Why I Go To Church

Why I Need the Church and the Bible

Some people wonder why they would ever need the Church or the Bible.  Why not just go for a walk on the beach or climb a mountain and meet and worship God there?  Can you not experience God as well or perhaps even better in nature than at Church or from reading the Bible?  I do not doubt for a minute that you can experience God in nature, for I have done that myself.  Nature has a way of opening the human spirit to the Divine.  Our experience of God while in nature often seems more real than anything that we may experience at Church or from reading the Bible.

I have found that when I wish to travel to a place, I want to know everything about it. I will read everything I can about it, and I will try to find people who have been there and are able to answer questions about that particular place.  I find myself filled with questions.  What is the best way to get there?  What should I see?  What should I avoid?  What should I wear for clothing?  You see, I do not want to be surprised.  I want the best trip possible.  I especially do this when I go for a hike in the mountains, for I do not want to get lost.  The harder the climb, the more research I do.

Going to church and reading the Bible are like the research one would do for a journey unto a very high and often dangerous mountain.  For me, it seems only natural to talk to as many people as possible who are on or have made the journey.  I once went to Africa and climbed Kilimanjaro.  I called everyone I could find who had made the climb, even complete strangers, and asked them about the mountain and the trails.  I wanted to be ready for anything.  I wanted to make it to the top.  When Christians gather at church, it is mainly to talk about the journey and to study the map.  They consider their map to be the Bible.  The strong and knowledgeable ones among them who have been on the journey a long time do not attend church solely for themselves, but also to help the young and weaker ones among them.  They want everyone to get to the top.  They share with them the trails to avoid and the ones to take.  They make sure that the young ones know the map and the right and best guides who can help them on their journey.

Let me say something about the map.  It is true that sometimes people get the map mixed up with the real territory.  When that happens, people often spend more time reading the map than moving on in their journey.  I know some people who are always reading and talking about the map, but never seem to get too far along on the journey.  They seem to have confused reading the map with the journey.  This is truly sad because it confuses people about the reasons for the journey and the purpose of the map.  Of course, on the other side of the coin are those who feel they can do okay without a map, compass, or a guide.  These folks often end up in a briar patch lost, cold, and hungry.  They often spend a great deal of time backtracking and wandering around aimlessly.  However, some of the stronger ones seem to get along fairly well without the map, but when asked where they are, they often do not seem to know.  The little ones and weak ones without the map and compass often just die or quit.

Because the journey is often long and hard, the map at times can be quite hard to read.  It does have a lot of details about the journey.  It is there to help and is very important.  However, it can be confusing to someone not too skilled in map reading.  When the journey gets difficult, it is then a person needs to remember the training in which the guides taught him about how to use the map.  It is even better if travelers have cell phone, so they can call a guide for further directions on how to make best use of the map.  We always need to remember that the map is a piece of paper that only reflects the territory.  It is not the territory.  We also need to remember that the map was made by a lot of people who have made the journey and left us their story about it.  When we read the map, remember that those who wrote it were all on the same journey, but not all used the same trail and all did not make it to their destination.  Like in nature, some trails are better than others and a bad choice can cause you to lose your way or even perish.  Yes, some died on the journey without making it to top or back home.  This is another reason why we should study the map; we want to know that we are on the very best trail.

If you are not a member of a church, let me suggest that you find someone, maybe some of your friends who are on the journey and ask them about the church they attend.  Ask them if they study the map and if its members are excited about the journey.  If they say yes to both questions, you might want to check it out.  You can also begin the journey by getting a Bible and start becoming familiar with what it teaches.  You do not need to understand everything—just start reading it.  A good place to start is the Gospel of John.  If you do not know of anyone who is able to help you, you can write me, and I will be glad to help.  I often have map reading courses at my office or even in people’s homes.  If you would like to attend one, let me know.  You can reach me at lyleduell@gmail.com

The Maine Constitution and The Right To Bear Arms

Image result for gun control Maine

The Maine Constitution and The Right To Bear Arms

Article I, Section 16. To Keep and bear arms. “Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned.

The constitution of the State Maine (1820) was not written to regulate the citizens of the state of Maine. It was written to regulate the government of the State.  In other words, the constitution is not saying that a citizen of the state  cannot question the right to bear arms, but it is saying that a government officials that have sworn an oath to up hold the Constitution of Maine cannot even question the right of Maine citizens to own and bear arms.

