Tuesday, May 28, 2013



  1. God is the greatest Reality in the universe.
    And pastors swim in that sea with ever-replenished joy.
    I am the Lᴏʀᴅ, and there is no other, besides me there is no God. (Isaiah 45:5)
    Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36)
  2. Jesus is the greatest Savior, Master, and Friend that ever was or will be.
    And pastors contemplate and commend him every day.
    Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
    At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10–11)
    No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)
    Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel. (2 Timothy 2:8)
  3. The Holy Spirit is the greatest Helper in the world.
    And pastors are driven to have his fullness constantly.
    And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever. . . It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 14:16; 16:7)
    Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:5)
    And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)
  4. The Bible is the greatest book there is.
    And pastors delight to mediate on it day and night.
    The words of the Lᴏʀᴅ are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. (Psalm 12:6)
    Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lᴏʀᴅ, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1–2)
  5. The gospel is the greatest news ever sent.
    And pastors revel in believing it and telling it every day.
    And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3–4)
    I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (Romans 1:14–15)
  6. Corporate worship is the great overflow of life together in treasuring Christ.
    And pastors soar with the sacred privilege of fanning that flame.
    Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
    To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Ephesians 3:8)
  7. Faith is the great union with Christ and the embrace of all God is in him.
    And pastors aim at this with every word, since faith comes by hearing.
    I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
    Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith. (Philippians 1:25)
  8. Hope in future grace is the great furnace of gospel obedience.
    And pastors fuel it daily with the promises of God.
    For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (Hebrews 10:34)
    Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6)
  9. Joy is the great impulse in pain and pleasure that makes its source in God look great.
    And pastors renounce all abuse and live for the holy joy of their flock.
    Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
    Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:8)
    Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy. (2 Corinthians 1:24)
  10. Love is the greatest act.
    And pastors make it the great aim of all their acts.
    So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
    The aim of our charge is love. (1 Timothy 1:5)
  11. Holiness is great likeness to the thrice holy God.
    And pastors daily kill their own sins for the sake of the holiness of others.
    As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy. (1 Peter 1:15–16)
    For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)
    Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
  12. Suffering is a great seminary.
    And pastors must attend it for the sake of their people.
    Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. . . It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. (Psalm 119:67, 71)
    If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. (2 Corinthians 1:6)
  13. Explaining great truth is a path to great understanding.
    And pastors are charged to explain the greatest things relentlessly.
    It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35)
    And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11–12)
  14. Heralding the greatest realities is a great privilege.
    And pastors are the heralds of the living God.
    I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word. (2 Timothy 4:1–2)
    Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
  15. Humanly impossible aims throw us on a great Helper.
    And all the spiritual aims of a pastor are impossible.
    Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:26–27)
    And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24–26)
  16. Heaven is a great destiny.
    And pastors aim in everything to help people get there.
    Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. (Matthew 5:12)
    But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20–21)
    I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:10)
  17. Hell is a great danger.
    And pastors aim in everything to help people escape it.
    And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
    I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:22)
  18. Prayer is a path to the great presence and power of God.
    And pastors pray without ceasing.
    Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Ephesians 6:17–18)
    Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. (Psalm 50:15)
  19. The new birth is a great miracle.
    And pastors are the ever-amazed midwives of God.
    The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)
    I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6–7)
    You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23–25)
  20. Communion is the greatest supper.
    And pastors hold the sacred emblems in their very hands.
    I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. (Luke 22:15)
    The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)
  21. Baptism is the greatest emblem of death and life.
    And pastors enact this drama on behalf of Christ.
    Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3–4)
    Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)
  22. Funerals offer a great vista of eternity.
    And pastors stand there full of hope with wide-eyed people.
    So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6–8)
    Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54–57)
  23. Weddings are God’s great, life-long joining together of man and woman.
    And pastors put this drama on display for all to understand.
    They are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matthew 19:6)
    Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:22–25)
  24. Hospital visits are a sacred imparting of great hope.
    And pastors mediate this holy transaction with their voice and hands.
    Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. (James 5:14–15)
    May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)
    It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him. (Acts 28:8)
  25. The devil is a great enemy.
    And pastors make holy war every day.
    Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith. (1 Peter 5:8–9)
    Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
  26. Wise, biblical counsel is greater than much fine gold.
    And pastors make many rich.
    A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (Proverbs 25:11)
    How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. (Proverbs 16:16)
    Him we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)
  27. World missions is the greatest enterprise in the world.
    And pastors preach and pray and agitate till all are goers or senders.
    And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)
    The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:37–38)
  28. Loving money is the great root of countless evils.
    And pastors sever it in their homes and seek its cheerful death in all their flock.
    Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. (1 Timothy 6:9–10)
    Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Timothy 6:6–8)
    Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
  29. Leadership in holy paths is the great need of all the sheep.
    And pastors wear this mantel humbly under the Great Shepherd.
    Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)
    Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21)
  30. Lowly servanthood is high greatness.
    And pastors rejoice to say: He must increase, and I must decrease.
    But whoever would be great among you must be your servant. (Mark 10:43)
    He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.

