to the Old Testament scribes and Catholic monks for preserving the Scriptures so that we have them today. Jesus is the central character in the Bible: the Old Testament predicts his coming, the Gospels tell how he came, and the rest of the New Testament looks toward his return and coming Kingdom.      

Q. How old was Jesus when he died? Jon Stawarz, Petersburg, VA

A. The gospels do not tell us how old Jesus was when he was crucified. Yet, we can know by faith after studying several Bible passages.

          Galatians 4:4 says Jesus was born under the law. Which law? The Old Testament laws God had given to Moses. Those rules stated several times in Numbers 4 that a priest must be 30 years old when he began his ministry. Luke 3:21 tells us Jesus was about 30 years of age when he was baptized. Now we know why Jesus waited until he was 30 before leaving home.

At the beginning of his ministry a priest was to be ceremonially cleansed with water and anointed (Exodus 30). Jesus requested baptism telling John he must “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). That meant he had to be baptized, and afterwards we know he was anointed by the Holy Spirit (verse 16). Then, John recorded 3 Passovers Jesus observed over a 3-year period.

          Jesus also fulfilled the Levitical calendar with all the Jewish feast days predicting special events in the life of Messiah. Colossians 2:17 says those special days were a shadow, or prediction, of things to come. The Hebrew text for John 1:14 reads, “The Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us…” That hints that John knew Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles which would be sometime from mid-September to mid-October. October to April, the time of Passover and Easter, gives the extra 6 months.

          Therefore, we can estimate with a clear conscience that Jesus was 33 and ½ years old when he took upon himself the sin-debt of all those who commit their lives to him (John 3:16). I hope all my readers have claimed the substitutionary death of Jesus as payment for your sins!

Q. What is the fruit of a Christian? Tom Lovorn, Petersburg, VA

A. Yes, I asked my own question! It came to me as I was studying the Bible early one morning a few days ago. The fifteenth chapter of John is a beautiful, symbolic passage about the Vine and the branches and their purpose to bear fruit. I like the Good News Bible’s translation of Jesus’ words in John 15:8, “My Father’s glory is shown by your bearing much fruit; and in this way you become my disciples.” That leads me to ask the logical question: “If it’s that important to the Father, what is the fruit of a Christian?”

          I must confess that I have preached the analogy that the fruit of an apple tree is an apple; therefore, the fruit of a Christian must be another Christian. And, I stand by that as the ultimate goal of our fruit bearing. However, drawn to its full conclusion, that attitude would say a person who has never won anyone to Christ has never born any fruit. I’m not prepared to say that now. I know a lot of good people who quietly serve the Lord without ever having taken their Bible and led a person to pray the sinner’s prayer.

          Therefore, I asked the Spirit to broaden my horizon. Based on looking at John 15 again, I now have to say that anything that glorifies the Father is our fruit. To glorify him means to live the character his Son taught us. When the Spirit comes in, Galatians 5:22-23 says he brings love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. That’s the fruit he wishes to reproduce in us, along with goodness, righteousness, and truth according to Ephesians 5:9.

          John 15 teaches when we are becoming Jesus’ disciples we glorify the Father. Therefore, discipleship is a “becoming” process. So, I believe the fruit of a Christian is a Christ-like life that becomes progressively more like Jesus. His values become our values. As we remain connected to the Vine who is Christ, he produces fruit in us that pleases his Father (John 15:5).   

Q. How could God forsake himself on the cross? Margie Randall, Crosby, TX

A. Bible scholars have long debated how to interpret Jesus’ cry from the cross in Mark 15:34. Just before he died, he cried: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” Some students interpret Christ’s cry as, “My God, my God, why have you turned me over to wicked men?” Or, “Why do I not feel your presence now?” But, Mark gives us the inspired meaning: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This implies that God the Father turned away from his Son. This was further reinforced by darkness for 3 hours and a frightening earthquake when Jesus died (Matthew 27:51; Luke 23:44).

          Believers have a problem because we know Jesus is God (John 10:30; 14:9), and we cannot understand how God could turn against himself. However, if we believe in a Triune God who is One revealed in Three Persons (Matthew 28:19), we already have partitioned him in our minds. We speak of the work of each Person and we pray to individual Members of the Godhead. Remember that God fathered the Second Person of the Trinity when Jesus was born of Mary (Luke 1:35), and the Holy Spirit came later at Pentecost (Acts 2:4).

Our problem, therefore, is not so much God’s separating himself on the cross as it is why the Father seemingly left his Son to die alone. But, did God abandon his Son, or was it our sins? Since God is holy and cannot abide sin, I believe the Father distanced himself from the sins his Son bore. After all, the Cross was the Father’s idea! Second Corinthians 5:21 says God made Christ to become sin for us, and Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus endured the cross with joy. Because God loves us more than himself, his love drove the Father to give his Son to die for us (John 3:16). His seeming abandonment was really his approval to allow his Son to complete the task and say, “It is finished!”

Q. Please explain Timothy’s prophecies and gift that Paul mentioned in 1 Timothy, chapters 1 and 4. Tim Donovan, Greensville Regional Correction Center, Jarratt, VA

A. In 1 Timothy 1:18 Paul charged his young protégé, Timothy whom he called his son, to fulfill the prophecies made to him beforehand and fight a good fight in his ministry. He repeated that challenge in 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight for the faith. Keep holding on to eternal life, to which you were called and about which you gave a good testimony in front of many witnesses” (ISV).

We do not have any record of “the prophecies which went before on thee” (1:18, KJV). These could have been actual prophecies about Timothy which God revealed to church leaders or Paul, himself, perhaps at Timothy’s ordination. Yet, the term had a colloquial use which did not mean actual prophecies from God, but compliments, well-wishes, and hopes which others had spoken to the young preacher. In either case, Paul was saying, “Don’t let the people down who expressed faith in you, and be a good soldier for Jesus.” That’s a good charge for every believer to remember!

Also, in 1 Timothy 4:14 Paul wrote, “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy when the elders laid their hands on you” (ISV). Again, we are not told about Tim’s ordination or what spiritual gift God may have given him at that time. In the many ministerial and deacon ordinations in which I have participated, as I have laid hands on those men, I have prayed that God would bestow on them the spiritual gifts and energized talents they needed to fulfill their calling.

Down through Christian history elders have believed that, by the symbolic act of laying on of hands, God would impart a portion of their own spirits upon those being ordained. While we do not know the prophecies about Timothy, I believe the “gift” Paul was praying for young Timothy was a special anointing of God’s Holy Spirit in all his power, to embolden his ministry and witness. May God give each of us more of himself!

 

 

 

Q. What are the rod and staff in Psalm 23? K.H., Hopewell,

A. Psalm 23:4 reads, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Most Christian interpreters and Jewish expositors understand the rod to be a short instrument used for defense against robbers or wild animals and sometimes to get the attention of a wayward sheep. The staff was a shepherd’s walking stick, sometime with a crook on one end to guide or rescue his sheep from a deep ravine. David found comfort in believing that God would both protect and guide him while even correcting him for his ultimate good.

However, studying this phrase in Hebrew, commentators say these words can be used interchangeably. Both “rod” and “staff” may refer to the two ends of the shepherd’s walking stick. A shepherd might call the walking-stick end his staff while calling the crook his rod. They would still have the same symbolic meaning.

In Israel there’s an ancient mountain trail up to Jerusalem which climbs above a deep precipice the Jews call “The valley of the shadow.” They say David had this scene in mind when he wrote Psalm 23. When climbing this narrow trail, weary pilgrims could easily slip and fall into the deep canyon below, or robbers might assault them from the huge boulders on the mountainside. In fact, when I was on this trail, Palestinians carrying machine guns had blocked the path and wanted to know my business. My guide convinced them I and my tour group were no threat. This surely made Psalm 23:4 stick in my mind! Claiming the promises of God’ protection, we, like Biblical pilgrims, continued thankfully on.

With that picture as the context of verse 4, David was writing about God’s provision in the hour of fear or death. When we’re afraid of falling or dying, we don’t need a shepherd’s rod to discipline us or his crook to pull us back on the path. We can pass through that valley without fear because we know our Shepherd is with us, and he, himself, is fully capable of guiding and sustaining us. In fact, the Jewish Targum understands verse 4 to refer to the laws and promises of God’s Word. We, too, are as defenseless as sheep against the wiles of the Devil, but we take comfort in claiming those promises. We know our Shepherd will walk beside us while his goodness and mercy, like two hound dogs, drive us home to live in the house of the Lord forever!

Q. Why does God sometimes wait so long to judge evil? C. M., Colonial Heights, VA

A. Let me give you my answer first and then I’ll give some Biblical examples: The mercy of God waits on men to repent! I love how the Good News Bible translates 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think. Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins.” When God created us in his image, he gave us minds to choose to obey him or reject him. In giving guidelines to help us obey, he also had to state what will happen if we choose not to obey. God doesn’t delight in punishing evil; that’s not his purpose. His purpose is to bring all people into a holy relationship with him. So, he gives them time to repent and turn to him. Only when they have proven they won’t honor him does he keep his promise to punish.

Let’s look at some Biblical examples of God’s timing: Genesis 6:3 says, “My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” Some teachers believe that was the time God gave Noah before the Flood would come. Why would he wait? Perhaps to give Noah time to build such a tremendous boat to save his family, but maybe to give sinful men time to repent. Second Peter 2:5 says Noah was a preacher of righteousness. He probably preached more than he built because he knew the fate that awaited his neighbors.

Why didn’t God give the land of Canaan to Abraham right when he promised it in Genesis 12:7? Genesis 15:16 says the sins of the inhabitants had not reached their peak at that time. Deuteronomy 9:4-5 confirms that God didn’t give Israel the land because Israel deserved it in their goodness, but he was destroying the Canaanites because of their wickedness. In Numbers 32:13 God waited 40 years for the rebellious Israelites to die so he could give the land to their believing children. God’s mercy knew the old generation was needed to raise the next generation that wouldn’t have their hang-ups. 

These few examples just remind us that we can’t know God’s reasons unless he reveals them to us. But, we can trust his mercy. God is righteous toward evil and merciful toward faith. Both actions come in his timing. If you know the Lord as your Savior you can claim the same mercy of Isaiah 54:8, “In my anger I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer.”

 

Q. Is the resurrection taught in the Old Testament? Roane Lovorn, Atlanta, GA

A. Yes, a bodily resurrection is specifically taught in several Old Testament scriptures and implied in many others. The first Old Testament book to be written gives us amazing details that only God could have revealed to Job. Job 19:25-26 testifies, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And…in my flesh shall I see God.”

Look at the amazing doctrines in those two verses: His faith allowed him to know something before it happened. He understood that he had a redeemer who was alive then and would be alive in the last days. This redeemer was a male identified with God, himself. Also, his redeemer would have to leave earth because he will come back to stand on the earth in the last days. Finally, he believed that he, Job, would be bodily resurrected so that he would see God. Wow!

Isaiah also recorded in 26:19, “Thy dead men shall live; together with my dead body shall they arise…and the earth shall cast out the dead.” This was literally fulfilled at the Resurrection of Jesus when Matthew 27:52-53 says, “The graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared unto many.” God also revealed to Daniel saying in 12:2, “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Again, Hosea 6:2 wrote of a resurrection on the third day. This may account for the belief that a dead person might be revived until the third day, but not after that. That would explain why, in John 11:39, Martha objected that Lazarus couldn’t come back because he had been dead four days.   

Sadly, the doctrine of the resurrection was squashed by the Sadducees who did not believe in life after death (Matthew 22:23), and they were the priests and preachers of Israel. But, now we know the resurrection has been taught from the earliest Bible book, confirmed by Jesus in John 14:19, and shown to John in Revelation 20.  

Q. Where is the peace God promised at the birth of Jesus? Tonya Brown, DFW Airport, TX.

A. I hear you! You’re thinking of Luke 2:14 when Heaven’s host proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Even before that the prophet said, in Isaiah 9:6, of the child “born to us…his name shall be called…the Prince of Peace.” But, you rightly observed we certainly don’t have that peace in our world today. Nations and peoples are fighting all over the world. Here in America, we are hard pressed to remember any time since the “roaring twenties” when there was so much strife, killings, and just plain hatred toward those who differ from us.

True, Jesus did teach love in Mathew 5:39-41 we are to show by “turning the other cheek” and “walking the second mile.” Yet, he also taught in Luke 12:51-53 that he didn’t come to bring peace, but division, because Satan is opposing a rival king in his domain. We see that struggle more every day. Our society is becoming more anti-Christian. The enemies of Jesus want to take Christ out of Christmas, remove the Ten Commandments and crosses, and stop believers from mentioning Jesus or the Bible. So, what do we do with the promise of “peace, goodwill” to be brought by the Prince of Peace? The answer is in that question! Only when the Prince of Peace is allowed to rule can there be true peace and goodwill toward men. But, that won’t happen universally until Christ’s second coming.

In Isaiah 9:6 you may observe several skips in time. The first phrase jumps 33 years from a baby “child” who can only be born, to a grown “son” who can only be given to die for our sins. Then, it jumps to the second coming millennial reign of Christ when “the government shall be upon his shoulder.” That’s when Jesus will be accepted as our “Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” So, until Jesus returns and Satan is confined eternally, the old Serpent will still cause division among all who will listen to him. The only way you can know real peace now is inwardly as you invite Jesus to reign within your heart. Then, outwardly, do all you can to make our world more peaceful by following the teachings of Jesus.

Q. In Mark 14:36 why did Jesus call God “Abba”? Russell Ali, Bend, OR  

A. Abba means “Daddy,” and it’s the first word a Jewish baby cries. When he gets older, his parents will teach him that Father God loves him like his Abba does.

          Abba is a very intimate term for Father God. Before Jesus, no Jew would dare call their holy God “Father,” much less “Daddy.” Jesus, by using that name, taught his disciples and us to think of God as a child thinks of his daddy. As children, we used to climb up in our daddy’s lap and hug him; then we shared our most personal concerns with him. I believe our Father wants us to come to him in that same spirit. How often do you picture yourself climbing up in to your Heavenly Father’s lap and just loving on him?

          Abba appears only 3 times in the New Testament. In Mark 14:36 Jesus called God Abba, and in Galatians 4:6 the Holy Spirit calls him Abba. It’s no wonder, therefore, that in Romans 8:15 Paul urges all believers to think of God as our Abba. We can do so because we have been adopted into God’s family by our faith in the atoning work of Jesus.

          When Jesus cried “Abba, Father” in Mark 14, he was saying, “Father, Father;” or “Daddy, Daddy.” A Jewish boy was taught to respect all older men by addressing his elders as “Father.” However, only his real father was addressed as “Father, Father.” Therefore, as we address God that way we realize that he is twice the father of all believers: He created us, and he purchased us by his own blood. That means he loves us more dearly than he loved himself!

Jesus showed us the Abba Father love of God that will fill the void in any heart. Paul said that’s the kind of love a husband should show to his wife (Ephesians 5:25) and, certainly, that’s the kind of love each of us ought to return to our “Daddy, Daddy!”

Q. If God has a specific will for our lives, how can we know it? Christopher Stawarz, Prince George, VA

A. Scripture does teach that God has an ideal plan for each of our lives. I believe what David wrote in Psalm 139, especially in verses 13-18, applies to each of us. There, David acknowledged that God knew him from the womb and, as Jeremiah 29:11 says, he knows the plans he has for our good.

          Someone has rightly said that God has general plans for each believer. A short list includes: Fellowship and worship with him (John 4:23); be baptized after we are saved and support our family of believers (Matthew 28:19, Hebrews 10:24-25); grow in spiritual maturity to become like Christ (Romans 8:29, Ephesians 4:14-15); bear witness to his gospel (Acts 1:8); and serve those less fortunate in his name (Matthew 25:40).  

          These and other teachings from the New Testament are God’s general will for each of us. Yet, he also has specific plans for individual believers at various stages of life. We know this because, when we are saved, God’s Spirit gifts us with the abilities to be all he wants us to be (Ephesians 4:7-16).

          God doesn’t usually open his hand to reveal his total will for our lives all at once. Rather, he usually opens one finger at a time when we’re ready to receive it. We can learn God’s will by much Bible study and prayer and by examining our spiritual gifts. We can recognize those gifts by what we are able to do well, what fulfills us, where we see spiritual results, and where others say God has surely anointed us in specific functions.

          Notice that I said previously that God has an ideal will for us. If we fail his ideal, he has a permissive will that he will still bless (1 John 2:1). Just keep in touch, and his Spirit will guide you each step of your life. He promises that his Word will not only be a floodlight for our path, but it will be a lamplight for each step we take (Psalm 119:105).    

Q. Will our family and friends that we know now be the same in Heaven? Luke McAllister, Auckland, New Zealand

A. Many Christians believe that, in what we call Heaven, the same saved people we know here will continue over there with life much as it is like here, but in a perfect state. They will look much the same as they did here, but with perfect bodies; live on the same earth glorified; and excel in doing the same things they were gifted to do here – but without the effects of sin’s curse.

Matthew 8:11 teaches recognition in Heaven. Jesus said people in Heaven will be able to fellowship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. According to Ephesians 2:19-20 we won’t be strangers in Heaven, but we’ll be fellow citizens with the apostles and prophets. We remember that in John 17 Jesus prayed for all the saved to be one with him in Heaven. That surely implies a special relationship with Jesus and, I believe, with all our saved friends from down here. I believe Isaiah 65:17 and Revelation 21:4 imply that the bad experiences, and probably unpleasant people, from this life will be remembered no more.

At Jesus’ transfiguration in Luke 9:28-32, Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus about his life events. Although Moses and Elijah lived hundreds of years apart, they knew each other and knew what was happening on earth. Family and friends who go to Heaven ahead of us will be waiting to welcome us there. “Abraham’s Bosom,” the Jewish name for Paradise in Luke 16:22, implies friends welcoming each other with bear hugs!

Hey, our minds and memories won’t be erased in Heaven. I personally think our loved ones will be as we remember them best from earth. You may see a friend as a young man because that’s the way you remember him, but his grand children may see him as an old man. However, some commentators believe we’ll all be like Jesus at age 33. Remember this: Our family in Christ will always be our family. But, those who have been special in our relationships here will be even more special there. It was God who said it was not good for man to be alone. And, the book of Revelation promises that we’ll all be God’s children living forever with our Big Brother in our Father’s Home.

Q. Under what conditions does God refuse to hear and answer prayers? Evelyn Entsminger, Colonial Heights, VA

A. God certainly hears all prayers because he said in Isaiah 66:18, “I know their works and their thoughts.” The same is taught in I Chronicles 28:9 and Job 21:27. However, when we ask if God hears our prayers, we mean, “Will he answer them?” The Bible tells us there are times when God will not answer prayers.

          Such was the case Jeremiah recorded against Israel. They had broken their covenant with God and had worshipped idols; they had refused to listen to warnings sent by God’s prophets; they had abused their fellowmen; and they had hardened their hearts and refused to repent. In Jeremiah 14:11 God told the prophet not to pray for them. Then, in 15:1, God said even if Moses and Samuel asked him, he would not relent his anger against Israel. Their prayers were too little, too late; judgment had already been decreed and was on the way.

          Other scriptures teach us that unconfessed sins will keep the Lord from hearing us (Psalms 66:18; Isaiah 59:2). If we have blood on our hands he will not hear our prayers (Isaiah 1:15), and he will not hear liars (Isaiah 30:9). God will not answer those who hate his knowledge and are disobedient to his commands (Proverbs 1:28-30, 28:9). He rejects insincerity (Malachi 1:7-10) and lack of faith (James 1:6-7). Surely, also, he will not hear the pleas of those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit’s witness to salvation (Matthew 12:31-32).

Yet, I’m glad that Jesus came to teach us that he will hear a truly humble and repentant soul (Luke 18:11-14). If our Heavenly Father cares for the lilies of the field and the sparrows that fall, he surely cares for us (Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:6-7). Jesus taught in Matthew 6:8 that God knows our needs before we ask him. Then, God may answer: “Yes,” “No,” or “Not now.” Sometimes what appears to be a “no” answer may actually be the best answer. Since God knows and he cares, he may refuse our request because it isn’t good for us. But, when his children have to wait on his answer, it usually means he is preparing something even better. 

Q. What did Jesus mean in Matthew 15:21-28 when he said he was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel? Wilbert Lassiter, Dinwiddie, VA

A. In one of the few times Jesus traveled outside Israel, he crossed the northern border into Philistia, known today as Syria. The preceding verses of Matthew 15 show that he was disgusted with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who confronted him everywhere he went. He knew they would not follow him into Gentile territory. Therefore, he retreated into a house there, obviously at the invitation of a believer, to have some privacy and rest. However, his fame preceded him since many from that area had already been coming to hear him (Mark 3:8).  

Mark 7:24-30 adds to Matthew’s account saying the people there recognized him, especially a mother who had a demon-possessed daughter. She followed him pleading for her daughter’s healing. The disciples said Jesus should send her away since she was annoying them. At first, Jesus seemed to ignore her by replying that he was first sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. That meant that his primary mission was to give the unsaved Jews a chance to believe in him. That’s where he sent his disciples to preach first in Matthew 10:5-6. After all, God’s covenant was with the Jews; only after they refused their Messiah did God send Paul to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).

Jesus allowed this mother to continue to plead for her daughter’s healing so he could prove her faith. She refused to leave even after Jesus said it wasn’t proper to give the children’s food to dogs (a term Jews applied to Gentiles). Her reply showed the determination of her faith when she said in verse 27, “Yet the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Then, Jesus complimented her saying in effect, “Great is your faith; let it be done for you as you have asked.” And, her daughter was healed at that moment.

Jesus was showing his Father’s integrity to honor first his promises to Abraham and the patriarchs of Judaism, that is, that the Jews have first refusal of the gospel. But, he was also showing his compassion for the needs of all people. He did not heal this mother’s daughter because of her snappy comeback to his remark, but rather because of her faith even in a country where Judaism was not practiced. That certainly gives me hope that he will honor my faith, feeble as it is. What about you?   

Q. Does the Bible say the Russian Bear and American Eagle will fight at Armageddon? Todd Jenkins, Goochland, VA

A. No, those two creatures are not even in the same Testament, nor do they necessarily represent Russia or America.

I think you are asking about the bear mentioned in Old Testament prophecy in Daniel 7:5. The bear Daniel saw in a vision rising out of the sea represented the ancient Medes and Persians joining forces to defeat Babylon. The bear was reared up on one side to indicate that Persia would be the stronger nation, eventually absorbing the Medes into one empire. The three ribs in its mouth were the three nations they would defeat in their rise to world power: Lydia, Babylon, and Egypt. That vision has already been fulfilled, as history records. Therefore, that bear does not represent Russia in the end times.

There are two eagles referenced in Ezekiel 17 representing the kings of Babylon and Egypt. Those prophecies were also fulfilled in the past. The eagle you mention is probably the one in New Testament prophecy yet to be fulfilled in society’s last years, as we know them. This eagle is not even described as a bird and certainly not mentioned to be connected with America. Revelation 12:14 simply says the woman, representing believing Israel, will be given wings of a great eagle to fly to a place in the wilderness to escape the wrath of the Antichrist.

Some Bible students suggest those “wings of a great eagle” may represent America air-lifting our ally Israel to safety, possibly in Petra. But, that is only a theory. America is not mentioned specifically in the last days except perhaps included in the island nations of the world.

The final battle called Armageddon will happen in the Valley of Jezreel in Israel when Jesus Christ returns to set up his Millennial Kingdom. The Antichrist and those nations who side with him will be annihilated by a word from their Creator (Revelation 16:16; 19:19-21). Only the saved will enter that time of paradise (Matthew 25:34).   

Q. Why do you suppose the Jewish people who had praised Jesus on Palm Sunday turned so quickly to cry for his crucifixion on Friday? Janie Lovorn, Petersburg , VA

A. We must realize that when Jesus entered Jerusalem that Sunday, he was not met by a religious crowd on their way to the Temple. This was the first day of their working week, and their minds were far from spiritual things. Therefore, when they shouted, “Save us, we pray you!” (the meaning of Hosanna), they were not calling for a spiritual savior. They believed their salvation came in faithful obedience to the laws of Moses and their Temple rituals. They had done that the preceding Saturday, therefore they believed their salvation was already secure.

          The prophecy the people recognized as being fulfilled that day was from Zechariah 9:9, “Look, your king comes to you: he is righteous and victorious; humble, riding a donkey, riding on a donkey’s colt.”  That verse is set in a military context. Verse 10 talks about weapons used in battle and the dominion of a conquering king. Palm branches were not a symbol of salvation, but a symbol of military victory.  They wanted Jesus to rally an army right then and defeat their Roman captors. When he didn’t do that, their enthusiasm quickly subsided.

          In Mark 6:34 Jesus had said the people were as sheep without a shepherd. Such sheep will follow anyone or no one. When Jesus angered their leaders on Monday by clearing the Temple of crooked merchants, the leaders easily persuaded the  “sheep” against Jesus.  Given three more days to let the innuendos and slanders spread, it easily reached a boiling point on Friday. Then, we hear this same crowd shouting, “Crucify him!”

          However, the sad irony was that Jesus did respond to their cries and offer them real salvation when he allowed them to crucify him. And, his Father gave his greatest confirmation when Jesus walked out of his tomb on Sunday. Now, when we truly cry for a deliverer to save us, we have a risen Lord who has already made that possible if we only believe!  

 Q. Please explain the terms we use for Easter and Holy Week. Tony Josephs, Darvills, VA

A. Easter was first called Pasch relating it to the Jewish Passover. At Passover the Jews remember when Moses led their ancestors in Egypt to paint the blood of a spotless lamb on their doorposts. When God’s Death Angel saw the blood he would “pass over” them and they would be free to march to their Promised Land.

Because Pasch overlapped with the Saxon celebration of Astre or Estre, the goddess of fertility whose symbol was the rabbit, early Christians formed their own celebration which assimilated the secular name Easter. The carry-over of rabbits and eggs reminds us that spring is the time of new life. Believers know we have new life because Jesus arose from his tomb as the First Fruits for us.

Traditionally, we call the week before Easter Holy Week or Passion Week. Passion refers to Jesus’ suffering and death. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter. Other days are also named, such as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

Palm Sunday is named for the day Jesus made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. By riding a donkey, Jesus presented himself as a man of peace; but the people wanted a conqueror. The crowd shouted “Hosanna,” which means “Save us!” Waving palm branches was a sign of victory for a conquering hero; or in this case, an invitation for Jesus to lead them into battle and free them from Roman bondage.

Maundy Thursday is so called for the mandates Jesus gave at his last Passover. Maundy comes from the Latin, mandatum, meaning to command. In John 13:34 Jesus commanded his followers to love one another and to remember him by his Last Supper. Good Friday is the day Jesus was crucified. Although Friday was painful for Jesus, it is a good day for those who believe his death purchased our salvation. Holy Saturday is when the body of Jesus lay in his tomb.

Both Christmas and Easter began as secular holidays, but what they mean now to believers is what’s important. These titles don’t matter; the truth they represent and the praise of our hearts is what God accepts!

Q. With so many violent protests happening today, does God expect our citizens to obey governments that we may not agree with? Hattie Cox, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Many people today seem to be disillusioned with our national government for various reasons. Some of them are political reasons because of differing party priorities. Others felt the November elections didn’t go to their liking. Still others oppose changes or individuals they don’t understand. And, sadly, others are restless and just looking for a movement to join.   

Granted: Some people have legitimate reasons for their individual or national concerns. They may feel their national security, personal rights, or ecological environments are being threatened. Ordinary citizens don’t like being forced to buy something they don’t want or to conduct business which goes against their religious and moral beliefs. Local leaders feel Washington is overstepping states’ rights, and ethnic minorities feel they’re being singled out unfairly.

The short answer to this question is: “Yes!” Romans 13:1 says we are to obey those who have the rule over us. Verse 5 implies that we do so, not because they are always right or good in our sight, but “for conscience sake.” That means we obey them because “there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (verse 1). Daniel 2:21 says God removes rulers and sets up rulers. Trust God that he knows what he’s doing; he has an over-arching plan that’s bigger than you or me. He wants society to be organized (1 Corinthians 14:40). Without laws we would have anarchy. However, if rulers don’t do what they should, commit them to God; he will remove them in his time. God has said, “Vengeance is mine…I will repay” (Romans 12:19).

Certainly, it’s not God’s ideal that leaders violate our spiritual consciences or Biblical morals. But, our actions should always be superseded by love (Matthew 22:38-40). As Romans 13:7-8 says, we must render to others their dues. The offices ordained by God deserve honor even if the people who occupy those offices are themselves not always honorable. If we take Acts 5:29 as our standard, believing we must obey God rather than men, we will pray for guidance and react through established channels.

God does expect us to love and pray for our leaders while we obey those laws that do not violate God’s higher laws. Praise God, in America we have avenues to change our government by voting our consciences and voicing our concerns in non-violent ways.

Q. Do we know why God allowed 400 years between the Old and New Testaments with history that is not recorded in Scripture? Joe Monroe, Chester, VA

A. That period is variously called the silent years, scriptural dark ages, interbiblical, intertestamental, or deuterocanonical period. That age of history was predicted by Daniel in his chapters 2, 7, 8 and 11. He foretold that, after Babylon, the Persian, Greek, and Roman empires would follow. Chapters 8 and 11 go into detail about the Greek rulers and what they would do during the interbiblical period.

After Alexander died, the Grecian empire was divided among his 4 generals who continually fought over Judea and the rest of the Mediterranean nations. Ultimately, one Greek General named Antiochus gained rule over Israel and persecuted the Jews without mercy. He called himself Epiphanes which means “One like God” and demanded that the Jews abandon all forms of Judaism and worship him. After a Jewish priest and his sons led a revolt to defeat the Greeks, the Jews remained free for 100 years until 63 B.C. That’s when Pompey put all Judea under Roman control and set up a series of kings called the Herods.

During this time the Pharisees and Sadducees came into being and set up a parliamentary government called the Sanhedrin, based on the 70 elders who had advised Moses. Their disputes over scripture along with 400 years of national turmoil without a word from God prepared the Jews to be open to the answers Jesus would give. By the first Christian century when Gentile nations were questioning their polytheistic religions, the Hebrew Scriptures were available in Aramaic, Greek and Latin.

When Jesus came, the Greek language was still spoken all over the civilized world and the Pax Romana ensured peace so that the gospel could be spread safely over the roads Rome had built. Those may be some of the reasons why Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4 that the time was right for Jesus to come. The 400 silent years created a void the gospel could fill. Jesus can still fill any void in your life and mine, because he came to give us abundant life (John 10:10).

Q. Who were the saints who arose in Matthew 27:52 and what is the significance of this? Victor Flanagan, Callisberg, TX

A. Matthew 27 records the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus. Matthew 28 records his resurrection. However, there is a phrase in the middle of Matthew 27, in verse 53, which should be in chapter 28. It tells about the saints who arose “after his resurrection.” You may ask where they came from.

Hades was the name the Jews gave to the realm of the dead. It was where all dead souls went. They believed it was in the heart of the earth and was divided into two compartments. By the time of Christ, the Jews called the place of the unsaved Gehenna or Hell, so named for the Valley of Hennom, the garbage dump of Jerusalem where trash fires burned constantly. Jesus drew on that analogy in Mark 9 to describe Hell. That compartment was also called Torments (Luke 16:23). That Hebrew word meant “the rack.” It was where the enemies of God were sent.

Those who were saved from the Old Testament era waited in the other compartment of Hades. It was a holding area they called Abraham’s Bosom. That title simply referred to the embraces of greetings exchanged in that pleasant place. Still, it was a world lacking the beauty of what we understand about Paradise or Heaven.

Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 3 teach that Jesus descended to Hades after his death and announced his victory over death. After his resurrection Matthew 27 says many dead saints arose and appeared to their loved ones in Jerusalem. I believe these were allowed to stop off and give testimony to Jesus as he led them up to establish Paradise. That’s a Persian word meaning a beautiful garden. Since Jesus told the believing thief he would be with Jesus that day in Paradise, we understand that’s where saints now wait with Jesus until we all enter Heaven, the New Jerusalem, together.

Q. Please explain Mark 9:1 where Jesus said some of those standing before him would not taste of death before they see the Kingdom of God coming with power. Anita Alcorn, Oak Ridge, TN

A. There are multiple possible interpretations of this verse. Let me list 4 of the most popular understandings and then comment on them. (1) Jesus could have been referring to his Transfiguration, which is detailed in the next verses. (2) Perhaps he was predicting his Ascension when they would see him rising to his Father. (3) Again, he might have been talking about his power seen at Pentecost and the miracles accompanying the Apostolic Age. (4) Or, Jesus may have been speaking of their presence with him in Heaven, since he said those who believe in him will never die.

The Transfiguration of Jesus is most likely what he meant since it immediately follows this statement. We can find that recorded beginning with Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:2, and Luke 9:30. That scene would certainly qualify as the Kingdom of God coming, or appearing, with power. 

The Ascension of Jesus is described in Acts 1:9 and would also be a sign of his Kingdom power that he could defy gravity and rise into the clouds as angels spoke to those left behind. The power of Jesus in the coming of his Spirit is seen in the Pentecost experience in Acts, chapter 2. The sound of wind, an appearance like fire, and the ability to speak in the languages of those present were miraculous signs. They demonstrated Jesus’ power, cleansing presence, and the purpose of his Great Commission to preach the gospel to all peoples (Matthew 28:18-20).  

Then, we also recall what Jesus told Martha in John 11:26, “Those who live and believe in me will never die.” Each of us who truly trusts Jesus will see him in his Kingdom! All these are possible solutions to this verse; and perhaps Jesus meant all of them! But, only true believers will see his Kingdom because it is entered only by faith.

Q. Luke 2:4 says Joseph was of the lineage of David, but it doesn’t mention Mary. So, how was Jesus a descendant of David? Tonya Brown, Flight Safety at DFW Airport, TX

A. Matthew wrote to prove to the Jews that Jesus met all the qualifications to be their promised Messiah. He began his book in chapter 1 listing Joseph’s lineage to prove that Jesus had a legal right to David’s throne through his earthly father. On the other hand, Luke was a medical doctor. He knew that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ blood-relative, so he gave Jesus’ genealogy through Mary’s side.

          Luke’s genealogy begins in Luke 3:23. Notice in the King James that the words “son of” are in italics. That means they were not in the original text. So, Joseph was simply related to Heli (pronounced Eli). Joseph was actually the son-in-law of Eli who was Mary’s father. You can see in Matthew 1:16 that Joseph’s father was Jacob. Go down to Luke 3:31 and you will see David was in Mary’s line, also. This makes Jesus a blood-descendant of David.

Whether you trace the lineage of Jesus on his foster father’s side or by his mother’s line, both were descendants of King David. Many prophecies such as 1 Kings 9:5 and Isaiah 11 predicted Messiah to come from David. Luke even went all the way back to Adam to prove Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s prophecy to Adam in Genesis 3:15. He was the offspring of “the woman” in that prophecy who would strike the death-blow to the serpent and his seed. It’s interesting to note that no one has ever legally occupied David’s throne who wasn’t a direct descendant of David. That throne is vacant now awaiting the next King: Jesus!

This is just one of at least 33 prophecies that Jesus fulfilled at his first coming. The odds are astronomical that one man could fulfill all of those prophecies given by 8-10 different Old Testament writers scattered over 1400 years. God wants us to recognize his Son and receive him as our Messiah and Savior.

Q. Does Exodus 22:21 apply to Jesus? I have heard that people are upset with the immigration ban because Jesus was a refugee. Jane Jahn, Yorktown, VA

A. The whole chapter of Exodus 22 lists God’s laws to Israel about proper relationships with their neighbors. Verse 21 says the people were not to mistreat foreigners or oppress aliens. God’s reason was that they had been mistreated when they were aliens in Egypt. Long before Jesus spoke what we call the Golden Rule, Israel was commanded to practice it. We paraphrase Matthew 7:12 when we say, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” However, I’m afraid that Rule is not being practiced today when people rush to join any protest march that comes along, not caring how much they disrupt or endanger in the process.   

Do I think people are rioting because they don’t want to offend Jesus? No, the average marcher probably is not that familiar with the teachings of Jesus. Do I think Jesus was an alien? He was only in the sense that he was from Heaven (John 3:13). But, just as he was totally God, he was totally human (1 John 1:1-2). He was born a human and died as a human, and he preferred the title Son of Man more than any other (Matthew 16:13). I certainly do not consider Jesus to be a refugee. When I see signs saying Jesus was a refugee, I want to ask what was he fleeing? He never traveled more than 300 miles from the place of his birth, and he died about 6 miles from where he was born.

Remember that the God who said, “Do not mistreat strangers” also told Joshua to remove from their Promised Land those who were their enemies (Joshua 10:8). This was not just to keep them from worshiping idols, but it was for Israel’s safety. This is proven today in Israel: Those who were left are still attacking the Jews. Likewise, it is the duty of government to protect and serve. We must pray that our government will be given discernment and mercy toward all “strangers” to seek their individual good while working to ensure the safety of our country.

Q. Where is Satan now? Can his fallen angels (demons) ever be saved? Tim Donovan, Greensville Correctional Center, Jarratt, VA

A. Ezekiel 28:14 says Satan once walked among holy stones of fire on the Mountain of God. When he led a rebellion among the angels, God cast them out (Revelation 12:4) to earth’s atmosphere from where they fight with holy angels (Daniel 10:13; Revelation 12:7). Since Satan cannot be everywhere, they extend his evil influence by tempting humans to sin. Jesus saw Satan’s fall from Heaven (Ezekiel 28:16; Luke 10:18), and Revelation 12:12 predicts his confinement to earth near the end of this age. Until then, he has access to God as a tale-bearer of our sins (Job 1:6; Revelation 12:10).

          When Jesus dictated his letter to John for Pergamos he gave Satan’s address, at least at that time. Jesus said in Revelation 2:13 that Satan’s seat, or throne, was in Pergamos and that he dwelt there. However, he also said in 2:9 that Satan’s synagogue was in Smyrna. Those verses may simply imply fierce Satanic activity there. We know that Satan’s demons are everywhere possessing humans (Matthew 8:28), and Satan himself possessed Judas (Luke 22:3). So, we can say Satan is still among us today. He is not in Hell and will never be, but the Lake of Fire will be his final abode (Matthew 25:41).

          Your second question asks if demons can ever be saved. I would have to say no! Second Peter 2:4 says God didn’t spare a particular group of angels that sinned but chained them in Hell awaiting judgment. Demons in the possessed man of Gadara knew Jesus and trembled because they were not saved (James 2:19). They begged him not to send them to the abyss (Luke 8:30). First Peter 3:18 says Christ only died once “that he might bring us to God.” Paul was speaking of humans, not demons. There is no reference to Christ ever dying for fallen angels. Humans are only saved as the Spirit draws those whom God foreknows will be saved (Romans 8:29). The Holy Spirit will not draw demons because God has not chosen them for salvation. 

Q. How did the chapter and verse divisions begin in our Bibles? Clarence Potter, Chapel Hill, NC

A. The first writing materials, as far as we know, were papyrus, clay tablets, and parchment. Papyrus is made from layers of reeds peeled and dried flat. After papyrus we find clay tablets being used by filling shallow molds with clay and letting the desert sun bake it almost hard. They were written upon with a triangle-shaped stylus pressed into the clay, and then the clay was baked again to harden it. Parchment was used later when they found they could scrape sheepskins thin, dry them, and write on them with ink. Early ink was variously made from mixtures including berries, wine, iron salts, burnt bones, tar, or secretions from cuttle fish.

As far as we know, there are no original Scripture autographs in existence. Earliest manuscripts are believed to have been written on papyrus which was plentiful in Egypt. Later, Hebrew scribes commanded that only parchment be used to copy Scriptures. The oldest fragments we have are written with no vowels, spaces, punctuation, or capitalization. Vowels were added when the words were spoken. The books of Kings, Chronicles, Samuel, and Ezra-Nehemiah were each written as one book and later divided because of length or subject matter.

Early manuscripts seem to suggest rabbis divided the Pentateuch into 54 sections in order to read one each Sabbath, thereby reading the whole Pentateuch in one year. Following their lead, other books were gradually divided into chapters, supposedly by subjects, although in some cases subjects run past a chapter division. Different people are credited with verse divisions including Robert Stephanus who divided his verses while traveling on horseback. If the horse jumped, that would certainly account for some illogical divisions! Isaac Kalonymus is credited with numbering the verses and chapters to facilitate Bible study. It is important that we realize all these were strictly arbitrary and were not a part of the inspired manuscripts.

(Much of this came from Googling the above question.)     

Q. I know the earth is polluted by sin, but why does the Bible say God will create a new Heaven? Isn’t Heaven already perfect?  May Livingston, Tupelo, MS

A. Revelation 21:1 is the only place in the King James Bible where we find the phrase “new heaven.” However, we find “new heavens and…new earth” in Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; and 2 Peter 3:13.

Those words may be plural because the Bible recognizes 3 heavens: atmospheric, stellar, and spiritual. The first heaven is called the firmament in Genesis 1:6; it’s where the birds fly and the clouds sail. Most scholars agree that the second heaven is what we call space, where the stars are. However, some believe in a second heaven where Satan and his demons fight God’s angels (Revelation 12:7). In 2 Corinthians 12:2 Paul wrote of a man seeing the “third heaven,” his name for God’s home. He identifies that man in verse 5 as himself. I think most commentaries agree that Revelation 21:1 is talking about the atmosphere around us; although, sometimes it’s hard to know which heaven a writer is speaking about.

When God makes a new earth, he will also make a new “sky” around earth. Whether or not you agree with the theory of climate change, i.e., that our atmosphere is getting warmer each year, we all know the air has many contaminants dangerous to our health. There will be a need for clean air with the new earth. We have even polluted the stellar heaven with junk from our space explorations. Romans 8:22 teaches that sin has affected the whole universe so that the stars and planets are decaying. 

And, as for the spiritual Heaven, it will certainly be “new” for us because we’ve never seen it before! The “Heaven” where believers are now is called Paradise. It appears to be a holding place where the saved await our permanent Heaven called the New Jerusalem. Bible scholars debate whether the description of earth during what we call the Millennium may actually be a description of our eternal home (Isaiah 11:6-9). Whatever the new Heaven will be like, it will be the best God could create for his personal home; and he’s invited us to spend eternity with him when we receive Jesus as our Savior.

Q. Does God approve of war? William Holliday, Richmond, VA

A. A simple answer to your question is that wars are not God’s ideal. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace in Isaiah 9:6. However, wars are often necessary because of man’s sinful rebellions. In many cases God not only did approve of war, but he commanded it. Also, you should know that war in the Old Testament differed from war in the New Testament.

In the Old Testament, wars were largely centered around an earthly king and his kingdom. Usually, kings fought for the protection or expansion of their kingdom. However, Israel began as a theocracy; and when God’s rule was recognized he sometimes used war to punish his and their enemies.

At the beginning of the New Testament, wars were conducted by unjust leaders; and often they were aimed against believers. However, Jesus taught submission out of love for our enemies while praying for their salvation (Matthew 5:43-45). God has said he will repay those who persecute believers (Romans 12:19). Later, we fine those wars are most often spiritual and personal where we win by clothing ourselves in the Christian’s armor (Ephesians 6:10-18) and submitting to God’s Spirit. Paul and Jesus compared believers with soldiers who are ready both to hold their ground and march into enemy territory (Matthew 16:18-19). Then, Scripture says in the End Times, physical wars will be fought by angels and men for the new King and his Kingdom. Those wars will center around the new standards of God’s Peaceable Kingdom.

In both the Old and New Testaments – in Genesis 9:6 and Romans 13:4 – governments are given the right to judge evil and to enforce just laws, even by capital punishment. Their primary charge, however, is to protect the innocent and ensure fair treatment for all. This does not mean God approves of everything done in the name of civil laws or war, but it does mean God may use just wars to punish evil and accomplish his purposes. 

Q. In 1 Kings 18:22 why would Elijah claim to be the only prophet left when verse 4 of that same chapter says there were 100 more prophets being fed and protected from Jezebel? Tim Donovan, Greensville Correctional Center, Jarratt, VA

A. In 1 Kings 17 the prophet Elijah had predicted God would send a drought on Israel because of their idolatry. This made Queen Jezebel mad because she was a priestess of Baal. Then, in chapter 18, Elijah called Jezebel’s 450 prophets of Baal to a contest on Mt. Carmel. When he challenged the citizens of the northern kingdom to stand up for God, no one said a word.

Elijah’s statement, therefore, in verse 22 should not be taken literally. In his frustration he felt he was the only one on God’s side. Even the other 100 prophets had chosen to hide rather than face the queen. Still, this brave prophet continued to issue a seemingly impossible challenge. He said each side should prepare a sacrifice, but let the true God light his own fire. After the false prophets prayed to Baal for almost a full day, Elijah prayed to the Lord and God consumed his sacrifice with fire from the sky.

I know you don’t mean it this way, but critics use questions like yours to say the Bible isn’t trustworthy. They point to scriptures like Isaiah 11:12 and Revelation 7:1 which speak of the 4 corners of earth. Or, they refer to Psalm 19 and Joshua 10 where the sun is implied to rotate around the earth.

Remember that the Bible is recorded in the words of the times in which it was written. If people believed the earth was flat and square then the Bible will reflect that belief. If they thought the sun moved around the earth, their speech will indicate that. This does not mean the Bible is not true. In fact, the Bible is so true it records exactly what the people said, even though we know their knowledge was limited. So, we should always study the Bible in context. We should consider the knowledge, or lack of knowledge, of those days. Also, look at the style of writing. Poetic writings take more license than prose. Sometimes, just plain common sense will tell you if something should be taken literally or figuratively. If you approach the Word with reverent respect and pray for guidance, you will get the answer God wants you to have (Jeremiah 29:13).       

Q. Who are Jannes and Jambres in 2 Timothy 3:8? They’re not mentioned in the Old Testament. Rev. Daniel Krynauw, Cape Town, South Africa

A. Verse 8 should be studied in the context of verses 1-9. Verse 1 indicates that Paul was speaking prophetically. As he said in 1 Corinthians 7:10, Paul’s knowledge came from the Lord. In the New Testament, the “last days” mentioned in verse 1 may refer to any time from the Cross to the Second Coming, with emphasis on the time just before Christ returns. Yet, Paul also saw his prediction happening in the present. Paul predicted that things will get worse and deceivers will “come out of the woodworks” the closer we come to the end of this age.

If we open our eyes, we can see this also today. But, don’t be discouraged, dear readers; the fact that this is happening proves the Bible is true and Jesus is coming soon!

In 2 Timothy 3:2-7 Paul profiled those deceivers so we can recognize them. They are “covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers….having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” For his example, Paul referred to Jannes and Jambres back in Egypt. You’re right that these are not mentioned in the Old Testament. However, several ancient historians – Pliny, Eusebius, Origen, etc. – say these were the magicians Pharaoh called to oppose Moses. By Satan’s power they were able to reproduce the first 3 miracles of Moses: rods to snakes, water to blood, frogs on the land. Believing them, Pharaoh hardened his heart against Moses.

In today’s terminology, Paul would be saying we should beware of “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” He’s particularly warning about false religious leaders. But, we can apply this to anyone or any system which teaches in opposition to God’s Word. Today, in the name of their religion we have those who teach their followers to hate and kill those who oppose them. In larger cities people try to convince the masses to disregard the law and the worth of human life. Leaders with true moral values are hard to find. The closer we come to Christ’s return, the more Satan will send his emissaries to lead people from the peace Christ offers (Luke 2:14). You and I have to be very careful whom we follow. A good New Year’s resolution would be to study the Bible more this year to know what it teaches while praying for Holy Spirit discernment. God promises wisdom to those who ask him (James 1:5).

Q. Please explain how we are to understand the sun and moon standing still in Joshua 10:12. Rev. Steve Kane, Aldie, VA

A. Joshua 10:12-14 records where Joshua spoke to the Lord saying, “Sun, stand still over Gibeon and, Moon, over the valley of Ajalon….So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven and did not go down for about a whole day.”

When Joshua conquered the Promised Land, the surrounding Amorite kings, marched against the Gibeonites who had allied with Joshua. God told Joshua to fight those kings, and he assured their defeat (verse 8). As Joshua was sensing victory, the sun was about to set and the moon was already rising. The Amorites would surely get away under cover of darkness. Stepping out on faith, Joshua spoke to God – not to the sun or moon (verse 12) – claiming aloud that the night would tarry long enough to gain his promised victory.

Critics have used this to attack the veracity of Scripture saying the sun doesn’t move through the sky. They also laugh at Psalm 19:4-6 which speaks of the sun running a race across the horizon. Remember, however, that Scripture is written as it was spoken in the understanding of the people. Of course, the rotation of the earth allows for poetic license to speak of the sun and moon being in motion; but astronomers have discovered that the sun does actually move in its own orbit. Since I believe in a God who could create this whole universe in 6 days, I have no problem believing he knows how to stop heavenly bodies and freeze time for as long as he wishes.

Every year scientists discover natural laws that they didn’t know before. But, it really doesn’t matter how this happened; we should just believe it was God’s miracle at the exact time Joshua needed it. I draw 2 lessons from this account: Faith can move mountains so that nothing is impossible (Matthew 17:20). And, God can move (or stop) heaven and earth to come to the aid of those in his care, because we are more important than the sun! May we resolve in this New Year to trust him more.

Q. Is the correct spelling of Immanuel with an “I” or an “E”? Brenda Wills, Windsor, VA

A. You may use either spelling. The name is found only 3 times in the Bible. In Isaiah 7:14 and 8:8 the Hebrew spelling is with an “I.” In Matthew 1:23 the King James Version spells it “Emmanuel” using the Greek Transliteration. Most modern versions choose the original spelling “Immanuel” for all three references.

          It is amazing that 730 years before he was born, God told us his Son would be called Immanuel. We do call him that along with many other descriptive titles. True, his given name is Jesus, meaning “I Am Savior.” That name was also selected by God to reveal his character and mission in life.

          Although the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 given to King Ahaz may have had a lesser and immediate fulfillment by a natural-born child in his kingdom, Matthew 1:23 tells of its greater fulfillment. An angel told Joseph the prophecy pertained to his fiancée, Mary. Although “virgin” can mean just an unmarried woman, it may mean also one who has had no sexual relations. Luke 1:34 applies the latter meaning to Mary by her own testimony.

          Matthew 1:23 says Immanuel means “God with us.” Someone has noted that those 3 words sum up the whole Christmas gospel. “God” encompasses all the qualities of the Triune Godhead – Elohim, the Almighty Creator; Yahweh, the Covenant-Keeper; Yeshua, the One Who Saves; and Spiritus Sanctus, our Companion. “With” means he is among us and for us, and its present tense implies that he is with us now and forever. That covers the whole birth, life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus in spirit. “Us” implies all of humankind – people of every era, age, and situation of life. No one is left out. God came among us when Jesus was born. This is so amazing that his Advent deserves extraordinary celebration and praise. Yes, God is with us; but for the Christmas story to be complete I must ask: “Are you with God?” 

Q. What does the word “Noel” mean? O.C., Colonial Heights, VA

A. The word “noel” is a French word for Christmas, derived from the Latin for Christ’s nativity. By common use it has become an alternate word for the gospel.  In our Christmas songs it usually refers to the announcement of the angels to the shepherds of Bethlehem.

In 4-5 B.C. (the usually accepted dates for the birth of Jesus), the three largest settlements of Jewish people were found in Israel, Persia, and Egypt. God sent announcements to each of these descendants of Abraham.

The Shepherd’s Field near Bethlehem was once owned by David’s father, Jesse, and may have been where David wrote Psalm 23. Earlier, it had belonged to Boaz and was the field where Ruth gleaned. In fact, the rock over-hang forming a shallow cave where shepherds kept their sheep may have been the threshing floor where Ruth slept at Boaz’ feet in Ruth, chapter 3. According to the Jewish Mishna that field was later dedicated for Temple use to raise sheep for sacrifice or Passover. Yet, the shepherds who raised those sheep were considered outcasts because they chose a vocation that required working on the Sabbath. But, to these “untouchables” God sent an angel host to announce the coming of the Good Shepherd.

The second largest contingent of Jews was in Persia where many chose to remain after the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Jewish priests there, called Magi in the Persian tongue, would know of Balaam’s prediction in Numbers 24:17. Upon seeing a brilliant supernova they chose, on their own, to lead a caravan to Jerusalem to find the prophesied King of the Jews. They didn’t follow the star across the desert because the star wouldn’t have led them to Herod! Disappointed at not finding a baby in Herod’s palace, Matthew 2:10 says they rejoiced when they saw their star again this time leading them the six miles to Bethlehem.