You might be asking yourself how could government every change this section of the Constitution? The simple answer is that it could not change this section of the Constitution without breaking the law.  The reason for the concreteness of this section is that the writers believed that the right to bear arms (to protect yourself) is a self-evident truth that no rational person would dispute. If a person is not rational they should be removed from government.  If you do not believe in self-evident truth, well take it up with the founding fathers.

Also note that it does not say members of the militia has right to bear arms, but rather ‘Every citizen has the right to keep and bear arms’. It also does not say that we have the right to keep arms for hunting only. Be sizes who bear arms against dear and moose. I think the Maine Constitution being the forth state constitution to be written and being review by Jefferson is a great commentary on the meaning of the US Constitution.  Leave it to Mainers to make it simple.

Call to action: If you hear a Maine official questing the rights of Maine people to keep and bear arms, turn them into law enforcement for breaking their oath of office and the law of the State of Maine, which is its Constitution.

Points to ponder: What does ‘arms’ mean? What does the phrase ‘bear arms’ mean? Who would the people be ‘bearing arms’ against?  What are the limits to bearing arms? Can a person own a rocket launcher or a tank?  Who is to determine the limits of bearing arms, the people or government officials?  Who is the government, the people or the officials?

The Rock of Matthew 16:13-18

The Truth about The Rock of Matthew 16:13-18

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

There has been much debate about who or what the rock is that Jesus promised to build his church on.  Some say that it’s the apostle Peter, others say it is the faith of the disciple.  Let me suggest what that truth is; it is the revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God that comes through the work of the spirit in the believer’s heart that is the true rock (1 John 2;27, 5;10 KJV).

If the rock is Peter or the disciples faith it is based on something that is weak and flimsy.  The rock that Jesus is talking about cannot be destroyed or stopped by the powers of hell.  It cannot be overcome, overthrown or destroyed because it is the work of God through his Spirit and the everlasting gospel.  It is the gospel of God that creates faith in the hearts of those who believe it. The apostle Paul says, “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as first fruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.  He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 NIV.

This interpretation fits well with the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus in John 3 where he told Nicodemus that a man must be born again to see the kingdom of God.  The new birth is the work of God through the Spirit in the hearts of men and cannot be understood or overcome by the world (John 1:5 RSV, 1 John 5:4 RSV).  “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God; children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13 NIV.

 

The Book of Hebrews and the Sabbath Rest

The Book of Hebrews and the Sabbath Rest

Heb 3:7-4;11

 

Because the section of scripture we about to study is so larger you should get your Bibles out and follow our study along in your own Bible. This section of scripture if not written by the apostle Paul can  surely be traced to his thinking  and is therefore, like many of his writings can be hard to understand and is subject to misunderstand. One of the things that will help us to avoid an erroneous interpretation is to keep the immediate context of this section in view, which is the book in which is found and the overall context of the Bible.

The book of Hebrew was a lengthy letter sent to a group of Hebrew Christians who were contemplating going back to Judaism or at the very least bring Judaism into the Christian Faith. In the letter, the writer warns them that to do so would mean the loss of their salvation which salvation he refers to in chapters 3 and 4  as the Sabbath-rest. This problem of bring the law or Judaism into the church was no new problem. The apostle Paul addresses it in many of  his writings. For example, we see it in the book of Galatians when he says to that church “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal 5:4-5). In the book of Ephesians, he calls the law the dividing wall of hostility, which separates believers. ” For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,  by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations (Eph 2:14-15).  From this, we can gather that the overall context of the book is a warning against apostasy and arguments demonstrating that Christ and the gospel are superior to Judaism and the law. Keep this in mind as we study together.

First let me point out that this section of Scripture is not talking about the Sabbath day per say[i]. Its focus is on the consequence of  disobedience and reward of obedience. It is about what the writer calls “Today.”  The expression “Today is used in 3:7, 3:13, 3:15, and twice in 4:7. It seems to be an expression that the writer uses to denote the Christian dispensation, i.e. the time between the resurrection and the second coming of Christ. He refers to this dispensation in verse 3: 8 as a time of testing and compares it to the 40 years that the Israelites were tested in the wilderness. He continuously admonishes these Hebrew Christians not to follow the example of their forefathers in unbelief  and disobedience.

His line of thought runs like this, the Israelites were tested for 40 years on their journey from the land of Egypt to the promise land, which was the land of rest from their trials and temptations. However, the major did not enter the land of rest[ii], because their faith failed the test and they were found to be unbelievers, who did not trust God. Christian are to take heed to their example and persist in faith, or they too will miss the eternal rest of God.

