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Archive for July, 2019

Revelation: A Different Look

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Just finished a course from Israel Bible Center on Revelation. Dr. Ralph Corner brings up an interesting point. What if the Seals, Trumpets and Bowls are not meant to be read as sequential events, ones happening right after another, but as different aspects of the same events, described for different purposes? Since we know the gospel of John, which was written by the same author, is grouped by theme, or topic and is not written in an orderly fashion with respect to time, this is indeed a possibility. John also likes to use a chiastic structure, which involves repetition and the main points being placed in the middle of the argument rather than at the end, where we tend to like it. We see this as well in the book of Revelation, as well as the gospel of John, which makes it just that much harder for us as modern readers, not used to this style, to understand!
So let’s look at what we would expect if the Seals, Trumpets and Bowls described the same events.
First we would expect repetition of the same types of things, and this is what we do see. There is an earthquake in both the seals and the bowl sections, the sun darkens in all three, the moon turns red/ darkens in the seals and trumpets, the stars fall in the seals and trumpets, the mountains move in all sections, the islands move in the seals and the bowls, men seek to hide, mourn etc in all, war occurs in all- in Armageddon , on the great plain which is likely Armageddon and with an army of 200 million, which would only fit into a great open space, likely Armageddon. There is famine occurring in all three sections, as well as pestilence. Hail occurs in the trumpets and the bowl sections, the sea turns to blood in the trumpet and bowl sections, ships and cargo are effected in the trumpet and bowl section and God states it is finished in both the trumpet and bowl sections, which Jesus also states on the cross (something we will explore later, as these events are similar to the judgements as well!).
So there is a lot of similarity of what will happen in each section. Not complete overlap, but if the events are being related to a theme, not everything will be needed to prove each point, so we expect some things to be left out. So what are the themes?
This is actually fairly easy, as Revelations tells us. The theme of the Seals is the Jesus/ God is the owner of the world and He is coming back to reclaim His kingdom! John is therefore telling us that He has the power, authority, ability and the willingness to judge the earth and punish the wicked, but there is also a theme that He does so in a way to drive men to repentance, and that you would have to be very hard hearted to resist.
The next ‘theme’ is the trumpets, which are a Biblical call to war, or announcement, or, in this case, both. The trumpet warns you of what is to come, so we see the events in the trumpets being the cusp of further problems, warning the saints to get ready, hunker down and stand strong, it is going to get bad. There are also promises in each section though, indicating that the saints will be spared some of the worst as they will be sealed. They may not be ‘spared’ as we would like to be spared, singing and dancing unaffected, as we know a great many are martyred, but there will be some protection and great rewards in heaven, so hold fast!
The final section is the bowls. This seems to describe exactly what is going to happen and is the most detailed. There is argument as to whether some of this has already happened in history or not, as we have had wars, and famine etc, but regardless, this is a section that tells us what is to come and it gives greater detail than the first two sections regarding many of the same types of events.
These events also mirror the crucifixion when there was an earthquake, and the sun went dark. Although Jesus wishes to not drink from the cup, we know that He did, and in Revelation we see that this cup, the cup of God’s Wrath is being poured out. It also states in the section on the bowl judgements that ‘it is finished,’ a statement Jesus made on the cross. These crucifixion events appear to be a foreshadowing of the end, when Jesus takes ownership of the world. He is the rightful owner, and suffers and dies for us. Those who believe will join Him in heaven, while those who stubbornly refuse will perish. At the crucifixion, His suffering brings us to Him. In Revelation, our suffering shows us a glimpse of what life apart from our Creator will really be like and begs us not to choose it, though it is ultimately our choice.
My opinion: It is good to know about the events in the book of Revelation and study them well, looking at it from many different perspectives. It is the only book that promises blessings for those who do so. It is however bad to assume you have everything tied up and are sure you know exactly how everything will happen. This is prophecy. If you have ever studied prophecy in the Bible you know that while it is always true, the fulfillment is often not what one would expect. One of my Bible teachers (and it would be nice if I remembered which one so I could give them credit) stated that there were likely groups of disciples from other rabbis studying what the Messiah must look like, sure that they had it right, while Jesus strolled right by, unrecognized by the men. (Women would not be in such a group at this time, but likely some would have done the same if allowed!) So study, discuss, know what it actually says and not what you think it says, and don’t get too tied to any one theory because chances are on some aspect all will be wrong!

