Thoughts on life and Scripture...

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Animals And Heaven

Do you ever wonder if there will be animals in the new heavens and the new earth? What will the animals be like? How will we interact with them? Does God tell us about animals in the new world?

In Isaiah 11:6-9 we read that "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together, and the little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain."

We learn three truths in these verses about animals in the new world.

1) Animals will no longer kill each other.

Predators will no longer hunt prey. Wolves will not hunt for lambs. Animals that were enemies will now be at peace. Lions and zebras will play together.  The distinction between prey and predator will be gone. The peace that come from Christ's rule will be extended into the animal kingdom.

2) People and animals will no longer be afraid of each other.

Children, who are weak and often targeted by predators, will be able to take care of bears and lions. A child will lead them out to graze. Infants will play by the hole of  formerly dangerous snakes and Moms won't be afraid because the snakes will be tame. People won't kill animals and animals won't kill people. The fear between animals and people will be gone. After the flood, God told Noah that, "The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hands are they delivered." Genesis 9:2. This fear and dread will be gone. The relationship between animals and people will be restored to what it was before the flood.

3) Carnivores will now be herbivores.

Bears and lions will graze on grass. They will no longer eat the meat of other animals. No more hunting and killing. It is a bit hard to imagine, but lions will eat hay like a cow. Bears will enjoy green grass just as much as a horse. I suppose that there might be some physical changes in some of these animals. But that is not surprising since there will be great changes in us and the world.

The big question is when does this happen? Isaiah 65:25 quotes part of the passage we are looking at. In that passage Isaiah speaks of a new heavens and a new earth but also says there still will be death and the bearing of children, both of which won't happen in the eternal heavens and earth. Part of the challenge of prophecy is that often there are events that are compressed together without explaining the time line of those events. Often first advent details are given along with second advent details. It is only after some or all the details have come to pass that we see the timeline clearly. There are difficulties in prophecy that only time will make clear. So considering both Isaiah 11 and 65, I believe that this change will begin in the Millennial kingdom, when Christ shall rule from Jerusalem over the entire world, which will not be yet be perfect, and continue on into the completely perfect new heavens and the new earth, which will be without sin and death. I think we all can be confident that we will enjoy a peaceful existence with animals.

Sin come into the world and ruined many things. People abuse and mistreat animals. Animals kill and maim people. While we are allowed to eat meat and animals are made to hunt each other for food, this will not continue in a perfect world. God is making all things new. We will be made new. The world will be made new. Even animals will be made new. Jesus Christ did not come only to accomplish salvation and take sinners to heaven with Him. No Jesus will "reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven." Col 1:20. The entire universe will be transformed into the perfect paradise. And wonder upon wonder is that you and I who have been reconciled to God though Christ will get to enjoy this forever. On this resurrection Sunday, let us rejoice that Christ has risen. For His resurrection is our hope and confidence of our resurrection into this glorious paradise that God has prepared for His redeemed.

I like animals and am looking forward to this aspect of  future glory, when I can get up close with all the wonderful animals God has created.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Larry the Lamp and A Dark Lesson

 Larry was a typical lamp standing on a small table in the living room. He had a 60 W head with a light brown shade on top. Every day it was the same old, same old. In the afternoon or evening his owners turned his light on until late in the night. Then his light was turned off. His was a typical life for a lamp. The other lamps and lights in the room lived the adventure of lights every day as well. But Larry was a proud lamp. He boasted to the other lamps that he didn't need any owner to turn his light on. No, Larry was fed up with this boring life. Larry had a light bulb moment, he was going to make a break for it. Larry was going to make it on his own. Maybe by his power, he would be the limelight at some famous theater performance. Or maybe he would light up the palace of royalty. All the other lamps laughed at the silly ambitions of Larry, but deep down they wanted to do the same. So one day, when all the owners were away, Larry said goodbye to the other lamps and started to get ready to leave. Larry inched close to the edge of the table. Then he leaped over the edge. The other lamps watched in horror as Larry's light went out and he fell to the ground; lightless. Larry's cord had come out of the outlet. The other lamps reflected on this tragic fall in the darkness until one of the owners came over to help Larry. He was placed on the table again and his cord was plugged in. Then his light shone around the room again. Larry was now a humbled lamp. His great ideas of achieving fame and glory were gone. He realized he couldn't shine in the spotlight because he was plugged into the electrical outlet.

