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

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hello ... God Calling!

Has God ever interrupted you while you spending time with him? You know you are in the moment. You are there in God’s presence and you are in awe of His wonder, splendor and majesty and something or someone breaks your concentration?

Perhaps you are in a worship service (public or private), reading your Bible, singing, or praying and God shows up unexpectedly!

Even worse suppose you are doing something inappropriate (you can fill in the blank here) and God breaks in on your moment…

How do you react? How do you respond?

Are you embarrassed? Annoyed? Surprised? Thrilled? Awed? Scared?

How do you act or respond? What do you do?

I’m not saying we will hear a clear audible voice (although perhaps we will) but somehow you recognize that God is present in that moment and He has something to impart to you. (And no, I’m not saying that God has visited you or me with a book to be added to His cannon of Scripture. Just that he is impressing something on our mind or convicting you of something or just wanting to spend time with one of His children)

Or even worse…What if God has never spoken to you?!?

Perhaps you are too busy to notice He is visiting you or maybe you have never invited Him to be a part of your life. If that’s the case drop me a line and I’ll help you get in contact with Him.

Well back to my story – I was out walking a couple of weeks ago and I was enjoying listening to the Bible on my iPhone. See I’m preparing a new series on 1, 2, and 3 John for a men’s Bible study and I like to saturate myself with the passages we will be studying before spending time digging deeper.

I had listened through all of the Epistles of John and had kept the program running as I walked. I had blown through Jude and was in that amazing and confusing book of the Revelation. I was in chapter 5 where all of Heaven was singing the praises of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world (Jesus Christ) when the recording stopped and my iPhone rang.

My first response was “Who was bothering me?” my next was some telemarketer had gotten a hold of my cell phone and was soliciting me to buy something. I was pretty convinced of that when I looked at the caller ID and saw that the number was from out of state and not one that I knew.

I wish that I could say that I answered politely, but I’m really not sure that I did. The first words that I heard was “Dr Prest this is so-and-so calling from the search committee of XYZ church. Can we talk with you?”  I have to believe that my voice tambour changed and I was trying to control my breath while the walking.

I don’t know what will come of my contact with this church and I don’t know what God’s will is concerning this place and any other church, yet. But I will tell you that at the end of the phone call my step was a little lighter and tears were streaming down my face as I thought of how God had stopped by to give me lift and encourage me in my journey.

I don’t know why I’m surprised when God shows up or shows Himself mighty to save. You would think that all followers of Christ would be looking for Him and expecting Him to make His presence known in power and might.

But so often I get busy (sometimes even in worship) that I forget just how close He is. How interested in us He is and how intimately involved in our lives He wants to be.

Times of refreshing (Acts 3:19) often come unexpectedly but always just when we need them.  Perhaps we just need to be more aware of Him and more expectant of hearing His voice.

Got to run, I think I hear my phone…

Pastor Val

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Demise of Christianity

I used to get worried about the possibility of someone finding a forgotten book of the Bible that would turn the entire New Testament on it’s ear. But while I was in seminary I had to read a number of these so called forgotten books of the Bible and was shocked at how poorly they were written and often how often they ripped off the canonical books that were actually included in the New Testament.

Most of these lost gospels (of Mary, Judas, Thomas, Peter, Philip and a host of others) were so inferior in their scope and subject matter and were so childish that I lost interest in them and their content. Further review proved that most of them were 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th Century Gnostic writings. Dan Brown brought back a lot of speculation and interest in these “lost books” when he penned the Da Vinci Code. In fact his book and subsequent movie created a small cottage industry of writer who either debunked his work as simply a fanciful novel or trumpeted the of these pseudepigrapha writings as a fuller more meaningful understanding of Christ’s teaching.

All of this interest and debate died down years ago – until I recently read with a little interest article posted on the Internet. Some who have read this article predict the downfall and destruction of Christianity because of a prophecy in the Gospel of Barnabas. This codex “predicts the coming of Mohammad. Turkish authorities have stated that the copy of the book that they have was written in either the 5th or 6th Centuries predating the prophet by 100 years before or shortly after his birth in 570 CE. No outside group has been allowed authenticate this work but there is another copy of the Gospel of Barnabas that has been dated as having been written in the 16th Century.

