Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Feed My Sheep


This past Sunday my wife at I were sitting at a restaurant when a group of people were seated next to us. It quickly became apparent that these people were new acquaintances out to share a meal and getting to know each other. These people were “church people” and they loudly and proudly proclaimed their place in the church pecking order. Of course their conversation was coached with the utmost humble sounding words and phrases. Once couple was relatively new to their church and when asked why they left their previous church I heard an all too familiar excuse, “We just weren’t being fed.”  
No I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, they were just very loud and sitting next to me.
But I was amused at the couple’s excuse for leaving a church because they were not being fed. You see this comment has been a favorite excuse for many Christians. The reality is that Jesus charged the leaders of the infant church to “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17).
What does Jesus mean feed? Today in the 21st century most believers think of it as a passive learning process. We think of sitting through a sermon or attending a Bible study as being fed. What we really are saying when we say, "I haven't been fed much lately." Is really code for, "The Pastor's sermons are not connecting with me. I’m just not getting anything out of his messages. Therefore there must be something wrong with the Pastor, ‘cause it certainly can’t be me!”
What we are really saying is that we need to be spoon fed must like a baby. But Jesus picture of a good shepherd found in John 10 is one who leads hos sheep to a pasture for feeding. He doesn’t chew the grass for his sheep. They are expected to eat for themselves. His job is to lead them to places where they can graze. Additionally his job is to protect the flock from any and all harm. Finally the watchmen of John 10 were tasked with teaching the sheep to recognize their shepherd’s voice.
You see even today in the Middle East sheep are led not herded. They are trained to recognize the voice of their shepherd and to follow their shepherd wherever he leads them. (See John 10:4) As pastors, teachers and disciple makers aren't training our flocks to recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice than our sheep will inevitably go hungry.
Excuse me I think I hear my Shepherd calling
Pastor Val

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Signs & Wonders

Recently I’ve been wondering a lot about signs from God. One of the Bible studies I’ve been teaching just finished the Gospel of John (the 4th book of the New Testament of the Bible). In that book John chooses to use only seven signs (think miracles) to help to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

Near the end of the book after Christ’s resurrection from the dead He appears to the disciples in a locked room. But Thomas one of the disciples was absent. When told about the others seeing Jesus risen from the dead Thomas states the he won’t believe unless he sees and examines the Risen Christ himself. Jesus suddenly appears and tells Thomas to check him out. The written account never indicates that Thomas does any physical checking but simply falls at Jesus feet and worships Him.

Jesus goes on to say that it’s one thing to see and believe but it is another thing all together to believe without seeing, without a sign. (see John 20:29)

Tom is not the only Biblical character who asks for a sign Gideon asks for one, too. But he isn’t satisfied with one sign he figures that God made a mistake so he asks for a second sign, just to make sure.

This got me to wondering about how God must feel about our asking for signs to confirm His leading. It seems that we never need a sign from God when it is something we want to do. But if we don’t want to do something we demand for a sign from heaven.

I heard a Christian comedian who tells a story about getting on an empty bus and telling God that if God wants him to witness then to send a person to the back of the bus and he would testify to his faith in Christ. God answered his prayer and soon a person entered the bus and moved to the back and sat down across form the comedian. This person asked him “Do you know anything about Jesus?” The comedian quickly prayed and asked for a second sign. “God is you really want me to witness to this person, than change the bus driver into an armadillo!”

I wonder how many of us can relate to that story. We know what to do, because it is a clear command in the Scripture but we don’t want to obey so we wait for a sign. When God gives us a sign we wave it off like a pitcher on the mound and ask for a better sign from the catcher.

I wonder if God get frustrated at my waving off His signs. After all… 

17  Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.
James 4:17 (NIV)

I was just wondering,

Pastor Val

Monday, March 11, 2013

Is the Antichrist alive today in the world?

This was a question recently posed to me. When I answered “Yes!” you should have seen the eyes of the questioner.

You know the next question – don’t you? “WHO is it?”