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Why Do Prayers Sometimes Go Unanswered?

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Ever wonder why your prayers are not answered?

In Christian circles we seem to believe ‘ask and you receive,’ yet we all know that this is not the way it happens. While God wants to bless us abundantly, there are some conditions regarding these requests. So some of our prayers go unanswered.
The book of Numbers may give us some clues as to why that is.

While wandering in the desert, the Israelites ‘asked’ for many different things. Some requests were granted, while others made God very angry and resulted in punishment.
Let’s explore what is a good thing to ask for, and what is not, and why that is.

First the Israelites complained about ‘adversity,’ or ‘hardship.’ God has organized the camps, gave people some things to carry, and then led the people visibly to the land He promised them. How did they respond? They complained. These former slaves who had just left miserable working conditions complained about the way God was personally leading them to a land of prosperity and freedom. Complaining about the work we have to do in order to get to our blessing is not the way to pray! God sent fire into the camps. He was not pleased.

Next we see them complaining because there is no meat. They are being fed miraculously with manna, for what is still supposed to be a short trip to the Promised Land. They are not satisfied with what they have, and want more. God provides them with so much they puke it out through their nostrils, and sends a plague. While it is Biblical to cry out to God when you are truly starving, it is not good to complain when He is providing you with what you need just because you think you deserve more.

Then we are told that Miriam and Aaron thought they deserved the position God gave Moses. Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses and explain why they believe that they, not Moses, should be the leader. Miriam is cursed with leprosy and forced to be outside the camp. In today’s society this would be like wanting to be the boss because you think you know better, so you do not follow the bosses instructions and do things your way instead. This also leads to ‘being outside the camp’ as you will not likely be promoted, but fired!

We then learn that ten of the spies come back and report that there is no way they can take the Promised Land that God has personally brought them to appearing as fire and a cloud and feeding them daily. They lose their blessing and God waits 40 years for their children to be ready. Prayer that shows a lack of faith that God will provide is not what God desires.

So what does this look like in real life:

God does not seem to like a life spent complaining about your current situation when, even though you do not seem to have all you want, if you currently have enough, God may be waiting on you to stop belly-aching to bless you! (It is okay to call out to God in scripture when you are truly suffering!). You are to be satisfied in your work, and not complain about what God has currently called you to do, so complaining about your job may keep you in it longer… You are not to go against leadership in ways that usurp their position. There are proper ways to deal with bad leadership; talking behind their backs, not respecting their authority and undermining the boss are not it. Remember, we are to do everything as if we are doing it for God, not man! Be the best employee you can and see what God does. (This is also a good way to get a promotion and be out from under your current boss…) And we are also to trust God to fulfill His promises. If you do not have a blessed life, rather than complain, make sure you are actually obeying God’s Word (because there are punishments for not doing so that you may be experiencing), make sure you are not being greedy (God may be waiting for your attitude change!) and make sure your desires are godly and not selfish. And make sure you are not missing His blessing by not recognizing the opportunity waiting for you, or by not being willing to do the hard work! (Remember, you won’t get into something like medical school without good grades and there is work to be done to get them! If God gave you the intelligence, are you using it?) Then sit back and trust God and see what He does!

So what type of prayer does God answer?

Within these passages are two requests that God is pleased with. One is the request of the people who are unclean who want to celebrate Passover. God is pleased and creates an alternate date for generations to come to celebrate Passover a month later. This group of people who have touched a dead body desire to be part of the community and to worship God corporately, but are currently unable to do so. God hears their request and grants them a way to participate, honoring their commitment. Prayers that keep you in community with God’s people, even if it not in the same way as others, are honored by God.