The religious/political leadership of Iran predicts that when the world reads the “truth” in this book that Christianity will wither away and die while the final word from God, the Koran, will thrive and Islam will flourish and take over the whole world.

Jesus addresses this very issue in the Gospels

18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Matthew 5:18 (NIV)
17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.
Luke 16:17 (NIV)
8 They are steadfast for ever and ever, done in faithfulness and uprightness.
Psalm 111:8 (NIV)

8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."
Isaiah 40:8 (NIV)

35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Matthew 24:35 (NIV)
So God’s Word will never fade or pass away, even if some book says otherwise.

“What about the church?” you might ask.

Again Jesus speaks to this
18 And I tell you, you are Peter [Greek, Petros—a large piece of rock], and on this rock [Greek, petra—a huge rock like Gibraltar] I will build My church, and the gates of Hades (the powers of the infernal region) {or the boasting of men} shall not overpower it [or be strong to its detriment or hold out against it] {or make it disappear}.
Matthew 16:18 (AMP)
Should we worry about man’s attempt to undermine our faith and bring about the destruction of the church?
Well, I’m going to choose to follow God’s response to man’s attempt to waylay God’s plans.
1 Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.
3 "Let us break their chains," they say, "and throw off their fetters."
4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
5 Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
6 "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill."
7 I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery."
10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Psalm 2:1-12 (NIV)
Enjoying a last laugh with Father!
Pastor Val

Monday, April 30, 2012

The First Cut is the Deepest

The ancient covenant that God gave to Abraham and his progeny carried with it a sign that all male offspring wore with pride. Some covenants of antiquity required ritualistic cutting and so it was with the covenant the nation of Israel had with their God. Circumcision was seen as a physical sign of a spiritual covenant between God and the nation of Israel. This event was pregnant in meaning, an outward sign signifying God’s promise to His people as well as their commitment to His commands.

Apparently, after the Israelites left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years the nation had become lax with their religious duties. They had neglected circumcision for decades. This procedure was so significant that prior to the campaign to conquer the Promise Land the Lord commanded Joshua (the new leader of the Israelite nation) to circumcise all of the male Israelites (see Joshua 5:2-3).

When Jesus established the New Covenant in His blood He established a new sign for all believers (both male and female). Paul refers to it as the circumcision of our hearts (see Romans 2:28-29).
This spiritual circumcision is the act of God cutting away everything in our lives that doesn’t bring Him glory. You see God has to work in us before He can work through us.

To be honest, as a male, I’m not sure which circumcision is worse, which hurts more. I have a feeling that spiritual circumcision is much more painful if for no other reason that I seem to have lots of extra tissue that needs to be removed.

When I was a young child I had a problem with scaring.  My body produced extra scare tissue. The doctor called it “proud flesh.” I guess my spiritual problem is similar, an excessive amount of “proud flesh” that needs to be excised!

If we want to be used of God we need to be properly marked as His and we need to allow Him to remove everything and anything in our lives that detracts from His glory!

Coming to you from the spiritual operating room

Pastor Val

Friday, March 23, 2012

After-Birth Abortions

I recently read a disturbing article in the UK Telegraph. You can find the link below.

This article is from a couple of medical ethicists associated with Oxford University. Their premise is that since newborn babies are “morally irrelevant” that ending their lives is no different than aborting these babies while they are in utero. 

They argued: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.” Rather than being “actual persons”, newborns were “potential persons”. They explained: “Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’.”

 “We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”

Now I understand the need to debate beliefs to determine what society believes but this seems to be seems to be similar to arguments used by the discredited German ethicists during the 1930s and 40s. Revisiting flawed and failed policies of the past seems to be a recipe for repeated failure in the present or the future.

Unfortunately, some well meaning people have threatened to kill the authors of the article. While this might sound ironically appealing to some, it lowers our moral position down to a similar level that they are on. We who claim to love life are willing to take a life because someone disagrees with our belief system. People who are only discussing an opinion, people who have not acted out their suggestion are threatened with death. Hummm sound suspiciously like conquerors who demand of the defeated “convert or die.” Very high moral ground to stand on, isn’t it?

So as a follower of Jesus what should our reaction to this discussion be?