That night, when Joseph fled with his family to Egypt, he joined the third largest settlement of Jews. There, Joseph told everyone that Mary’s son was the Jewish Messiah. The Coptic Christian Church of Egypt traces its beginning to Joseph who told them about Jesus. Thus, God was letting all of Abraham’s descendants know the fulfillment of his “Noel” to their forefathers.  

Q. Does the Bible have anything to say about soul mates? Tonya Brown, DFW Airport, TX

A. The term, “soul mate,” is not found in the Bible. You can find definitions from secular sources promoting the idea that a person for whom you feel a special bond, one perfectly suited to complement your temperament, or one who seems to bring out the best in you, is your soul mate. Married couples may believe their partner is their soul mate. Some may think they were created for each other, but only Adam and Eve fit that description! They forget that some couples find a second “ideal relationship” after the first mate dies.

          The philosophy of soul mates actually comes from a myth traced back to the Greek philosopher, Plato. He taught that men and women were created in one body but separated by the gods. That leads to the idea that we must search until we find our “other half,” or (as we men joke about our wives) “our better half.” That certainly is not true. Carried to the extreme one could believe he or she is less than complete without their “other half.” Constantly searching for the imaginary person in all the world who was made just for you can be a form of idolatry in that you seek fulfillment more in a person than in Christ.

The idea of “soul mates” being taught in the Bible has been debated among Bible scholars for many years. On the one hand we have Genesis 2:19 where God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a helper suited for him.” Read Matthew 19:4-6 for Jesus’ commentary on the Genesis account. Those adherents point to Bible characters who exhibited a special bond between them, such as: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Paul and Timothy. But, on the other hand there are those who point to Numbers 36:6 where God told the Israelites, “Let them marry to whom they think best.”

I think the real answer lies in such scriptures as Isaiah 43:7; Ephesians 2:10 and Revelation 4:11 where we are taught that our true Soul Mate is Jesus. We were created to bring him pleasure, and Paul says in Colossians 2:10 that he completes us. When his Spirit indwells and controls us, we move toward the same goal of glory to God; and that’s a true soul mate! 

Q. In Genesis 4 when Cain killed his brother Abel, why did God protect that murderer and threaten anyone who killed him? Judy Beach, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Genesis 4:8 records Cain killing his brother. Then, Cain fathered some pretty bad characters in his progeny, including Lamech who began the practice of polygamy by having 2 wives. Lamech also killed a young man just because he insulted him. And, Cain’s line went on to produce more and more sinful people, finally culminating in the vile conditions before the Flood.

Yours is a valid question as to why God didn’t just kill Cain right after he killed his brother. Yes, this was before the sixth commandment stated “Thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13). But, God had placed his law in Cain’s conscience; and Cain knew he was guilty because he lied to cover up his crime. However, instead of killing him, in Genesis 4:15 God placed a mark on Cain to protect him. He said in effect, “If anyone kills Cain, I will take vengeance on him seven-fold.”

I certainly don’t know the mind of God, but he may have been showing mercy because Adam was praying for his wayward son. Or, perhaps, at the beginning of the human race, God wanted to teach us the lesson of unchecked lawlessness. In America today, with the Bible and prayer removed from governmental functions, we see unchecked lawlessness in senseless killings and in all kinds of violent protests by people who think might makes right. Didn’t Martin Luther King, Jr., teach us peaceful protests over the long haul get things changed?

We remember that God gave Noah a chance to give us a world populated with righteousness, because everyone who survived the Flood trusted in God. Maybe God has given America a reprieve because of the prayers of his people in recent days. If we use accepted legal means to communicate our wishes to the new administration, maybe we will see a time again when Americans equally respect all races, colors, creeds, identities and professions. Then, perhaps chaplains will be allowed to preach and pray again in Jesus’ name and the IRS will stop targeting religious institutions. And, maybe even teachers can place their Bibles on their desks again. But, please don’t depend on a new president to do that. We, the people, while emulating the Prince of Peace, must work as if it all depends on us and pray as if it all depends on God.  

Q. What does the Bible say about the needs or requirements for corporate worship? Bo Godbold, Murrells Inlet, SC

A. The Bible has much to say about worship, both private and corporate. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the two because God won’t accept our corporate worship if our private worship doesn’t precede it sincerely. However, I’ll list a few references that deal primarily with corporate worship.

The first instance of the word “worship” is in Genesis 22:5 where Abraham and Isaac went to worship at Mt. Moriah. The first call of God for corporate worship is in Exodus 24 where God invited the leaders of Israel to come and worship him on Sinai.

From the first example of worship by Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, to Noah’s sacrifice after the flood in Genesis 8, to Abraham’s offering of a ram in place of Isaac in Genesis 22, Deuteronomy 26 commands the continuing practice of bringing some gift to God in worship. Therefore, after presenting ourselves with a pure heart to worship God, it seems he is pleased when we bring an offering as Psalm 96:8 says. God doesn’t need our offerings, but we need to learn to show our gratitude through denying ourselves of something precious and giving it in honor of the One who has given us all we have.

At various places the Scriptures tell us to worship God with our whole heart, with tithes and offerings, in repentance and faith, in praise and singing, and in prayers of confession and petition. Jesus worshipped at local synagogues by reading from God’s Word and commenting on its application. Also, 1 Corinthians 1:21 says God is pleased to save the lost by our preaching, so a gospel presentation with some kind of invitation in implied there. Although we can worship God privately away from church, 4 times the Old Testament tells us to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, which is God’s House. In fact, Hebrews 10:25 commands that we not forsake assembling ourselves in worship with other believers at appointed worship times.

Q. Our country seems to be badly split going into this election. Does the Bible offer help to bring our country together? Lois Dungan, Arkport, NY

A. I am writing this before the 2016 elections are decided. Therefore, I can only speak in generalities; but, God always speaks in specifics.

          Yes, our country is deeply divided. Each side feels strongly their party is best for our nation. So, no matter who wins, nearly half of our country will be disappointed. Maybe disappointed isn’t strong enough: Perhaps I should use such words as distraught, demoralized, shocked, sickened, fearful, or even angered.

          We know whoever wins will not please almost half of the population. That’s a tremendous hurdle, no matter how strong the personality, or how carefully they move to bring hope to the nation. So many insults have been hurled, so many terrible secrets have been revealed and so many lies told, it may take years before we trust our political leaders again. Therefore, we must trust the only Righteous One. Psalm 19:9 says, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” And, Titus 1:2 says God cannot lie.

          Speaking through the writer of Proverbs the Lord says in 8:15, “By me kings reign and princes decree justice.” God also revealed to Daniel in a night vision that he, God, “removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21). Knowing the God of Heaven is in control, Paul wrote in Romans 13:1, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” And, Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 that prayers should be offered with thanksgiving for all men, “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”

          Therefore, knowing that “he has said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’” (Hebrews 13:5), we should trust that God is working his purpose out and that all things are working together for good to those who love the Lord (Romans 8:28).  

Q. Where is the Ark of the Covenant today? Hattie Cox, Richmond, VA

A. The Ark of the Covenant, also called the Ark of Testimony or the Ark of Moses, was a chest approximately 52 inches (4.3 feet) long and 31 inches (or 2.6 feet) high and wide. It was made of acacia wood and covered in gold.

          The Ark and its contents symbolized the presence of Israel’s God. According to Hebrews 9:4, contained in the Ark – or at least beside it – were the tablets of the Ten Commandments, a golden pot of manna from Israel’s wilderness journeys, and Aaron’s rod that budded and bore almond nuts. To me, the manna represented the provision of the Father, and Aaron’s rod pictured the life-giving Holy Spirit. According to Galatians 3:24, the Law was the schoolmaster leading us to Jesus who fulfilled all its requirements. Behind the veil and over the Ark was the Shekinah glory of God pulsating with fire. It rose up through the Tabernacle roof to become the pillar of fire and cloud that led Israel to their Promised Land.

          What happened to this special Ark? Many historians say it was destroyed when Nebuchadnezzar burnt the Temple. One Jewish tradition says Jeremiah hid it in a tunnel under the Temple mount. The Second Book of Maccabees records that God told Jeremiah to move the Ark “to the mountain where Moses met God and saw his inheritance.” That could either be Mt. Sinai or Mt. Nebo (Pisgah) where Moses died. Orthodox Ethiopian Christians claim King Solomon gave the Ark to the Queen of Sheba for safekeeping. They say it now resides in a small, unadorned, block chapel in Aksum, Ethiopia. A priest guards it for his lifetime, never letting anyone see it until the next priest takes over at his death.

          In Revelation 11:19, John was encouraged by seeing a vision of God’s temple with the Ark in Heaven. However, Revelation 21:22 says there is no temple in the Holy City. There may be a temple in Paradise now, but we won’t need one in Heaven because believers will see the full glory of God face to face then (Revelation 21:3).    

Q. Should Christian believers be heavily involved in current Halloween practices? Lucy Teachey. Richmond, VA

A. I think believers should be careful about what our Halloween observance teaches our children. If we shouldn’t teach our children to play with guns, we certainly shouldn’t teach them to play around with Satanic practices. Proverbs 22:6 urges us to train our children in the right way so that they will grow up to make the right choices.

It’s a well-known fact that Halloween is the most revered night for Satanists. Disguised as innocent fun, more mischief and wickedness is done on that night than on any other. Hiding behind masks, people do everything from practical jokes to immoral atrocities, including sacrificial offerings to Satan.

God’s Word warns in Leviticus 19, “You shall not…practice divination or soothsaying….Do not turn to mediums or spiritists: do not seek them out to be defiled by them.” And, Deuteronomy 18 reads: “There shall not be found among you anyone who…uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.” We need to teach our children that supernatural evil as well as anything that glorifies human suffering is to be avoided (1 Timothy 6:11; James 4:7).

Therefore, it’s time for the Church to either divorce itself from present Halloween practices or use them to defeat Satan at his own game. Many churches now sponsor a fall festival or carnival to give children a safe alternative to asking “Trick or Treat?” from strangers. Others actually use that night for evangelistic purposes or wholesome visitation with their neighbors.

Of course, the irony of this modern holiday is its beginning as “All Hallows Eve,” a time to honor the memory of saints. However, like many other sacred institutions, Satan has corrupted it from its original purpose. Today, its commercialism is second only to Christmas. If we truly want to keep Christ in Christmas, let’s start the season by keeping Christians out of unscriptural Halloween practices.

Q. What did Jesus write on the ground in John 8:3-11? Bert Stevens, S. Prince George, VA

A. That passage tells of the Scribes and Pharisees attempting to trick Jesus. They brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to ask Jesus what should be done about her. This was actually an unintended compliment to the compassion of Jesus.  If he said, “Stone her!” the people would not believe his teachings about kindness. However, if he defended her, he would be breaking the law of Moses which demanded death for adultery. Instead of answering them, Jesus wrote in the dust. 

Since the Bible doesn’t tell us what he wrote, there have been many theories.  Some have said that he was simply doodling on the ground to ignore the Pharisees and showing he didn’t consider their intended trickery worth answering. Others say he was casting some magic spell on the men to make them drop the stones they had brought to stone her.

I prefer to think Jesus wrote or drew something that each man saw differently. I think each man saw his own “secret” sin revealed. Then, Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (verse 7) As each man realized Jesus knew of his own hypocrisy, one by one each man dropped his stone and slithered away into the night (verse 9). After that, Jesus asked the woman where her accusers were. She replied that there were none, and Jesus said an amazing thing to her. He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (verse 11).

I think Jesus considered the sins of her accusers to be worse than her sin. Perhaps she had been “set up” so they could trick Jesus. Or, Jesus looking into her heart may have seen that she was truly repentant. Maybe this happened so she could believe on Jesus and be saved. Then, all her sins would be truly forgiven! At any rate, this is the only account in the Bible of Jesus, the man, ever writing anything (although his Spirit wrote the Bible). What he wrote here was in the dust, which was certainly blown away shortly. That’s what he does for the sins of all those who trust in him. Psalm 103:12 teaches our sins will never come against us!        

Q. Why does God sometimes wait so long to judge evil? C. M., Colonial Heights, VA

A. Let me give you the bottom line answer first and then I’ll give some Biblical examples: The mercy of God is the reason! Second Peter 3:9 in the King James reads in part, “The Lord is…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” I like the way the Good News Bible helps us understand that whole verse: “The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think. Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins.”

When God created us in his image, he gave us the ability to choose to obey him or reject him. In giving guidelines to help us obey, he also had to state what will happen if we choose not to obey. God doesn’t delight in punishing evil; that’s not his purpose. His purpose is to bring all people into a holy relationship with him. So, he gives them time to repent and turn toward him. Only when he has proven they won’t honor him does he keep his promise to punish. That’s the mercy of God toward both the evil and the good!

Let’s look at some Biblical examples of God’s timing: Genesis 6:3 says, “My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” Some teachers believe that was the time God gave Noah before the Flood would come. Why would he wait? Perhaps to give Noah time to build a boat to save his family and to give sinful men time to repent.

Why didn’t God give the land of Canaan to Abraham right when he promised it in Genesis 12:7? Genesis 15:16 says the sins of the inhabitants had not reached their peak at that time. Genesis 50:20 says God didn’t punish Joseph’s brothers for selling him into slavery because God would use Joseph later to save his family.

These few examples just remind us that we can’t know God’s reasons unless he reveals them to us. But, we can trust his mercy. God is righteous toward evil and merciful toward faith. Both actions come in his timing. If you know Jesus as your Savior you can claim the same mercy of Isaiah 54:8, “In my anger I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer.”

Q. How can one justify a Friday crucifixion and a Sunday resurrection and believe Jesus’ words that he would be in the grave 3 days and 3 nights? Wilbert Lassiter, Dinwiddie, VA

A. Since the first Christian century, those closest to these events have put the crucifixion on Friday and the resurrection on Sunday. 

          As to Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:40, “3 days and 3 nights” was a common Jewish idiomatic expression meaning “on the third day.” We have idiomatic expressions. When a speaker is said to “chase rabbits,” everyone understands he got off subject. Jesus followed the language and customs of his neighbors. When they said “40 days,” they meant about a month. They said a father “loved his heir and hated the siblings.” He didn’t hate them, he just bestowed more blessings on the heir (Romans 9:13). Neither did Jesus mean, in Luke 14:26, that we must hate our parents to follow him.

          The dates we observe are confirmed by the Levitical Calendar God gave to Moses. The 6 major feasts and 1 fast predicted the life events of Jesus in chronological order. He was born on the Feast of Tabernacles. John 1:14 in the original language said “The Word…tabernacled among us.” Next came Passover when Jesus died as our Passover Lamb. The night the Jews observed Passover was Thursday. However, since it was after sunset, it was considered Friday, the day Jesus later died. The Feast of Unleavened Bread followed on that Saturday when Jesus was in the grave on the day the women swept all crumbs of leaven out into the ground. He “who knew no sin” became sin for us and lay buried in the ground. That following Sunday was the Feast of First Fruits when Jesus became the first fruit of our resurrection.

He also fulfilled Pentecost, the Spring Harvest, bringing the first Christian harvest of 3,000 souls. He has yet to fulfill Trumpets when he raptures the Church. The Day of Atonement will follow when God declares all our sins atoned by his Son. The mind of God has amazingly worked these dates to have Jesus fulfill everything that was predicted thousands of years before. What a wonderful God we serve!

Q. How can we know if the Antichrist is on the scene today? Pastor Russell Fail, Virginia Beach, VA

A. The short answer is: We can’t! That is, we can’t know for certain until God reveals him. Second Thessalonians 2 says he won’t be recognized for who he is until “He who now letteth…be taken out of the way” (verse 7). Many Bible students believe this is a reference to the witness of the Holy Spirit being removed in the Church at the Rapture. Until that time, the “man of sin…son of perdition” is being withheld to “be revealed in his time” (verses 3 and 6).

The setting for Antichrist’s take-over is further described in 2 Thessalonians 2: There will be a great falling away from biblical morality. Men and women will be deceived more and more into committing unrighteous acts. As a result, God will send them a strong delusion to believe Satan’s lies because they refuse the truth of the Bible. Antichrist, a Gentile from the area originally ruled by ancient Rome, will be given world-wide authority to solve earth’s problems. He will be accompanied by a Jewish advisor who works amazing “magic” that astounds people. Both men are further described in Revelation 13.  

If you think any of the above is happening today, you must also watch for these signs: Miraculously, Antichrist will survive an assassination attempt; although at first he appears to be for Israel, eventually he will turn against them and persecute all who believe in God. However, his ultimate identification will be that, somehow, his name is connected with the number 666. When he sits in the rebuilt Temple of God allowing people to worship him as God, Jesus will return to destroy him.

Before these final signs are given we believe Jesus will rapture his Church before the world’s final tribulation to wait in Paradise for our return with Christ. Until all these signs are evident, the only way to discern the signs of the times is to give ourselves to God and ask his Spirit to enlighten us from his Word.

Q. How can God be fair to punish people who have never heard that Jesus is the only way to be saved? Barbara Smith, Cumberland, VA

A. Jesus did not stutter when he said in John 14:6 that he is the only way to God. If there is any other way, Jesus is a liar. His closest followers believed in him so much that they endured lions, swords, and crucifixions. Still, they testified in Acts 4:12 that there is no other name whereby we must be saved.

          The Apostle Paul was so sure of this truth that he wrote in Romans 1:16 saying the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. In so stating, he put the responsibility on each person to believe the evidence God gives them. Remember, John 1:9 teaches that the light of Jesus is available to every person on earth, and Romans 1:20 states those who refuse his light have no excuse. How is that?

          Romans 1:19 says the knowledge of God has been revealed in every person because God has shown it to them. “In them” is the testimony of conscience, and “to them” is the testimony of creation. God guarantees that every person with a rational mind can know there is a God by the outward evidence of creation and the inward evidence of conscience. Creation is such proof of a Creator that the Bible says the person who disbelieves in an Intelligent Designer is a fool (Psalm 14:1). Romans 2:15 teaches that God placed in every person a conscience to guide people toward his moral laws.

Therefore, Romans 1:21 states, if they refuse these witnesses, their heart will become more darkened because they refused the obvious evidences God gave them. But, verse 17 teaches that those who believe those first evidences – so that they have a little faith – will be given more faith. To those who want to know more about God, he will reveal more light. If they keep stepping in the light, they will eventually come to Jesus who is the light showing every person the way to God.

I am convinced that God will get a Christian witness to everyone who wants to know how to be saved if they are willing to follow the light he gives them. Therefore, if someone is unsaved, it’s because they don’t want to know the True God. In the judgment God will be fair to judge every person by the light they refused (Romans 2:11-12; Luke 12:48).          

Q. Should Christians refuse to vote if they don’t like either major candidate? Judy Beach, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Since this column is an editorial, I can speak my personal beliefs as editorial comments. I believe all people with Biblical morals should vote. And, I believe they should let those values guide their choices. It is unthinkable that people of genuine faith could divorce themselves from their duty to God and their fellowmen. Two principles will guide my voting choices, and I hope they will help you if you’re not sure you’re going to vote, or you’re undecided for whom to vote.

First, my Christian citizenship in God’s Kingdom teaches me the responsibility of my influence. Jesus told us to let our lights shine (Matthew 5:16). I believe if Christians are expected to preach, teach, and live their Christian convictions, we must express them when we have the opportunity to influence our government. In my opinion, it is the lowest form of indifference to refuse to vote when this is a freedom men and women have fought and died for, and oppressed peoples around the world wish they had the priviledge to vote without harassment.

Every 4 years our citizens have the obligation to help establish a government that honors God and keeps all people free. Romans, chapter 13, is about Christian duty in secular government, and Paul says in verse 7 that we are to give honor where honor is due. Christian Americans owe the honor of their participation in government because it is ordained by God (Romans 13:1).

 Second, your duty is to vote for God’s principles above party loyalty. You’re not going to find a party platform where you agree with every plank. Neither are you going to find a perfect candidate. Whether you like a party’s candidate or not, vote for the party that comes closest to your Biblical values, and pray that God will change its leadership. But, even if God doesn’t change a leader’s character, he can still use any person to accomplish his will.

Over the last 40 or more years, our silence as Christians has allowed the transformation of our beloved land of the free to move toward an atheistic, socialist nation where people with ungodly motives have assumed more and more control. Far too many in the “silent majority” have failed to stand up for their beliefs, serve in the political arena, and vote their convictions. Please don’t be one of those! You can register to vote, even online, in Virginia through October 17.

 Q. Because of the many natural disasters in our country and world-wide sorrows, I wonder if God is trying to get our attention. Nancy Voigt, Colonial Heights, VA

A. God is always trying to get our attention. He created us to fellowship with him and to do his will (Psalm 100:3; Revelation 4:11). God wants to speak to us every day in the wonders of nature, through the Bible, by his Spirit, and through his messengers. In order to hear him, we must be available to listen. If we don’t, how can we begrudge God’s doing what he must to get our attention? Many of the recent hardships in America are considered “acts of God” because we have no control over hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, drought, and fires. Maybe God, in mercy, is reminding our once-Christian nation that he is still on the Throne.

Scripture does record many times when God allowed turmoil to show his displeasure. The worldwide Flood of Genesis 7 is an extreme example. But, lesser examples are found in such passages as 1 Samuel 12:18 and 1 Kings 18:45. Although he doesn’t always cause our afflictions, he may allow the consequences of a rebellious world and wrong choices to draw us to remember his words. In his mercy he sends rain and sun on the just and the unjust (Matthew 12:45). If he judges it necessary to send natural disasters, it’s logical to assume that Godly people may get some of the fall-out.

Jesus said in John 16:33 that we’re always going to have tribulations in this world. However, believers can have comfort knowing that he has the power to see us through them. In Matthew 24, Jesus predicted upheavals in nature that would be signs of his soon return. The tragedies we’re hearing about now all over the world could well be the beginning of sorrows referenced in Matthew 24:8.

It’s fitting that our hearts empathize with those who are hurting. We should pray especially for those being persecuted by evil people. It’s good that we share their grief, because Jesus taught us to care. In Matthew 25:40 Jesus said when we help a brother or sister in need, we’re honoring him. Remember that Ephesians 2:10 says we were created to do just that. When calamities get our attention it’s always appropriate to consider if God may be speaking. Our answers will come in prayer and meditation on his Word.

Q. If we believe God makes no mistakes, how are we to understand his repenting in 1 Samuel 15:11? Justin L., Round Lake, IL

A. The King James Bible in 1 Samuel 15:11 records God’s saying to Samuel, “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king.” In most other versions that verb vacillates between forms of “repent” and “regret.” The Hebrew word for repent there actually means “to sigh or breath heavily” as if disappointed. Yours is a valid question, however, since verse 29 says God is not a man that he should repent, or regret his action. They are the same word, but the context determines its meaning.

Let me share how I reconcile the thought of an all-knowing God regretting something he has done: I understand it best by remembering that we often describe God in anthropomorphic terms; i.e., we refer to him with human characteristics. We talk of God as having eyes and ears, heart and hands; but Jesus said in John 4:24 that God is a spirit. Yet, God describes himself with human qualities so we can better understand him. In Psalm 34:15 God inspired David to write, “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.”

Thinking of God as repenting or regretting some previous action is a way to understand why God changes his attitude toward a person. Our English word “repent” means to make a 180 degree turn and go in the opposite direction. If we think of God as repenting, it simply means that he has changed the way he will relate to someone. And, that’s because the individual has changed his devotion. If he has learned his lesson and made a positive change, God may then bless him. If he was once serving God but begins to disobey, God may punish him.

When God is said to repent, it certainly doesn’t mean that God has made a mistake; or, in this case, that God didn’t know King Saul would be a poor king. God knew full well what Saul would do, but he was the best man for the job at that time. God let him do good for Israel as long as he obeyed God, but when he began disobeying, God removed him.

How slow we are to learn that God usually lets us do what we’re determined to do, because that’s the best way to teach us to trust his way! We still learn best by trial and error. So, we can still believe an all-wise God never makes a mistake. When he “changes direction,” it is ultimately for the good of his children (Romans 8:28).

Q. Why aren’t Elijah and Elisha considered “Major Prophets”? Russell Brandon, Anchorage, AK

A. I take it that you’re speaking of the usual 5 divisions of the Old Testament as being books of Law, History, Wisdom (or Poetical), Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets. We know the books called “Law” also contain the early history of Creation, Fall, Flood, Division of Nations, and the story of Abraham. That classification is called Law because the larger subject portion of those first 5 books of the Bible detail the laws God gave to Israel. Those books, also, are called the Pentateuch (5 books) and believed to be written originally by Moses.

          The distinction between the Major and Minor Prophets is largely due to the length of their writings. Since Elijah and Elisha were not writing prophets, they are not included in the division called Major Prophets.

          However, Elijah and his protégé Elisha are, indeed, major characters in the early history of the Kingdom of Israel. They are called miracle- working prophets of whom Elijah is considered the first, but actually Elisha has more miracles recorded than Elijah. They ministered at a time when Israel was slipping rapidly into apostasy. God allowed supernatural acts to confirm their ministries as they confronted evil where they found it. Most often, it was their kings who were leading their people farther from God’s ideals.

          The New Testament does not dwell so much on the individuals, Moses and Elijah, as on the groups they typify. Moses represents all the requirements of holiness to be practiced from God’s laws. Elijah represents all the prophecies the coming Messiah would fulfill. Many of those prophecies were actually stated years after Elijah in the periods of the major and minor prophets.

          These Godly men, Moses and Elijah, appeared at the Transfiguration of Jesus and are thought to be the Two Olive Trees of Zechariah 4 and the future Two Witnesses of Revelation 11. They give testimony that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah because he kept all the laws and fulfilled all the prophecies required for his first coming. Regardless of how they are classified, Elijah and Elisha are major prophets in the Bible account.

Q. In Exodus 20:5 is God being fair to hold children accountable for their parents’ sins? Pat Stawarz, Prince George, VA

A. Have no hesitation to state it: God will always be fair (Genesis 18:25)! If he ever seems to be unfair, it’s because we do not know all the circumstances. However, you are right that the verse following the second Commandment in Exodus 20 (“make no graven image”) seems out of character for a righteous God. That verse says God is a jealous God visiting the iniquity (perverseness and its consequences) of the fathers to the third and fourth generations of those who hate him. The adjective “jealous” there has a double meaning. It does mean he gets angry if we worship anyone or anything ahead of him. But, it also conveys the idea of zealousness to enforce what he has said.

Notice, too, that God didn’t say he will punish the third or fourth generations for their fathers’ sins. He said he will visit (direct or allow) the results of their sins to afflict the children. That is, the results of the fathers’ sins will continue to reap repercussions for their children, like ripples on a pond. Example: If we use up natural resources, our children may not have them. In addition, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers” can mean the children will reap God’s judgment for choosing their fathers’ lifestyle. In Bible times, as it is today in many countries, 3 or 4 generations might live in the same house under the authority of the family patriarch. If children follow what they have learned from their elders, they will be punished the same way as the fathers.

In all this, the fairness of a righteous God will punish each person for their own sins. Ezekiel 18:20 makes this plain: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father; neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” Yet, the next verse back in Exodus 20:6 says God will show mercy to thousands of those that love him. He may allow the consequences of sin to affect a few, but thousands will be blessed by the deeds of those who love him.     

Q. Please explain “the Rock that followed them” in 1 Corinthians 10:4. B.W., Disputanta, VA

A. Speaking of Israel in the wilderness, Paul wrote, “they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” There are varying opinions for understanding this.

First, however, we must think of the logistics of caring for a minimum of one million people for 40 years in a desert wilderness. At least twice God provided quail to give them meat. Daily he provided manna that could be gathered from the ground and made into bread. He even kept their clothes and shoes from wearing out. But, what about water for drinking, cooking, washing, and for their livestock?

Exodus 17 records when the Jews needed water God told Moses that he, God, would stand upon a rock (probably by his pillar of fire) which he wanted Moses to strike. When Moses struck the rock a river of water gushed from it (Psalm 78:20). Although the Pentateuch doesn’t tell us this, the Jewish Hagadah says the rock itself followed them, always nearby continuing to provide water in the desert. Another oral tradition says, not the rock, but the river that sprang from that rock was never so far away that Israel couldn’t get the water they needed. Some commentaries suggest that Paul meant Israel carried the water with them as they traveled.

Although I cannot say how God continued to provide streams in the desert, I offer my understanding of 1 Corinthians 10. Verse 6 says Paul saw Scriptural examples in that account. That word “examples” means illustrations or types. Therefore, Paul’s whole thesis in chapter 10 is that the same provision God made for Israel is available for believers today. God led Israel by his pillar, he protected them in the sea, he fed them miraculous food, and he provided their water from a rock (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Therefore, when Paul called it a “spiritual Rock,” I believe he was picturing the rock as a type of Christ who always follows and provides those same blessings for those who trust in him. Further, his River of Life springing in our souls (John 4:14) will never run dry. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Jesus following me; I want to follow him!

Q. What is our conscience? Is a Christian’s conscience different from that of an unbeliever? Latane Jenkins, Chesterfield, VA

A. Your conscience is part of your human psyche (your mind). God created it when he gave you the abilities of self-awareness and rational thinking. Notice that it’s spelled with two words, con and science. Science comes from the Latin scire meaning “knowledge,” and con means “with.” So, you’re thinking with knowledge. What knowledge? The value system you have been taught. Simply stated, your conscience recalls what you have accepted as right or wrong.

          Your conscience reacts subconsciously, “under your knowledge.” You are not aware of it until you do something related to what you have been taught. It gives you good feelings when you agree with what you know to be right. But, it can give you bad feelings when you do that which you know to be wrong. It is not true that a bad person “has no conscience.” He has a conscience, but not everyone’s conscience reflects the same values. Your conscience is trained by what you believe, and it changes as your knowledge and values change.

          Socially speaking, our conscience is trained by our parents, our schooling, our peers, and our circumstances. Later we design our own values by what we want to accomplish in life. In addition, in Romans 2:14-15 Paul teaches that God has put knowledge of himself and of basic right or wrong in every person. Therefore, everyone is “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). When people go against their God-given understanding that abusing a fellow human is wrong, Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:2 sin has seared their conscience. 

When a person is exposed to Bible study and hears what is right or wrong, his mind builds a value system. When that person becomes saved, the Holy Spirit, then dwelling within him, draws on his Biblical values to convince him of right or wrong. Hebrews 9:14 says the blood of Christ not only saves us, but it cleanses our conscience so we understand what honors God. We call that our Christian conscience. To fail to obey our Christian conscience is sin (James 4:17).

Q. When I pray for the unsaved may I pray for their physical needs, or does God only respond to prayers for their salvation? Janie Jahn, Yorktown, VA 

A. Many people remember the parable of Jesus in Luke 18:9-14 about the Pharisee and the publican praying. All the publican prayed was, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus said he left more justified than the Pharisee who prayed about his many accomplishments. From that, people have concluded that the only prayer God hears from the unsaved is their prayer for salvation.

          What God hears or doesn’t hear is a question I can only speculate about. However, I believe God hears every prayer just as he knows every thought. And, I think you may pray for the needs of the unsaved because he has said he cares for everyone. We were all created in his image (Genesis 1:27); we were created for his pleasure (Revelation 4:11); and he is not willing that any of us should perish (2 Peter 3:9; Titus 2:11).

Therefore, I believe God wants everyone to pray to him. And, there’s no limit to the nature of those concerns. All prayers may include requests for protection in times of danger, healing in times of sickness, or finances in times of need. It may be that, through answering the prayers of the unsaved, they will realize his love and care and be drawn to trust him. But, of course, the only prayer from the lost that we know he will surely answer is their prayer of repentance and their cry for salvation (Jeremiah 33:3).

          So, yes; you may ask God’s blessings on those who do not know him. This shows the character of God being developed in you. And, keep on praying for them. God will not overrule their wills, but he may use your prayers to draw them to himself. Just because he may not answer all their prayers doesn’t mean he won’t answer your prayers for them. “If you shall ask anything in my name [in his will and character and for his glory], I will do it” (John 14:14).   

 

Q. If God created everything and rules over all, how can we have such evil in the world? Rory Johnston, Las Vegas, NV

A. This becomes a pertinent question when many today are saying if there is a God, he can’t be good because he allows harm to come to people. They ask, “Why doesn’t God stop ISIS from killing believers and snipers from ambushing policemen?” Psalm 145:17 says God always acts in righteousness. That’s true, but his righteousness isn’t defined by our standards. Righteousness means God is always true to his own character and purpose. And, remember: He sees the whole picture!

Genesis 1:31 says everything God created in the beginning was declared to be good. God created us like himself with minds to make our own choices, and he said that was good. That means he gives every person the freedom to choose God’s ways or to reject the good he intends for us. Where God and good are rejected we have evil. Just as cold is the absence of heat and darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good. Evil is what we have when we reject God’s standards.

Knowing that we might succumb to Satan and reject the good, God has written (and miraculously preserved in the Bible) instructions for how we are to use the goodness he has created so as to overcome evil. It is not God’s plan that people kill others out of hatred (Exodus 20:13). But, he has given them the right of free choice. He has warned them; and when they sin, either they or a substitute has to die for their sins (Romans 6:23). If they refuse God’s substitute Savior, they will experience an eternal living fate worse than the deaths they have caused. For those who turn to God he has provided a Savior, Jesus, who lived and died so that evil will be abolished one day. In the meantime, God offers peace and comfort to those who are plagued by evil and harm. To help us endure evil, he gives hope that those safe in Jesus will be reunited for eternity. Those gifts are available through our faith in the atoning work of Jesus whose peaceful reign is not shaken by evil.

Q. I know the patriarchs conversed with God, but where is the last recorded conversations in both testaments? Roane Lovorn, Atlanta, GA

A. In the Old Testament, chronologically speaking, I believe Zachariah recorded the last 2 way conversation with God. I could have missed some, but if I’m correct, the last conversation is actually one God predicts will happen in the future. When Israel recognizes their Messiah, Zechariah 13:9 says, “…They shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, ‘It is my people;’ and they shall say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

          If I am correct, do you see how appropriate this is? This is the climax of the whole Old Testament story! Since God began to fellowship with Adam and Eve, but they broke that fellowship by sinning, the rest of the narrative builds toward the time when that fellowship will be restored. This last conversation with God in the Old Testament points toward the continuing story in the New Testament of how God will bring that reconciliation to pass.

          It can happen because God has taken the initiative to bear the guilt of man’s sin. He came as the sinless Man, Jesus, to take our sins on himself. He has said, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). However, when individuals ask him, the Judge will apply the death of Jesus in payment of our sins; and our fellowship with our Maker will be restored.

          The story comes to full conclusion with the last conversation in the Bible. Appropriately, it’s the next to last verse in the New Testament. Revelation 22:20 records Jesus saying, “Surely I come quickly,” and John’s reply is the prayer of every believer, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

          When he comes, the earthly story will end; but, the heavenly story will just be beginning. The fellowship will be restored, never to be broken again. Revelation 21:3-4 correctly makes it a great exclamation: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

Q. Our country is in such bad shape, what can the average citizen do to stop our downward spiral? Jim Beach, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. For our upcoming national birthday we need to remember that our country was founded to ensure individual freedoms. Yet, today people of faith are no longer free to express Biblical convictions. As a result, violence and killings fill the evening news; corruption and deceit are everywhere. Government is trying to control every area of our lives, and political correctness is the watchword of the day.

What can the average American do? Each of us must accept the fact that our country isn’t going to get better if we don’t do something and do it now! Realize that you are a soldier in a revolution to return America to her former strength politically, economically, militarily, and especially spiritually. You have a voice and your voice is as important as anyone else’s.

Express your voice by every avenue available. Speak up in public forums and know what your leaders stand for. I heard that over 460 governmental positions are up for reelection this year, so we have a chance to make a difference. Vote for those of like values and encourage moral men and women to run for office. Support financially those who will take your convictions to the state house and the White House. Write letters to the editor and make use of social media to spread your discontent. Sometimes peaceful civil disobedience is necessary to draw attention to unjust laws. If enough people refuse to obey them, history has proven they can be changed.

To the spiritually discernable, God is trying to get our attention with fires and storms, droughts and floods, and even insect-born disease. People, only God can control these! And, once he has our attention he’s already given us the solution in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14. It doesn’t take the majority of our citizens wanting to please God; a minority of truly devoted believers can use the only weapon that will work: Prayer! “…If I send pestilence among my people; if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”  

Q. In many Psalms David seems to curse his enemies and pray for revenge. Is it right for Christians to pray for revenge? Marian Baker, Richmond, VA

A. In doing a word search for “enemies” through the Psalms, I found that, most often, David was simply asking God not to let his enemies triumph over him. In a few Psalms David called his enemies God’s enemies, and he predicted that God would avenge the righteous. I only found a few Psalms, such as 6:10; 54:5; and 143:12, where David directly asked God to punish or destroy his enemies.

Even that seems harsh to us since Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount to “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). And, Paul wrote in Romans 12:19 that we are not to take revenge ourselves but allow God to repay evil. We will do well to remember Malachi 3:6 where God said, “I change not.” He is still “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). 

Therefore, we must realize that the Old Testament was a kindergarten leading to the mature teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Temporary lessons we learn in kindergarten will be replaced by the permanent lessons of responsible adults. I read somewhere that we cannot expect pre-Christian people to act “Christian.” In Psalms and other scriptures, cursing their enemies was really a plea for God to vindicate right in his own way. As David did, many Old Testament writers believed they were defending God’s honor; and they would not sit still when their God, his people, or his teachings were abused, neglected, or blasphemed.

Believers in the New Covenant should not seek revenge against our enemies, but rather show the attitude of Christ in praying for them and treating them with respect. After all, just as we believe they are wrong; they believe we are wrong.  So, we leave revenge in God’s hands; and “the Judge of all the earth (will) do right” (Genesis 18:25).  

Q.  I’ve been comparing the cost of cremation vs. interment. Does the Bible prohibit cremation?  Sharon Harbaugh, Ocala, FL

 A. Most crematoriums use extreme heat and evaporation to reduce human remains to ashes, although there is an alternate process using water and chemicals. Cremation is popular today largely because it’s less expensive, and it may not require internment in a cemetery plot. Most families who choose cremation follow it with a simple memorial service and the family’s choice to keep, bury, or otherwise dispose of the ashes.

The Bible doesn’t mention cremation as a common practice, nor does it specifically prohibit it. I have found that, when the Bible is silent on an issue, God leaves the choice to us. However, Christians should always study scriptural principles and precedents while praying for guidance to make God-honoring decisions.

Consider these scriptures that may discourage cremation: Genesis 19 tells of fire destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and Revelation 20:15 says everlasting fire is the fate of the wicked.  Numbers 11:1 records God’s sending fire to consume the complainers among the Children of Israel. First Corinthians 6:19-20 teaches that our bodies are not our own because we are bought with a price to be the temples of the Holy Spirit. And, the most obvious objections come from the example that Jesus was buried and that, “We are buried with Christ” in baptism (Romans 6:4). Then, there’s the Christian tradition of burying the body facing east so we will rise to meet Christ as he comes from the east (Matthew 24:27).

By contrast, many other scriptures associate fire with God in a positive way. In his first chapter, Ezekiel saw God as a Being of fire from his waist down, and Hebrews 1:7 says angels are fiery ministers. Elijah was taken to God accompanied by a chariot of fire. Leviticus 9:24 and Exodus 29:18 say burnt offering were a sweet savor to God. First Samuel 31:12 tells of valiant men retrieving the bodies of King Saul and his sons to burn them rather than let the Philistines desecrate them.

If God can retrieve the molecules of bodies which have decayed, been buried at sea, eaten by wild animals, blown to bits, or burnt in a fiery building and make new celestial bodies for us, surely he can do the same for those cremated. I believe cremation is a matter of personal preference, neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture; therefore, we should respect the decisions individuals and families make for final remains.

Q. Why do you think inexplicable acts of random violence are happening all across our beloved country? Is this a judgment from God? Emily Williams, Seattle, WA

A. I’m glad someone is noticing what I’ve been concerned about for some time. Every day we hear of murders, rapes, mutilations, and other terrible things happening seemingly for no obvious reason. Tempers boil and road rage flares. Snipers shoot randomly at passersby. Mob violence erupts without regard to laws or peace officers. A few days ago we heard about a man who drove across country to kill a professor who did nothing more than disagree with his college project.

          Personally, I do not think this is the judgment of God; I think it is the absence of God! I believe it is the consequence of our removing divine protection. Second Chronicles 7:19-22 states what God would do to Israel if they “forsook the Lord God of their fathers.” Surely his Word applies to any nation in covenant with him. Our forefathers entered into covenant with God. The Mayflower Compact said its purpose was “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” The Declaration of Independence stated our “firm reliance on protection of divine Providence.” Since then, other leaders have given us the national motto, “In God we trust,” and the pledge to our flag declaring us “One nation under God.”

          However, in recent years we have made it illegal to read the Bible and pray to Jesus in governmental functions. Crosses that have brought comfort for years are being removed, and military chaplains are forbidden to minister in the name of Jesus. The Ten Commandments upon which our country’s laws are founded are being removed. The Church has lost its uniqueness, and its gospel has been watered down by political correctness.

          I believe God respected our request and is removing his protection. Therefore, we are under demonic affliction. Satan and his demons have free reign because they are no longer being held back by the Spirit of God (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12). Jesus, himself, warned us in Matthew 5:13, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour….It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” More evil will happen until we return to the God of our fathers!

Q. Is the leader of ISIS the predicted Antichrist? Miranda B., Aledo, IL

A. ISIS is one of the abbreviated names for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (or Syria). Last year their current leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared himself a Caliph, or Muslim civil and religious ruler who is the successor of Muhammad.

          Many people believe Baghdadi wants to cause the final Apocalyptic Jihad that will hasten the coming of Islam’s predicted Mahdi, or Messiah. The followers of his brand of radical Islam may be fighting in hopes of drawing the Western nations they call “Rome” into a third world war. After they win that final battle, Islam and Sharia Law will be established over the world.

          There are several reasons why Baghdadi does not fit the Biblical description of the future Man of Sin called the Antichrist: Second Thessalonians 2:7-8 teaches that the influence of the Holy Spirit in the Church will be removed at the Rapture (the first phase of the Second Coming of Jesus) before the Antichrist is revealed. That has not happened yet. 

Revelation 6:2 shows Antichrist riding a white horse carrying a bow with no arrows and a crown that has been given to him. That predicts a peaceful conquest which is certainly the opposite of Baghdadi’s terror tactics of persecution, suicide bombings, and beheadings.

According to Daniel 9:26, the Antichrist will come from the people who destroyed Jerusalem (in 60 A.D.) and that was the Romans. Daniel 7 and other prophecies indicate that he will come from the area oiginally occupied by the Roman Empire. Baghdadi is not from Europe and certainly does not identify with the Western World.

Daniel 9:26-27 also teaches that Antichrist will enter into an agreement with the Jews. Baghdadi hates the Jews. Therefore, serious Bible scholars conclude that the ISIS strategy is simply one of the “wars and rumors of war” Jesus predicted to happen before his return (Matthew 24:6). If Jesus delays his return, ISIS will run its course and be either diminished or destroyed by forces against it.    

Q. Does the Bible have anything to say about our Second Amendment rights which we’re hearing so much about in the current political climate? Christine Stawarz, Prince George, VA

A. The Second Amendment was drafted by James Madison in 1789. It and the other 9 amendments, forming what we call the Bill of Rights, were ratified and added to our Constitution in 1791. They are understood to state the inherent rights of every citizen.

          The Second Amendment reads, “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” One of our statesmen said its intended purpose was to support the natural rights of self-defense, resistance to oppression, and the civic duty to act in concert in defense of the state.

          Although Isaiah 9:6 predicted the Messiah would be called the Prince of Peace, it is a reference to the heart-peace he gives to believers and to his future millennial reign when “there will be peace in the valley” (Isaiah 11:1-9). It is true that Jesus said in Matthew 5:39 his followers should turn the other cheek when we are smitten. But, we must not take that out of the context of love which Jesus was preaching. He was not talking about defending ourselves in a life-threatening situation; he was teaching that we should resist our natural reaction in order to help a fellowman learn the ideal response of love. God’s love in us should cause us to forgo our own concerns to seek the best for others.

          True: Jesus taught that we should, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). However, Jesus never said we should not defend ourselves from danger. In fact, in Numbers 22:31 the Angel of the Lord, whom we suppose to be preincarnate Jesus, had his sword drawn against the false prophet Balaam. In our present culture of lawlessness and greed, believers have permission from Jesus in Luke 22:36 to carry a sword. He also said in Luke 11:21 (CEV), “When a strong man arms himself and guards his home, everything he owns is safe.” 

Q. Why does the Bible say homosexuality is wrong? K. Miller, Richmond, VA.

A.  I’m glad you didn’t ask why God hates homosexuals! God has stated his love many times in Scripture. John 3:16 reminds us that God so loved everyone in the world that he gave the only son he ever fathered to pay their sin debt so that everyone who receives Jesus will be saved. Peter also recorded in 2 Peter 3:9 that “The Lord is…longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” So, God loves each of us even though we all sin by disobeying the rules God gave for our good.

Now, you’re asking a good question: What makes homosexuality wrong? To answer that we have to go to the beginning of Creation. When God created the first couple he gave them his Prime Directive. God told them in Genesis 1:28 to multiply and fill the earth. Why did he say that? Because Revelation 4:11 says we were created for God’s pleasure. In John 15 Jesus called us God’s friends. So, God made male and female to have children who we teach to love God so God can have more friends to give him pleasure. Circumcision among the Jews reminded them of that original command that sex should be used for God’s purpose. Obviously, homosexuals can’t produce children to be God’s friends. Therefore, this is a serious sin against God’s Prime Directive. Young people should not experiment with it because it can become a snare that’s very hard to escape. And, because sin is pleasurable, they may think they were born that way.

Homosexuals are not bad people, but they’ve made a bad choice. God has spelled out in such places as Leviticus 20:13 and Romans 1:26-27 that homosexuality is a sin which he considers an abomination. Therefore, people are obviously not born that way. God would not condemn their actions if they couldn’t help it. And, the fact that many former homosexuals have changed their lifestyle also means they weren’t born that way. Consciously or unconsciously, therefore, people have chosen that which God told us not to do. And, social acceptance of defiance against God doesn’t make it right. Yet, the good news is that God came in the person of Jesus to pay sin’s death penalty for everyone who turns from sin and asks God’s forgiveness. And, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, God promised that he will help us overcome any temptation. So, anyone who is trapped in any sinful habit can have victory over it with God’s help. That’s why we call the Bible’s message Good News!

Q. What is a Biblical response to the transgender topic so much in the news now? Misi Rose, Midlothian, VA

A. In spite of the acceptance of GLBT sexuality being pushed upon the public today by media attention and political correctness, that doesn’t make it right in the sight of the One who is the final authority. Neither should any person who has deep rooted moral beliefs, such as the N.C. Governor, “roll over and play dead” because someone believes otherwise. Proponents of this issue are following the same carefully planned agenda that crept on us so softly that we awoke one day and found our neighbors accepting homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle.   

As far as the transgender question, God has already given us his answer. Genesis 1:27 tells us, “So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Regardless of what someone perceives himself or herself to be, they are what God created them to be. Revelation 4:11 teaches that we were created to bring God pleasure; that’s our bottom line in life. That’s more important than satisfying our confused notions of sexuality.

Although our fallen society believes otherwise, our Biblical response to any subject which is contrary to God’s written Word, is to state what God says. Christians must stand our ground without compromise, while at the same time loving each person as one for whom Christ died and consider him or her worthy of our witness and concern.

Let me quote portions of the resolution adopted by my denomination  which says it better than I can: “Resolved, that the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention…affirm God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception;…and be it further resolved, that we grieve the reality of human fallenness which can result in such…manifestations as gender identity confusion and point all to the hope of the redemption of our bodies in Christ;…and be it further resolved, that we extend love and compassion to those whose sexual self-understanding is shaped by a distressing conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity; and be it further resolved…that we love our transgender neighbors, seek their good always, welcome them to our churches and, as they repent and believe in Christ, receive them into church membership; and be it further resolved, that we regard our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.”

Q. I get lost in the book of Job. What is this book saying? Olivia Osterbind, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Bible scholars believe Job is the first Bible book to be written down. This is where textual analysis helps us. In our oldest copies Job is a crude, epic poem.

          The ancients knew that facts change as stories are passed down from previous generations, but memorized poems remain almost unchanged. So, they made the story of Job an oral poem taught to their children until someone wrote it down. This earliest of books deals with a question as relevant as today’s newspaper: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

          Job is the first to reveal many truths that are confirmed elsewhere in Scripture. Job teaches us that much of what happens in the physical realm is the result of the spiritual realm. God is unquestionably the Creator, and we see his interaction with angels and even Satan (Job 38:4-7). In chapters 38-42 we learn of God’s wisdom and care for his creation. All suffering doesn’t come from God or sin; some comes from our own sinful choices. Satan may directly cause some of our sufferings, but only with God’s permission (Job 1:6-12).  God allows suffering for his reasons, but his reasons are always for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28). If God allows believers to suffer, it may be to strengthen our character or draw us closer to him (Romans 5:3-4). Suffering has a way of sorting the important and dispelling the unimportant. Be assured: God is love (1 John 4:8). Our answers may not come until we stand before him, but God will always prove himself to be fair (Genesis 18:25).

          There is also another important truth revealed in this early book. Two ancient creatures are described in chapters 40 and 41 which probably are extinct today. Behemoth and leviathan are responsible for many stories about dragons and sea serpents. Many scholars believe behemoth is a dinosaur, and Job 40:15 says God created it and man at the same time. That one verse confounds atheists by stating that God created all things, and it confounds evolutionists by telling us both behemoth and man were created at the same time.         

Q. How are Bible believers to understand scriptures like Ecclesiastes 9:5 that say, “the dead know not anything”? Judy Beach, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Many errors are made when we read Scripture out of context. You can “prove” anything from the Bible if you take a few words or verses out of their intended meaning. The Holy Bible is an amazing book breathed by the mouth of God (2 Timothy 3:16) and applied by his Spirit, who accompanies it, for any serious student (1 Corinthians 2:10). But, it can be misunderstood if we don’t know the human author, the intended audience, the circumstance and purpose, and the literature style. Not only does language change require a modern understanding of ideological phrases, but culture change requires that we understand the historical setting and local customs of that time.

          Poetry is to be understood differently from prose. Poets may take “poetic license” with symbolic words and phrases while prose writers usually say what they mean. The so-called Wisdom Books of the Bible offer a unique challenge to the translator. Often, Hebrew poetry, such as Psalms, is written in couplets with the second line either repeating the first line in different words, or completing the thought of the first line, or saying the opposite of the first line. However, a narrative poem, such as Job or Song of Solomon, moves straight through the story. Satirical writings such as portions of Job and Ecclesiastes reflect an incomplete theology of pessimism. You have to be careful when you quote them. The book of Proverbs contains both promises you may claim and principles which are ideal hopes yet to be fulfilled. You need to know which is which.

          So, you ask, “How can I know which is which?” Study all verses with a trusted Bible commentary and look up words in a Bible dictionary or different version (2 Timothy 2:15). Better yet, ask a trusted Bible teacher! Yes, the Holy Spirit can give you lessons from any Scripture if you ask him, but the shallowness or depth of your understanding usually depends on your own initiative.

          Such Scriptures as Ecclesiastes 9:5 and 10, Psalm 6:5 and 88:10 seem to imply there is no life or knowledge after death. We must recognize those as incomplete theories from pessimistic emotions. Or, at least, they are speaking of the spiritually dead who will never know the joy of having all their questions answered in Heaven (1 Corinthians 13:12).

 Q. In Genesis 19:8 why would Lot offer his daughters to an unruly mob? Margaret Swinson, Richmond, VA

A. We’re told in 2 Peter 2:8 that Lot was a righteous man but he left his nomadic lifestyle to settle in the sinful city of Sodom. When 2 angels, appearing as handsome men, came to his city something in Lot told him to offer them the protection of his dwelling. That evening when the men of Sodom demanded to have their way with Lot’s guests, Genesis 19:8 says he begged them to take his daughters instead.

          Lot’s action shocks us because we have been taught the Judeo-Christian worth of every person. No such values existed in Lot’s day. However, the strong ethic of eastern hospitality demanded that he protect guests under his roof. Having been around Sodomites for a while he believed these “men” would be abused and perhaps killed when the mob finished with them.

          Why offer his daughters to appease the crowd? The culture of that day gave little rights to women. They were considered the property of their husbands or fathers. Even today in modern Muslim cities women can’t drive; women clerks cannot sell to a man alone in a store; and women must use separate purchase lines. Strict Muslims may enforce honor killing of a female who disobeys her male masters.

