Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Age-Old New Age Movement

On the broadcast we are constantly dealing with cults, the occult, aberrant Christian theologies, general biblical apologetics and Bible difficulties. One of the things that has really startled me as I read new books in Borders and Barnes and Noble and as you look at Amazon.com and you read the newspaper and you listen to Oprah, is that the world of the occult is now out of the closet. It's being glamorized as New Age but in reality it's genesis is as old age as the hiss of the serpent, "Your eyes will be opened. You will be like God, knowing good and evil." The objective of occultism, no matter how it's glorified, is self-deification through sorcery, spiritism and sooth-saying.

The very word "sorcery" is magic through which occultists seek to harness paranormal powers for private purposes. They use ritualistic formulas, spells, incantations, and they seek through them to harness what they perceive to be the natural and spiritual powers of the universe in order to satisfy their own desires. And, of course, if you go back to the Old Testament you'll see that God warned the ancient Israelites that these very practices would inevitably lead to the downfall of their culture. Likewise, He rebuked the ancient Babylonians for supposing that they could bypass the power of God, Yahweh, the God of Israel, through their many sorceries and potent spells.

Occultists also employ spiritualistic practices - mediumship - in order to contact non-physical entities, including the souls of the dead. These spirits, in their view, are capable of providing cosmic insights into this world and into the next world. That's why they employ Ouija boards and crystal balls and belongings of the dead to conjure up the departed. God's warning, however, against those who practice spiritism could not be more ominous or direct: "I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people."

One other point, and that is that occultists seek to access secret or hidden information about the future through soothsaying or through divination, and among the most common tools of the soothsayer are tarot cards, astrological charts, horoscopes and even tea leaves. But again, the Lord's command is emphatic and explicit: "Do not practice divination." Indeed, a tremendous insult to the power and the providence of the Almighty God that we serve is to seek guidance through the occult. Thus, when the Israelites were about to enter the land of promise the Lord warned them not to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. God said "Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft or cast spells or who is a medium or a spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord."

Well, occultism is being packaged and repackaged and is ever more glamorous in our culture today and we need to be forewarned and forearmed through Scripture and know how to deal with this, and that's why we provide all kinds of resources through the ministry of the Christian Research Institute to deal not only with the kingdom of the cults, but the world of the occult as well.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Good Friday is called Good Friday because Jesus rose again. Imagine us as believers celebrating the brutal death of Jesus Christ who died prostrate in the pool of His own blood. Imagine celebrating that with joy. Well, there's no explanation why the early Christian believers did just that apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The reason that they celebrated His broken body and shed blood with joy was because on the first day of the week He rose and He gave convincing proofs that He was, indeed, alive. As a result of that the scattered disciples became fearless disciples because they knew that their Master was alive and they knew with certainty that when they died for saying Christ is Lord they too would rise. With that hope they turned the world upside down.

Well, today a lot of people think that this whole issue of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is just an academic debate. But this is not an academic debate; this is a debate that has real relevance on how you live your life. Without the bodily resurrection of Christ you might as well tear up your Bible, terminate your preacher, torch your church because Christianity is false and there is no hope whatsoever for salvation and immortality. In fact, Paul says "If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." The physical resurrection of Christ is the capstone of our faith. Without it Christianity simply crumbles.

It is precisely because the physical resurrection of Christ strikes at the very heart of the Christian faith that it is constantly under siege. The culture frequently denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ because they have a bias against miracles. Thomas Jefferson, for example, not only dispensed with the bodily resurrection of Christ, but he discarded every other miracle chronicled in the Gospels. In fact the Jefferson Bible ends up with the words "Now, in the place where he was crucified there was a garden and in that garden a sepulcher wherein was never man yet laid. There they laid Jesus Christ and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher and departed."

It's common for aberrant Christianity and cultism to compromise the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ as well. As a case in point - I've noted this on the Bible Answer Man broadcast often - Jehovah's Witnesses claim that Christ was resurrected an invisible, immaterial spirit. The Watchtower says it like this: "The fleshly body is the body in which Jesus humbled himself like a servant and is not the body of his glorification, not the body in which he was resurrected. He was raised to life divine in a spirit body. So the king Christ Jesus was put to death in the flesh and resurrected an invisible spirit creature."