First, Jesus is interested in children as seen in Matthew 19:14 where He says “Let the little children come to me.” The fact that he encourages the littlest ones to join him says that they matter to Him and to God the Father.

Second, God through the Psalmist tells us that God is intimately involved in the creation of a person while in the womb.

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV)
When one looks at a DNA helix one can see how the writer with poetic license could say that we are knit together. And remember this was written 1000s of years prior to mankind discovering DNA!

God knows all and has recorded not only our past but also our present and future in His book. Prewritten prior to our creation. This would indicate that not only does God care about people who are persons (according the journal article) but that he cares about us and knows our potential long before we are “viable humans!”

So glad I was not only fearfully but also wonderfully made…exactly the way God intended!

Pastor Val

Monday, March 5, 2012

Getting Even Pt 4 (Giving When the Going Gets Tough)

My final post on Getting Even is based on Matthew 5:42

42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV)
This admonishment of Jesus seems to be best understood two ways: first we are commanded to live open-handedly and second we are commanded to be willing to give or lend to those who persecute us but to treat it as a gift.

Yeah I admit I’m not real crazy about that second one either – but more on that in a bit!

If Matthew’s fourth example deals with the request of the beggar, then the called-for openhandedness is in line with the long Jewish tradition of almsgiving. There is no precise definition for this kind of behavior that is called for, but, as with the other examples, it involves responding appropriately to an initiative taken by another.

Here there is a request apparently from a person of poor means or the second tier from the bottom when a loan is requested. In this instance it is no longer a matter of response to mistreatment, or even to forced conduct, but a straightforward request for help. This teaching seems to relate to the Pentateuch’s teaching on generous living.

7 If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.
8 Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.
Deuteronomy 15:7-8 (NIV)
Jesus calls his followers to give to those who ask and not turn away from those who would borrow. He presumes that the needs are genuine and commands us not to ignore them, but he does not specifically mandate how best we can help. As Augustine stated in his comments on this passage “give to everyone that asks,” and notgive everything to him that asks.
Now if you are like me you are wondering, “Does this mean we are to give to every freeloader and panhandler who comes our way?” I do not think so. If we practiced this we would not be good stewards of God’s funds. People could abuse our generosity and we could even end up bankrupt. Jesus is not recommending that his followers give to every open hand, though, of course, he calls us all to deep generosity.

What then does he mean? This is where we seem to come to the second meaning I suggested at the beginning of this blog. Jesus means that the righteous are to give to those who are attempting to hurt them through borrowing. Luke refers to this kind of persecution when he says,

35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back
Luke 6:35

To understand this second possible meaning I think that Jesus’ advise is for a specific situation in which the persecutor is demanding a loan with no intention to repay. Jesus never says how many times one is to loan to his persecutors. Nor does he mention the restraint that love will impose on one’s generosity. As Alexander Maclaren (a British pastor of renown in the 19th and early 20th century) wisely said:

If turning the cheek would make the assaulter more angry, or if yielding the cloak would make the legal robber more greedy, or going the second mile would but make the press gang more severe and exacting, resistance becomes a form of love and duty for the sake of the wrongdoer.
Jesus’ advice is not a set of mechanical rules, but rather principles for addressing personal wrongs that come to those who follow him. In the matter of loaning, the Lord wants his followers to reject being tightfisted, and penny-pinching. Instead of saying, “This is mine and I’ll never share it!” why not say, “Lord how should I respond to this request, this need?” Will honoring this request bring you glory or advance your Kingdom?

I have to say that some of Jesus’ teachings are hard to live out. I always find it interesting that many Bible literalists struggle with teaching and living out Jesus clear literal teachings. It is something that I struggle with as well. And yet if we are going to be fully devoted followers of Jesus – we must live out our lives in obedience to His commands and not our predisposed interpretations of His teachings.

Still trying to pry my hand open

Pastor Val

Monday, February 20, 2012

Getting Even Pt 3 (Going the Extra Mile)

41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 
Matthew 5:41 (NIV)
The issue addressed here is one of compelled service. For more than 600 years dating back to the Persians the idea of compulsory service has been reality of life for many people throughout the Middle east of the time.  We have no specific knowledge of the forms in which this was practiced in Roman Palestine, but since Persian times impressing people and animals without notice for temporary service to the authorities had been customary and legal; the practice has been well documented. The Persians were the first to create a kind of Pony Express in which the mail-carrying rider simply “borrowed” horses along the way.

