January 1, 2017 Bible Study — Happy New Year, Looking At Beginnings

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Genesis 1-3.

    There is beauty in the way in which Genesis 1 describes the creation of the earth and everything in it. It is interesting how closely the order of events resembles current cosmological theories about the formation of the universe. There was a formless void and then God said “Let there be light,” and there was light. Then God separated the earth out from all of the matter in the Universe so that it resembles what we see today. Notice how this was a multi-step process. Plants appeared before any animals, aquatic animals appeared before land animals. Then God created man as the capstone of His creation. According to this account, all animals were vegetarians at this point. Before anyone says, “See, that means we were intended to be vegans,” I want to point out that God said that every seed bearing plant and every fruit was food for the Humans He had made. Yet today, many seeds and fruits are poisonous. Things have changed.

    The second chapter is a different story about how man and woman are meant to be together. Perhaps the best quote which sums up the important message of Genesis chapter 2 comes from Matthew Henry:

“The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

There is a lot of truth to this. Husband and wife are intended to be partners. I am so glad that God gave me a wife who is my partner.

    Chapter three describes how it all started to go wrong. Adam and Eve had been told that they could eat the fruit of every tree but one. The serpent played on Eve’s curiosity and innocence to convince her to eat of the fruit which they were forbidden to eat. However, I want to make sure that people understand, while Eve was the one who was convinced and ate first, Adam was standing right there the whole time. And it was Adam to whom God gave the command not to eat the fruit (a command which applied to Eve). I have seen too many men stand to the side while their wife was convinced to do something she would later regret (and he often regretted it as well). You can argue that Adam had little choice but to eat the fruit once Eve had done so, but when the serpent was convincing Eve, Adam could have, and should have, spoken up.

December 31, 2016 Bible Study — The Day Of Final Judgment and The Invitation

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Revelation 20-22.

    John describes the Final Judgment that will happen when history truly does come to an end. When that happens all people will stand before God and be judged. On that day each and every one of us will be judged on what we have done (and have not done). Those whose names are not written in the Book of Life will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. Now the interesting thing here is that the Book of Life is a separate book from the rest of the books which record our actions. When that day comes, all that we have ever done will be laid out for everyone to see. On that day, none of us will be able to say, “I was good enough to get into Heaven.” However, we will be judged on what we have done. It may be that our faith in Christ will allow us into Heaven, but if we have not done the works which God called us to do we will be subject to judgment for that failure. We are given a list of those who will not be allowed into Heaven. If we choose to continue in those behaviors after we have been washed clean by Jesus’ blood, we will not inherit God’s Kingdom.

    But for those who do remain faithful to the end, there is a promise. When that day comes, God will personally comfort each and every one of us. He will wipe away our tears and in that place there will be no more death, or sorrow, or crying, or pain. All of that will pass away along with this world and we will be in the presence of God forever. When I think of this scene I think of those times when we have been at an event where everybody (or almost everybody) there was there to spend time with the same person. They all (or most of them, any way) felt that that person was the one who made this particular event fun. The problem is always that that person is there to have fun and, even if they want to make sure that everyone has a good time, they only have so much time and cannot be with everyone there. Heaven is like that, except that God does have the time and ability to be with everyone there and make sure that they have a good time. And the wonderful thing about it is that if you desire to be with God he invites you to join Him, no matter what you have done in the past, no matter how you have been hurt in the past. God has one word for those who have suffered (and we have all suffered to one degree or another), that word is “Come.” Then when we have come to Him, He sends us back out into the world to tell those who are still suffering that He is inviting them. He sends us out to say to others what He said to us, “Come.” Let us do our best to show them what Heaven will be like by wiping the tears from their eyes and comforting them in the same way that God comforts us.

December 30, 2016 Bible Study — Babylon Has Fallen

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Revelation 17-19.

    Today’s passage contains a description of a woman sitting upon a beast. The beast is described similarly to the first of the two beasts, but I think it is actually a different beast (or perhaps a better way to say it is that in this vision the symbolism of the beast is different than in the previous one). The woman represents a powerful and wealthy city-state/nation which has power over much of the world. The scarlet beast represents another nation or confederacy of nations which is dominated by the woman. If this vision applied to the world today, the woman would be the United States and the scarlet beast would be the European Union (there are many reasons to make those connections, but there are ways in which those connections do not quite fit). The scarlet beast hates the woman and wants to see her overthrown. However, when the fall of the nation represented by the woman happens, those who worked for its fall will discover that the world is a much worse place because of that fall. Nevertheless that fall will come because those of the nation represented by the woman were willing to benefit from the suffering of others. We as followers of Christ must separate ourselves from the worldly pursuit of wealth and pleasure that the woman represents. We must be wary when our nation begins to believe that it has power that can never be threatened. We must not fall into the worship of self, or of the nation state, which presages the fall described in today’s passage.

December 29, 2016 Bible Study — Are We Prepared?

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Revelation 13-16.