It is precisely because Christ's bodily resurrection is compromised, confused and contradicted that we have to be equipped to defend this essential of essentials. To do that, of course, you have to be familiar with the biblical and the historical record. It's the canon of Scripture, the confessions of the church and the characteristics of Christ's resurrected body which altogether build a cumulative case that there's a one to one correspondence between Christ's pre-resurrection and post-resurrection body. Remember the Apostle John when he said "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched, this we proclaim concerning Jesus, the Word of life."

Indeed, the characteristics of Christ's body bear eloquent truth to His physical resurrection. Jesus invited the disciples to examine His resurrected body so that they would know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is the exact same one that had been fatally tormented. If Jesus had been resurrected an immaterial body He would be guilty of misleading the disciples by conning them. But He didn't con them. He ate food as proof of the nature of His resurrected body. In fact Dr. Luke says that the disciples gave Jesus a piece of broiled fish and He took it and ate it in their presence. In fact Jesus was eating with His disciples prior to being taken up into heaven. Jesus provided the final exclamation mark for His physical resurrection by telling the disciples that His resurrected body was comprised of flesh and bones. "Touch Me and see. A ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have."

Well, was Christ physically resurrected from the dead? Absolutely! In truth, apart from that affirmation - the affirmation we made this past Easter Sunday - there is no Christian faith. Paul was emphatic. "Your preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then false witnesses about God."

All of that to say that you as a believer are compelled to give an account of your faith, and you do that by demonstrating that Christ is risen. That's not a mere affirmation on your part. It's something that you should be able to demonstrate to a world that has lost the majesty of the resurrection. We now practice self-help religion. The early Christians did not. They were committed to one thing and one thing alone - that Jesus Christ had come, that Jesus Christ had died, that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead, that He had ascended into heaven, and that as He lives we too shall live.

That affirmation turned an empire upside down and we have taken that affirmation and the evidence for it and packaged it for you in such a way that you can communicate that with power and passion. I developed the acronym F-E-A-T - Fatal Torment, Empty Tomb, Appearances of Christ, Transformation of the Disciples - and put that in a little book called The Third Day, the Reality of the Resurrection in such a way that you can remember how to communicate that, not just on Easter Sunday but every Sunday and every day
in-between. Remember, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ not just on Easter, but every single day of the week, and the apex is the first day of the week, Sunday, which the first century Christians set apart as a day to remember the resurrected Christ. That's why we worship on Sunday and that's why we should evermore be reminded that it is our prerogative in the 21st century to communicate that glorious truth to those who have not as yet heard.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Saint Patrick's Day

When we talk about Saint Patrick, he was a saint as in the patron saint of Ireland, not in the Roman Catholic sense of being canonized. He was not Irish, interestingly enough, but a missionary to Ireland from Scotland, and when he arrived in Ireland most of the Irish practiced a nature-based form of paganism. Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated March 17th, and that is to commemorate the death of Saint Patrick in the 5th century. The first Saint Patrick's Day parade did not take place in Ireland. It took place in New York City in 1762 and, ironically, up until the 1970s the Irish regulations mandated that pubs in Ireland be closed March 17th. In the mid-90s the Irish saw Saint Patrick's Day as an opportunity to enhance tourism.

For us as Christians I think it's most noteworthy that Saint Patrick's Day falls during the Lenten period. Lent, of course, the 40 days during which we remember our sinfulness and which we repent of our sins and recognize afresh God's grace and forgiveness. This week is the final week, Holy Week, which begins the day after Palm Sunday. On Thursday we honor the memory of the final Passover supper, Good Friday we celebrate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and we can say celebrate in that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is at once the most brutal and yet the most beautiful act in all of human history. Brutal in that you have the truly innocent Man who suffers and dies for the sins of the world; beautiful in that through this suffering redemption is offered to humanity. All of this culminates on Easter Sunday in which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15 "If Christ is not raised your preaching is useless and so is your faith." So the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just something we celebrate. It is the central pillar on which all of Christianity rises or falls. Christianity cannot survive an identifiable tomb containing the corpse of Christ. Christ rose physically. If we had been in the grave when Christ rose from the dead we would have seen dust fly off the very slab on which Jesus Christ lay. It is because of His physical resurrection that we know that we too will rise immortal, imperishable, incorruptible. We too will be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. There's a one to one correspondence between the body that dies and the body that rises. That doesn't mean that every atom is resuscitated, but it does mean that there's continuity between our present body and the new body that we will receive, a body that is resurrected such that our DNA flourishes to perfection.

