Friday, August 10, 2018

Healthy Fear

I was a men’s group leader for a large group of guys in Pennsylvania and we always did things with wood, whether it was cutting logs for firewood and then chopping them up. One time, the young group of guys got all excited because they found a bunch of pine trees that were freshly cut laying on the side of the road for free and they filled their pickup full of these giant logs. Quite literally, some of them were the size of a loveseat. It was kind of a strong man thing. But we had this fire pit that was smaller and so we had to cut these logs the size of loveseats up and then chop them. We had crazy bonfires… I had my chainsaw and one of them borrowed their brother’s chainsaw, you know how that goes, and I let some of the guys run mine. One could easily tell the guys who have run them before from those who haven’t. The ones who have run them, would actually cut the logs efficiently. The ones who haven’t, would cut the logs with terrified and timid motions, unproductively and inefficiently. They knew that there was a sharp chain revolving around the bar at several hundred RPMs, so they stayed away from it as much as possible. They didn’t want to admit that they never ran a chainsaw, but you could tell that they were very uncomfortable handling one, let alone cutting logs.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” –Proverbs 1:7

What a fitting verse for the beginning of the book of Proverbs. A book which seeks to bring wisdom to its readers. What does it mean to fear the Lord? Why would we fear such a loving and good God? How does it even make sense that we should fear God?
Because God is the one who created us, He is the one who can destroy us as well. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Ouch… Why would we put our trust and hope in such a being? Because God is good.
We forget that God is who He is (Exodus 3:14), and that we are not God. We become so desensitized about our relationship with God and we lose our reverence for Him. Desensitization won’t happen overnight, but we get more and more comfortable with His mercy and grace that we eventually take it for granted. This is something that, as Christians, we simply need to continue to wake up and smell the coffee again and again.

When my wife had her close friend over from a different state, they were planning to go on a hike, and I suggested that they take some protection (We now live in the Rocky Mountains). I grew up around guns, my dad is a master gunsmith and I learned a lot about guns from him and I am very comfortable around them. My wife, on the other hand grew up in what my fellow villagers and I would call a city. When it came to hiking time, her and her friends seemed hesitant to take protection. I said things like, “Well, you might regret not taking protection if a bear is chewing on your foot.” Or, “If a mountain lion etc., etc.” I won’t go into detail. But then they were afraid to go on a hike. I told them that now they were ready. There is a method to my madness… “You have a realistic picture of what could happen, and you will be more alert while hiking. You’ll be more awake.” We must have a healthy fear.
Fear is, despite what people tell you today, a friend we should keep close to us. Fear keeps us alive. I don’t mean that we should live in an unhealthy fear, this is why there is a qualifier of health. It must be healthy fear. I coined this phrase because I recognized that much fear is unhealthy, if not completely irrational. We do not let fear rule our lives, but we do not want to be oblivious.
I once saw a billboard for an insurance company that said, “Live fearless” (not fearlessly).  It showed a person jumping out of an airplane and a smile on his face. This, I think kind of goes in the wrong direction a bit. Should we just carelessly do whatever we want because we have good health insurance? No, because accidents, the last time I checked, still involve pain and death. “But you’re covered!” You get the idea, I am just using this for clarity.
It is just like the chainsaw. A person who has never handled a chainsaw would never go ripping and tearing through the woods, full throttle, knowing the danger ahead of them. They would have a healthy fear of the chainsaw and the trees, and they would proceed with great caution. We have a natural healthy fear of these kinds of things, so why do we lose our healthy fear of God?
In every area of our lives, we continually live like this. When someone learns that they have diabetes from their doctor, or high blood pressure, our first reaction is fear. Our diets immediately change, even if it is only for a week. We do this out of having a healthy fear. So why would we not continue to fear God? The one thing that we should realistically revere. Fearing God means that we should fear what He does to evil. We should fear His wrath. This is something that we should never be comfortable with, even as Christians.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (emphasis mine). This is something that should keep us on the right track. We should remain aware of what we are doing with our lives. Are we building on the true foundation? If we do not build on the true foundation, whether we use costly materials or garbage, it will be burned up. Then we will realize that all that we have done in our lives, all the work we pour into what we have built will be for nothing. We will suffer because all of the years we poured our lives into our passions, if it was not built on the foundation, it will be as if it never happened. This should cause us to have a healthy fear of what we are doing with, and through, our lives.

