Friday, September 30, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 24: “A Tree Is Known By its Own Fruit”

Presidential debates are fascinating, aren’t they? The aspects that intrigue me the most are that generally, as in this election, the candidates are professing Christians. Not only are they professing Christians, but they possess vast amounts of wealth and are attempting to become arguably the most powerful person in the world.

Jesus often had many challenging things to say to the wealthy and powerful people He encountered, so it’s rather interesting to see how these professing Christians live out their professed faith in situations where the stakes are so high. Yes, I realize I keep using the word ‘professing’. Surely people with the unquenchable ambition to be the leader of the free world wouldn’t lie about their beliefs just to get votes, would they? Would they?

It’s strange, I remember George W. Bush being touted as a strong evangelical when he was first running for office. During his presidency, I remember a book of his receiving enormous publicity in certain mainline Christian stores. However, I also recall him in 2004 saying in an interview with Charles Gibson that he believed sincere Muslims and Christians both pray to the same God and will both go to heaven. He never talked like that on the campaign trail in 2000.

So how can we know the truth, especially in an age like ours when deceit is at an all time high? Jesus calls us to the fruit test.

“For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” – Luke 6:43-45

Whenever I’ve discussed this passage with others, a question seems to usually arise as to what ‘good fruit’ actually looks like. Ignatius, who was the Bishop of Antioch and a personal disciple of John the Apostle in the late first and early second century, made a simple, yet profound comment on the question at hand.  

The tree is made manifest by its fruit; so those that profess themselves to be Christians shall be recognized by their conduct. For there is not now a demand for mere profession, but that a man be found continuing in the power of faith to the end. … Let us therefore do all things as those who have Him dwelling in us, that we may be His temples, and He may be in us as our God, which indeed He is, and will manifest Himself before our faces. – Ignatius 105CE, Volume 1, p. 92-93 [CD-ROM]

According to Ignatius, our fruit is synonymous with our conduct. According to Ignatius, good fruit must be fruit that perseveres to the end. According to Ignatius, good fruit is an outflow of a good tree. If we are truly part of the Jesus tree, than our lives should bear His resemblance in our daily interactions.

The coming election has propped up two candidates who claim affiliation with Jesus, yet in conversations I’ve had about the first debate, the winner seemed to be determined by which one seemed less evil. “__________ may be the great whore of Babylon.” “Yeah, well _________ may be the Antichrist.” And of course, it's possible that those designations could be true.

It’s been said that when we’re bumped we spill what we’re filled with. During the debate, we witnessed two professing Christians being repeatedly bumped and spilling gallons of poison into the audience and our living rooms. Unfortunately, similar copycat spills are being committed by their followers with every passing day.

So what are you filled with? In this heated political season, when you’re bumped, what spills out of you? Is it healthy or poisonous?

If what spills is poisonous, if the fruit is rotten, then perhaps we should evaluate where our trust is actually placed. Does God or government have our hearts?

It is so tempting to put our confidence in government. After all, it seems like the most pragmatic thing to do. However, even the best worldly governments in their best days bear little resemblance to the kingdom of heaven. So as things get less and less godly in the weeks ahead, may we heed the wise counsel of the psalmist:

Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. ... How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God. – Psalm 146:3,5

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 23: “Destroy This Temple…”

In my last blog post, I shared a simple strategy for speaking with Jehovah’s Witnesses using four questions and the book of Revelation. Today’s post contains two similar witnessing strategies I’ve used that help prove Jesus and God the Father are one.

Remember, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was the first creation of God (Jehovah), that Jesus is not therefore God, and that He used to be the archangel Michael before coming to earth as Jesus. Therefore, keeping the conversation centered on the deity of Christ is vital in any discussion with a Jehovah’s Witness. Also, recall that to be most effective with a Jehovah’s Witness, you should let them read all of these Scriptures aloud from their own Bibles.

Finally, as was the case in the previous post, during the dialogue sections I will put the Jehovah’s Witnesses translation first, and then the New American Standard version as a reference.

This first witnessing strategy developed after a Jehovah’s Witness decided to read a section of John 17 to me in an attempt to refute a claim I just made about the divinity of Jesus. When she read verse 11 she stopped in her tracks and tried to change the subject. What follows is a modified version of that conversation.

1a) Say, “Can we please read Genesis 17:1 out loud?”

When Aʹbram was 99 years old, Jehovah appeared to Aʹbram and said to him: “I am God Almighty. Walk before me and prove yourself faultless.” (New World Translation)

Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless." (NASB)

1b) Now ask, “What is Jehovah’s (The Lord’s) name in this passage?”
Answer = God Almighty

2a) Say, “Can we please read John 17:11 out loud?

“I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, watch over them on account of your own name, which you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.” (New World Translation)

“I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.” (NASB)

2b) Ask, “What does Jesus say His name is?”
Answer = The same name as His Father: Jehovah/God Almighty

I’ll give you one more, an apologetic strategy I used in my book:

1) Ask, “Who raised Jesus from the dead?”
(Let them answer = Jehovah/God the Father.)

