Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What does it mean to glorify God?"

To “glorify” God means to give glory to Him. The word glory as related to God in the Old Testament bears with it the idea of greatness of splendor. In the New Testament, the word translated “glory” means "dignity, honor, praise and worship." Putting the two together, we find that glorifying God means to acknowledge His greatness and give Him honor by praising and worshiping Him, primarily because He, and He alone, deserves to be praised, honored and worshipped. God’s glory is the essence of His nature, and we give glory to Him by recognizing that essence.

The question that comes to mind is if God has all the glory, which He does, how then do we “give Him” glory? How can we give God something which is His in the first place? The key is found in 1 Chronicles 16:28-29, “Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.” In this verse, we see two actions on our part that make up the action of glorifying God. First, we “ascribe” or give glory to Him because it is His due. No one else deserves the praise and worship that we give to glorify Him. Isaiah 42:8 confirms this: "I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” Second, we are to “bring an offering” to God as part of the worship that glorifies Him. What is the offering we bring to God to glorify Him?

The offering we bring to God as we come before Him in the splendor or beauty of His holiness involves agreement, obedience, submission, and rehearsing His attributes or extolling Him. Glorifying God begins with agreeing with everything He says, especially about Himself. In Isaiah 42:5, God declares, “I am the Lord God. I created the heavens like an open tent above. I made the earth and everything that grows on it. I am the source of life for all who live on this earth, so listen to what I say.” Because of who He is, holy and perfect and true, His proclamations and statutes are holy and perfect and true (Psalm 19:7), and we glorify Him by listening to and agreeing with them. God’s Word, the Bible, is His Word to us, all that we need for life in Him. Listening to and agreeing with Him, though, will not glorify Him unless we also submit to Him and obey the commands contained in His Word. “But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children—with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts” (Psalm 103:17-18). Jesus reiterated the idea that glorifying and loving God are one and the same in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

We also glorify God by rehearsing His attributes and His deeds. Stephen, in his final sermon before he was killed for his faith, retold the story of God’s dealings with Israel from the time Abraham left his country in obedience to God’s command, all the way to the coming of Christ, the “Righteous One,” whom Israel betrayed and murdered. When we tell of God’s work in our lives, how He saved us from sin, and the marvelous works He does in our hearts and minds every day, we glorify Him before others. Even though others don’t always want to hear our glorifying God, He is more than pleased by it. The crowd who heard Stephen hated what he said, covering their ears and rushing at him to stone him. “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55).

To glorify God is to extol His attributes—His holiness, faithfulness, mercy, grace, love, majesty, sovereignty, power, and omniscience, to name a few—rehearsing them over and over in our minds and telling others about the singular nature of the salvation only He offers.

Recommended Resource: Thinking. Loving. Doing. A Call to Glorify God with Heart and Mind by Piper & Mathis

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Do angels appear to people today?

In the Bible angels appear to people in unpredictable and various ways. From a casual reading of Scripture, a person might get the idea that angelic appearances were somewhat commonplace, but that is not the case. Likewise, in our society there has been increasing interest in angels, and it would seem that angelic appearances are normal and common today. Angels appear in every religion, and generally seem to have the same role of messenger. In order to determine whether angels appear today, we must first get a biblical view of their ancient appearances.

The first appearance of angels in the Bible is in Genesis 3:24, when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. God placed guardian angels, or cherubim, to block the entrance with a flaming sword. The next angelic appearance is in Genesis 16:7, about 1900 years later. Hagar, the Egyptian servant who bore Ishmael to Abraham, was instructed by an angel to return and submit to her mistress, Sarai. Abraham was visited by God and two angels in Genesis 18:2, when God informed him of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The same two angels visited Lot and instructed him to escape the city with his family before it was destroyed (Genesis 19:1-11). The angels in this case also displayed supernatural power by blinding the wicked men who were threatening Lot.

When Jacob saw angels (Genesis 32:1), he immediately recognized them as the army of God. In Numbers 22:22, an angel confronted the disobedient prophet Balaam, but Balaam did not see the angel at first, although his donkey did. Mary received a visit from an angel who told her that she would be the mother of the Messiah, and Joseph was warned by an angel to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to protect them from Herod’s edict (Matthew 2:13). Often when angels appear, those who see them are struck with fear (Judges 6:22; 1 Chronicles 21:30; Matthew 28:5). Angels deliver messages from God and do His bidding, sometimes by supernatural means. In every case, the angels point people to God and give the glory to Him.