This has been a question that has plagued not only our generation but also every generation since the first century. We have head all kinds of answers to this question. During the first century the Emperor Nero was thought to be the antichrist. Martin Luther believed that the Pope of his day was the antichrist. Back in the 1940s there were people who thought it was Hitler. During my lifetime here are some of the more popular names that have been bandied about Vladimir Putin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Pope Benedict XVI. Even leaders from America have been on the lists. I bet you can guess who some of them are. They include a couple of our former presidents – Bill Clinton & George Bush. Even our current president Barack Obama has not escaped this title.

What does the Bible have to say about this?

Well 1 John 2 teaches that there are many antichrists in the world today not just one.

The term Antichrist is never used in Scripture to identify a particular person. Rather Paul uses a number of titles to describe this person. Terms like “man of sin” and “son of perdition” the come from 2 Thessalonians 2:3 KJV. Other translations call him the “man of lawlessness” and the “son of destruction.”

John in his book Revelation refers to two people (the false prophet and the beast) who scholars have identified as the ultimate Antichrist.

So what do I believe on the subject of the antichrist?

There are a number of facts that come from my study.
The only Biblical writer to us e this term is John in his epistles (think letters) to individual churches. You can check them out - 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7

In the Greek the term “anti” carries two meanings “against” and “instead of”

This spirit of antichrist has been present in the world since Satan declared war on God and helped bring about the fall of mankind (see Genesis 3). This person opposes and attempts to substitute for God.

There have been and will be many antichrists who embody this spirit and teach false doctrine. Anyone who denies Jesus Christ is the Son of God and has come in the flesh is an antichrist, regardless of how good of a speaker or teacher they might be!

And finally there will be a single person who will head up the ultimate rebellion against God and His Son in the last days and he could certainly be called the antichrist since he will attempt to replace Christ in the eyes and hearts of his followers.

Test the spirits and the teaching of those who come to you with Biblical teaching. If they are not teaching the truth of Christ the Apostle John calls them antichrists!

Teaching the truth

Pastor Val

Monday, December 17, 2012

Why God?

This past weekend has been a difficult one for many people in our country, especially those of Newtown, Connecticut. The senseless killing of innocents makes all of us ask “Why? Why do the innocent suffer? Why does it seem the evil is so powerful? Why would God allow this to happen?”

These and many more questions have been asked this weekend and some of these questions have been addressed to me. I wish I could tell you that I knew the answer. I wish that I could tell you that I knew why but the honest truth is that I don’t know why? No one does.

Here is what I do know. God loves the human race and because he loves us he wants us to love him. (I suggest you read the short letter entitled 1 John near the end of the New Testament to learn about his love for us) That means that one of the most precious gifts he gives us is freedom, freedom to choose right from wrong. God wants us to choose to love him. But along with that choice is the opposite choice – the freedom to choose evil. You see if God made us without a choice we would be doomed to live our lives under subjugation – slaves or even worse – robots.

But God wanted us to choose to love him in response to the love he shows to us. 1 John 4:19

19  We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:19 (NIV)

So why didn’t God intervene this time when he does other times? Does he like some people better then others? Does he play favorites? No the Bible says that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.

45  that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Matthew 5:45 (NIV)

 Why does God choose to allow things to happen?

Well if God is all knowing (omniscient) and I believe he is. And he is all-powerful (omni powerful) and I believe he is. And he is everywhere (omnipresent) and I believe he is. And he is eternally now and the creator of time, space, and the universe and he is. Than I have to believe that after seeing and knowing every possible outcome with every possible permutation he has chosen the best possible course for the greatest possible outcome.

Where is the comfort in that for those of who are hurting and suffering?

Everyone either has or will suffer. It is the way of all mankind. I believe that the comfort comes in the fact that God tells us that he will never allow us to endure suffering without him being there to help us through the suffering.

One of the best-loved Psalms is Psalm 23 – often known, as the Lord is my Shepherd Psalm. In this passage God tell us that like a shepherd he will walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death. We don’t have to walk it along. He is there beside us comforting, caring for us and binding up our wounds.

1  The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
3  he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.    
5  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6  Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Psalm 23:1-6 (NIV)

We can also take comfort in knowing that Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd (John 10:11).