Monday, May 27, 2013


by Clint Archer
Last week Pope Francis ventured above his his pay grade with a fallible gaff of historic proportions. In his Wednesday public homily, which usually includes unscripted comments, the Pope announced for the first time in Catholic history, that even atheists can go to heaven by doing good works.

Pope gives thumbs up

Admittedly, this pontification wasn’t pronounced ex cathedra, meaning he wasn’t sitting in his “I’m infallible, so this is God’s truth even if it contradicts the Bible” seat, but still, one would expect the leader of a religion to preach a message congruent with the most elementary tenets of his own faith.

I understand that in Catholic doctrine the Pope holds the keys to the kingdom and that whatever he binds on earth is bound in heaven. But contemplate the implications for a moment. On Wednesday (May 22, 2013), heaven suddenly got bound into admitting entry to atheists. Historically, not even Baptists got into heaven, but apparently now God is obligated to let any do-gooder in, even those who don’t acknowledge Jesus at all. How ironic that he declared this on the Feast of St Rita (the patron saint of impossible things).

Here’s a quote from his sermon…

The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

It seems that on Wednesday Rome became way more catholic and way less Catholic. But what about Christian?

Biblically, the term “Christian” refers to disciples of Christ (Acts 11:26; 1 Pet 4:16), but it has been semantically annexed by the secular world in an effort to lump together all who claim salvation through Jesus Christ. We all know that Evangelicals routinely question any Pope’s salvation, but only since Wednesday could Evangelicals, Catholics, and even atheists ask in unison, Can this papal opinion be considered even remotely Christian, by any definition of the word?

On Thursday, the Vatican issued an “explanatory note” (read: back-pedaling) on what Francis meant. A Vatican spokesman (spin reverend), Thomas Rosica, clarified that those who know about the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.” Phew, for a second there I thought all of Rome had forgotten Catholicism 101; luckily it’s just the Pope.

The belief that a person’s good works earns them salvation, is of course, a hallmark doctrine of the Catholic church. Works-based salvation is the particular detail that caused the most irreconcilable schism in history—the Reformation. When Martin Luther purported that Scripture teaches salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, the Catholics took umbrage with the insistence on using the word “alone” (sola).
papal key emblemRome then declared anyone who teaches grace by faith alone to be anathema, i.e. condemned to hell. And Protestants requited by holding that anyone who believes that their works are needed to be saved are equally condemned to hell. (The stakes are unavoidably extreme when you discuss salvation.)

I provided quotes from Vatican II, the officially Catholic teaching here.
And ever since then well-meaning peacemakers on both sides of the great divide—a la Evangelicals and Catholics Together—have been suggesting tweaking the language to be more conciliatory and less inflammatory. It’s the Rodney King approach of can’t we all just get along?

But never, in the history of even the most bend-over-backwards ecumenism has the Pope declared openly the exact opposite of what his camp believes.

Good Enough

Incidentally, the Bible teaches quite categorically that no one does good, not even one (Luke 18:19; Rom 3:10-12). No Evangelical, no Catholic, no atheist. Not even one.

Heaven’s Payment Plan

Also, Paul said the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), but the Pope has inaugurated a salvific payment plan for which anyone qualifies. The requisite price of admission is unspecified “good works.” The lack of specificity should be unnerving. Now that faith in Jesus and Catholic sacraments have been deemed optional extras, who decides which words are good works? Is it good to make a trip to Mecca, is it good to vote Republican, is it good to help finance an atheist advertisement on London buses. How much good is enough good? The whole fiasco is absurd.