In this section of Scripture, the writer uses the Old Testament story of the wilderness wanderings of the Jews as an allegory that points to the last day or the Christian dispensation and lays down a basic rule for interpreting the Old Testament. He says in 10:1 “The law[iii] is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-not the realities themselves.”  We can gather from this that much of the Old Testament is a preview of what is going to happen in “Today” or the Christian dispensation. To take the old as the reality is to miss the wholly point of the narrative in the Old Testament.

With this rule of interpretation, we can look at text and see how the writer speaks of two separate rest and uses them both to point to the eternal salvation that we have in Christ. He speaks of the rest that God entered into at the end of creating the earth 4: 4.  He also talks about the Canaan land rest, which was promised to the Hebrews that obeyed God in the wilderness; that number was two Caleb and Joshua. All the rest fell in the wilderness and never entered the land of rest.

In verse 4:8, we find a key verse, which confirms our interpretation. “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day” Here the writer is saying that Joshua leading the Israelites into the promised land did not fulfill the promise of a rest for the people of God. It would take a different leader, Jesus the Christ, and would have to be a different rest, which he calls the Sabbath-rest. The expression Sabbath-rest is the author’s way and the Holy Spirit way of pointing out that the new rest is the ultimate and final rest. In this, we have a better Leader, a better covenant and a better rest. I can hear the writer saying to these Hebrews who were contemplating going back Judaism,  why in the world would you what to go back to Moses and the law, and to observing the shadows when the reality is here in Christ ” Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col 2:16-17). LD

[i] The word Sabbath means rest. The Hebrews were command by God under the Old covenant to rest on the seventh day and to do no work. The Sabbath day was a memorial of God delivering them from the land of Egypt (Deut 5:12-15). It was a day of rest and not worship in the tradition sense of worship. The lack of working was the worship. The Hebrews worshipped in the tradition sense in the tabernacle and Temple, and then later in the synagogue. That is, if they were within a Sabbath day’s journey from these place of worship.

[ii] Deut 12:9 “For ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the LORD your God giveth you.KJV

[iii] What is the law referred to here? The Jews in the first century view the entire Old Testament scripture as the Law. The law was the covenant made exclusively with the nation of Israel and was never given to the whole world (Deut 5:1-5, Rom 7:4-8, 1Cor 14:21).

On Authority

 Authority

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him.”By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” Matt 21:23

We live in confusing times where there are so many theories and opinions being thrown out there that we are lost in an ocean of ideas.  People no longer have the ability nor the time to sort them all out.  Many are beginning to question whether or not reason has the ability to discern between them.  It has reached the point where many are questioning whether reason leads to discernment or sophistry?

In this, our time is much like the time that Jesus lived in.  Jesus and the early disciples lived in a world of new ideas and conflicting beliefs.  From the west, Roman and Greek philosophy was pushing in and from the east, the mysticism of eastern religions were make there way into the west.  Within the merger of these world views there was a clash between the reason of the Greeks and Mysticism of the east: the Greeks and Romans looked to reason as their authority for governing their personal and corporate lives.  In contrast those in the east look more to personal inward light that we, today, might call a subjective experience for their authority.

However, when looking at the Hebrews we see something different.  The Jews believed in a hierarchy of authority passed down by the community in the form of revelation, law and religious office.  Moreover, they believed that in order for all revelation to be authoritative it must be confirmed by miracles, signs and wonders.  This confirmation of personal authority by miracles[1] was a long tradition that started in the time of Moses and was commanded by the law.

Moses “You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?”If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him (Deut 18:21-22).

This tradition of looking for confirmation by signs and wonders from a teacher continued and actually increased with the dawn of the New Testament.  Once the scribes and the Pharisees came to Jesus and asked him by what authority he did something.  What they were looking for was a miracle to confirm his authority.  We see Jesus confirming his authority by miracles in Marks gospel.  Jesus said to those that questioned his authority, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?  Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.”  And the man got up and went home.  When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men (Matt 9:4-8).

We see this principle of confirmation of authority at work also in the ministry of Jesus’ apostles.  The writer of the book of Hebrews said; “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Heb 2:3-4). The apostle Paul claimed this confirming power in his letter to the Corinthians, “The things that mark an apostle-signs, wonders and miracles-were done among you with great perseverance (2 Cor. 12:12-13).