Also he has experienced all of the same sorrows that we are or have experienced and as such he understands what we are going through and can not only empathize with us but also comfort us (Hebrews 4:15)

15  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.
Hebrews 4:15 (NIV)

He will not allow us to go through our suffering alone but will walk with us through the suffering.

While this still doesn’t answer the personal question of why knowing that God cares enough for us that he is willing to be with us in our time of need provides me great comfort and I hope it will do the same for you.

I’m praying for all those who have been affected by the events of this past Friday and I hope you will join me in my prayers.

Pastor Val

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Now What?!!

Well it’s the day after the general election in USA and about 50% of our country is ecstatic and the other half is pretty down in the dumps.

So what really happened? About 2 billion dollars were spent and at the end of the election the over all make up of the government remained the same.

For my conservative friends –

Is this the end of America as we know it?

Has the Tribulation begun?

Did God go out for a coffee break and come back to a mess that you and I made? Is He in heaven right now wringing His hands trying to figure out how to fix the problem we caused?

For my liberal friends –

Has paradise come to earth?

Is everything being prepared for the establishment of God’s Kingdom here on earth?

Is God smiling at the outcome of last night’s election and saying all is now right in the world?

The answer to all of these questions and countless others is … NO!

So what is happening?

Well simply put God’s plan for this world continues just as He has ordained

Consider the following:

1. God is sovereign over all nations, peoples and movements

11  Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin."    
John 19:11 (NIV)

2. God controls every government –

1 The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD;   he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.    
Proverbs 21:1 (NIV)

3. Everything is proceeding according to God’s plans –

44  "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
Daniel 2:44 (NIV)

4. Government is designed by God for our benefit

1  Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Romans 13:1 (NIV)

5. Regardless of the government that God give us we are commanded to be obey it’s laws

2  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
3  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.
4  For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
5  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.    
Romans 13:2-5 (NIV)

6. God expects us to pay our taxes

6  This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing.
Romans 13:1-6 (NIV)

What should we being as the result of this or any election?


Pray for our leaders. Pray for our country. Pray for the continued advancement of the Kingdom.

Don’t forget that we are Kingdom citizens first and citizens our country second.

Finally, Pray that God’s will - would be done here on earth as it is in Heaven


Pastor Val

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Christian Gnosticism

Recently I was in India speaking at a training school for pastors. One of the major issues that they were dealing with was publications being disseminated by fundamental Hindus claiming that Jesus was not a peacemaker, that the Bible was an unholy book because spoke of sinful men who had done evil things, and the number one issue that the pamphlet addressed was that Jesus was married and had had children. 

Now the issue of Jesus coming to divide families has more to do with either Christ's return or the problems faced when one member of a family chooses to follow Jesus but the rest are non-followers. And the issue of sinful men and their story being told has more to do with the fact that the Bible refuses to cover up mankind's sinful nature. In both of these types of questions the answers come directly from Scripture and learning to apply the principles found in the Bibles.

But the issue of Jesus purported marriage and subsequent children is an issue that must be addressed from a historical perspective of the early church and the religions of the early centuries of the common era. Yes there are Biblical passages that can be used to refute this information but it must be combined with an understanding of the historical issues of the day. 

My last session with these future pastors and their professors was taken up with addressing the issue of Gnosticism and it's impact on Christianity. Below is a summery of the talk I gave earlier this month in India.

The information is a bit long but I believe worth the read.

Christian Gnosticism
Dr Vallen Prest

There has been a lot of publicity about a slip of paper from the 4th century written in Coptic Egyptian that a professor at Harvard thinks says that Jesus had a wife. Should this change our Christian faith? Is this a smoking gun that will change the way our faith is viewed? does it matter if Christ had a wife or even a child?

To place this scrap of paper into its proper perspective we must understand the people who wrote it.To do this we must first overlook the fact that this scrap of paper has no provenance. This means that we have no clear understanding where this piece of paper was found what else was found with it and how that might change our perception of this paper.

What we do now is that this fragment of writing is written in Coptic Egyptian. That there are gapes or spaces that tell us there are missing words. These missing words could change the meaning of what is bring assumed by this professor and the media.

There is no way that we can recover the missing words. The tests that have been performed on this document tells us that the paper is 4th century and the ink also appears to be from the same time period.