The second request is by the daughters of Zelophad. They wish that their father’s name not be lost in the community because he produced only daughters. God responds by saying it is right for daughters in cases like this to inherit, and again makes rules for others in similar situations. The daughters are demonstrating a few things here. One is that they trust the land will be successfully taken, something that the previous generation did not, so they are showing faith that what God said will be done, will actually be done. Secondly they are showing their willingness to be a part of the community and do the hard work of caring for the land even though they, as women, do not have to do this alone, outside a typical marital situation. They will be responsible for both the male and the female tasks of running a household and they are willing to do so for the sake of their family’s legacy, for the next generations. They also know their Bible, and are likely aware that Job’s daughters inherited land as well. As the book of Job is the oldest book of the Bible, this precedent is already in place and they are not letting Moses off the hook by ignoring God’s plan for women to have rights in Israel as well. Their request pleased God as it shows they trust that God will honor His promises, trust that God is the same God of those who came before (Job) and therefore will not change and go back on His Word, and a willingness to take on a more difficult role in order to preserve good things for their families. Trust and a willingness to do the work are a great combination. This is a selfless prayer. While they are asking for land, they are not asking for personal gain, and are trusting in God’s promises.

So, prayers that are not likely to be answered include: selfish desires/ greedy motives, complaints about hard work, desiring another’s position to the point of insubordination (not going about things the right way), and not trusting God to fulfill His promises.
Prayers that are answered: desires to be a part of God’s community, selfless desires that include a willingness to work hard to receive the promise, and desires that show you trust God to fulfill His promises and be true to His Word.

But remember, prayer is not a formula, but a relationship. We fast to draw closer to God, not to bribe Him into doing something for us- that is the way the pagans treat their gods! Satan quotes scripture, and when he tempts Jesus in the desert he uses a quote from the very scripture the people at the time believe should be repeated in order to keep him away! Vain repetition is not effective either. Just ask God for what you need with a sincere heart, be happy with what you do have, trust that He will be there for you, and obey His Word, repenting when obedience was not the option you chose… Remember, God asks us to approach Him as we would our earthly Father (a good one). Trust that He will do what is best in your life, but remember, there is typically a little work and adversity in everything too!

An ultimately, we must remember that God is in charge. He knows the beginning from the end and what is ultimately best. While some things seem to be so unfair, we must trust that there is a way and a plan and that He is ultimately in control.