In the Catholic system, a person’s good work has the always been the ticket to heaven. But there was a mandatory minimum. The requirements for eternal life used to include the need to a) to be Christened into the Catholic church, b) observe regular confession, c) receive the Eucharist,  d) an assortment of other sacraments I.e. being a good Catholic. Depending on your parish various abstemious rituals made it on or off the menu (fish in Friday’s, giving up chocolate for Lent, etc.)

In Catholicism, the selection of assorted works that are required to be saved has always been a bit of an à la carte experience. But a staple requirement has always included being Catholic, or at the very, very least Christian.

Are There Really Atheists in Heaven?

If Pope Francis is correct, then not only are the Catholic requirements no longer requirements, but the universal Christian belief in Jesus as Lord, as Savior, or even as an historical figure. (Ellen Johnson, former President of American Atheists, declared on Larry King Live that she didn’t believe there was a “single shred of secular evidence that Jesus Christ ever existed.”)

Rom 4:5  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, Eph 2:8  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  9  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

What Every Plow Boy Knows
atheist kidSixteenth Century Bible translator, William Tyndale had a vision that with the Bible readily accessible in the common tongue, anyone and everyone could know the Bible better than the Pope himself.
I defie the Pope and all his lawes. If God spare my life, ere many yeares I wyl cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture, than he doust.” (William Tyndale, c. 1531)

The Pope’s sermon on Wednesday proves that day has come. Anyone with a Bible knows that: John 14:6  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Acts 4:12  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  13  Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
I once asked the cheeky question: Is the Pope Catholic? But I since Wednesday I think there are Evangelicals, Catholics, and atheists who would ask with all sincerity, considering the evidence, Is the Pope Christian?


Clint Archer

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Clint is the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church. He and his expanding troop of Archers live near Durban, South Africa (and pity anyone who doesn't). When he is off duty from CGate, his alter ego blogs at Café Seminoid, clintarcher.com


This Week’s feature Article by Jack Kelley

The city of Damascus is mentioned 60 times in the Bible from Genesis 14:15 to Acts 22:10. Abraham’s chief servant, Eliazer, was from Damascus and Paul spent his first days as a Christian there. According to Flavius Josephus, Damascus was founded by Uz, the son of Aram who was the patriarch of the Aramean people. Aram was the 5th son of Shem, and Uz was the first son of Aram. (According to Job 1:1, Job was from the land of Uz.)

Throughout its history Damascus has been conquered many times. Most notably by the Israelites (1000 BC), the Assyrians (732 BC), the Babylonians (606 BC), the Persians (530 BC), the Greeks (330 BC), the Nabateans (85 BC), the Romans (63 BC), the Byzantines (634 AD), the Mamelukes (1250 AD) and the Ottoman Turks (1516 AD). But the city itself has always survived and is now claimed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.
Several of these conquests are referred to in the Bible. 2 Samuel 8:6-7 describes David and the Israelites. Parts of Isaiah 17 involve the Assyrians, Jeremiah 49:23-27 is about the Babylonian conquest and Zechariah 9:1-2 was fulfilled by Alexander the Great.

An Oracle Against Damascus

Probably the best known prophecy about Damascus is Isaiah 17, called An Oracle Against Damascus. Its 14 verses go back and forth between the Assyrian conquest in the 8th Century BC and a battle that hasn’t taken place yet. One reason we know this is because Isaiah 17:1 says, “See Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins.” It speaks of a battle that will mark the end of Damascus, something scholars agree has not happened yet. Other verses in Isaiah 17 confirm a future fulfillment of this destruction. Specifically, verse 7 tells us that after the destruction of Damascus men will look to their maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. And verse 9 tells of their strong cities, which they left because of the Israelites, becoming like places abandoned to thickets and undergrowth. And all will be desolation. In the 8th century BC no one turned back to God and it was the Israelites who were forced to leave.
Currently there are three wars going on in Syria, any one of which could lead to the fulfillment of Isaiah 17. The obvious one is the civil war that’s been going on for the last two years. As many as 80,000 have died in this war to oust current President Assad from power and end his family’s control over the country.
But there’s also a secondary war that’s becoming more critical, and that’s an effort underway by Iran and Hizbollah to widen the Syrian conflict into Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. All parties involved believe this effort could explode into a regional war at any time. If so it could be the fulfillment of Isaiah 17 as well as Psalm 83, which many see as the prophecy of a war that pits all of Israel’s next door neighbors agsinst Israel, and from which Israel will emerge victorious. Just this week, Hizbollah officials confirmed that Syria is serious about expanding the war onto the Golan Heights, territory Israel regained from Syria in 1973.