Lot may have felt his daughters would be safe in a mob who wanted sex with men. However, I believe Lot did not actually expect his daughters to be taken because he was using oriental exaggeration. It was, and still is, accepted speech to exaggerate to make a point. Even Jesus used this method when he said in Matthew 5:29-30 to pluck out your eye or cut off your hand to keep from sinning. He didn’t expect his hearers to do that; he was using exaggeration to emphasize the greater penalty of sin. I think Lot was attempting to shock the men by saying what they were doing was as wrong as a father allowing his daughters to be abused by a mob. Later, we see what God thought of those sinful practices when he destroyed those cities. Everyone has rights, but when a person’s perceived rights infringe on the rights of others they must be stopped. 

Q. How could God be angry at David in 2 Samuel 24 for taking a census when in verse 1 it seems that God caused him to do it? Todd Anderson, Fresno, CA

A. In Exodus 30:12 God told Moses he could count the Children of Israel to ensure that each one paid a redemption or temple tax to support their worship leaders. If they did not pay the 5 shekel tax, God might send a plague. Even in Numbers 3 when God allowed the tribes to be counted for army duty, he still expected the tax to be covered (verses 44-48).

          Second Samuel 24:1 tells us God moved David to take a census. Then, the later part of chapter 24 says God punished David for taking this census. However, the parallel account of this same event in 1 Chronicles 21:1 says Satan led David to do this. I do not see a conflict here; rather, both reasons are possible.

Let me pause to remind us that we’re not sure who wrote the original book simply called Samuel. It resembles manuscripts by the prophets Nathan and Gad during the United Kingdom. Chronicles was written, perhaps by Ezra, after the return of exiles from Babylon seemingly to correct misconceptions from Samuel and Kings.

          So, the writer of Samuel saw God behind David’s actions because God initiates or allows everything that happens. Yet, the later writer of Chronicles attributed this action to Satan’s temptation. David, being the man of blood that he was (1 Chronicles 28:3), may have had a thirst for war. Then, his pride led him to count the able-bodied men he could draft as soldiers (2 Samuel 24:9) rather than depend on God for his defense. Later, David repented and asked God’s forgiveness, but that forgiveness came with the price of a plague (2 Samuel 24:10-16). As bad as the price was, it probably was not as devastating as war would have been with many fine soldiers being killed.       

             Though God is the Prime Mover of all things, it was Satan who used David’s sinful pride to cause God to have to punish disobedience. First Chronicles 21:1 says Satan was striking at Israel. Satan is always against the people of God, but we must never let him use us to oppose God’s revealed plans. Today, Americans need to be reminded that our country must stand with Israel because of God’s decree in Genesis 12:3 that we will be blessed as we bless Abraham.

Q. I was told that before the world comes to an end everyone must be saved. Is this true? Millie Hayward, Petersburg, VA

A. No, Millie, the Bible doesn’t promise that everyone will be saved before Jesus comes. The person who told you that probably had in mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10. There, Jesus said the gospel of the kingdom must be preached all over the world before the end comes. In the last few years advances in technology have made that prophecy a reality.

          Our Southern Baptist Convention, as well as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and many other missionary organizations, now claim that the gospel is available by satellite everywhere in the world and there are missionaries near (if not in) every tongue, tribe, and nation. Many missionaries who labor under adverse conditions claim Revelation 5:9 that promises someone will be in Heaven from every kindred, tongue, people, and nation. That encourages them that their efforts will help reach someone from their target people group.

          Jesus answered that very question in Luke 13:23-27 when his disciples asked him who would be saved. There and in Matthew 7:22-23 he said workers of iniquity will be lost, and even many who call him Lord will not be saved. The parable of the soils in Matthew 13 seems to teach that ¾ of the world will be unsaved.

          Many so-called signs of the times that Jesus predicted in Matthew 24 have already been fulfilled. We’ve seen wars, false prophets and gospels, rejection of Judeo-Christian morals, calamities all over the world, population explosion, hatred toward believers, and the multiplying of evil. Jesus said when we hear of these things happening at the same time, they are signs of his soon return. I believe, among those events, the last 2 signs holding back the Second Coming of Jesus have been fulfilled: Israel has returned to her homeland and the gospel is being preached around the world. That means everyone should repent and forsake our sins, and keep our eyes upon the eastern sky because our redemption draws nigh (Luke 21:28).

Q. A preacher mentioned the first Easter saints from Matthew 27:52. Who were they? K. H., VA

A. Matthew 27 records the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus. Matthew 28 records his resurrection. However, there is a phrase in the middle of Matthew 27:53 which probably should be in chapter 28. It tells about the saints who arose “after his resurrection.” These may be called the first Easter saints.

          Hades was the name the Jews gave to the realm of the dead. It was where all dead souls went. They believed it was in the heart of the earth and was divided into two compartments. By the time of Christ, the Jews called the place of the unsaved Gehenna or Hell, so named for the Valley of Hennom, the garbage dump of Jerusalem where trash fires burned constantly. Jesus drew on that analogy in Mark 9 to describe Hell as a place where the fires were never extinguished. That compartment was also called Torments (Luke 16:23). That Hebrew word meant “the rack.” It was where the enemies of God were sent. Revelation 20:14 teaches that Hell is a temporary punishment for the unsaved until they enter their final abode called the Lake of Fire, which is eternal.

          Those who were saved from the Old Testament era waited in the other compartment of Hades. It was a holding area they called Abraham’s Bosom. That title simply referred to the embraces of greetings exchanged in that pleasant place. Still, it was a world lacking the beauty of what we understand about Paradise or Heaven.

          Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 3 teach that Jesus descended to Hades after his death and announced his victory over death. After his resurrection, Matthew 27 says many dead saints arose and appeared to their loved ones in Jerusalem. I believe these were allowed to stop off and give testimony to Jesus as he led them up to establish Paradise. That’s a Persian word meaning a beautiful garden. Since Jesus told the believing thief he would be with Jesus that day in Paradise, we understand that’s where saints now wait with Jesus until we all enter Heaven, the New Jerusalem, together.

          The significance of this is that Jesus arose on the Jewish holiday called the Feast of First Fruits. It was when the first fruits of the spring harvest were waved before God at the Temple to ask him for a great harvest to follow. Jesus became the first fruits of our resurrection to be followed by every Christian believer. Our spirits go to Jesus upon death but our bodies will be resurrected at the Rapture. It was fitting on that holiday that Jesus transported Old Testament saints as a first-fruits offering to God. We will follow as his continued harvest of souls.

Q. Do you agree with evolutionists who say a meteor struck the earth millions of years ago and killed all the dinosaurs? Harold Carpenter, Red Bank, England

A. One reason evolutionists believe in a prehistoric world like “Jurassic Park” is because fossils do reveal a time when huge animals, insects, and plants occupied the earth; and huge flying reptiles ruled the air. For such animals and plants to have existed, the earth’s atmosphere must have had more oxygen and greater air pressure. Therefore, the larger animals would have produced more carbon dioxide for larger plant growth; and dense air pressure would allow pterodactyls to fly.

            This is far different than anything we see today. Earth scientists theorize that if the earth were one large land mass, (as Genesis 11 might suggest with 10:25 possibly allowing continental drift) a huge meteor impact could have caused the demise of giant plants and animals. Yet, neither a sufficient crater nor remains of such a meteor can be proven beyond doubt. Also, Darwinians say it would take millions of years for fossils to produce oil and coal and for chasms such as the Grand Canyon to form. Yet, they also agree that for skeletal remains to be found intact, they must have been trapped suddenly and buried under great pressure.

             The Bible gives explanations for all these. Genesis 1:6-7 tells of the dividing of waters below and above a “firmament,” or atmosphere. The waters above the firmament formed a vapor canopy to shield the earth from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and make temperatures constant. It could also hold the oxygen and carbon dioxide down which would cause a greater air pressure. Under those conditions plants and animals could grow much larger, and giant winged reptiles could fly in heavier air. Evidence proves man was also upon the earth then because footprints of humans and dinosaurs appear in the same rock strata. If, in Job 40:15, behemoths are dinosaurs, as they appear to be, that verse says they were created at the same time with man.

            The universal Flood was an act of divine judgment on a sinful earth. From Genesis 7:11 we surmise the “windows of heaven” rained down the water vapor canopy. That release of air pressure and the resulting tides caused the deaths of giant animals and plants. The churning and belching of earth could have easily trapped running animals. The resulting great pressure could have created fossil fuels and canyons in a relatively short time. The eruption of Mt. St. Helens proved this is possible.

            Since only 2 of unclean animals were on Noah’s Ark, if one died they became extinct. So, the truth of God’s Word, not evolution, gives us the most logical explanation of things as they are today being the result of intelligent creation, design, and judgment.  

Q. In Matthew 10:1 twelve men are called Jesus’ disciples, but in the next verse they are called apostles. What’s the difference? Jane Jahn, Yorktown, VA

A. Most of the time there is no difference; the words are used interchangeably. By definition, disciples are learners or pupils. Most often, we use the word to mean the twelve men Jesus chose to be his closest followers; but it may also mean any devoted fan of Jesus. Luke 6:19 indicates Jesus had many disciples, but he chose twelve from among them.

Most Bible teachers agree that the “disciples” who sat at Jesus’ feet for his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1 were a mixed group of followers. It was customary for those who were serious about learning from a teacher to sit closest to him. (Look for your most anxious learners to sit near the front in church!) Mark 2:18 mentions that John the Baptizer and the Pharisees also had their own disciples. John 1:35 and 40 tell us two of the Baptizer’s disciples followed Jesus: Andrew and John, although he never names himself.

In Matthew 10:2 certain disciples were called apostles. Again, by definition, apostles were those who were sent for a mission, like commissioners, delegates, ambassadors representing another person. Apostles certainly had to be disciples, but not all disciples were apostles. Therefore, the correct term for the twelve men Jesus chose, trained, and commissioned were his apostles. After Judas’ betrayal, Matthias was selected (Acts 1:26); and later Paul claimed to be an apostle called by Jesus and the Father (Galatians 1:1).

For the first year or so of Jesus’ ministry, his future apostles followed him sporadically when they could get time off from their jobs and families. Later, we find Jesus calling them full-time as in Matthew 4:18-22. These were not “cold calls” where they didn’t already know Jesus; they had been following him since his baptism (John 1). Even so, Jesus is still calling for disciples today who, after serious thought and prayer, will commit the rest of their lives to serving Jesus (Luke 14:33). Have you left all to follow him regardless of the consequences?   

Q. What did Jesus mean in John 4:24 by saying God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth? Connie Swineford, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. All through the Old Covenant Israel worshipped God by observing the rituals Moses had given them in application of the 10 Commandments. In the lifetime of Christ, the Pharisees were considered Israel’s most religious men because they kept all of those requirements. They tithed everything, even garden vegetables. They kept all of the fasts and feasts; and they were known to pray for long hours. They knew their scriptures, and they were present every time the Temple opened. That’s what good Christians do today; yet, Jesus said they were not worshipping God. He called them hypocrites who turned his house into a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13).

          Hebrews 10:1 says those Old Testament regulations were a shadow of things to come because they would be fulfilled by Jesus, as Romans 10:4 says. Therefore, Jesus could tell the woman of Samaria that God is a Spirit who may only be worshipped truly in our spirits. You see, our worship now in our New Covenant is not based on ritual; instead, it is based on relationship. The Bible is our etiquette book on how to worship God, but it’s different from other etiquette books because its instructions are written in generalities. But, its application is written by the Spirit on the heart of each true worshipper.

          Just being sincere isn’t enough. Sincerity is a good thing, but a person may be sincerely wrong. All false religions follow outward rituals because they sincerely believe that’s what they are supposed to do to please God. But, they do not have an inward relationship with the True God, because he may be approached only by way of Jesus. Unless one personally knows God’s Son and follows the individual leading of his Spirit, they are not worshipping. In fact, they can’t worship!

          So, unless you have met with Jesus when you come to church or when you have your devotional time, you have not worshipped. Worship is conducted in our spirits. If you have not talked with God and felt him communing with you in the quietness of your mind, you have not worshipped.

 Q. What language will we speak in Heaven? Bill Grosz, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. This is a question that is often asked, but the Bible doesn’t specifically answer it. However, there are some Scripture hints that lead to several possible answers.

          The most obvious answer is that we’ll speak the language God taught to Adam and Eve as he walked and talked with them in Genesis 3:8. Was that ancient Hebrew? The handwriting which God wrote on the Babylonian palace wall in Daniel 5:25 seemed to be a mixture of ancient Chaldee and Hebrew. But, it was so old none of Belshazzar’s wise men could interpret it. Then, Acts 26:14 tells us God spoke to Saul, whom we know as Paul, in the Hebrew tongue. So, ancient Hebrew is one possibility for our Heavenly language. If so, God will have to teach it to us as he did to Adam!

          Another possible answer to your question is that we will each speak our native heart language but we will be able to understand each other. This was the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2:6. You will recall that Philippians 2:11 says every tongue will profess that Jesus Christ is Lord. So, that sounds like we’ll speak our own languages. Revelation 1:15 tells us the voice of Jesus sounded like many waters. I think that was Jesus speaking in all the languages of the world at the same time. When I heard many languages praising God together at an international conference, it sounded to me like the roar of a waterfall.

          Finally, Zephaniah 3:9 says God will give the people a pure language that we may all call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one voice. Some have said that may be the “tongues of angels” Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:1. Others suggest our Heavenly language will be music, which is understood in any language; or perhaps it will be the language of love – God’s love returned to him and others. We know from John’s writings that Jesus is the Word sent from God to men. John 10:16 promises one fold and one shepherd where we’ll all hear the voice of Jesus. Since 1 Corinthians 12:13 implies that we will have all the knowledge we need, we’ll surely have no trouble communicating in Heaven! 

Q. Will we remember our lost loved ones and friends in Heaven? Betty Belle Isle, Petersburg, VA

A. Two things I remember from my professors concerning this question are:

1- Since we will have the mind of Christ, we will remember them. However, we will know they brought it on themselves and deserve what they got since God will always be fair (Genesis 18:25).

2- They will not be brought to mind; because, since they were never born again, it will be as if they were never born (Isaiah 26:14). 

          I remember that Dr. John Piper’s answer to this question was something like this: God will personalize our memory experiences. We will forget and remember things in accordance with that which will maximize our enjoyment of God. If remembering something enhances our praise, we will remember it; if not, we will forget it.

          Here are some Scriptures relating to your question: Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.” Isaiah 26:14 in the New English Translation reads, “The dead do not come back to life; the spirits of the dead do not rise. That is because you came in judgment and destroyed them. You wiped out all memory of them.” And Psalm 34:16 repeats the same thought: “The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.”

          They vexed our spirits in life; why should God let them continue to bring us sorrow in eternity? Those in Heaven will know God is righteous and holy, and whatever happens to the lost is because they chose it. They had no time for the Bible, the Gospel, or God’s Spirit. They trod underfoot God’s gracious invitation and his supreme love revealed at Calvary. They had no interest in going to Heaven and would not be happy there. To send them to go where they have nothing in common with the redeemed would be God’s overruling their choice and their worst fate!

          Other than these, I find no specific answer for this question except to remember that Galatians 5:22 says one of the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit is joy. Also, I remember that Revelation 21:4 promises there will be no sorrow or pain in Heaven. Therefore, I conclude that if we do remember them, it will not dampen our joy.

Q. Please explain Ephesians 4:8-10 about Jesus descending to the lower parts of the earth. Clark Meadows, Colonial Heights, VA
A. There are 3 major schools of thought on how to interpret Ephesians 4:8-10.
(1) Descending and ascending refer to his coming to earth from Heaven. The word “descend” means to step down and “ascend” means to step up. “The lower parts” means earth is lower than Heaven. He fulfilled this when he was born in Bethlehem and when he ascended to his Father.
(2) There are those who say “descended first into the lower parts of the earth” simply means he was buried in the earth before he ascended.
(3) “Descended” also could mean that while his body was in the grave, in his spirit he went to Hades, “the realm of the dead,” believed to be in the heart of the earth. There, he announced his victory over Satan. We have reason to believe this is the intended meaning because of 1 Peter 3:18-20. Peter wrote, when Jesus died, he was alive in his spirit and he went to “preach to the spirits in prison.” The next verse tells us who those spirits were. They were the spirits of the unbelievers who died in the Flood (and probably he meant all unbelievers since then). Jesus didn’t “preach” meaning that he gave an invitation to be saved; “preach” there means to announce something.
          Ephesians 4:8 says after he announced his victory, “when he ascended on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts to men.” We believe this is when he brought those who were saved during the Old Testament out from Hades and took them up to where he established Paradise (a “beautiful garden”). That’s where the believing thief on the cross was the first resident (Luke 23:43) and where the spirits of all believers in this age go to await the Second Coming.
          This understanding seems to explain Mathew 27:52-53 which says, when Jesus arose, many spirits came out of their graves and appeared in Jerusalem. I believe these were the spirits Jesus was bringing from Hades up to Paradise, and he allowed them to appear in order to give testimony that Jesus was their Messiah. Releasing their captivity, he rewarded their faithfulness when they entered Paradise. Believers today will be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ when we enter Paradise (2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 4:4).

Q. How can we reconcile the age of dinosaurs with the Biblical account of Creation and a young earth? Michelle Wagner, Chester, VA

A. We can’t. Truth and error don’t mix. The evolutionary chain with its accompanying ages is a theory upon which even the smartest people cannot agree. Every year or so you hear some earth scientist say things are a different age from what we heard before. And, radiation dating is unreliable at advanced ages.

Evolution and its advanced age for earth is an invention of men who prefer to believe Satan’s lies rather than God’s truth. Satan’s intent is to discredit the Bible. Men go along with that because, if the Bible isn’t true, that means there will be no accounting for our sins – no judgment and no eternal Hell.

Men’s theories trace the beginning of our universe back 4-6 billion years to a supposed “Big Bang” which started the whole thing.  But, where did the basic materials in that “Bang” come from? And, what caused it? Physical laws teach us that something cannot come from nothing! Order cannot come from chaos, much less the precision of our universe and the complex ecological systems of planet Earth and its inhabitants.

We must believe the Bible because Jesus said in John 17:17 that God’s Word is truth. God says He created everything (Isaiah 45:12). That’s the only logical response that answers every question. God did it, and there’s nothing impossible for him! Three times in Genesis 2:2, Exodus 21:11, and Exodus 31:17, God recorded that he created everything in 6 days. And, the ages given for the people he created with the universe give us an approximate earth age of around 6,000 years.

As for the age of dinosaurs, God tells us in Job 40:15 that he made Behemoth (a dinosaur) at the same time he made man. That reaffirms the Genesis account of the creation of everything in 6 literal days. How do their fossil remains appear to be so old? God could have created them with the appearance of age to see if we believe what he says. Adam and Eve were created full grown in a fully grown garden. We do best when we believe God says what he means and means what he says!

Q. If Jesus and God are one, how could he say: “Father, why have you forsaken me?” And, how can we call him the Son of God? Ralph, Richmond, VA

A. God is a Being unlike us. He is the only Being in the universe who is all-present, all-powerful, and all-knowing with no beginning and no ending. Only he is three distinct Persons; yet he remains one God. He has the ability to separate his nature so that he may relate to us with the different personalities of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). All three Persons of the Godhead are equal in attributes and equally God. We cannot explain that which we call the Trinity.

          We can only know about God what he reveals to us. Because someone may say the wrong thing about God’s nature, he wrote in hard copy what he wants us to know about himself. The Bible is the only book God wrote with his Spirit uniquely inspiring the writers to say what he wanted them to say. Jesus said, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17).

          Luke, chapter 1, records how God placed himself in the womb of a woman and was born with no earthly father. That’s how we call Jesus the Son of God. God created us to have fellowship with him. When we disobey him, those sins break our fellowship with God. So, God had Paul to write in Romans 6:23 that the result of our sins is spiritual death. However, since Jesus never sinned, he chose to take our sins upon himself and take our penalty of death.

          When Jesus hung on his cross bearing the sins of all who trust in him, 2 Corinthians 5:21 says he became sin for us. That’s when his Holy Father could not look upon him, and that’s why Jesus cried in Matthew 27:46, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” However, God did not forsake Jesus permanently, because death did not hold him. After Jesus arose and returned to Heaven, God came to earth again as the third Personality we call the Holy Spirit. He is still here. Because he is a Spirit he can indwell the bodies of everyone who serves Jesus as their Lord.

          Jesus has promised that he will return one day to take all true believers to his home (John 14:3). Then, we will know God in the fullness of his nature and live with him forever (Revelation 21:3). This promise is ours to claim when we ask God to place our sins on Jesus. Then, we believe he has done this and we try not to sin again choosing to live for Jesus as our Lord.        

Q. Did it ever snow in Israel? Dale Heiskill, Richmond, VA

A. Short answer: Yes. Most people probably think of Israel as desert country, but that’s because God kept his warning in Deuteronomy 11:8-17. He turned their land of milk and honey into a hard, dry land because of their rejection of him. Actually, Israel is roughly on the same latitude as our southern states of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. They do get snow, but not every winter and not all over the country.

          From Exodus through Revelation snow is mentioned 24 times in the Bible. Often, as in Numbers 12:10, it’s used to say a person’s leprosy was “white as snow.” In 2 Samuel 23:20 a brave man named Benaiah went down into a pit of snow to kill a lion. A familiar passage is Proverbs 31:21 where the “virtuous woman” kept her family well clothed in the snow. Daniel 7:9, referring to God, and Revelation 1:14, referring to Jesus, speak of their garments and hair being white as snow.     

          References to snow in Matthew 28:3 and Mark 9:3 help us determine the true location of the high mountain where Jesus was transfigured. Constantine’s mother, Queen Helena, selected many of the Biblical sites that tourists still visit today. Some of them are accurate; others are questionable. Helena had a church built on the smaller Mount Tabor to mark the Transfiguration site. But, Mt. Hermon a few miles away is snowcapped most of the year. The references comparing the garments of Jesus being “white as snow” lead most Bible scholars to think he was probably in the snow line on Mt. Hermon.

          One scripture about snow is especially precious to believers. Isaiah 1:18 records God saying, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” When the blizzards come, remember that those who place their sins on Jesus will be as pure in God’s sight as fresh fallen snow when the sun rises the next morning.

Q. Is it true that Christians didn’t worship on Sunday until Emperor Constantine ordered it? A History Class of Prince George High School, Prince George, VA

A. No; Christians have been celebrating the first day of the week, Sunday, as a day of worship since Jesus’ resurrection and his appearance with worshippers on that day (John 20:19; Matthew 18:20.) At first, early believers still considered themselves good Jews who kept the Sabbath rest and rituals. In addition, they had special evening services in house groups around a common meal on Sunday (Acts 20:7) ending with “breaking bread,” a term for the Lord’s Supper. As persecution from the Jews grew stronger, Christians began to worship only on the Lord’s Day. In the middle of the first century, Paul referred to this practice in 1 Corinthians 16:2. Sunday was well established as the day of worship by the later part of the first century when John wrote about it in Revelation 1:10.

          In the second and third centuries a few theologians began arguing that believers were still obliged to observe Saturday as the Sabbath. However, most of the major church leaders explained that the Sabbath was a part of the Old Covenant God made with the Jews. It symbolized working to earn one’s rest at the end of life. In God’s New Covenant of grace we receive our salvation at the first of our Christian life and we’re on his “honor system” to work the rest of the “week” because we are saved. They pointed out that there is no commandment in the New Testament to worship on the Sabbath day.

          The arguments progressed, until Constantine proclaimed an edict in 321 A.D. stating that Sunday would be the Roman day of rest when all businesses would be closed. Farmers, shepherds, and cattlemen, who must continue their work, were exempt. Some Eastern Orthodox countries and Seventh Day Christians do not agree with this and still consider Saturday as their day of rest and worship. Faced with this same question, Paul surely remembered that Jesus said in John 4:24 the Father seeks those who will worship him in a true spirit; he didn’t specify the day. Therefore Paul wrote in Colossians 2:16 that we not judge one another by our days of worship; for, after all, we are now under that New Covenant of grace!

 Q. Why are sexual freedoms and a woman’s right to abortion wrong if our Constitution guarantees individual rights? Anonymous in Prince George, VA

A. Our government may consider certain actions lawful, but everyone must eventually answer to the rules of the Ultimate Judge (Revelation 20:12). His Commandments are for our good (Exodus 20:3-17). When God prohibits the abuse of sex and that which we call abortion, he is actually warning us about the forbidden worship of ancient idol-gods. Do you think no one worships Baal and Molech today? Think again!

          Listening to Dr. Adrian Rogers on BBN, I was reminded that God didn’t create the Devil. God created a perfect angel called Lucifer (Ezekiel 28:15) and gave him freedom of choice. Lucifer chose to rebel, and Revelation 12:4 hints that he led perhaps a third of Heaven’s angels to rebel with him. Since Lucifer, called Satan and the Devil, is not omnipresent he extends his power through his angels whom we call demons. Two of them were very powerful in the Old Testament and remain among our strongest adversaries today. Their influence is more wide-spread worldwide than all the agents of terrorism.

          Baal and his female counterpart Asherah were the demons of sexual abuse worshipped with male and female prostitutes while participants hoped to gain fertility of children, crops, and livestock (1 Kings 14:23-24). Today, every time we engage in sexual unfaithfulness, adultery, homosexuality, or any sex act outside heterosexual marriage, we are worshipping the demon Baal.

          Molech was the demon Satan placed in charge of destroying children (Leviticus 18:21). Molech was personified as an idol with outstretched arms burning with fire. Women sacrificed their children into his arms (2 Kings 23:10; Psalm 106:37). Satan has always hated our offspring because each child is created in the image of God, and God loves them (Mark 10:14-16). Think of the times Satan came after children: Pharaoh killed the boy babies of Israel in Egypt, and Herod killed the babies of Bethlehem. Today, each abortion is a sacrifice to Molech. And, Satan laughs with glee!

          Yes, you are free to make individual choices. But, when you do these things, don’t say, “The Devil made me do it!” You chose to do it! The good news, however, is that God can forgive any sin when we repent and ask forgiveness in Jesus’ name (2 Peter 3:9; John 3:15). Not only will that defeat Satan, 2 Chronicles 7:14 promises it will help to bring God’s blessings back on our land!

Q. Is it true what I heard from a TV evangelist that God wants to bless us, and if we’re not blessed it’s our fault? Connie Swineford, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. I guess your answer depends on whether you’re talking about material or spiritual blessings. Yes, God’s character is one of grace (2 Peter 3:9), which means he is predisposed to bless those of good will toward him (Luke 2:14). However, those blessings may not be recognized by the unspiritual.    

          Several popular TV pastor/evangelists are preaching what we call a “health and wealth gospel.” They teach that, in Jesus’ name, we can claim anything we want if we do certain things: “If you are basically good and do what you believe God wants you to do, he will give you your hearts’ desire for health, success, and prosperity. If you don’t have those things, it’s your fault: you must be sinning somehow.”

          I see 2 basic errors in that supposition: First, we cannot bargain with God, because we don’t have anything to bargain with! God doesn’t love us because of what we can give him. By creation, he already owns everything we have. He loves us for what he can make of us when we “let go and let God.” Any goodness we have comes from God who decrees us righteous when we place our sins on Jesus (Romans 4:5).  

          Second, God does bless those who love him; but, those blessings may be spiritual in nature, and the best of them will not come in this life. Yes, he can give health and wealth and a Midas touch; but, most of us couldn’t handle those. When everything went well we would forget the One who blessed us (Deuteronomy 8:11-18). Therefore, God usually spaces out our blessings. As we learn to accept them humbly, he gives more until he’s ready to pour out the whole measure in Heaven.

          Remember that Jesus said his followers might suffer loss and persecution in this life, and some will be killed for his sake (Luke 21:12-19). But Jesus said to rejoice when that happens because our reward will be great in Heaven (Romans 8:35-39). Proverbs 30:8 teaches we should seek neither poverty nor riches. Philippians 4:11 and Hebrews 12:1-2 and 13:5 say we should be content with what we have and use it to honor Jesus.                  

Q. Why do we almost always depict angels as women and babies with wings, but all of the angels in the Bible are men? The Reverend Doctor Andre Best, Richmond, VA

A. All we really know about angels comes from the Bible. Anything else is fiction or guesswork. God made the angels sometime before he created the universe. Job 38:4-7 describes God’s creative actions, and verse 8 says the morning stars and sons of God were there shouting and singing. Those are among our earliest titles for angels. Lucifer was created a cherub (not a baby, but a composite) angel walking among stones of fire and guarding the Throne of God (Ezekiel 28:14). He had already rebelled and been cast out of Heaven (Luke 10:18) when he came to Eden in Genesis 3.

          Psalm 104:4 informs us that angels are spirit beings, and fire is our closest physical understanding for their nature (2 Kings 2:11 and 6:17). As far as we know angels are gender-neutral who never marry (Matthew 22:30). Since they are a created race and their number is fixed, there are no baby angels; and humans do not become angels when we die. Angels were created to serve God and, at his bidding, to serve those who are saved (Hebrews 1:14). Being ageless, the angel Gabriel is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments some 500 years apart. 

          Some angels are sent as special messengers from God. You are correct that those angels who take on a temporary physical appearance are always described as adult males. For some reason early artists began depicting angels as babies, perhaps because of their purity and innocence. The idea of angels being female with wings comes from only one verse in the Bible. Zechariah 5:9 describes the prophet’s experience of seeing 2 women with wings like a stork. These are not even called angels, and they may not have been real since they were part of his vision. Other Scriptures tell of angels flying, but no wings are specifically mentioned. Since we feel less threatened by women, we fantasize that angels are females with wings.

          The word “angel” means “messenger.” The most powerful messenger in the Bible is the one called “The Angel of the Lord” in the Hebrew language. He identifies with God and seems to be pre-incarnate Jesus (Exodus 3:2, 6). He is the only Angel deserving of our worship and prayers.  

Q. What should we look for in this new year? Do you think the Rapture will happen soon? H. A. Carpenter, Sebastin, FL

A. We are given partial end-time lists in the prophecies of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The most comprehensive list of “signs of the end” is the one given by Jesus in Matthew 24. These are not necessarily chronological, but they do tell you what to watch for.

          The misleading sign in Matthew 24:4-5 predicts false messiahs and religions. The military sign in verses 6-7a tells of at least two great wars and many smaller ones. The misfortunes sign in 7b-8 says disasters will increase all over the world. The martyr sign in verses 9-10 predicts the persecution of true believers. The moral sign in 11-12a speaks of the degradation of moral values. The misbelieving sign in verses 12b-13 says there will be a falling away from the true faith.

          The missionary sign in verse 14 tells of the gospel being preached all over the world. The merger sign in 15-28 explains the union of nations awaiting a world leader who will oppose Jesus at his visible Second Coming, described in 29-31. The miracle sign in verses 32-36 is a prophecy of Israel’s prominence in the last days and the Millennium. Finally, the multiplication sign in verses 37-44 predicts a great population explosion and the multiplying of evil in the last days.

          The best chronological listing of future events is found in John’s Revelation. Jesus gave characteristics of what is happening in this Church Age in chapters 2-3. If my understanding is correct, we’re living concurrently in the ages of the missionary church of Philadelphia described in 3:7-13 and the faithless church of Laodicea in verses 14-22. John symbolically experienced the Rapture immediately after the Church Age at the beginning of chapter 4. The events of chapters 6-18 will happen during the last seven years before the visible return of Jesus.

          As I understand them, the primary signs preceding Christ’s coming are the reestablishment of Israel in her land, a union of European nations moving toward electing a world leader, growing antagonism toward faithful Christians and Jews, and the gospel preached all over the world. Now, you decide how close we are to his coming!

 

Q.  Why was Jesus’ birth not announced to religious leaders? V. C., Colonial Heights, VA

A. In the first Christian century the three largest settlements of Jewish people were in Israel, Persia, and Egypt. Birth announcements were sent to each of these places where descendants of Abraham were sincerely awaiting fulfillment of God’s promise from Genesis 22:18.

The Shepherd’s Field near Bethlehem was the same field where David guarded his sheep and perhaps wrote Psalm 23. Tradition says the rock over-hang forming a shallow cave where shepherds were known to keep their sheep was the threshing floor of Boaz mentioned in Ruth, chapter 3. According to the Jewish Mishna that field was later dedicated for Temple use to raise sheep for sacrifice. But, the shepherds who raised those sheep were considered outcasts because they chose a vocation that required working on the Sabbath. Yet, to these “untouchables” God sent an angel host to announce the coming of the Good Shepherd. Remember: It was the religious leaders who crucified Jesus!

The second largest contingent of Jews was in Persia where many chose to remain after the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Jewish priests there, educated men called Magi, knew of Balaam’s prediction in Numbers 24:17. Upon seeing a brilliant supernova one night they chose, on their own, to lead a caravan to Jerusalem to find the prophesied King of the Jews. They didn’t follow the star across the desert because the star wouldn’t have led them to Herod! Disappointed at not finding a baby in Herod’s palace, Matthew 2:10 says they rejoiced when they saw their star again this time leading them the six miles to Bethlehem.

That night, when Joseph fled with his family to Egypt, he joined the third largest settlement of Jews. There, Joseph told everyone that Mary’s son was the Jewish Messiah. The Coptic Christian Church of Egypt traces its beginning to Joseph’s announcement. Thus, God was letting all of Abraham’s descendants know the fulfillment of his promise to their forefathers. Further, the angel expanded that promise to be good tidings of great joy for all people of goodwill toward God. Jesus said he didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. I’m glad the proclamation came first to shepherds, because if those who had no hope of Heaven could be saved, so can I! 

Q. Is it wrong for Christians not to want Syrian refugees into our country? Janie Jahn, Yorktown, VA

A. Yours is a question hotly debated, and no answer I give will satisfy everyone. For instance: Last month it was reported that 51% of Americans believed we should accept refugees, but since Paris and California now 56% are against letting them in. Even though our president wants to admit a limited number of 10,000, over ½ of our governors say they will not be welcomed in their states. This is a real factor now that extremists are saying they will enter our country through our immigration system. They surely know we allow visitors from some 38 countries to come in on 90 day visas with no vetting.

          Political parties are at odds over this issue with 67% of Republicans against and 69% of Democrats for accepting Syrian refugees. Presidential candidates pretty much follow their party lines with some being more extreme than others. Yet, a strong majority of both parties (82%) agrees that we should help them where they are.

          Even though our government says it has a strong immigrant vetting system lasting from 6 months to 2 years (and even longer to check out those where terrorists are known to live), this cannot guarantee everyone. So, we ask: What if some terrorists slip through? Shouldn’t the welfare of our citizens come first? What will an influx of immigrants do to our economy, the job market, welfare, Social Security, our public school system, etc.?

           Many who have been influenced by our Judeo-Christian ethics say we can’t let the possibility of a few terrorists stop us from helping thousands in need. If we do, ISIS wins the propaganda war! Faith based organizations and individuals remind us that such scriptures as Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:34; and Malachi 3:5 teach compassion to strangers. And, Jesus taught in Matthew 25:41-46 about those who will be judged on how they receive strangers. Yet, I remember that though my heart goes out to strangers who beg me for a ride, I don’t pick up hitchhikers because my greater obligation is to stay safe for those who depend on me.

           Jesus also said in Matthew 10:16 to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Can we not be both wise and compassionate – vigilant and trusting God to help us do what we can? I think each of us needs to weigh all sides of this question and pray about our involvement. 

Q. What do we know about Jacob’s first wife, Leah? Janie Lovorn, Petersburg, VA

A. A few mornings back when my wife and I were doing our devotional reading, Janie asked this question. Following the references in our devotional material and other scriptures, we discovered some interesting facts.

          Jacob’s Uncle Laban had 2 daughters of which Leah was older. Genesis 29 in the King James says she was tender eyed. That word literally means “weak.” This may indicate she had poor vision or a physical deformity of her eyes. The implication is that her younger sister Rachel was more beautiful.

          Leah could have been secretly in love with her handsome cousin, but disappointed to learn Jacob loved Rachel so much he was willing to work 7 years for her. So, Leah may have told her father: “I’m older and I should have first preference before Rachel!” Or, she could have been forced by her father to go along with his scheme. At any rate, Laban devised a way to keep the free labor coming from Jacob.

          Evidently, the tradition of a woman covering her face goes farther back than current Arab custom. Add to that the wedding festivities with much wine flowing and the darkness of the wedding tent, and we understand why Jacob couldn’t tell whom he had married. But, imagine how Leah felt when Jacob disgraced her the next morning by saying he didn’t want her. After fulfilling the required week with Leah, he was immediately given Rachel on promise of another 7 years’ labor.

          We can praise our God that he isn’t turned away by physical appearances, or some of us may not get in! First Samuel 16:7 says God looks upon the potential of each heart. Perhaps to make up for her disappointment, or because she was forced against her will, God actually blessed Leah more than Rachel. She had more children – 6 sons and the only daughter, compared to Rachel’s 2 sons (Genesis 35:22-26). Also, Leah was buried in the patriarchal tomb along with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Joseph (Genesis 49:31). According to Genesis 35:19, Rachel was buried by herself in Bethlehem. And, best of all, it was Leah who was chosen to be in the lineage of Messiah Jesus through her son, Judah. As God did for Leah, no matter your circumstances, if you ask him God can make you a part of Jesus’ family, also! 

Q. Will we recognize our family and friends in Heaven? Irma Jenkins, Chesterfield, VA

A. To answer your question: Yes, I believe we will know everyone without having to be introduced. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 that in Heaven, “I shall know even as also I am known.” In 1 Corinthians 2:16, Paul also said that we have the mind of Christ. If we have his wisdom available to us here, surely we will know all we need to know in Heaven!

Matthew 8:11 teaches recognition in Heaven. Jesus said people in Heaven will be able to fellowship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. According to Ephesians 2:19-20, we won’t be strangers in Heaven but we’ll be fellow citizens with the apostles and prophets. We recall that, at Jesus’ transfiguration in Luke 9:28-32, Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus about his coming death in Jerusalem. Although Moses and Elijah lived hundreds of years apart, they knew each other and knew what was happening on earth.

The Jews referred to Paradise as “Abraham’s Bosom.” That means a place where friends welcome us with bear hugs! If our loved ones know we’re coming I expect them to welcome me when I arrive! Hey, our minds and memories won’t be erased in Heaven. I think our loved ones will be as we remember them best from earth. You may see a friend as a young man because that’s the way you remember him, but his grand children may see him as an old man because that’s the way they remember him. Age will be unimportant.

Remember this: Our family in Christ will always be our family. But, those who have been special in our relationships here will be even more special there. It was God who said it was not good for man to be alone. And, Revelation 21:3 promises that we’ll all be God’s children seeing him face to face and living forever with our Big Brother and our Heavenly Father.

I believe we’ll know our ancestors by name even if we’ve never met them. I’m excited to believe that, in Heaven, we’ll have all the time of eternity to meet and hear the experiences of members of our family line through the generations. Yet, the most important Person we’ll meet face to face will be our Savior Jesus when we sit at his feet and hear the wisdom of the ages! For those who have committed their lives to Jesus: These are special blessings we can claim this Thanksgiving and all through our lives.

Q. Is Thanksgiving older than a pilgrim tradition? Dr. Don Crain, Mechanicsville, VA

A. Since our grammar school plays about pilgrims and Indians, we have tended to think Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony – or at least Presidents Washington and Lincoln – invented Thanksgiving.

          Actually, the first mention of thanksgiving is in the Bible in Leviticus, chapter 7, where Moses gave instructions for an offering to restore peace with God. There, Israel was told they might include an offering of thanksgiving with their peace offering. This was optional, because in chapter 22, God said sacrifices of thanksgiving were to be self-initiated and of free will.

          In Psalm 35 David said he would offer thanks before the congregation in public worship. In fact, the giving of thanks is the theme of many Psalms, such as 30:4; 50:14; 69:30; 95:2; 100:4; and the many other times they enjoin us to “Give thanks unto the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.” This was also Daniel’s habit to offer thanks 3 times every day. And, it is continued in the New Testament.

          Eight times in the gospels Jesus, himself, gave thanks before eating or feeding others. In Matthew 11:25 and Luke 10:21 Jesus offered thanks in his public prayers, and in John 11 he gave thanks before raising Lazarus. In Luke 17 Jesus commended the one leper out of ten who returned to thank him for being healed. Paul admonished the Ephesians in 5:20 to give thanks in the name of Jesus for all things. Even the angels who live daily in God’s presence will offer thanks in Revelation 7:12. In Revelation 11:17 they’ll be joined by all the saints in Heaven thanking God for his awesome power.

          I believe Thanksgiving transcends any religion or nation and is appropriate everywhere it springs from the heart’s desire to show gratitude. We’re fortunate that our forefathers and leaders today in America have set aside a season to encourage national Thanksgiving to God. I hope each of my readers will list their blessings and truly offer thanks to Almighty God, not just on one special day, but all year long! I am thankful for your friendship and support for these columns!

Q. Is belief in an “age of accountability” scriptural? What does the Bible teach about children dying before that age? Tonya Brown, DFW Airport, TX

A. A panel of knowledgeable theologians was recently asked those same questions, and no one could give scriptural support for a definitive answer. Most Protestants hold to the Arminian doctrine that children below the age of accountability go to Heaven. In contrast, some Calvinists believe only the children of believers will be saved, while the children of unbelievers will go where their parents go! Do we have Biblical answers?

          Yes, Jesus said in Matthew 19:14 that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as those (children). And, yes, in Matthew 18:10 Jesus said children have angels in the Father’s presence in Heaven. But, those verses don’t specifically tell us that all young children, or the mentally challenged, go to Heaven when they die. Nor does the Bible give an age when they’re held accountable since children mature at different physical ages. The belief in those “doctrines” has been handed down for generations, and most churches teach such without a scriptural precedent. And, when they look for one, it’s hard to find! Now, I’m not saying that makes such beliefs false; I’m saying we should know why we hold to any doctrine.

          I believe when a child begins to ask questions about salvation you should answer them honestly, no matter the child’s age. If theirs is natural curiosity, that should satisfy them. If they continue to ask about it, it may be the Spirit’s conviction! A child of 5 can be as genuinely saved as one of 12 or 13. And, if that child dies before understanding right from wrong, I believe the Bible intimates that God will take care of that child. When David’s baby died, 2 Samuel 12:23 records David’s testimony that he would go to be with his child; and David knew he was going to Heaven (Psalm 20:6)!

          Many times in the Old Testament children are spoken of as “innocent.” Some Hebrew words translated as “children” actually refer to those who “have no guilt.” Although all of us are born with an inherent sin nature (Psalm 51:5), 1 John 2:2 says Jesus is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” That means God, whose nature is one of mercy and grace (2 John 1:3), certainly has reason to apply Jesus’ death to innocent children. Although we cannot point to a specific scripture that young children go to Heaven, we may comfort ourselves with the belief that God will always do right (Genesis 18:25) because he loves little children more than we do (Mark 10:14-16).

          (Without direct quotes, much information shared here has been gleaned from various online sources.) 

Q. When we die, do we become ghosts or angels? Aliki Peltiki, Athens, Greece

A. Neither! The number of angels is constant; they do not die nor have baby angels. We don’t become angels when we die. Angels are a separate race created by God before he made the world. Genesis 2:1 may be a reference to their creation since they are often called the hosts of Heaven. They are also called sons of God and morning stars in Job 38:7, which says they sang and shouted in accompaniment of God’s creative activity. The word “angel” means messenger. They were created to be God’s servants and messengers to men. Hebrews 1:14 says they minister to the redeemed, and Psalm 34:7 says they guard those who fear God. When Jesus said in Matthew 22:30 that the saved will be like the angels in Heaven, he meant that our primary relationships will not be like those in earthly families, but we’ll each be individual children in God’s family.

Ghosts are real, but they are not the spirits of dead humans. Humans never return as ghostly spirits. Revelation 12:9 says when Satan and the angels who followed him in rebellion against God were cast out of Heaven, they came to earth. In John 12:31 Jesus called Satan the prince of this world until he is defeated. In his war against God, knowing he cannot hurt God, Satan attacks humans made in God’s image to keep them from fellowship with their Creator. Since he is not God and cannot be everywhere at once, Satan uses the evil angels who serve him to extend his influence. We call them demons.

Knowing that some people would be deceived by seeing ghosts, believing in reincarnation, turning to psychics, following an evolutionary philosophy, or imagining they have seen aliens and UFOs, Satan has his demons use all these strategies against humans. If he can convince them there are other options after death, then they won’t believe the Bible’s teachings that everyone goes immediately after death to either a heavenly paradise or a hellish punishment. And, Jesus taught in Luke 16:26 that no one can leave Hell. Therefore, we conclude that hauntings are conducted by demons who have the ability to materialize and move objects. People who believe in reincarnation are deceived by Satan’s minions who plant those thoughts in their minds. Psychics and fortune-tellers are either fakes or they receive knowledge from evil spirits. Since these fallen angels have existed longer than we have, they know all about our dead loved ones. They can appear as our departed dead with knowledge we think only our loved ones could know.

In a previous column I referred to Saul having a witch call back Samuel from the dead. She couldn’t have made Samuel appear if God hadn’t sent him with a message for Saul. However, 1 Samuel 28:7 says she was known to consult a “familiar spirit” or demon. That was what she expected to see, but in verse 12 she saw Samuel instead of the spirit she expected. That’s why she “cried with a loud voice”!

When we die we remain the created beings God made us, only with spiritual bodies able to experience eternal punishment or pleasure. Our destination is fixed by how we’ve responded to God on earth. Rarely, God may send saints back for his purpose, but he will never let anyone return from Hell. Trusting Jesus is Hell’s only Escape!

Q. Do you believe Halloween may contribute to Satanism and other occult practices? D. C., Dinwiddie, VA

A. Yes, I certainly do. And, the irony of this modern holiday is its beginning as a religious event. “All Hallows Eve,” which has become known as Halloween, began as a time to honor the memory of saints. However, like many other sacred institutions, Satan has corrupted it from its original purpose. Today, its commercialism is second only to Christmas.

It’s a well known fact that Halloween is the most revered night for Satanists. Disguised as innocent fun, more mischief and wickedness is done on that night than all other nights combined. Hiding behind masks, people do everything from practical jokes to unlawful atrocities, including animal and human sacrifices to Satan.

God’s Word warns in Leviticus 19, “You shall not…practice divination or soothsaying….Do not turn to mediums or spiritists: do not seek them out to be defiled by them.” And, Deuteronomy 18 reads: “There shall not be found among you anyone who…uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.” We need to teach our children that supernatural evil is to be avoided, not played with.

Therefore, it’s time for the Church to either divorce itself from present Halloween practices or use them to defeat Satan at his own game. Many churches now sponsor a fall festival or carnival to give children a safe alternative to asking “Trick or Treat?” from strangers. Others actually use that night for evangelistic purposes and visit homes to give a treat rather than take one. Along with a gift, they include a gospel tract or invitation to their church. Some churches portray “Judgment Houses” that graphically depict the result of evil practices.

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not throwing a wet dishrag on all the holidays that make our children happy. But, there’s a difference in allowing harmless childhood fantasies and encouraging children toward evil practices that may open them up to deception or crime later. Proverbs 22:6 urges us to train our children in the right way so that they will grow up to make the right choices.

Q. What is Apocalyptic Jihad and is it predicted in the Bible? Hattie Cox, Richmond, VA

A. “Apocalyptic” refers to end times or the destruction of the world. “Jihad” for Muslims means a holy war or a war of duty to defend one’s religion and/or destroy unbelievers. Many people believe the motivation of ISIS is to cause the final Apocalyptic Jihad.

          ISIS is one of the abbreviated names for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (or Syria). It is also called IS (for Islamic State) and ISIL (for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – the region around Syria bordered by the Taurus Mountains). Their current leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, preached a Ramadan sermon last year declaring himself a Caliph, or Muslim civil and religious ruler who is the successor of Muhammad. His “caliphate” refers to his government or the territory he rules over which is already larger than Great Britain.

          Supposedly, Muhammad and those who recorded his verbal teachings predict the coming of their Mahdi, or Messiah, in the last days of earth. There have and will be false mahdis but the true one will be the Twelfth Imam Mahdi whose coming, they say, will coincide with the Second Coming of Jesus. In fact, they believe Jesus will help the Mahdi overcome evil by defeating the Anti-Christ. Islam teaches that, when their Mahdi comes, to whom Jesus will submit, there will a great Day of Judgment where all those who oppose Islam will be thrown into Hell, the “Pit of Blazing Fires”.

          Radical followers of ISIS believe they can hasten their day of glorious victory by plunging the whole world into the final Apocalyptic Jihad. At the height of war and chaos the true Mahdi will come. All who fight this battle will be generously rewarded; those who die while killing their enemies will receive even greater reward in Paradise. Others will keep fighting in hopes to draw the Western World they call “Rome” to Dabiq, an area in Syria near the Turkish border. That will be their “Battle of Armageddon” after which Islam and Sharia Law will be established over the world.  

          Of course, Islamic Jihad is not mentioned in the Bible because it’s just another one of the “wars and rumors of wars” Jesus predicted before the end of the world (Matthew 24:6). They will not conquer the world! Remember, the True Word of God says Jesus is the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16) who is One with the Father (John 10:30), and he will not share his kingdom with anyone (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 11:15)! 

Q. Why is the Triune God depicted as separate Persons when we know “the Lord is One”? Sherry Hailey, Jetersville, VA

A. Keep in mind that God is a spirit (John 4:24), and because we are flesh and blood we can never understand him (Matthew 16:17). The Trinity is a mystery; but even though the word is not mentioned in the Bible, it is a revealed doctrine about God.

          We usually think the Old Testament pictures God as one Entity (Deuteronomy 6:4), but if we look closely we can see him also as Spirit (Genesis 1:2), and in bodily form as the Angel-Messenger of the Lord (Exodus 3:2, 6). In the New Testament we see the three Persons more distinctly (Matthew 3:16; Luke 4:18.)

              I think God relates to us as three separate Persons to help us understand his unfathomable love for us. He doesn’t just want us to think of him as a white-haired Grandfather watching us from the sky, neither does he want us to think of him only as a man far above us in perfection. Nor does he want us to think of him as an impersonal Holy Force. It’s hard for our finite minds to wrap around all those characteristics in one Being. Therefore, he comes to us as Father, Son, or Spirit revealing he is still the same God who created us in his image to have fellowship with him (1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 John 1:3). He loves us to the degree that he died for us so we can live with him forever (John 3:16). And, he lives within believers to guarantee our safe arrival in Heaven (2 Corinthians 1:22). I can respond to him better in three relationships.

              First Corinthians 15:24-28 predicts the time when our salvation will be complete and Christ will deliver the Kingdom to his Father. Verse 28 says, “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” This verse may teach that, after Jesus and the Holy Spirit have done their separate works for our salvation and edification, they will reunite in the God-head that “God may be all in all.”

          I don’t know about you, but I thank God that he cares enough about how I understand him that he divested himself of his mysterious Heavenly majesty to come to me as three Friends I can relate to!  

Q. I think I’m saved, but my pastor said if I can’t remember the time and place when I trusted Jesus I may not be saved. Is that true? Anonymous in VA

A. I, too, have heard preachers say if you’ve made a conscious decision to follow Jesus, you’ll surely remember doing it. However, we humans have imperfect memories. When I asked my doctor about forgetfulness he told me to imagine my mind being like a file cabinet. When the cabinet is full, adding more papers will crowd out some of those which were previously filed. Over the years we forget more than we remember. I read that what you’ve learned is what you still remember after you’ve forgotten all you’re going to forget.

          Personally, I don’t feel the time or place back then is as important as how you feel now. The angels are keeping God’s records on us (Revelation 20:12), and they will surely record the time and place when we trusted Jesus. We can ask them in Heaven if we can’t remember it down here! But, if you know now that you are basing your hopes for Heaven on the work Jesus did for you on his cross, then you are saved. John 10:9 records Jesus saying, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” If you’re basing your salvation on nothing else than your knowledge that you’ve asked God to forgive you because Jesus died to pay your sin debt, then, my brother or sister, Jesus says you’re saved!

          If you’re not sure, do it again until you are sure! Remember the old formula of A-B-C: A – “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). B – “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). C – Confess: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved (Romans 10:9). Place yourself in John 3:16 and read it saying, “For God so loved (your name) that he gave his only begotten Son that if (your name) will believe in him (your name) shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

          Satan wants to rob you of your assurance, because if you’re not convinced that Jesus has saved you, you can’t convince someone else to trust him. But, Jesus said in John 10:28-29 that no one can pluck you out of the Father’s hand. Just remember: You didn’t do anything to be saved, and you can’t do anything to lose it. God gave it as a free gift, and he doesn’t take his gifts back. That’s why we love to sing “Amazing Grace.”  