How Demons Think

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When I was in college a friend of mine had a satanic bible, so I read it. Unlike a Christian Bible, there are more than one version, and they are not all the same, or so I have been told. This ‘bible’ essentially explained that you do not have to do bad things to be satanic, you just have to do what you want. Essentially it encouraged you to be completely selfish and to feel good about prioritizing your desires above all else. This is the exact opposite message of the Christian Bible, where we are to be willing to lay down our lives for others, and to have a servant’s heart in every situation.
In the Christian Bible we are given glimpses of interactions between man and demons, and sometimes satan. Let’s take a look at these verses. Like the satanic bible, most of these interactions are not straight forward, but a deception, occasionally using what seems to be right to trick us into what is not good. For this reason it is good to be prepared, lest we too are deceived.
In the garden we see Eve interacting with the serpent. We are told he deceives her, and see a subtle twisting of the words of God’s commands. She is under the impression that she may not touch the fruit without consequences, which was not a part of the original command to Adam. She sees the serpent in the tree, presumably showing her that nothing is happening when he touches everything she may not. She is also told that God does not want her to be like Him, knowing the difference between good and evil. This is true, as God wants her to trust and follow Him, and not to try to be a ‘god’ unto herself, which He knows His creation will not do well when they try to be good all on their own. The serpent however makes this arrangement seem evil, as if God is depriving her of something, when God only wants to protect and provide for His creation. The serpent also implies that the eating of the fruit will not result in death. This is a half-truth, as the fruit will not immediately kill her, but it will start the process of aging and lead to an eventual death. The problems here: Overstating God’s laws so that the person believes them to be a lie when they realize the overstatement (which they do not realize is an addition to God’s actual law) is incorrect. Making God’s laws seem like they are depriving you of something good, when in actuality they are keeping you from consequences and a harder life. And, half-truths, making something seem like it is a lie because someone subtilty misrepresents it. Examine your life. Do you resort to these tactics? Do you fall for them? Demon-proof your life a little better by realizing that these things are not the way God wants us to interact with the world.
In Matthew 4 we see Jesus interacting with satan in the desert. Satan is able to quote scripture, including Psalm 91 which was believed by the people of this time to ward off demons! (Their was a reference to demons repeatedly causing the issues listed in some Greek commentary like versions of the time.) Satan quotes scripture, but he quotes it in isolation and misapplies it. Jesus counters with verses which contradict satan’s biblical references showing satan that his interpretation is in error. Quoting scripture out of context and not balancing scripture with scripture is another ploy of the devil to throw us off the right path. There are a lot of things we wish the Bible said, because they fit with a life view we currently enjoy, or may have been taught by well meaning people we love. But if your interpretation of scripture clearly contradicts passages which occur elsewhere you need to examine your views closely and be open to changing your mind. The fact that satan can quote scripture, especially one people recited to keep him away, shows us that merely quoting scripture is not good enough. Those who cast out demons are those known as servants of the Most High God. Being a believer is your protection, not recitation and repetition of words, no matter how inspired they are. Trust God, not a formula to keep the demons at bay.
In Acts 16: 16-18 we meet a demon possessed slave girl who is shouting that Paul and his companions are servants of the Most High God. What she is saying is the truth, but the timing of this revelation is not proper, and Paul drives the demon out as he becomes exasperated with her actions. In Dan 10:13 we see a fallen angel blocking the archangel Michael and holding up God’s response to Daniel’s prayer. Demons use the truth, but rush or delay God’s timing. There is a time and a place for everything. Rushing the process when it is not God’s timing is not good either. Make sure you have the patience to wait for when the timing is right, but also the courage to be ‘strong and courageous’ when God calls you to act. The devil wishes to mess up God’s timing as well as His plans. Discerning when God wishes you to go forward leads to a more rewarding life!
While demons do cause disease, throw the possessed into danger (such as a fire), make people violent or prone to sin in scripture, the tactics that we typically fall for are much more subtle. And lastly, remember, godly people are selfless not selfish. The teaching I see most twisted in this respect is where Paul states that a wife’s body is her husband’s and the husband’s body belongs to his wife. 1 Cor 7:4 What most people see in this verse is that the wife is not to say no to the husband when he desires her. This is a very selfish interpretation of this scripture. Instead it should be read as a spouse should treat the other person’s body the way they would want to be treated, making sure there is pleasure for the other and not forcing the other person into situations they are not comfortable with. While not depriving a spouse is part of this thinking of the other, like everything else in scripture both people are to have a servant’s heart type attitude, only wanting what is best for the other and not what is ‘best for themselves alone. It is not ‘your body is mine so I can do what I want with it,’ but ‘your body is precious to me as if it were my own so I will take the best care of it I can and ensure it has everything it needs and desires!’ It’s a subtle, but very profound difference that turns a marriage into something wonderful.
Pride is also a condition we all suffer from at times that makes us want to be better and have more than others in ways that are not good. 1 Timothy 3: 6 warns us not to put a novice into an exalted position as pride may cause him to eventually fall. This can occur in a Christian life when we use our Christianity to make us feel superior as well. Jesus rebuked the leaders of His time for this one, and it is an easy sin to fall into. One of my Jewish rabbis who I like to listen to once remarked that he wished the large donors would sit in the front in the seats they are given in recognition of their donation instead of sitting in the rear. They were causing more trouble in the synagogue by showing false humility, than they would have been if they had taken the seat of honor that had been assigned to them! Their false-humility was actually a source of getting more kudos and raising their status. True humility would have meant keeping anyone from knowing what they had done… Knowing our true worth is good. We cannot help others by saying we are not competent when we actually are! When we have pride however we are not open to correction and we cannot learn any further as we need to be better than everyone else. Our goal is not to help, but to lord it over others so that we look better than they are. Apollos was already a great teacher, yet he submitted to Priscilla and Aquilla and learned even more! Can you imagine a much celebrated visiting preacher going to the home of a parishioner and listening to a wife and her husband while the presumed to teach him more about scripture? (Acts 18) This is the humility we are shown in the New Testament of the early church leaders who rebuked each other, placed young Timothy over an assembly and considered him an equal, and implored people with reason rather than dictate orders even though they were leaders with authority from God. This is the humility we need to be showing as we raise up the next generation as well.
So, here we see the devil’s tactics:
1. Overstating God’s rules which makes them seem incorrect or foolish.
2. Making God’s laws seem restrictive and the cause of deprivation in our lives.
3. Half-truths that seem to be correct but are not.
4. Quoting scripture out of the context of the whole scripture to make what is not right seem correct.
5. Messing with God’s timing. Rushing into things, or delaying are both not the best for a blessed life!
6. Pride: Making us want to be better than others rather than a servant to all.

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