2a) Ask, “Would you please give me a verse to support that belief?
(There are many, but if they can't think of one, offer Romans 10:9.)

2b) Ask them to read Romans 10:9 out Loud:

For if you publicly declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and exercise faith in your heart that God raised him up from the dead, you will be saved. (New World Translation)

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (NASB)

3a) Say, “In John 2, Jesus drove many money changers out of the temple for defrauding and oppressing the people, and it greatly upset the authorities.

3b) Ask, “Will you please read John 2:18-21 out loud?”

Therefore, in response the Jews said to him: “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” Jesus replied to them: “Tear down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said: “This temple was built in 46 years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was talking about the temple of his body. (New World Translation)

The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. (NASB)

4) Ask: Who did Jesus say would raise Him from the dead?
Answer = He said He would.

5) Ask: Who raised Jesus from the dead?
Answer = Jesus and Jehovah/God Almighty are one.

These witnessing strategies are not clever “Gotcha” games played to humiliate the Jehovah’s Witness you’re conversing with. They are designed to glorify God. They are structured to reveal the truth that God Himself entered humanity to suffer on our behalf. He didn’t merely send one of His creations.

God Himself came down to rescue us, and we put Him to death. When we see the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ sacrifice, we see Jehovah, we see God Almighty embodying His love for us. And that singular truth makes all the difference in the world. 

Then did the whole creation see clearly that for man’s sake the Judge was condemned, and the Invincible was seen, and the Illimitable was circumscribed, and the Impassible suffered, and the Immortal died, and the Celestial was laid to the grave. … God was put to death, the King of Israel slain. – Melito 170CE, Volume 8, p. 756, 758

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 22: “I Am the Alpha and the Omega…”

My family is blessed to have a home that is only about a mile from a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall. I really do mean that we are blessed by that fact, not because we are Jehovah’s Witnesses, but because they so frequently come by our door to chat. 

I’ve developed some good relationships with a few of them, and we’ve had numerous long conversations about the divinity of Jesus. That really is one of the most important issues, isn’t it? After all, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was the first creation of God (Jehovah), that Jesus is not therefore God, and that He used to be the archangel Michael before coming to earth as Jesus.

In speaking with them, one of the most effective witnessing tools has been demonstrating how the book of Revelation unveils Jesus as being one with God the Father and worthy of the same worship He receives.   

What follows did not originate with me. This technique is short, simple and straight forward, and can be used with anyone to prove the divinity of Jesus through the Scriptures. However, to be most effective with a Jehovah’s Witness, you should let them read all of these Scriptures aloud from their own Bibles.

Even though their translations are heavily slanted to their own teachings, they can often still be used to point out the fallacies in their own doctrines. I will put the Jehovah’s Witnesses translation first, and then the New American Standard version as a reference.

Make sure to preface the conversation by asking if they will please allow you to ask them four questions. Politely tell them you are comfortable with them using their Bibles to read from. If at some point during the four questions they try to steer the conversation off topic, gently remind them of their previous agreement, that it won’t take very long, and that you earnestly want to know their answers.

1a) Say, "Will you please read Revelation 1:8 out loud?"

“I am the Alʹpha and the Omeʹga,” says Jehovah God, “the One who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty.” (New World Translation)

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (NASB)

1b) Now ask, "Who does this passage say is the Alpha and the Omega? Answer = Jehovah God (The Lord God Almighty)

2a) Say, "Will you please read Revelation 21:6-7 out loud?

And he said to me: “They have come to pass! I am the Alʹpha and the Omeʹga, the beginning and the end. To anyone thirsting I will give from the spring* of the water of life free. Anyone conquering will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (New World Translation)

Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.” (NASB)

2b) Now ask, "Who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end?
Answer = Jehovah God (The Lord God Almighty)

3a) Say, "Will you please read Revelation 22:12-13 out loud?

“Look! I am coming quickly, and the reward I give is with me, to repay each one according to his work. I am the Alʹpha and the Omeʹga, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (New World Translation)

“Behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to render to every man according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (NASB)

3b) Now ask, "Who is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end?
Answer = Jehovah God (The Lord God Almighty)

4a) Say, "Will you please read Revelation 1:17-18 out loud?

When I saw him, I fell as dead at his feet. And he laid his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last, and the living one, and I became dead, but look! I am living forever and ever, and I have the keys of death and of the Grave.” (New World Translation)

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” (NASB)

4b) Now ask, "When did the Jehovah God die and come back to life?
Answer = Jesus and Jehovah God (The Lord God Almighty) are one.

This is the point where either the light bulbs will go off, or they will get upset and possibly try to leave.

Try to be gentle. Try to not smirk. If your worldview has ever been threatened, you know it is a terribly upsetting feeling. Instead of bathing in the glory of an argument won, offer to pray with them. Offer them a bottle of water from your refrigerator. Invite them to come back the following week to chat.