While this story seems a little childish, it contains the same truth as a passage in Isaiah. In Isaiah 10:15 we read God saying, "Shall the axe boast over him who hews it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if  a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood."  What is God talking about? Well, in verse 5 God calls Assyria his rod and his staff. The Lord had raised up the Assyrians to be a great and powerful nation. He gave them victories and wealth. He was going to use this wicked nation to punish His people Israel for their wickedness. But all this success, power, and wealth produced pride in Assyria, and especially in the king. The king of Assyria wanted to conquer and destroy all the nations. He believed that his success was due to his power, wisdom, and understanding. No one could stand before the great king of Assyria. No god could prevent the king from his ambitions. Or so he thought. In the verse I quoted, God rebukes the king of Assyria for his arrogance. God remind him that he is only a tool in God's hand and a tool is completely dependent on someone for it ability to do it's job. God will show this proud king that he is but a tool when He shall destroy his army. This occurred when an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers who were besieging Jerusalem. Later this king was murdered as well. It seems he didn't learn from God's punishment.

 But have we learned this lesson? Do we realize that we are 100% dependent on God. He gives us our every breath and every heartbeat. All our talents and abilities come from Him. All spiritual gifts are given by our Lord. God has placed us where we are and given us what we have. The reason we are alive right now is because He wills it to be so. There is no room in the Christian's life for pride or boasting. Do we have wealth or success? It is only because God gave us that. Are we proud of our gifts or abilities? Shame on us, for that too comes from God. When you see godliness and fruitfulness in your life, are you tempted to be proud of your attainments? You have no reason to. Jesus said, "Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5. Ah! but you might say, "I have worked hard. I have been disciplined in the means of grace. Others are immature in the faith due to their own sloth and indifference." But consider Paul's words, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is within me." 1 Corinthians 15:10.  Without God, we are nothing and can do nothing.

So we should live in dependence on God every moment of our lives. We do need Him every hour. We need to give thanks in all things and for all things He gives us. We should be ashamed of our pride and boastfulness and learn to say, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." 2 Corinthians 10:17.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Bold As A Lion In A World of Fear

                                      "Nobody ever said that life was gonna be fair 
                                  You're never gonna get nowhere by running scared 

                        If you look down deep inside you'll find the faith to make you strong  
                                                         Oh, oh carry on."  

  These are lyrics of Tim Mcgraws song "Carry on". These lyrics summarize one way the world advises us on what to do when you are afraid. But unfortunately it is cold comfort. This advice won't help when you have no job, no money and no food or when you are on your death bed or when you see persecution coming. For if you look deep down inside, you will find nothing but a mass of corruption. Faith doesn't come from navel gazing or internal speculation. Faith comes from outside of ourselves. So looking deep inside our barren hearts won't help you in a world of fear. So how can you be bold as a lion in this world filled with fears? (Proverbs 28:1.)

God has clearly answered this question in His Word. Let us look at some of what He has said. In Deuteronomy 31:6 Moses tells the people of Israel "Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will never leave you or forsake you." 

Then in verse 7 and 8, Moses tells the same thing to Joshua. In verse 23 the LORD tells Joshua to 'Be strong and courageous for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you." 

Later in the book of Joshua, God repeatedly gives this same command to Joshua before he begins the conquest of the land of Canaan. "Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you where ever you go." Joshua 1:9.  This exhortation is repeated by others in verse 18 and later in chapter 10:25.  

This same exhortation is given to Solomon by David. "Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished." 1 Chronicles 28:20 

Or consider Psalm 46:1, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way." 

When the disciples were sailing in a great storm on the lake of Galilee, they saw what looked like a ghost coming out to meet them on the lake in the midst of this storm. It was Jesus coming to help them and I love what He says to them. "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." Matt 14:26 

Do you see the answer to our question? We can have courage in the midst of horrible troubles, impossible tasks, and great dangers because our courage comes from the promises and presence of God. Those who are redeemed and reconciled to God though Christ can be assured that their heavenly Father is always with them to give them help and strength. Our Father never leaves us alone. He is faithful to His promises and will finally present us blameless in His presence. His sovereignty, wisdom, love, goodness, power are all working on our behalf. If God is for us, who can be against us? In every circumstance God is using it for our good. When the way ahead of us is hard or the task ahead  towers above us, God promises He will go with us and give us what we need. 

