Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Most Controversial Verse in the Bible

In today's world, there is one verse that stands as the most controversial verse in the entire Bible. It's controversial because in this day and age, people take a strong stand either for or against it. The verse......Genesis 1:1. That's right, the very first verse in the Bible is the most controversial scripture. And yet, it hasn't always been that way. But because of the theory of evolution, which is fairly recent, relatively speaking, this verse is highly contested. That's because Genesis 1:1 claims there is a Creator.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1)

It's interesting that the very first verse of the Bible sets the tone. This verse is huge in its importance. For those who believe in a Creator God, this verse is foundational and powerful. For those who believe in a Godless evolution, this verse is nonsense and ignorant. That's why each side is so polarized. Take  your pick. You can't have both. Notice what the verse says. In the beginning, meaning before time, before the physical realm, before matter existed, God existed. Then God decided to create - the heavens and the earth, including all of life's forms, as shown in the following verses of Genesis chapter one. 

"In the beginning GOD CREATED the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1)

Genesis chapter one is diametrically opposed to the philosophy of Godless evolution - that by chance and the combination of the right components, life started in it's tiniest form, then through millions of years, advanced to human life. 

In the beginning God created - or - in the beginning random chance started everything. What's your position?

Oh, then there is the idea of Theistic evolution. That's for those non-confrontational people. They like to have it both ways, so there's no arguing. They say, maybe God used evolution to create. That's not only nonsense, it is a cowardly escape route that conflicts with all the Bible truths that tell otherwise. God is never a God who just starts something and stands back and does nothing. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God always is interactive and intervening. He never abandons us.  The idea of Theistic evolution discounts and diminishes God's immense power and abilities, and downplays them as if to say He is not able or capable of creating the entire universe, including life, by His word, in spontaneous fashion. 

Another way many try to compromise and reconcile creation and evolution is to explain that everything is made by "intelligent design". Sounds nice, but falls short. It's true, God is the Designer, but much more than that. He not only designed, He created - brought everything into existence.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand." (Job 38:4, God speaking).

"In the beginning GOD CREATED." What's your position? A Creator or not? So many are dissuaded from the truth of a Creator by fine sounding arguments - for example, by TV shows that can sound so convincing. All you need is a well-produced show, with amazing graphics, music, and a persuasive commentator along with impressive sounding credentials, and millions are hooked into falling for it.

"It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts." (Isaiah 45:12)

"GOD CREATED." To boil it down even further......God or no God? Do you believe in God or not? If not, then all kinds of physical, God-less explanations must be developed, not only for creation, but for all other Biblical miracles. For if God is not Creator, then He is not sovereign over all existing natural and physical laws. But because God is Creator, He can alter the laws of physics and nature, and, for example, split the seas, or walk on water, or instantly heal the paralyzed, or bring someone back from the dead. 

 "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'” (Psalm 14:1)

In man's attempt to disprove a Creator God, and through human reasoning, explain the unexplainable, namely the origin of matter and the origin of life, all kinds of intricate, outlandish theories are woven. We are bombarded with them. And I'm tired of the propaganda. But don't be persuaded by Godless explanations!

Believe what you may. You know where I stand!

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11)




Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Queen Of Sheba Comes To Town

Of all the people who came to visit the great King Solomon, perhaps the most intriguing one was the Queen of Sheba. Like so many, she came to hear his wisdom. In today's world, King Solomon would be considered a genius! This genius stature was a miraculous gift from God. When Solomon became King, God told him to ask for anything and it would be granted. So with a humble heart, Solomon asked for wisdom and discernment in leading God's chosen people. Not only did God grant his wish, but because he didn't ask for long life or wealth, riches, and honor, God gave him all those as well, and in great abundance!

Kings from every nation came to consult with him and to hear the wisdom God had given him. Year after year everyone who visited brought him gifts of silver and gold, clothing, weapons, spices, horses, and mules (1 Kings 10:14-25). Solomon's wisdom exceeded that of all the great wise men of his time. His fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to his wisdom. (1 Kings 4:29-34)

Each year Solomon received about 25 tons of gold! (In today's market, that would be worth about 1.2 billion dollars.) This did not include the additional revenue he received from merchants and traders. All the kings of Arabia and the governors of the provinces also brought gold and silver to Solomon. King Solomon made 200 large shields of hammered gold, each weighing more than 15 pounds. He also made 300 smaller shields of hammered gold, each weighing more than 7 1⁄2 pounds.

King Solomon's throne was huge, decorated with ivory and overlaid with pure gold. The throne had six steps, with a footstool of gold. There were armrests on both sides of the seat, and the figure of a lion stood on each side of the throne. There were also twelve other lions, one standing on each end of the six steps. No other throne in all the world could be compared with it!