Don’t be afraid. Jesus will give you the words. The Holy Spirit will help you elegantly weave together various passages of Scripture that demonstrate Jesus’ divinity. He did it for the earliest disciples, and He will also help you be an effective true witness for Him today.

In the Gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word.” Also in the same: “The Lord said to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands: and be not faithless, but believing. Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.” … Also in the Apocalypse: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end: I will give to him that is athirst, of the fountain of living water freely.”  – Cyprian 250CE, Volume 5, p. 909-910 [CD-ROM]

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 21: “If the World Hates You…”

Colin Kaepernick has caused quite a stir lately. The San Francisco 49er’s quarterback’s refusal to stand during the National Anthem has produced reactions ranging from hate to pride, from disdain to admiration.

I’ve seen and heard many Christians over the last couple of weeks blast Kaepernick and his actions because they feel he should have more respect for the flag. But regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, even if you aren’t moved at all by his actions, imagine for a minute if the federal government arrested him for treason and put him to death. How would you feel about that?

In fact, during the first 300 years of Christianity, countless Christians in the Roman Empire were put to death under the charge of treason for refusing to give what was viewed as appropriate honor to the State.

In Rome, all religions were equally valid as long as they made room for each other and didn’t get in the way of the chief gods: The State and the Emperor. Throughout those first three centuries, Christians were often forced to make a difficult choice.

Lose your job, or salute Caesar and the State. Let your family starve, or salute Caesar and the State. Lose your life, or salute Caesar and the State. Let your friends and family be tortured, or salute Caesar and the State.

There are many explicit examples I could cite, but take a minute to read these two descriptions of the plight of Christians around the Empire in the middle and end of the second century:

We are charged with being irreligious people and, what is more, irreligious in respect to the emperors since we refuse to pay religious homage to their imperial majesties and to their genius and refuse to swear by them. High treason is a crime of offense against the Roman religion. It is a crime of open irreligion, a raising of the hand to injure the deity. …

Christians are considered to be enemies of the State. … We wage a battle when we are challenged to face the tribunals of law. There in peril of life, we give testimony for the truth. … “You do not,” so they tell us, “worship the gods, nor do you make sacrifices to the emperors.” Accordingly, we are charged with sacrilege and high treason. We are publicly accused of being atheists and criminals who are guilty of high treason. – Tertullian: To the Nations (197CE) & Justin Martyr: Second Apology (160CE)

My stomach turns when I read the pages upon pages of the accounts of Christians staying faithful to Christ in the face of unspeakable persecution by the State. At the same time, my faith is strengthened.

Additionally, each time I come across those stories, I’m also reminded of Jesus’ words to His disciples in John:

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. – John 15:18-19

In the middle of the third century, a Christian enemy of the State named Cyprian wrote that it should be no surprise to any follower of Jesus that the world hates us.

It was predicted that the world would hold us in abhorrence, and that it would stir up persecutions against us, and that no new thing is happening to the Christians, since from the beginning of the world the good have suffered, and the righteous have been oppressed and slain by the unrighteous. The Lord in the Gospel forewarns and foretells, saying: “If the world hates you, know that it first hated Me. … And again: “The hour will come, that every one that kills you will think that he is doing God service.” – Cyprian 250CE, Volume 1, p. 878 [CD-ROM]

The older I get and the more traveling and research I do, the more I have come to believe that the main rival to Christianity is the religion of the State. After all, who gives you the freedoms you enjoy? Who has given you the land you built your house upon? Who is ultimately to thank for you living in an environment where you can achieve your dreams?

See, the problem is that though these questions should be answered with, “God,” they are all too often answered with, “America.” But America isn't the only culprit, is it? Because if you grow up in Canada, Mozambique or North Korea you’ll probably be brought up to think the same way.

Interestingly, the health of the Church in these places is often tied to how the Church is treated there. For instance, do you know what country has the fastest growing evangelical population in the world?

Iran – the ninth most dangerous place to be a Christian.

There are no free standing, marked Christian churches in Iran because it is illegal to be a Christian in Iran. All of the churches there are house churches, and the leaders are frequently being arrested and condemned.

Christians are truly hated in Iran, yet the kingdom of God is advancing like wildfire. Christianity has long been the dominant religious preference of the majority of Americans, and we are a fat, rich and idolatrous bunch. We have a long, complicated relationship of both using and being used by the State. The result? The kingdom of darkness advances with remarkable ease through our homes and churches.  

It's true that there are many differences between what the early Church went through and the whole Kaepernick saga. However, I strongly believe that we American Christians could learn a few valuable lessons from what has transpired with the young man. If either the State loves us or we’re in love with the State, then perhaps we have lost sight of our mission. And finally, if we feel inclined to do harm to those who we feel are disrespecting the State, then maybe we should ask God to search our hearts.