Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Do you believe that before God created the universe and mankind, did he already know every person who would be born and which persons would end up in

Jack Harney writes in response to previous post,

I asked a question about one of the most basic beliefs that all Christians claim, that God is omniscient...all knowing the past present and future. Let me ask you this. Do you believe that before God created the universe and mankind, did he already know every person who would be born and which persons would end up in heaven and hell? Do you believe that he knew that before creation?

This is a very interesting question and one that has occupied theologians for many millennia. I in no way claim to be a learned theologian, but I will give my opinion on this question. The fact that God knows the future is evident throughout the scriptures. The scriptures record hundreds of prophesies, many which have already come to pass. In fact, by some accountings, over 300 specific prophesies of the messiah’s birth, life, and death were fulfilled in the person of Jesus. God declares of Himself

“Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

It is also apparent from the scriptures that God “knew” us before we were born. Our existence is not the result of random chance but the result of the determined plan and will of God. Consider what was written of both Jeremiah and David.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

“Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” (Psalms 139:16)

While God’s omniscience and His foreknowledge of us are abundantly attested to by the scriptures, the more difficult question relates to the concept of “free will”. Does man have a “free will” to chose to accept or reject the saving grace offered by God or is it God alone who chooses who will be save and we are powerless to change that decision? My understanding to this question is that, while God knows the end from the beginning, God does not dictate the end from the beginning. In other words, God is able to look forward and see the result of the decisions we will make by our own free will. We decide the direction of our life by the choices we make and God is able to see those choices, and their results, even before we were born. Consider what God says about the wicked.

“The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth.” (Psalms 58:3)

Notice that He says that the wicked go “astray”. God created us with a purpose and a calling but it is up to us whether we will choose to walk in that purpose and calling. We can choose to go astray or we can choose to walk in the path God has prepared for us. Standing from a place outside of time, God sees it all, but we live in time and must walk through our lives and face our choices one at a time. In this way, God is both omniscient and man still has “free will”.

“Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe.” (John 14:29)

Let’s continue the dialog, David Robison

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David Robison

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Love bears all things

There is a story of a man who, on his wedding day, was asked by the minister, “Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health?” His response was ‘Yes, no, yes, no, no, and yes.” Needless to say, that was not what his bride-to-be wanted to hear. Marriage is not a multiple choice proposition, it is all or nothing, and so is love. Love is not something we fall in to one day and then fall out of the next. When Paul said that “Love bears all things” he was speaking of love’s enduring and unchanging nature.

If you look to the media and entertainment industries for an understanding of Love, they will tell you that love is a response based upon our attraction for another person. But God has a different perspective on love. The God kind of love that we are to emulate is more of a choice than a response. Love, at its very core, is a decision to treat someone else with the character attributes that are distinctly god-like. Love is a decision to be patient, kind, selfless, humble, respectful, longsuffering, and forgiving towards another person. This kind of love is not conditional on the other person reciprocating love towards us, it is not conditional on their positive behavior and attitude towards us, but it is unconditional as a matter of our own choosing. Speaking of God’s love towards us, Paul writes, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) God did not love us because we were worthy. In fact He loved us when we were still sinners and enemies of His kingdom. Rather God loved us because He chose to love us. It is comforting to know that God’s love for us is not conditional on us keeping the law. We all fall and sin in many ways but this does not diminish God’s love for us. He chose to love us and, even in our worst of times, His love for us is just as strong as it is when we are at our best. This is what the Lord spoke so many years ago. “The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.’” (Jeremiah 31:3)

So should our love be one to another. We should never hold out our love as a conditional offering to those who must measure up to our standard of acceptance. We should not base our love on how someone else is treats us. We should choose to love with the love of God and then love through all time, for better or worse, for richer and for poorer, and in sickness and in health.

David Robison

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Love rejoices in the truth

Every parent wants their child to grow up to be successful. Unfortunately, our society has so many ideas of what it means to be successful. So how do we know if we have grown up to be successful? There is a movement in our schools that believes that success comes when we learn to develop a healthy sense of self esteem. Schools across the country are implementing programs to teach children the value of self esteem. Some schools are even teaching the children songs that extol their value, songs that have been referred to as the “me” songs. For others, success lies in good grades, acceptance at a good college, and eventually becoming financially successful in a good carrier. For them, “rising to the top” is the panicle of success. Other children find success in being popular and having lots of friends. Grades and learning are secondary to being liked and being a part of the “in crowd”. And for other parents, all that matters is that their kids are the best at what ever they do. They push their kids to be better and to strive to be the best at whatever sport or activity they are involved in. But is any of this a real good measure of success? In writing to Gaius, his brother in the faith, the Apostle John wrote,

“For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” (3 John 3-4)

Paul wrote that “love rejoices in the truth.” There is nothing more important, or more foundational, than that we build our lives upon a lifestyle of living in the truth. We can have all the self-esteem we want, have great paying jobs, be the best and anything and every thing we try, but if we lack truth in our lives, we have accomplished nothing. I would rather raise my kids to walk in the truth than to have children who are successful by the world’s standard yet lack the morality that is consistent with God’s word and who lack the ability to make ethical choices that are consistent with God’s righteous decrees.