Q. Should Christians be involved with politics? Charlie Vaughn, Yomba Indian Reservation, Shoshone Nation, NV

A. Readers, since this column falls under the heading of editorial opinion, I’m going to speak my opinion on a subject where I dare not be silent. Uninformed people often say that our Constitution and the First Amendment have established a separation between church and state. However, those words are not in the First Amendment. It does prohibit government from establishing a state religion, but it also says government may not hinder someone from practicing his or her religious beliefs. 

          It is unrealistic to believe that people of genuine faith can divorce themselves from the heart-beliefs that motivate their actions. That principle is what Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky, stood on. Whether or not you agree with her tactics, she was correct in claiming her guaranteed constitutional right not to be forced to violate her religious beliefs.

          A vocal minority that believes Christians, and especially church leaders, should not be involved in politics has caused many believers to refrain from speaking on or serving in government. Over the last 40 years or more, our silence as Christians has allowed the transformation of our beloved land of the free to move toward a socialist nation as the federal government assumes more and more control. Far too many in the “silent majority” have failed to stand up for their beliefs, serve in the political arena, and vote their convictions. Some have even said that God will change our government if he wishes to do so. I agree with a friend of mine who said, “I have to wonder if God is not waiting for believers to stand up and speak up on the cultural issues of our day before he intervenes to affirm us.”

          Yes, Christians have the right and obligation to promote and participate in a government that honors God and keeps all people free. Yes, preachers must expose evil wherever God leads them to speak on his behalf. No one may tell a man or woman of God what they may or may not speak if they believe they have the authority from God and it doesn’t contradict the Holy Bible. Jesus told us to let our lights shine (Matthew 5:16), and Paul even used political language reminding us we are ambassadors for the King of Kings (2 Corinthians 5:20). How can we do that if we fail to represent our King wherever his principles need to be interjected? Thank God for political leaders who risk criticism to lead our country back to the morals of God’s Word!

Q. Should Christians support capital punishment? Barbara Smith, Cumberland, VA

A. A dictionary defines capital punishment as the governmental decree that a condemned person be put to death for a capital offense. A capital offense is a crime worthy of execution. Capital punishment should not be confused with killing an enemy in war or breaking the sixth commandment. They are not the same. The sixth commandment speaks to the individual saying, “Thou shalt do no murder” (Exodus 20:13). Since murder is the unlawful, intentional killing of another person, capital punishment is the state’s right to remove those murderers permanently.  

          In Genesis 9 God was speaking to all of Noah’s descendants. In verse 6 God gave mankind the right and obligation to shed the blood of one who has shed the blood of another human. If a murderer declares life expendable, he has also decreed his own life expendable. The taking of another person’s life is the greatest offense against a person or society, therefore the taking of the murder’s life is the greatest punishment for that offense.

          The Bible contains many examples of God’s judgment against people who rejected him. They were breaking the prime directive to love God with all their strength. Sometimes he punished them supernaturally as with the great Flood. At other times he approved their extinction at the hands of men to whom he gave that authority. Some major scriptures affirming capital punishment are: Exodus 21:12; Leviticus 24:17; Numbers 35:30 and Romans 13:4. In Romans 6:23 God stated that the wages of sin is death. The ultimate example of God’s authenticating capital punishment was when he took the penalty of death himself for all sinners who cry to him for forgiveness (Romans 3:25; 5:8).

          Today, most democratic countries have abolished the death penalty. The major exceptions are the U.S., Japan, and South Korea. That decision should not be taken lightly. Satan will always try to convince us other ways are better than God’s ways. However, history has shown that when nations abolish capital punishment they lose their greatest deterrent in the battle to stop crime. Fear is the ultimate weapon, and dying is the ultimate fear. If God considered capital punishment to be the best weapon a nation has against murder, Christians should support it as a necessary and effective deterrent. 

Q. Was a pastor correct in telling me that having a permit to carry a concealed weapon is not being a disciple of God? Russell Ali, Bend, OR

A. This question is extremely relevant because of the times in which we live. When church members are being killed while they worship, many pastors are either packing or training men to guard their services. However, many true believers feel they’re showing a lack of faith not to depend upon God to protect them.

I know of no scripture that forbids self-defense when lives are in danger. Although Jesus’ character of pacifism taught the ideal of walking the second mile for a fellow human, pacifism and self-defense do not conflict. Jesus never told us to turn the other cheek when someone was trying to kill us. Certainly, our godly love even for our enemies wishes them no harm; and, a disciple of Christ doesn’t want to use his weapon to harm innocent people. Indeed, if someone threatens our life and the circumstances allow it, we would want to share the gospel and pray for their salvation. But, a criminal, intent on doing us harm, is not in the frame of mind to hear the gospel. I think that would be “casting our pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6).

Defending ourselves is not selfish if we stand in the gap for others (Ezekiel 22:30) or if we have family who depend on us. When 1 Timothy 5:8 says we are to provide for our household, I take it to mean we defend them also. The Bible is full of times when God allowed his people to defend themselves. In fact, God blessed David in 1 Samuel 17 when he defended Israel against Goliath. In the book of Judges, God gave a supernatural sign for Gideon to fight the Midianites and supernatural strength for Samson to fight the Philistines. Joshua 10:12 recounts how God even held the sun back almost a whole day for Joshua to win over the Amorites.

If we can find where Jesus, who taught and practiced pacifism, gave his apostles permission to carry weapons, would that settle this question? Well, read in Luke 22:35-38 what Jesus said just before he died, “‘When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, did you lack for anything?’ And, they said, ‘Nothing.’ Then he said to them, ‘But, now, he that has a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that has no sword, let him sell his clothes and buy one.’….And they said, ‘Lord, behold here are two swords.’ And he said unto them, ‘It is enough.’”

Being prepared and responsible to defend those who are testimonies of the truth, to me, does not negate one’s discipleship nor does it indicate a lack of faith.

Q. Why does Leviticus 5:17 say a person should be punished even if he broke a law without realizing it? H. C., Richmond, VA

A. Most of Leviticus 5 records laws God gave to Moses concerning trespass offences. A trespass was something that violated the rights of God or another person. The offender had failed to respect something that belonged to another.  The penalty was to make restitution for that which had been violated plus one-fifth of its value added to it. Then, a sacrifice was to be offered to ask God’s forgiveness.

          Leviticus 5:17 is a summary verse saying in essence that a person who committed a trespass was guilty and liable even if he was unaware he had sinned. The prescribed trespass offering was also called a negligence offering because a person usually committed it either without thinking before he acted or without knowing it was wrong. In either case he was guilty because he had broken God’s law.

          This is the same principle today as a judge saying, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” That’s because it’s every citizen’s duty to know the laws and abide by them. Of course, today, a judge will take into account all the circumstances, and the sentence usually will be less harsh for something done in ignorance. The person with a “don’t care” attitude may have to pay full restitution.

          In this chapter God was teaching the seriousness of every sin – even that which is committed innocently – because sin always incurs consequences beyond itself. However, once a conscientious person realized his or her wrong, they usually carried a burden of guilt. God knew that, and he provided a way to have that guilt removed. Notice how God cared for each individual: If they couldn’t afford the prescribed sacrifice of an expensive animal or payment in silver shekels, God would accept a less expensive one right down to pigeons or even some flour.          These priestly regulations were for Israel under their old covenant. Theologians today usually only study them to see how they pointed to the work Jesus would fulfill for us in our new covenant. However, some practical lessons can still be learned from them, such as the seriousness of breaking laws whether we understand them or not and “Ignorance of the law is no excuse!”   

Q. I heard someone say Romans 14:11 teaches, that since everyone will eventually bow before Jesus and acknowledge who he is, that means everyone will be saved. Is that correct? Tonya Brown, DFW Airport, TX

A. Paul wrote the epistle of Romans to believers in the capitol city where he had yet to visit (Romans 1:7; 15:24). He had heard of a contention between Roman and Jewish believers because of their different religious backgrounds. He wrote in chapter 14 to say they should not judge how their fellowman relates to God (Romans 14:3). God will be the Judge of that. So, Paul was talking to Christians about the Judgment Seat of Christ (see verse 10) where believers will give account of what we’ve done for Jesus since we’ve been saved. This is not a judgment determining Heaven or Hell. Paul was teaching that believers who act with prejudice toward other believers are not reflecting the character of Jesus who receives everyone on the basis of their faith.

          Verse 14 reads in part, “…Every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Your question does not really relate to this verse since this verse is for those who are already saved. Your question concerns universal salvation, or the belief that everyone will be saved because they will eventually acknowledge that Jesus is God. This has been a topic of discussion for centuries. However, universal salvation is not biblical; it is a misunderstanding of a few scriptures while many more scriptures teach that a personal, vital faith in Jesus during our lifetime is the only way to be saved. Once a person is called before the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11), it will be too late to change his or her mind about Jesus. The record of who they honored on earth will be their witness on that day. That’s exactly what the next verse related to your question, Romans 14:12, is teaching. Each person, individually, will answer as to what they did about serving Jesus as their Lord.        

Certainly, at the judgment of the lost, everyone will bow before Jesus who is God (Revelation 20:12). He is both the Agent of creation, Lord, and Judge of all. He is God who came to earth in a human body, and on that day there will be no question who he is. Even the demons believe who Jesus is and tremble, but they are not saved (James 2:19). Confessing that Jesus is God doesn’t save anyone; letting him be our personal Lord is the key to Heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). Those who confess who he is after they stand before him in judgment will not be saved if they haven’t served him as their Lord while they were living on earth.

Q. What are the 7 Spirits of God in Revelation 4:5 and 5:6? Victor Flanagan, Vilott, TX

A. Jesus gave John a revelation of the future often pictured in symbols which may be hard to understand. The first chapter shows Jesus in supernatural glory in the midst of his churches. Chapters 2 and 3 are letters to 7 of the churches over which John was bishop. Since the number 7 may mean something is complete, those letters have messages for all churches. Those who interpret the Bible according to dispensations see the entire Church Age from the Cross to the Rapture described in these 7 churches.

          If you believe John experienced the Rapture in Revelation 4:1, chapters 4 and 5 show us what will happen immediately after the saved are called up at the end of the Church Age. The redeemed of all ages are pictured as 24 elders around God’s Throne. Having received their crowns at the Judgment Seat of Christ, they are giving those crowns back to Jesus (4:10-11). Other beings are also in that scene: 4 beasts (4:6), angels (5:2, 11), the Lion of Judah appearing as a slain Lamb (5:5-6), every creature in the universe (5:13), and the 7 Spirits of God sent forth into the world (4:5, 5:6). All these extol God and the Lamb as worthy of all praise.

          Most of us know who the Lion/Lamb is, and we know about angels and all created beings. The 24 elders are symbolic of the saved from the Old and New Testaments. Although they are slightly different, the beasts are probably the same 4 living creatures Ezekiel saw in his chapter 1 transporting the Throne of God. They are pictured a little differently here, but how would you explain something for which we have no words in our language to describe them? They appear to represent the highest orders of creation giving praise to God.

          John also saw the 7 Spirits of God before his Throne. He first described them as burning lamps (4:5). That and the phrase in 5:6, “sent forth into all the earth,” give us the identity of these Spirits. This is another way of showing the complete Holy Spirit back in Heaven.

          Remember when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost he appeared as 120 “burning lamps” the King James calls tongues of fire? They rested upon the 120 people present. Since then he has indwelt millions of believers the minute they confess Jesus as Savior. If the number 7 means complete, this is actually a wonderful assurance of our salvation. Since the Spirit is complete in Heaven that means no one will be left behind. He will bring every person he possessed with him to worship around God’s Throne!  

Q. Can you resolve the seeming discrepancy between 2 Chronicles 5:10 and Hebrews 9:4 concerning what was in the Ark of the Covenant? Tim Donovan, Jarratt, VA

A. Although the Bible never uses the word trinity, we can see that doctrine in many places. We worship one God who relates to us as 3 distinct personalities we call the Godhead or the Triune God. The angels around his Throne cry, “Holy, holy, holy” for the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Spirit). We see the triune nature of God in the articles of the Holy Place in the Tabernacle and Temple. The Table of Showbread pointed to the provision of God the Father; the Altar of Incense demonstrated the prayers of the Spirit being constantly offered for the believer; and the Candelabra predicted the work of Jesus, the Light of the World.

          Again, we see the same 3 Persons in the Ark of the Covenant inside the Holy of Holies. Hebrews 9:4 tells us that either within or around the Ark was a golden pot of manna for the provision of the Father, Aaron’s rod that budded signifying the life-giving Holy Spirit, and the Tablets of the Law (Ten Commandments) pointing to Jesus who fulfilled the Law for us. Galatians 3:24 says the Law was our schoolmaster bringing us to Christ.

          However, 2 Chronicles 5:10 says there was nothing in the Ark except the stone tablets. This appears to be a description of the Ark at the time it was placed in Solomon’s Temple. Yet, the original Hebrew text here allows for the possible interpretation that the writer was telling what was in the Ark at the time Moses had it built at Sinai (also called Horeb). If that is not the case, then perhaps those 2 items were lost when the Ark was carried into battle and captured by the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:1). Better yet, maybe the writer knew that the manna and rod were not within the Ark, but everyone understood they were included along with it.

          There are some things for which we just do not have explanations. For these, we have the testimony of Jesus that God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). So, we accept what we cannot understand with earthly logic and wait until we “know even as also (we are) known” in Heaven (1 Corinthians 13:12).  

 Q. How are we to understand the scriptures that say God will punish the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generations? Jane Jahn, Yorktown, VA

A. This threatened punishment is recorded 4 times in the Old Testament. You will find God speaking this warning in Exodus 20:5, which is part of the first of the Ten Commandments. He also said it in Exodus 34:6-7 when God proclaimed his name (or character) to Moses. Notice that he wants to be known most of all as one who shows mercy to thousands. Moses repeated this back to God in Numbers 14:18. Again, we find this judgment restated in Deuteronomy 5:9. When something is repeated in Scripture this many times, we should take notice. In the first and last references God particularly applied this warning to Israel if they left their worship of him and turned to the false gods of their heathen neighbors. For us, this applies to anything in our lives we place ahead of God.

          I think God was reserving the right to punish the sins of the fathers to the third or fourth generation if their children deserved it. But, look at the positive aspects of God’s character preceding that statement in Exodus 34:7. Verse 6 says, “God is merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, (and) forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Certainly, one with those character qualities will be fair! Remember that in Bible times, as it is today in many countries, 3 or 4 generations might live in the same house under the authority of the family patriarch. If children follow the sins of their elders, they will be punished the same as their fathers. It is so important that we set the right example for our children!

          This threat was surely intended to cause Israel to realize the terrible consequences of all sins, especially the worship of false gods. However, if you read Ezekiel, chapter 18, in its entirety you can see God’s prediction of how it can be in our age of grace. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. But, if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right….he shall surely live, saith the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:4, 9). Today, God judges each person by his or her particular sins (Ezekiel 18:2-4). But, for those who have placed their sins on Jesus, there will be no eternal punishment.

May God help us to worship him above all else and lead our children to do the same. Then, we must model before them the rest of God’s character as stated in Exodus 34:6 if we want his continuing blessings on our families and our nation.  

Q. Do we have a reason why such a long genealogy occupies the first 9 chapters of First Chronicles? Sharon Harbaugh, Williamsburg, VA

A. As far as we know the first national Israeli history was recorded by the prophet Samuel in the 2 books that bear his name. Someone else continued their history in First and Second Kings. Upon returning from Babylonian captivity, Ezra is credited for writing the 2 books of Chronicles. Ezra makes reference to some other historical registers someone carried to Babylon, but those records have been lost to us. First Chronicles is similar to 2 Samuel while adding genealogies and more details to some events. The 2 books of Chronicles are actually combined to make the last book in the Hebrew Bible and thus repeat genealogies and events which were so important to the Jews.

          The first 9 chapters of First Chronicles do contain a lengthy genealogy beginning with the first man, Adam. Chapter 10 then starts a history of the kings of Israel. The reigns of King Saul and King David are described in detail. Then, this first book ends with another genealogy of the early workers at Solomon’s Temple. Second Chronicles continues Israel’s history beginning with King Solomon and going all the way through the Babylonian captivity until King Cyrus released the Jews to return to their homeland.

          We must remember that the Jews had been resettled to Babylon for 70 years. Most of the original adults had died and many in the younger generation had intermarried with other tribes and local citizens. Much of their history was in danger of being forgotten. When the captives were freed by Cyrus to return and rebuild their nation, many of them didn’t know their tribal ancestry. God had given specific territories to each tribe and family. I think Ezra was giving them a refresher course to help them trace who they were and where they were supposed to settle upon their return. 

          Those genealogies in Chronicles and Matthew and some other places may seem boring to you but they wouldn’t be if your name was in them! They testify to the truth of Scripture: These were real people and each one was important. Let these lists remind you that God knows your name and every person is important to him. If they are not named in his earthly books, they are certainly in the records the angels are keeping on all of us.

Q. When we ask forgiveness is it necessary to list every sin? What if we can’t remember everything we’ve done or what we’ve confessed before? Tim Donovan, Jarrett, VA

A. God knows we don’t have perfect memories. However, God is perfect in all his ways (Deuteronomy 32:4), and that means His memory is perfect. He knows every sin even if we might have forgotten it. And, what if we’ve already confessed it? It won’t hurt to confess it again! But, remember that God looks on our hearts more than the words we may or may not say (1 Samuel 16:7). When we honestly desire to be clean before God, His Spirit will pray for anything we might have forgotten (Romans 8:26).

Yes, God’s memory is perfect, except for one fault: He doesn’t remember the sins that have been covered by the blood of Jesus. Hebrews 10:17 says, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” Whose sins is He writing about? Verse 10 in that same chapter says it is those who are “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Notice that the “once for all” includes all our sins. And, what does God do with those sins? Psalm 103:12 tells us: “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” There is no east or west pole so “never the twain shall meet.”

          God will do that because the forgiveness of our sins is not based on whether or not we remember to confess them. Forgiveness of sins is based on the perfect work of Jesus when we claim Him as our Savior. Remember the gospel song we sing: “Jesus Paid It All”? That’s good Bible doctrine. When you trust Jesus to forgive you and save you, He takes away all your sins – past, present, and future. Actually, you don’t have to ask Him to forgive any sin, because they are already forgiven by Jesus’ shed blood.

          Why does the Bible keep saying we ought to confess our sins? Because that confession is for us, not for God. God already knows them; we need to remember we have committed them and remember the price Jesus paid that they may be forgiven. When we confess them, the Spirit will remind us if we need to ask forgiveness of our fellowman or make restitution (James 5:16). And, confessing them will help us remember not to commit them again.    

Q. Does the Bible say who may conduct a Lord’s Supper in a home or place other than church? Marian Baker, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. No, the New Testament doesn’t specify who may administer the Lord’s Supper. Jesus was the only “Minister” said to lead in the Lord’s Supper, and he initiated it! The only recorded time when church leaders may have administered Communion is in Acts 6 where 7 men were appointed to take the “daily ministrations” to Grecian widows. Although they are not called such in that passage, those men are believed to be the first deacons. The “ministrations” they delivered may have been food from the common evening meal or it may have been the Lord’s Supper, or both. We are not told.

          Acts, chapter 2, describes the first meetings of the early church. They met in community fellowships in each other’s homes and shared the evening meal “with gladness and singleness of heart (verse 46). Tradition says the “breaking of bread” in verse 46 was the Lord’s Supper which ended each meal. They used their last piece of bread and their last beverage to remember Jesus. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:26 that they were demonstrating the Lord’s death until he comes again. It is highly unlikely that they had an apostle present in each home when they observed the Lord’s Supper; so a layman or woman, likely the host, led Communion.

By the way, the scriptures describing the Lord’s Supper do not mention wine, rather they call it “the cup” (Matthew 26:27; 1 Corinthians 11:26-28). However, we believe it was wine because Jesus said in Matthew 26:29, “I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (The wine used for Passover was mixed with 4 parts water.) The only time the ordinance is called Communion is in 1 Corinthians 10:16, and it is only called the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:21. Catholics call this sacrament the Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving,” because in Matthew 26:27 Jesus “gave thanks” at his Last Supper (another term for the Lord’s Supper, although it is never called such in the Bible).

You should follow the rules of your church or denomination in serving the Lord’s Supper, but Scripture does not prohibit any believer from remembering and celebrating Jesus’ broken body and shed blood either privately or with other believers. Like my family has done, you may conclude a meal by sharing a piece of bread or cracker and a sip of beverage or water in Jesus’ name. Just remember that 1 Corinthians 11:27 warns us not to partake of it irreverently. 

Q. Please comment on 2 Chronicles 7:14 as it applies to our time. Owen Van Cleave, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Some people say the Old Testament doesn’t apply to our Church Age today. While it’s true that the instructions God gave to Israel along with their covenant at Sinai were primarily for that nation, many Old Covenant principles, such as the 10 Commandments, are timeless instructions by our Maker for all nations. This is also true for the renewed covenant God spoke when Solomon dedicated the Temple. There, in 2 Chronicles 7:14, God said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

Notice that God didn’t name Israel; that would have limited this covenant. Instead, he addressed all those who are called by his name or who identify with the character of his name. Today, Christians are his people, called by the name of the Second Person of the Godhead, redeemed and purchased by his blood. Paul said in Romans, chapter 9, that believers in the faith of Abraham are God’s true people. Therefore, we need to look often at this covenant as applying to believers today.

A covenant is a two-way promise where each party commits to do certain things. God will do his part to hear our prayers. If he hears – and doesn’t turn a deaf ear because of our sins (Isaiah 59:2) – he will answer according to his greater purpose and timing. Also, God promised to forgive our sin and heal our land if we keep our part of the covenant. No one can deny that our land and world need divine healing today. We need only look at Jesus’ predictions of the end times in Matthew 24 to see that God is trying to get our attention. Our part is to humble ourselves before God and to pray – not selfish prayers that begin with, “I want…” or “Please give me…”, but we are to pray seeking God’s face. That means to seek the smile of his approval. To do that, we must turn from our wicked ways. Notice that God didn’t say that sinners must turn from their wicked ways; God’s people must keep our vows to remain holy before him. To be holy means to be separated from the world – separated to the morals and ethics of God’s Word.

So, if you’re anxious over the direction our nation is taking; if you worry about the problems we face in government, the economy, moral issues, crime, or physical calamities, God has given us the answer. He and he alone will heal our land when we keep the first part of this covenant. Don’t look to government, the courts, or national leaders to solve our problems; they helped to create our problems! Look to God. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 121, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip: he who keeps you will never sleep.”

Q. Is America heading towards a terrible implosion or a great awakening? Joel Rosenberg, Jerusalem, Israel

A. No, I do not know Reverend Rosenberg personally, and he didn’t ask this question for my column. But, he did send it to me and hundreds of others who subscribe to his email “Flash Traffic.” Mr. Rosenberg is a prolific writer, evangelist, and (I believe) a prophet for these days. Let me paraphrase and comment on his blog this week.

          Joel Rosenberg said there are only 2 possible outcomes for America’s future. Either God will judge us for our national sins, or he will answer the prayers of his people and send the great awakening we so desperately need. We cannot continue to stick our collective heads in the sand and ignore what has happened to our country.

          Violence is at epidemic proportions. The terrible mass murder inside a place of refuge in Charleston is just one example of the scores of killings we hear every day. Racism, suspicion, and hatred are turning us against our neighbors. Vigilantes are pursuing their own perceived avenues of justice; even our pastors are now packing guns. And, our police officers are afraid to do their job for fear they will be the ones prosecuted. Cities are forced to spend thousands of dollars on body cams. Poverty is growing, breeding more crime, while drug and alcohol abuse is epidemic.

          If all this wasn’t bad enough, families, which are the basic units of every society, are imploding all around us; and the sacred institution of marriage is being abandoned. The Supreme Court will rule any day on the definition and future of marriage. Abortions are occurring at more than one million a year; since 1973, Americans have murdered 57 million of our own children through abortions.

          Our government can’t help us because everything about Washington is suspect. We have more political candidates running for office than ever before and none of them can guarantee to put America back where she once was. Abroad, Iran is closing in on the Bomb. ISIS is exploding across the Middle East and gaining a foothold in Europe; and China, North Korea, and the Kremlin are growing more aggressive. Many Americans have little or no hope for the future or confidence in the Church because we have kicked God out of our schools and government and watered down his Word in our pulpits.

          But, there is hope. God gave us 2 Chronicles 7:14 for such a time as this. If believers will mean business in repenting and praying, God has promised to hear those prayers and heal their land. Now is the time for all America to pray!

Q. Is God punishing us when we feel pain? Sharon Harbough, Williamsburg, VA

A. Certainly not! Pain is a universal result for all people because sin corrupted the original Eden (Romans 5:12). Even unborn babies react to pain. As far as we know all the animal kingdom feels pain and even some plants show reaction to mutilation. Therefore, we can’t say God is always singling someone out when they are in pain. Of course, in the Bible sometimes pain and disease were sent personally from God upon those opposing him. Read 2 Kings 5:25-27 and Acts 12:23. However, not all pain is sent directly from God.

Some pain is inherited; other pain may be caused by accident or illness. Pain will naturally occur as our body ages or otherwise changes. We may bring pain on ourselves or affliction may be caused by others. But, there’s always a reason for pain; and, for believers, it’s a blessing because God has promised that all things work for the good of those who love Jesus (Romans 8:28).

Think of pain as a physical blessing because it’s a computerized warning system built all through our bodies to tell us something is wrong. Pain drives us to get help. That’s why leprosy in the Bible was so terrible: People couldn’t feel pain to warn them that body parts were infected until the skin began to decay.

          Pain may also be a blessing spiritually. C. S. Lewis wrote that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Sometimes God sends or allows pain to cause us to draw closer to him. Severe pain has a way of purifying our thoughts from earthly concerns to heavenly realities. The psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:75, “In faithfulness you have afflicted me.” And, God said to Isaiah in chapter 48, verse 10, “Behold I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”   

          Remember that when God took the human form of Jesus he experienced everything that will ever happen to us, including pain. He voluntarily suffered intense pain in the rejection of his people and his crucifixion. But, his pain gave way to resurrection and our salvation. Believers can walk the valley of the shadow of death bravely if we think of discomfort in dying as temporary birth pains bringing forth Heaven.

Q. What is a Biblical response to the transgender topic so much in the news now? Misi Rose, Midlothian, VA

A. In spite of the acceptance of GLBT sexuality being pushed upon the public today by media attention and political correctness, that doesn’t make it right in the sight of the One who has the final answer. Neither should any person who has deep rooted moral beliefs to the contrary “roll over and play dead” just because someone else believes otherwise.

As far as the transgender question, God has already given us his answer. Genesis 1:27 tells us, “So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Regardless of what someone perceives himself or herself to be, they are what God created them to be. Revelation 4:11 teaches that we were created to bring God pleasure; that’s our bottom line in life. That’s more important than satisfying our confused notions of sexuality.

Our Biblical response to any subject which is contrary to God’s written Word, is to state what God says. Christians must stand our ground without compromise in spite of the criticism which will surely come. Additionally, we are to love each person as one for whom Christ died and consider him or her worthy of our witness and concern.

Let me quote portions of the resolution adopted by my denomination last year, which says it better than I can: “Resolved, that the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, June 10-11, 2014, affirm God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception;…and be it further resolved, that we grieve the reality of human fallenness which can result in such…manifestations as gender identity confusion and point all to the hope of the redemption of our bodies in Christ;…and be it further resolved, that we extend love and compassion to those whose sexual self-understanding is shaped by a distressing conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity; and be it further resolved…that we love our transgender neighbors, seek their good always, welcome them to our churches and, as they repent and believe in Christ, receive them into church membership; and be it further resolved, that we regard our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.”

Q. In Numbers 20, why was Moses’ sin so drastic that it kept him from entering the Promised Land? Connie Swineford, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Scripture doesn’t make it completely clear why God was so harsh on Moses, other than the reasons given in verse 12. God said Moses did not believe Him and didn’t sanctify Him before Israel; therefore he would not lead them into their Promised Land. We don’t know everything that happened between Moses and God to cause this, but we can certainly use our sanctified imagination.

Moses’ faith might have wavered. Verse 12 hints the possibility that Moses didn’t believe God would do this, maybe because God had been angry before at the grumbling of the people. Or, perhaps Moses had assumed too much intimacy with God and failed to show God’s holiness by thinking his own anger could defend God’s honor.

Again, we don’t know; but, maybe Moses’ pride came into play thinking “How dare these people not obey me!” Or, perhaps Moses was taking too much credit for the miracle: “Must we bring you water out of this rock? (verse 10)” Of course, we know Moses disobeyed God by striking the rock instead of speaking to is as God had said. Since God always says what He means and means what He says, He must always be obeyed explicitly.

I see a spiritual prediction here possibly showing why God rebuked Moses so harshly. If the rock represented Christ as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:4, Jesus would only need to be smitten one time to die for our sins. After that, we simply ask Him and He gives the Water of Life freely. Moses had smitten the rock previously in Exodus 17:6; this time he was told to speak to it. However, in his anger at the people, Moses struck the rock.

Finally, let me suggest that we might be overlooking the simplest reason: Moses’ time on earth was over; God had a better Promised Land for him in Heaven! Moses was only called to lead Israel to Canaan. He had done that. A warrior leader would be needed to lead them into the land to conquer and possess it. Joshua was that battle strategist they would need. And, by the way, Moses did enter the Promised Land at the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:3)!

We would do well to learn the lesson of complete obedience to God while leaving the best way and time to Him.

Q. Will our family and friends that we know now be the same in Heaven? Luke McAllister, age 6, Auckland, New Zealand

A. Many Christians believe that, in what we call Heaven, the same saved people we know here will continue over there with life much as it is like here, but in a perfect state. They will look much the same as they did here; live on the same earth glorified, and excel in doing the same things they were gifted to do here – but without the effects of sin’s curse.

Matthew 8:11 teaches recognition in Heaven. Jesus said people in Heaven will be able to fellowship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. According to Ephesians 2:19-20 we won’t be strangers in Heaven, but we’ll be fellow citizens with the apostles and prophets. We remember that in John 17 Jesus prayed for all the saved to be one with him in Heaven. That surely implies a special relationship with Jesus and, I believe, with all our saved friends from down here.

Jesus also said in Luke 15:10 that even the angels get in on the celebration when a new person is born into the family of God. At Jesus’ transfiguration in Luke 9:28-32, Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus about his life events. Although Moses and Elijah lived hundreds of years apart, they knew each other and knew what was happening on earth.

Luke 16:19-31 records Jesus’ parable about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Verses 23-25 teach that, after they died, Lazarus and Abraham remembered each other although they were in different destinations. Family and friends who go to Heaven ahead of us will be waiting to welcome us there. That’s what “Abraham’s Bosom” means. That’s another name for Paradise meaning that it’s a place where friends welcome us with bear hugs!

Hey, our minds and memories won’t be erased in Heaven. I think our loved ones will be as we remember them best from earth. You may see a friend as a young man because that’s the way you remember him, but his grand children may see him as an old man. Age will be unimportant.

Remember this: Our family in Christ will always be our family. But, those who have been special in our relationships here will be even more special there. It was God who said it was not good for man to be alone. And, the book of Revelation promises that we’ll all be God’s children living forever with our Big Brother and our Heavenly Father.

Q. Why is God allowing the terrible persecutions of Christians and others by ISIS, etc.? Olivia Osterbind, Chesterfield, VA

A. Through the ages those in power have persecuted those who opposed them. Terrible things have been done even in the name of God. But, James 1:13 teaches that no temptation to do evil comes from God. John 8:44 says Satan was a murderer from the beginning. He is the opposite of Christ; where Jesus taught love Satan instills prejudice. Where Jesus taught compassion Satan teaches men to fear or distrust those who are different.

Satan is the mastermind behind those evil movements today. The Bible predicts in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 that, after the influence of the Holy Spirit in the Church is removed at the Rapture, Satan’s full character will be revealed in the final Man of Sin, the Antichrist. Since the Devil has always wanted to kill the people of God, in the last days he will persecute or kill those who sing the songs of Moses and the Lamb (Revelation 15:3). The Jews follow Moses’ teachings and Christians follow those of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Our country has a Judeo-Christian background, so Satan’s followers today plot to destroy “the great satan” (which they call the U.S.) and believers in the God of The Book.

Why doesn’t God intervene and stop ISIS from beheading Christians? Revelation 6:9-11 says God is waiting for the final saints to be martyred before he takes revenge. Remember: Death is not the enemy of believers; it merely ushers God’s children into his presence. Neither can death keep God from avenging himself against his enemies. After they die, he will resurrect them for judgment and eternal punishment (Revelation 20:15).

We don’t know God’s reasons for allowing evil to continue except what he’s revealed in his Word. In 2 Peter 3:9 he says he’s not willing any should perish, so he must be giving evil people time to repent or seal their own doom. Their continued persecution becomes the opportunity for God’s children to prove their loyalty to him and be rewarded. Also, Isaiah 57:1 says God allows the righteous to die to escape more evil to come. Those saints safely under God’s altar in Revelation 6 are leaving the outcome to God. We, too, must believe that God will accomplish his purpose through all things. Even persecuted believers may claim that all things will work together for good (Romans 8:28).

Q. With so many violent protests happening today, does God expect our citizens to obey governments that oppress them? Name withheld by request

A. There are many people who are disillusioned with our national government’s increasing intrusion into private life: the NSA listening to our phone calls and reading our emails, the IRS targeting conservative Christians and those who don’t agree with the present power structure. Ordinary citizens don’t like being forced to buy something they don’t want or to conduct business which goes against their religious and moral beliefs. Local leaders feel Washington is overstepping states’ rights by sending federal agents to investigate and prosecute city and state governments. Lately, ethnic minorities have felt they’re being targeted by civil authorities. Law abiding Christians are asking the same question as the one voiced above.

The short answer is, “Yes!” Romans 13:1 says we are to obey those who have the rule over us. Verse 5 implies that we do so, not because they are always right or good, but “for conscience sake.” That means we obey them because “there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (verse 1). Daniel 2:21 says God removes rulers and sets up rulers. Trust God that he knows what he’s doing; he has an over-all plan that’s bigger than you or me. He wants society to be organized (1 Corinthians 14:40). Without laws we would have anarchy. However, if rulers don’t do what they should, commit them to God; he will remove them in his time. “Vengeance is mine…I will repay” (Romans 12:19).

Certainly, it’s not God’s ideal that leaders violate our spiritual consciences or Biblical morals. But, our actions should always be superseded by love (Matthew 22:38-40). As Romans 13:7-8 says, we must render to others their dues. The offices ordained by God deserve honor even if the people who occupy those offices don’t honor God. If we take Acts 5:29 as our standard, believing we must obey God rather than men, we will pray for guidance and react through established channels.

May 7 is National Day of Prayer, but every day ought to include prayer for our nation and leaders. God does expect us to love and pray for our leaders while we obey those laws that don’t violate God’s higher laws. Praise God, in America we have an avenue to change our government by voting our consciences and voicing our concerns in non-violent ways.

Q. Was it the custom of Jews to offer personal prayers or only ritual prayers in corporate worship? Clarence Potter, Chapel Hill, NC

A. The worship rituals God prescribed for Israel’s priests and Jewish oral traditions list many prayers to be offered in corporate worship. Over time, other worship prayers were added from reciting the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), the Psalms, or portions of the Torah (the five books of Moses). Regular communal prayers away from the Temple began as a substitute for animal sacrifices after the Temple was destroyed. Some synagogues asked respected rabbis to write prayers for personal and worship use. They still believe that whenever ten men (the required number to have a local synagogue) pray in a synagogue, the divine Presence is there.

More recently some rabbis dissuade personal praying in preference for communal prayers. These teach that individual prayers do not ascend until there has been a heavenly investigation to determine if the individual is worthy, whereas public prayers in worship ascend immediately to God. Beginning in the late Middle Ages participants began swaying as they prayed or studied the Torah based on Proverbs 20:27, “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord.” Imitating a fire which is never still, the penitent sways like the flame of a lamp.

However, the Old Testament records many times of personal prayers. Genesis 24:12 tells about Abraham’s servant praying for God’s leading to a potential wife for Isaac. And, we all know the story of young Samuel praying, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth!” Judges 16:28 records Samson’s personal prayer for vengeance on his enemies. Elisha prayed in 2 Kings 6:17 for God to open the eyes of his servant to see the spiritual warfare around him. An outstanding record of personal praying is David’s own testimony in Psalms 55:17, “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.” In Daniel 6:10 the prophet obeyed that injunction in the face of personal danger. In fact, every time an Old Testament patriarch or saint talked with God it was a prayer.

Most Jews have always believed that God embraces any prayer that is offered willingly and from a sincere heart.

Q. Why did God impose such elaborate worship rituals for Israel’s holiness? Janie Lovorn, South Prince George, VA

A. Beginning about Exodus 19 and continuing all the way through Leviticus, God spelled out specific and sometimes difficult ways he was to be worshipped and sin was to be atoned. This included observances of his commandments and construction of his house of worship with all its furnishings and priestly garments. Also, God gave instructions for the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests, and he described distinct rituals and offerings for certain sins. Penalties were spelled out in detail so much that one of my seminary professors said every Jewish boy had to memorize some 636 “thou shalt nots.”

As I prayed and studied over this, God settled my mind with the realization that Israel was God’s covenant nation, chosen and honored above all nations to show the world the terrible consequences of disobedience. Sin is so awful and complicated that even those elaborate rituals only temporarily covered specific sins until they were committed again. Then, the offerings had to be repeated. National sins were atoned on the Day of Atonement, but those sacrifices had to be offered every year (Leviticus 16).

As unique as Israel was beholding God’s mighty power and hearing his voice, they still rebelled individually and corporately. Each time they sinned something had to die to reinforce the lesson that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:22). But, the blood of bulls, goats, sheep, or doves could never really satisfy the demands of God’s perfect holiness (Hebrews 10:4). All those pointed to the helplessness of man to save himself and, ultimately, to the perfect sacrifice of God’s sinless Lamb (John 1:29).

Something else jumped out at me in my studies. When Aaron was sanctified to be Israel’s high priest, Leviticus 8:23 says Moses put some of the blood of his sacrifice upon Aaron’s right earlobe, his right thumb, and the big toe on his right foot. As I prayed over the meaning of this, a picture came to my mind of Jesus hanging on the Cross. He had to have a crown of thorns so that some of that blood could drip on his earlobe. And, the blood from the nails ran down on his hands and feet. The right side was the side of pleasure and authority. In that act I believe God sanctified Jesus as our High Priest. Then Jesus offered himself as the only Sacrifice that could mark our sin debt “Paid in Full!” (John 19:30).

Q. What does the Bible mean when it says God is holy and we are to be holy as he is holy? John Forehand, Richmond, VA

A. The first time “holy” is mentioned in Scripture is Exodus 3:5 where God told Moses to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. This was ground made holy by God’s presence. “Holiness” is found the first time in Exodus 15:11 where God is described as glorious in his holiness. Exodus 39:30 tells us the Jewish High Priest wore inscribed on his mitre, or turban, “Holiness to the Lord.” That implies that striving for holiness must be a conscious act of our minds.

I say the above to point out that holiness is a sacred quality referring only to God or something associated with him. We could say holiness is the sum total of all the attributes of God which make him unique from man. It includes his perfect love and righteousness, his mercy and grace, and also his unbiased judgment and wrath against evil. Evil is the absence of righteousness, which means being right and doing right. You may think most often of God’s holiness in terms of his purity. He is without sin and untouched by evil. Or, perhaps you picture holiness as his radiant glory. Moses’ face shown reflecting God’s glory after being in his presence (Exodus 34:29). Anything that elevates God in your mind above human frailty is part of his holiness.

So, you can see that holiness is a term implying comparison. We think of the holiness of God in comparison to the sinfulness and weakness of man. To strive for holiness is to try to be more like God. We maintain distinctions between ourselves and the world around us. How do we do that? Knowing that holiness only comes from God, we spend time with God in order to become more like him. That may be in the study of his Word, the Bible; in prayer; or in worship with fellow believers. In all these there should be a conscious effort in the sanctuary of our minds to emulate God (1 Peter 1:16).

Believers are already holy: We are saints (from the Latin sanctus meaning holy). We have the Holy Spirit of Jesus residing in us, but we   become more holy as we work with his Spirit to reproduce the character of Christ in us.

Q. Why is Cain not mentioned in Adam’s genealogy? Wilbert Lassiter, Dinwiddie, VA

A. The fourth chapter of Genesis tells of the first couple bearing their first children. The first verse plainly says Adam was the father of Cain. When Eve said she had gotten a man-child from the Lord, it doesn’t mean God was Cain’s father in the sense that he is the biological father of Jesus. Nor does it imply that Eve’s temptation and sin with the Serpent, Lucifer, was one of sexual intercourse, as some have suggested.

Commentators are pretty evenly split as to whether Cain and Abel were twins. Nowhere in the Bible are we told they were twins; yet, the sentence structure of verse 2 could be understood as happening concurrent with Cain’s birth. We’re not told that she conceived again with Abel. However, in the scheme of Biblical interpretation, I don’t see this as important.

Cain means “to get” or “to acquire.” Eve said she had acquired a son with the help of the Lord. Abel may mean “vanity,” but it may also mean “to pasture” or “a place of pasture, a meadow or plain.” Where Eve may have named Cain quickly after the circumstances of his birth, she may have waited to name Abel after she saw his interest in pasturing sheep. Or, perhaps she had a premonition of the brevity of his life and called him “Vanity.” Some have suggested she was disillusioned with the way Cain was acting and her hopes for his brother were vain.

The intent of chapter 5 seems to emphasize the genealogy of Seth rather than that of Adam. We already were given Cain’s genealogy in chapter 4. Perhaps God revealed to Adam that Seth’s line would fulfill the promise of Geneses 3:15. After all, the Bible is the story of redemption and that story climaxes with the life of Jesus. Adam had many other children (Genesis 5:4), but they are not named in his genealogy since its purpose is to follow the line of the promised Messiah.

God is its author and the Bible is His-Story. He has revealed what he wants us to know, and we should be careful about adding something God has not included (Revelation 22:18).

Q. Why did God require so many animal sacrifices throughout the Old Testament? Evelyn Entsminger, Colonial Heights, VA

A. God makes his own rules for reasons which we cannot judge. His holy character cannot abide sin. Sin is thinking or doing anything contrary to the will and character of God. Therefore, no one is worthy to enter his presence; “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And, God has said “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Since, “the life of the flesh is in the blood: and (God has) given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: (therefore) it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11).

Every sin requires the shedding of blood. Instead of concentrating on how many animals were killed, think how many times the people of Israel sinned! If God was willing to substitute the death of an animal without blemish for sin, it’s a wonder that every animal Israel possessed didn’t die! But, instead of requiring the shedding of blood for every time they sinned, he accepted a daily morning and evening sacrifice between special services like holy Sabbaths and Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement. On that day once a year God accepted a single sacrifice for the whole nation.

Someone has said the shed blood meant death to the animal in payment for sin, but it also meant life for the sinner as a sign of his forgiveness. When an animal died it sent the sobering message that the sinner deserved that death if God had not allowed the animal to take his place. Therefore, the lesson was repeated: Disobedience is serious business and must be paid for by the shedding of blood.

All the other complicated rituals God required of Israel remind us how difficult it is to be holy enough to enter God’s presence. In fact, we can never reach that perfection ourselves. But, surely you know all the worship rituals of the Old Covenant pointed to the Lamb of God who would fulfill all requirements and substitute his sinless life for everyone who trusts in him (John 1:29). Furthermore, we worship him this Easter because, not only did he pay our sin-debt, he conquered death for us as an extra benefit so that our souls – now considered sinless – may live eternally in fellowship with God.

We can have a blessed Easter because Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19)!

Q. Did Paul really mean in Romans 13 that we ought to obey all who have the rule over us, even corrupt leaders? W. H., Riverside Regional Jail, Prince George, VA

A. Yes, Romans 13:1 says, “The powers that be are ordained of God.” Daniel 2:21 also says it is God who sets up rulers and removes them. So, we need to remember that God has the whole world in view, and his plans are bigger than us. He has a reason for everything he does. We must trust him to accomplish his purposes while at the same time keeping his promises to us.

God wants society to be organized (1 Corinthians 14:40). Without authority we would have anarchy. If you have the right to disobey, then others have that same right; and their reasons might not be as noble as yours. Just trust God. If rulers don’t do what God wants, he will take care of them in his time: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay” (Romans 12:19).

However, I believe Scripture shows that God doesn’t want anyone to violate our spiritual consciences. I believe once a ruler goes against God’s laws which were established for the good of mankind – such as the Ten Commandments and the injunctions Jesus preached in his Sermon on the Mount – when a leader breaks those, that leader is acting illegally and your responsibility to him or her is dissolved (Acts 5:29).

It is true, many – if not most – rulers today are corrupt and have no good intent for God’s children. Paul said in that same Romans 13, verse 7, that we are to render to them their dues. Then, he explains in the next verse that what we owe them is to love them. That love will work no ill toward them (verse 10). If they are working ill toward us, they’re not fulfilling God’s laws. But, we should always, “Love your enemies, bless them who curse you, do good to them who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45).

Q. How should we understand 1 Timothy 2:11-15 where Paul writes about women keeping silent in church, not teaching men, and being saved through child birth? Lisa Stone, Houston, TX

A. Late in his life, Paul wrote what we call his “pastoral epistles” to Timothy and Titus, young pastors he had mentored. In some of Paul’s writings he passed on definite instructions he “received from the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:23) or something he had learned “by the word of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15). We should understand these to be God’s words to us through Paul. But, there are other times when Paul expressed his own opinion which may not be literally binding today. Note that in 1 Timothy 2 Paul said, “I exhort” (verse 1); “I will” (verse 8); and “I suffer” (verse 12). These are his personal practices drawn from the customs of his day.

First century Christian etiquette looked down on outspoken women in church. This was a carry-over from Jewish worship where women stood or sat quietly in the background while men led worship rituals. Women recently converted from paganism might take advantage of their new freedom to become too vocal in church. This would be frowned upon by their society and turn potential converts away. We could compare this to today’s younger preachers coming to the pulpit with no tie and their shirt tails out. Some of the older generation are turned off by this. But, customs change; and we would do well to roll with the tide when eternal values are not at stake.

As far as women being “saved through childbirth” (verse 15), note Paul’s reference to Adam and Eve. He probably means that the so-called “curse” upon Eve was fulfilled as she had children, but ultimately fulfilled in “the child-birth” (literal translation) of Messiah. Woman’s gender following through and delivering that One promised in Genesis 3:15 allowed salvation to both men and women who respond in faithful obedience. That would explain the change to the plural pronoun in the middle of that verse.

To answer your question: This chapter might best be studied by determining the spirit of Paul’s writings and applying it to today’s situations. Of course, we must not change the important truths of gospel essentials

Q. Please explain Matthew 16:28 where Jesus said some of his listeners wouldn’t die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom. Hattie Cox, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. When Scripture seems paradoxical, we must not doubt that Jesus knows what he’s talking about because his word is always truth (John 17:17). Only Jesus knows exactly what he meant in Matthew 16:28 because there are several possible interpretations. You know that interpretation from one language into another completely different culture is not an exact science. Several of those Greek words have different shades of meaning.

The verb translated “see” may also mean “to perceive or understand.” So, Jesus could have been saying, “Before you die some of you will understand (more fully about) the Son of Man’s Kingdom. “Coming in” may also be rendered “going to” or “accompanied by.” If so, Jesus was speaking to those who would see him going to his Kingdom or accompanied by those of his Kingdom. That could refer to his ascension or to the first verses of the very next chapter when Jesus was accompanied by Moses and Elijah from his Heavenly Kingdom.

I have found that God gave the King James translators an unusual ability to select the right words that believers would rely on for over 400 years. Most likely, the King James is correct in rendering this verse as it is translated. If so, then it may be speaking of Christ’s rule over his Church since verse 18 is about establishing his Church. Other commentaries suggest it is a prediction of his Kingdom-power seen at his resurrection and ascension. Perhaps it refers to the Spirit of Jesus returning at Pentecost to birth the earthly kingdom of his Church.

Again, we recall that Jesus told Martha in John 11:26 that believers never really die: “Those who live and believe in me will never die.” Each of us who truly trusts Jesus will see him in his Kingdom! All these are possible solutions to this verse. Therefore, we must “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). We read, pray, read or ask for the commentaries of other believers, and pray some more until God reveals the lesson he has in his Word for our particular need.

Q. Please comment on the 3 “men” who visited Abraham in Genesis 18. Allen Slaughter, Las Vegas, NV

A. Abram, whom we know better as Abraham, is introduced near the end of Genesis 11. Through no effort on his part, Abraham was chosen strictly by God’s wisdom and grace to bring his family from a pagan land and inherit the land God was giving to his descendants forever. Further, God promised to make him into a nation through whom God would bless the world. Those who bless Israel will be blessed by God; those who oppose Israel will answer to God.

However, Abraham and his wife Sarah had waited beyond the normal expectancy for childbirth and they had no children of their own. When Abraham was 99 and Sarah was 89 years old, God personally came to assure them they would have a son the next year. Genesis 18 tells us 3 “men” seemingly appeared from nowhere walking to Abraham’s tent. As they talked to Abe, it became obvious the outspoken “man” was the Lord. Chapter 19 identifies the other 2 as angels.

When we see God in a physical form we believe this to be Jesus. He’s the only Person of the Godhead with a physical body, and he created us like himself. Some of the many theophanies, or pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus, are: God walking with Adam and Enoch, Melchizedek coming to Abraham, and the many references to The Angel of the Lord where the definite article is used with Angel in the Hebrew. This Angel speaks interchangeably as God.

After God allowed Abe to intercede for Lot in Sodom, he seemingly vanished. However, the 2 angels went on to Sodom and their story is continued in the next chapter. Angels usually appear as men. These angels in Genesis 19 had such perfect physical bodies that the men of Sodom wanted them. Judgment followed on the homosexual sins of those cities. These chapters teach us God is not far from any of us; he answers prayer in his timing; God hears when we intercede for others; but mercy or judgment follows depending on our response to God.

Q. Please comment on the misunderstandings of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16. Wendy Sprouse, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. In those last verses of 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul was correcting a misunderstanding that those who died before Jesus returns will miss going to Heaven with him. But, Paul assured them in verse 15 that believers who are already dead will not miss the Second Coming of Jesus. In fact, he said in verse 16 that, when Jesus comes, the dead in Christ will rise first.

Immediately after that, believers who are still alive will be caught up to meet them in the air. We call this first phase of Christ’s return the Rapture based on the word in verse 17 translated as “caught up.” (Because the Latin Vulgate translates the Greek “harpazo” with the Latin word “rapio,” Bible scholars coined the word “Rapture.”) It refers to the sudden, invisible, snatching away of the saved, both dead and alive, at some time (usually thought to be 7 years) before Jesus returns visibly with his saints and angels.

Also, there is also another misunderstanding springing from these verses. It’s a doctrine still taught by some churches today. They call it “soul sleep” and believe the saved will remain unconscious in their graves until Christ’s return. It’s true: Three times in 1 Thessalonians 4, dead believers are referred to as sleeping. However, that’s a metaphor used all through the Bible for those who are dead (Psalm 13:3; John 11:13). It refers to the body sleeping.

It’s clear in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 that Paul believed when we’re absent from the body we are present with the Lord. We know Jesus told the believing thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Do you think Jesus enjoys the company of sleeping bodies? No; when Lazarus died, Jesus told Martha in John 11:26, “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 that Jesus will bring with him those who have been sleeping. He meant that our bodies sleep in the grave but our spirits go to be with Jesus at death until he brings them back to enter resurrected bodies. Therefore, from verse 18 we can “comfort one another” and claim with verse 17 that from the moment we are saved, “So, shall we ever be with the Lord.”

 

Q. Does Daniel 7:25 teach that Antichrist will be able to alter the laws of physics and time? Van Rowe, North Franklin, CT

A. Daniel 7:25 is only part of the story of Daniel’s vision. This vision covers the whole 7th chapter and should be studied in context by consulting several commentaries. You may find differing interpretations since it’s a vision with lots of symbols. Verse 25 tells of a powerful world ruler who will “think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.”