One other small issue is that Dr. King (the Harvard professor who has the Coptic fragment) chose the word “wife” which would be better translated “companion.” This reading could provide a different understanding of the fragment.

Is this the first fragment that has been found that indicates an alternative story of Jesus? No. In fact there are all sorts of documents that claim to tell us stories about Jesus.  Many of these documents were also written during the same time period.

What do we know about these other documents? They compromise a collection of documents from a group of people who were considered heretical Christians. They were known as Gnostic Christians.

So what is Gnosticism?

To understand Gnosticism we must first understand its roots. The roots of Gnosticism can be traced back as early as the Persian Empire and its religion of dualism. This religion taught that there were two equal deities, one totally good and the other totally evil. These two entities worked as kind of a yin and yang. For the world to properly exist there must be summitry or balance between the two opposing forces.

One of the philosophical ideas that came out of dualism was Gnosticism, which believed that anything that was of or from the spiritual realm was good and anything from the physical realm was evil. This played out with the belief that the flesh or the body was evil and the spirit was good.

This ancient heresy has two major streams that flow out of this belief of the good of the spirit and the evil of the physical. Because of the evil of the body one stream practiced licentiousness. Since the body is unimportant, evil and won’t last therefore everything goes!

The other stream produced a form of legalism within the church. The spirit was good but anything we did in the body was evil and therefore had to be controlled and at times beaten into submission. One can see the rise of monasticism directly from this teaching. We separate ourselves from the world and all of its corruption. Some of the Anabaptist groups of the reformation era (that still exist today) came to similar conclusions. The Puritans of England also often forbade many pleasures of the body.

In its most extreme form the followers of these teachings refrained from any form of sexual pleasures and the only way that these sects could grow was through converts. Here in America a religious group known as the Shakers (because of their intense shaking worship) that had existed since the founding of America ceased to exist when their last surviving member died in the early nineteen hundreds.

Gnosticism can be found in many different religions today. Its roots crept into the church as early as the end of the first century and beginning of the second century. By the fourth century it had come to full bloom and was a heresy that the ancient church addressed and opposed. Even today we still see the roots of dualism can be seen in Christianity. For example, the sacred is good but the secular is bad or the notion that Christianity is a religion of “no” to any pleasures.

God created man and in Genesis chapter One

26  Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."  
27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.    
Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV)

And in Chapter Two we find out that God not only formed man from the dust of the ground (physical) but God also breathed into Adam the breath of life (certainly spiritual since God is a spirit John 4:24)

7  the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.    
Genesis 2:7 (NIV)

 at the end of day 6 He claimed that everything He had created (all of the physical creation) was very good. God created man in his own image and claimed his created as “good.” It is only after the fall of man that evil entered into the heart of man.

31  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning--the sixth day.
Genesis 1:31 (NIV)

At the core of Gnostic teaching is knowledge, especially secret knowledge. This special knowledge could only be passed on to those who were worthy of ascending to the place of knowledge. This knowledge would allow a person to eventually ascend past the physical world into the spiritual world and become godlike.

If we know or have secret knowledge about something or someone we have power over them. This information allows us to control them. Ancient religions believed if we knew the true name of something (or someone) it allowed us to control that item or person.

The more knowledge the less in control we really are. The more knowledge we have the more we are controlled by pride (1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 2:15-16). Our problem as believers is not that we need more information. No our problem is not a lack of knowledge but rather a lack of application of the knowledge that we already know.

While there were many different Gnostic beliefs the main ones consisted of the fact that Christ was less than God but higher than any other spiritual being. The lowest of the spiritual beings was Jehovah who created the physical world and was therefore the creator of evil.

Christ was a spirit who descended on the man Jesus at his baptism and when Jesus was arrested the spirit of Christ left him. Therefore while Jesus physical body died Christ did not die. He tricked Satan into killing Jesus.

Another belief is that Jesus didn’t die on the cross and was revived after he was taken down. The licentious stream believed after the cross that Jesus married and had children.

The other group (the legalists) believed that Christ would never marry much less have children because the flesh was evil. This group spiritualized the concept of the bride and the acts of procreation to mean the spiritual bride and converts were known as children.   

