Saturday, January 31, 2009

So see if it isn't so

When somebody says the Bible is full of contradictions, I have learned now to say "Have you read the Bible?" You'd be surprised at the answers I get.

Usually it's something like "Well, I've read bits of it."

"How long ago?"

"Well, it's some years ago. But. . . the Bible does have contradictions in it. . . doesn't it?"

Well actually, no. If you looked, you might find something that looked like a contradiction to someone who didn't understand what he was reading and was only looking for an excuse not to believe. The remarkable thing is that the Bible was written by about 40 different people in different places and different walks of life over a period of something like 1,600 years, and it all agrees.

You can see the Persian empire, the empire of Alexander the Great, the Roman empire, the coming of Christ, all prophesied there many years before they happened. You can see prophecies in the Old Testament fulfilled in the New Testament in exact detail. In the Old Testament, written hundreds of years before Christ came, there are hundreds of detailed prophecies about Him in His life and His death.

Psalm 22 foretells His physical suffering on the cross; how His hands and His feet were pierced; how He was mocked and insulted, even to the words of His mockers; how they cast lots for His clothing. Psalms 22 and 31 foretell the words He spoke on the cross. Psalm 34 tells how none of His bones were broken. Psalm 69 tells how in His suffering they gave Him vinegar to drink.

Zechariah tells how He would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver. Isaiah 53 tells in advance how He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, how He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, how after His death He was placed in a rich man's grave.

But don't take my word for it. The Bible doesn't need me to defend it. Check it out for yourselves.

Getting answers to prayer (3)

There is a second condition to answered prayer: that you pray in faith. In other words, you believe when you pray that God will answer. God wants you to trust that He will do what you ask.

Heb 11:6 puts it like this: "Without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him."

Remember the woman with the issue of blood (Matt 9:20-22)? She'd been like that for 12 years, but she just knew if she could only touch the hem of His garment, she would be healed. She believed it when she went to meet Him, she believed it as she touched Him, and she continued to believe it after she touched Him. Jesus said to her "Your faith has made you well." Strictly speaking, you might want to argue, it wasn't her faith that had healed her, it was Jesus who had healed her. But it was her faith that enabled her to receive her healing.

The Bible is full of promises. It is faith that turns God's promises into personal experience. Faith is simply believing that God will do what He has promised to do. Faith is believing God's promise, despite the circumstances.

It's as though God looks for faith. It can be the faith of the person concerned; the faith of the people who are concerned about that person, like the people who brought the paralytic to Jesus (Matt 9:2); or the faith of others who pray, like the elders who pray for the sick person in Jas 5:14, 15. Where there is faith, miracles can happen (Acts 14:8 - 10; Mark 9:23).

Matt 21:22 says "All things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." Notice that "believing." Faith must be based on God's word. It's not faith in our faith, or faith in ourselves. Faith comes through God's word. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom 10:17).

Notice how faith works. "Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them" (Mark 11:24). According to that verse, when do we believe? When we pray. We believe that we receive the things we ask for, even though we don't see them yet. If we believe we receive them, that verse says, we will have them. In other words, we don't receive in order to believe, we believe in order to receive.

It is here that people miss it. They think about the need, say "Oh, I don't have faith for that," and don't pray. Don't do that. You may not have faith to begin with. Remember Rom 10:17. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Faith comes. Faith isn't something you work up yourselves. Faith comes from above. Pray about the situation and continue to read God's word until faith springs up in your heart. Then you can ask and know you have the answer.

"God is not a man, that he should lie," the Bible says, "nor a son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it good?" (Num 23:19). God is faithful to fulfil His word. Can you believe it?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obama and Eugene Robinson

American Christian journalist and author Bill Wilson has some strong words to say about Barack Obama's choice of homosexual bishop Eugene Robinson to pray at one of his inauguration events.

Sunday, January 18, says Wilson, marked the beginning of the US presidential inauguration. Kicking off the ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial was homosexual activist and false minister of the gospel "Vickie" Eugene Robinson, the apostate Episcopalian. Robinson was charged with opening the event with a prayer. He began his prayer for the new administration at the White House with these words, "O god of many understandings. . ." From then on, Robinson called on this pagan god to "bless" America, but each "blessing" was actually a curse pronounced over the nation, a prophetic call from the abyss to the one world order and the encoding of the true gospel into words that tickle the ears, but destroy souls.