All of King Solomon’s drinking cups were solid gold, as were all the utensils in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon. They were not made of silver, for silver was considered worthless in Solomon’s day! The king had a fleet of trading ships manned by the sailors sent by Hiram. Once every three years the ships returned, loaded with gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

When the queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions. She arrived with a large group of attendants and a great caravan of camels loaded with spices, large quantities of gold, and precious jewels. When she met with Solomon, she talked with him about everything she had on her mind. Solomon had answers for all her questions; nothing was too hard for him to explain to her. When the queen of Sheba realized how wise Solomon was, and when she saw the palace he had built, she was overwhelmed. She was also amazed at the food on his tables, the organization of his officials and their splendid clothing, the cup-bearers and their robes, and the burnt offerings Solomon made at the Temple of the Lord.
 
She exclaimed to the king, “Everything I heard in my country about your achievements and wisdom is true! I didn’t believe what was said until I arrived here and saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I had not heard the half of your great wisdom! It is far beyond what I was told. How happy your people must be! What a privilege for your officials to stand here day after day, listening to your wisdom! Praise the Lord your God, who delights in you and has placed you on the throne as king to rule for him. Because God loves Israel and desires this kingdom to last forever, he has made you king over them so you can rule with justice and righteousness.”

Then she gave the king a gift of 9,000 pounds of gold, great quantities of spices, and precious jewels. Never before had there been spices as fine as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba whatever she asked for—gifts of greater value than the gifts she had given him. Then she and all her attendants returned to their own land. (1 Kings 10:1-13)

Centuries after this event took place, Jesus himself reflected on this famous, historic visit made by the Queen of Sheba. Only He used it as an illustration to show the sorry state of a corrupt generation who refused to acknowledge Him as the Christ. Jesus contrasted the Queen of Sheba's desire to sit and listen to King Solomon, with those who refused to come and listen to Him. 

It's quite a lesson. In other words, if the Queen of Sheba came to sit at the feet of King Solomon and listen to his wisdom, why wouldn't the people of Jesus' day come and listen to Him, who is so much greater than King Solomon? If the Queen of Sheba made the effort to travel from a distant land to hear King Solomon, why couldn't the people in Jesus' day make an effort to listen and learn from Jesus when He was walking right in their midst?

"The Queen of Sheba will also stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for she came from a distant land to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Now someone greater than Solomon is here—but you refuse to listen." (Matthew 12:42).

Perhaps we should heed the words of Jesus himself...."Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand." (Matthew 15:10)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

King Orders Baby To Be Cut In Half!

The King's empire was incredibly huge. His dominion extended over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from ancient Tiphsah to ancient Gaza. And there was peace on all his borders. During his lifetime all his people lived in peace and safety. What a respected and well liked king he must have been. 

He was immensely wealthy. He had 4,000 stalls for his chariot horses, and he had 12,000 horses. The district governors faithfully provided food for the king and his court; each made sure nothing was lacking during the month assigned to him. (1 Kings 4:22-27). His palace was stunning, and incredibly huge. Picture this...the daily food requirements for his palace were 150 bushels of choice flour and 300 bushels of meal; also 10 oxen from the fattening pens, 20 pasture-fed cattle, 100 sheep or goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roe deer, and choice poultry. That's for just one day!

His wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. The king had very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He wrote three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to him, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom. (1 Kings 4:29-34).

His name........... King Solomon, son of King David. What's amazing is how King Solomon actually attained his incredible stature. His wisdom and wealth ultimately came as the direct result of how he answered one single question. It was a question from God himself! That's right, when Solomon first started his reign, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5).

Makes you wonder, doesn't it? What would your answer be if God asked you that same question this very moment? If you knew that you would be granted whatever you wished for, what would it be? Would it be success? Would it be wealth? Would it be health? Would it be money? Would it be power and influence? Would it be fame? Would it be popularity?

Solomon's response to God's question didn't match any of the above answers. When God said "Ask for whatever you want me to give you", instead of asking for power and victory and treasures and fame, He gave an answer that was filled with humility and honesty. 

Here is Solomon's answer. “Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

His answer was perfect! It was the answer God had hoped he would give. God was so pleased with Solomon's answer He said,“Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” (1 Kings 3:11-14).

God granted King Solomon the discernment he asked for. In addition, God granted Solomon what he DIDN"T ask for - great riches and honor. Solomon was rewarded because of his right priorities, his right attitude, his right heart. What is your priority, your attitude, your heart? I've seen it time and again, when someone's priority, attitude, and heart are right, they are blessed by God. And when priorities, attitude, and heart aren't right, things fall apart.

Anyway, here's a fascinating true story that demonstrates King Solomon's wisdom and discernment. It happened shortly after he became King.