I have read many of the Gnostic writings and can attest to the fact that their quality of writing and concepts are not even close to those found in the New Testament canon. Most of these writings are not complete and are almost child-like in their construction and content.

The vast majority of these works are in Coptic and ancient Egyptian language and were found in Egypt. The only copies of these works were written in the end of the third century and fourth century. No early copies of these works exist in earlier centuries. Of additional interest to me is that this fragment has no provenance and casts serious doubt over its authenticity.

A former professor of mine made the following comments regarding Gnosticism and the recent fragment that has made the news.

Sensationalism catches the interest the news media and sometimes Christians get worried about such sensational news reports. Please do not worry about such accounts. Such ideas are not new, and calling Mary Jesus' wife is Dr. King's translation for the Coptic idea of companion. The Gnostics had ideas that intimacy with the divine was best expressed in sexual terms so that in the Coptic Gnostic Gospel of Philip the highest sacrament was called the Bridal Chamber. Gnostics believed that intimacy with God was to be understood sexually. 

These late 3rd - 4th century and following documents were hardly accepted by the Church as authentic representative expressions of portraits of Jesus.
Dr. Gerald Borchert, IWS Trustee and Professor Emeritus

John wrote the Gospel of John to proclaim that Christ had come in the flesh and was not simply a spiritual being.

1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2  He was with God in the beginning.    
3  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
4  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
5  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.    
John 1:1-5 (NIV)

14  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.    
John 1:14 (NIV)

The First Epistle of John was written to refute that Christ Jesus had not come in the flesh.

1  Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
2  This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
3  but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.    
1 John 4:1-3 (NIV)

Paul also addressed this in his letter to the Galatians.

6  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--
7  which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.
8  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!
9  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!    
Galatians 1:6-9 (NIV)

While this is at best a quick overview of the problem of Gnosticism I hope that it will help address the needs of the faith community where you are.

A final note of caution, please remember that apologetics is a wonderful tool for helping to build up the wavering faith of believers it is not an evangelistic tool. No one has ever been argued into heaven. Only the Spirit drawing people to God the Father through the sharing of the Gospel will bring people into the Kingdom of God.

All for the Kingdom

Pastor Val

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Failure To Obey the Law

Pentagon fails to comply with law to help overseas soldiers vote, watchdog says

This article was a real eye opener for me and should be for you regardless of your political leanings. “Why?” you ask. Because of the last paragraph of the article (seen below) and the last sentence, which says that, the pentagon is in agreement with the inspector general’s recommendation.

The inspector general recommended the Pentagon create better survey capabilities to identify the voting needs of soldiers, sailors, Marines and Air Force personnel after the 2012 election and to work with Congress to change the parts of the law that it isn’t complying with. (my emphasis added)

Doesn’t bother you too much?

Well how do you feel about people who refuse to obey the law and when asked about it they say, “let’s just change the law?”

How about complying with the law of the land the one that your commander-in-chief signed into law? And then work to change the law if necessary. After all that is what w followers of Christ are called to do (see Romans 13 & 1 Peter 2)

Lets put it into perspective of the Kingdom. Suppose your King issued a royal decree that says that obedience is better than sacrifice and rebellion is equal to witchcraft (an act punishable by death in the Old Testament) 1 Samuel 15:22 or that the greatest commandment is to Love the Lord your God and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:38-40.

But instead you say, “We will work with our Lord the King to change the laws that we are failing to comply with at this time.” How do you think He would react?  What do you think He would do with servants who disobeyed Him?

The people of this republic have sunk so low that no one is up in arms over this failure to obey. What happened to honor, respect and duty by the upper echelons of the military? And how can they expect the rank and file to obey when they themselves don’t?

For followers of Jesus the only time we are allowed to disobey the government is when it conflicts with God's Law. (see Acts 5:29) Notice how the Apostles reacted those in authority. They were willing to suffer persecution if necessary and not complain about how unfair and unjust the law was. But what about disobeying God's law?

What a shame that believers are just as cavalier with their obedience to God’s law!

God forgive me of my lack of obedience, honor and duty to my King,

Pastor Val