Robinson asked god to bless our nation with tears, anger and discomfort so that we might not accept: poverty around the world; women being raped because they seek an education; the discrimination of homosexuals, transgender people, immigrants and people of color; simplistic answers rather than the truth about ourselves as a nation. Robinson then asked for the blessing of patience to understand that our problems will not be fixed anytime soon; with humility to embrace with respect our differences and to know that our national needs must be balanced with the needs of the world; and compassion, "remembering that every religion's god judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable."

It is with these curses embraced by the new administration that our nation begins another chapter in its history, a chapter that when it is written will say that Americans stepped outside of its underpinnings as a Christian nation and its leadership fell apostate to a strange word. Even the man who claims to lead evangelical Christians served as an apologist for the apostate. Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of Saddleback Church, praised the choice of Robinson to pray, saying that the president elect "has again demonstrated his genuine commitment to bringing all Americans of goodwill together in search of common ground."

Warren could not be more incorrect. Robinson is not a man of goodwill. He is an apostate that mocks the word of God. And in lacking discernment by promoting common ground with such a man, Warren is deceived and is deceiving others. What has occurred is the cursing of our nation and its leadership with heresy. And it is a sad day that Christian leaders would embrace such compromise.

You can read the whole piece here or here.

Getting answers to prayer (2)

The first condition to getting answers to prayer is that we pray according to God's will.

The idea of prayer is not that we should twist God's arm up His back to try to persuade Him to do something He doesn't want to do. That's not the idea at all. The idea is to pray for what He wants to do so that He can do it. We are asked to pray Your kingdom come. Your will be done (Matt 6:10).

(If you wonder perhaps why God doesn't just go ahead and do what He wants to do without waiting for us to pray so that He can answer, there are two things that might be useful to think about. When He created this earth, He intended us to rule down here in obedience to His will, so He gave man dominion over the earth. He's never taken that dominion away. Secondly, He gave us a free will. He's never taken that away either. God doesn't impose Himself on people. He will wait for people to call on Him so that He may respond.)

God is willing to supply our needs, but unwilling to pander to our lusts. "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures," says James in Jas 4:3. When we pray, Jesus said, we should pray in His name. In other words, on His behalf. It wouldn't make much sense to pray for something in Christ's name that was contrary to God's will.

So if we pray for something that is not God's will, God won't give us the answer we're looking for (unless perhaps we want it so badly or pray for it so long He lets us have it to teach us a lesson). But praying in accordance with God's will is a different matter. Pray in accordance with God's will and we can expect an answer. "Now this is the confidence that we have in him," says 1 John 5:14, 15, "that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of him."

How do we know what God's will is? The Bible makes it clear what God's will is on a lot of things. He is "not willing," for instance, "that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet 3:9). If we're walking with Him, if we have His word and His Spirit, we will usually know what His will is. There are some things, granted, that the Bible doesn't tell us. There will be some things on which we don't know God's will. What do we do then? Ask. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (Jas 1:5). Pray until you know what God's will is, and then pray for God's will to be done.

God doesn't make prayer difficult. There are conditions that need to be met. But remember, God asks us to pray because He wants to answer.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Getting answers to prayer (1)

Some people imagine that prayer is something of a hit-and-miss business. A bit like throwing snowballs at the moon and hoping something will stick. Really, prayer is not like that at all.

The fact is that God promises to answer prayer. Consider the seven occasions in the Gospels where Jesus promises answers to prayer.

In Matt 7:7, 8 Jesus says "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." The promise is repeated in Luke 11:9, 10.

John 14:13, 14 says "Whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it."

If you had been in His shoes, would you have made a promise like that? Neither would I. But He did.

John 16:23, 24 says "In that day you will ask me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full."

In Matt 21:22 Jesus promised "All things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive."

In Mark 11:24: "I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them."

Finally, John 15:7. "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you."

So, when I pray, can I ask for anything?

Yes, you can.

Two private jet planes and a billionaire lifestyle?

Well, no.

But you said. . .