Some time later two prostitutes came to the king to have an argument settled. “Please, my lord,” one of them began, “this woman and I live in the same house. I gave birth to a baby while she was with me in the house. Three days later this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there were only two of us in the house. But her baby died during the night when she rolled over on it. Then she got up in the night and took my son from beside me while I was asleep. She laid her dead child in my arms and took mine to sleep beside her. And in the morning when I tried to nurse my son, he was dead! But when I looked more closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t my son at all.”
 
Then the other woman interrupted, “It certainly was your son, and the living child is mine.”  “No,” the first woman said, “the living child is mine, and the dead one is yours.” And so they argued back and forth before the king.

Then the king said, “Let’s get the facts straight. Both of you claim the living child is yours, and each says that the dead one belongs to the other. All right, bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought to the king. Then he said, “Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman and half to the other!”

Then the woman who was the real mother of the living child, and who loved him very much, cried out, “Oh no, my lord! Give her the child—please do not kill him!” But the other woman said, “All right, he will be neither yours nor mine; divide him between us!”

Then the king said, “Do not kill the child, but give him to the woman who wants him to live, for she is his mother!” When all Israel heard the king’s decision, the people were in awe of the king, for they saw the wisdom God had given him for rendering justice.  (1 Kings 3:16-28)

More on King Solomon later.............

Monday, February 11, 2013

Murderer On The Loose!

Recently in the news was a story about a manhunt underway for a former Los Angeles cop. He had been on a killing rampage, murdering innocent victims, and was still on the loose. He was armed and dangerous. Can you imagine how frightening it would be to know there is an armed murderer on the loose in your city or town?

Years ago, a police helicopter kept circling over my neighborhood. It was apparent they were looking for someone, and knowing there is a prison about 10 minutes away, it made me suspicious that an escapee was on the run. My children were young then, playing outside, when a state trooper sped into my driveway. He came to a quick stop, jumped out, and told me to get the kids in the house, lock the doors, and stay inside. He took off down the road and I quickly did exactly as he said. Later we were told that they had tracked down an escaped prisoner who was hiding in the bushes, two houses down. As far as I know, he was not a murderer, but even so, it was enough to give us quite a scare.

The news about that murderer in California reminds me of a murderer who was on the loose a long time ago. His name was Barabbas. He lived nearly two thousand years ago, during the time of Jesus. The story of Barabbas is recorded in the Bible and it takes place in the early morning hours when Jesus was arrested and placed before Pilate. Already held in jail as a prisoner, Barabbas was a robber and a murderer. He was obviously a very rebellious person, having caused an insurrection in the city prior to his arrest. (Luke 23:19). If anyone deserved to be on death row awaiting execution, it was Barabbas. 

Interestingly enough, a strange custom had been in place during each Passover feast. The Roman governors always pardoned and released a prisoner in honor of the Jews. No one is certain how this practice started. Perhaps it was an ancient custom, or possibly just a traditional good will gesture. Whatever the reason, it certainly was not part of the Jewish law, and surely didn’t do much for upholding justice. Regardless, during this particular Passover, the peculiar practice of releasing a prisoner was to once again be done. Only in this case, Pilate gave the Jews a choice of who to release. They could release Jesus, who had just been arrested, or they could release Barabbas, who was on death row.

It seems like it should have been a no-brainer. After all, why would anyone want to release Barabbas – a man so barbaric, so dangerous, so evil, and such a menace to society? Even Pilate didn't think Jesus deserved death. However, the Jewish chief priests and elders persuaded the crowd to demand that Jesus be the one held as prisoner and crucified, and they convinced the people to plead the release of Barabbas instead. That’s exactly what happened! And a murderer was on the loose!

In this strange twist, a convicted criminal was released, and an innocent man died in his place! (Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, John 18:39-40). Barabbas deserved his sentence. Jesus didn’t. Jesus was given the punishment that Barabbas was doomed for – the cross. Thus, the guilty one was set free, while the blameless one paid the penalty. Barabbas was given a new lease on life. He had a brand new start - a second chance. 

Before this event took place, Barabbas had no hope of gaining freedom. There was nothing he could do to earn his release. He was condemned to certain death and if it weren’t for trading places with Jesus, he would have been surely executed. Instead, Barabbas was pardoned from his crimes and walked away a free man.

Sound familiar? I just wonder.....it is possible that this whole Barabbas incident was somehow orchestrated through God's providence for the sole purpose of illustrating what Jesus does for each of us? You see, the story of Barabbas is actually the story of you!

Look at the similarities. You were guilty of sin and there was nothing you could do to earn your forgiveness. You were doomed for eternal punishment. Only because Christ took your place – took the punishment on the cross - were you released from prison, released from the bondage of sin. As in the case of Barabbas, the righteous one (Jesus) died for the unrighteous one (you). The innocent one died for the guilty one. Only because of the sacrifice of Christ, do you walk in a newness of life – pardoned and set free.