Would a cat be afraid of a dog if a lion or bear was protecting it? Or does a child feel afraid of the dark if his father is right beside him. No I think not. Should we be afraid or dismayed when the infinite, all powerful Lord of the Universe is standing beside us? No, but we still do feel afraid often. Our faith is weak and our memories short. We need to cry out to God to increase our faith so we can "see" Him who is invisible beside us and hold on to His promises. Our troubles are small, before the Infinite One. Even the biggest troubles or difficulties is tiny for our King. We need to spend more time looking at our God than at our troubles and fears. 

Just one more text before I am done. Jesus told His disciples before he left to ascend into heaven that they were authorized to go into all the world to make disciples and then to teach them everything He taught them. Few harder tasks do we have than this. This commission has cost the lives of many people. It has brought much hardship in the lives of Christians to fulfill this. It may have seemed impossible to the disciples at that time. But consider the last promise of Jesus before He left to ascend into heaven. How does He encourage His people in this task? " And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matt 28:20.  Emmanuel, which means God with us, promises that He will be with His people to help them in this task so long as this world endures. The righteous are as bold as lion, because the great Lion of the tribe of Judah goes with them. 


Friday, March 4, 2016

What About The Children?!

When we left infant baptism for believer's baptism, there were not many discussions about the theology behind baptism. No, the biggest question we faced was a very emotional "Now what comfort do you have when your baby dies?" or "What about the salvation of babies when they die?" Infant baptism is supposed to provide the assurance that the babies and the mentally handicapped children of believers are given salvation by virtue of the the covenant of grace. (Although there have been some believers who practice infant baptism and who believe that all infants who die in infancy are saved.) For some this is the main or only reason they hold on to the baptism of infants. At times careful examination of the scriptures is overshadowed by emotions. I have written 4 posts showing from scripture why infant baptism is not right and why this covenant of grace with believers and their children is based on a misunderstanding of the Abrahamic covenant.* Now I would like to examine scripture to see what we can learn about the salvation of infants and the mentally handicapped. This is no academic exercise for me. We have 5 children and have had 4 babies die in miscarriages. I also don't want false comfort or speculations. I want sola scriptura.

First, just because a doctrine brings you comfort or the warm fuzzies, doesn't mean it is true. I could reason that denying the existence of hell brings me comfort. How horrible it is to think of all those people forever in hell suffering for their sins. How cruel of you to say that God won't save everyone. The doctrine of hell is not pleasant, but it is still true. And we need to know the cold hard truth if we ever want to find real comfort in Christ. The same is true for other truths as well. So using feelings as an argument for a doctrine is not valid. There must be real truth to back up the comfort. The covenant of grace argument lacks any scriptural support and so it can give only false comfort.

Even if in spite of evidence that the covenant of grace is not true, you still believe it and embrace the comfort that your children are saved for a time, then you are still left with a hard question. What about the children of unbelievers when they die in infancy? Does God send them to hell? Does God send mentally handicapped children to hell who can't understand the gospel or any truth about God? What about some who had babies die before they were saved, are those children in hell? So I ask you, how would you explain that?

There are two ways in which infants are unique from the rest of mankind. One, they cannot exercise faith. Faith requires the ability to understand the truth, to accept the truth, and act upon the truth. Since infants and the mentally handicapped are mentally unable to do this, they cannot believe the gospel. Faith comes from hearing--this is hearing and understanding. If they cannot have faith they cannot believe the gospel that gives eternal life. Two, they cannot comprehend the evidence for God in his creation. In Romans 1:19-20 we learn that God has clearly revealed Himself to this world in the creation. verse 20 says, 'For His invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." But it seems plain that infants and the mentally handicapped cannot see God's attributes because they do not have the mental capabilities. It seems logical then that they would have an excuse before God. They cannot see and understand the evidence that God has left to leave everyone without excuse in the day of judgement. They cannot reject something they don't understand,

 God knows everything. He knows from the beginning of the world all the people who will exist in the history of the world. He knows exactly how many days each person will live. He knows how and when they will die. "Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none." Psalm 139:16. So before the world began, God knew exactly how many children would die in infancy and how many mentally handicapped people would be born before He made the world. God doesn't give salvation to all or some children only to take it away when they reach some level of accountability. If God were to save infants and the mentally handicapped, then He would have to elect them before the foundation of the world.