Yes, I know what I said. Look at it like this. The Bible is full of promises. Most of the promises have conditions attached to them. Fail to fulfil the conditions and you won't see the promise fulfilled. But fulfil the conditions, and you will see the promise fulfilled certain sure.

So do the promises to answer prayer have conditions attached to them?

Yes, they do. Would you like to know what they are?

So it's Israel's fault?

How is it that whatever happens, it's Israel that's to blame?

I did not intend to write so often about Israel, but with so much Hamas propaganda coming out of Gaza and so much anti-Israel feeling in the media, justice demands some attempt to put the record straight.

Israel is a sovereign state, with a right to defend its territory and a duty to defend its citizens. Hamas is a terrorist organisation sworn to the extermination of Israel. Over the past eight years, more than 8,000 missiles fired from Gaza have landed in Israel. What other nation, asked former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would have waited eight years before retaliating? What other nation, he said, would have waited eight months?

Israel is said to have started the conflict. Israel didn't. Israel is said to have refused to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza to help the suffering. Israel hasn't. Not only has Israel allowed humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, Israel has brought injured civilians from Gaza to be treated in Israeli hospitals.

Hamas has targetted civilians with the rockets it has fired into Israel, but that fact is carefully ignored. Israel's Foreign Ministry has issued videos showing Israel aborting missile strikes because Hamas targets were suddenly approaching civilians. Yet Israel is accused of deliberately targetting women and children. Hamas's figures of killed and wounded are trumpeted, while Israel's version of the figures is ignored. (The figures issued by the UN, I inderstand, were given to the UN by Hamas.)

Venezuela has broken off diplomatic ties with Israel because of its offensive in Gaza. Bolivia has done the same, accusing Israel of genocide. The Canadian Union of Public Employees, who apparently had nothing to say when battles against terrorists in Russia, China and Sri Lanka had a far greater civilian toll, wants Israeli academics banned from Canadian campuses unless they explicitly condemn the assault on Gaza.

When the situation is discussed in the British Parliament, Israel is accused of war crimes. Francesca Segal tells in the Observer how antisemitic incidents have suddenly quadrupled in the UK and the graffito "Kill Jews" is appearing in North London. Starbucks cafe bars are being smashed up in London because Starbucks' CEO is Jewish, and Tesco stores are being targetted because Tesco's founder was a Jew.

Some people won't have anything to do with Bible prophecy. This is a pity, for two reasons. First, God didn't put it in the Bible because He wanted people to ignore it. Second, every Bible prophecy that has been fulfilled to date has been fulfilled in exact detail. This is reasonable ground for supposing that any Bible prophecy not yet fulfilled will be fulfilled in the same way.

There is a prophecy in the Bible, beginning at the first verse of Zechariah 14, which has still to be fulfilled. It speaks of a day when all nations will be gathered in battle against Jerusalem - with surprising results.

That day may not be as far away as some people suppose.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

And the fighting goes on

The fighting in Gaza continues. There are said to be 800 dead and many more injured.

Hamas, a terrorist organisation which is sworn to Israel's destruction, has fired more than 6,000 rockets and missiles into Israel from Gaza since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. There seemed to be little concern outside Israel. But now that Israel has decided to retaliate, out pours the Jew-hatred and the antisemitic rhetoric. Since Israel began its offensive, the number of antisemitic incidents has risen across Europe.

Part of the problem is Hamas' lack of concern for the lives of its people. It uses its men, women and children as suicide bombers. It deliberately places its ammunition dumps and military command centres in the middle of civilian populations. It uses women and children as human shields. It appears to fire on the Israeli army from inside or in front of UN schools, so that when Israel returns fire it will be able to use pictures of the dead and wounded to influence world opinion for the Palestinian cause.

Alan M. Dershowitz, writing in the National Post, says the number of civilians killed by Israelis is almost always exaggerated.

There is much more protest - and fury - directed against Israel, he says, when it inadvertently kills approximately 100 civilians in a just war of self defence, than against Arab and Muslim nations and groups that deliberately kill far more civilians for no legitimate reason. . . more Arabs and Muslim civilians are killed every day in Africa and the Middle East by Arab and Muslim governments with little or no protests. . .

Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid killing civilians - if for no other reason than that it hurts its cause - while Hamas does everything in its power to force Israel to kill Palestinian civilians by firing its missiles from densely populated civilian areas and refusing to build shelters for its civilians. . .

Hamas and Fatah have killed far more Palestinian civilians over the past several years than have the Israelis, but you wouldn't know that from the media, the United Nations or protesters who focus selectively on only those deaths caused by Israeli military actions.

Said Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times:

The poverty and the death and the despair among the Palestinians in Gaza moves me to tears. How can it not? Who can see pictures of children in a war zone or a slum street and not be angry and bewildered and driven to protest? And what is so appalling is that it is so unnecessary. For there can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have.

Yet they will not say it. And they will not mean it. For they do not want the Jews. Again and again - again and again - the Palestinians have been offered a nation state in a divided Palestine. And again and again they have turned the offer down, for it has always been more important to drive out the Jews than to have a Palestinian state. It is difficult sometimes to avoid the feeling that Hamas and Hezbollah don't want to kill Jews because they hate Israel. They hate Israel because they want to kill Jews.

MP Michael Fabricant said he has been "horrified and angered" by the BBC coverage of the conflict, and will be making a formal complaint to the chairman of the BBC Trust about it.

BBC TV featured an interview with a Norwegian doctor from Shifa hospital in Gaza, Mads Gilbert. He painted a horrific picture of death and destruction in Gaza, claimed Israel was operating contrary to international law, using unconventional weapons and deliberately targeting civilians, and said he had seen only two Hamas "fighters" in hospital; all the rest of the injured had been civilians.

What the BBC failed to mention - something that is fairly common knowledge - is that Mads Gilbert is not just a doctor, but a longstanding activist in the Palestinian "solidarity" movement viscerally hostile to Israel, a former member of the Norwegian "Red" Party and a supporter of the terrorist attacks on the United States on 9/11.

Says Melanie Phillips, writing in her blog at the Spectator:

It is beyond appalling that the BBC should have presented this apologist for Hamas as a dispassionate first-hand observer. . . Whether it is cynical, malicious or just plain incompetent, the BBC's coverage of Gaza is a national disgrace. Given that such propaganda will invariably incite people to hatred, hysteria and even violence, the case for Parliament debating the BBC's performance is overwhelming.

The great tragedy is that a people who not too long ago lost six million of its number, including a million-and-a-half children, in a deliberate attempt at extermination should still have to fight for its existence.

God has a purpose for your life

Do you know that God has a purpose for your life?

Consider the Bible verses at Eph 1:3, 4: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world." God knew you, you see, before the world began.

In Matt 10:30, it says that "the very hairs of your head are all numbered." In some translations of the Bible it says the hairs of your head are all counted, but in the King James Version of the Bible it says the hairs of your head are all numbered. So you can't comb your hair in a morning and a couple of hairs come out in the comb without God knows about it and has allowed for it. That's the measure of his concern for you.

Now look at 2 Tim 1:9. "Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began." Not only did God know us before the world was created, but He both had a purpose for our lives and gave us the grace to fulfil it, even then.

Finally, look at Eph 2:10. "For we are his workmanship," it says, "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." God has prepared things for us to do, things that no one else on earth can do but us. Every one of us has a gift, a ministry to fulfil. I often think of Dorcas, who was "full of good works and charitable deeds which she did." When she died, "all the widows stood. . . weeping, showing the tunics and the garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them." She might not have been a great preacher, but she had a ministry, something given her to do that would bless others and affect the world for good.

It's a sad thing, but many people never find the ministry that God has for them, because all their lives they make their own decisions and go their own way. If you want to find God's purpose for your life, repent of your sin and yield your life to Christ. Then He will begin to lead you into a life that is fruitful and wonderfully satisfying.

Perhaps you are a young Christian, and you have not yet found the ministry that God has for you. Don't worry. Pray. Read the Bible. Join a Bible-believing church. Begin to do the things that are at hand for you to do, and be faithful in them, and God will lead you into the life He has prepared for you. He will not fail, for He is faithful.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem

This week Israel has been fighting Hamas, the Islamic terrorist organisation in Gaza, and Hamas has been fighting Israel. The cause of the conflict: Hamas, or people controlled by Hamas, have been firing rockets from Gaza into Israel for years, and are continuing to do so.