The hostility that the 1st Century Jews had for their Roman masters made this even more distasteful. Whenever a Roman official or soldier could ask (compel) anyone within the Empire to carry a burden a mile, that person had to do it regardless of who he was or what the circumstances were. Almost all Jews had been subject to this, and they hated the very mention of it. It is suggested that this compulsory service was the reason behind Simon of Cyrene being forced to carry Jesus cross to Golgotha.
 This recommendation to generously and ungrudgingly comply with this law would have the power to turn an exaction into genuine public service, that was generously given to a representative of the government who has ‘need’ of it. Compulsory and often unpaid or poorly paid public service has not been uncommon in America. Think the draft that has plagued us as far back as the mid 1800’s. The Israelis require a couple of years of compulsory armed service and the Swiss do something similar. With tax season quickly coming upon us a case could be made for taxes being a form of compulsory service.

Does this mean that Jesus is endorsing the practice of impressments? No. In a situation in which changing the rules is not a possibility, the proposed response will have the capacity of turning the nature of the transaction from one in which both parties felt worse about each other after the encounter to one in which positive human interaction might become possible.

So how should we react when forced to serve our country? Well if we can’t affect a change via the polling booth we need to comply with good grace.

It has been suggested that this choice to rejoice even in the midst of discomfort, displeasure and duress was effective in the Gospel sweeping across the Roman Empire and ultimately bringing about the Christianizing of the Empire.

Learning to go the extra mile and liking it!

Pastor Val

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Getting Even Pt 2 (Coals of Fire)

In my last blog I discussed living like Jesus who resisted the temptation to retaliate against his enemies. We specifically looked at His teaching from Matthew 5:38-ff.

In this blog I want to continue looking at this passage from Jesus most famous of sermons the “Sermon on the Mount.”

40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Matthew 5:40 (NIV)

 In this teaching it is easy to conclude several things. One there is a case against the defendant. Two, since the suit is seeking the person’s tunic we can assume the defendant presumably poor. Obviously if the defendant had more possessions the plaintiff would ask for something more substantial. Three notice that the suit does not ask for the defendant’s cloak. This is his outer garment. You see the plaintiff is literally seeking the “shirt off the back” of the defendant.

At first glance this looks a bit odd to a twenty-first century person living in the west. It isn’t until we understand that a person’s cloak was the most important piece of clothing a person owned. It doubled as a coat or a means to carry grain or heavy objects by day and a blanket or even pillow by night.

One has to admit that the taking of the very clothes of of a debtor’s back is rather callous at the least and perhaps against the law.

25 "If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.
26 If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset,
27 because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.
Exodus 22:25-27 (NIV)
While this seems so unfair and unreasonable to us, we only have to look at some of the laws and judgments handed down in this country to see how possible this scenario is. The stripping naked of this poor person graphically reveals the destruction of human dignity, in which the plaintiff is engaged in. Notice that Jesus taught that the plaintiff’s demands are not to be resisted, instead He teaches us to exceed their unjust demands. In the process the plaintiffs are unmasked for what they are. The end result is to heap coals of fire on their head.

20 On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."
Romans 12:20 (NIV)
Still learning to give it all away

Pastor Val

Friday, February 3, 2012

Getting Even!

Have you ever been cut off by someone on the road and you want a little payback so you ride their bumper or race to get in front of them so you can return the favor?

Your friend stabs you in the back and you wait in the tall grass until you can repay the favor.

Or your coworker or boss has you spend a ton of extra time on your own (weekends and evenings) doing a project only to have them take all of the credit, glory and more than a few attaboys form those higher up!

Life seems to be full of events that just beg for payback!

Have you ever considered God’s position on paybacks?

In the Old Testament the concept of “an eye for a eye” seems harsh in today’s culture but actually it was designed to stop the escalating of retaliations like a head for a eye. Reflecting over some of the famous feuds in fiction as the Montagues and Capulets of Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet or history like the Hatfields and the McCoys of the southern hills of the United States points to how long lasting feuds and their consequences can be.