Infants, even newborn babies are not free from sin and the guilt that comes from Adam's sin. David knew this, for in Psalm 51:5 he said, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." David knew that the moment he was conceived he had a sinful nature. He came out of the womb with a heart that was rotten to the core. Also Romans 5:12 teaches us that we all died spiritually in Adam. "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." Adam was our representative and when he fell into sin, so did we. His spiritual death spread to all people and so all people have become guilty. All this teaches us that even babies and the mentally handicapped are sinners and are guilty before God. If God were to save those that die in infancy, He would have to apply the forgiveness and righteousness of Christ to them.

God understands there is a difference between those who are infants and those who are not. Deuteronomy 1:39 describes infants as those who "have no knowledge of good or evil." Or consider Isaiah 7:16, "For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good...."  In both these passages God describes very young children as those who don't choose to sin with a full understanding of what they are doing. They sin because they are sinners and have a sin nature. Later as they grow older they will deliberately and willfully choose sin rather than good. Children are probably more quickly accountable before God than we think. And only God knows when a child can choose good or evil. So we must from an early age teach them the gospel.

God is silent about the salvation of infants and the mentally handicapped. There are no clear texts which we can go to. There is one that is often referred to which could help but I think it is still unclear. In 2 Samuel 12:23, David says after the death of his son, "I shall go to him, but he will not return to me."  There are two other phrases like this. One in 1 Samuel 28:19 where Samuel says to Saul that he and his "sons will be with me." This doesn't refer to Saul and sons joining Samuel in heaven since Saul was no believer, rather it says that Saul and his sons will join Samuel in the grave or Sheol. In Genesis 37:35, Jacob says, "No I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning." when he learns that Joseph has "died". While David's statement may refer to his hope of a reunion in heaven with his dead son, there is also good reason to believe David simply means that he will join his son in Sheol or the grave. We must trust that God has a good reason for this silence on the salvation of infants.

The best hope and comfort we have is found in the character of God. God gives us all the comfort we need in Himself. When Job could not  understand why all these troubles were coming into his life, he found his comfort in the Lord who is wise, powerful, sovereign, and loving. In Psalm 119:68 we read, "you are good and do good." God is good and everything He does is good.  There is nothing mean, cruel, or bad in God. God is perfect in justice. Abraham said, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" Genesis 18:25 And so He is; God is always right. He never errs. He always brings perfect justice. We need to trust Him, especially in the things He has not revealed to us.

When I consider all that scripture teaches on this subject. I believe it is reasonable to be assured that God will elect and save all those who are mentally unable to believe the gospel when they die. It would seem consistent with scripture and God's nature. But in the end, we need to trust that God will do what is good and right in this matter. Trust Him, when we get to heaven this will all make sense and we will rejoice to see that yes, indeed, God did what was best and right.

* The verse commonly used to teach that God gives salvation to the children of believers by virtue of the covenant of grace is found in Genesis 17:7. "And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant." There are two good reasons this verse has nothing to do with the salvation of  the children of believers. 
1) "Your offspring" or descendants refers to the physical offspring of Abraham. From one generation of Jews to another, God will keep His covenant with them. This is also shown in the very next verse where God says that He will give to Abraham's offspring the land of Canaan, the very land that Abraham sojourned through his life. 
2) "to be God to you and to your offspring after you" and "I will be their God." means God will be Israel's God in a national sense. This use of this phrase has little to do with salvation. God often said that He was Israel's God and she was His people, even when most of the people were corrupt and godless. To read in this expression a salvific sense is to put a New Testament understanding into an Old Testament expression while at the same time ignoring the context.