The War No One’s Watching

The third war is a little known one that could very well be the single deciding factor as to whether the civil war will escalate into the fulfillment of prophecy. This war is between two men, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama. According to informed Middle East sources each man has a vision for how the Syrian civil war should end. Obama wants Assad gone and Putin wants him to stay. They not only can’t agree on how to proceed, but each one is also trying to torpedo the other ones chances of succeeding.  These sources say it’s the inability of these two men to agree that is standing in the way of a resolution to the crisis and as long as their disagreement continues the probability of the war spilling over the borders into neighboring countries becomes ever more likely to happen.
Most of the news sources I read have concluded that Obama is outclassed in this disagreement and that sooner or later Putin will have his way. He’s already won a couple of big battles. Refusing to keep Iran in check and refusing to withhold the sale of advanced anti-arcraft batteries to Syria are two of the most obvious. The first has given Assad powerful assistance on the ground and the second will give him protection from aerial attack by Israel. In both cases, Obama stood by and let this happen.
Bible prophecy might favor Putin in this case. According to Ezekiel 38-39 Russia will be a major participant in that battle, and having a strong position in the Middle East would be an important advantage. Remember, when the Moslem coalition attacks it will be from the North (Ezekiel 38:15). That could mean they’ll come from Syria over the Golan Heights. I’m not saying we’re seeing a run up to Ezekiel 38, but we all know it’s coming and if Russia already has a presence in Syria they would have an advantage in mounting what scholars believe will be a surprise attack.
In the mean time, the Russian / Iranian support has strengthened and emboldened Assad. So much so that he was willing to risk using chemical weapons against the rebel forces. Obama had previously said this would not be tolerated, but so far, even after being confronted with clear evidence, he denied it has happened.  In Syria this has been interpreted to mean that limited use of chemical weapons will be tolerated.
Israeli leaders have been more resolute. After all it’s their country that’s being directly threatened by this. When they detected the movement of prohibited weaponry into Lebanon for Hizbollah’s use against them they attacked and destroyed it.  Again, Obama stood by while Putin authorized the delivery of advanced anti-aircraft defenses to Syria. Its purpose is to prevent further pre-emptive attacks from Israel by denying them air superiority.
Informed sources are beginning to see the hand writing on the wall. As Israel is progressively denied the use of small steps to pre-empt the threat from their sworn enemies their only recourse will be to take big ones. When that happens, one leading Israeli correspondent has said Obama will stand right behind Assad in the line of people to blame.

Are We There Yet?

We’ve come close to the fulfillment of Isaiah 17 before. Each time cooler heads have prevailed and the destruction of Damascus has been postponed. I say postponed because Isaiah’s prophecy will be fulfilled.  We have God’s promise on that. He said,
“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is still to come. What I have said, that will I bring about. What I have planned, that will I do” (Isaiah 46:10-11).
Various reports confirm a conviction among Israel’s military and political leaders that war with Syria is coming. (Some say it could be a long one, while others hint that it will more likely be very short.)  There also appears to be a consensus among the Jewish people that they must win and win decisively.
If it’s God’s timing this will be the fulfillment of Isaiah 17, and perhaps Psalm 83 as well. If it’s not, we’ll be drawn back from the brink once again to catch our breath and wait for the next run-up. Chances are it won’t be long in coming. You can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah. 05-25-13

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Answer: When we talk about free will, we are usually concerned with the matter of salvation. Few are interested in whether we have the free will to choose salad or steak for our dinner tonight. Rather, we are troubled over who exactly is in control of our eternal destiny.