Israel is in a difficult position. Hamas has been arming for war, via Egypt, for long enough. Hezbollah, in Lebanon, in the north, has thousands of rockets able to reach Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Israel's nuclear facility at Dimona. Iran, who has promised to wipe Israel off the map, will have enough material for an atomic weapon any time now.

Israel is a small country, with a piece of land about the size of Wales. She is surrounded by Islamic nations who together have more than six hundred times the amount of land Israel has, much of it undeveloped. The Islamic nations aren't concerned about the land they have: they want the bit that Israel has.

In the Bible, God calls the land of Israel "my land." In the midst of the land is Jerusalem, where God promised to place His name forever. One day the Lord Jesus Christ will return to earth to reign and rule, not just as King of the Jews, but as King of kings and Lord of lords. When He comes back, He is coming to Jerusalem. That's why there's all the trouble in the Middle East.

After God brought the Israelites into the Promised Land, He told them that if they were disobedient, He would scatter them through the nations to the four corners of the earth. They were disobedient, and He kept His promise. The same God also promised He would bring them back to the land. He has done that too. The Bible promises in both the Old and New Testaments that after they are returned to the land, they will have a spiritual restoration through the Jewish Messiah.

The last few verses of Matthew 23 tell how Jesus grieved over Jerusalem.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem," He said, "the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

"See! Your house is left unto you desolate;

"for I say to you, you shall see me no more till" - Notice, He didn't say you shall see Me no more; thank God, there's an "until" - "till you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'"

"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" in Hebrew is Barukh haba baShem Adonai. In modern Hebrew, barukh haba, or if you are particularly Orthodox, barukh haba baShem Adonai, simply means "Welcome."

The enemy of souls doesn't want that spiritual restoration to happen. If it does, then Christ can come.

We are instructed to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Under His wings

My grandfather kept hens. Sometimes one of them would go broody. When that happened, he would make a nest for her in an old wooden box, put a dozen eggs in the nest, and put a piece of sacking over the front of the box so she could sit on them undisturbed. Three weeks later, she would have a dozen tiny chicks.

If the weather was good, Granddad would put her box out of doors with an enclosure of wire netting around the box so the chicks could run on the grass. The hen would sit watching her brood, every inch the proud mother. If danger approached, she would call to the chicks, and one by one they would run under her wings. She would be sitting there looking just like she did before, but the chicks were now out of sight, safely protected by her wings, warm against the side of her body. Except perhaps for one who would be too clever to come in, and was still playing about outside.

Did you know that God has wings? Well, apparently He does. In the beautiful 91st Psalm there's a precious promise: "He shall cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you shall take refuge." Imagine being safe under the wings of the Creator of the universe.

Ruth knew something about that. She was a girl from Moab who decided to trust the God of Israel and go to live in Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Boaz, who later became her husband, had some kind words for her. "The Lord repay your work," he said, "and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge."

King David had the same idea. In the 17th Psalm, he says to God "Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings." In the 57th Psalm, when he was on the run from Saul, who was out to kill him, he says to God "In the shadow of your wings I will make my refuge, until these calamities have passed by." And in Psalm 61, he says "I will abide in your tabernacle for ever; I will trust in the shelter of your wings." The word in the original Hebrew translated shelter there is translated elsewhere a secret place, a hiding place.

Jesus knew about it too. In the last week before He died, as He thought about Jerusalem, the city and the people that He loved, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem," He said, "the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" He had a place for them. Safe in the Saviour. What a wonderful place to be!

I remember the first time I heard the gospel, in a little church one Sunday evening. After the service, some folks from the church took me to their home. A neighbour who also belonged to the church sat there and told me what Jesus had done for her. There was a happiness on her face that I could see. Yet it didn't occur to me it was for me.

God continued to speak to my heart until four months later I gave my life to Christ. Can you imagine it? The Creator of the universe wanted me to accept His call to a personal relationship with Him. All He wanted to do was bless me, give me His forgiveness, His love, His joy, His peace. And it took me four months to decide I was willing. Sometimes we're a bit like the chicken who thinks he knows better. Don't you be like that. When you hear the call to be safe under His wings, come running. You'll never regret it. Not for a moment. I never have.