What can we gather from this?  We can gather that an authentic word from God is accompanied with a confirmation of that word by miracles[2].  We might learn that our own culture is much more naïve and accepting in regards to doctrines and opinions of men, accepting them without any evidence that their words are true.  As a result we are like those that the apostle Paul speaks about when he says that “they are tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and the cunning of men” (Eph 4:12).  We can say of Jesus like no other man that when he spoke things happened.  More importantly, unlike people today he did not attempt to prove his miracles with his words, but rather he proved his words with his miracles.

This view of revelation and miracles also helps us explain the rampant spread of Christianity throughout world in the first century.  Luke in his gospel tells us the reaction to a miracle of Jesus by the people, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee (Luke 4:31-37).  In fact, if we step away from the situation it begins to looks as if the era Jesus lived in was prepared by divine providence for the coming of Jesus.  At that time there was a universal road system, the universal economy, a universal language, and a universal authority.  For the first time in history the rule of law dominated the world.  All of these things expedited the spread of the news about Jesus, and a part of that news was that there was a man who had the authority of God and unlike everyone else he proved it by doing signs, wonders and miracles that no one else had ever done.

What about these corroborative miracles in the history of the church?  From studying the early fathers of the church, that is the writings of Christian leaders that lived in the second and third centuries, it seems that these miracles increasingly diminished as the church moved away from the apostolic ministry of the Apostles and their immediate disciples.  This should not be considered strange for two reasons.  One is that the message of the gospel had already been confirmed by the apostles and earlier disciples and it would seem that God’s intention was never to have the church live on a milk-toast diet of the miraculous.  We must remember that we are to walk by faith and not by sight..

One reason why some reject the concept of miracles is that if it was true it would empty their ideas of having any merit or authority.  It would reduce all of their ideologies to mere opinion.  Without the proof of miracles all they would have is their sophistry and their power of debate which often depends more on personality and speaking ability than truth.

If a person could work miracles they would automatically have more power than those that cannot.  So the only thing that those that do not have this power can do is to deny the idea of miracles.  For such an idea of miracles robs their ideas of any actual authority.  The religious leaders, the Scribes and the Pharisees in the day of Jesus, did not want to accept his teachings however they accepted his miracles as self-evident and realized that they could not deny his miracles less they themselves would look like fools.  So, instead of denying them they simply contributed them to Satan.

The denial of miracles today is not based on science but rather on a dogma of materialistic philosophy.  The materialists clearly understand that if miracles are true then their philosophy is false, leaving them without any power or authority.  It was a philosopher of the Enlightenment, David Hume, who was the first champion of the denial of miracles.  However, his arguments have been successfully overthrown by a number of modern philosophers.  C.S. Lewis summarizes these arguments in his book on miracles.  He shows that a denial of miracles in itself is a faith not grounded in reason.

Here would be a good time to insert some remarks about human reason and knowledge.  Much of so-called human knowledge is based on hidden assumptions that are grounded in the faith or speculations of few men.  Most of these men never demonstrated their authority in any fashion and a large percentage of them did not live an exemplary life[3].  Where then did they get their authority?  You could say that it was their own soul power which gave them their authority.  In other words, their intellect and their ability to manipulate others gave them power over others.

What about miracles today?  I would have to say that I personally have never seen a confirmation miracle like the ones done by Jesus, nor have I see any actual miracles of healing performed by people claiming to have gifts of the Spirit.  What I have seen is healings and powerful works done through prayer.  I find this observation and experience to be quite normal and there is evidence throughout history that there were periods of time without miracles or very few.  For example, in the book of Judges, Gideon asked the angel that appeared to him “where are all the miracles that our forefathers told us about?”  From this we can gather that at the time of Gideon there were fewer miracles being performed in Israel, than during other times.

[1] By miracles I do not mean what we might call faith miracles. We now understand the power of faith in the healing process of the body. In this article when talking about miracles I am talking about supernatural events that often have nothing to do with faith though sometimes in healings are connected, i.e. the calming of the storm, feeding of the 5000, the raising of the dead. These kinds of miracles have nothing to do with the faith of those that are observing, but rather were designed to create faith in those that are observing.

[2] Some have tried to dismiss the importance of miracles by pointing out that that the East was filled with miraculous stories. However, when compared to the miracles of the New Testament it is obvious that there is a difference. For one they are not connected with the confirmation of revelation but rather tied more to magical practices and are set forth that way in the narrative. In contrast the New Testament miracles were set forth in a historical narrative. In other words they were intended to be taken as real.

[3] In his book intellectuals Paul Johnson demonstrates the failed lifestyle of many Western intellectuals. He sums up the book in the last chapter with the question “Why do we listen to such men?”