This true story makes up my favorite parallel in the entire bible. Each time you are reminded of the story of Barabbas, let it remind you of who you are - a sinner saved by grace. You are Barabbas!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Snake On A Pole

I really am fascinated by the amazing parallels in the Bible between the Old and New Testaments. There are so many examples of people, places, events, or things in the Old Testament that are fulfilled in the New Testament.

There is a term for this called typology. The word is a little confusing. Think of an old manual type writer that uses hammers for each of the individual letters. When a key is pressed, a hammer strikes the paper, making a slight indentation in the paper along with the ink. Likewise, certain Old Testament persons, places, things, events, etc. are sort of a faint impressions or models of what is more clearly brought to light in the New Testament. For example, the story of Jonah (three days in the whale) is just a faint imprint of what is greater to come - Jesus three days in the grave.

I wanted to give this introduction because many of my future posts will be on such typology topics, although some of the comparisons I make may not be true 'typology' in a purest sense, but rather what I like to call 'amazing parallels' of the Bible. 

Now, to the story of a "snake on a pole". This is an example of Biblical typology. This story starts in the Old Testament and ends in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, there is a scene described where the nation of Israel is grumbling and complaining. After all God had done for them through Moses - led them out of Egyptian slavery - miraculously gave them food (manna) - and protected them - there was a time when the people of Israel started to complain as they were traveling in the wilderness. They began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness? There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!” (Numbers 21:4-5).

Wrong thing to do! Because they spoke against Him and against Moses, God decided to punish them severely. He sent poisonous snakes among them. Some Bible translations call them fiery serpents. Fiery serpents sure sounds more terrifying. Maybe they were called fiery because of the inflammation resulting from the bites, or maybe because of the judgment against them by God (many times fire signifies judgment in the Bible). Regardless, these serpents began biting the people, and many died. Then the people realized what was going on and came to Moses, crying out, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people. (Numbers 21:6-7).

God heard Moses' prayer and through His mercy, God decided to provide a way out for them - a way of rescuing them - a way of healing them. Now He could of just done that through a clean sweep sort of miracle. But He instructed Moses to do something very strange - probably something that didn't make much sense at the time. 

God told Moses to make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. He told Moses all who are bitten will live if they simply look at it! So that's exactly what Moses did. He made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. And sure enough, when anyone was bitten by a poisonous snake and they looked at the bronze snake, they lived! (Numbers 21:8-9). Which means that if someone got bitten and didn't look at the bronze snake, they would die. This cure was conditional, it was their choice to stare at the snake on a pole and trust that it would cure them, and it did!

Now the story could have just stopped there and it would have been an incredible story. As a matter of fact, it did stop there for a long, long time - until the Apostle John reflected on it. John realized something - that this whole serpent on a pole thing had double importance. First, it was obviously a miracle of healing, saving the people. But secondly, and more importantly, it was a prefigure, a model, of Jesus crucified on a cross! Maybe that's why God came up with this snake on a pole idea to begin with. 

John writes about it in the two verses that precede one of the most popular verses in the entire Bible - John 3:16 ( “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.") But take a look at the two verses that lead up to it - John 3:14-15. That's where John compares the story of the snake on a pole to belief in Jesus!

Here's what John writes: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:14-16). 

There are several parallels that John is making. First, just as the poisonous snakes bit the people, sin poisons us. Second, just as the people would die if they didn't look at the snake, believing that it would cure them, we will die in our sins if we don't believe in Jesus, who offers us life. Third, just as the snake was lifted up on a pole, Jesus was lifted up on a cross, for our sake. Fourth, just as the bronze snake was the one and only cure for the people, Jesus is the one and only cure for the sins of all people. Fifth, just as the people needed only to look at the bronze snake, we are saved, not by good works or deeds, but by grace. 

I'm sure you could come up with even more parallels in this story. What's important to remember though, is that this comparison of the Old Testament bronze snake story to Jesus on the cross is a legitimate comparison because the Apostle John teaches it as such.

So from now on, when you hear the story of the snake on a pole, let it remind you of Jesus and how he saves you. And may your eyes continue to look toward Him, for healing and for forgiveness. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2)

One more interesting thing.....the Bible mentions the snake on a pole in one other place. It occurs in 2 Kings 18:4. It's when King Hezekiah smashes it to pieces, hundreds of years later. By that time, it had become an object of idol worship. Perhaps they trusted the snake for healing instead of trusting in God Himself. King Hezekiah wanted to do right in the sight of God, so he got rid of all the false idols, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. "He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it." (2 Kings 18:4). 

It makes you wonder, would we do the same today if we had a piece of the actual cross, or the ark of the covenant, or a part of Noah's ark? Would we worship those things more than God Himself? (Romans 1:25). Maybe there's a good reason we don't have such things.