    When I read the description of the beast which rises out of the sea I always think that it should be possible to identify to who or what it is referring. Or, at least, be able to see what to watch for to know when the beast has arisen. Yet later in today’s scripture it says that the Day of Judgment will arrive unexpectedly. The juxtaposition of the careful detailed descriptions of the two beasts and the declaration that the Day of Judgment will arrive unexpectedly leads me to conclude that people, nations, and other organizations which, at least partially, fit the descriptions of the beasts will arise repeatedly throughout history. Looking at history, it seems to me that the day of God’s judgment has come time and again. Each time it is a presage of the ultimate Day of Judgment with which God will end this universe.

    Since we are not going to know when God’s ultimate Day of Judgment will arrive, instead of looking for signs that will tell us that this coming day of judgment is that Day of Judgment, let us look for how we can remain prepared for when the Lord will return. So, what are the characteristics of the two beasts? First, they will do improbable things which will lead people to worship them, and through them “the dragon” (which I interpret to be Satan). The beasts will persecute those who faithfully serve God. The second beast will perform miracles which will lead many people to turn to it for things which only God can provide. Further, no one will be allowed to conduct any economic activity without a number provided by the beast (sound familiar?). When we see the government take the place of the Church in many people’s lives we know that a day of judgment is coming and perhaps this time it will be The Day of Judgment. We have been warned, are we prepared?

December 28, 2016 Bible Study — God Has a Plan

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Revelation 9-12.

    In today’s passage John talks about the fifth, sixth, and seventh trumpets. This is where I start to lose track of what order the things in John’s vision happen. I also have trouble deciding if I think these are descriptions of supernatural events, or more mundane occurrences which John has not basis to describe in anything but colorful language (for example, my Dad said that the description of the locusts which came after the Fifth Trumpet resembles how someone might describe modern military helicopters if they had never heard of mechanical flight).

    Shortly after this John writes that he heard the seven thunders speak, but was told not to write down what they said. Every time I read that I get caught up in wondering what the seven thunders said, and how it would help us understand the rest of this vision. Yet, I am convinced that the message John was conveying is contained in the symbolism of the fact that there were seven of them, and that he was told not to write what they said. The problem for me is that I do not understand the symbolism. Throughout the rest of the Book of Revelation I run into this problem of seeing symbolism whose meaning I do not understand. There are two final thoughts I want to write today. I am convinced that starting with the account of the woman and the dragon the order of the events described in this vision do not necessarily happen in the order they appear in John’s writing. The other is that one of the key messages which this letter is designed to convey is that no matter how chaotic and out of control the events of this world appear, everything is happening according to God’s plan.

December 27, 2016 Bible Study — When the Trumpets Sound

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Revelation 4-8.

    John now moves fully into his vision by describing the throne room of heaven (I want to say here that I do not believe these visions are intended for us to picture what heaven will really look like. I believe that they are word pictures designed to convey a particular message.). In particular, I think it is very telling that the song which the four living beings and the twenty-four elders sing to the Lamb is so similar to the song which they sang to He who sits upon the throne. To me, this is yet another confirmation of the concept of the Trinity. The Lamb and He who sits on the throne are distinct beings…and yet they are the same being.

    When the Lamb started breaking the seals on the scroll, for each of the first four seals a Horseman appeared. I am not sure of the meaning of these Horsemen, but I believe that part of the meaning is that things will get progressively worse. First, there is a Horseman who rides out and builds an empire. However, this does not result in peace on earth. No, it results in the second Horseman, who brings war and violence throughout the earth. Which naturally leads to the third Horseman, who brings shortages and famine. Which brings us the fourth Horseman, Death, after the first three Horsemen people everywhere will be dying from war and violence, famine, and disease. In all of this, there will be injustice and persecution of those who attempt to do God’s will. When the fifth seal is broken, those who suffered and died for doing God’s will call out to God, asking Him to make things right. Then the sixth seal is broken and those who thought that all of these horrors had passed them by, those who thought these things were to their benefit, realize that there is price that they too will need to pay. They seek to hide from God’s judgment, but there is no place to hide. Despite all of this, God will preserve on the earth some of those who serve Him.

    In a way, the events of these first six seals happen again and again throughout history. Each time getting closer and closer to the opening of the Seventh Seal and the blowing of the seven trumpets. When those trumpets blow, the end of this world will finally be here. I remember growing up in the 1970s and thinking that the description of the results of the first four trumpets sounded like the results of a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. In some ways, it still makes me think of an all out nuclear war. However, my belief is that when God will not allow mankind to destroy this world. He will destroy it before that happens.

December 26, 2016 Bible Study

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Revelation 1-3.

    John begins this letter to the seven Churches with a description of God’s eternal existence which communicates more than just saying that God is eternal does. He writes that God is, always was, and is to come. God has always been, He is now, and He will always be. As part of his description of God, John writes that God is the beginning and the end. Then he goes on to connect Jesus to this description of God as eternal by writing that Jesus is the first and the last. Jesus died and yet He now lives for all eternity. Because of His death, He now holds the key to death and the grave. Through Him we too may have life eternal.