The word Paul uses for “rejoices” caries the idea of congratulating someone. My number two son just graduated from High School with honors and, while I am very proud of him for his accomplishments, I congratulate him the most for becoming a man who walks in the truth. Love rejoices and congratulates others when its sees them walking in the truth. In life, it is easy to become critical of others when they fall short of our goals for their lives. Our children are not as smart as we had hoped or our wife does not keep the house as we had hoped she would. Often we judge others based on images of success that we have receive from the media and the entertainment industry. We see the pretty and perfect people on TV and then wonder why our spouse and children are not as pretty and perfect as they are. However, when we judge people by worldly standards we are judging with shallow motives. If we would look deeper we might see the substance of greater value, something of lasting value, a life and a heart that has been made pure by the power of God. Let us learn to look deeper into each other’s lives. Let us learn to look with the eyes of love. Let us begin to congratulate others for the evidence of true success in their lives. Let us learn to rejoice when we see others “walking in the truth.”

David Robison

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness: Part 5

Embracing unrighteousness in our culture

Here in America, our country is in the midst of a fierce cultural war. The moral and cultural standards upon which our country was build are daily coming under attack. Each day, there are more and more factions seeking to bring change in our culture, seeking to alter the culture to fit their particular view of how we should behave, both individually and corporately as a society. For example, there is a concerted push to change the traditional definition of marriage from one man and one woman to include any two (or more) consenting adults, even adults of the same sex. Another example is the effort to replace personal responsibility and self-sufficiency with dependency on the government. There are those in our culture who see government as the solution to all our problems. If there is a problem, then government must do something about it. If I loose my job, then it’s the government’s responsibility to do something and either get me a job or to provide for me while I’m unemployed. If I have needs, it’s not my responsibility to better myself but the government’s role to provide for me and to somehow better my life. A final example of this cultural war is the advancement of relativism. There are those in our society who are espousing a philosophy that there are no absolutes, that everything is relevant. There is nothing of which you can say that it is right or wrong. Right and wrong are determined by a person’s own private morals and the situation at hand. What may be wrong in one situation, or for one person, may not be wrong in another situation or for another person. The absolutes of the Judeo-Christian ethics are being replaced with individual morals that are conditional on the present circumstances.

In this midst of this Cultural Revolution, great confusion has arisen over how love should respond to such pressures to change. There are many who misunderstand the nature and the character of love. For many, they believe that 1 Corinthians 13:7-8 should be rewritten to say “Love accepts all things, love accommodates all things, and love embraces all things. Love never judges.” But is this a realistic and true expression of love?

When the children of Israel were about to receive their inheritance in the land of Canaan, God was very clear about how they should behave relative to how the people who formerly occupied their land used to behave. “Beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?’ You shall not behave thus toward the Lord your God, for every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations.” (Deuteronomy 12:30-31, 18:9) Culture is important and our moral and ethical inheritance is not to be rejected just to make others fit in or feel more comfortable in their sin and unrighteousness. We hear a lot about the importance of “tolerance” but often what is really desired is “accommodation”. There is nothing wrong with being tolerant of people who are different than us, but it is wrong to compromise our morals and ethics to accommodate another’s sin. So what is the loving response to those who are different from us, to those who desire to be part of our society and culture? This is what God commanded those of the new nation of Israel, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 19:33-34, 24:22) Love responds to those who are different by receiving them into our culture, by allowing them to become a part of who we are, by sharing with them the benefits and blessings of our country, society, and culture. Love does not feel compelled to change our standards or morals just to make others feel more comfortable, but love does warmly receive all who desire to embrace them and are willing to live in a culture that is defined by them. Love stands with open arms and invites all to come and enjoy the blessings we have found.

David Robison

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness: Part 4

Living with unrighteousness in the church

Israel’s history in the Promised Land was often a checkered history at best. It was a history peppered with times of compromise, sin, and apostasy. To be sure, there were times that could be described as glorious and that were full of the purpose and potential of God, but there were also the dark times where unrighteousness reigned. From time to time, reformers would come and, because of their message, the culture would shift, if only temporarily, towards God and His laws. But far too often, their work would stop short of a total cultural revolution. Over and over the scriptures would record the following words, “However, the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burnt incense on the high places.” (1 Kings 22:43) It took the work of such reformers as Hezekiah and Josiah to actually go up to the high places and tear them down. “Then he brought all the priests from the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba; and he broke down the high places of the gates which were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one's left at the city gate.” (2 Kings 23:8)

Most churches are good at rooting out overt sin from their congregation. Few churches are like the church at Corinth that allowed open and overt sin, such as the inset that was going on, to continue unchallenged in their mists. But for many churches, the high places still remain. The high places were places where people would go to sacrifice to god, sometimes even to Jehovah, but their sacrifices were contrary to the laws of God. God had required that His people come to the altar at Jerusalem to offer their sacrifice and not to offer their sacrifices under “every green tree”. High places, at first glance, look holy and religious. After all, they were going there to offer sacrifices to Jehovah, but they were an offence before God. How do we know if something in our church has become a “high place”? Here are three characteristics of a high place.