Any discussion of man’s free will must begin with an understanding of his nature because man’s will is bound by that nature. A prisoner has the freedom to pace up and down in his cell, but he is constrained by the walls of that cell and can go no further, no matter how much his will might desire it. So it is with man. Because of sin, man is imprisoned within a cell of corruption and wickedness which permeates to the very core of our being. Every part of man is in bondage to sin – our bodies, our minds, and our wills. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us the state of man’s heart: it is “deceitful and desperately wicked.” In our natural, unregenerate state, we are carnally minded, not spiritually minded. “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can it be” (Romans 8:6-7). These verses tell us that before we are saved, we are at enmity (war) with God, we do not submit to God and His law, neither can we. The Bible is clear that, in his natural state, man is incapable of choosing that which is good and holy. In other words, he does not have the “free will” to choose God because his will is not free. It is constrained by his nature, just as the prisoner is constrained by his cell.

How then can anyone be saved? Ephesians 2:1 describes the process. We who are “dead in our trespasses and sins” have been “made alive” through Christ. A dead man cannot make himself alive because he lacks the necessary power to do so. Lazarus lay in his tomb four days unable to do a thing to resurrect himself. Christ came along and commanded him to come to life (John 11). So it is with us. We are spiritually dead, unable to rise. But “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He calls us out of our spiritual graves and gives us a completely new nature, one undefiled by sin as the old nature was (2 Corinthians 5:17). God saw the desperate and helpless state of our souls, and in His great love and mercy, He sovereignly chose to send His Son to the cross to redeem us. By His grace we are saved through the gift of faith which He gives us so that we can believe in Jesus. His grace is a free gift, our faith is a free gift, and our salvation is a free gift given to those whom God has chosen “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). Why did He chose to do it this way? Because it was “according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:5-6). It’s important to understand that the plan of salvation is designed to glorify God, not man. Our response is to praise Him for the “glory of His grace.” If we chose our own salvation, who would get the glory? We would, and God has made it clear that He will not give the glory due to Him to anyone else (Isaiah 48:11).

The question naturally arises, how do we know who has been saved “from the foundation of the world”? We don’t. That is why we take the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, telling all to repent and receive God’s gift of grace. Second Corinthians 5:20 tells us we are to be pleading with others to be reconciled to God before it is too late. We cannot know who God will choose to release from their prison cells of sin. We leave that choice to Him and present the Gospel to all. The ones who come to Jesus He “will in no way cast out” (John 6:37).

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Question: "What is the difference between the soul and spirit of man?"

The soul and the spirit are the two primary immaterial aspects that Scripture ascribes to humanity. It can be confusing to attempt to discern the precise differences between the two. The word “spirit” refers only to the immaterial facet of humanity. Human beings have a spirit, but we are not spirits. However, in Scripture, only believers are said to be spiritually alive (1 Corinthians 2:11; Hebrews 4:12; James 2:26), while unbelievers are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-5; Colossians 2:13). In Paul's writing, the spiritual was pivotal to the life of the believer (1 Corinthians 2:14; 3:1; Ephesians 1:3; 5:19; Colossians 1:9; 3:16). The spirit is the element in humanity which gives us the ability to have an intimate relationship with God. Whenever the word “spirit” is used, it refers to the immaterial part of humanity that “connects” with God, who Himself is spirit (John 4:24).

The word “soul” can refer to both the immaterial and material aspects of humanity. Unlike human beings having a spirit, human beings are souls. In its most basic sense, the word “soul” means “life.” However, beyond this essential meaning, the Bible speaks of the soul in many contexts. One of these is humanity’s eagerness to sin (Luke 12:26). Humanity is naturally evil, and our souls are tainted as a result. The life principle of the soul is removed at the time of physical death (Genesis 35:18; Jeremiah 15:2). The soul, as with the spirit, is the center of many spiritual and emotional experiences (Job 30:25; Psalm 43:5; Jeremiah 13:17). Whenever the word “soul” is used, it can refer to the whole person, whether alive or in the afterlife.

The soul and the spirit are connected, but separable (Hebrews 4:12). The soul is the essence of humanity’s being; it is who we are. The spirit is the aspect of humanity that connects with God.

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Questions about Humanity


The Bible teaches that humanity possesses a physical body, a soul, and a spirit. In regards to how these aspects of the human nature connect with and relate to each other, there are four primary theories. Two of the views, anthropological monism and anthropological hylomorphism, deal primarily with how the three aspects of humanity combine to form the human nature. The two other models, dichotomy (anthropological dualism) and trichotomy, deal with the distinction between the human soul and human spirit. The distinction between the material (physical) and immaterial (spiritual) aspects of the human nature is straightforward. The distinction between the two immaterial aspects of the human nature is more difficult.