I think this vision builds on the previous vision in chapter 2 where the king dreamed of a great image of future world powers. We understand those nations to be Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The 4 beasts Daniel saw in chapter 7 are probably those same 4 ruling powers in the past. However, the 10 horns, or powers, springing from the 4th beast appear to be in the future when a revived power like Rome will set 10 rulers, or “princes,” over the nations of the world. Commentaries disagree whether that power will be a political system, a nation, or a religious entity. One of those 10 “princes” will subdue 3 rulers and eventually rise to rule over all 10 groups. We call him Antichrist. He will be opposed to everything God stands for and will persecute those who become saved after the Rapture. I see nothing supernatural implied here. Verse 25 simply means he will attempt to do away with religious holy days and laws, maybe even rewriting the 10 Commandments. God will, as we say, “give him enough rope to hang himself” and, finally destroy him at the Second Coming of Jesus.

That’s a very simplified interpretation of most of this chapter. However, there are important parts of Daniel’s vision we must not overlook. While describing the terrible last days of earth, verses 9-10 remind us God is still ruling from his Throne, and verses 13-14 show the coronation of God’s true Prince. Verses 18, 26-27 tell of the ultimate triumph of the saints who will reign with Jesus forever.

Of course, before all this happens, Jesus will rapture those who are saved and ready for his coming (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Those who become believers after that will have to deal with Antichrist. However, I remind us that Antichrist’s reign is limited to a time, times, and half a time, which is 3 ½ years; but the reign of Christ with his saints is forever!

Q. Do any Scriptures teach that baptism is necessary for salvation? Rev. Justin Laib, Chicago, IL

A. There are two kinds of baptism; one is necessary for salvation, the other is not. The Bible teaches that spirit baptism is a part of our salvation experience; and, thus, is necessary. However, a person may be saved without water baptism, as several in the New Testament were (Luke 7:44-48; Matthew 9:2; Luke 18:13-14; Luke 23:39-43). Therefore, we conclude that water baptism is primarily a symbol of spiritual baptism, which is the ultimate reality. By spirit baptism I mean the invisible work of God’s Spirit who immerses us under Christ’s blood and places us in his spiritual Body when we are saved (John 1:33; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Without the Spirit’s work we cannot be saved.

If water baptism were necessary for salvation it would be stressed every time the gospel is presented, but it is not. Paul never made water baptism a part of his gospel presentations (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). In fact, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that Christ did not send him to baptize. Dr. John MacArthur asks in his website (www.gty.org) if water baptism were necessary, what good would it have done Paul to preach? No one would have been saved! And, remember, there’s no record of the Apostles’ baptisms; yet, who would doubt their salvation.

Such scriptures as Acts 15:11; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; and Philippians 3:9 teach that salvation comes by grace through faith, with no external act implied. This is the overall teaching of Scripture. Scripture is infallible, but our understanding is not. Therefore, we must interpret baptism by overall Biblical teachings.

The scripture most quoted for the necessity of water baptism is Acts 2:38. However, the Greek preposition “eis” translated in the King James as being baptized “for” the remission of sins is translated in Matthew 3:11; 12:41; Luke 11:32; and other places as “because of.” Thus, we should be baptized in water because our sins have been forgiven through faith. Water baptism by immersion is a way we proclaim the gospel by which we were saved (1 Corinthians 11:26). Christ commanded it for every believer (Matthew 28:18-20) as a sign that we have identified with his death, burial, and resurrection for our salvation, but let’s not limit God by saying he can’t save us unless we get wet!

Q. My inmates are asking about the Lord’s Supper: Does it promise healing? What constitutes taking it in an unworthy manner? Gene Mims, Prison Chaplain, Prince George, VA

A. The Lord’s Supper is variously called Last Supper, Memorial Supper, Eucharist, or Holy Communion. Eucharist is from the Greek meaning “thanksgiving” and refers to the thanks Jesus gave before distributing the bread and wine. Holy Communion implies that the Supper is a time to commune with God in praise and thanksgiving.

Mark and Luke are the only gospels that record the actual account of Jesus’ Memorial Supper, although the other 2 gospels mention events of that evening. The best scripture to understand the Supper is 1 Corinthians 11:23-29. There, we have Jesus’ own meaning for the Lord’s Supper, since Paul said he got his understanding directly from the Lord.

In verses 24-26 Jesus gives the purpose for the Supper: It is to remember his body and blood given for our justification. True remembrance will proclaim the gospel as we recall the meaning of the Supper. The broken bread reminds us of the body of our Savior broken by whip, nails, thorns, and spear to pay the physical death that sin demands. God’s law in Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” The shedding of Jesus’ blood, symbolized by the fruit of the vine, removes all barriers for our spirits to reunite with our Creator.

There is no hint of any magical healing powers other than the presence of God’s Spirit who has all power (Matthew 28:18). Catholics consider Holy Communion to be a sacrament necessary for salvation. They believe, when a priest blesses the elements, they are transubstantiated into the actual body and blood of Jesus. Protestants generally understand the Supper to be symbolic of the greater act of Jesus’ death paying our complete sin penalty. Therefore, the Supper is meaningful only for those who have actually repented of their sins and trusted Jesus for salvation.

Although there may actually be no physical harm to unbelievers who partake, Paul cautioned against taking the Supper in an unworthy manner. That happens when believers partake flippantly without a spirit of grateful worship. Through Communion, Jesus offers us a time for worship and recommitment to the commission he left with believers (Matthew 28:18-20).

Q. Please explain Matthew 12:31-32 which we call the unpardonable sin. Sharon Harbaugh, Williamsburg, VA

A. Those verses say, “I tell you that all manner of sin and blasphemy may be forgiven; but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven unto men. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of man can be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven in this world or the world to come.”

We must understand those verses in context. The Jewish leaders had just accused Jesus of receiving his power from Beelzebub, which is another name for the devil. Jesus, then, warned them of the danger of resisting the Holy Spirit when he is witnessing about Jesus. A person can only be saved by responding to the Spirit’s conviction about Jesus (Romans 10:9). We can be forgiven if we speak against Jesus, because he died to forgive all the sins of those who trust him. But, to refuse the Spirit when he calls us to repentance and faith in Jesus cannot be forgiven, because Jesus is the only way to be saved (John 14:6).

“Blasphemy” here does not mean cursing, although that can be a form of blasphemy. It means to oppose, reject, or vilify someone by saying untrue and evil things about them. The Spirit’s reason for coming is to point people to Jesus (John 16:14). To blaspheme the Holy Spirit means to reject his witness about Jesus. Therefore, the unpardonable sin is the complete and final rejection of Jesus as Savior. That’s the only sin that cannot be forgiven. And, there’s no second chance after death. If someone puts off receiving Jesus as Savior too many times, even the grace of God can be worn out. If God removes the conviction of his Spirit they cannot be saved.

Some people believe that suicide is the unpardonable sin because a person will die before he has the chance to confess his sin. However, we’re  saved by trusting the work Jesus did to pay for our sins (Ephesians 2:8; John 10:28). The truth is that no sin is so great that it cannot be forgiven if a person is saved. First John 1:7 says, “The blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanses us from all sin.” Therefore, a believer can never commit this sin.

Q. I’ve heard preachers say our gospel witness should include the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Of what significance is his burial? Emily  Williams, Poulsbo, WA

A. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus said that as his followers go everywhere we should be witnesses to him. This is repeated with different words in Acts 1:8. The witness we are to share is called the gospel. Our word “gospel” comes from the old English for “good-spell,” meaning “good news.” It is, indeed, good tidings of great joy (Luke 2:10) that those who are separated from God because of their sins can be forgiven. They can live in fellowship with God and have the assurance of Heaven when they die.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 Paul said our gospel witness should include accounts of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Those who accept our gospel in repentance and faith, personally claiming the death of Jesus in payment for their sins, are saved. That is, they are saved from the judgment of God – a living death in eternal torment.

This drastic action was motivated by God’s love for mankind (John 3:16). We speak of his mercy and grace. These are unmerited favors whereby God, in mercy, doesn’t give us what we deserve; and, in grace, he gives us what we don’t deserve. Those character qualities of God caused him to take on a human body and come to earth as Jesus. Being God, Jesus lived without sin so that he could be the perfect Sacrifice for our sins (John 1:29).

We have the witness of his death because, by dying, Jesus fulfilled God’s decree that our sins deserve death (Romans 6:23). We include his burial because that proves his disciples knew he was really dead, and his burial was necessary for his resurrection. And, his resurrection proves him to be the Conqueror of death. God had spelled these events out in the Jewish Levitical calendar of feast days. First came Passover when Jesus died as our Passover Lamb (Exodus 12). That was followed the next day, on the Sabbath, by the Feast of Unleavened Bread when unholy bread was swept out of their houses into the ground (Exodus 12:15). Jesus, representing our sins, remained buried in his tomb that day. And, the third day after Passover  - the first day of the week – was the Feast of First Fruits, when Jesus set the example as the first fruit of our resurrection.

Paul wrote in Romans 6:4-5 that if we have been buried with him, planted in the likeness of his death and dying to our sins, we will be resurrected with him to eternal life.

 

Q. I know we’re supposed to pray “in Jesus’ name,” but please explain what  it means to pray “for his sake.” Hattie Cox, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. You’re right to remember that Jesus told his disciples to pray in his name. In John 16:23-24 Jesus said, “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Up until now you’ve asked nothing in my name; now, ask and you shall receive so that your joy may be full.” We understand that to be a promise to all believers.

First, let’s be sure we understand what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. I believe to pray in his name means you must have permission or authority to ask in his name. When I was in college, it was a comfort to carry a blank check on my father’s bank account. Dad had given his bank permission to cash a check where I signed his name by me. My friends couldn’t do that no matter how much they needed help; the bank wouldn’t honor their signatures. Jesus gave permission for his family to “write checks” in his name. But, does that mean we have a “blank check” to fill in whatever we want?

Certainly not! There was a limit to what I could write on my dad’s check and Jesus limits us to asking in his name. Remember that, in the Bible, names indicated character. To pray in Jesus’ name means to ask according to his character; i.e., ask things that Jesus would like to give you because they agree with his will and promote his cause. James 4:2-3 says we don’t have blessings because we don’t ask; and if we ask but still don’t get our request, it’s because we’re asking for the wrong reason. So, if we don’t know what to pray for but we sincerely want to honor God, Romans 8:26 promises that the Holy Spirit will take our desires and mold them with his own pleading groans until they become what God wants for us. Then, God will grant it; and what he gives will always be for our good (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28).

I think that answers the last part of your question. To pray “for Christ’s sake” means we sincerely want God’s will more than our selfish requests. Therefore, we’re willing to trust him for the best time and method and even the best answer to our prayer. So, we ask; but however he answers, we’re willing for it to fit into his overall plan and extend his kingdom. That’s praying the prayer God always answers: “Not my will, but thine be done!”

Q. I know Jesus said we are to be salt and light to our world, but how does he mean for us to do that? Loyd Kindiger, Chattanooga, TN

A. Yes, Jesus made those statements in his Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 5:13-14. He also said in Matthew 16:19 that we have the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. What do those have in common? Penetration! Salt must penetrate meat to season it; light must penetrate darkness to illuminate it; and keys must penetrate what is locked to open it. That’s how we should be salt and light and use our keys.

We must take our salt where people need it, and remember that salt makes people thirsty. We need to live our witness before them to make them thirsty for our gospel. We let our light shine where there is darkness, and we use our keys where people are locked away from the truth of God’s Word. Those are deliberate actions, not just silent witness alone. Dr. Adrian Rogers said we don’t shine light on light or add salt on salt. We have to get out of our comfort zone – outside our churches and outside our circle of Christian friends to deliberately plan to reach the unsaved. Jesus reminded us in verse 16 that we must not hide our light under a bushel but put it on a candlestick to shine God’s love to everyone around us.

And, what better time is there than now when our country is at its lowest morals? Much of our nation is doing what Isaiah 5:20 predicted: They are calling evil good and good evil. God said “Woe to those who do such!” All around us it seems that common sense has left the building! Political correctness allows the minority to make decisions for the majority. So, we are afraid to sing our National Anthem or say our Pledge to the Flag or have public prayers asking God for safety and blessing because it may offend someone. We cut our army and navy while opening our borders to whoever wants to come in. We tie the hands of our law enforcement officers and then release hardened criminals on technicalities.

2015 is the ideal time to take the church out of the box and let the church be the church! You may only be like the flame of a birthday candle; you may only be one grain of salt or one tiny diary key, but with other believers giving ourselves to God’s Spirit we can be part of God’s mighty army! Matthew 16:18 says the gates of Hell can’t stand against us. Let this be the year you let the salt out of the shaker and the light out from under the basket!

Q. As we approach another year of the Lord’s abundant blessings on the USA, do you believe America is mentioned in prophecy? Dr. Paul DeVries, President, New York Divinity School, New York City

A. Certainly America is not mentioned by name because the New World had not been discovered when the Bible books were written. Yet, America was not a surprise to God. There are many prophecies concerning unnamed gentile nations, such as “the isles of the sea” (Genesis 10:5; Isaiah 66:19; Jeremiah 31:10).

Another interesting prophecy that might refer to America is in Revelation 12:14 which predicts the woman (Israel) will be rescued from the Dragon (Satan) by eagle’s wings. Could this be America, with our national symbol of an eagle, airlifting believing Jews to Petra? Verse 17 may imply that a coalition of Jews and Christians may have saved the believing Jews.

For the rest of this column let me draw on the blog of Joel C. Rosenberg, whom I consider to be a prophet for our age (http://flashtrafficblog.wordpress.com).

Mr. Rosenberg poses the question: “Is America facing a ‘Jonah’ moment, or a ‘Nahum’ moment?” I summarize: Jonah was sent to Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria, to warn that evil nation of God’s impending judgment. The Ninevites believed his message and repented in fasting and mourning. God heard their earnest prayers and had mercy on them, sparing them from the destruction he had planned. About 100 years later, the next generation of Ninevites again had forsaken the Lord, and God sent Nahum to warn them. This time they did not repent, and their city was destroyed.

America has had the greatest preachers of all time warning thousands in stadiums and by electronic media. When our people repented in the past, God poured out his Spirit in the First and Second Great Awakenings bringing sweeping revivals across our land. Those were our “Jonah” moments. Today, the warnings are going forth from faithful preachers and even from natural calamities. If Americans do not seek God’s forgiveness, we may face our “Nahum” moment of God’s displeasure. The best new year’s wish we could have for America would be that every citizen would turn from our sins and seek God’s favor so that he would heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14). Let’s pray that 2015 would be such a year! Then, our prophecy will be with the Rollcall of the Faithful recorded in Hebrews 11.

Q. How can we sincerely wish our friends a “Happy New Year” with evil so rampant and the future so uncertain? Pauline Cloud, Colonial Heights, VA

A. The uncertainty of the future makes that wish even more important, especially if you make it more than a wish: Make it a prayer!

Like you, I read and watch the news every day and hear of terrible acts of atrocity, not just in foreign countries, but right here in our beloved America. We can expect those of false religions to hate and kill indiscriminately because they have never been taught Christian values for human life or known “the peace of God that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Even if they are not Christians, they have heard the principles of democracy which teach the equal worth of every person. But, our own citizens are rejecting the rule of law and turning to mob violence and personal vigilante justice. If they don’t like the ruling of lawful courts and juries, they seek their own revenge. It reminds me of those times in Biblical history when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” and it led to anarchy (Judges 17:6; 21:25).

You might ask: Are these times any worse than previous times? Probably not. History records that evil cycles and seems to take over from time to time until either good people or God intervenes. And, after a time of peace, Satan begins his dastardly deeds all over again. Does any of this surprise God? Certainly not. Revelation 5 shows that the future is in the hands of Jesus (verse 5) and God is still on his Throne (verse 1). Jesus promised “in the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). If Jesus defeated Satan and death at his Cross and Resurrection, he’s already proven he can keep his promises to those who trust him.

So, don’t let Satan, or your fears rob you of the excitement of unlimited joys to come. Because there was a Christmas you may plan on a Happy New Year. God had Jeremiah to record in 29:11, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” There is no evil in Heaven, and the One who guarantees our arrival there will keep us until we reach Home (Revelation 21:27; Ephesians 1:14)!  

Q. In light of schools taking “winter breaks” and employees told to say “happy holidays,” are we losing the uniqueness of Christmas? Dora Gurganus, Capron, VA

A. No, Christmas will always be unique. People all over the world consider it to be the most special time of the year. Even the merchants whom we blame for commercializing Christmas (as if they could do it without us!) propagate the uniqueness of Christmas. No other holiday lasts over two months! People may deny it, ignore it, or fail to keep its true meaning, but no one can do away with Christmas; it’s a real historical event that happened.

Even if they refuse to say “Merry Christmas” no one is left out of its celebration. We light our homes and businesses because “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2). We give gifts because God started the custom when he “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16). We decorate trees because “then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice….Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee” (Psalm 96:12; Isaiah 14:8). We place stars or angels on top of our trees because high above the trees a star appeared in the East and an angel appeared to shepherds (Matthew 2:2; Luke 2:9).

We enjoy our Christmas parties because the Christmas Angel said, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10). We give to the poor because Jesus taught, “When you prepare a feast call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind and you will be…repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13-14). We send Christmas cards because “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world” (Matthew 24:14).

So, no matter if people don’t wish you a Merry Christmas or acknowledge Christ’s birth, just smile and wish them the blessings of this Holy Season. You and I know they ­are a part of the most celebrated event in the world. Instead of reminding them that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” maybe we should tell them they are the reason for the season. After all, the Son of God came for them. Don’t you be guilty of leaving him out of his birthday celebration!

Q. When Scripture says God was reminded or that he remembered something, does that contradict the doctrine that God is omniscient, or all-knowing? Tonya Brown, DFW Airport, TX

A. In just the first Bible book of Genesis you can find recorded 3 times when “God remembered” (Genesis 8:1; 19:29; 30:22). Those verses speak of God’s remembering Noah, Abraham, and Rachel. They are the first of many times God’s Word says he remembered something or someone. Does that mean that God had forgotten those 3 patriarchs? Certainly not!

We know the Bible does teach that God knows everything, even before it happens (Job 34:21; Proverbs 15:3; Isaiah 40:26; Hebrews 4:13). So, what do those phrases about God’s remembering really mean? They are anthropomorphic expressions relating God to human characteristics so we can understand him better. We can resolve this problem by understanding the translation. The Hebrew word translated “remembered” doesn’t mean something has been forgotten; rather, it means that something has been brought to mind – in the spotlight of God’s attention.

Another example of the need to understand terminology is Exodus 2:24. That verse says, “God heard their groaning (of Israel in Egyptian bondage), and God remembered his covenant…” Are we to imply from this verse that God had not heard Israel’s groaning before this? No; it means he was moved to action because of their cries and he rehearsed the covenant promises he had made to Abraham. It also implies timing so we know the time was right for God to act. The corresponding Greek word in Revelation 18:5, translated as God remembering the sins of future Babylon, means God was listing her sins so that he could punish each one of them.

So, once we realize the differences when we translate words into the thought pattern of another culture we can understand better what something really means. These instances never imply that God is not omniscient. They simply clarify his renewed attention. We can be glad Psalm 103 teaches we are in the center of God’s attention: “He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust….But, the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him.”

Q. What does Ecclesiastes 11:1 mean when it says “Cast your bread upon the waters and you will find it after many days?” Hattie Cox, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Jewish tradition points to King Solomon as the writer of Ecclesiastes. Verse 1 simply calls him “the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” The word “ecclesiastes” means preacher or one who gathers an audience. This Old Testament book is the journal of someone who sought for happiness and the meaning of life in wisdom, riches, sex, and worldly pleasures. However, he found everything he tried to be “vanity of vanities” with no lasting value “under the sun.” The writer finally reached his conclusion in the last 2 verses: “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”

Remember: We cannot take every statement in Ecclesiastes as a positive principle to obey. We must study it in the context of a pessimistic author who is telling us what not to do to find fulfillment. However, it does contain some pithy witticisms that we should take positively. One such proverb is the one you mentioned from 11:1.

This saying may have originated with the Egyptian practice of sowing seeds on the flooded Nile delta so that the well-watered seeds will have a head start sprouting when the flood waters abate and the seeds sink in the wet ground. Another possible setting involves merchants who send their ships off to bring back grain for marketing. A Scriptural example for this is Proverbs 31:14 where the virtuous woman brings her food from afar.

Therefore, I understand this proverb to teach the principle of “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Whether it’s taking a chance on your seed sprouting in flooded ground or investing in overseas commerce, you won’t win if you don’t enter the race! However, it can also teach the laws of spiritual harvest: You reap what you sow; you reap later than you sow; and you reap more than you sow. We may take those either positively or negatively.

Of course, the Christian seeks the leading of God’s Spirit in our decisions, realizing that our possessions are only of value when we invest them in worthy endeavors that honor the Lord.

Q. How are we to understand Bible references to seeing God’s face and other tangible aspects? Does God have a body? Beneil Watts, Louisville, KY

A. You’re right that the Bible speaks of God’s face, eyes, ears, arms, hands, fingers, and feet. We also have accounts where Jacob claimed to have seen God’s face (Genesis 32:30) and Moses saw his backside as God passed by (Exodus 33:23). Genesis 18 tells of God and 2 other “men” visiting Abraham and eating with him. Then, of course, we have the Genesis records of Adam and Enoch walking with God and in Exodus 33:11 Moses talking with God “face to face.” Isaiah 6 describes the prophet seeing God high and lifted up in his temple. Yet, Jesus said in John 4:24 that God is a spirit; and Exodus 33:20 intimates that no man can see God in his full glory and live.

The Jewish Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4 says that God is one, but the nouns of that verse indicate a triune nature. The Bible shows God relating to us as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit (Ghost). Since he is so far beyond our comprehension we accept his mystery in faith and picture him the only way we can: in human terms. These accounts where Scripture describes God with human qualities are called anthropomorphic. That means they are not to be taken literally, but God allows himself to be described in human terms so we can relate to his motivations and actions.

To answer your second question: Yes, God does have a body. We call that body Jesus. Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23 name him Emmanuel, God with men. In John 14:9 Jesus told his disciples that when they had seen him they had seen the Father. Therefore, I believe when Old Testament men walked or talked with God, they were walking and talking with Jesus!

When Scripture says we were created in God’s image it could refer to our triune nature of body, mind or soul, and spirit. Or, since Jesus has always existed even before he was born of Mary, maybe we were fashioned in his physical image. Jesus is in Paradise today with that glorified physical body he showed to his followers after his resurrection (Luke 23:43; 24:42).

One day we will see him face to face when God dwells in our midst (Revelation 21:3; 22:4). Until then we are content to see him by faith, feel him in our spirits, and hear him through his Word, the Bible.

Q. In light of David’s sins how can he be called a man after God’s own heart? Evangelist Steve Freeman, Colonial Heights, VA

A. David was a sinner, as we are; but his sins were more public and recorded for all to read. The Bible records that David was an adulterer, a murderer, a bigamist with 9 wives, and a man who couldn’t control his children or his army. Indeed, we may rightfully ask how God could call David a man after his own heart.

But, God did say that about David. He made that statement through his prophet Samuel when God rejected Saul as King of Israel. First Samuel 13:14 records God’s appraisal that the man he had chosen to replace Saul would be a man after God’s own heart. Did God not know what David would do? Certainly, and Acts 13:22, written after the fact confirms that David was such a man.  

When God said that about David he did not mean that God’s heart guided David so that everything David did was pleasing to God. We know David was a man subject to his temptations as we all are. That was a statement of David’s sincere desire to please God. First Samuel 16:7 says God doesn’t judge by outward appearances as men do, but he looks upon a person’s heart.

What do we know about David’s heart? The Old Testament books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles tell us many good things David did; however, the Psalms he wrote tell us more about his heart. Many of the Psalms later became hymns of worship for Israel, but they began as the personal cries of David’s heart. Over and over he revealed his search for God’s favor and his desire to please God.

Further, we never have an instance in which David worshipped an idol or anything other than his God. He sought God’s heart. And, because he did, God placed his sins upon God’s Lamb – slain from before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). Therefore, God decreed David righteous, a man after God’s own heart. He will do the same for you and me when we seek to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

Q. Does the Bible have anything to say about space travel? Carl Perry, Hopewell, VA

A. Certainly, we would not expect the Bible to speak directly to space travel since such an idea was unknown to the human writers of Scripture. However, nothing takes God by surprise, so he may have inspired the writers to shed light on that subject, although it was unknown to them.

When Genesis 1:1 says “God created the heavens and the earth,” the Hebrew word for heavens is indeed plural. The Jews believed in 3 heavens: the atmosphere around us where the clouds float, space where the stars reside, and spiritual Heaven – God’s home. We see this in 2 Corinthians 12:2 where Paul gave what might be a personal testimony of his own visit to the third heaven. Also, in Genesis 1:16 we’re reminded that God “made the stars also.” That’s almost an afterthought as if this were no big deal for God.

God created the universe, including the earth and space, for his purposes and man’s pleasure. In fact, Isaiah 45:18 says God created the heavens and the earth to be occupied by man. Even the 2 great lights that shine on our planet were made for mankind to know times and seasons, days and years (Genesis 1:14). In Genesis 1:26-28, when God gave Adam dominion over everything, he included the realm of the birds, ie., the heavens.

Later, David let his imagination wander in Psalm 139:7-8 saying that if he were to travel to heaven, he would find God there. This is not the usual Hebrew word for God’s home, but David was speaking of the spatial heaven, the realm of the stars.

I believe where the Bible places no prohibition we are free to decide what we think about it. Therefore, I don’t see the Bible prohibiting space travel, or undersea travel for that matter. I don’t believe we’ll find humanoids on other planets, but I do think we’ll find God’s footprint there. Read Psalm 104 for a beautiful record of God’s creative power.

You know, I think Jesus believes in space travel because John 14:3 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17 tell of the future space travel when believers are caught up in the clouds to meet Jesus. Later, when God gives us a new heaven and earth as mentioned in Revelation 21:1, I think we will have all the time of eternity to will ourselves all over that universe to marvel at the glories of God’s creative mind (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Q. Are dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible? Fossil remains prove they existed; what happened? Jeremy Chan, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada

A. Outside of the Revelation, there are 22 biblical references to dragons. Many of these may be describing varieties of dinosaurs remembered from previous ages. I believe behemoth in Job 40 was a dinosaur. And, if there were such a thing as a fire-breathing dragon, then leviathan in chapter 41 describes one. Isaiah 27:1 supports my theory. Leviathan is also mentioned in Psalms 74 and 104.

Many earth scientists ascribe the demise of “prehistoric” animals to the impact of a tremendous meteor, but the Bible gives a better answer in the Biblical Flood. Genesis 1:6-7 tells of waters held above the firmament of earth’s atmosphere. Those waters may have formed a vapor canopy which would shield the sun’s ultraviolet rays and cause a greater air pressure. Under those circumstances plants and animals could grow much larger, and giant winged reptiles could fly in heavier air.

After the world-wide Flood described in Genesis 7 all air breathing animals and people died except those in Noah’s Ark. The Flood rained down the water vapor canopy. That release of air pressure and the resulting water and earth turbulence caused the deaths of giant animals and plants and restricted their regrowth. For survival on the Ark, God sent Noah 2 of all undomesticated animals and 7 of all domesticated types so the earth would be more hospitable for man. If there were any varieties not on the Ark, they died. Even if smaller varieties or babies of the larger species were on the Ark, they were among the unclean animals. Therefore, since there were only 2 of them, if one died they became extinct.

I subscribe to the young earth age theory the Bible implies. The same archaeological evidence that proves dinosaurs existed also proves man was upon the earth then. Footprints of humans and dinosaurs appear in the same rock strata; and, at least in one instance, a man’s footprint is inside a dinosaur’s print. If, in Job 40:15, behemoth was a dinosaur as it appears to be, then that verse clearly says it was created at the same time as man, not in an earlier age.

Q. Does the Bible say anything to guide us as we vote? Dora Gurganus, Capron, VA

A. Of course! We can find some guidance in the Bible for every major area of our lives.

Jesus spoke specifically to the question of a believer’s dual citizenship of earth and heaven in Mark 12:17. There, he said: “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.” If Caesar represents our government, then Jesus was saying to be good citizens on earth we should pay that which is due to “Caesar.”

So, we ask: What is due Caesar? First Peter 2:13 & 15 says, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake….for so it is the will of God.” And Verse 17 says, “Honor the king.” Also, we read in Hebrews 13 that we should obey those who have the rule over us, salute them, and pray for them. Jesus said in Matthew 5:44 to pray for them even if they “despitefully use you and persecute you.” So, even if we don’t like an individual, we should honor the office he or she holds and pray for God to guide them.

Good citizens take seriously their responsibility to support and participate in our government because God has allowed it to rule over us. Respecting earthly rule helps us learn to honor Heavenly rule. That means we pay our taxes. Jesus set that example when he paid the taxes both he and Peter owed (Matthew 17:27). The implication from 1 Peter 2 about obeying and submitting should also include our voting. That’s expected of good citizens.

Notice that the way believers should vote is implied in the rest of Mark 12:17. We are to give God that which is his. Christians know everything we owe to government is due first and more sincerely to God. We should honor, submit to, and obey God’s rules that he’s spelled out in the Bible. That will affect everything else we do, including how we vote.

I believe Christians must vote; God expects it of us. But, we ought to vote for Kingdom values above party ties. Knowing that we are “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20), we represent the King of Kings in how we vote for the values he would approve.

Q. What were they doing in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost? J.S., Hampton, VA

A. In Acts 1:4, just before Jesus ascended, he commanded his followers to wait in Jerusalem “for the promise of the Father.” That promise was the coming of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus had predicted in John 14. Since every important event in Jesus’ life had already been spelled out in the Jewish levitical calendar, the next event was Pentecost. Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles; he died on Passover; he was buried during the Feast of Unleavened Bread; and he was the first-fruit of our resurrection on the Festival of First Fruits. Fifty days later the Jews would return to Jerusalem from all over the world to celebrate the Feast of Fifty Days (Pentecost). That was their spring harvest festival, like our Thanksgiving.

The first chapter of Acts tells us 120 believers, including all the Apostles except Judas, along with Jesus’ mother, brothers and sisters, were “in one accord” in the upper room of Jesus’ last supper. During this time they surely prayed, worshipped, and studied the prophecies to review how Jesus had fulfilled them.

Acts 2 tells us it on the actual day of Pentecost when faithful Jews were carrying out the rituals spelled out in Leviticus 23. At Pentecost, each person brought 2 loaves of bread. They were to be made of mixed grain from all the grain of their spring harvest. The grain was ground into fine flour with leaven (yeast) added. This was different from the bread of Passover, which was unleavened. Leaven symbolized sin which spreads as rapidly as yeast in dough; therefore, that unleavened bread represented Jesus who was without sin. Passover bread was flat, hard, and tasteless, symbolizing the suffering of the undesirable Christ. The bread of Pentecost was yeast bread and good to eat. Since yeast is symbolic of sin, this bread represented sinful people. It came from mixed grain, meaning different kinds of people. It was offered as a wave offering before the Lord and then eaten with the Thanksgiving meal of their harvest.

I believe the 2 loaves of mixed grain represented the Church composed of Jewish and Gentile believers who have been waved (dedicated) to the Lord. So, it was on this day that the Spirit birthed the Church! As Peter preached on the day of harvest celebration, the Spirit reaped a great harvest of 3,000 souls.

When the Spirit broke the sound barrier as he came to earth, Dr. Luke could only describe that sonic boom as the “sound of a mighty, rushing wind.” That explosion, like they’d never heard before, would have brought the whole city to gather outside Mary’s upper room. Then, the Spirit bestowed the power (wind), the purity (fire), and the purpose (tongues) for his Church. May we allow him to equip us today to reach all people for Jesus! And, let’s praise God for fulfilling the great promises in his Word!

Q. Did God mean it when he said he would visit the iniquity of the fathers upon their children to the third and fourth generation? That sounds unfair. J.B., Richmond, VA

A. I find at least four times in the Bible where God made that statement, so he must mean it. He said it in connection with the second commandment when he gave the Ten Commandments to Moses in Exodus 20:5. There it’s set among the most important verses of the Old Testament. The next time God said it is when he declared his name, or his character, to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7.

Remember when Moses inquired the meaning of God’s name, “I am,” at the Burning Bush? Exodus 3:13-14 records God answering in effect, “I am what I am!” He meant no one but God can explain his character and  none can compare to him. Later, when Moses went back up Mt. Sinai to get the second set of Commandments after breaking the first set, God mercifully answered Moses’ question. When Exodus 34:5 says God proclaimed the name of the Lord it means God revealed his true nature and character to Moses.

God wants to be remembered by the character he stated in Exodus 34:6-7. Yes, he may punish the sins of the fathers to the third or fourth generation of their children if they deserve it. But, look at the positive aspects of his character preceding that statement. God is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, (and) forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Certainly, one with those character qualities will be fair!

As to the fairness of punishing the children for their father’s sins, I believe God was stating his option to do that if the children were like their father. In Bible times, as it is today in many countries, 3 or 4 generations might live in the same house under the authority of the family patriarch. If children follow what they have seen or heard from their elders, they will be punished the same way the fathers will.

Yet, God’s ideal is stated in Deuteronomy 24:16 saying, each person will bear the iniquity of their own sins. However, if children choose to live as their father did, they will bear the same consequences as he. May God help us to imitate our Heavenly Father and big Brother!

Q. What constitutes “righteous anger?” B. Hughes, Hopewell, VA

A. When I think of “righteous anger” I think of anger that is justified in provoking someone to correct a bad situation. But, for that action to be “righteous” it must be selfless and not for personal vindication. We usually call it “righteous indignation” which means we’re taking a stand against something that is offensive to us.

Anger in itself is not wrong. It’s simply a response to something that agitates us. Usually, we think of anger in a negative sense because it may enrage us. But, the Bible teaches that people can be angry for good reason and respond in ways that honor Jesus. In fact, Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be ye angry and sin not.”

Jesus should be our example in all things. He became angry when his Father’s house was becoming a den of thieves. All 4 gospels record his cleansing of the Temple but John adds something to the synoptic accounts of his driving the animals out. John says he didn’t release the doves but simply told the sellers to take them away. Perhaps that’s because the coins could be picked up and the larger animals could be rounded up, but if the doves were set free they would fly away. Jesus never harmed anyone or their property in his righteous indignation.

The Bible uses “wrath” to describe God’s anger. It means God’s laws have been broken. When God acts in wrath it is always righteous anger because he’s justified in retaliating. “Vengeance belongs to me (God)…the Lord shall judge his people” (Hebrews 10:30). He promises to punish evil and save his people from those who mistreat them. Only God can judge righteously (Genesis 18:25) because as “the Judge of all the earth” only he knows the motives behind each action.

On the other hand, when men claim to react in righteous anger they need to be sure correction is their only goal. Jesus taught in Matthew 5:22 that personal anger which causes us to devalue an individual, made in God’s image, puts us in danger of Hell fire. Longsuffering, or self-control, is a gift of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22) available to all believers. All our actions, especially those of anger, need to be controlled by God’s Spirit. Sometimes it’s better to say or do nothing than to react in anger.

Q. What do the Bible writers mean when they refer to “the Day of the Lord?” Milton Entsminger, Colonial Heights, VA

A. That expression is used in different forms to refer to different times, but all of them point to a time when God has or will intervene decisively in human affairs to show his power and accomplish his purpose. Although in the past he sometimes used human instruments or natural calamities, it was God who was directing judgments or blessings toward human behavior. In the future, that time of his unmistakable presence will climax his rule of righteousness.

Scripture calls the times of God’s judgment by different names. It may be called the day of God, the day of the Lord Jesus, the day of Judgment, the last day(s), or just “that day.” What is called a day may actually extend over months, years, or throughout eternity. It may refer to a specific time of chastisement on God’s sinful people in anticipation of their repentance, or a time of deliverance and avengement on their enemies. At other times these phrases may point to the end of the world, the Rapture, or the Glorious Appearing of our Lord at his Second Coming. It can anticipate the Judgment, Paradise, or the Millennium reign of Christ. In short, it is God’s Day when his Will will be done and he will have the last word!

Most of the time the inference is negative, meaning a day to be feared and avoided if possible. Joel 3:14 calls it a time for decision – God decides his punishment for sin, and the people decide their response. First Thessalonians 5 calls it a time of surprise, like a thief in the night, because the timing is God’s and not men’s. However, for those prepared by faithful obedience, the inference is positive as it anticipates a time of reward and great blessings. Isaiah 35 calls it a return to paradise and Joel 3:18 likens it to an abundant harvest when “the mountains will drip with new wine and the hills will flow with milk.”

In summary, the Bible reaches 3 conclusions about that “day.” (1) It is a time of God’s ultimate power as he is victorious and vindicated. (2) It is a day of God’s wrath destroying evil and his mercy establishing righteousness. And, (3) the purpose of its record from the past and its prophecy for the future is, according to 2 Peter 3:11, to cause people to consider their present relationship to God.

Q. Does God change his mind? Marian Baker, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. I believe your extended question might be: If Scripture teaches that God knows everything before it happens, how can it say God repents or changes his mind? Perhaps you have in mind such passages as Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14; and Jonah 3:10 where God repented, or changed his mind, of some action he began.

You know, of course, the 3 supernatural qualities that belong only to God: omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. God alone is all powerful, all present, and all knowing. Neither Satan, nor any other creature including humans, possesses these attributes. Isaiah 42:9; 1 John 3:20; and Romans 8:29 are a few scriptures that teach God’s omniscience. Your question implies that if God knows the outcome of every action, why would he need to change his mind?

Indeed, God does know the outcome of things before they happen (Psalm 139:1-6). I often ask my Bible classes: “Did it ever occur to you that nothing ever occurs to God?” He already knew it beforehand. And, God is constant; there is “neither shadow of turning” with him (James 1:17). God’s ultimate purposes are unchangeable, but his course of action may appear to change when he’s accomplished his will in us.

Just as God’s promises may be conditional on our actions, his judgments may also be conditioned upon our response (Jeremiah 18:8-10). God always knows what he’s going to do, and he doesn’t change that (Numbers 23:19). When he warns us of punishment and we repent, he can show his mercy in forgiving us. This gives us an opportunity, not to change God, but to bring ourselves into his eternal purposes. What parent among us hasn’t done the same? We may threaten our children within an inch of their lives but our purpose is to reform them and then show our love by forgiving them.

Even though God’s thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9), we can be assured that God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9) and that the Judge of all the earth will do right (Genesis 18:25). There are some boundaries we may not cross without reaping judgment (Matthew 12:31), but there are others intended to change us and draw us closer to our loving Heavenly Father (Deuteronomy 29:29).

 

Q. How involved should the church be in politics? Effie Taylor, Richmond, VA

A. This is a good question and pertinent since this is an election year. Of course, we’re not talking about the Church (capitol C, meaning Christ’s universal, invisible body of all believers) but about churches (small c, meaning local bodies of Christian believers). Christ’s Church is above local politics since universal government rests upon his shoulder (Isaiah 9:6).

However, we can’t really speak for a local congregation either because each church is composed of members with individual rights and freedoms. So, a church will be as involved in politics as its individual members choose to be. As Christians we are responsible for our influence in all venues. If Christ expects us to be good business men or women, good neighbors, and good moral examples before others, then he expects us to carry those same Biblical principles into our political involvements. Whether we run for office or campaign for specific values or vote our convictions, we are to do so as Christian ambassadors for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Individual church members should be involved in all levels of government as they feel led. Yet, when it comes to church officials personally or vocally involved in politics they should have the blessing of their constituents. Mind you, a church leader is a citizen with the same political rights as anyone else; but, if he or she runs or campaigns, they should disassociate themselves from their church unless they have permission to speak for them.

Jesus taught us the principle of equal involvement and responsibility when he said in Mark 12:17, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” From scriptures like this our forefathers believed in separation of church and state. That means the church must not dictate to the state, nor the state to the church. However, the state has the same responsibility to ensure freedom and protection to the church that it does to all other entities. And, we as Christian citizens have the same responsibility to be salt and light to the political arena as we have to society in general (Matthew 5:13-14).

Jesus told us in Matthew 5:16 to let our lights shine. That means each of us must pray and work for Biblical values while standing against governmental oppression (Ephesians 6:13). Are you doing your part?

Q. Do Christians really need to attend church? Anonymous

A. You may certainly be saved without joining a church, or being baptized, for that matter. Neither church attendance nor baptism saves anyone (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are saved by turning from our sins and asking Jesus to forgive us, believing that his death on the Cross paid our sin debt to God. God’s Word then tells us to be baptized and learn all the things Jesus taught (Matthew 28:19-20). A Bible believing, teaching church is the instrument the Holy Spirit most often uses for our edification. Although church doesn’t save us it is, however, proof of our serious intent to make Jesus Lord of our lives. And, I have reason to doubt your salvation experience if you haven’t entered into that contract with Jesus. Having left your sinful lifestyle you then invite his Spirit to guide your life.

We could almost say Hebrews 10:24-25 is a command not to forsake Christ’s church. The intent of the original language is that we “Encourage one another to love and do good deeds.” How do we do that? By not failing “to assemble (in church) as some do, but encourage one another even more earnestly as you see the day (of Christ’s return) approaching” (author’s translation). Our life together in a local church makes the Lord visible to our world, and our unified prayers have the promised power of God‘s Spirit (Romans 8:26; James 5:14).

Those not involved in regular structured worship and Bible study are inevitably stunted in their own spiritual growth, and they contribute little or nothing to the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom. We mutually build up others when we share our spiritual gifts and carry one another’s burdens in regular joint worship (Galatians 6:2). In church we admonish one another and submit to one another for accountability (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:21). To fail to attend church when you’re able is the height of selfishness. You show you care nothing for promoting the work God has promised to do through his Church. Nor do you care to obey Christ in the testimony of your own spiritual growth. God didn’t tell you to enjoy church (although you will if you have the right attitude), but he did tell you to support his work.

We must attend church to please Jesus. Jesus died for the Church and one of his final requests to his Father before he died was that his followers would be brought to complete unity (John 17:20-23). Did you know Jesus never promised to be with you when you disregard his desire? But, he did say he would be present “when two or three are gathered in his name” (Matthew 18:20). Yes, you need the church and the church needs you!

Q. What do Mormons believe – especially about salvation? Margie Randall, Crosby, TX

A. Although I do not agree with these statements, I found a google search on “Mormons” revealed the following: Mormon is the narrator of the story of early settlers in America to whom Jesus supposedly appeared and revealed his plans for a future true church. Some 400 years after Christ, Mormon began writing his story on golden plates which his son, Moroni, finished. Then, Moroni buried the plates in New York state. Mormons believe around 1823 Jesus sent Moroni back as an angel to lead Joseph Smith to find and translate the plates. Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) upon Mormon’s book. Therefore, his followers are called Mormons.

To answer your question about salvation, I read that Mormons say all people are “saved” by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, salvation to them simply means their resurrection. They believe that, after death, all human spirits go to a temporary place to await the Second Coming of Jesus. Good spirits wait in a paradise but the spirits of bad people are punished during this time. When Jesus returns, everyone will be resurrected (saved) to spend eternity in 1 of 3 heavens.

For Mormons, the highest heaven is reserved only for the most faithful LDS members. Males who have obtained priesthood may be exalted to gods and given rule over their own planets. Since they believe their planets should ideally be populated by their own offspring, Mormons originally took multiple wives. Now, males awaiting godhood may select and guarantee their wives in the afterlife by a Celestial Marriage ceremony where the selected spouse may not even know about it. The second heaven is for keepers of the Old Testament law. All other people will be in the lowest level of paradise.

Their requirements include mandatory tithing; abstention from alcohol, tobacco, and coffee; obedience to all official decrees of their presidents who they call prophets; and belief that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are separate Gods with human bodies able to procreate. Mormons believe in multiple worlds and multiple gods who were once human as Jesus was before he became God of this planet. Mormons teach their young men to volunteer 2 years for missionary service.

In contrast to these doctrines, I suggest you read what the Bible says in such passages as 2 Corinthians 11:14; Galatians 1:8; Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8; John 14:6; John 3:16 and John 17:17.

Q. What is the proper Biblical response to terrorist groups like ISIS? Sandra Redfearn, Cheraw, SC

A. The radical Islamic movement we call ISIS was begun in the early 1990s by a Jordanian named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who was angry because his ideas and his Sunni Muslim minority were being ignored by the larger Shiite leadership. His opportunity for recognition came when he organized Iraqi dissidents to fight the US invasion of Iraq. First calling his followers the Party of Monotheism and Jihad, he later renamed it IS, short for Islamic State. As his movement spread across Iraq it was called ISI, the Islamic State of Iraq. Upon moving into Syria, it became ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Embraced for a time by bin Laden, Zarqawi later broke from al-Qaeda because they were not radical enough. But, in 2006, Zarqawi was killed when U.S. planes bombed his headquarters.

The present leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, changed the name back to IS because Baghdadi wants to be Caliph of an Islamic state that includes much of the Middle East. Enforcing the extreme elements of Sharia Law, he intimidates his opponents through forced subjection by threats of annihilation.

Stuck with the name ISIS, the movement is more political than religious. The minority Sunnis are striking back at the Shiites with military tactics taught by the former leaders of Saddam’s army. They are popular because they’re the underdog rising to power and they take care of their supporters by providing food, medical care, schools, and other necessities the Shiites refused them for so long.

Backed by oil-rich resources, military training and weapons, and the belief that Allah wants Sharia Law to dominate the world, ISIS is spreading rapidly. Baghdadi believes terror tactics of persecution, suicide bombings, and atrocities like public firing squads and beheadings will cause others to cower before them.

What is the Biblical response? Jesus taught that we should first examine our own motives and remove the speck from our eye before tackling the beam in someone else’s eye (Matthew 7:4-5). He said we should pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44) that they might be saved. Our ideal should be to dialog with them, but when negotiations fail, we may have to confront them in the only way they understand: overpowering might! Ecclesiastes 3:3 and 8 say there is a time for war. Realizing that we are in a spiritual battle against the Enemy of Christ and his Word, we may fight bravely and ask God’s blessings. Against ISIS, I believe a double front is needed: Military strength that will quickly and drastically cripple them, and a propaganda strategy to persuade the Iraqis and Syrians that supporting ISIS will not gain them respect from the rest of the world. May God guide our leaders to act decisively because America may be on their hit list!

Q. When people believe they have been visited by their dead loved ones, am I wrong in assuming that ghostly encounters are demonic? Tonya Brown, DWF Airport, TX

A. No, I do not think you are wrong. I believe our parents were right to teach us there are no such things as ghosts. That’s true if you’re thinking that ghosts are the spirits of dead people. Ghostly apparitions, however, may be very real. But, they are not dead people returning; nor are they aliens from another planet. Indeed, they may be demonic.

I believe the spiritual world is very real all around us, perhaps in another dimension. There are many things that are real beyond the spectrums of our senses. We can’t see spiritual beings with physical eyes unless they reveal themselves. The Bible seems to imply we have guardian angels and there are angels (and demons) over countries or people groups (Matthew 18:10; Psalm 91:11; Daniel 10:113 and12:1). Rarely has anyone seen angels, but, in hindsight, we may later recognize their influence (Hebrews 13:2). The Bible records a few instances when saints have been allowed to return for God’s purposes (1 Samuel 28:15; Matthew 17:3). However, since the unsaved go immediately to Hell, no unsaved person has ever returned from Hell. Luke 16:26 says there is a barrier no one may cross. And, since revelations from God are finished with the Bible (Revelations 22:18), I don’t believe he sends saints to deliver messages today.

It’s not unusual for grieving persons to want to believe their loved ones are watching over them and even contacting them. The job of watching over us is given to angels, not mortals (Daniel 4:17; Revelation 20:12 ). Those who think unsaved loved ones have appeared to them are either imagining them, dreaming, or their mind is playing tricks on them. The only other possibility is that demons may pretend to be our dead companions. Since demons are eternal spirits, they know all about us and can appear to reveal things only our departed loved ones would know. That’s all part of Satan’s game to discredit the Bible and trick us into believing God is not in charge.

In John 8:32, Jesus taught that we can know the truth about things and that truth sets us free from delusions. All we need to know about the spiritual realm is found in God’s Word, the Bible.

Q. How can I tell if I have too much “stuff”? Evelyn Entsminger, Colonial Heights, VA

A. God is the true Maker of all things. Everything we invent or accumulate originated in the mind of God. He is the Prime Mover who makes all things – visible and invisible – possible (John 1:3). He allows us to have the possessions that surround us. So, if we have things that improve our lives, whether for work or pleasure, we should thank him. All things were made for him and lent to us because, in God’s mind, we are more important than things (Proverbs 16:4).

However, Satan has seen to it that things may have a strange hold over us. We think we own them; but, if they become obsessions that we sacrifice time, money, and integrity to own, they really own us. Jesus told the parable in Luke 12 of a man whose life revolved around the things he gathered for himself. Then, in verse 15 Jesus said: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of things which he possesses.”

Have you considered why God allowed you to have the conveniences you enjoy today? It’s certainly not because you are more deserving than poor people in third world countries. Perhaps we all should remember what God told Abram in Genesis 12:2-3 and consider that we’ve been blessed to be a blessing to others.

A good way to tell if we have too much “stuff” would be to ask ourselves what place it occupies in our thinking and what we plan to do with it. Let me quote from the NIV Essentials Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), p. 1183: “We know when we have too much stuff when anxiety or greed, which is idolatry (see Colossians 3:5), keeps us from sharing with others; when we find our contentment in what we buy and own rather than in whom we love; and when we find our identity in what we possess rather than in our relationships – both with God and others….The remedy to our anxiety and acquisitiveness is to ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ (Matthew 6:33a).” Then, we may trust God that all things we truly need will be given to us as well (Matthew 6:33b).

In short, we can know we have too much stuff when keeping it or acquiring more becomes more important than sharing it or using it to benefit others in Jesus’ name.

Q. In many churches we applaud the musicians or technical teams for their presentations, but shouldn’t we be praising God rather than men? Russell Ali, Bend, OR

A. I totally agree! Any Spirit-filled worship leader knows he or she is praising God, and they don’t intend praise for themselves. David prayed in Psalm 30:12 that any glory given to him would always be praise to God. It’s true that we all enjoy compliments, and our churches would never intentionally boost any performer’s pride. But, thanks for reminding us that the congregation needs to be encouraged to praise God for the inspiration we receive through talented individuals. First Peter 4:11 says, when we minister, we should consider our talents as coming from God so that God may be praised.

I hesitate to use the word “performers,” but I don’t know what else to call those who lead us in worship through their talents. I know our worship should never be a performance for others or to gain praise for ourselves. Every part of our sacrifice of praise should come from our hearts directed toward God’s heart. I might add: Sometimes praise band instrumentalists and drummers may need to remind themselves that the words need to be heard more than the accompaniment. First Corinthians 14:16 teaches that no one can say “Amen” if they don’t understand what we’re saying.

I know some well-meaning worship leaders may sometimes think they are the performers, the audience is the target, and God is watching from the wings. However, I believe speakers and musicians should consider God as the target, themselves as cheerleaders, and the congregation as performers before the Audience of One.

Now, let me meddle a little: When we as worshippers sing our praises, are they directed toward God? Are we really praising God in our spirits, or is our head stuck in the hymnal or fixed on the screen? And, do we listen in every sermon for a personal message from God? Let God be praised in all things, especially in his house in a service directed toward him.

Q. With so many young people killed in the downing of the Malaysian airliner and the war between Israel and Gaza, it makes me wonder: Does the Bible say why the good die young? Christine Stawarz, Prince George, VA

A. The Bible does teach that life and death are in our Creator’s hands and he’s very much involved in our world (Deuteronomy 30:19). I believe he has a time for each of us to be born (Ecclesiastes 3:2), and he knows everything that will happen to us in our lifetime (Psalm 139:16; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Matthew 10:26). He may not cause everything that happens, but he is aware of and he allows all things for his purposes. An example is God’s allowing Satan to afflict Job (Job 1:12) so he might reward Job for faithfulness.

Even though he knows when we will die, God may not cause it. Bad things happen, not because God wishes them for us, but because they are the result of bad people or bad choices. Though wicked men may seem to succeed, the Bible teaches that the angels are keeping records and, in the afterlife, people will be rewarded or punished by the degree of their deeds (Revelation 20:12; 22:12).

Yes, God may allow evil people to kill good people, even in their youth, so he can prove how evil Satan and his cohorts are (John 8:44); and by contrast prove how merciful he is (Psalm 86:5). We can see God’s mercy in the comforting assurances of his Word and in sending his Son to save us and take us to his home where there is no more death (Revelation 21:4). Everything God does is motivated by love (John 3:16).

That leads me back to your question: Yes, the Bible does give us a hint as to why the good die young. Isaiah 57:1-2 reads in the New International Version: “The righteous perish, and no man ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” God may remove some people in their youth or prime because he wishes to spare them agony to come. But, be assured that if there’s any chance for them to be saved, God will give them the benefit of the doubt (Genesis 18:25b; 2 Peter 3:9).