Modern reports of angelic visitations come in a variety of forms. In some cases, a stranger makes a statement or does something which prevents serious injury or death, and then mysteriously disappears. In other cases, a winged or white-clothed being is seen momentarily, then is gone. In both situations, the person is often left with a feeling of peace and assurance of God's presence. This type of visitation seems to agree with the biblical pattern as seen in Acts 27:23. Another type of visitation which is sometimes reported is the “angel choir” type. In Luke 2:13, the shepherds were visited by a heavenly choir as they were told of the birth of Jesus. Some people have reported similar experiences in places of worship. This experience seems to stretch the model, as it typically serves no purpose other than an emotional high. A third type of visitation is the physical feeling. Elderly people have often reported feeling as though arms or wings are wrapped around them at points of extreme loneliness. God is certainly the God of all comfort, and Scripture (Psalm 91:4) speaks of God covering with His wings. This may well be an example of that covering.

God is still just as active in the world as He has always been, and His angels are certainly still on the job. Just as they protected God's people in the past, we can be assured that they are guarding us today. Hebrews 13:2 instructs us, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” As we obey God's commands, it is quite possible that we may encounter His angels, even if we do not realize it. In special circumstances, God allowed His people to see His unseen servants, so they would take heart and continue in His service (2 Kings 6:16-17).

While we can be encouraged by this knowledge, we must also heed the warnings of Scripture: there are fallen angels who work for Satan who will do anything to subvert and destroy us. Galatians 1:8 warns us to beware of any “new” gospel, even if it is delivered by an angel. Colossians 2:18 warns us against the worship of angels. Several times in the Bible, when men bowed down before angels, those beings firmly refused to be worshiped. Any angel who receives worship, or does not cause glory to be given to God, is an imposter. Second Corinthians 11:14-15 clearly states that Satan and his angels disguise themselves as angels of light in order to deceive and lead astray anyone who will listen to them.

We can certainly be encouraged by the knowledge that God's angels are at work, and in special circumstances, we might even have one of those rare personal visitations. Greater than that knowledge is the knowledge that Jesus Himself has said, “Surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus, who made the angels and receives their worship, has promised us His own presence in our trials.

Recommended Resource: Angels: Elect & Evil by C. Fred Dickason

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What does the Bible say about Christian tithing?

Many Christians struggle with the issue of tithing. In some churches tithing is over-emphasized. At the same time, many Christians refuse to submit to the biblical exhortations about making offerings to the Lord. Tithing/giving is intended to be a joy and a blessing. Sadly, that is sometimes not the case in the church today.

Tithing is an Old Testament concept. The tithe was a requirement of the law in which all Israelites were to give 10 percent of everything they earned and grew to the Tabernacle/Temple (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26; Deuteronomy 14:24; 2 Chronicles 31:5). In fact, the Old Testament Law required multiple tithes which would have pushed the total to around 23.3 percent, not the 10 percent which is generally considered the tithe amount today. Some understand the Old Testament tithe as a method of taxation to provide for the needs of the priests and Levites in the sacrificial system. The New Testament nowhere commands, or even recommends, that Christians submit to a legalistic tithe system. Paul states that believers should set aside a portion of their income in order to support the church (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

The New Testament nowhere designates a percentage of income a person should set aside, but only says it is to be “in keeping with income” (1 Corinthians 16:2). Some in the Christian church have taken the 10 percent figure from the Old Testament tithe and applied it as a “recommended minimum” for Christians in their giving. The New Testament talks about the importance and benefits of giving. We are to give as we are able. Sometimes that means giving more than 10 percent; sometimes that may mean giving less. It all depends on the ability of the Christian and the needs of the church. Every Christian should diligently pray and seek God’s wisdom in the matter of participating in tithing and/or how much to give (James 1:5). Above all, all tithes and offerings should be given with pure motives and an attitude of worship to God and service to the body of Christ. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Recommended Resource: Giving and Tithing by Larry Burkett

Friday, March 9, 2012

Christian fasting - what does the Bible say

Scripture does not command Christians to fast. God does not require or demand it of Christians. At the same time, the Bible presents fasting as something that is good, profitable, and beneficial. The book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions (Acts 13:2; 14:23). Fasting and prayer are often linked together (Luke 2:37; 5:33). Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. Instead, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God.