    In John’s message to the seven Churches he has one of two complaints with the various Churches. It is interesting that to this day these two complaints represent the primary failings which Churches fall into. One is a loss of enthusiasm for spreading the Gospel and doing God’s work. The other is a tolerance for teaching that sexual immorality is not a bad thing, perhaps even a good thing, and the idolatry of trying to fit in with the culture around us. Both are equally bad. There is nothing to be gained by holding fast to God’s commands to be sexually upright and separated from the evils of society if you do not love others enough to tell them about why they should change by accepting the Gospel. On the other hand, being enthusiastic about preaching God’s word to people has no value if you do not teach its transformative power.

December 25, 2016 Bible Study — The Conflict Between Love and Immorality

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 2 John, 3 John, and Jude

    The writer returns to the same theme he had in 1 John. In this he writes something which has an element of circular logic, but I have always thought there was a little more to it than that. First the logic:
Love is doing what God commands
God commands us to love one another
However, I believe there is more to what the writer is saying than what is written. The writer is not saying that the only God commands us to do is love one another. He is saying that everything God commands us to do is how we love one another.

    In his third letter the writer has a different message. There are actually three elements to this letter, although the writer does not separate them out in his writing. The first, and the one we must find by reading between the lines, is that the Church should send out traveling teachers who preach the Gospel to unbelievers. I am not quite sure why it is necessary for traveling teachers to preach to the unsaved in areas where there are already believers, but the writer encourages such behavior. He even tells us that we should support such teachers when they come into our area. Further, he condemns those that object to such teachers and attempt to make it difficult for them to gain support for their ministry.

    I have never noticed how the message of 2 John leads into the message of 3 John, which transitions us to the message of Jude. Second John tells us that all of God’s commands are expressions of the command to love one another. Third John tells us of the importance of accepting and supporting traveling teachers who teach the true Gospel and warns us against those who try to isolate us from teachers other than themselves. Finally, Jude warns us against people who claim that God’s grace means that we can live immoral lives. Such people base their authority on extra-biblical sources, such as dreams and revelations which they have received, or the writings of other faiths which they attempt to meld with Christianity. In most cases, if we examine their lives we discover that their teachings derive from their attempts to justify their own sins rather than confess and turn from them.

December 24, 2016 Bible Study — Love Our Fellow Believers

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 John 1-5.

    The central point of this letter, to which the writer keeps coming back, is that if we truly believe in Jesus we will love our fellow believers. God has given us the opportunity to know Him through Jesus. If we know God we will obey Him and His first and primary command is to love one another just as we love ourselves. All other actions grow out of that love. If we love our fellow believers we will be careful to take no actions which might cause them to stumble, which might cause them to sin.

    Which brings us to the writer’s other main point, we have all sinned and we will probably sin again. However, Jesus will plead our case before God. This does not mean that we can go on sinning with impunity. Each time we sin it causes harm to ourselves, to our relationship with God, and to our relationship with our fellow believers. If we truly love God and our fellow believers we will desire to have as positive a relationship as possible with them. Therefore, our love for our fellow believers should provide us with incentive to put sin behind us and to resist temptation.

December 23, 2016 Bible Study — Following The Process

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 2 Peter 1-3.

    God has given us all we need to live the holy life to which He has called us. Further, He has promised us the ability to partake of the divine nature, the ability to be free from the corruption caused by sinful desires. There is a process which follows if we want to accept that promise and receive what was promised. The process, in order, is: faith, goodness (or moral excellence), knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, love for everyone. It is worth noting that goodness, or moral excellence, is not the same thing as godliness. I am not going to go into what that difference is at the moment. In many ways that would be a blog post all of its own.

    A simplistic reading of this process might lead one to think it was a step by step process, with one moving on from one step to the next. However, I believe it is more a kind of positive feedback loop: as you add goodness to your faith, you get more faith, as you add knowledge to goodness, you get more goodness (and thus even more faith), this continues on with each step. Each step up the ladder calls on us to increase the level of the step which proceeded it. I am going to give two examples of how this works. As we do good the faith which motivated us to do good becomes stronger because we see the truth of that faith in the results of our good actions. As we become more knowledgeable, we see that some places where we thought we were doing good, we can do better, which hopefully results in us doing more good. Which in turn results in our faith growing stronger. This process continues through every step of this process.

    Peter goes on to write about false teachers. He warns us that they will use deception and guile to introduce heretical teachings. Their hallmarks are arrogance and greed. They scoff at what they do not understand. I could go on and write more about what Peter says about them, but you can read the passage for yourself. I want to rather look at some manifestations of the sorts of false teachers which Peter describes. There are those who introduce heretical teachings, often in order to allow themselves to satisfy their greed and/or their immoral sexual desires (failing to realize that neither of those will ever be satisfied). We see these in those who preach prosperity gospel, that following Christ is a formula for gaining wealth (it is interesting how often part of that formula is sending them money). We, also, see this in those who want to weaken or destroy the Church’s teachings against sexually immoral conduct. We see another aspect of this among those who teach that they have a special knowledge or ability necessary for battling against evil spiritual powers. All of these teachers have one thing in common, they promise us greater freedom, but all that they deliver is further enslavement to sin.