While there are Bible verses which use the terms soul and spirit interchangeably (Matthew 10:28; Luke 1:46-47; Acts 2:31; 1 Corinthians 5:3; 6:20; 7:34; 2 Peter 2:11), other biblical passages do not present the soul and the spirit as precisely the same thing. There are also passages which hint at the separation between the soul and spirit (Romans 8:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12). Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit…” This verse tells us two things: (1) there is a dividing point between the soul and spirit, and (2) the dividing point is only discernible to God. With all of these verses in mind, neither the dichotomous or trichotomous interpretations can be explicitly proved. Does the immaterial aspect of the human nature involve a soul and a spirit? Yes. Are the soul and spirit absolutely unified and united (dichotomy) or closely-related but separate (trichotomy)? Unclear.

Those who believe that human nature is a trichotomy typically believe the following: the physical body is what connects us with the physical world around us, the soul is the essence of our being, and the spirit is what connects us with God. This is why the unsaved can be said to be spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13), while they are very much physically and “soulishly” alive. Those who believe that human nature is a dichotomy would have the same understanding of the body, but would view the spirit as the part of the soul that connects with God. So, the question of dichotomy vs. trichotomy is essentially whether the soul and spirit are different aspects of the immaterial human nature, or if the spirit is simply a part of the soul, with the soul being the whole immaterial part of the human nature.

Trichotomy vs. dichotomy of man - which view is correct? It would seem that it is unwise to be dogmatic. Both theories are biblically plausible. Neither interpretation is heretical. This is perhaps an issue we are unable to fully grasp with our finite human minds. What we can be certain of is that the human nature is comprised of a body, a soul, and a spirit. Whether the soul and spirit are one, or are somehow distinct, is not an issue God chose to make abundantly clear in His Word. Whether you believe in a dichotomy or trichotomy, offer your body as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), thank God for saving your soul (1 Peter 1:9), and worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).

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Genesis 1:26-27 indicates that there is something that makes humanity distinct from all the other creations. Human beings were intended to have a relationship with God, and as such, God created us with both material and immaterial parts. The material is obviously that which is tangible: the physical body, bones, organs, etc., and exists as long as the person is alive. The immaterial aspects are those which are intangible: soul, spirit, intellect, will, conscience, etc. These exist beyond the physical lifespan of the individual.

All human beings possess both material and immaterial characteristics. It is clear that all mankind has a body containing flesh, blood, bones, organs, and cells. However, it is the intangible qualities of mankind that are often debated. What does Scripture say about these? Genesis 2:7 states that man was created as a living soul. Numbers 16:22 names God as the “God of the spirits” that are possessed by all mankind. Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life,” indicating that the heart is central to man’s will and emotions. Acts 23:1 says, “Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.’” Here Paul refers to the conscience, that part of the mind that convicts us of right and wrong. Romans 12:2 states, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” These verses, and numerous others, refer to the various aspects of the immaterial part of humanity. We all share both material and immaterial qualities.

So, Scripture outlines far more than just soul and spirit. Somehow, the soul, spirit, heart, conscience, and mind are connected and interrelated. The soul and spirit, though, definitely are the primary immaterial aspects of humanity. They likely comprise the other aspects. With this is mind, is humanity dichotomous (cut in two, body/soul-spirit), or trichotomous (cut in three, body/soul/spirit). It is impossible to be dogmatic. There are good arguments for both views. A key verse is Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” This verse tells us at least two things about this debate. The soul and spirit can be divided, and the division of soul and spirit is something that only God can discern. Rather than focusing on something we cannot know for sure, it is better to focus on the Creator, who has made us “fearfully and wonderfully” (Psalm 139:14).

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Answer: Libertarian free will is basically the concept that, metaphysically and morally, man is an autonomous being, one who operates independently, not controlled by others or by outside forces. According to the Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (InterVarsity Press, 2002), libertarian free will is defined as “in ethics and metaphysics, the view that human beings sometimes can will more than one possibility. According to this view, a person who freely made a particular choice could have chosen differently, even if nothing about the past prior to the moment of choice had been different.” In the libertarian free will paradigm, the power of contrary choice reigns supreme. Without this ability to choose otherwise, libertarian free will proponents will claim that man cannot be held morally responsible for his actions.