  1. Worship at a high place is worship that is contrary to the word of God. No matter what we are doing, no matter how holy and religious it sounds, if it is contrary to God’s word, it’s a high place. The writer of Hebrews calls them “dead works”. (Hebrews 9.14) The only solution for dead works is “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God” (Hebrews 6:1)

  2. Worship at a high place is a worship of convenience. May times they sought the high places because they were close and the journey to Jerusalem was long. It was “convenient” for them to worship at the high place rather than to travel to Jerusalem. Unfortunately Christianity is not a life of convenience but a life of obedience. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

  3. Worship at a high place is a worship that is devoid of the presence of God. We can try to convince ourselves that God is present in our worship, but confessing it does not make it so. I have been in churches where they say, “Isn’t the presence of God here today?” but, honestly, if He was there He must have been hiding. It is true that God is always with us, but there are times when His presence is with us in a manifest and tangible sense. Speaking of Jesus, the scriptures say, “Unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” (Gen 49:10 KJV) When we come to worship, if it is not to come before Him and enter into His presence, then it offers little to both man and God.

The church at Laodicea was a church that had found it comfortable to live with the compromises of the high places, yet God rebuked her saying, “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:18-19) Love does not tolerate compromise. Love is willing to tell us what we need to hear, not just what we want to hear. Love knows that compromise will always lead to a snare, but love also knows that the truth will always set us free.

More to come… David Robison

Friday, August 11, 2006

Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness: Part 3

Tolerating sin in our families

Raising a family is hard work, especially in these fast-paced times we live in. Everyone is in a hurry and there seems to be little time left over for building in the lives of our children, our spouses, and our families as a whole. While most parents would aspire to build a strong family, many parents are so spent that they feel they lack the time and energy needed for the task. Many times, it just seems easier to “let things slide” or to ignore relational conflicts hoping that they will just go away. While we may be tempted to coexist with sin, moral failure, and character flaws within our families, love motivates us to confront them and to find ways to deal with them. Ignoring problems in our families always leads to trouble. Here are just two examples from the scriptures.

David had many sons and daughters; among them were his son Amnon and his daughter Tamar. They were both children of David but from different mothers. Amnon “loved” his half-sister Tamar, so he laid a trap for her. He pretended to be sick and when she came to serve him he overpowered her and raped her. After lying with her he despised her more than he had previously “loved” her so he sent her away in humiliation and disgrace. “Now when King David heard of all these matters, he was very angry.” (2 Samuel 13:21) David was angry but he did nothing! Sin and offense had entered the family yet David did nothing to confront or deal with it. For two years this issue festered until finally David’s son, and Tamar’s brother, Absalom took action and killed Amnon. David’s lack of response was partially to blame for Absalom’s act of murder and it sowed the seeds of Absalom’s later rebellion against him and his kingdom.

Saul also had a son, Jonathan. It happed one day that as they were pressing hard after the philistines that King Saul gave an order, “Cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself on my enemies." (1 Samuel 14:24) Unfortunately, his son Jonathan was not there to hear his command. So when he entered the forest he found some honey and ate from it. When it was told Jonathan that his father had commanded that no one should eat until the philistines were destroyed, he responded with contempt to his father’s command. “My father has troubled the land. See now, how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. How much more, if only the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.” (1 Samuel 14:29-30) Later that day Saul sought the Lord for direction in the battle, yet God was silent. So they cast lots to see who had sinned and the lot fell to Jonathan. Saul asked Jonathon what he had done and Jonathon replied, “I indeed tasted a little honey with the end of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am, I must die!” (1 Samuel 14:43) While Saul was set to kill his son, the people objected and Saul relented of his decision. The will of the people saved Jonathan yet this episode ends with the following words, “Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.” (1 Samuel 14:46) Jonathan was spared but the philistines got away. When King Saul agreed to ignore the sin of his son he lost his authority to lead. The enemies were on the run, Israel was winning the war, but Saul’s compromise brought an early end to the campaign. The victory that could have been the Lord’s was lost and Israel returned home without having accomplished all that they could have.

Tolerating sin, and the seeds of sin, in our families always leads to disaster. Parenting takes love, yet love takes courage. As a parent, love is less concerned with being like by our children and more concerned with seeing them formed into the image of Christ. A loving parent is less concerned with what others think and what the world says than they are with raising children who know God and who know how to live according to His ways. “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” (Proverbs 13:24) Love is willing to confront the issues that need to be confronted. Love understands that momentary discomfort and discipline are sometimes necessary to produce the life long fruit of righteousness. It’s not easy to have to inflict pain on our children, and it’s hurtful when they express their anger towards us for our punishing of them, but Love looks to the reward, love looks to the life that will be formed by godly discipline, training, and instruction.

More to come… David Robison