“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”

--Ecclesiastes 12:13

Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus

Friday, July 27, 2018

A Call to Arms

There is definitely much deception in the world. Perhaps one reason for this is because God wants His people (Christians) to fight for the truth. The Bible is full of verses which seek to get its readers to have integrity. We are called to be different than everyone else as Christians. This is what it means to be holy. Holy means to be set apart… to be different in a moral focus. So if God did not allow so much deception in the world, then what exactly, would people have to do? Deception is a form of evil. Things which are not true lead people down the wrong road. But if evil didn’t exist, then compassion wouldn’t exist. If no one were ever in a house fire or abused or raped or taken advantage of, then as people, what immediate purpose would we have? God wants us to love one another, but how can we do that if there is nothing to actually do for someone else?
The same idea goes for why there is deception in the world. If deception did not exist, then the passion to correct it would not exist. Isn’t being passionate a good thing? We are only passionate about those things that cause us to react. Perhaps this passion in us originated out of our own experience, which God allowed us to experience. We are passionate about child abuse and about kids who do not have a good home; we are passionate about how others are treated, whether it is the homeless or veterans or senior citizens. If we are passionate about a non-living thing, it is always, in a roundabout way, to help the living things (people) have a better life. In any event, passion always seeks out other people. If I were passionate about making the perfect boat, what would it matter if no one were able to enjoy it? Passion seeks to make things better for other people. This is why we have it. Would we be able to make things better if things were already perfect? Absolutely not. It is a good thing to be passionate about correcting the false ideas and beliefs that are in the world. 2 Timothy 4:2 says, “Preach the Word. Be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction” (emphasis mine). We are supposed to correct people when they have it wrong, and even rebuke them. Jude verse 3 even tells us to contend for the faith. “Contend” …are you serious? Yes. Fight like you are in the boxing ring for the faith. Why? Because there is so much deception in the world. Fight for the faith!
Look at what Paul says when he found out that people are spreading lies: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:6-9). If you didn’t hear him the first time, he writes it again! He is contending for the faith! He is correcting and rebuking them! This is something that should not be overlooked or taken lightly. Christians are called to be warriors when it comes to this. The Bible is replete with this type of language for a reason… Jesus wants us to stand up for the truth!
Don’t be afraid to speak up! But at the same time, I must advise that when you do, make sure you know what you are talking about. James 3 teaches us that those of us who teach will fall under a harsher judgment. Something else we probably shouldn’t take lightly. This shouldn’t stop us from speaking up, however. The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth. It might not happen overnight, and you will at times, be wrong. The best thing to do when we are wrong is admit it. Come clean. It is after the truth which is our concern.
Also, several of the books of the New Testament were written to combat things that were not true, including, but not limited to, Gnosticism. If you think about it, the whole New Testament was written to combat things which were false. The gospels were written to show people the truth. Just look at the beginning few verses of Luke and John 20:31 for a few examples. The letters of Paul were written to show the recipients the truth of the gospel. Paul mostly corrected the theology of the churches to whom he was writing. Christianity itself hangs on the truth that Jesus rose from the dead. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that our faith is futile if Christ did not rise from the dead. But in fact, He did rise from the dead. This is a truth that mustn’t be kept hidden. Prepare for your upcoming confrontations concerning the truth. Anything that someone says can be twisted around and used against them, everyone knows that. So when you say things, make them mean something. Have integrity. Encourage your brother and sisters in Christ. Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints! This is our call to arms.

Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Seventh Day Adventists and Questions about the Sabbath

The Seventh Day Adventists (hereafter SDA) believe that the day of worship during the week should be on the Sabbath, the last day of the week. There are several scriptures in the New Testament that would indicate otherwise; several of these scriptures re found in the Acts of the Apostles, which is the model church for the modern day body of believers. When speaking with a SDA, try to be in control of the conversation. When they try to dodge questions, try to bring them back to the heart of the discussion. Ask them things like, “Why does the New Testament show that the apostles did everything that people do in church today on a Sunday and not on a Saturday?”