As mentioned earlier, the word “autonomous” is key in understanding libertarian free will. The word basically means “self-government.” It is derived from two Greek words, autos and nomos, which mean “a law unto oneself.” This is libertarian free will in a nutshell. We, as free moral agents, can make our own decisions and are not subject to the will or determination of another. In any given situation, let’s call it X, we can freely choose to do action A. Furthermore, if situation X presents itself again, we can freely choose not to do A (~A).

The opposite of libertarian free will is called determinism, and determinism essentially denies free will altogether—our choices are determined and that’s that. In situation X, I will always choose to do action A, and in situation Y, I will choose to do ~A, etc. Instead of being autonomous beings, mankind is reduced to being automatons—beings who perform programmed responses to certain situations.

The first thing to take into account regarding the biblical position of libertarian free will is what the Bible says about God. The Bible describes God as sovereign, and sovereignty designates control. But what exactly is the sphere of God’s sovereignty? Psalm 24:1 makes it plain: “The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” What is the sphere of God’s sovereignty? Everything. God spoke the universe, and everything in it, into existence. As Creator, He has sovereignty over His creation. This is the image used in Romans 9 when Paul refers to the potter and his clay.

So we need to ask ourselves how does libertarian free will fit in with God’s sovereignty? Can a human being, a creature, be autonomous if God is sovereign? The obvious conclusion is that libertarian free will is incompatible with the sovereignty of God. Consider this passage from the book of Proverbs: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). This does not paint a picture of man as an autonomous being, but rather as man operating within the confines of a sovereign God.

Consider another Old Testament passage: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:9-10). Here again we see a sovereign God declaring to us that He will accomplish all His purposes. The concept of libertarian free will leaves open the possibility that man can freely refuse to do God’s will, yet God says all His purposes will be accomplished.

Man is not a “law unto himself.” Man is a creature in the Creator’s universe, and as such is subject to the will of the Creator. To suggest otherwise is to elevate man beyond his station and to bring God down to the level of the creature. Those who advocate libertarian free will may not come out and say this, but logically speaking, this is the conclusion that must be drawn. Consider a popular evangelistic slogan found in Christian gospel tracts: “God casts his vote for you, Satan casts his vote against you, but you have the deciding vote.” Is this how it works in salvation? Is God just one side of a cosmic struggle with Satan for the souls of men, who must resort to ”campaign tactics” to sway voters to heaven? This view of God is an emasculated God who is desperately hoping mankind utilizes his free will to choose Him. Frankly, but this is a somewhat pathetic view of God. If God wills to save someone, that person will be saved because God accomplishes all His purposes.

Now, we must be careful not to swing to the (equally) unbiblical view that God is the divine Puppet Master and we are merely His puppets. This is the view of hard determinism in which man is reduced to an automaton making robotic responses to situations. The Bible presents a third option between hard determinism and libertarian free will, and that is the view called compatibilism, or soft determinism. In this view, man makes real choices and will be held responsible by God for those choices. The choices that man makes emanate from his desires. God grants the creature a certain amount of freedom, but that freedom always operates within the boundaries of God’s sovereignty.

Now by embracing this view, we must avoid two errors. The first is to posit what is called “middle knowledge.” The doctrine of middle knowledge teaches that God created a world out of the infinite number of worlds He had available to Him to create, and God chose that particular world in which free creatures made the very decisions that accomplished His will. The second error to avoid is to think that God is somehow a cosmic manipulator setting up situations so that His creatures freely make the choices that accomplish His will.

There are two keys to understanding human will and how it relates to God’s sovereignty. The first is the fall. Prior to the fall, man could be said to have had a “free” will in that he was free to obey God or disobey God. After the fall, man’s will was corrupted by sin to the point where he fully lost the ability to willingly obey God. This doesn’t mean that man can’t outwardly obey God. Rather, man cannot perform any spiritual good that is acceptable to God or has any salvific merit. The Bible describes man’s will as “dead in transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) or as “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:17). These phrases describe man as both unable and unwilling to submit to God’s sovereign authority; therefore, when man makes choices according to his desires, we must remember that man’s desires are depraved and corrupted and wholly rebellious toward God.