What happens to our bodies goes hand in hand with what happens to the universe, for the universe too, according to the Apostle Paul will be liberated from its bondage to death and decay. There's going to be a new order of things. No more death, mourning, crying or pain, for the old order of things will have been removed and God Himself will live with us. But, of course, as the box top of Scripture, paradise lost will become paradise restored. So this week is not just an ordinary week. This is our week and all of us should be equipped to communicate that the resurrection is not something we believe through blind faith, but rather something we accept through faith in evidence. Christ suffered fatal torment, the tomb was empty, He appeared and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive and a band of scared, scattered disciples were transformed into lions of the faith who turned an empire upside down.

I think if we ever caught the beauty and the passion of resurrection in our own epic of time we could change our world in our lifetime. The real problem is not pagans who exercise their job description. It's Christians who are not exercising their job description, able always to be able to give an answer and a reason for the hope that lies within them with gentleness and with respect.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Teachings of John Hagee

I, like many of you, are glued to the television watching the primaries and, of course, McCain is now representing the Republican party. I was rather intrigued by the fact that he stood next to John Hagee and said he was proud to receive the endorsement of John Hagee. I think if John McCain had a little more insight into what John Hagee taught he might not be so proud of that endorsement.

John Hagee, among other things, calls the Roman Catholic church the great whore of Babylon depicted in Revelation 17. This is nonsense. He is a replacement theologian who believes that Israel will replace the church as the focus of God's plans during the Tribulation and not only so, but that two thirds of the Jews are going to be slaughtered in a holocaust that's going to make the Nazi holocaust pale by comparison and that in the not-too-distant future.

He has the temerity to call others replacement theologians because they don't distinguish between people on the basis of race. I am to John Hagee a replacement theologian which, of course, is nonsense. I simply don't think that God, in any way, judges people on the basis of race. Rahab was a Canaanite and yet she was true Israel because she believed in Yahweh, the God of Israel. Ruth was a Moabite, the archenemy of Israel, and yet she was a true Israel because she believed in Yahweh, the God of Israel. If you look at Esther you see that the nations look on and see how the sovereign God raises up Esther, and the text tells us that many different people from many different nations became Jews. They didn't change their birth mother, but they believed in Yahweh, the God of Israel. So again, this has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with relationship.

Of course, he wants an ethnically exclusive state in the Middle East and says that God has given Jerusalem only to the Jews. He has gone so far as to say that if America divides Jerusalem there will be no forgiveness - that America will end up on the ash heap of history. So anyone that wants a two-state solution in the Middle East and believes that God does not put Arabs on a different footing than Jews, that we, at the foot of the cross are equal, he will denounce. For him that's poking your finger in the eye of God.

Again, I think that if John McCain understood what this man teaches he will be as quick to distance himself from John Hagee as Barak Obama was to distance himself from Louis Farrakhan, who is also a racist. We need to know what these people teach. Unfortunately, because they're visible, a lot of people assume that they represent evangelicalism in some strange way and, as a result, marginalize Christians. This is not the case. We do not, in any way, hold to what John Hagee teaches.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The FEAT of Resurrection

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul says "What I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and then He appeared, first to Peter, then to the Twelve. After that He appeared to more than 500 brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, although some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles," and last of all He appeared to Paul, who became the apostle to the Gentiles.

Now in that we have the acronym that I communicate in The Third Day, the acronym F-E-A-T, because the resurrection is the greatest feat in the annals of recorded history.

Jesus Christ:

F - suffered Fatal torment.
E - The tomb was Empty. Christianity simply cannot survive an identifiable tomb containing the corpse of Christ.
A - He Appeared to many people and gave convincing proofs that He alive.
T - He Transformed the disciples, vicariously the Roman Empire, and us today.

The transformation that takes place as the result of the resurrection is the power of the Gospel in that the early Christians had seen the resurrected Christ and, therefore, they were willing to put it all on the line because they knew that they too, like their Master, would rise immortal, imperishable, incorruptible, and as such they turned an empire upside down.