Q. What do Muslims believe? Daryel Major, Richmond, VA

A. Time and space here permit only a brief summary of some Muslim beliefs as I understand them. Muslims follow the tenants of their religion called Islam, which means “submit.” They submit in complete obedience to God whom they call Allah. That name simply means “The God,” because they acknowledge no other God. They are monotheistic and consider theirs to be the true religion as revealed by the angel Gabriel to Mohammed and recorded in their bible, the Qur’an (Galatians 1:8). Since then, lesser prophets have added their revelations to other sacred writings. Unlike the Bible which Revelation 22:18-19 says is complete, their clerics may receive new visions which adherents are obliged to obey.

Muslims trace their faith back to Abraham through his son Ishmael. They say Ishmael is the true son who was offered to God instead of Isaac (Genesis 22:2). In addition to complete obedience to God and his prophets, they believe in angels, revelations through visions and dreams, and a coming Day of Resurrection and Judgment. Everything that happens is already predetermined by Allah; each Muslim’s job is to learn Allah’s will from his cleric and obey. In so doing he will confirm his own salvation (Acts 4:12). Essential to their faith is the keeping of the Five Pillars which are: Testimony (declaring no other God but Allah and no original prophet but Mohammed), Prayer (when called to prayer 5 times daily), Alms-giving (to the needy during their feast-times), Fasting (for the month of Ramadan), and Pilgrimage (to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if they are able). Read Ephesians 2:8-9.

They believe Jesus was a good man whom they accept as a lesser prophet, but his and God’s words as recorded in the Bible have been corrupted and are unreliable (2 Timothy 3:16). Jesus will appear with Mohammed at the Judgment to confirm Mohammed as the true messenger of God. Christianity to them is the worship of 3 Gods, and therefore is false as is Judaism.

Islam is divided into 2 main denominations, the Sunni (largest) and the Shia, based on who they believe was the rightful successor to Mohammed who had no children. Differences between these 2 groups can become violent. In fact, radical followers of either group may try to make converts by force believing the Qur’an gives them permission to kill those who refuse to “submit.” Fundamental Muslims say the world must submit to Allah now. Moderate Muslims say the world will submit to Allah one day, and they can bide their time as good citizens and neighbors until they are called to a Jihad, or holy war, by their clerics. That said: Islam is more than a religion. It is also a system of politics and military conquest based on Sharia Law (teachings of the Qur’an applied by their prophets) which they believe will eventually cover the whole world as everyone submits to Allah (Philippians 2:9-11). 

Q. Who were the saints who arose in Matthew 27:52 and what is the significance of this? Kenneth Harris, Hopewell, VA

A. Matthew 27 records the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus. Matthew 28 records his resurrection. However, there is a phrase in the middle of Matthew 27:53 which should be in chapter 28. It tells about the saints who arose “after his resurrection.” You may ask where they came from.

Hades was the name the Jews gave to the realm of the dead. It was where all dead souls went. They believed it was in the heart of the earth and was divided into two compartments. By the time of Christ, the Jews called the place of the unsaved Gehenna or Hell, so named for the Valley of Hennom, the garbage dump of Jerusalem where trash fires burned constantly. Jesus drew on that analogy in Mark 9 to describe Hell. That compartment was also called Torments (Luke 16:23). That Hebrew word meant “the rack.” It was where the enemies of God were sent.

Those who were saved from the Old Testament era waited in the other compartment of Hades. It was a holding area they called Abraham’s Bosom. That title simply referred to the embraces of greetings exchanged in that pleasant place. Still, it was a world lacking the beauty of what we understand about Paradise or Heaven.

Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 3 teach that Jesus descended to Hades after his death and announced his victory over death. After his resurrection Matthew 27 says many dead saints arose and appeared to their loved ones in Jerusalem. I believe these were allowed to stop off and give testimony to Jesus as he led them up to establish Paradise. That’s a Persian word meaning a beautiful garden. Since Jesus told the believing thief he would be with Jesus that day in Paradise, we understand that’s where saints now wait with Jesus until we all enter Heaven, the New Jerusalem, together.

The significance of this is that Jesus arose on the Jewish holiday called the Feast of First Fruits. It was when the first fruits of the spring harvest were waved before God in the Temple to ask him for a great harvest to follow. Jesus became the first fruits of our resurrection to be followed by every Christian believer either at the Rapture or at his Second Coming. It was fitting on that holiday that Jesus transported Old Testament saints as a first-fruits offering to God. We will follow as his continued harvest of souls.

Q. Where did the races and ethnic groups come from if Noah and his family were the only people left after the Flood? Tonya Martin, LaCrosse, VA  

A. Genesis 9:18-19 names Noah’s sons and tells us that the whole earth was repopulated by them after the Flood. Genesis, chapter 10, explains how the various nations came from the sons of Noah. The last verse of that chapter is a summary restating what was said before. A good Bible commentary can clarify the modern nations and people groups that stemmed from those Biblical nations.

Some Bible scholars believe that until Babel the earth was one great land mass, and the continents separated as part of God’s judgment on Babel. Mind you, many modern scientists and Bible teachers disagree with that. Those who hold to that theory base their belief on the simple statement in the middle of Genesis 10:25 that reads, “…in his days (Peleg’s) was the earth divided.” That coincides roughly with the time of Babel.

In Genesis 9:1 after the Flood, God commanded Noah and his descendants to replenish the whole earth. A hundred years or so later Noah’s descendants were still together. Led by Nimrod, the first king mentioned in the Bible, these people refused to disperse. Instead, they built a rallying tower to remain around (Genesis 11:4). The ruins of that tower seem to indicate that it was an observatory (“whose top…unto heaven,” v. 4) to chart the worship of the stars we know today as the Zodiac and horoscopes people still consult.

When God confused their languages family groups could not understand other families, so they were forced to go off on their own. If the Continental Drift theory is correct, that’s when God caused the earth to split into the continents and islands we have today. Isolated from others, their similar ethnic characteristics developed from centuries of intermarriage among their people group and the effects of their environment. Again, if this theory is true, it would explain how some of all the animals could come to Adam to be named (Genesis 2:19) and again to Noah for his Ark (Genesis 7:7-9).

Otherwise, the races and people groups still came from Noah’s sons and they just naturally developed over time as influenced by their habitations and tribal customs.

Q. I know Jesus gave us wonderful promises of comfort, but it is wrong to feel sorrow when we lose a loved one? Alan Chandler, Linthicum, MD

A. Feeling sorrow or grief when we suffer loss is not wrong or even sinful. It just proves we’re human. To be emotionless is not human because humans are made in the image of God, and we feel emotions just as he does. The Bible records God’s feeling the gamut of emotions. Deuteronomy 9:8 tells us of God’s anger; Psalm 16:11 shows joy with the Lord; Genesis 6:6 says the Lord grieves, and 2 Corinthians 1:3 speaks of God’s comfort. Of course, John 3:16 tells of his great love that motivated the giving of himself to save us. That one promise alone gives us comfort even in our grief.

Because we are like God we may know comfort but feel sorrow at the same time. In the latter verses of Romans, chapter 7, Paul recorded opposite emotions warring within himself, and in Philippians 1:21-24 he described another emotional battle. He wanted to go on to Heaven but he knew his friends needed him here. Like Paul, we have 2 citizenships. Our sorrow is of the earth but our comfort is from Heaven.

The key to conquering our grief is in controlling our emotions. We have minds able to control our emotions rather than letting them control us. Romans 12:2 speaks to this very subject. Paul wrote that we can transform our attitudes by renewing our minds to think from God’s viewpoint.

First Thessalonians 4:13 says we can sorrow, but not as those who have no hope. That means our sorrow is diminished by the comfort of hope. That hope springs from our faith in the fact of God’s promises and the assurance that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Let that faith and fact work together to bring comfort even when you grieve at the loss of a loved one. If they were saved, you have the assurance from such Scriptures as 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 that when we’re absent from the body we’re at home with the Lord. Revelation 21:4 says in Heaven there will be no more suffering, pain, sorrow, or death. Claim that promise for them and believe it for yourself.

I find it helps to picture myself as simply saying, “Farewell” rather than “Goodbye.” My loved ones in the Lord are only on a journey with the Lord, and they will return when he comes back (Jude 1:14; Revelation 19:14, 8).

Q. In Matthew 6, did Jesus really mean the Father expects us to pray from inside a closet? Rev. Bud Goude, Gloucester Point, VA

A. You’re referring to a statement from the Sermon on the Mount, the only full sermon of Jesus we have recorded. It covers chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s gospel. This Sermon has been compared to the Ten Commandments in a kind of mathematical formula that states: As the Commandments are to the Old Testament, so is the Sermon to the New Testament. That simply means Bible scholars see the rest of the Old Testament as an application of the use and misuse of the Commandments. Likewise, they see the Sermon on the Mount forming the platform for Jesus’ new Kingdom in the rest of the New Testament.

In Matthew 6 Jesus spoke about lasting rewards from the Father opposed to the temporary accolades of men. Speaking of the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders who paraded their piousness for the applause of men, Jesus said that was the only reward they will get. They were not earning brownie points in Heaven! Jesus contrasted the wrong way to give to the needy, the wrong way to pray, and the wrong way to fast with the right ways to give, to pray, and to fast – ways God will reward. No pretense is needed before God because he sees the true motives of our hearts.

In verse 5 Jesus said play actors pray loudly and piously in public to be seen of men. In contrast, Jesus used the common oriental teaching method of exaggeration in verse 6. He said, “But, when you pray, enter into your closet; and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father in secret.” I do not think he meant we have to enter into a literal closet to pray. He meant the closet of our minds. We can pray in our thoughts because God reads our minds and motives. Then, we won’t be trying to impress people with long and wordy prayers. We can just say what we mean to God, and he will know the true intent of our hearts. In fact, Romans 8:26 promises that the Spirit will help us pray rightly. Jesus said the Father will reward that kind of sincere, personal praying. I believe that reward will be either the answering of our prayers on earth or in Heaven.

Just as Jesus didn’t mean we can only pray from a closet, he certainly wasn’t condemning public praying. Jesus prayed in public and, later in this same chapter, he taught his Disciples a beautiful prayer we often repeat publicly while praying it in our hearts.

Q. Does the Bible say anything about meditation to get in touch with our own bodies? M. J., Midlothian, VA  

A. The Bible says a lot about meditation, but always that meditation is directed toward God, his word, and his works. In the Old Testament, Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2, along with Psalm 119:15 and 97, say we are to meditate upon the law, or the teachings, of the Lord day and night. Psalm 77:12 promises the psalmist would meditate on the works of the Lord and talk about the things he has done.

In the New Testament, Paul wrote to the Philippian church in chapter 4, verses 8 and 9, that if they wanted the peace of God they should think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of a good report. And, he told Timothy in his first epistle, chapter 4, verses 13-16, that the young preacher should give attention to reading, exhortation, doctrine, and the spiritual gifts God had equipped him to use.

Romans 8:10 says when we are in Christ the old sinful nature of our body is dead because of sin but our spirits are alive with the righteousness of Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 4:10 Paul said that we should bear the death of Jesus in our bodies that we might share in his life. That means that the things of the body are not as important as following the Spirit of Jesus in us.

So, I don’t find that the Bible says we should meditate to be in touch with our bodies. Remember: These bodies, as wonderful as they are and made in the image of God, are contaminated by sin and will one day be exchanged for glorified, eternal bodies (1 Corinthians 15:49-52). In the meantime, while not being overly anxious about our bodies, we certainly should not abuse our bodies because – sinful as they are – they are still the temple of the Holy Spirit if we are saved. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians in 6:19 that our bodies are not our own but they have been bought with a price: the precious blood of Jesus. Therefore, our meditation and attention should be to know and obey God’s Word and to praise him for his glorious works.

Q. Why didn’t Jesus appear to his mother after his resurrection, whereas he did appear to at least 517 other followers? Jim B., Petersburg, VA

A. Let me make it clear that this is an opinion question which the Bible doesn’t answer for us. Therefore, I can’t give a specific answer; however, I can make some educated guesses.

Scripture tells us Jesus appeared over some 40 days to the women at his tomb, to Peter, and to his brother James. He also appeared in the upper room to his followers without Thomas and the next week to the Twelve including Thomas. He appeared to 2 followers on the road to Emmaus and their families, to his disciples with Peter at the Sea of Galilee, and to some 500 followers on a hillside.

Why didn’t Jesus appear to his mother? Maybe he did! Mark 16 and Luke 24 name some of the women at the tomb on Resurrection Sunday. Among them is “Mary the mother of James.” This probably wasn’t Jesus’ mother, but she may have been. First century believers knew Jesus had existed long before Mary conceived him, and this was written later when James, the half- brother of Jesus, was the leader of the Jerusalem church.

Again, when Jesus appeared to Cleopas and another person on the Emmaus Road that first Easter, Luke 24 says he went home with them for supper. Since John 19:25 says Mary had a sister married to Cleopas, it’s very likely Mary and Jesus’ siblings were staying there for Passover. If so, they saw him at supper and again later that evening when they gathered in the Upper Room (without Thomas). We do know that all his family were saved and present when the Spirit came at Pentecost (Acts 1:14).

Jesus had reasons to appear to Mary Magdalene, Peter, James, and many other followers. But, he had already broken ties with his mother at the Cross when he entrusted her to John. Besides, knowing how people would esteem Mary, he didn’t need to spotlight her again. Maybe he did appear to Mary, but we have no specific record of it.

Q. Does the Bible forbid the intermingling of the races? P. S., Prince George, VA

A. The only prohibition I know from the Bible is that believers (Old Testament Jewish believers and New Testament Christian believers) are not to intermarry with non-believers. God knew if the Jews intermarried with their pagan neighbors they would be tempted to accept the idol gods of those neighbors as in Judges 3:5-7. Second Corinthians 6:14 teaches that New Testament believers should not be yoked unequally with unbelievers. For Christians, the marriage relationship is a type of Christ and his Church being one in all things (Ephesians 5:21-32).

However, those prohibitions have nothing to do with one’s race, if there is such a thing as different races. Technically, every person on earth is of the same race: homo sapiens.          Racial prejudice is a terrible sin; it is pre-judging, and Romans 2:1-11 forbids such. It classifies whole groups of people as being unworthy of our respect and attention.

Most Christians like to think we’re color-blind when it comes to other “races” because we respect all people. However, we should examine our attitudes and admit that we, like most people, often, consciously or unconsciously, exclude those of other social standings or skin colors. We excuse it by saying it’s just human nature. But, it’s not human nature! Acts 17:26 says God made all people of one blood; that is, we all came from Adam initially and later from Noah. Racial characteristics are the result of inbreeding and environmental effects of people in a given area.

The Bible is color-blind! Moses married a black woman in Numbers 12:1 and a black man carried Jesus’ cross in Matthew 27:32. The Bible crossed lines of geography and gender when Rahab of Canaan and Ruth of Moab came into the line of Christ, and Jesus spent several days with the Samaritan woman in John 4. We should be color-blind when it comes to ministering to anyone who is in need. And, we should be color-blind for sharing the gospel and worshipping with all people who sincerely want to worship our Lord. To love, respect, and accept all people as equals simply means that we consider everyone to be our brother or sister because our Heavenly Father made us all in his image.

Q. What did Jesus mean in Matthew 7:6 when he said not to give holy things to dogs or pearls to pigs? Rev. Charles Vaughn, Yomba Indian Reservation, NV

A. In Matthew 7 Jesus was winding down his only full sermon recorded in Scripture, “The Sermon on the Mount.” The theme of this entire sermon hinges upon one word: Sincerity. Jesus was teaching that God looks upon the heart. He isn’t impressed by what we say, do, or don’t do. He is concerned with the motivation of our hearts. God wants sincerity in our worship and in our dealings with others.

So, when Jesus said in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not that you be not judged,” he was saying don’t be judgmental. That’s the ecumenical theme we hear everywhere today: “Just love everybody and coexist.” However, in verse 6 Jesus seemed to be breaking his own rule when he implied that we shouldn’t waste our time with those he called dogs and pigs. In his day dogs were filthy scavengers and wild pigs were ravenous flesh-eaters. Both were likely to harm people. A sensible person wouldn’t expect dogs to appreciate holy relics or pigs to value precious jewels. The animals would sooner come after the person offering those things to them. Jesus is simply being practical. In the midst of saying, “Don’t pre-judge people and consider them unworthy of your attention;” he said, “However, be wise and discerning enough to realize some people won’t accept your help.”

The introduction to this sermon in 5:1 says Jesus was speaking to his disciples – those who followed and believed in him. When they went forth ministering the gospel Jesus would soon give them, they should not waste their time with obstinate people who would rather turn on them than believe.        By practicing verse 1, they were to be non-judgmental and offer the gospel to everyone, but by practicing verse 6 they should realize some people will close their hearts to God and his servants. So, move on to those who will be open and responsive. This is the same thing Jesus taught them in Matthew 10:11-15, ie., to shake the dust off their feet at those who refused their message and let God avenge his messengers. John also warned in 2 John 1:10 not to welcome or bid Godspeed to those with a false gospel. Yet, Jesus taught elsewhere that we should pray for and welcome those who may eventually respond to our gospel.

Q. I’m curious, why was Jesus teaching in Luke 18:1-8 that persistence is needed in my prayers? Isn’t it a sign of faith to ask once and wait patiently for the answer? Jeremy Chan, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada

A. The parable you referenced in Luke 18 is about a widow who kept asking an unjust judge to grant her petition. At first, he refused; but because of her persistence he granted her request. Jesus said in verse 7 that God hears the continued prayers of his elect night and day. Although he “bears long with them,” ie., he seems slow to answer; he will surely avenge his elect “speedily.” Is that double-speak? No: that Greek word, tachos, refers to the speed of the act itself. It means when the full avengement comes it will happen suddenly – in God’s timing.

The lesson of persistence in praying is also taught in Matthew 7:7-12. There, the verb tenses imply that we are to “ask (and keep on asking)…seek (and keep on seeking)…knock (and keep on knocking).” This hard lesson of continuing to ask while we wait for our answer is also taught in the examples of many Old Testament saints such as Job, David, and Daniel. Today, many sincere believers seem to think a sign of maturity in their faith is to ask only once and trust God to answer when he’s ready. And, surely there are times to do that. Yet, there seem to be more scriptures teaching that we should keep on asking while we’re waiting for our answers. It’s alright to ask why!

To keep asking while we’re waiting is for our benefit, not God’s. For one thing, it proves our asking is not a passing fancy. Persistence builds excitement; excitement builds hope; and hope builds a faithful character. That faith will help us prepare to receive our answer when it comes. Rather than concentrating on our problems, that faith will keep our eyes on God and what he’s doing to answer our prayers when the time is right.

Look at it this way: If the Spirit has inspired you to ask for something that you need to glorify God and do his work, don’t give up just because God doesn’t grant your petition ASAP. Give him time to move Heaven and earth, to rearrange time and eternity, to intervene in peoples’ lives and do everything else that’s necessary to bring your answer.

The key is this: Think of God as your Heavenly Daddy (Romans 8:15) who wants to answer your request in the best way for you. Don’t give up just because he seems to be taking his time. Keep on asking him and growing in anticipation because you know that he will answer when the time is right and the lessons are learned. What he gives will be even better than what you asked!

Q. How are we to understand Matthew 23:8-10? Is it a sin to call someone rabbi, father, or master? Matt Harm, Port St. Lucie, FL

A. We must consider the setting to study this passage in context. In Matthew 22 Jesus had been confronted all day by his Jewish adversaries asking questions to trap him. Here was Jesus, who had come to bless people in bondage; but, their religious leaders were putting them in more bondage by stealing from them and burdening them with “commandments” God had not given. These leaders were placing themselves above the people they were supposed to serve and demanding that the people call them by titles of respect.

It was in this context that Matthew 23:8-10 recorded Jesus as saying, perhaps aside to his disciples, that they not follow the examples of the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. He wanted them to consider themselves equal servants of the people. And, as far as we know, none of the original apostles ever chose any titles of distinction for themselves.

I do not see the primary emphasis here as prohibiting such titles as rabbi or father or master. Rather, I think the lesson Jesus was teaching was that believers should serve in humility, not expecting any special distinction or honor. He applied what he meant in verses 11-12.

Jesus actually used all those titles in his teachings. He allowed people to call him rabbi; and, in Matthew 10:25, he used the same titles a servant used to address his master and lord. He never rebuked those who addressed their elders as father. Therefore, I understand this as another example of Oriental teaching by exaggeration so that his hearers might discern for themselves the real lesson of humility taught here.

According to Matthew 6:4 we are to let God reward openly what we do discretely. The greatest among us should consider ourselves merely servants doing our duty according to the parable in Luke 17:7-10, and in that attitude we will be honored. Certainly, Jesus does not object to our honoring those we deem worthy of respect; but the leader should not demand such honors from his followers.

Q. Are the “blood moons” in our forecasts the “signs in the sky” predicting the Second Coming of Jesus? Marjorie Kindiger, Chattanooga, TN

A. We in the eastern United States were disappointed this past Tuesday morning, April 15, that the skies were cloudy and we couldn’t see the first of the tetradia, or four, “blood moon” eclipses. This eclipse fell on the beginning of this year’s Jewish Passover. Next year there is another one predicted for April 4, 2015, which will also happen during Passover. The ones this October 8 and next year on September 28 will occur during the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. Historians have pointed out that some previous eclipses which occurred within a 2 year period were also on significant dates of Jewish history. Add to that a total solar eclipse next March 20 on the Jewish New Year of the Levitical calendar, and Bible students take note.

But, eclipses happen every so often. Sometimes conditions are such that the moon may appear to be red, or black, or some other color. And, as far as eclipses happening on Jewish holidays, what about those that didn’t happen on special Jewish days?

It is true that both Jews and Christians have scriptural predictions of such “wonders in the heavens” happening before the “great and notable day of the Lord.” In Acts 2:20 Peter preached about this in his Pentecostal sermon in which he quoted Joel 2:31. The timing of these wonders is given in Revelation 6:12-17 as happening when the Sixth Trumpet Judgment is sounded just before the Glorious Appearance of our Lord. That will be after Christians are removed at the Rapture and at the end of the Great Tribulation. Jesus confirmed in Matthew 24:29 that it will happen “after the tribulation of those days” when “the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light and the stars will fall from heaven.” Those will be supernatural signs earthlings have never seen before, not natural eclipses which happen often.

Although I respect the preaching of the Rev. John Hagee and other prophets of our day, my personal opinion is that these eclipses are not those predicted by Joel, Peter, or Jesus. Yet, believers are urged to warn everyone to be ready for the coming of our Lord at any time and to keep our eyes on the eastern sky from which our redemption will draw nigh (Matthew 24:27; Luke 21:28).

Q. If the Lord knows our destiny, why should we be concerned to do things that may put us at risk? Judy Beach, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. There’s no need to fear when we have God protecting us. First John 4:18 says perfect love casts out fear, and God’s love for us is perfect. He has promised that all things will work together for good to those who love the Lord, who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

But, we should be careful if we have a “que sera sera” attitude thinking we can do anything, and we’re invincible. That promise in Romans hinges on our being in God’s will – “called according to his purpose.” Yet, when God’s call and our obedience seem to put us at risk we can be content knowing that nothing will happen to us without first being filtered through our Father’s hands. Jesus said we are in his hands and, if that’s not enough, he said he is in the Father’s hands (John 10:28-29).

Being in the Father’s hands doesn’t mean we may not suffer or die, but it does mean that our eternal destiny is unshakable. Paul was in such a dilemma in Philippians 1:21-23. But, he concluded that, even if he died, it would be gain! So, even when we’re not in God’s perfect will, we still have the assurance that all who believe in Jesus will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

I believe God has 2 possible wills for each of us: a perfect will and a permissive will. In his perfect will we will be all he wants us to be and have all the blessings of Heaven we need. However, since none of us is perfect – and we’re certainly not always in God’s ideal will – he has a permissive will. That means when we detour out of his perfect will he can still bless us and protect us while he brings us back where we should have been. However, we won’t accomplish all we could have done if we had remained in his perfect will.

Either way we should never intentionally do things that needlessly put us at risk. If, however, we find ourselves in danger while attempting to obey God; we can know that he will “bring out the big guns” to deliver us or remove us from harm permanently by taking us to his home where we’ll never be at risk again (2 Corinthians 5:1-9).

Q. Is anything wrong with letting my children play with a Quija Board? How may I know if a game is harmful? Name withheld in VA

A. Quija was a popular board game in the fifties and sixties. It may still be available from Parker Brothers/Hasbro. The board had the letters of the alphabet and answers like: “Yes, No, Maybe.” The game was played by asking the Quija a question. As 2 people placed their hands on a sliding arrow their unconscious movements might cause the marker to move and spell out an answer. Sometimes it made sense and sometimes it didn’t. Although it was a harmless game, some people believed it had magical powers and associated it with the supernatural.

Few things are harmful in themselves; rather, it’s how we use them that makes them bad or good. Let me give some principles to decide if a game might be harmful:

1. Will the game cause physical, emotional, or spiritual harm? If so, there’s no need to go any farther: Leave it alone!

2. Will the game be used in a harmful way? Are you trying to reach some supernatural power to gain superiority for yourself? Then, leave it alone because Deuteronomy 18:9-13 says things like that are abomination to God.

3. Will having and playing the game cause someone else to stumble or mistake your association with evil? Then, based on 1 Corinthians 8:12-13 and 1 Thessalonians 5:22, believers should leave it alone.

4. Does your conscience tell you it’s questionable? Read Acts 24:16; Romans 2:15 and 13:5; and 1 John 3:20. If these apply, leave it alone.

5. Can you pray about it and ask God to bless it because you can imagine Jesus playing it with you? If not, then you’re fooling yourself; leave it alone.

6. If none of the above bothers you and you have God’s peace about it, you are free to play the game with a clear conscience.

You should be aware that having something that clearly identifies with Satanic powers, such as crystal balls, Tarot cards, the Satanic Bible, and any implements used to contact “the other side” may actually be an invitation for demonic spirits to invade your home and oppress those living there. You must never take lightly the supernatural battle all believers face and the wiles of the devil to deceive us (Ephesians 6:11). The rest of Ephesians 6 tells us how to wear our armor to withstand the evil one.

Q. Does God require the tithe through our local assembly or may we use it to help people in need? Tonya Martin, Lacrosse, VA

A. The tithe was a law under the Old Covenant. I still believe the tithe is the Lord’s. In Genesis 14:20 God led Abraham to tithe before the Jews knew they were supposed to do it. Also, in Genesis 28:22 Jacob promised to tithe before the law of the tithe was stated in Leviticus 27:30 (“The tithe…is the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord.”). And, Jesus told the Jews in Matthew 23:23 not to neglect the tithe. I do not find where God has taken that back. If it was pleasing to him before he commanded Israel to tithe, it’s surely a way for believers to acknowledge our stewardship today.

If they had to tithe in the Old Testament, then our goal under grace ought to begin with the tithe and add what we can as we feel led. Although the New Testament does not command the tithe, it teaches that all we have belongs to God (1 Corinthians 6:20). We are to give as God’s Spirit leads us individually. That means we pray about how much to give and where to give. Our guide for giving under our New Covenant is found in 1 Corinthians 16:2. There, we’re taught to plan our giving and put it away until a worship gathering. Then, we should give as God has prospered us. Further, 2 Corinthians 9:7 says we should give joyfully from our hearts.

The Old Covenant said in Malachi 3:10 to bring all the tithes into the storehouse. They only had 1 storehouse: the Tabernacle/Temple. Our New Testament instruction doesn’t say which storehouse, that’s for you and the Spirit to decide. However, if you’re a member of a church that honors God, you have an obligation to support that good work as you feel led. Having done that, I believe you’re free to pray and give an additional offering where your heart leads you (1 John 3:21).

I tithe my salary through my church and give my extra income tithes, and whatever I can add to it, to mission causes that are dear to my heart. Sometimes, I feel led to help individuals in need; and I believe God is pleased when I do that. In fact, it’s my practice to dedicate a few extra dollars and put them back in my wallet for the needy person I see on the street corner. Then, I can’t say I don’t have anything to give! I’ve already given it to God, and I let him lead as to how I use it. Remember, under our New Covenant God is looking on our hearts, not on the “letter of the law.”

Q. Do you ever use guest editorials for your column? 

A. Yes, I do when I find one that is worth repeating. And, this week I share a pastor’s column from the newsletter of First Baptist Church, Suffolk, VA, where I used to be on staff years ago. Dr. Thurman Hayes, Jr., was a young person there during my term of service, and now he is back home as their Senior Pastor.  Dr. Hayes writes:

“The will of the people will shift according to the whims of the culture. But the will of God stands forever. And make no mistake, God’s will for marriage and every other subject is found in his Word. His will never contradicts his Word, the Bible.

“God’s will for marriage is absolutely clear: ‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’ (Genesis 1:24). It ultimately does not matter how a politician or a judge define marriage. God defines it as heterosexual and monogamous. No law can ever change God’s law. ‘The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever’ (Isaiah 40:8)….

“The culture is rushing to applaud homosexuality. While we are called to love those who struggle with the sin of homosexuality, we must never say that any sin is OK, let alone applaud people for committing it. God’s Word is clear and absolutely unambiguous about homosexual behavior (see Romans 1 and many other passages). Anyone who would say that the Bible does not speak with total clarity to this issue has either never read the Bible are is simply not being intellectually honest. God’s word (and his final, unalterable will) on the subject could not be any clearer than it is – all sex outside of marriage…is sin. That includes homosexual sex, premarital sex, and adultery. It also includes lust in our hearts.

“Are you up to the challenge of being a Bible-believing Christian in twenty-first century America? Do you stand on God’s Word? Will you do so without compromise? Will you do so with love? Ephesians 4:15 says that Christians are to be ‘speaking the truth in love.’ Both of these things – truth and love – are vital. Our Lord was ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). These are the two things that must characterize us as God’s people. We must courageously speak the truth, but compassionately do so in love, in grace. That’s not always easy, but it is our calling in this world.”

Q. What does the Bible say about communicating with the dead, and do the dead ever come back? Max McGhee, San Clemente, CA

A. A lot of movies today deal with zombies which have become a popular topic for young people, but of course there are none because life and death belong to God. His Word says in Hebrews 9:27 that judgment follows death for the unsaved. The only time we have the walking dead is in Matthew 27:52-53 when some Old Testament saints were allowed to testify to Jesus’ resurrection as he transported Paradise heavenward.

Jesus told a parable in Luke 16 about a rich man in the place of the unsaved dead asking that dead Lazarus take a message to warn his brothers not to come to that place. Abraham told him a great gulf is fixed around Hades so that no one can pass back to this world (verse 26). That means that people who claim to have had visitations from the dead are either lying, imagining it, or they have been deceived by demons.

The exceptions to that rule are those saved people the Lord has allowed to come back for his purposes. Moses and Elijah appeared at the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17 and Mark 9, and Revelation 11 says they will come again in the last days. The prophets and Jesus sometimes raised the dead, and Jesus himself returned from his grave.

A notable exception is recorded in 1 Samuel 28 when King Saul asked a witch at Endor to bring the prophet Samuel back from the dead. Although such practices of consulting the dead are forbidden in Exodus 22:18 and Deuteronomy 18:10, God honored Saul’s request and allowed Samuel to return. This “witch” was a fake who didn’t expect Samuel to return because in verse 12 she screamed when he actually appeared. This was further evidence of Saul’s disobedience, therefore Samuel told him his life and reign would end the next day. It happened as Samuel predicted.

Paul warned in Galatians 5:20 that those who practice witchcraft will not enter Heaven. Instead, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit in John 14:26 as the Companion and Guide for all believers. And, James 1:5 says if we need wisdom for any decision we should ask God and he will provide it graciously.

Q. Is there a special significance in John 20:12 for the 2 angels in the tomb of Jesus and where they were positioned? Tonya Brown, Assistant Director of Quality, DFW Airport, TX

A. Every word God records for us in the Holy Bible is significant! It comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4) and it endures forever. “The grass withers and the flower fades but the word of our God shall stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Jesus said in John 17:17, “Thy word is truth.” He didn’t say “true,” but “truth” because “true” may change with circumstances, but “truth” is a principle that endures forever.

Mary saw 2 persons perhaps because Deuteronomy 19:15 and Matthew 18:16 say 2 witnesses declare a matter to be true. By the way, Luke 24:4 says there were 2 men at the tomb in shining garments and he further says in Acts 1:10 that 2 men gave testimony at the ascension of Jesus. These could have been the same “angels” Mary saw, or they may have been the same 2 men who appeared at the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:2 identified as Moses and Elijah. They are the 2 “olive trees and candlesticks” of Zechariah 4:11-14 identified in Revelation 11:3-6 again as Moses and Elijah. The great law-giver and the greatest of the prophets will testify to the Jews that Jesus is their promised Messiah. This will result in 144,000 Jews being called as Christian evangelists in the last half of the Tribulation (Revelation 7).

I do think the position of Mary’s 2 angels back in John 20:12 was significant. One was at the head of the burial slab where Jesus had lain and the other was at the foot. Peter spoke of angels’ curiosity in 1 Peter 1:12, and Daniel 4:17 calls them Watchers as to why God would save sinful men. They could have been measuring the small degree to which the God of Creation limited himself in human flesh. But, I think they were pointing back to Exodus 25:18-19 where 2 cherubic angels were placed at the ends of the Ark of the Covenant looking down at the Mercy Seat where the sacrificial blood was accepted by God. These angels were looking at the symbol of God’s new covenant, the empty tomb, where holy blood was accepted for the sins of the world.

There’s so much in every word God has recorded for us. Study it prayerfully and ask God to explain what you don’t understand (James 1:5).

 

Q. What was the custom Paul was addressing in 1 Corinthians 8 about eating meat offered to idols? Anita Cole Alcorn, Oak Ridge, TN
A. Paul was addressing Roman Christians who lived in Corinth. Their worship offerings were different from those of the Jews. Many of the Hebrew offerings God had prescribed in Leviticus were burnt offerings. Sometimes the whole animal was burnt; at other times only parts of the animal were offered. Other worship gifts might be grain offerings. These were waved to present them to the Lord. Other oblations might be oil or wine that was poured over the altar, or cakes of bread that were baked before the Lord. The left-over animal parts, grain, and bread offerings that were not consumed were given to the priests for their families.

Citizens of Corinth, however, usually did not offer burnt offerings. They set out fresh fruit, vegetable, and meat offerings before their idols each day and replaced them the next day. The day-old offerings were then sold in the markets at greatly reduced prices. The poor people were glad to get those bargains!

Many of the Christians in Corinth were among the poor who shopped at the bargain markets. However, some Christians felt they were participating in – or at least placing approval on – the idol worship if they ate those offerings. Of course, Paul knew the food was harmless, and Christians who were strong in their faith could eat it without a problem. But, new believers might be led astray thinking seasoned Christians were saying it’s OK to participate in idol worship.

Paul advised his readers to obey their consciences and consider if an innocent act of eating such food would lead someone else to worship idols. His conclusion in 1 Corinthians 8:8-13 can be summarized as: “I know such meat hasn’t been tainted by imaginary gods, but if eating meat will lead someone astray, I won’t eat any meat again!”

This gives us an example to follow the spirit of Paul’s words. Paul is not saying don’t eat meat. God approved of proper meat consumption in Genesis 9:3 and Acts 10:11-13. Paul is teaching that we should be careful about the impressions we leave with others, lest our seemingly innocent actions may cause another person to sin.

Q. What is meant in Revelation 7:3-4 by God’s servants being sealed in their foreheads? Clarke Blankenship, Chester, VA

A. I understand the Revelation’s record of future events to be largely chronological except for the three-fold judgments which may be layered simultaneously. But, the interludes and flashbacks given for explanation are not necessarily in chronological order. The appearance of the Two Witnesses is recorded in chapter 11 where verse 6 identifies them as Moses and Elijah, yet chapter 7 may record their converts. When the greatest of the Jewish law-givers and prophets identify Jesus as their Messiah many Jews will trust in him, and 144,000 of them will become Christian evangelists. This will complete God’s promise to Abraham as his descendants, indeed, will be a blessing to the whole world (Genesis 22:18). These are said to be sealed in their foreheads.

Commentaries differ as to whether this sealing is a physical or spiritual mark. The same question could be asked about Cain in Genesis 4:15. That verse reads that God gave Cain a signal (mark, sign, or token). That could have been some sign of encouragement to Cain that no one would kill him, or it may have been a visible mark on him to warn others not to kill him.

If physical marks are placed on the 144,000 servants in Revelation 7 they would be like bond-servants who were branded as their master’s property: a warning for Satan’s men not to touch them. It could also identify these preachers as true messengers from God. However, if these are spiritual sealings they might be an invisible bubble of protection around each of these Jewish evangelists. The sealing in their foreheads could mean their thoughts and words are those of God even as they are sheltered from catastrophic winds (verses 1-3).

Whatever the nature of their sealing, these preachers will be supernaturally protected so that Antichrist can’t harm them. In Revelation 14 we see all 144,000 standing safely on Mt. Zion at the end of the Tribulation praising God. Their preaching will result in many people all over the world being saved even though Antichrist will threaten death to their converts. Theirs is a type of the security of every believer whom Paul assured in Ephesians 1:13 is “sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise.”   

Q. Are we breaking the third commandment of Exodus 20:7 by substituting LORD for God’s name in Scripture? Larry McKibben, Nesbit, MS

A. Bible names indicated character. When we say God’s name is holy, or hallowed, it means his character is holy, sinless, and uniquely set apart above all others.

The first Hebrew name God gave Moses to use for himself throughout Genesis is Elohim meaning, “Strong or Almighty One.” But, that name was a generic name used for all gods. Early men wanted to know God’s personal name to know his character. So, Moses asked his name in Exodus 3:13-14. God said his name is “I AM.” In Hebrew, God used 4 consonants we call the Tetragrammaton. We usually render them as JHVH. They form the root of the Hebrew verb “to be.” That means by extension that God has always existed and is trustworthy. But, his name sounded incomplete, and God knew people would ask: “I am…what?” God said tell them “I Am That (Who or What) I Am.” God meant he can only be described in terms of himself, and we can only know about God what he chooses to reveal to us.

Moses considered God’s name too holy to pronounce, so God came to be known as “the God who has no name.” Early scribes and the Septuagint translators (the 70 scholars who translated the Pentateuch into Greek for Pharaoh’s library) didn’t know what to do with JHVH, so they wrote “memra” (Hebrew for Word) each time they came to those letters. However, when the Jews read it, they pronounced it “Aedonai” (Hebrew for Lord). John 1:1 explains who that Word is. Revelation 19:13 later confirmed what John wrote years before: That Word is Jesus.

English translators took the vowels from Aedonai (e, o, a) and added them to JHVH to make “Jehovah” as a guess for God’s name. However, since the Hebrew J could also be a Y and the V could be a W, we have ancient writings of God’s name spelled “Yahweh,” or “Yahveh.” Some Bibles now use LORD (all caps in your Old Testament) for these consonants making God’s name.

I don’t think we’re being irreverent because God looks on our hearts. The substitution of LORD for the Divine Name is an effort to keep his holiness while showing the uniqueness of his name. I think God is more concerned with how we live to honor the character of his name than how we write his name.

Q. What does the Bible say about the distribution of wealth to make the gap smaller between rich and poor? Bob Grosz, Sandston, VA

A. I agree that there has always been a gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” of our world. Often, this has caused social and governmental problems including religious debates. Many people in Bible times believed riches, good health, and temporal blessings were signs of God’s favor. The whole book of Job refutes this. The disciples of Jesus asked in John 9:1-2 if God had let a man be blind because of his sins. Jesus’ answer was “No.” When it was popular to believe wealth indicated God’s favor, Jesus shocked his listeners in Luke 18:24 by saying it’s hard for rich people to enter God’s Kingdom.

That debate about blessing and blame and how to “level the field” is in the spotlight again. Our government is proposing various plans to take from the rich and give to the poor. You’re asking if God has anything to say.

Some people think the early church in Jerusalem right after Pentecost was communistic because Acts 2:44 says they had all things in common. That wasn’t communism or socialism where the state takes ownership of personal possessions and decides how to distribute them. They do that to keep everyone in equal submission to the state. Those early believers were so controlled by God’s Spirit and so filled with his love that they voluntarily shared their abundance with those in need. That’s God’s teaching about the distribution of wealth. It’s spelled out in such scriptures as Romans 12:13, 20; 1 Timothy 5:16; James 1:27; and 1 John 3:17.

The Bible doesn’t teach that our possessions are to be taken away by the state and given to the poor. Rather, as Jesus did with the rich ruler in Matthew 19:21, the New Testament challenges each individual believer to share freely with those in need who cross our paths. We should follow the example of Acts 4:32-35. If the Church practiced this, there would be no need for many social organizations which fill this gap today.

So, let’s not wait for the government to solve the problems of the poor, but let each person do what we can to minister, train, and encourage the indigent around us. If we do this in Jesus’ name he will be glorified (Mark 9:41) and ours will be a better place to live.

Q. If we believe God makes no mistakes, how are we to understand his repenting in 1 Samuel 15:11? Justin Laib, Round Lake, IL

A. The King James Bible in 1 Samuel 15:11 records God’s saying to Samuel, “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king.” In most other versions that verb vacillates between forms of “repent” and “regret.” The Hebrew word for repent there actually means “to sigh or breath heavily” as if to be sorry. The same word is used again in verse 35. However, verse 29 says God is not a man that he should repent. So, yours is a valid question to ask!

Let me share how I reconcile the thought of an all-knowing God regretting something he has done: I understand it best by remembering that we often describe God in anthropomorphic terms; ie., we refer to him with human characteristics. We talk of God as having eyes and ears, heart and hands; but Jesus said in John 4:24 that God is a spirit. Yet, God describes himself that way. In Psalm 34:15 God inspired David to write, “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.” He allows us to think of him in terms we can understand.

Thinking of God as repenting or regretting some previous action is a way to understand why God may change his behavior toward a person. Our English word “repent” means to make a 180 degree turn and go in a different direction. If we think of God as repenting, it simply means that he has changed the way he will relate to someone. And, that’s because the individual failed God’s expectations and reached a point of no return. It certainly doesn’t mean that God has made a mistake; or, in this case, that God didn’t know King Saul would be a poor king. God knew full well what Saul would do, but he was the best man for the job at the time the people were demanding a king (1 Samuel 8:5).

How slow we are to learn that God usually lets us do what we’re determined to do, because that’s the best way to teach us to trust his way! When Saul continually disobeyed God, God eventually stopped blessing his reign and prepared to remove him. So, we can still believe an all-wise God never makes a mistake, but our Heavenly Father is teaching his children in terms we can understand.

 

Q. The Bible teaches that believers will be rewarded for good efforts. What kind of rewards may we expect? Sharon Harbaugh, Williamsburg, VA

A. Many places in the Bible promise rewards. As early as Genesis 15:1 God promised Abram he would shield him from danger and give him earthly rewards. Proverbs 16:31 teaches that living a long life is one of God’s rewards for righteous people. The same is a conditional promise in the fifth Commandment for one who respects his parents (Exodus 20:12). Some of Jesus’ parables in Luke 19 picture rewards of more money or cities to rule over for the faithful even though they were already rich. On the other hand, Job 15:31 promises more evil as a reward for those who are evil.

Beginning with Daniel 12:13 the emphasis seems to shift more to rewards promised at the end of life. In Matthew 5:12 Jesus assured great rewards in Heaven for the righteous. He also said in Revelation 22:12, “Behold I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”

Some of those rewards are pictured as crowns. Five crowns for various acts of faithfulness are mentioned in the following scriptures: 1 Corinthians 9:24-25; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4 and Revelation 2:10. But, what will we do with those crowns? Revelation 4:9-11 says we will lay our crowns at Jesus’ feet because only he is worthy of all honor and glory. Anything we seem to accomplish, we have done so in his strength.

Some preachers believe our dwellings in Heaven will reflect our rewards. They suppose Jesus is preparing our dwelling places with the materials we send ahead, perhaps with the gold, silver, and precious stones Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:12. Yet, we are told in Revelation 21:19 that our Heavenly city will have walls of diamonds, streets of gold, and foundations of many precious stones. The Water of Life and Trees of Life (plural) will be other rewards in eternity for the saved.

While I don’t think we should be working primarily for the rewards, I also think it’s alright to lay up as many rewards as we can, because it will please Jesus to be able to say, “Well done!”

Q. How do I answer people who accuse me of being a narrow- minded fanatic for believing Jesus is the only way to God? Name withheld by request

A. I believe you will hear accusations like this more and more as we move more into a post-Christian world. Just think how conditions have deteriorated in our lifetimes. But, this should not discourage believers because Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24:9-10, 37 that such would happen before his return. It is testimony that the Bible is true and that Jesus is coming soon. In fact, he said in verse 34 that generation that saw all these things in Matthew 24 happening would not pass before he returns.

As to people calling you a fanatic: You didn’t make that statement; Jesus did! You’re just quoting Jesus when he said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” He further said in John 8:24, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (NASB). Peter also echoed, “Neither is there salvation in any other…” (Acts 4:12). And, the apostle Paul testified in 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

To understand this we must go to the only Book that explains it – not the Koran of the Muslims, nor the Bhagavad Gita of the Hindus, nor the words of Confucius. All these have fictitious accounts, if any, of the beginning of the world. It makes more sense to believe the Bible’s account of Intelligent Design behind an orderly creation than to believe evolution’s theory that everything came from nothing. Have you ever heard of an explosion bringing orderly results? Yet, we’re supposed to believe a Big Bang brought this complicated universe into existence!

The Bible explains that mankind broke God’s laws and reaped the penalty of death. However, this God who created us to bring him pleasure (Revelation 4:11) and to be his friends (John 15:15) loved us so much (John 3:16), he refused to let us die without a chance to be redeemed. So, this God put on a human body and came as Jesus to die in our place because there is no other way to be reconciled to God. Responding to his invitation in Matthew 11:28 to return to God by way of Jesus, we are saved. That’s not fanaticism; that’s just fact!

Q. If the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-2 before the Flood were angels, how did they bear children with the daughters of men; and why aren’t they still doing it? Lisa Setliff, Meadows of Dan, VA

A. You’ve hit on one of those difficult questions which has been debated for centuries. I can’t give you a definite answer, and I doubt that anyone can. I can, however, list several schools of thought on this question.

Some Bible teachers keep this entirely human with the “sons of God” being a reference to the Godly line of Seth and the daughters of men being a reference to the line of Cain. The Genesis record divides Adam’s descendants into 2 clans. The line of Cain is given in Genesis 4:16-24. The descendants of Seth are listed from Genesis 4:25-5:32. The sons of God would be those who served God, and the daughters of men would be of those families that didn’t worship God.

Against that interpretation we could argue: There are many New Testament scriptures labeling the redeemed as sons of God, but none in the Old Testament. The 3 other Old Testament references to this title are all in Job where this phrase refers to angels. That causes us to ask: If they were just humans, who were the “men of renown” – the Nephalim (Hebrew for renown in Genesis 6:4) that came from such unions? Consider, also, that every generation has seen intermarriage between believers and non-believers. That hardly seems a reason for God’s destruction of the Race.

However, if we’re talking about angels (who used to be sons of God but were then following Satan), we have a valid question and a reason for God to destroy the Race. The problem here involves spiritual angels from the eternal realm uniting with human women from the earthly realm; and Bible scholars have long believed angels to be sexless based on Matthew 22:30 and other passages. So, these demons would have to possess human bodies to cohabitate with women and bear children of renown (monster half-breeds?) causing God to wipe the earth and start over.

As I said, we don’t know the answer because we don’t know the power of angels; but something significant happened to bring major consequences. We know that Satan has always wanted to play God and rule over humans. Questions still unanswered are: Why were these fallen angels still called sons of God, and why haven’t they continued to do this after the Flood?

Or, could it be that the whole world was so wicked the Flood was a graphic description of the destruction sin reaps? Let me know when you find out!

Q. Can you tell me “the rest of the story” of what happened to King Herod who tried to kill baby Jesus? Donville Jones, Knockpatrick, Jamaica

A. Herod I, who gave himself the title of Herod the Great, bought the privilege of being appointed King of Judea from Augustus Caesar. He reigned as supreme dictator from 37 B.C. until his death in 4 A.D. Being an Edomite, he had little respect for the Jews and their religious customs. However, in an attempt to buy favor, he ordered the construction of a temple even more glorious than Solomon’s temple. It was completed in 67 A.D. only to be destroyed 3 years later.

King Herod was a wicked man, killing one of his 10 wives and her family, including all his own children born to her. Five days before his death he executed his son, Antipater, who was a contender for his throne. (What else would you expect from a man whose name means “Against Father?”) So, it didn’t require a second thought to order the killing of babies in Bethlehem.

The second chapter of Matthew records the fulfillment of Isaiah 60:6 when some Jewish priests from Sheba in Persia, east of Jerusalem, came in a great caravan to Herod’s palace. They told him they believed Numbers 24:17 referred to a brilliant star they had seen in their eastern land. They believed it marked the birth of a new ruler over Israel. Herod’s advisors told him Micah 5:2 predicted that such a ruler would be born in Bethlehem. Since it may have been almost 2 years since the Magi had seen that star, Herod ordered Bethlehem’s boys, 2 years and under, to be killed. However, God warned the baby’s father to flee with his family to Egypt.

Herod didn’t know it, but the God he didn’t believe in had written about Herod hundreds of years before. Jeremiah 31:15 had predicted the slaying of the children of Rachel whom Bethlehemites considered their ancestral mother. Hosea 11:1 had predicted that God’s Son would be in Egypt. Later, John recorded the whole picture in Revelation 12:3-4. Herod was the instrument of the Great Red Dragon, Satan, trying to devour the baby. But, the baby was God in the flesh; and God had the last word. At age 70, King Herod died an agonizing death so awful he tried to commit suicide, but he only succeeded in inflicting more pain on himself. Yet, the baby grew up to fulfill his destiny of becoming Savior to all who will call upon him.

 

Q. Please explain from Luke 12:51-53 how Jesus can be the Prince of Peace and yet cause division. Kenneth Harris, Hopewell, VA 

A. Luke is quoting Jesus as saying he didn’t come to bring peace on earth, but division. Further, he said even members of the same family would be against each other because of him. That sounds strange, especially at Christmas when we remember the angels’ message to the shepherds. Luke 2:14 records, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Isaiah 9:6 says of the child “born unto us…his name shall be called…the Prince of Peace.”

We must understand Luke 12:51-53 in its context. In verses 35-49 Jesus was talking about his second coming. But, in verse 50, he said before those prophecies can happen his “baptism” must “be accomplished.” He didn’t mean his water baptism, but God’s mission for his first coming. That will result in division, because Satan is opposing a rival king in his domain. That struggle is already happening: Our society is becoming more anti-Christian, Jesus’ enemies want to take Christ out of Christmas, do away with nativity scenes, remove the Ten Commandments and crosses. As Luke said, people will turn against family members if they don’t agree theologically.

So, what do we do with the promise of “peace, good will toward men” to be brought by the Prince of Peace? The answer is in that question! Only when the Prince of Peace is allowed to rule can there be true peace and good will toward men. But, that won’t happen universally until Christ’s second coming.

In Isaiah 9:6 you may observe several skips in time. The first phrase jumps 33 years from a baby “child” who can only be born, to a grown “son” who can only be given to die for our sins. Then, it jumps to the second coming millennial reign of Christ when “the government shall be upon his shoulder.” That’s when Jesus will be accepted as our “Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” For now, I prefer rendering Luke 2:14 as a promise of, “peace within men of good will toward God.”

So, until Christ returns as the Prince of Peace, Satan will continue to cause division. The old Serpent won’t rest until he’s confined to the Lake of Fire, because even when he’s let out of the Pit, he’ll still lead a rebellion against King Jesus (Revelation 20:3, 7-10). The only way you can know real peace on earth now is inwardly as you invite Jesus to reign within your heart.

 

Q. Why do some people write Xmas instead of Christmas? Dora Gurganus, Capron, VA

A. It’s a carry-over from the early years of last century. Either they did it then or they remember their parents writing Xmas instead of Christmas. It took up less space on a store window or in a newspaper ad. Xmas was a common abbreviation many people used for Christmas. They meant no disrespect. Most everyone did it.

Some people thought X was the closest letter we have for a cross, and the cross stood for Jesus.

However, in the latter part of last century, believers began to take offense to that way of writing Christmas. Many people thought it was an effort to X Christ out of Christmas. So, campaigns spread across the country to keep Christ in Christmas and not X him out.