Hammurabi was one of the first rulers to codify the limiting of retribution as well as some 281 other laws. Some have suggested that the Old Testament writers used this code to help them codify the laws of the Old Testament while others claim that the oral traditions of the Jewish law existed prior to Hammurabi. Regardless of which side you fancy the truth still remains that the law existed to limit the scope of reprisals.

So when the Law teaches us an eye for an eye it is talking about proportionate reprisals. Unfortunately today we still tend to often go for the nuclear response for a minor infraction. We have morphed the proportionate reprisals into a principle of aggressive protection of one’s own interests!

So Jesus comes along and says:
 38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'
39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV)
The words “I tell you…” creates a whole new way of looking at getting even. He starts with our being struck on the right cheek that is most likely is caused by a right-handed person backhanding. This is not about a beat down but rather a personal insult! How do you and I respond being insulted? Usually we retaliate but Jesus suggests that we continue to be vulnerable and allow God to stand up for us.

19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.
Romans 12:19 (NIV)

Jesus himself modeled this for us while he was here

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
1 Peter 2:23 (NIV)

So we are encouraged to imitate Christ and not to seek retribution.

A pretty BIG challenge - especially for me! How about you??

I hope to continue this theme in the next blog or two

Learning to understand suffering

Pastor Val

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I admit that I am fascinated by church ads for pastors. Often I read them and end up amazed at the variety of different doctrinal belief systems fond in different denominations or even individual churches.

One church was adamant that to be saved a person DID NOT have to confess totally ignoring just a few verses like Matt 10:32; Luke 12:8; Acts 19:18; Romans 10:9; Romans 14:11; Phil 2:11; 2 Tim 2:19; James 5:16; 1 John 1:9; 1 John 4:15.

I admit that I have a hard time with this church and their misunderstanding and misapplication of Scripture to come to this conclusion.

Recently I was teaching a men’s Bible study and the subject of confessing sins after we are saved. I used 1 John 1:9 to explain how even after we have made a profession of faith and become a follower of Christ that from time to time after sinning we needed to reconnect with God the Father. That seemed to satisfy the guys at the study at least for the moment.

After our Christmas break the question came back up because one of the men had been poling a number of pastors. At least one was of the opinion that since Christ died for all of our sins past, present and future that we never had to confess again.

I was asked about it again and I gave a good answer at the time but I thought I would flesh out my answer in this blog.

I guess we need to start with: “What does the word “confess” mean in the original language?” It simply means to “say the same thing.” In other words we agree with God’s assessment that our actions and attitudes were wrong and we are agreeing with His assessment of our situation. This means we admit that we were in rebellion with God and His commands and we need to not only admit our wrong doing but we also must change our direction (this is the meaning of repentance).

The book First John was written to believers who were already followers of Christ. It to these believers that John says:
1 John 1:8-9 (NIV)
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Now could this be referring to our original confession? I don’t think so because the author goes on to say
1 John 2:1-2 (NIV)
1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
The fact that this is written in the present tense to believers means that believers do sin after they have come to know Christ. Our conclusion to these passages has to mean that 1 John 1:9 is referring to the present.
Additionally, James 5:13-16 tells us to confess our sins to the other believers as a way of holding each other accountable. First Corinthians chapter eleven tells us to examine ourselves so that we can correct our lives so that we will not be judged or undergo correction from the Lord.
Jesus also speaks to the need to our responsibility asking for forgiveness as we forgive others. (See the Lord’s Prayer Matthew 6:9-13) We are taught that our relationship with God and His forgiveness of our sins is predicated upon our forgiveness of others.

Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

In the Gospel of John after the Last Supper Jesus take a basin and a towel and washes the disciples feet. When He comes to Peter after explaining why He is doing this Peter asks for Jesus to give him a complete sponge bath. Jesus tells him

John 13:10a (NIV)
10 Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean."
In the 1st century because people walked over dusty trails and streets a person needed to wash their feet upon entering a home. Think of the way many people want you to rinse your feet off prior to getting into their pool to keep extra dirt out of the pool. The implication of this teaching is that while we are cleansed from the sin of the world occasionally we need to rinse off our feet from the pollution of the world.

Trying to keeping my feet clean,

Pastor Val