Although fasting in Scripture is almost always a fasting from food, there are other ways to fast. Anything given up temporarily in order to focus all our attention on God can be considered a fast (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Fasting should be limited to a set time, especially when fasting from food. Extended periods of time without eating can be harmful to the body. Fasting is not intended to punish the flesh, but to redirect attention to God. Fasting should not be considered a “dieting method” either. The purpose of a biblical fast is not to lose weight, but rather to gain deeper fellowship with God. Anyone can fast, but some may not be able to fast from food (diabetics, for example). Everyone can temporarily give up something in order to draw closer to God.

By taking our eyes off the things of this world, we can more successfully turn our attention to Christ. Fasting is not a way to get God to do what we want. Fasting changes us, not God. Fasting is not a way to appear more spiritual than others. Fasting is to be done in a spirit of humility and a joyful attitude. Matthew 6:16-18 declares, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Recommended Resource: A Hunger for God by John Piper

Is God / the Bible sexist?

Sexism is one gender, usually male, having dominance over the other gender, usually female. The Bible contains many references to women that, to our modern mindset, sound discriminatory towards women. But we have to remember that when the Bible describes an action, it does not necessarily mean that the Bible endorses that action. The Bible describes men treating women as little more than property, but that does not mean God approves of that action. The Bible is far more focused on reforming our souls than our societies. God knows that a changed heart will result in a changed behavior.

During Old Testament times, virtually every culture in the entire world was patriarchal in structure. That status of history is very clear—not only in Scripture but also in the rules that governed most societies. By modern value systems and worldly human viewpoint, that is called “sexist.” God ordained the order in society, not man, and He is the author of the establishment principles of authority. However, like everything else, fallen man has corrupted this order. That has resulted in the inequality of the standing of men and women throughout history. The exclusion and the discrimination that we find in our world is nothing new. It is the result of the fall of man and the introduction of sin. Therefore, we can rightly say that the term and the practice of “sexism” is a result of sin. The progressive revelation of the Bible leads us to the cure for sexism and indeed all the sinful practices of the human race.

To find and maintain a spiritual balance between the God-ordained positions of authority, we must look to Scripture. The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old, and in it we find principles that tell us the correct line of authority and the cure for sin, the ill of all humanity, and that includes discrimination based upon gender.

The cross of Christ is the great equalizer. John 3:16 says, “Whoever believes,” and that is an all-inclusive statement that leaves no one out on the basis of position in society, mental capacity, or gender. We also find a passage in Galatians that speaks of our equal opportunity for salvation. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28). There is no sexism at the cross.

The Bible is not sexist in its accurate portrayal of the results of sin in both men and women. The Bible records all kinds of sin: slavery and bondage and the failures of its greatest heroes. Yet it also gives us the answer and the cure for those sins against God and His established order—a right relationship with God. The Old Testament was looking forward to the supreme sacrifice, and each time a sacrifice for sin was made, it was teaching the need for reconciliation to God. In the New Testament, the “Lamb that takes away the sin of the world” was born, died, was buried and rose again, and then ascended to His place in heaven, and there He intercedes for us. It is through belief in Him that the cure for sin is found, and that includes the sin of sexism.

The charge of sexism in the Bible is based upon a lack of knowledge of Scripture. When men and women of all ages have taken their God-ordained places and lived according to “thus says the LORD,” then there is a wonderful balance between the genders. That balance is what God began with, and it is what He will end with. There is an inordinate amount of attention paid to the various products of sin and not to the root of it. It is only when there is personal reconciliation with God through the Lord Jesus Christ that we find true equality. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

It is also very important to understand that the Bible’s ascribing different roles to men and women does not constitute sexism. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God expects men to take the leadership role in the church and the home. Does this make women inferior? Absolutely not. Does this mean women are less intelligent, less capable, or viewed as less in God’s eyes? Absolutely not! What it means is that in our sin-stained world, there has to be structure and authority. God has instituted the roles of authority for our good. Sexism is the abuse of these roles, not the existence of these roles.

Recommended Resource: Knowing God by J.I. Packer