The second key in harmonizing man’s “free” will with God’s sovereignty is how God accomplishes His desires. When God ordains all things that come to pass (Psalm 33:11; Ephesians 1:11), He not only ordains the ends, but the means as well. God ordains that certain things will happen and He also ordains how they will happen. Human choices are one of the means by which God accomplishes His will. For proof of this point, look no further than the exodus. God tells Moses that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that God’s glory in the deliverance of Israel would be manifest through him (Exodus 4:21). However, as the narrative continues, we see that Pharaoh hardens his own heart (Exodus 8:15). God’s will and man’s will converge.

In conclusion, we must try to understand the effort to import libertarian free will into the Scriptures. The reasoning is usually to preserve human autonomy because it is seen as the key to moral responsibility. This is also done to preserve God’s justice. God cannot be seen as just if He would condemn those who cannot choose against their depraved wills. Yet in these attempts to preserve God’s justice and human responsibility, damage is done to the Scriptures. The Bible emphatically affirms human responsibility for sin and God’s justice, but it also clearly rejects libertarian free will. Scripture clearly affirms that 1) God is sovereign over all affairs, including the affairs of man; and 2) man is responsible for his rebellion against a holy God. The fact that we cannot completely harmonize these two biblical truths should not cause us to reject either one. Things seem impossible to us often simply because we do not have the mind of God. It is true that we can’t expect to understand the mind of God perfectly, as He reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Nevertheless, our responsibility to God is to believe His Word, to obey Him, to trust Him and to submit to His will, whether we understand it or not.

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Questions about Theology


Baptismal regeneration is the belief that a person must be baptized in order to be saved. It is our contention that baptism is an important step of obedience for a Christian, but we adamantly reject baptism as being required for salvation. We strongly believe that each and every Christian should be water baptized by immersion. Baptism illustrates a believer’s identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Romans 6:3-4 declares, “Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” The action of being immersed in the water illustrates dying and being buried with Christ. The action of coming out of the water pictures Christ’s resurrection.

Requiring anything in addition to faith in Jesus Christ for salvation is a works-based salvation. To add anything to the gospel is to say that Jesus' death on the cross was not sufficient to purchase our salvation. To say we must be baptized in order to be saved is to say we must add our own good works and obedience to Christ's death in order to make it sufficient for salvation. Jesus' death alone paid for our sins (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus' payment for our sins is appropriated to our “account” by faith alone (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, baptism is an important step of obedience after salvation but cannot be a requirement for salvation.

Yes, there are some verses that seem to indicate baptism as a necessary requirement for salvation. However, since the Bible so clearly tells us that salvation is received by faith alone (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5), there must be a different interpretation of those verses. Scripture does not contradict Scripture. In Bible times, a person who converted from one religion to another was often baptized to identify conversion. Baptism was the means of making a decision public. Those who refused to be baptized were saying they did not truly believe. So, in the minds of the apostles and early disciples, the idea of an un-baptized believer was unheard of. When a person claimed to believe in Christ, yet was ashamed to proclaim his faith in public, it indicated that he did not have true faith.

If baptism is necessary for salvation, why would Paul have said, “I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius” (1 Corinthians 1:14)? Why would he have said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17)? Granted, in this passage Paul is arguing against the divisions that plagued the Corinthian church. However, how could Paul possibly say, “I am thankful that I did not baptize…” or “For Christ did not send me to baptize…” if baptism were necessary for salvation? If baptism is necessary for salvation, Paul would literally be saying, “I am thankful that you were not saved…” and “For Christ did not send me to save…” That would be an unbelievably ridiculous statement for Paul to make. Further, when Paul gives a detailed outline of what he considers the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-8), why does he neglect to mention baptism? If baptism is a requirement for salvation, how could any presentation of the gospel lack a mention of baptism?

Does Acts 2:38 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

Does Mark 16:16 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

Does 1 Peter 3:21 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

Does John 3:5 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

Does Acts 22:16 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

Does Galatians 3:27 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?
Baptismal regeneration is not a biblical concept. Baptism does not save from sin but from a bad conscience. In 1 Peter 3:21, Peter clearly taught that baptism was not a ceremonial act of physical purification, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. Baptism is the symbol of what has already occurred in the heart and life of one who has trusted Christ as Savior (Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12). Baptism is an important step of obedience that every Christian should take. Baptism cannot be a requirement for salvation. To make it such is an attack on the sufficiency of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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