Actually, Xmas has been used for centuries by theologians. It did not stand for the cross, nor was it an attempt to remove Christ. In fact, it’s not really an X in Xmas. It’s the Greek character Chi which is the first letter spelling Christ in the Greek language of the New Testament. In liturgical churches you might see what looks like an X or the letters Chi in the center of a cross. This is meant to picture Christ on a cross.         

Since I studied Greek in seminary, I and my fellow classmates often wrote Chi for Christ when we were taking notes in class. X’ian was my abbreviation for Christian and X’ity was the way I wrote Christianity. Of course, I didn’t use Xmas where other people might read it!

But, when we get down to it, semantics is the least of our worries. Our society today is crowding Christ out of his birthday celebration. And, believers often contribute to this fallacy when we let holly take the place of holiness, or Christmas trees shine brighter than the cross, or Santa replace Christ in our traditions.

So, let’s join with Paul in the spirit of Romans 1:16 and pick up the campaign again to put Christ back in Christmas. Wish each other “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.” Wear those buttons reminding folks that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” and, “Christ is the Must in Christmas!” Send scriptural cards about the real meaning of Christmas rather than secular cards about Santa. Invite the Holy Spirit to be the real Spirit of Christmas giving the love and compassion of Christ through you to family, friends, and especially to those in need: “…that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18).

Q. With so many uncertainties today, are there any truths we can know for certain? (Writer requested to be anonymous)  

A. Yes, God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). It has stood the tests of time and every statement of fact by God is absolutely trustworthy. Relativism and situational ethics may be all around us but there are eternal truths that do not change. Some of the following came from an old devotional I found by someone with the initials JDM.

We can know that Jesus Christ is God because he said in John 10:30, “I and my Father are one.” “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). We can know the only way to the Father is through the Son (John 14:6).

We can know we are in God’s own family when we trust Jesus: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.” (1 John 3:2). Therefore, we can know we have eternal life: “And they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). In addition to John 3:16, John 6:47 also assures we can know that we are saved: “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” John testified: “These things are written that ye may know that ye have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

We can know God hears our prayers: “If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us” (1 John 5:14); and Jesus promised in John 14:14, “If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” Even in the Old Testament God promised: “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).

In a world of changing mores when our peers no longer believe the Bible, God’s children can know how to act: “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done” (John 13:15). We can know that he wants us to take every opportunity to speak on his behalf: “Be always ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

In addition to all the preceding we can know also that those who trust in Christ have hope for a better future: “I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). And we can know God has “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).

Q. Is Thanksgiving a Christian holiday and, if so, why? Dr. Don Crain, Mechanicsville, VA

A. Christianity is actually a Judeo-Christian faith, rooted in the Old Testament and expanded in the New Testament. Any old covenant precedent that isn’t set aside in our new covenant is available for Christian use. So, we ask, “Is Thanksgiving Biblical?”

Although not a holiday, the first mention of thanksgiving in the Bible is found in Leviticus, chapter 7, where Moses gave instructions for an offering to restore peace with God. There, Israel was told they might include an offering of thanksgiving with their peace offering. This was optional, because in chapter 22, God said sacrifices of thanksgiving were to be self-initiated and of free will.

In Psalm 35 David said he would offer thanks before the congregation in public worship. In fact, the giving of thanks is the theme of many Psalms, such as 30:4; 50:14; 69:30; 95:2; 100:4; and the many other times they enjoin us to “Give thanks unto the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.” This was also Daniel’s habit to offer thanks 3 times every day. But, is it continued in the New Testament?

Yes; 8 times in the gospels Jesus, himself, gave thanks before eating or feeding others. In Matthew 11:25 and Luke 10:21 Jesus said thanks in his public prayers, and in John 11 he offered thanks before raising Lazarus. In Luke 17 Jesus commended the one leper out of ten who returned to give him thanks for being healed. Paul admonished the Ephesians in 5:20 to give thanks in the name of Jesus for all things. Even the angels who live daily in God’s presence will offer thanks in Revelation 7:12. In Revelation 11:17 they’ll be joined by all the saints in Heaven thanking God for his awesome power.

I believe Thanksgiving transcends any religion and is appropriate everywhere because it springs from the heart’s desire to show gratitude. We’re fortunate that our forefathers and leaders today in America have set aside a season to encourage national Thanksgiving to God.

Q. Does 1 Timothy 4:1 teach that believers will be possessed by demons in the last days? J.B., Richmond, VA

A. First and Second Timothy and Titus are called Pastoral Epistles written by Paul to young pastors giving advice for their ministries. After his first imprisonment, Paul left Timothy at Ephesus to guard against false teachers and appoint church officers. Eventually, Timothy became their pastor. When Paul was delayed from coming to help Timothy, he sent his instructions by letter.

As Paul was writing Tim he seemed to be interrupted by a special revelation from the Holy Spirit. In the fourth chapter, verse 1, he wrote: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.” How this message came to Paul is unknown, but Paul knew it was a definite word from God. It concerned “latter times,” which could mean anytime from the immediate future to the Second Coming. Since Paul was warning Timothy about a coming heresy, it would seem that Paul expected it to happen in the near future.

Paul was not predicting that true believers would lose their salvation and become demon possessed. The Holy Spirit in believers won’t let demons possess us. Paul was saying there would be a departure from the doctrines of the faith. This may be the same “falling away” he warned about in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Of course, all temptations to disbelieve the Bible come from those “seducing spirits” Paul referred to in 1 Timothy 4:1.” John also warned in 1 John 4:3 of the “spirit of antichrist” already at work. Today we still have people who try to control others in the name of religion saying certain foods are forbidden and that marriage is old fashioned (1 Timothy 4:3). Or, they change what the Bible says about marriage being for one man and one woman.

Don’t excuse this by saying, “These are just signs of the times.” They are signs proving that events are happening just as God predicted, and we may be in the latter days when Jesus will return soon.

Q. Please explain who the “watchers” are in Daniel 4:17. Owen Vancleave, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Daniel 4:17 reads in the King James, “This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.”

The term “watchers” in the Bible is only found in the book of Daniel. It’s the same as “holy ones” also in that verse. This word appears in other Babylonian/Persian writings referring to angels. Perhaps, God has an order of angels responsible to watch over world leaders and report how they fulfill God’s plans.

Since chapter 4 is written in the words of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, it’s natural that he would use that word in verses 13 and 17 for the holy ones he saw in a dream. When the King asked for an interpretation of his vision, Daniel said it was a warning that, because of his pride, the King would become like a wild animal for 7 years. God would show him that “the most High rules in the kingdoms of men.” The next year that prophecy was fulfilled, and for 7 years the king was insane acting like a grazing animal. When his mind was restored, Nebuchadnezzar testified that he then knew  God is in complete control over who he sets over nations – even using the basest of men to fulfill his purpose. King Neb had been that kind of vile ruler over much of the civilized world, but after that experience he confessed his faith in Daniel’s God. I believe we’ll see Nebuchadnezzar in Heaven!

Whether people want to admit it or not, God is very much involved in the affairs of nations. Genesis 11:9 tells of the beginning of nations when God scattered them from Babel. Acts 17:26 says God appoints their boundaries, and Job 12:23 records how God even controls the size of nations and their strength. I believe that’s why Romans 13: 1 and 7, and 1 Peter 2:17 say we should give honor to those in authority over us. God is using them to fulfill his purpose. We can pray for the removal of rulers, but we must respect their office as allowed by God until he removes them.

Natural curiosity wants to learn more about angelic watchers. Better yet is the effort to please God who watches everything and moves nations and men for the good of those who serve him (Romans 8:28).

Q. With our Supreme Court debating prayer before a town meeting, didn’t Jesus say we shouldn’t pray in public? M. W., Chesterfield County, VA

A. Jesus did say in Matthew 6:6 to enter into your closet and pray in secret. However, he said that in the context of teaching proper public praying (verse 7). Some of those defending 2 New York State men whose case is before our Supreme Court are quoting this verse to support their objection to prayer before town council meetings. Yet, let’s be balanced: If we’re going to take this statement literally, then the only place we may pray is in closets! Surely, Jesus didn’t mean that!

Prayer is personal, spiritual communication with God. Where does meaningful communication begin? In our minds! Jesus was teaching that when we pray to our Father, we ought to close out the world and think of ourselves alone with God. We certainly shouldn’t pray to impress those around us. We should direct our prayers from the secret places of our hearts to the heart of God. Jesus taught that God will be more inclined to grant those requests.

Jesus was not opposed to public prayer, nor did he put limitations on where and when we may pray. He implied in Matthew 18:19 that we may pray with others. Jesus, himself, prayed publicly when he blessed the food before feeding the 5,000 in Matthew 14 and the 4,000 in Matthew 15. He taught his disciples to pray publicly in Luke 11:1-4, and in John 11:41-42 Jesus prayed aloud so that the crowd could hear him.

Our U. S. Constitution guarantees freedom to practice our religious convictions. That certainly includes prayer. Therefore, I believe voluntary and spontaneous prayer should be allowed anywhere an individual wishes to pray. However, those rights end when we impose on the freedom of others. Remember, that our government may not impose state sponsored prayers upon anyone; therefore, some people may object if prayer is included in a government order of business. At the same time, prayer should not be outlawed if an individual wishes to express that freedom. If it is inappropriate, each of us may still offer our own prayers in the secret places of our minds, and the Father of those who love Jesus will hear them.

Q. Does the Bible prohibit cremation? Ruth McDonald, Ormond Beach, FL

A. Crematoriums may use extreme heat and evaporation to reduce human remains to ashes, although there is an alternate process using water and chemicals. Cremation is popular today largely because it’s less expensive, and it may not require internment in a cemetery plot. Most families who choose cremation follow it with a simple memorial service and the family’s choice to keep or dispose of the ashes. However, some people still choose burial for cremation remains after a traditional funeral service.

The Bible doesn’t mention cremation as a common practice, nor does it specifically prohibit it. I have found that, when the Bible is silent on an issue, God leaves the choice to us. However, Christians should always study scriptural principles and precedents while praying for guidance to make God-honoring decisions.

While it’s true that cremation is practiced in many non-Christian cultures, so are a lot of other things the western world has adopted. Consider these scriptures that may discourage cremation: Jeremiah 32:35 forbids offering live children as fiery sacrifices. Genesis 19 tells of fire destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and Revelation 20:15 says everlasting fire is the fate of the wicked.  Numbers 11:1 records God’s sending fire to consume the complainers among the Children of Israel. First Corinthians 6:19-20 teaches that our bodies are not our own because we are bought with a price to be the temples of the Holy Spirit. And, the most obvious objections come from the example that Jesus was buried and that, “We are buried with Christ” in baptism (Romans 6:4). Then, there’s the Christian tradition of burying the body facing east so we will rise to meet Christ on Resurrection Day.

By contrast, many other scriptures associate fire with God in a positive way. In his first chapter Ezekiel saw God as a Being of fire from his waist down, and Hebrews 1:7 says angels are fiery ministers. Elijah was taken to God accompanied by a chariot of fire. Leviticus 9:24 and Exodus 29:18 say burnt offering were a sweet savor to God. First Samuel 31:12 tells of valiant men retrieving the bodies of King Saul and his sons to burn them rather than let the Philistines desecrate them.

If God can retrieve the molecules of bodies which have decayed, been buried at sea, eaten by wild animals, blown to bits, or burnt in a fiery building and make new celestial bodies for us, surely he can do the same for those cremated. I believe cremation is a matter of personal preference, neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture; therefore, we should respect the decisions individuals and families make for final remains.

Q. With the Walking Dead and Zombie Apocalypse craze so popular now, does the Bible say such a thing will ever happen? Paul Voigt, Colonial Heights , VA

A. I’m hearing that rumors are going around saying the Revelation predicts the dead walking in the end times. People are getting all excited thinking Scripture is about to be fulfilled. But, Satan is just confusing them! The only place where I know a person might get such an idea from the Revelation is in chapter 6 which describes what we’ve come to call the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The last horse is Death, and artists have pictured Hell as a man walking behind that pale horse. But, these are not physical horses, and Hell can’t walk! The first horse represents Antichrist, and the horses that follow are word pictures showing that Antichrist’s rule will be characterized by war, famine, and death.

Only rarely have the dead been brought back to life by Jesus or a prophet or apostle. And, they weren’t the dead walking; they truly came back to life. When that has happened, it was God who allowed it because he is the Creator; and life and death are in his hands. God proved that Jesus had that power when Matthew 27:52-53 records the saved dead appearing in Jerusalem to testify to Jesus’ resurrection. However, elsewhere, God plainly says in Hebrews 9:27 that after men die they answer to God in judgment. Jesus also taught in Luke 16 that a Hell of flames immediately awaits the unsaved when they die, and verse 26 says they cannot cross the gulf that keeps the unsaved dead in Hell.

While I’m glad some people recognize that we may be living in the last days before Jesus comes, the people who are talking about zombies obviously do not understand the Bible. A zombie apocalypse is absolutely not going to happen! Yet, I believe we are in the last days and, rather than concentrating on a myth about the dead walking, we should prepare to meet God by trusting Jesus as our Savior. The real truth is: Those who don’t serve Jesus will experience the reality of Hell, but they won’t see any zombies coming out!

Q. What do you think the “sign of the Son of Man” will be that heralds the Second Coming of Jesus? J. B., Richmond, VA

A. You’re referring to Matthew 24:30 where Jesus predicted in the King James Version, “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven….” Unlike some popular Bible fiction writers who dramatize the Second Coming, I don’t think a blazing cross, or any other wonder, will appear in the sky several days before the Second Coming of Jesus.

In answer to his disciples’ questions at the beginning of the chapter, Matthew 24 records Jesus’ abbreviated description of the threefold plagues detailed in The Revelation’s chapters 6-18. These supernatural judgments will be a 7 year fanfare announcing the entrance of the King of Kings. If the unsaved world hasn’t believed after those outpourings of wrath, they wouldn’t believe a blazing cross in the sky. Anyway, Jesus said in Matthew 24:36 that no one knows the day or hour of his coming. And, he said in verse 27 that his coming would be sudden like a flash of lightening. These testify against another sign

marking his entrance.

Two other scriptures mentioning a like sign can help us understand this “sign” in Matthew 24. Isaiah 7:14 predicted a sign from the Lord that a virgin would bear a son. The primary sign there wasn’t the virgin, but the son, who was promised repeatedly since Genesis 3:15. Then, in Luke 2:12, the angel announced that the sign was fulfilled by a baby in a manger. Again, the sign wasn’t the swaddling bands or the manger; the sign was the baby! He’s the sure sign of God’s love.

Therefore, I believe the sign of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 24:30 was HIMSELF appearing in the sky. The word “of” may be implied but it isn’t in the original Aramaic, so a good punctuation of that verse might be: “And then shall appear the sign – the Son of man in heaven.” The Message Bible paraphrase agrees by printing that verse as: “The Arrival of the Son of Man….will fill the skies.” Right now there are signs all around us – the beauty of God’s world, the wonder of his creations – that should draw a thinking person to seek to know God who has revealed himself in Jesus.

Q. I would find it helpful if you could share a brief study distinguishing Bible characters with the same names. Rev. Bud Goude, Gloucester Point, VA

A. Since most folks in Bible times didn’t use second or last names, those having similar names can be confusing. We use familiar family names today; but we usually give them different second names, or call them junior, or give them a number to tell them apart. Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive but it may help you separate some major Bible characters.

Not counting the 2 Miriams of the Old Testament, which have the same derivative, there are at least 6 Marys in the New Testament. We have Mary, the mother of Jesus and wife of Joseph, and Mary, the mother of Joses and James the Less (or the Little) who was an apostle. She is sometimes confused with Jesus’ mother since he also had brothers named James and Joses. She may be “the other Mary” seen at the Cross in Matthew 27:61 and the same as Mary, wife of Cleopas, an uncle to Jesus. Then, there’s Mary of Magdala and Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha. We also know John Mark’s mother (sister of Barnabas) was named Mary, and there was a Mary of Rome Paul greeted in Romans 16:6.

There are at least 14 men named Joseph, who were often called Joses. The 2 most notable are Joseph, son of Jacob in the Old Testament, and Joseph, husband of Mary in the New Testament. Also, Jesus had a brother named Joses (probably Joseph, Jr.), and Barnabas’ real name was Joses.

The New Testament mentions 4 Johns with the 3 most notable being John the Baptizer and cousin of Jesus, John the apostle and son of Zebedee, and John Mark, better known simply as Mark. Likewise, there are 4 James with the most memorable being an apostle and brother of John. Then, we have the brother of Jesus, leader of the Jerusalem Church and writer of a New Testament epistle; and James the Less, an apostle so called to distinguish him from the brother of Jesus.

There are 2 Salomes: One dancing for the head of John the Baptizer and the other being the wife of Zebedee and mother of James and John. 3 Tamars are mentioned, along with 3 Sauls including Israel’s first king and the birth name of Paul. We have 7 men named Jude, Juda, or Judas. One was a son of Jacob (Israel), another was the brother of Jesus and writer of a New Testament epistle, and Judas Iscariot, the traitor. Also, there are 14 Simons or Simeons of which we remember Simon Peter and Simeon, the old prophet in the Temple.

By the way, Silvanus is another name for Silas, the second partner of Paul, and Titus may be the same as Justis whom the NIV calls Justis Titius in Acts 18:7. But, aren’t you glad God never confuses us because John 10:3 promises he calls his sheep by name?

Q. As a follow-up on last week’s column: If Jesus went in his spirit and preached to the dead in Hades after he was crucified, could he have offered an invitation for Judas to be saved? Lisa Setliff, Meadows of Dan, VA

A. You’re referring to 1 Peter 3:18-20 where Peter said Jesus, after his death, “went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” The word translated “preached” there may also mean to herald, proclaim, or announce; and the word for “prison” can mean any kind of holding place. The Old Testament calls this Hades, the realm of the dead for both saved and lost.

Peter only specifically mentioned that Jesus spoke to the souls who had been there since before the Flood. He may be referring to the offspring of the sons of God with the daughters of men mentioned in Genesis 6:2. They seem somehow to have had a part in God’s deciding to destroy the race. However, most commentators think Jesus probably announced to everyone in Hades that he had won the victory over Satan. This is certainly not to infer that there is another chance for anyone to be saved after death. After that announcement, he seems to have released those waiting in the “paradise” side of Hades. These were said to be in “Abraham’s bosom,” or his embrace. Jesus led these to a new Paradise in the heavens (Luke 16:22; Ephesians 4:8-10). This is when Matthew 27:52-53 says many of the saints were allowed to stop off and testify to their loved ones in Jerusalem.

Hebrews 9:27 teaches that judgment follows death – not reincarnation or another chance at salvation. Jesus’ parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16 makes it clear that no one can be saved after dying. This rich man was in torment in the “hell” side of Hades. He only asked that someone warn his brothers; he didn’t ask for his own salvation. Surely, he would have if there were a way for him to be saved and escape Hell!

When Paul wrote about the terror of the Lord in 2 Corinthians 5:11, he was telling about the judgment and punishment that awaits the unsaved after death. No Scripture even hints that there is a second chance to be saved after death. I certainly don’t believe Jesus preached an evangelistic sermon and extended an invitation when he visited Hades; nor do I believe Judas was saved after death.

Q. Do you think Judas is in Heaven or Hell? God allowed him to be used of Satan; it was even in God’s plan. Plus, he proved he was sorry by hanging himself! Shalonda Brockington, Alexandria, VA

A. You have some good points, but Jesus has already answered your question. In John 17:12 Jesus prayed before his crucifixion: “Those that you gave me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.” That verse says that even before Judas committed his fateful betrayal, Jesus knew he would be lost. Perdition means utter failure and ruin. The son of perdition is a name given to Judas here and to the coming Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. In this Hebrew idiom, a person embodying the traits of something is called the son of that thing. Therefore, according to Jesus, Judas is in Hell. Acts 1:15 confirms this, “…Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”

Yes, God allowed Judas to be used “that scripture might be fulfilled.” That means it was prophesied beforehand. In fact, in John 13:26 Jesus even named who would betray him. True, this was in God’s plan, but God didn’t make Judas do what he did. In his foreknowledge, God knew Judas would give himself to be used of Satan.

Because Judas hanged himself, it would appear he was sorry for what he did, but sorrow alone never saved anyone. “Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish,” Jesus said in Luke 13:5. Repentance is more than being sorry. It means being sorry enough to stop sinning and come back to God. If he had repented and given his life to God, he would have sought to live for God and not kill himself. Paul wrote the Christian’s ideal in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” We see no evidence of Christ’s living in Judas.

Judas had every advantage; he even lived with God as a Man on earth for almost three years. Yet, he allowed Satan to use him, and he chose to deliver Jesus to be killed. No one is automatically saved just by knowing about Jesus. Everyone must personally repent and ask for forgiveness. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). Each of us will spend eternity in Heaven or Hell by this one question alone: “What did you do with Jesus?”

Q. How can a just God forgive our sins when he’s promised that the wages of sin is death? Clarke Blankenship, Chester, VA

A. Your question was anticipated by the Apostle Paul when he wrote Romans 3:23-26. His conclusion in verse 26 is that God is both just and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus. Let me share an outline I heard over the Bible Broadcasting Network from Dr. Adrian Rogers’ radio broadcast, “Love Worth Finding.” Jesus was:

A substitute sacrifice – the just for the unjust. God can remain just to punish sin while forgiving us because Jesus took our sin debt and died in our place. First Peter 3:18 says, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, so that he might bring us to God.” Each point of this outline comes from that text.

The field of Boaz, where the angels announced Messiah’s birth to shepherds, was where the Temple sheep were raised for Passover. Each year on the Sunday before Passover, those lambs were brought to Jerusalem. They were to be substituted and slain for the sins of the priests. This is the same day Jesus made his Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem and offered himself to God’s people. The following Friday at 3 p.m. those lambs were slain at the same time Jesus died for our sins.

A suffering sacrifice – demanded by our rebellion. Jesus suffered an excruciating death because of the awfulness of our sins. If you don’t have Jesus as your sacrifice, you will suffer the agony of the cross many times over.

A solitary sacrifice – Jesus died once for all. That’s because Jesus was the only perfect substitute. Those lambs brought for Passover were without spot or blemish. Had Jesus been a sinner, he would have died for his own sins.

A sufficient sacrifice – Jesus’ death is all that’s needed to bring us to God. From the cross he cried, “Tetelestai – It is finished!” That was marked on every bill that was “paid in full.” The word, “bring,” was used for a bringer who introduced men to royalty. Not only did the death of God’s Son for us allow God to be both just and justifier, Jesus removed the sin barrier that separates us from our holy God. By trusting Jesus we can be introduced to God.

Q. In Revelation 22:18-19, is that warning meant for misquoting any of the Bible or just John’s Revelation? Ann Rook, Plainfield, IL

A. Revelation 22:18 reads, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.” Verse 19 adds that if anyone takes away from that prophecy God will take away his part from the Book of Life and the Holy City. We call this Revelation’s curse.

This warning seems to be specifically for the book we call The Revelation of John. Verse 18 says it applies to “the words of the prophecy of this book,” and verse 19 addresses it toward “the words of the book of this prophecy.” Therefore, I assume the curse is for anyone who deliberately adds to or takes away from the message of The Revelation. The person stating this curse is identified in verse 20 as the one who says, “Surely, I come quickly.”

Jesus is that one who was introduced in the first chapter and, along with an accompanying angel, delivered these prophetic visions to John. So, I have to conclude that Jesus is emphasizing the importance of this message. Why is it so important? It’s the climax and conclusion to the story begun in Genesis. It reveals exactly what’s going to happen in the future, and that can’t be changed. This book summarizes and drives home the message of the whole Bible. It reveals to us that Jesus is the central character of the Bible, and our salvation comes only from him (Revelation 7:10). When he triumphs over Satan, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall proclaim that Jesus is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 17:14 and 19:16). One day he will lead those who love God to his own home of joy and peace forever. No one has permission to change that message!

However, I believe we can also apply that curse to the whole Bible without doing harm to its original intent. Jesus declared in John 17:17 that God’s word is “truth” – not true, but truth. Truth stands alone. Truth is eternal principle which cannot be altered. Anyone who purposefully misquotes God’s truth will answer to God.

Please note that the wrath of God will not be directed toward someone who changes the Bible by accidentally adding or missing a word. It’s not about simplifying it with modern versions intended to make its message clearer. It’s not about a preacher who dresses it up for sermon application. God looks upon the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). This curse is for those who harden their hearts and reject the truth of God’s Word so that they try to water down its meaning and present a different Christ, a different salvation, or a different destiny for human history. Revelation, chapter 5, shows the future is in the hands of Jesus alone!

Q. Is it true that all our sins are written in a book to be read to everyone in Heaven? May Livingston, Tupelo, MS

A. The short answer to this question is, “No!” Those who say this are confusing the different judgments mentioned in Scripture.

The Bible tells of various judgments occuring at different times. The verses describing them must be studied in context. For instance, the judgment scene in Matthew 25:32-46 is called the Judgment of the Living Nations. It happens “when the Son of Man shall come in his glory” (verse 31). When Jesus returns in his glorious appearance which we generally call his Second Coming, he will separate earth-dwellers who are still alive after Armageddon. Then, he will judge them by how they responded to “my brethren” (verse 40). That is: how they stood with and blessed persecuted believers during the Great Tribulation (verses 35-40). These on his right side will be the Lord’s “sheep” invited to enter the Millennial Kingdom with him. The “goats” on his left side will be consigned to Hell (verse 46).

After the 1,000 year reign of Christ which we call the Millennium, those “goats” and everyone else in Hell will stand before the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20:11-15. This is when the books will be consulted where angels have recorded the works of the unsaved (verse 12). The books will determine their sentences in the Lake of Fire, which is the final, eternal punishment. To double-check these sentences, the Book of Life will be consulted to show that their names are not written with those receiving Jesus as their Lord.

The only judgment of the saved will be right after the Rapture. This is called the Judgment Seat of Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:10. This will not be a judgment of our sins because Jesus put those to death on his cross. Revelation 4:10-11 uses 24 elders to represent all the saved of both the Old and New Testament ages receiving crowns for their faithfulness. This is when our standard of living and jobs in Heaven will be announced.

There is no record of the sins of saved people ever being read aloud or shown on a giant screen. The Bible teaches that the blood of Jesus covers all our sins: past, present, and future (1 John 1:7). They are cast as far away as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), and God will remember them no more (Hebrews 10:17). If one of them ever comes against us, the blood of Christ will have lost its power – and that will never happen!

Q. Can you recommend some Scriptures that would comfort our children who are starting school and afraid of school shootings? Greg Rose, Midlothian, VA

A. Certainly; children ought to enjoy their childhood; they’ll face their own trials soon enough! As adults and parents, we must be careful what we allow young children to see and hear from television and the news. Although shocked and sorrowful, we can take school shootings, abductions, and abuses in stride; but what fears are they leaving in young minds? Even if we take the time to talk with them personally about their fears, as well we should, they may not share everything with us. We must assure them that schools are much better equipped to protect them now and that teachers and staff are trained for such emergencies. In addition, we ought to assure them of God’s care for them as recorded in his Word.

Jesus said in Matthew 19:14 (Contemporary English Version), “Let the children come to me, and don’t try to stop them! People who are like these children belong to God’s kingdom.” In Matthew 18:5 (God’s Word Version), Jesus called a child to himself and said, “Whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me.” In Mark 5, a man named Jairus asked Jesus to come and heal his 12 year old daughter, but by the time Jesus got there she had died. In verse 41, Jesus took her by the hand and said, “Talitha cumi.” In Aramaic, that phrase could be used of a fawn. Jesus was tenderly using a pet name saying to this young girl, “Little deer, get up!,” and she arose. Then, Jesus knew a 12 year old would be hungry, so he told her parents to feed her. Use passages like these to assure your children that Jesus, who is God, loves and cares for all children.

Psalm 34:7 and Matthew 18:10 imply that God sends guardian angels to watch over children. Psalm 127:3 teaches that children are special to God. It says children are a reward like a heritage from God. Read for your child Psalm 139:13-16 in a modern version or paraphrase to show him or her how important they are in God’s mind.

Above all else, remind your child that Jesus came to earth as a child, so he understands all our fears. God protected him when King Herod wanted to kill him (Matthew 2). God will protect all children who trust in him: “They are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

Q. Psalm 78:49 says God sent evil among the Egyptians. Does this mean there are evil angels in Heaven? M. E. King, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Let me print that verse from the King James Bible: “He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.” On first observation, that does read like God has evil angels in Heaven that he uses.

However, we can find some light shed on the writer’s intended meaning here if we study that verse in context. It’s part of a longer passage in Psalm 78:43-52 which recounts the plagues God sent on Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to “Let my people go!” Verse 49 tells us he sent those devastations by way of “evil angels” (KJV).

We know the word angel means “messenger.” But, what kind of messengers were they? The Hebrew word the King James translates as “evil” may also mean “harmful, hurtful, or grievous.” Other versions call these “messengers of death, messengers of evil things, bands of destroying angels.”

So, it’s not the angels who were evil; they were messengers sent from God to bring evil or hurtful things upon the Egyptians. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart long enough to strike at the 10 major god-groups the Egyptians worshipped. God can do that to accomplish his purpose since he made us, and even wicked people belong to him (Proverbs 16:4). So, God sent various angels as needed to deliver those plagues until Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go.

But, wait! There have been evil angels in Heaven! Remember: God created the angels with the ability to choose their destiny. When Lucifer rebelled, the angels who followed him became evil (Revelation 12:4), but God drove them from Heaven. Now, Job 1:6 tells us Satan still comes before God to tattle-tale on us! But, Revelation 21:27 assures us there will be no evil in our future New Jerusalem: “There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defiles…but those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”

Q. Back to that difficult verse of 1 Peter 4:6, to which human standard is Peter referring “that they might be judged according to men in the flesh”? Dr. Martina McGowan, Goshen, Indiana

A. You’re right that 1 Peter 4:6 is a difficult verse, and many commentators have ventured their explanations as I wrote in a previous column. Some Bible scholars believe Peter was speaking of everyone having a chance to respond to the gospel after they’re dead, but the rest of the New Testament doesn’t support that view (Hebrews 9:27). Others think Peter was referring to those who are lost and, therefore, dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1). Still others think Peter may have had in mind those who perished in the world-wide Flood (2 Peter 2:5).

I certainly don’t claim to have the only answer, but I’ll share what it says to me. I always read it first in the King James Version and then check other versions or commentaries. The New International Version is closer to my understanding of 1 Peter 4:6. “For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.”

Let me give you the Lovorn paraphrase and then explain why I interpret it that way. “Those (believers) who are now dead heard (and received) the gospel for this reason: that even though they were judged (as criminals and martyred) by (evil) men of the flesh, their spirits may now live with God.”

This makes sense to me in the context of Peter’s effort to comfort those who had loved ones who were killed for their faith (1 Peter 3:14-18). Peter wanted believers to know that their dear ones, though judged worthy of death by their peers, were now actually alive spiritually in God’s presence. God in his mercy had allowed them to hear and respond to the gospel so that, even though they were condemned by their countrymen, they would receive a martyr’s reward with God in Paradise.

May we so live that, if the world turns against us, God will be for us because of our faith in his beloved Son, Jesus. That’s all that really matters!

Q. Since God created all things, did he create, or initiate, sin? Rev. Steve Kane, Aldie, VA

A. John 1:3 says, “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” Genesis 1 says everything God created was declared to be good at first. However, since God made us like himself, he gave us minds to make our own choices.

Therefore, the answer to the “create” part of your question is “Yes!” At least, God created the possibility of sin. Sin is rebellion, or the opposite of obedience to God (James 4:17). Since God didn’t create any robots, and even the angels had the choice to follow Lucifer or God, then everyone with the ability to make rational choices has the ability to sin. Even though Ephesians 2:10 says we were created to do good works, we may choose to reject God and the good he intends for us to do. Where God and good are rejected, we have evil or sin.

For the other word in your question, “initiate,” the answer is “No!” God certainly didn’t initiate or start the sin process. God is righteous and cannot even tempt us to sin (James 1:13). The first sin in the universe started with Lucifer’s pride which caused him to rebel against God’s authority (Isaiah 14:13-14). Now, we know him as Satan and the Devil, our adversary and accuser (Revelation 12:9).

Some people blame God for sin in the world saying if he allows evil he cannot be good. But, God may just be letting us reap the consequences of the sins of ourselves or others. How else will we learn something is bad? Other people blame all sin on the Devil, and he certainly does his share in tempting us to continue in sin. However, we should admit that a lot of our sin problems stem from our own sinful hearts. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” Even if “the Devil didn’t make us do it,” we’d probably do it anyway!

We must admit that since God created all things, he created the possibility of sin. However, he has given us the Bible to warn us and instruct us; and he’s provided Jesus to save us when we do sin (because we will). In the meantime, God has provided his Spirit as our Comforter and Guide and Heaven as the home of those who love Jesus. In that perfect setting sin will never plague us again.

Q. If a Christian goes to Heaven immediately when he or she dies, why would a Christian need to be resurrected at the Rapture? King’s Daughters Bible Class, Richmond, VA

A. In 1 Corinthians 11:23 the apostle Paul said that he was preaching what he had learned from the Lord himself. We suppose this was during his 3 year retreat in Arabia when he learned his doctrine from no other person (Galatians 1:15-20). First Thessalonians 4:13-17 is one place where Paul recorded what he learned from the Lord (verse 15) about the events of Jesus’ Second Coming.

Paul began in verse 13 by talking about believers who had died and saying he didn’t want their loved ones to sorrow thinking they wouldn’t see them again. When he wrote about those who “sleep in Jesus,” he used sleep as the common terminology for the death of the body. The Bible doesn’t teach that our spirits sleep in an unconscious state after death. For believers Paul said to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). For unbelievers Jesus taught that the rich man died and immediately opened his eyes in torment (Luke 16:22-23).

Our local news in the Richmond, VA, area has been interviewing near-death survivors about their “after death” experiences to answer the question, “What happens when we die?” I’ve wanted to tell them we don’t have to guess because God has already told us in his Word!

Paul continued in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 to teach that dead believers are with Jesus because Jesus (God) will bring them with him at the Rapture. While their bodies sleep in death their spirits have been with Jesus in a heavenly Paradise, as Jesus told the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43. Verse 16 teaches that, when Jesus returns, the dead in Christ will rise first. That means that the spirits of believers who have been with Jesus will enter their resurrected bodies and rise an instant before living believers rise to join them. Paul said, “We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51). Where verse 17 says living believers will be “caught up,” we get the word “rapture” from the Latin translation “rapio.”

The important thing to remember is the last of verse 17, “And so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Once we trust Jesus as our Savior nothing, not even death, can separate us from his presence!

Q. Is Zechariah 5:9 the only place where angels are described as women with wings? Marilyn Brown, N. Chesterfield, VA

A. Yes; we get our usual conception of angels being female with wings from that one account in Zechariah 5:9. And, the two women there are not even called angels. They may not even represent real angels because Zechariah saw them in a vision which was full of symbolism.

All other scriptural accounts of angels picture them as males without wings. Except for special angels like Cherubim and Seraphim, God’s messengers look so much like ordinary men that they usually have to do some supernatural feat to prove they’re from Heaven (Judges 6:17-21). Ordinary angels just appear and then disappear when they’re finished. If they do ascend or fly, they do so without wings as the angel in Judges 13:20. An exception is the angels associated with Jesus’s resurrection in Luke 24:4 who shone with Heaven’s glory.

Zechariah was a prophet along with Haggai ministering in Judah after their return from their Babylonian captivity. The visions God gave Zechariah taught that God was in control, keeping Judah in his care and punishing evil. They encouraged Zechariah to lead the people to rebuild their demolished Temple.

The particular vision in chapter 5 showed Zechariah that God was reserving his final punishment of evil for the last days when antichrist’s Babylon would again dominate the earth. The two women with stork-like wings carried a basket in which was a woman who personified evil. The winged women closed her in the basket with a heavy lead lid and transported her to the land of Shinar which is Babylonia. We find her there in Revelation 17 where she’s called the great whore and Babylon the Great. She represents both the religious and political powers behind Antichrist’s rule. This is the same mystery religion of the original Babel in Genesis 11. Its tower was a center for the worship of Satan and his demons in direct defiance of God’s command to fill the earth after the Flood.

In the last days, Satan will resurrect that religion, but God’s wrath will destroy her forever. Babylon will fall (Revelation 18:2) along with all those who worship the things of this world instead of God and his Son Jesus.

Q. What did Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 10:4 by saying Christ was the rock that followed Israel in the wilderness? Anita Alcorn, Oak Ridge, TN

A. As far as we know, Paul’s actual first letter to the church at Corinth has been lost (1 Corinthians 5:9). Later, when he received word that the congregation was continuing their sinful practices, he wrote what we know as First Corinthians to remind them how Christians ought to behave. In chapter 10, verses 1-4, he taught that the Israelites who left Egypt were saved. God kept his promise to provide for their physical needs in their wilderness journey, but he punished their sinful rebellions (verse 5). In verse 4 he said they all drank the same spiritual drink, meaning the Water of Salvation which all God’s children have when they trust him. Of course, we never lose that true salvation, because Christ our Savior follows us through life.

Paul probably drew his spiritual analogy from the physical river of water God provided Israel in the wilderness. Exodus 17:6 tells about God’s provision of a river that came from a special rock that Moses struck. Later, when Israel needed water again, Numbers 20 says God told Moses to speak to the rock and it would give more water. However, Moses struck the rock a second time, this time in anger and pride. Israel got the water they needed, but God said Moses’ sin would keep him from leading Israel into the Promised Land. Of course, God knew Israel would need a warrior leader like Joshua because they would have to fight for Canaan. Although Moses did not lead them then, he would enter the Promised Land much later at Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3).

We can learn a valuable spiritual lesson here: If that rock represented Jesus, he would only be stricken one time (his crucifixion) to provide the Water of Life for all who believe in him (Hebrews 10:10). After that, we only need speak to him in prayer to have the blessings we need.

But, the Jews have a story that, as God provided manna to feed them for 40 years, he also had the river of water from that rock to follow them in their travels. When 1-2 million Israelites needed water for themselves and their cattle, that river was never so far away that they couldn’t get the water they needed, even in the desert.

God still provides the Water of Salvation to all who will trust Jesus in repentance and faith, and that spiritual river never leaves us even when God allows us to reap the consequences of our sins.

Q. Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart and send 10 plagues on Egypt? P. W. G., Woodbridge, VA

A. When the Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, their captors were polytheistic. Although their forefathers believed in One God, after 400 years the current generation was drawn to the heathen gods of Egypt. This was proven when they worshipped a golden calf in the desert (Exodus 32:4).

I believe God had a two-fold purpose in Exodus 7-11: (1) To defeat the 10 Egyptian god groups Satan had inspired (Exodus 7:5) and (2) to impress upon Israel that he was the True God (Exodus 4:5). In order to do that, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart until he struck at all 10 pagan god clusters.

The first plague was aimed at the worship of the Nile, but also at Hapi, the spirit of the Nile; Khnum, the guardian of the Nile; Nu, the god of life in the Nile; and Tauret, the hippopotamus goddess of the Nile who couldn’t live without its waters.

Hekt (or Heqt) was pictured as a woman with the head of a frog. Frogs were sacred and killing them was punishable by death. Geb was the god of the dust of the earth which God turned to lice, or fleas. The priests acknowledged in Exodus 8:19 that the finger of God was against them, because they were unclean if touched by an animal or insect. The fourth plague was of “swarms,” possibly biting flies or scarab beetles. This was against the insect god, Khepri, which had the head of a fly. The fifth plaque was of murrain, a deadly disease of cattle and sheep. This was against Apis the bull or golden calf who represented the god, Ptah, and his wife, Hathor, who had the head of a cow.

The plague of boils was likely skin anthrax which produced running sores on everyone’s knees, legs, and feet. That’s why Exodus 9:11 says the magicians couldn’t stand before Moses! This was against Seraphis, the god of healing, and Imhotep or Isis, along with Thoth, who were the gods of medicine. Hail was against Nut and Horus, the god and goddess of the sky. Seth, the crop god, couldn’t defend against locusts. Amen-ra, the sun god, couldn’t stop 3 days of total darkness. Lastly, Pharaoh himself was the embodiment of all Egyptian gods, but he couldn’t stop the death of his own and every other first-born son.

Only Yahweh is sovereign, and he can do as he will with his creation, especially those who are sold out to Satan. We should still pray to him who makes the sun to shine on the evil and the good and sends rain upon the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45).

Q. Does the Bible prescribe a marriage ceremony or indicate who may perform weddings? Russell Ali, Carlsbad, CA

A. No marriage ceremony is given in the Bible; nor does it say who should officiate at such. In fact, formal ceremonies were not usually conducted in Old Testament times. And, in the first Christian century, wedding celebrations were held but we have no record of any priest or rabbi having a part. In John 2:1-11 Jesus attended a wedding celebration in Cana, but there’s no mention of any ceremony.

According to several online websites, the modern marriage service did not become custom until several hundred years after Christ. Marriage in Bible times has been described as a 3 step process of contract, consummation, and celebration. A verbal contract might be made between families to marry their children, or a potential groom might contract with the bride’s father and offer a dowry to “hold” her for him. If the couple were of age, after the contract there was usually a year’s engagement during which time the couple might have little, if any, contact with each other. At the time agreed upon by both families, the groom would come with his entourage for brief festivities at the bride’s home after which he would escort her and her wedding party to his home. While the merriment was beginning, the couple would consummate their marriage in a wedding tent or separate room. Then, a week’s celebration would follow with the couple reigning on thrones and giving gifts to their friends. Compare this to Christ’s parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25:1-13 and to the prophecies of his Second Coming in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and Revelation 19:7-14.        .

Of course, there were times when a couple needed to marry quickly or quietly, or perhaps they were too poor to have a celebration. This was probably the case with Joseph and Mary. In such instances, the simple act of a man publicly claiming his bride meant he was marrying her. A New Testament custom of stating 3 times that he was marrying her (or divorcing her) was probably alluded to in Peter’s 3 denials of Christ and later saying 3 times that he loved Jesus.

We mustn’t forget God’s injunction to the man and woman in Genesis 2:24 and Paul’s instructions for each family member in Ephesians 5:22-6:4 and Colossians 3:18-21. Of course, same gender unions were unknown and forbidden in such scriptures as Leviticus 20:13 and Romans 1:26-27.

Q. Is the second Commandment redundant since the first Commandment already forbids other gods? What’s the difference? Phil Gay, Area Director for Young Life, Prince William County, VA

A. The first of the Ten Commandments is found in Exodus 20:3 and repeated in Deuteronomy 5:7. We state it as God saying, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me (besides me, or in addition to me).” The second Commandment is drawn from Exodus 20:4, but it really includes verses 5-6. Deuteronomy 5:8-10 repeats it. We usually summarize it as, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” Note that, although the Commandments were a covenant for all Israel, they’re to be kept by each individual. Although these 2 Commandments sound repetitious, they deal with separate aspects of our relationship with the Creator God.

The first Commandment is predicated on Exodus 20:2 and the revealed power of the True God. It’s saying, “Make the only Almighty God your priority.” Thoughtfully, we could ask: “Are there really any other Gods?” Of course, the answer is, “There are no other Gods (capitol G).” Isaiah 45:5 says, “I am Yahweh and there is none else, no God besides me.” However, there are pantheons of other gods (little g). The Israelites were exposed to many gods in Egypt. Men have invented gods in the stars and the zodiac, mythological gods, gods of nature and beasts, gods of ancestors and saints, and gods of culture and world religions. Satan and men have conjured gods of their imagination, specters of man and beasts. Of course, Satan’s purpose is to lead us from worshipping his arch Enemy, but men have an innate nature to worship a higher power because they can’t handle life alone. Therefore, this Commandment calls for loyalty to the “King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God” (1 Timothy 1:17).

The second Commandment forbids worship of man-made things that represent false gods. We usually think of “graven images” as idols, but we can make idols of anything we place before Jehovah. Here, God was covering all bases. Not only must we not place any imagined god ahead of the Lord, but we must not confine the omnipresent God to an image made with our minds or hands. God is above and beyond even his own creation. He cannot be contained in physical images. Even a cross used as a good luck charm or worn as a popular fad is a graven image if one doesn’t know the Christ of the Cross. This Commandment is teaching that nothing should take the place of the personal presence of the Invisible God. Remember: He sets the standards by which we may relate to him, and we must each come to him on his terms – repentance and faith in his Son, Jesus.

Q. How are we to understand and apply the Proverbs if, sometimes, they may not come true? D. S., Taipei, Taiwan

A. There are different ways to interpret Scripture and still honor God’s Word. The most common choices are literal or figurative. Some passages we understand to be literal truths; they will happen exactly as they’re written. Other verses are figurative, symbolizing greater spiritual truths. Just because something isn’t literal doesn’t mean it’s not true. There’s also a third way to interpret Scripture. Certain passages ought to be understood as principles rather than promises. A scripture principle is an ideal rule to strive for. We may or may not reach that goal, but we set it before us as something to live by. A promise is a guarantee that something will happen. Some people have lost faith in the Bible because they claimed principles as promises, and when those promises didn’t come true they blamed God.

Much of the Book of Proverbs should be understood as principles for living rather than promises for life. In the first 7 verses of Solomon’s introduction to the book he indicated that these were guidelines to obtain understanding, but true wisdom comes from the Lord. Therefore, some proverbs are the wisdom of men – good advice, but not ironclad promises from God that will come true in every situation. Think of Proverbs as a slice of the truth, not the whole truth for every situation.

Consider Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” That’s a good principle to strive for, but God doesn’t put everyone in the same mold. There are too many uncertainties of which you have no control. If you do your best to raise your child to love God but he departs from the faith, that doesn’t mean God or you have failed. Every person makes their own choices, even when you set a good example before them.

Another example is Proverbs 3:9-10 which says if we honor the Lord with our finances and our tithes, our barns will overflow and we’ll always have plenty. That’s a principle to follow, not a promise that those who honor the Lord will never suffer lack. If we understand Proverbs as principles, they give us something to hope for but there’s no disappointment with God if we don’t see them fulfilled. Now, mind you, if you personally claim certain Proverbs as promises you believe the Lord has given to you, then by all means keep faith in them and wait for God’s fulfillment. But, if you’ve done your best and you still have hardships, don’t say God’s Word isn’t true. Exceptions to the rule do not make the rule invalid in other cases.

Q. Since Revelation 12:7-9 tells of war in Heaven, my question is, “Can angels die?” Misi Rose, Midlothian, VA

A. “Angel” or “angels” are mentioned 297 times in the Bible. Only 3 are named in the protestant Bible: Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer. Michael is the only one called an archangel (Jude 1:9). He is captain of the Lord’s angel army and protector of Israel (Revelation 12:7; Daniel 12:1). Gabriel is the messenger angel sent to both Old and New Testament people (Daniel 9:21; Luke 1:19). Lucifer was the most magnificent angel. Ezekiel 28:16 describes his prideful rebellion when he led a third of Heaven’s angels to follow him (Revelation 12:4). His angels are now called demons, evil or unclean spirits, or fallen angels.

Two special orders of angels are called Cherubim and Seraphim. Lucifer was of the Cherubim (Ezekiel 28:14); these guard the holy things of God. Seraphim hover over God’s throne shouting his praises (Isaiah 6:2). One other angel in the Old Testament is called The Angel of The Lord, who appears to be preincarnate Jesus (Exodus 3:2, 6).

Angels are like God in that they are beings of fire (2 Kings 6:17; Revelation 9:17). They may appear to us as men without wings. The only reference to females with wings is Zechariah 5:9. Angels were created as eternal spirits to serve God and us (Psalm 104:4; 1 Corinthians 6:3). They do not marry (Mark 12:25); and since their number is constant, there are no baby angels.

We usually think of war resulting in the victor killing the looser. But, the passage you reference implies that Michael and his heavenly army were fighting to cast the losing angels out of Heaven (Luke 10:18). Satan is now confined to earth’s atmosphere (Ephesians 2:2). Therefore, it doesn’t say angels die or are wounded in conflict; but Luke 8:31 implies Jesus had the power to send demons to their place of torment. In the future Satan and all his followers, including angels and humans, will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Matthew 25:41). Since there will be no chance to be saved after death, it’s urgent that we join God’s army of humans and angels now (Revelation 19:14) through faith in Jesus (Romans 3:22-24).

Q. Did Satan commit the first sin? If Satan sinned first, why are Eve and Adam called the first sinners? Barbara Smith, Cumberland, VA

A. It is true that Satan’s rebellion happened before Adam and Eve sinned. We know that God created the angelic race before the human race because Job 38:7 says, “…the sons of God (angels) shouted” when God created the universe and our world. The account of Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12 and the evil Spirit possessing the king of Tyrus in Ezekiel 28:12-19 (who seems to be Lucifer) must have happened in pre-existent eternity before Satan tempted Eve, because we have no description of the like on earth. The angel Lucifer, whom we know as Satan, is also called the Serpent and the Dragon (Revelation 12:9). He wished to be like the Most High and wanted to set his throne above the stars of God (Isaiah 14:13). Revelation 12:4 tells us Lucifer led about 1/3 of the other angels in rebellion with him. God defeated them and cast them out of Heaven (Revelation 12:9; Luke 10:18).

Technically, then, Satan’s rebellion was the first sin in the universe. However, this was among the angelic race and not the human race. I know of no scripture that calls Lucifer’s rebellion a sin. First John 3:4 defines sin as the transgression of the law. Since we have no record of God’s laws among the angels, perhaps the term “sin” is not appropriate for them. I’m sure we would call it a sin to rebel against God, but when sin is mentioned in Scripture it always refers to mankind.

I guess that’s because Satan could tempt mankind to sin, but he could not pass the genetic tendency to sin among humans. Only Adam and Eve could do that since they were the first humans to sin and the progenitors of our race. It’s interesting that even though Eve actually sinned first, 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “For in Adam all die.” Paul could not have known what has been discovered recently: that the tendency to sin is passed through the father’s genes! Remember, also, that God didn’t create angels to be his friends (John 15:15) but to be his servants (2 Corinthians 11:15; Hebrews 1:7). And, he never offered forgiveness to those rebelling angels (2 Peter 2:4). But, God has offered to remember no more the sins of all humans who trust his Son Jesus (Hebrews 10:17).

 

Q. We hear preachers say unborn babies and little children go to be with Jesus until they reach the “age of accountability.” Where does Scripture support this? Nina in India

A. Our use of the age of accountability, also called the age of reason, comes more from church tradition than from Scripture. The Bible does teach in Psalm 127:3, “Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you: Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Again, consider Jesus’ words in Mark 10:14, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” And, Matthew 10:18 records Jesus saying of children, “In heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.”

These and other Scriptures seem to teach that God protects the innocents, whether they are children physically or mentally. Therefore, churches have taught that until a child reaches the age of accountability, God does not hold them accountable for their sins. That accountability stage, though not set at any particular age in years, means when the child is old enough to understand the consequences of his or her actions. Variously, that age has been arbitrarily set as 9, 12 or 18, or in the Catholic Church as 7.

In the Bible, a ceremony often marked a child’s weaning. That didn’t necessarily refer to the time a child stopped nursing, but rather when he or she developed an independent personality – perhaps as early as 4 or 5 or as late as 7 or 9, depending on individual maturity. When Jewish children became 12 or 13 they were considered old enough to fulfill the Jewish commandments, and thus were young adults. Though Jesus would have attended religious functions many times with his parents, his going at age 12 was likely a special event celebrating his manhood. Today, Jewish boys celebrate Bar Mitzvah (“to whom the commandments apply”) at age 13 and girls celebrate their Bat Mitzvah at age 12.

To recap: Traditionally, a child is said to reach the age of accountability when he or she knows the difference between right and wrong and is capable of obeying the laws of God and man. Based on the Scriptures above many Christians believe that the age of accountability is the end of a period of early grace which covers the sins of those not capable of understanding the consequences of their actions.

Q. Did God cause the tornado in Oklahoma that killed many children and adults? Rick Majors, London, England

A. Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us that there are some secrets that belong only to God. We can only know what he reveals to us in his Word, the Bible.

          The simple answer is that while the Creator God made such storms possible he doesn’t necessarily cause their destruction. He created a perfect world (Genesis 1:31) but our sins have corrupted everything, even nature (Genesis 3:17-19). Disruptions of nature such as tornados and hurricanes, earthquakes and floods happen every day somewhere. They remind us we live in an imperfect environment longing for its redemption (Romans 8:22-23). On the same day we heard of Oklahoma’s storms the news carried stories of people killed in Afghanistan, children dying in Syria, and innocent people jailed in Iran. Did God cause these? These happen every day, but we are more aware of those closer to home.

          Most of our troubles come directly or indirectly from Satan and our sins. Job 1:12 and 19 tell of a storm Satan inflicted on righteous Job that killed all his children. Deuteronomy 29:24 and verses following say God may punish rebellion in those who know to obey him and don’t. He can do that because he is God, and he judges righteously (Genesis 18:25; Psalm 96:10). However, Luke 13:2-5 teaches that not all tragedies mean God is punishing sin, and in all our infirmities he is touched with our grief (Hebrews 4:15).

          So, let’s not dwell on sorrows, but look for hidden blessings and courage to carry on. We must admit that while God temporarily allows evil, he himself can never be tempted to do evil (James 1:13). Only a God who loves us with inexplicable love would bear the curse of Calvary so we can live with him forever (John 3:16). He’s not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), and his heart aches when we hurt. He has given us the comfort of his Spirit (John 14:16), his Word, and the encouragement of fellow believers to sustain us when grief seems overwhelming. I never heard anyone in Oklahoma blame God, but I heard many say they were sustained by prayer.

          Let calamities draw us to depend more closely on God and to be comforted in knowing little children and those who die in the Lord are removed from the sorrows of this world to a blessed home where such sorrows never happen again (Revelation 21:4).
 
 

 

Q. Is it wrong to ask God to take us Home? Eloise Blankenship, Colonial Heights, VA

A. In our limited understanding we pray for many things that are not in God’s will for us at the time. God doesn’t punish us for asking for those things as long as we have not made them our idols. Sometimes he grants those requests although they are not his ideal for us at the time. Patiently, he allows us to learn by trial and error (Romans 5:3-5). At other times, he just smiles and passes over our foolish prayers knowing that he has something better for us (Acts 17:30; Hebrews 11:39-40).

There are certainly times when we are ready for God to take us home to that blessed place he promised in John 14:2 he’s preparing for us. Heaven is described for us in such Scriptures as: Hebrews 12:22-24; and Revelation, chapters 21 and 22.

It’s not wrong to long for Heaven. Paul did in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2. We have many reasons to want to go there: We’re tired of the struggles of this life. We have no real optimism that this world is going to be any better. We have read and heard of the blessedness of Heaven. We know it’s our final destination when we trust Jesus to save us. We have sent our treasures ahead in the form of good works and gifts given in the name of Christ. We have dear family members and many friends awaiting us there. We know it will be a glad reunion when we see Jesus and our loved ones.

It’s not wrong to ask God to take us Home as long as you understand that God will only do that when your days on earth are finished. Job 14:5 teaches that God has set the number of our days which cannot be changed. Therefore, it is wrong to take life and death into your own hands and try to change your life’s timetable which belongs only to God. It’s wrong to become so Heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good. It’s wrong to let your longing for Heaven keep you from fulfilling your purpose to serve God and others. But, you’re not alone; Paul wrote of the same dilemma in Philippians 1:23-24. “I am caught between two decisions: having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better; but, to remain in the flesh is more beneficial for you.” Let us live as Paul concluded in Philippians 1:20 that “Christ may be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death.”

 

Q. In John 14:23-26 Jesus spoke as if the Trinity were 3 separate persons. How are we to understand this? Also, the New International Version in verse 25 mentions the Advocate, who is this? Kenneth Harris, Hopewell, VA

 

A. We can’t understand the Trinity except by faith, because God is utterly unique: There is no other like him. Even though the word, Trinity, is not in the Bible, the doctrine that God is a three-fold Being is stated throughout the Bible. Here are some verses that imply 3 distinct persons all referred to as God: Isaiah 9:6; 61:1; 63:9-10; Luke 3:22; and Matthew 28:19.

The first name God gave to himself in Genesis is Elohim, which is the Hebrew plural used for at least 3 objects. That subject used with a plural verb is why such passages as Genesis 1:26 (“Let us make man in our image”) must be translated with plural pronouns. Even the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4 which the Jews use to prove one God must be correctly translated in their language: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord, our Gods (plural: Elohim), is one Lord.”

When the Bible seems to divide the Godhead, it does so in terms of his work or relationship to us. God is one Being, but he relates to us in 3 different roles. A man may be a friend, a husband, and a father to different individuals; but, he’s just one person. Sometimes, those roles of God seem to cross lines, which is natural when you realize that they are one and the same Person.

The word Advocate is an example of that. It’s actually the same Greek word (parakletos) sometimes translated as Comforter, Companion, or Friend when it relates to the Holy Spirit, but in 1 John 2:1 it’s translated as Advocate when it refers to Jesus. As Advocate, Jesus is our Lawyer pleading our case before himself, the Judge. As Comforter or Companion, Jesus comes to us in Spirit to “run alongside us” so we can lean on him. It’s wonderful to know that God is All-in-All and everything we need. We can’t lose when our Lawyer (who pleads our case) and Comforting Friend (who testifies on our behalf ) is the same as our Judge (who has already declared us righteous)!

 

Q. Jesus told the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:17, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Does that mean we have to keep all the Ten Commandments to be saved? Phil Gay, Woodbridge, VA

A. Short answer: No. That young man lived before Jesus died to establish his New Covenant. So, the ruler’s relationship with God was still based on the Old Covenant of Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:1-8).

A covenant involves two parties both agreeing to do certain things. The Old Covenant at Sinai was between God and the nation of Israel, with all their future descendants. Israel agreed to observe the Ten Commandments and the regulations connected with the Tabernacle and Priesthood. Their obedience proved their trust that God would keep his part to protect them, provide their physical needs, and ensure their eternal salvation.

Jesus made a New Covenant with his followers in Luke 22:20 and referenced in Hebrews 8. Its conditions are stated in the rest of the New Testament. Our part is to trust in the work of Christ on the cross to restore our relationship with God. Then, we will give heart-allegiance to the principles in his Word, and God will impute the righteousness of Jesus to our account (Romans 4:24).

Romans 10:4 says, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.” That means Jesus fulfilled all that the Old Covenant required and declared righteous all who believe in him. We no longer have to obey any commandments, keep any rituals, or do any good works to be saved. However, the Ten Commandments precede the rest of the Jewish Law and form God’s operating principles for our race. Now, when believers try to keep the spirit of those Commandments we do so because it pleases God (John 14:15).

 

Q. What are the animals in Revelation 4? Are they dangerous? Do they resemble anything alive today? What is the purpose of all their eyes? Kenneth Harris, Hopewell, VA

A. Revelation 4:6-8 says, “Round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast was like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within.”

The creatures in Revelation 4 are believed to be a special kind of angels called Cherubim. The “…im” in Hebrew makes it plural so that this word doesn’t really need an “s” as the King James Bible spells it. A cherub is not a baby angel with a bow, rather it is a fierce beast created to guard the holy things of God. In Genesis 3:24 they were placed at the entrance to Eden to keep their evil cherub brother Lucifer out! In Exodus 26:31 God had Moses to embroider their images on the Tabernacle Veil separating the Holy of Holies, and their outstretched wings formed God’s Throne of Mercy on top of the Ark in Exodus 25.

The Cherubim seem to represent the pinnacle of all creation serving God. Maybe they were the prototypes of the individual creatures (bovine, lion, eagle, man) that God would make later since angels were created before God made the world and its inhabitants (Job 38:7). Ezekiel 28:14 teaches that Satan was created as one of these when he was the angel Lucifer. So, there seem to be only five of them. When Lucifer rebelled, as described in Isaiah 14:12, that left four still serving God.

These in Revelation 4 are probably the same ones seen carrying God’s throne in Ezekiel 1:5-11. Ezekiel described them as four identical creatures each having the same four faces seen in Revelation 4. They’re pictured slightly differently here, but how would you describe something you’d never seen before that’s not of this world, and you have nothing with which to compare them? They are a part of the mystery of God and the beings who serve him. In Biblical symbolism many eyes represent wisdom. These creatures, being full of eyes, are not dangerous to us; but they have all the wisdom they need to counter Satan’s wicked schemes.

If only God would open our eyes as he did for Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings 6:17, we would see a spiritual battle going on around us. Today, the angels of God still surround God’s children, as Psalm 91:11 promises, while our enemy prowls as a roaring lion stalking his prey (1 Peter 5:8).

 

Q. Since the recent TV series on the Bible portrayed God in the Old Testament with such violence; how could Jesus be pictured as being so gentle? Misi Rose, Midlothian, VA

Q. I was disappointed with the inaccuracy of much of “The Bible” TV series that’s now out on video. I thought their portrayal of the gentle character of Jesus and his rejection and crucifixion was well done. However, much of the series was not true to the biblical record. I hope this will cause people to read the Bible for themselves.

I, too, thought the movie showed too much killing and violence to be viewed by the whole family, although that’s often the way it was in the Old Testament. Please remember: God is Creator and, therefore, Owner of all (Psalm 100:3). We were created for his pleasure (Revelation 4:11); therefore, he can do with us as he likes. He doesn’t have to answer to us, but we have to answer to him. When individuals, or whole nations, reject him and his principles as revealed in his Word, the Holy Bible, God may remove them and allow others who honor him to take their place. And, if we read far enough in the Bible, God usually warns in advance and, later, he tells why he removes nations or individuals: They’re reaping the consequence of their sinful choices (Genesis 15;16; Psalm 9:8).

However, the Old Testament doesn’t just reveal a God of wrath. If you think that, you’re not seeing the complete story. Read the whole Old Testament and you’ll see many instances of God’s tenderness and yearning for man’s friendship (Exodus 33:19; Isaiah 55:3). The whole Song of Songs is an allegory about God’s love for his people. Then, God’s character is fully revealed in the New Testament in the person of Jesus (John 14:9). Jesus taught us that God wants us to know him personally, to love him, and to turn from our sins to receive him as our Redeemer, Friend, and Guide. When he came as Jesus, he took our sins upon himself and allowed men to put them to death upon his cross (John 3:16).

But, don’t miss the point: God’s judgment is real. Unless we turn from our sinful ways and trust the work of Jesus for our salvation, we place ourselves against God.

 

Q. I’ve heard it preached that Saul was not God’s choice for the first king of Israel. If this is true, why did God let the casting of lots fall on him? Clarke Blankenship, Chester, VA

A. The account of Saul’s being chosen to become Israel’s first king is found in 1 Samuel, chapters 9-10. When the people demanded a king over them like the surrounding nations (1 Samuel 8:4-5), their prophet, Samuel, warned them of what a king could do if he were given power over them (verses 11-19).

Still, the people demanded a king. When Samuel cried to the Lord over this, God replied in 1 Samuel 8:7 that the people had not rejected Samuel, but they had rejected the Lord as their King. Because this was what they wanted, and because of God’s great love for them, he let them have a king.

God chose Saul and told Samuel to anoint him “captain” of Israel. This is a military term for one who leads an army. The word “king” wasn’t in his job description at first because the people wanted someone who would lead them to fight their enemies. God’s choice was later confirmed as he guided the casting of lots which fell on Saul’s tribe, his family, and eventually on Saul himself.

At the time Saul was the best man for the job. In fact, 1 Samuel 9:2 says, “There was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he.” But, the kingdom was premature because God had already announced in Genesis 49:8-10 by the death-bed prophecy of Jacob, known as Israel, that their permanent king would come from the tribe of Judah. Saul was not that man because he was from the little tribe of Benjamin. Later, when Saul disobeyed the Lord’s commands through Samuel, he was told, in 1 Samuel 15:26, that God had taken the kingdom from him.

However, in the background, God was already preparing David to be that prophesied king, in many ways a type for Jesus, God’s true King of Kings. When we stray from God’s ideal path, he lets us because, sometimes, the only way we learn is in the school of experience. But, he provides shortcuts back to his way if we will follow them.

 

Q. Does the parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25:1-13 only apply to the Second Coming of Christ? H. A. Carpenter, Sebastian, FL

A. Two major principles are important when studying the parables of Jesus. (1) Matthew 13:34 says Jesus often taught in parables. When his disciples asked why he taught in parables (Matthew 13:10), he answered in verses 11-17 implying that parables may be interpreted differently according to one’s spiritual maturity (or lack of). Therefore, every person’s understanding is “right” for that person at that time; although some may be “more right” than others, scripturally speaking. (2) Parables must be viewed through a “telescope” rather than a “microscope.” Look for the overall lesson and don’t try to give a meaning to every detail.

When Jesus gave parables concerning the kingdom (Matthew 25:1) he was talking about the Kingdom of God, often used interchangeably with the Kingdom of Heaven. The Jews understood the kingdom to refer to their Kingdom of Israel; but, Jesus meant the residents of Heaven who are still on earth while the King is away. So, the Kingdom parables are about the Church Age in which we’re living now.

This parable is about 10 virgins. The number 10 in prophecy refers to things that are complete on earth. Virgins are those who have remained faithful to their future husband (Revelation 14:4). So, all 10 virgins profess to belong to Jesus and would represent the complete Church on earth. Notice, however, that only 5 have oil in their lamps. Oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit (1 Samuel 16:13), so only 5 are saved and shining for Jesus. Does this mean that one-half of those on our church rolls are not saved? I don’t know, since we’re not examining every detail of this parable. However, Jesus did say in Matthew 7:22 that many will call him Lord, but he never knew them as their personal Lord. At the midnight cry (Matthew 25:6, 10), only those who had oil in their lamps and who were watching for the Groom were taken inside for the wedding festivities.

The main lesson of this parable is in verse 13 urging us to watch and be ready because Jesus will come unexpectedly. To answer your question: This parable certainly pertains to the Second Coming, but it brings questions for every searcher now. Are you in the wedding party? Do you have oil in your lamp? Are you shining for Jesus? Are you watching and ready if he should come today?

 

Q. Please explain if 1 Peter 4:6 is saying the lost will have another chance to be saved after death. N. J. L., South Prince George, VA

A. The King James Bible states 1 Peter 4:6 as, “For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”

Different explanations have been offered to understand this difficult verse. Some commentaries say the “dead” are those who are spiritually dead, who will at some time in their lives have a chance to hear and respond to the gospel. Others suggest that, while his body lay in the grave, Jesus, in spirit, preached and gave an invitation so the lost in Hades might be saved. Those base this interpretation on their understanding of 1 Peter 3:19, another difficult passage. Some of these holding to the latter synopsis limit the “dead” to those who died in the Flood without a chance to know about God.

While there are varying degrees of merit to these explanations, I tend to agree with those who understand this to refer to believers who had been killed because of their faith. Keeping this in context with the rest of this chapter, we understand that Peter was writing to encourage those who had lost loved ones to persecution for their faith. Peter wanted believers to know that their loved ones, though judged worthy of death by their peers, were alive spiritually in God’s presence. God had allowed them to hear and respond to the gospel so that, even though they were condemned as criminals by their countrymen, they would receive a martyr’s reward with God in Paradise.

In addition to bringing comfort to those who might feel their loved ones had been abandoned by God and allowed to die, Peter hoped also to encourage living believers to remain steadfast in their faith. Surely, he remembered Jesus saying, “When men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake; rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in Heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).

 

Q. May a person who continues in a deliberately repeated sinful lifestyle expect to be saved simply because they say they believe Jesus died for all their sins? Anonymous

A. Just calling on Jesus and repeating words that you don’t mean or believe, such as a “sinner’s prayer,” will not save anyone if they are not accompanied by heart-felt repentance. Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” That means many who think they are saved will be surprised!

Hearing the deadly cost of sin which Jesus paid for us should move us to the conviction that our sins nailed Jesus to his cross. That realization leads to repentance. Mark 1:15 says, “Repent and believe the gospel.” Repentance means “to turn away from.” Simply put, it means: “Your desire is to stop sinning!” Yes, Christians will slip back into sin because we are weak, but we won’t be happy there (1 John 1:8). We certainly won’t remain there! The new birth means all things are becoming new for one who’s growing to be more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). Jesus must be Lord, at least in our heart’s desire.

Paul wrote the entire sixth chapter of Romans on this very subject. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid! How shall we, who are dead to sin, live any longer in sin” (Romans 6:1-2)? Salvation from sin doesn’t give us license to continue to sin. Anyone who purposefully and continually returns to his sinful lifestyle is a servant of sin, and the last verse of Romans 6 says, “The wages of sin is death.”

Jesus gave us a simple test in Matthew 7:20: “By their fruit you shall know them.” The person who continually bears the fruit of sinful actions proves he or she is not of Christ, because 1 Peter 1:16 says, “Be holy, as I (God) am holy.”

 

Q. Please explain how the Passover traditions predict Jesus’ death and resurrection. C. C., Richmond, VA

A. By Jesus’ day, Passover traditions had changed since the original Passover in Egypt. Not everyone carried their lambs to Jerusalem to be blessed by a priest and slaughtered. “Modern folks” bought lambs from the sellers at the Temple or they purchased kosher lamb. The law provided that poor people, as Jesus’ band certainly was, might get a little lamb meat to make a stew. They ate by dipping unleavened bread into a common stew bowl of “sop.”

Customs varied with family celebrations. Even the time of their observance varied. Most of the faithful dedicated an entire week to the festivities. They might have their Passover one night with their family and other nights with relatives and friends. Orthodox and conservative Jews held Passover on the 14th day of the first month of the Levitical calendar. When Jesus observed the Passover supper it fell on Thursday after sundown, which was the beginning of Friday.

The Jews had a new Passover Lamb that year who met all the requirements. A Passover lamb had to be declared worthy by a priest, observed for three days and found flawless, and killed on Passover. Jesus was declared a fit Lamb by John the Baptizer who, being the son of a priest, was, therefore, a priest. Jesus was observed, not for three days, but for three years; and he was found without fault as Pilate testified for the state. Jesus, as God’s Lamb, was actually offered on Passover, which was Friday that year. Thursday after sundown began the next day, Friday, when Jesus died.

Traditional seder (Passover) rituals also predicted the resurrection of Messiah. A piece of unleavened Passover bread was pierced, striped, broken, wrapped in a napkin and hidden until it was found near the end of the seder. It brought great rejoicing and was called Afikomen,“the surprise hidden dessert.” Jesus, also, was pierced for our transgressions, wrapped in burial clothes, hidden away in a tomb, and three days later he arose to great rejoicing. At his Last Supper, he said of that bread, “This is my body which is broken for you.” At Easter we celebrate our salvation by faith in his atoning death, burial, and resurrection for us.

 

Q. My Bible study group would like you to comment on John 20:23. Emil, Seattle WA

A. John 20:23 in the King James reads, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” Jesus spoke these words on Resurrection Sunday evening to his disciples, family, and close followers who had gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem.

After breathing on them and giving them a foretaste of the Holy Spirit who would come fully at Pentecost, Jesus restated what he previously said at the founding of his Church in Matthew 16. There, he had literally promised: “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in Heaven” (verse 19). Simply put, that says that Heaven affirms the response to our preaching about Jesus. Those who respond favorably and trust Jesus will have their sins forgiven for all eternity. However, there’s an equal obligation here: Not only are the hearers responsible for their decision, the messengers are responsible to deliver the good news to everyone. If we don’t give them the opportunity to be loosed from sin’s consequences, they will be bound to them for eternity.

For centuries, Bible students have debated whether Jesus gave the “keys to the Kingdom” (Matthew 16:19) to Peter and Church leadership alone. Was he saying only they had the power to forgive sin? That question is settled by what happened here in the upper room that first Easter evening. By restating this commission to everyone present, Jesus confirmed that the keys to the Kingdom were not just given to Peter or Church leadership alone.

Neither the apostles nor Paul ever hinted that they had the power to forgive sin. That belongs to God (i.e., Jesus) only (John 5:22). Therefore, Jesus gave to his Church, including all believers, the authority to assure hearers that they will be saved or lost according to their response to the Gospel we share with them.

 

Q. Does one have to speak in tongues before being filled with the Spirit? Dr. Joan Smith, Jamaica, West Indies

A. The Bible teaches in John 7:39 and John 14:15-17, 23 that the Father and the Son dwell in the lives of believers through the Holy Spirit who inhabits us when we are saved (“love Jesus,” 14:23). Paul wrote in Romans 8:9 that, if we don’t have the Spirit, we’re not saved. So, the opposite must be true: If we’re saved we have the Holy Spirit within us. If we accept the Bible as truth, then we must accept that as fact. That means we don’t need proof, such as speaking in tongues, to believe we have the Spirit after we’re saved. I like the motto: “God said it; I believe it; that settles it!”

True glossolalia (speaking in tongues) was a gift from God, not something to be desired or forced artificially (1 Corinthians 12:11). First Corinthians 14:22 answers your question by reminding us that tongues were a sign gift primarily so that unbelievers, or disbelievers, might know others were saved. In Acts 10:44-46 this gift, was given after salvation as confirmation for Cornelius and his household. For Peter it was proof that gentiles could be saved by faith without being initiated into Judaism.

Speaking in tongues was the exception in the Bible, not the norm. It usually happened when the gospel entered new territories. However, in Corinth tongues had become a kind of status symbol. In the whole fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul warned of its abuse and its disruption of worship. He said it was more appropriate in personal prayer to God than as a message for other people. When he said in verse 28 not to speak in tongues without an interpreter, he was implying that anything other than an instantaneous gift from God could be controlled.

Jesus said in Mark 11:24 when we ask for something we know is God’s will to believe that we have it. When we yield to the Spirit by prayer and faith asking him to take control, we must believe he hears us. Only those with weak faith need proof for something God has declared in his Word.

 

Q. I read where a psychic said each of us plans our lives with God before we’re born and, after death, we may plan another life and come back. What does the Bible teach? L.O., Amelia, VA  

A. The Bible implies in Psalm 139:16 that, before birth we were helpless to plan our lives; therefore, God planned them for us. And, Jesus said in Luke 16:26 that no one may cross the gulf between life and death.

I’m sure you’re speaking of a popular psychic who has many followers today. People read her books, and she often appears on TV saying we can “travel to the other side” in our dreams. She thinks she’s talking to the dead but I believe she’s talking to demons! And, whether or not she realizes it, she’s mocking God and treading on dangerous ground. Deuteronomy 18:12 says all who do such things are an abomination to the Lord.

The Bible has many names for her ancient art. Deuteronomy 18:9-11 calls a person who practices divination: an enchanter, a witch, a charmer, one who consults with familiar spirits (i.e., spirit guides), a wizard, and a necromancer. Malachi 3:5 calls them sorcerers. In Daniel 5:7 they’re called astrologers and soothsayers. Jeremiah 27:9 calls them diviners and dreamers. Today, we call them psychics, fortune-tellers, or channelers. Leviticus 19:31 warns, “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them.”

Acts 16:16 tells how they are able to make their predictions: They are possessed with an evil spirit of divination. Deuteronomy 13:5 says their purpose is to turn people away from God. Leviticus 20:6 warns God will “set his face against” anyone who seeks their advice. Under the Old Covenant God decreed their punishment as death (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27). The Old Testament tells us God destroyed the nations of Assyria and Babylon because of their sorceries. Galatians 5:19-21 calls their methods works of the flesh and says they who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

Those who make phone calls to psychics would be shocked to see the real demons they’re talking with! When we allow the books of psychics in our homes, follow after our horoscopes, consult Ouija Boards, tarot cards, crystal balls, etc., we’re opening the door to let evil spirits in. Jesus may say, “Leave them alone!” But, Satan could reply: “They chose to let my instruments in; therefore, they are mine!”

 

Q. Does Matthew 5:17-20 mean that we are to keep and live by the Torah even today? Van Rowe, North Franklin, CT

A. In chapters 5-7, Matthew recorded the Sermon on the Mount, the only full sermon we have that Jesus preached. There, Jesus described the characteristics for which his followers should strive. The rest of the New Testament is an application of this sermon just as the rest of the Old Testament tries to apply the Ten Commandments.

The Torah is the Jewish name for the five books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy, which contain the laws God gave to Israel. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said he didn’t come to destroy the law or the prophets’ predictions; rather, he came to fulfill them. He meant that he would live the perfect life the law required and fulfill all that the prophets predicted about Messiah. Later, in Matthew 17:3, Moses and Elijah appeared to give witness of the law and the prophets affirming Jesus. Further, Jesus restated in Matthew 5:18 that not one letter or punctuation mark of God’s original words would go unfulfilled because Jesus himself would live by them.

Since all Jesus did was for us, he fulfilled those requirements so we don’t have to keep them to get into Heaven. So, verse 19 doesn’t say those who break the commandments would go to Hell; just that they would be least in God’s kingdom. Salvation has never been about keeping the commandments; it’s about claiming the righteousness of Jesus. This verse teaches loss or gain of reward for those under the Jewish covenant.

No, these verses are not saying that believers in Jesus must continue to keep Jewish laws. Romans 10:4 says, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.” For those of us under the New Covenant, our righteousness (verse 20) has been imputed to us from Jesus; and it’s far better than the ritual perfection the Pharisees tried to obtain.

 

Q. How can we believe in a young earth when science has proven the earth to be millions of years old? Phyllis Jones, Knockpatrick, Jamaica, W.I.
A. Truth never contradicts truth! Jesus and the Bible are not afraid of truth. In fact, Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am…the truth.” And, speaking of the Bible in John 17:17 he said, “Your Word is truth.”

Many so-called “scientific facts” are nothing more than hypotheses because researchers have no way to prove their findings. This applies to the speculated age of the earth. No one can prove the earth is millions of years old because no one has been around that long, except God! And, the rate of decay upon which much supposition depends may change with time or cataclysmic events such as the Deluge. The pressures associated with the Genesis Flood could account for the seeming evidence of a much older earth with ice ages.

In a recent devotional in the February 2013 issue of Our Daily Bread (RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids: 2012) Henry M. Morris, Ph.D., wrote, “The Lord Jesus Christ not only believed in the special, recent creation of all things by God (note Mark 10:6-8), but also in the worldwide Flood of Noah’s day…for He compared it to the worldwide future impact of His Second Coming” (Matthew 24:38-39).

In the Bible (Genesis 5:1-32; Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38) God has recorded the genealogy of the human race along with their life spans. Even if there may be some skips between generations many scientists have no problem believing the earth may be no more than 10,000 years old. In fact, the 2012 Gallup survey on human origins showed that 42% of Americans agree that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so….Another 32% of Americans in this year’s survey believe in theistic evolution, agreeing that…(however it happened) God guided the process” [parenthesis added].

Having commented briefly on that question, let me add a personal note: Many of my readers have been asking when I’m going to the Holy Land again. If you are interested in studying the Bible with me where Jesus and the patriarchs walked this Fall on a 10-11 day trip for around $3500 per person all inclusive (including round trip air from Richmond, all meals except some lunches, all fees, taxes and tips) please reply to tomlovorn@comcast.net and I’ll send information. If it’s not safe we won’t go and money will be refunded.

 

Q. John 3:22 records: “After this, Jesus and his disciples went to the Judean countryside, where he spent time with them and baptized.” Who did Jesus baptize? Community Bible Study, N. Chesterfield, VA
A. Baptism began as a ritual of cleansing which God gave to Moses in Exodus 30. Before a priest served in the Tabernacle he had to wash from a brass laver. The Tabernacle laver was a small bowl on a pedestal with water for the priests to wash their hands and feet.

Later, for Solomon’s Temple, the laver was replaced by the Brass Sea. This huge basin rested on 12 brass bulls and held about 24,000 gallons of water. Steps led up the side to a platform where priests were completely immersed and given clean robes before beginning their Temple service. The Jews also immersed their gentile proselytes in the Brass Sea to symbolize washing away their pagan way of life.

John the Baptizer adapted this immersion ritual for those who were repenting in preparation for the coming Messiah. Matthew 3 indicates Jesus let John baptize him to place his approval on John’s ministry. After this, the Apostle John wrote in John 3:22 that Jesus baptized. However, he corrected himself in John 4:2 to say that Jesus didn’t baptize, but his disciples did. So, these verses indicate that Jesus taught his disciples how to baptize, but he didn’t baptize anyone himself.

After his disciples learned how to baptize and they baptized more than John’s disciples for awhile (John 4:1), they stopped baptizing. When Jesus sent them out on practice missions (Matthew 10:5; Luke 10:1), he didn’t tell them to baptize. I believe the reason was because the gospel was not complete until Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. There would have been no Christian meaning to baptism before Jesus died. That’s why he had to make a post-resurrection appearance to give his Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. Now we understand: Jesus had taught his disciples how to baptize earlier so that when he did command it, they would know how to do it. Think about this: If it were important enough for Jesus to come back from Paradise to command it, he still desires believers today to identify with his gospel and his Church through baptism.

 

Q. When the Bible says God is grieved does that mean God is having a bad day? I thought Heaven is always full of joy! T. Brown, Flight Safety Instructor, DFW Airport, TX

A. You’re right in noticing scriptures that say God may grieve for us. Psalm 78:40 tells of Israel’s wilderness transgressions which provoked God to grief. In the New Testament Paul implied in Ephesians 4:30 that we grieve the Holy Spirit when we sin after we’re saved.

However, grief isn’t the only emotion God has in Heaven. Sometimes God is angry. These verses tell of his anger: Micah 5:15; Nahum 1:6; Zephaniah 3:8. Yet, Nehemiah 8:10 and 12:43 speak of the joy of the Lord. At all times God is righteous (Psalm 11:7) and just (Deuteronomy 32:4), yet he is gracious and merciful (Exodus 34:6) as shown in his great love (John 3:16). God has the full range of emotions he instilled in us when he made us in his image. Indeed, the characteristics seen in the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 are the emotions of God. But, if God has a “bad day” or a good day, it is we who bring it on him.

We see the emotions of God exemplified in Jesus who was “God in a body suit.” Jesus was angry when he drove the money changers out of the Temple because they were cheating the people (John 2:15). Yet, Hebrews 12:2 says he endured the cross for the joy of paying our sin debt that all believers may join him in Heaven.

Although Luke 15:10 says there is rejoicing when one sinner is saved, for now there is also much sadness in Paradise. Revelation 6:9-11 shows the saints empathizing with those being martyred for their faith. Until the enemies of God and all believers are vanquished the saints will feel his sorrow. But, when we join him in our New Jerusalem, victors at last, God will wipe every tear from our eyes because the former things that bring sadness will have passed away forever (Revelation 21:4).

 

Q. What do you believe is the purpose of the Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem? Gene Mims, Prison Chaplain 

A. Thanks for trusting me to answer this! I hesitate to try to answer a question with supposition, but I know you need to give some kind of answer to those who asked this question.

Although this tree is mentioned several times in a figurative sense in Scripture symbolizing some special reward for the righteous, the actual Tree is only said to be in two places. Genesis, chapters 2 and 3, tell us it was originally in the Garden of Eden when God created that paradise. And, in his Revelation, chapters 2 and 22, John saw it in our future paradise.

Genesis 3:24 tells us this Tree remained in Eden for awhile after the expulsion of Adam and Eve. It was guarded by cherubim with a flaming sword. We don’t know when it was moved, but there’s an interesting story in Halley’s Bible Handbook (Zondervan Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1927). It says inscriptions found near Eridu in ancient Babylon say there was a garden near there in which the gods planted a sacred tree of life. It was guarded by mysterious creatures so no man could enter. Another inscription supposedly says before the great deluge this tree was carried by angels to heaven.

As for its purpose in the New Jerusalem, we’re only told in Revelation 22:2 that its leaves were for the healing of the nations. Since everyone there will already have eternal life (John 10:28), this Tree won’t be needed to keep people alive. It must draw the nations there for a memorial purpose. I like to think this Tree will be a memorial to the Cross, Jesus’ tree of life on Calvary. Maybe the Tree of Life and the River of the Water of Life will be there to draw the nations to come to the capitol to eat its delicious fruit and drink the satisfying water. While there, they may worship God and thank him for their eternal blessings which only come from him. Surely, in the presence of these memorials, all differences will vanish and the nations will be healed.

If Heaven is going to have trees, why not have an awesome one that changes its blossoms and fruit every month? Notice that Revelation 22:2 also says this Tree is located on both sides of the River and all along the main thoroughfare. So, it must come from one root system and spring up all over that City. I want one in my back yard! How about you?

 

Q. Do unbelievers have spiritual gifts? Misi Rose, Midlothian, VA

A. Our use of the term “spiritual gifts” comes from the King James Version of 1 Corinthians 12-14, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4 where they are “grace gifts.” Actually, the original Greek of 1 Corinthians omits the word “gifts.” Some have supposed Paul was talking about spiritual people, but the context makes it clear that he was writing about special character qualities and physical abilities endowed by the Holy Spirit to believers upon their acceptance of Jesus as their Savior. The purpose of these gifts seems to have been threefold: (1) for an assurance of their own salvation, (2) for the propagation of the Christian gospel in the world, and (3) for building up their local assembly. Using these gifts to honor Christ would bring special satisfaction.

First Corinthians 12:4-6 makes it clear that there were many such gifts, and Paul was not intending to list them all. Some of these were miraculous sign gifts such as healing, or speaking and interpreting previously unknown languages. Others were the ability to serve others with hospitality, helps, or giving. Some gifts were meant to fulfill needs in their local churches by prophesying or teaching. Some took the form of church offices such as pastor-teacher, evangelist, or administrator. Paul said these were given to all believers (1 Corinthians 12:1), and each person was responsible to know and use his gifts to honor Christ (1 Corinthians 14:12). No one could select his gifts because God gave them as he chose (1 Corinthians 12:18). Neither should anyone be jealous of another person’s gifts. However, Paul made one exception in 1 Corinthians 13 where he wrote that everyone should seek to be motivated by selfless love demonstrated by service to others in imitation of Jesus.

Now, some commentaries state that those gifts were only given in the first Christian century when missionary work was new. My personal belief is that gifts are still given today to every true believer, as 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, and that we are accountable to use them in Christ’s service (2 Corinthians 5:10).

To answer your question: Unbelievers and believers alike have talents, but the Holy Spirit only energizes the talents of believers for his purposes. Ephesians 4:8 implies that he may even add new abilities as he deems necessary to extend and edify God’s work today.

 

Q. Why do you think God put the Tree of Life in the Garden if Adam and Eve were stopped from eating of it? And, did Eve understand the warning of death if she’d never known death? Elaine Johnson, Suffolk, VA 

A. The Scriptural setting to which you refer is Genesis 3; and, of course, my remarks will be suppositional since the Bible doesn’t directly answer your questions. But, God gave us minds to wonder and ask, “What if…?”

Let me think about your second question first: Since God planned the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8), it was surely Paradise before sin corrupted it, and everything there was perfect (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Corinthians 2:16). Therefore, Eve could know about death without experiencing it if God had explained it to her. Likewise, Adam could know the concept of father and mother without having had either (Genesis 2:24). [My grandchildren ask me if Adam had a belly button – think about that!]

Let me expand your first question to ask, “Why did God put both the Tree of Life and the Tree of Good and Evil in a perfect Garden?” I think they were both there to give our first parents a choice. Paradise wouldn’t be paradise if we were robots with no choice! But, with every choice, God gives wisdom to those who ask him (James 1:5). At first, Adam and Eve could have eaten of the Tree of Life because God had said in chapter 2, verses 16-17, they could freely eat of all trees except that tree of sin. However, after they acquiesced to that tree of temptation they were stopped from eating of the Tree of Life. [“Why?” is a good question here.]

God answered “why” in Genesis 3:22. If Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and thus became sinners, they would be cursed to remain in sin forever if they also ate of the Tree of Life. But, God’s mercy kept them from doing that so that Jesus could later open the Tree of Life for every person to choose. What we call God’s curse upon Adam in 3:19 was in reality a blessing. Death would break the cycle of sinning forever. And so, as one pastor has said, sin is the reason we have Christmas. Jesus came in fulfillment of the first gospel announcement in Genesis 3:15. I like to think Jesus died on that tree of sin and turned it into a tree of life for all who believe in him (1 Peter 2:24). Claiming that for yourself and sharing that Good News (Luke 2:10) will make 2013 a Happy New Year no matter how many cliffs we might fall over!

 

Q. Is it Biblical to toss a coin to determine God’s will? Kenneth Harris, Hopewell, VA 

A. I understand you have some decisions to make for the New Year and you’re asking if God would guide the flip of a coin to know what you should do.

Certainly, God can use any means he chooses to help you know his will. I don’t find any Biblical references to coin tossing as we do at football games, but I do find many scriptures about casting lots. In Leviticus 16:8 Aaron cast lots to determine which goat to sacrifice. Joshua cast lots at Shiloh in Joshua 18:10 to divide the Promised Land among the 12 tribes. Surely the Lord guided the casting of lots in Luke 1:9 so that Zacharias would be inside the Temple when the angel told him Elizabeth would have a son. In Matthew 27:35 the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ robe at his crucifixion, and the disciples cast lots to select a replacement for Judas in Acts 1:26.

Exodus 28:30 describes a pocket to be made in the High Priest’s breastplate to hold the Urim and Thummim. We don’t have a description of these but we think they were used like casting lots to determine God’s will. When the common people cast lots they might use colored stones or flat sticks with different markings on their sides. Flipping a single, flat stick would be like flipping a coin to see which side came up. They also shook a bag to empty 2 stones with black and white sides. If both stones came out with their black sides up the answer was a definite no; both stones white indicated yes. A black and white side up meant proceed with caution or wait until a more opportune time.

To answer your question: If you pray for God to guide your choice you might flip a coin today. However, since God gave us minds to reason and consider all the issues and their consequences, my personal approach is, first, to see if Scripture allows or forbids my choice. God cannot bless it if I do what the Bible forbids. If Scripture is silent I am free to decide what I feel is best for all involved. Then, I commit my decision to God and ask him to confirm it by giving me peace, or give me uneasiness if it’s wrong. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally, and does not chide, and it shall be given to him.” Since God knows I want to please him, I thank him that he will bless my choice.

 

Q. Are we to understand Jeremiah 10:1-5 as prohibiting Christmas trees? Harold Carpenter, Sebastian, FL

A. Verses 3 and 4 certainly sound like a Christmas tree! “One cuts a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of a workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold.” However, the prophet was continuing his explanation from chapter 9 as to why God’s people were being punished. They had left the worship of the One True God to worship the Zodiac “signs from heaven (verse 2).” They were praying to wooden idols which they had made with their own hands. This doesn’t describe a Christmas tree because such was unknown then.

However, although we may not worship the Christmas tree, we can be just as pagan if we desire the gifts under it more than the gifts God offers around his Heavenly Tree of Life. We must never forget that, although we are touched by the emotional story of a poor baby in a manger, the meaning behind Christmas and Christmas trees is that Jesus was born to die on the real Christmas tree we call the Cross (1 Peter 2:24). The word, Christmas, means “Christ-mass,” and a mass is a celebration of Christ’s death. Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death, and we are all dead in our sins until we personally claim the substitutionary death of Christ on our behalf. Those who would take “Christmas”out of the celebration need to remember that Christ must be at its center or we have nothing to celebrate.

We didn’t do much celebrating over the past weekend. What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, last Friday still rips at our heart strings. In the news, governmental officials are begging us to pray for them. Yet, many of our government schools have long since locked God, the Bible, and prayer outside. Have we forgotten that Deuteronomy 11:19 says we must teach our children the Word of God? Have we become so concerned over “political correctness” that we have become desensitized to the growing evil around us?  If we reject God’s protection we open ourselves to Satan’s attacks. But, he can be stopped by Americans who return to the faith of our fathers and celebrate the true Christmas all year long.

Enjoy your Christmas tree with the choicest gifts of love, but tell your children we do so because God gave the first Christmas gift when he gave Jesus to be our Savior. Merry Christmas!

 

Q. Is it true that Christians didn’t worship on Sunday until Emperor Constantine ordered it? Nelson Britt, teacher, and the U.S. History Class of Prince George High School, Prince George, VA

A. Christians have been celebrating the first day of the week, Sunday, as the Lord’s Day and a day of worship since Jesus’ resurrection on that day. It was Jesus who began meeting with his followers on that day (John 20:19), and he has continued meeting with them (Matthew 18:20). At first, early believers were still considered good Jews. They kept the Sabbath rest and rituals and then had special evening services around a common meal on Sunday, which was the first day of their working week (Acts 20:7). They ended their meal with “breaking bread,” a term for the Lord’s Supper. As persecution from the Jews grew stronger, the Christians separated themselves from Jews and Jewish practices and began to worship only on the Lord’s Day. In the middle of the first century, Paul referred to this practice in 1 Corinthians 16:2. Sunday, the Lord’s Day, was well established as the day of worship by the later part of the first century when John wrote about it in Revelation 1:10.

In the second and third centuries some theologians began arguing that God never removed the fourth Commandment (observance of the Sabbath Day) and that believers were still obliged to observe Saturday as the Sabbath. Others compromised by saying Sunday, as the Christian Sabbath, fulfilled the fourth Commandment. Some church leaders even taught that both days should be kept with Saturday being the day of rest and Sunday being the day of worship.

During this time, most of the major “Church Fathers,” the time-tested and respected theologians to whom we still refer, explained that the Sabbath was a part of the Old Covenant God made with the Jews at Sinai. However, God’s New Covenant with Christians is detailed in the New Testament. They taught that only those Commandments which are restated in the New Testament apply to Christian believers. In fact, all the Commandments are restated in the New Testament except the fourth which seems to have been changed from Saturday to Sunday. They pointed out that there is no commandment in the New Testament to worship on the Sabbath day.

The arguments progressed, almost splitting the Church, until Constantine I proclaimed an edict in 321 A.D. stating that Sunday would be the Roman day of rest when all businesses would be closed. Farmers, shepherds, and cattlemen, who must continue their work, were exempt. Some Eastern Orthodox Churches do not agree with this and, therefore, some European countries and Seventh Day Christians still consider Saturday as their day of rest and worship.

 

Q. I’ve heard that Christmas and Easter have pagan origins. If so, should Christians celebrate these holidays? Debbie Keeney Allen, Chesapeake, VA

A. The Incarnation has been celebrated by believers since the first century. The actual day of his birth is unknown, but I believe Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles. That feast originally recalled the time when the Jews lived in tabernacles or tents for 40 years in the wilderness. However, I believe God turned it around and made it the time he came to “tabernacle” with men in the person of Jesus.

Jesus fulfilled all the Old Testament feasts on their exact days. He died as God’s Lamb on Passover. He lay buried during the Feast of Unleavened Bread when Jews swept all unleavened bread out of their houses into the ground. He arose on the Feast of First Fruits when the Jews brought the first of their spring crops to the Lord. On that day Jesus became our First Fruit, the first example of our resurrection. And, he returned in Spirit on Pentecost, the spring harvest festival, when Peter preached and brought in the first Christian harvest of 3,000 converts.

Jewish months begin in the middle of our months. We know that Jesus died on Passover and he lived 33½ years. If you back up 6 months from Passover in March-April you have October-November when he was born. This coincides with the time for Tabernacles. John must have known this because he wrote in John 1:14, “the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us” (original Greek). He used the word normally used for the Feast of Tabernacles. Early Christians chose the date of December 25 because their pagan neighbors celebrated the Winter Solstice then. While everyone else celebrated the birth of the Sun, early Christians celebrated the birth of the Son.

Easter was called Pasch at first, relating it to the Jewish Passover when Jesus died. Because Pasch overlapped with the secular celebration of Astre or Estre, the goddess of spring, early Christians formed their own celebration. Over time it assimilated the secular name Easter.

So, it’s true that the names of our celebrations have some pagan background, but the actual events are what we celebrate no matter what we call them. Our fathers celebrated them before they took their present names and we continue to celebrate them in our hearts as we remember what God did for us on those special days. “Merry Christmas!”

Q. Were the six days of Creation 6 literal, 24 hour days? Tonya Brown, Watauga, TX

 

A. Since no one alive today was present at the beginning of our universe, we have to rely on God’s record. After all, he was there; and Titus 1:2 says God cannot lie. Jesus said in John 17:17, “Thy word is truth.” Not true – but “truth!” Something may be true one time and false under different circumstances, but truth is forever unchanging. If we believe Jesus, the Living Word, was sinless then we must believe the Bible, the Written Word, was infallible as God spoke it.

Any contradiction of what God has recorded and preserved for us cannot be true. Evolution’s theories, carbon dating methods, archeological discoveries, or scientific hypotheses – if they contradict God – cannot be accurate. Most of these came about because men had rather believe Satan’s lies than admit their accountability to a Creator (Romans 1:25).

When God created the earth as recorded in Genesis 1, it had to spin and  maintain gravity and keep things from falling off. The light that was divided from the darkness in verse 4 had to be God’s own shekinah glory seen at Jesus’ transfiguration in Matthew 17:2. Revelation 21:23 says that same glory of Jesus will light the new universe. Until the sun was created on the fourth day, God’s own light and the rotating earth caused the evening and morning of Genesis 1:5, etc.

Think how you would say it if you wanted to convey that you meant literal, 24 hour days. You could say, “The evening and the morning were” day 1, 2, etc. Then, to make sure everyone understood what you meant, you could repeat your statement as God did in Exodus 20:11 and Exodus 31:17.

You get yourself into a corner if you try to make the Creation days longer. If you say they could have been eras of 1,000 years (2 Peter 3:8), what will you do with the nights (the evenings)? Were there six periods of 1,000 years of light alternated with periods of 1,000 years of darkness? Did God rest 1,000 years after creating? Usually, the simplest explanation is the best method of Biblical interpretation!

 

Q. Does the Bible tell us how our country may heal and be united again after this year’s election? Emily Williams, Seattle, WA

A. You’re right to realize that our country is deeply divided over many issues. Nearly one half of our citizens may feel some apprehension at the election results. But, we need to encourage the attitude that our fellow citizens are not the enemy! No matter which path we think our country should take, we all want the best for our nation.Now is the time to work together for common goals. Partisan division never works for anyone’s good – divided we fall! Now is the time we all need each other the most.

For healing, I believe we must first forgive and accept our differences while thanking God that our democratic form of government gives us the right to disagree peacefully. In Matthew 18 Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive an offender seven times. However, Jesus’ answer surely stunned him: “Not just seven times, but forgive him seventy times seven!” Jesus meant that we should keep on forgiving indefinitely because God keeps forgiving us when we sincerely repent. True forgiveness means you treat the offense as if it never happened. Restitution is the goal of forgiveness.

Paul, in Ephesians 2:12-15, told Jews and Gentiles how to be united in their differences. We were all, at least in our forefathers, once aliens and strangers brought to America for the same goals of freedom and equal justice. God led us here to be an example of liberty and democracy for the whole world. Let that which binds us be stronger than that which divides us. The strength to accomplish that will be found in the love and forgiveness which God instills in the characters of those who follow Jesus (John 13:35). Each of us must show that love by working together for the common good. At the same time we praise God that he’s still on the throne (Isaiah 6:1), and he’s working his purposes out for our good (Romans 8:28; Hebrews 13:18).

 

Q. Does the Bible teach there’s to be a separation between our religion and our political views? Should a U.S. President practice his beliefs in office? J. J. D., Colonial Heights, VA

A. The Bible never teaches a double standard, that is: professing to believe one thing while actually practicing the opposite. In Matthew 23 Jesus condemned the religious leaders of his day for doing this and called them hypocrites. A hypocrite was a Greek actor who wore a mask. The mask didn’t just indicate whether the actor were a man or woman. It showed his inner character that might be different from his stage appearance.

Those who say one’s beliefs are personal and do not affect others couldn’t be more wrong. Our beliefs are the foundation of who we are. Whether we admit it or not, our basic beliefs color every decision we make. That’s why it’s so important that, rather than simply voting by party-lines, we must know what our public officials really believe. That’s what they will practice in office.

Should our beliefs influence the way we vote? Absolutely! Men and women of integrity must vote their personal convictions regardless of what is politically correct. A president of our United States should acknowledge and respect the beliefs of others since he is president of all the people. But, that doesn’t mean he cannot practice his personal beliefs. To do otherwise would be to be untrue to himself.

No one likes a wishy-washy person who agrees with whomever he’s speaking at the time. James 1:8 says a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. If he will change his actions simply to accommodate you, then he can’t be depended upon in a crisis. In Revelation 3:15-16 Jesus said a wishy-washy person makes him sick to his stomach!

Jesus, in Matthew 5, and Paul, in 2 Corinthians 1, both said we should let our yeas mean yea and our nays mean nay. If believers are to be the salt and light Jesus desired in Matthew 5, we should let our good influence be felt in all areas of society, including politics. Political correctness won’t stand up as an excuse when we answer to God in our individual judgments.

 

Q. What does Job 26:7 mean: “He stretches out the north over empty space.”? Thanks for this great service and may our Savior Jesus the Christ bless you. G. M. Gabriel, Alexandria, Egypt.

A. Job is believed to be one of the first books of the Bible to be recorded. Before common people could read or write, they often made their history into poems which they taught to succeeding generations. The book of Job appears to be one of those epic poems finally written down perhaps by Moses or Joshua or someone else during Israel’s wilderness wanderings.

The ancients of Job’s day realized that the highest mountains they knew were in the north, therefore the north was considered to be the highest part of the earth which, from a distance, seems to touch the sky. Sometimes, when Old Testament people spoke of the north they meant the sky. Psalm 104:2 says at creation God stretched the heavens out like a curtain.
Isaiah 14:13 ties all of the above together as Lucifer said he would elevate his throne above the stars (the sky) and sit upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north (the highest part of earth in the north).

But, here’s something else you might find interesting: In recent years astronomers have noticed an empty place in the sky just above and beyond the North Star. No stars can be seen in that area as if it were a Black Hole. Some theologians have even theorized that this could be the location of Heaven. Psalm 75:6 says, “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.” Therefore, it must come from the north; but the intent of the writer is to say it comes from God. Ezekiel 1:4 says the prophet saw God coming down from the north.
I would say the simplest understanding of this verse is probably the writer’s intent, ie, that God is the Creator who stretched the heavens over the emptiness of space. The writer continues to say in the rest of that verse that God also hung the world on nothing in that same empty space. That’s an amazing proof of the inspiration of the Bible because people did not know at that early age that the world rested on nothing. Only God could have revealed that to Job.

Where man with his telescopes sees an empty space toward the north, God is there. That’s because, as Psalm 139 reminds us, God is everywhere. Even if some present laws forbid his name in prayer, he is still Creator and King.

 

Q. Does God have a brain and a heart as we do? Kenneth Harris, Hopewell, VA

A. God is a Spirit (John 4:24) who reveals himself with a triune nature, one of which is in a human body we know as Jesus. In his spiritual, three-in-one nature God remains a mystery to our finite minds.

All we know about God is what he has revealed to us. He showed himself to Ezekiel as a being of fire (Ezekiel 1). He spoke to Moses as a Burning Bush (Exodus 3), and he came down on Mt. Sinai in fire (Deuteronomy 5:23). Psalm 104:4 says the angels who serve as his ministers are beings of fire. This is evidenced in 2 Kings 2:11 when Elijah was carried to heaven in a whirlwind accompanied by a chariot and horses of fire, supposedly driven by angels. His successor, Elisha, was protected by beings of fire in 2 Kings 6:17. When Jesus was transfigured into his original glory his countenance was as fire shining like the sun (Matthew 17:2).

Only in Jesus can God be said to have human organs such as we have. When God came to earth, he took on human flesh and became as we (Philippians 2:7). In that same resurrected body, now glorified as we shall be, Jesus reigns today as one with the Father (Acts 7:55; Hebrews 12:2).

God does have a mind as Jeremiah 15:1, Romans 8:27 and 11:34, and 1 Corinthians 2:16 indicate. In wisdom and knowledge, God is all “brain” because he is omniscient (all-knowing, as in John 18:4). Proverbs 8:23 personifies God’s character as wisdom saying he had been such before the earth was formed. And, emotionally, he is all “heart” because God is love (1 John 4:8) and not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Second Timothy 1:9 says his grace was given to us before the world was hung in place.

Why would anyone not want to know and live eternally with this God? Only in Jesus may we know God, and Jesus calls us to come to him to find rest (Matthew 11:28). Acts 16:31 says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

 

 

  • Church Info

    God’s Storehouse

    Baptist Church

    5007 Jessup Road
    Richmond, Va. 23234
    (804) 743-7425

    jb@gsbcjessup.org 

    tomlovorn@comcast.net

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    Sunday Services

    • 9:45 AM Sunday School for All
    • 11:00 AM Morning Worship
    • 6:00 PM Awana Program
    • 6:30 PM Worship and Bible Study

    Weekly Bible Studies

    • Tuesday Mornings at 10:00 am
    • Wednesday Evenings at 7:00 pm

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    1st Sunday

                              

    Pastor, Dr. Tom Lovorn,  has 60 years’ experience serving the Lord. He’s served several large churches as Minister of Music and Youth and later as Senior Pastor. He’s a man of God who believes, lives & teaches the Word of God. He also teaches Old Testament and New Testament at RockbridgeSeminary.edu. His teachings and preaching are conservative, believing the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God. He married his Choir Director and duet partner, Janie. They have a daughter & four (4) grandchildren. They lead mission and Bible Land trips all over the world.

     
  • Bible Verse of the Day

    “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”
    — 3 John 1:2 (NKJV)
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