The key to understanding the pattern of the early church is in the phrase, “The first day of the week.”
Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1-7; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1).
Jesus appeared to the disciples on the first day of the week (John 20:19).
Jesus appeared inside the room to the eleven disciples eight days after the first day of the week.  The Jewish way of measuring days meant that it was again Sunday (John 20:26).
The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, the first day of the week (Lev. 23:16; Acts 2:1).
The first sermon was preached by Peter on the first day of the week (Acts 2:14).
Three thousand converts joined the church on the first day of the week (Acts 2:41).
The three thousand were baptized on the first day of the week (Acts 2:41).
The Christians assembled broke bread on the first day of the week. (Acts 20:7).
The Christians also heard a message from Paul on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).  Note:  the reference is until midnight which is not the Jewish method of measuring days, but the Roman system.
Paul instructed the churches to put aside contributions on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:2).
Jesus gave the apostle John the vision of Revelation on the first day of the week (Rev. 1:10).

There seems to be a question regarding whether or not the SDA church believes that Jesus is Michael the archangel, but I think it is something very different from what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe. The following quote is taken from a website which is not operated by officials in the SDA church but is operated by its members:
“We believe that the term "Michael" is but one of the many titles applied to the Son of God, the second person of the Godhead”
So what they mean by this is that Jesus is also called “Michael,” not that He is an angel. There is a bit of twisting of Greek which they believe helps them with their argument. Given the evidence it is extremely unlikely that their understanding is correct about the Son of God having this title, but this belief does not appear to be heretical since they are not equating Jesus with Michael the archangel.
Do the Seventh Day Adventists share the one true gospel? I believe they do. There are some very questionable beliefs as far as their adherence to the Sabbath, but in any event, Seventh Day Adventists are legalists in a hard sense because they adhere to what Ellen White (SDA founder) said about the Sabbath. She basically explained that the modern world has everything wrong with it because people in it stopped observing the Sabbath. Christians attend church on Sunday as a memorial to the Risen King, but Mrs. White says that is wrong because of what the Bible says. The problem is, she is still trying to be under the Law, which is what Jesus set us free from. The Bible says, “You are not under the law but are under grace” (Romans 6:14). And also in the first chapter of the book of John, “the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” In other words, Ellen White is trying to push the Law on her followers. One can basically pick any of the first 8 chapters in Romans and start reading and see that this is clearly wrong.
The issue then, becomes one of legalism. If the Law of the Old Testament has not changed in the New Testament, then what did Christ free us from? If we are still under the Law, then we should live and act like a 1st century B.C. Jew.
I have had a SDA ask me if I adhere to the Ten Commandments, and I said something along the lines of “yes, as much as I can…” They asked me what they were and I explained that they were moral laws. But then this person reasoned that I should keep the Sabbath also, because it is a moral law. The problem with this is that only nine of the Ten Commandments are mentioned in the New Testament, and on top of that, Jesus reduces the Ten Commandments to Two Commandments (see Matthew 22:36-40). What is important is loving God and loving others. In doing these, there is no Law.

So should Christians become SDA’s? Since the SDA church pushes keeping the Sabbath but that it is clearly biblically mistaken on the matter, it seems that even though a person can be an advocate of the SDA church and still be a believer in Christ, there are several theological questions that come up in SDA which steer clear of that which has been considered orthodox for literally thousands of years.
Why would a person want to go back to the Law? Look at Galatians 3:10-14 for a moment: “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” The curse of the Law is that no one can fulfill it! It is impossible to please God through works. Therefore, why would we want any part of what Jesus came to set us free from?
As Nathan Busenitz says, “In spite of the ecumenical spirit that has pervaded evangelicalism over the last few decades, there are still major deficiencies within official SDA theology that ought to give evangelical Christians serious pause.”

 Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus