Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Cahn'd Again

This Saturday, I spent much of my first day of Spring Break near tears, deeply saddened and troubled that "Rabbi" Jonathan Cahn would be returning to speak at Gateway Church. Now, I will admit, the first time he visited I was swayed by his charismatic presentation. Then a friend corrected me, pointing out some Biblical problems with his teaching. After further research, I posted a strongly worded "apology" for recommending him which inflamed a firestorm of controversy, making me the center of much gossip...and I took the posts down, choosing instead to send a respectful, brotherly letter (vetted by a trusted Southwestern Seminary professor with a PhD) to church leadership. After a few more poorly received attempts to engage my friends on Facebook in similar Biblical issues, I began this blog, dedicated to examining such issues in a better setting. I have found that the best outlet for my distress and the most productive way of addressing my concerns is to conduct a Biblical examination of Mr. Cahn's claims and then to share it so others can learn and even engage in the discussion.

This weekend, Mr. Cahn claimed that "We are living in the days of Elijah." In a coordinated post, Pastor Robert Morris said on his official facebook page that "I believe he is a modern day Elijah." (note from 3/18: He articulated this claim again this weekend, asking the congregation to pick up Cahn's books, calling "The Harbinger" fascinating.) This is a lofty and audacious claim. Let's examine some of his other claims to see if such lavish praise is warranted, shall we?

Claim #1 "The Shemitah"
In his sermon as he does in his book, The Shemitah, Mr. Cahn claimed that God has caused numerous stock market collapses as judgement on the American people based on the principle of the Shemitah, introduced in Deuteronomy 15:1-3. Aside from the fact that no one alive on earth could possibly know the dates of the year of the Shemitah, Verse 3 clearly states that this rule does not apply to foreigners, or to use a New Testament term, Gentiles, like us. So obviously it does not apply to the United States. Furthermore, Shemitah means to "release," or to let drop of exactions--meaning to not collect a debt. In Deuteronomy 15:1-3 God commanded the people of Israel to release everyone from their debts once every 7 years. If you have ever been told to "let it go" or "let it drop" this is what this word means, to cancel or grant a remission of debts. Picture opening your hand to let go or release something you have been grasping tightly to and this is what the word Shemitah describes. Shemitah is the Hebrew word for the FORGIVENESS of debts. This practice is meant to demonstrate God's grace and the way that He forgives us of our sin debt against Him. Cahn's claim, that God caused the stock market to crash as a judgement on America based on the Shemitah, is equivalent to saying that God crashed the stock market because of forgiveness. It is utterly and completely ridiculous. In his book, Mr. Cahn predicted that one of the biggest financial disasters of all time was going to occur in September 2015. As it happens, the stock market made a major recovery in September of 2015, the bulls were running, so to speak, throughout the whole month, leaving so-called Rabbi Cahn with Egg on his face. Did this humble him? No. He simply looked back over the year's statistics, found a day when the stock market had dropped and claimed it was caused by the Shemitah. Mr. Cahn has badly misinterpreted and twisted one of the Bible's most beautiful illustrations about the remission of sins and the forgiveness of debts and exploited it sell his books. The New Testament application of this concept is simple: And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12) We must be a people who are willing to let go and forgive.

Claim #2 Trump's Election Was An Act Of God
Cahn claimed that Donald Trump's election was orchestrated by God and he insinuated that he predicted this in his book The Harbinger. Let's be clear. No prophet anointed Trump's head with oil, nor was he granted supernatural victory on the battlefield to conquer an enemy. Donald Trump is not a King. He is a President. He was voted in by the will of the people. America is neither a Kingdom, nor a Theocracy. We are a Democracy. We have boldly declared that we are a government Of the people, BY the people and FOR the people. We choose our own leaders and most of our nation is unconcerned with who God would choose to be our leader. There were several good, Christian men who could have been the Republican nominee, but sinful America rejected them. Trump's election was the result of human choice. America chose it's own President, even though, in my opinion, there were better, more godly men available. While Trump may have been much less terrible than Clinton for Christians to vote for, due to the Republican stance for religious freedom and against abortion, think of the implications for the spread of the Gospel in claiming that Trump was God's choice. I, for one, am not willing to grant President Trump a divine endorsement to rule, though I will be a respectful and honorable citizen who follows the law, cooperates with authority and prays for my President, as mandated by Scripture.

Claim #3 Harbingers
Mr. Cahn has built his career on the interpretation of harbingers, which he frequently refers to as omens, another meaning of the word. He was introduced Saturday night as the author of The Harbinger, a fictional book which he claims is based on the truth. The last time he spoke at Gateway, he spent nearly the entire sermon interpreting omens and this time, plugging his book, he claimed there have been even more such harbingers. Deuteronomy 18:10-11 warns against various types of divination saying to let there be no one found among you...who interprets omens, or is an observer of the times. Making prophetic predictions about the future based on anything other than the direct revelation of God is strictly forbidden in Scripture. Any rabbi should know that. Mr. Cahn looks almost exclusively to past events and then reinterprets them, claiming credit for various catastrophies, financial disasters and even terrorist actions on behalf of God. Often, he is blaming God for the sinful actions of men. The lack of reverence for the good Name of God shown by Mr. Cahn is a violation of the  3rd commandment: Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. The word "take," means to carry before you like a banner. This commandment means that we are not to misrepresent the name of God. The way this man portrays God's character is not right and it flies in the face of grace, as well as justice.

Claim #4 America is the New Israel
Cahn stated that "America was founded solely for the purposes of God to be an Israel of the New World."  He did speak in support of the nation of Israel which was good, we should remember Psalm 122:6 "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may those who love you prosper." But claiming that America is also an Israel of the New World is bonkers. While it is true that many Christ followers came to America seeking religious freedom and it is true that a Judeo-Christian morality was present in our founding fathers and it is true that our founding documents were influenced by the Mosaic Covenant from the Bible, America, does not have a special covenant with God. We are under a New Covenant in which God's Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. Jesus said "My kingdom is not of this world." The truth is that America was founded in rebellion against authority which goes against the teachings of Scripture. There were a number of political and financial motivations for the Revolutionary War. Now, I do believe that our nation has been blessed beyond comprehension because of the incorporation of God's laws and morality into our own laws and because of the prayers of Christian people and America abandons that morality and stifles those prayers at its own peril. But it is a grievous mistake to claim America is somehow a new Israel, or God's chosen people. Certainly, we should thank God for the many blessings we have in this nation. We can absolutely learn our lessons from the nations in the Bible who were judged when they abandoned God. But the United States was founded on the freedom of religion. Israel was to have only one God. The Shema, the most important statement in the Jewish faith, directly from their constitution, their covenant document found in Deuteronomy 6:4 is Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. The United States of America is not a new Israel.

Claim #5 The Power of His Own Picture
Are you sitting down? You might want to be for this next one. I've saved the most outrageous claim for last. Saturday night, Mr. Cahn claimed that he went to Cuba, and that a man had painted a picture of him blowing a shofar before he arrived. Cahn claimed that they went to a house on a mountain where witchcraft had been practiced, where he claimed there was an idol to a certain false god that he alleges had something to do with Fidel Castro coming into power. As I remember it, he told the audience that the plate with his image painted on it had been set up in the witch-house and knocked over the idol of the false god one night so that it appeared to be bowing down to it and then claims his picture fell on the idol the next night and smashed it. He compared this to the time the ARK OF THE COVENANT, carrying the very Presence of God, was taken into the Philistine temple of Dagon and Dagon bowed down to the Ark one night and then the idol fell and was smashed to pieces another night. He directly compared his own image and its power to the Ark of the Covenant. I believe he is violating the 2nd commandment in setting up his own image as an object of worship. You shall not make yourself any graven image (idol), or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them. The absurdity of this claim would be hilarious, if it weren't so scandalous, narcissistic, downright arrogant and obviously a fictional story. This one really takes the cake.

"Rabbi" Jonathan Cahn is not a modern day Elijah. In fact, I do not believe him to be any sort of prophet at all. Furthermore, Jesus said "You are not to be called Rabbi, for you have one teacher and you are all brothers..." Cahn professes to be a Messianic Jew, a believer in Christ. It is not proper for a Christian pastor to take the name "Rabbi," as Mr. Cahn has done. During his sermon, Cahn, who failed to give a clear presentation of the Gospel, only read about one-half of one verse of Scripture, which had nothing whatsoever to do with his assorted mishmash of topics. There was no sound Biblical exegesis to be found. Jonathan Cahn is basically the Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) of Christian fiction. He is very adept at pulling random passages out of the Bible, giving them entirely new and different meanings and then speaking really fast quoting all sorts of unverifiable and unknowable numbers and mocking up connections between random, unrelated events to pretend to back up his claims in order to sway his audience and sell his books. It is a skillful way to write fiction, which is how his book The Harbinger was originally marketed. As fictional reading, the books are not that great. In fact, they are pretty lame and boring. As teaching, his books are a theological train wreck. I would not recommend his books or DVD's to anyone seeking truth and I would strongly discourage you from participating in any sort of "Bible" study based on these sketchy materials. As disgraceful as it is that Lifeway and Passages continue to carry his books, at least I did find his newest offering located in the correct section, FICTION.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

How Does God Speak? 4 Ways God Reveals Himself

I was recently asked the question How does God speak? I believe that a better question is How does God reveal Himself? God introduces Himself through creation, reveals Himself personally through Scripture and unveils Himself relationally through the Holy Spirit. Here are 4 ways that God does speak and a word of caution about how He doesn't.

1. God Reveals Himself Through Creation
God reveals Himself through nature, His creation. We call this General Revelation. It shows us how creative and powerful He is. Nature shows the amount of love and beauty God poured into creation. The wonder and awe He has created, the intricate design of our bodies and the detail and craftsmanship He put into designing this world for us showcase many of His qualities. Creation also shows his goodness and His providential care. There are also many object lessons from nature such as comparing God's protection of His people underneath the shadow of His wings to that of a bird protecting her offspring.

Human beings, created in God's image are inherently inquisitive and nature is meant to cause us to ask questions. Satan tries to manipulate us into satisfying this curiosity in unhealthy and inappropriate ways. God does not reveal future events through nature, or general revelation. Horoscopes, astrology, trying to predict human behavior or future events based on the observance of the moon and stars or by consulting any other element of creation is specifically forbidden in Scripture and Christians today still struggle with this trap.

2. God Reveals Himself Through His Word
The primary way that God speaks to people is through His Word, the Bible. The Bible reveals God's justice and his righteousness. It also reveals his merciful love, kindness and grace. Most importantly, it shows his plan of salvation. All we need to know for life and godliness, all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom are found in God's word. Faith comes through hearing the Word of God. This type of revelation is called Special Revelation.

Jesus is the central focus of the Bible. Sinful mankind tends to cherry pick tiny fragments of Scripture and misuse them for their own purposes. Satan, himself, misquoted and misused Scripture when he tempted Jesus. To understand what God is saying through His Word, we must read it in context, compare and harmonize it with the whole counsel of Scripture and determine what God is saying.

3. God Reveals Himself Through His Spirit
God speaks to us through His Spirit, this is also a form of Special Revelation. It is the Holy Spirit that calls us to repentance. He convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness, right and wrong. He draws us to God when the Word is read. He helps us understand Scripture. He reminds us of what we have learned in the moments we need it. He is our teacher, helping us to understand the Bible. He is our guide, leading us as we walk through this life according to God's word. The Holy Spirit also speaks through us by words of knowledge and words of wisdom. Prophetic words are given for comfort, encouragement and building each other up. He allows us to give wise counsel and advice to guide other believers through difficult life situations. The Holy Spirit will never contradict the Bible and we should use the Bible to discern whether something comes from the Holy Spirit or not.

4. God Communicates Through Dreams and Visions
The rarest way that God communicates is through visions and dreams. These were used to reveal all that we need to know about God's future plans in the Bible. With the conclusion of John's vision in Revelation, there will be no more dreams or visions about events relating to God's plan for the end times. The canon of Scripture is closed and absolutely no words will be added to it. God does use dreams to warn of danger, as He warned Joseph and the Wise Men concerning Herod's nefarious plans. Throughout the New Testament, when a dream or vision occurred, it was always Gospel-centered and required work and sacrifice. Peter had a vision that led him to minister to Cornelius' household and revealed God's ministry toward the Gentiles. Paul had a dream of a man in Macedonia asking him to come share the Gospel. These dreams and visions led people to go share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and minister to others. Dreams and visions are a way for the Holy Spirit to warn, protect and guide people into the work of God and to prayer. Anyone who believes they have had a dream or a vision should use those truths as guidelines for how to react.

Outside of the book of Revelation, a future event was prophesied in the New Testament, in Acts 11:27-30. In this instance, the people of Antioch sacrificed, taking up a collection to provide for the needs of the believers in Jerusalem. No one wrote a book or went on a speaking tour to get rich. The prophecy required financial sacrifice and selfless giving.

A Word Of Caution
There is much confusion today, with prophets for profit feigning divine revelation, claiming to predict the future through observing the times, reading the moon, the interpretation of signs, omens and so-called wonders. These practices are forbidden in Deuteronomy 18:10-11. In the Old Testament, God revealed His power through signs and wonders performed through nature. He was demonstrating his power and control over creation. In the New Testament, Jesus and the disciples only performed miracles in ways that healed and helped people and when the Bible talks about them performing signs and wonders it is referring to such miracles. In Matthew 24:24, Jesus warns us against false prophets performing signs and wonders to mislead people. In the day we live in, the fake prophets refer to various natural occurrences as signs and wonders and then use them to sell their worthless books, claiming to have received revelation from God. Don't be na├»ve. Don't be taken in. Any sign or wonder that is real will never be self-serving or naturally occurring in creation. If there is a real sign or wonder, it will be beyond the natural, in service to others and it will not foretell the future. This is not a method God uses to communicate future events. A sign might BE a future event, but it won't predict one. To put it a different way: The Bible might predict a certain sign or event, but signs themselves do not predict future events.

If you are looking for a word from God go directly to Him for it. Consider this: When Gideon asked God for a sign, he did not have the Holy Spirit as we now do. If you need to hear from God, read the Bible, worship, be in relationship with other believers and pray. Prayer, worship and reading the Bible are ways that we have direct access to God. Just don't forget to listen for that still, small voice leading and guiding you.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Is The God of "The Shack," the God of the Bible?

Last night I went to see "The Shack." As a creative work, the film is poignant, powerful and provocative.  It asks the hard questions and invites, even forces, the viewer to think, and this is good. The setting, and in particular the garden, is stunningly beautiful and symbolic. The story is compelling, heartbreaking, and even encouraging. "The Shack" engages the audience in a way that I've never seen. This too is good because, from the lady drinking her stinky wine next to me, to the teenage girl in the "Momma Tried," skullcap, this LionsGate production drew in an audience that looked quite different from the usual PureFlix crowd. The movie provides many opportunities to engage with our culture and to have discussions, and YES, there are discussions which must be had.

I will confess that when I read the book a few years ago, I was not aware that the author,  Wm. Paul Young, is a universalist who believes that all people will be redeemed, or saved. I quickly recognized some theological mistakes, but I also respected the good aspects of the story. There are many moments in the movie that would lead one to believe he is a Christian, and a heartfelt defense put forth by his friend and famous Baptist blogger Wade Burleson attests to the fact. However, his personal theology is viewed by many as being heretical and some of these themes do surface in both the book and the movie.

First, I would like to say that there are many things Mr. Young gets right. The movie focuses on the relational aspects of God and His desire to have a personal relationship with us. This is very good. He affirms the Trinitarian nature of God and the roles of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation. He upholds the doctrine that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. He affirms the desire of God for all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. He attests that people will be saved from every tongue and tribe and nation. He shows that children who die before reaching the age of accountability go to heaven. He rightly explains that the sin of Adam has had a profound negative impact on all of humanity. He clearly teaches that God is not the author of evil and He teaches that Jesus Christ died for us out of necessity. He gives a nod to human volition, or choice, when it comes to our relationship with God. He rightly portrays Jesus as desiring friends, not slaves. He powerfully illustrates the principle of forgiveness. He shows the restoring redemptive work of God in families and highlights the importance of loving family relationships.

But there were also some very serious problems with his theology. Using a woman to portray God the Father, or Papa, part of the time was questionable, but I could have looked past that. Sadly, masked by the lovely performance of Octavia Spencer, was some serious false teaching and down right lies about the nature and character of God. Here are some examples:

1. As God, or "Papa," she makes the statement that she has never found a person she was not fond of. Proverbs 6:16-19 says that there are 6 things the Lord hates, 7 that are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies and one who sows discord among brothers.  That does not sound like fondness to me. God hates evil. 1 Timothy 2:4 expresses the fact that He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth---this is because then they will not do evil any more and will not hurt others any more. God is not fond of evildoers. He is willing to forgive, IF they repent.

2. Papa says "I don't need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It's not my purpose to punish it. It's my joy to cure it." This is a great example of the type of half truth Satan likes to tell, twisting a true statement together with an outright lie. This statement has more twists and turns than a roller coaster. On the one had, it is true that sin can eat us up and destroy us from the inside. But on the other hand, it is also true that God loves justice and He does judge evil. To say that a just God does not need to punish sin is an outright lie. God is a defender and He destroys the wicked. The story emphasizes redemption. A redeemer is a seeker and restorer of justice. A redeemer sets things right. Part of the job of a redeemer is to buy back or restore what has been lost. But a redeemer is also an avenger of blood. Universalists believe that when the bible says "Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, that means everyone will be saved. The truth is that when Jesus comes back, those who did not acknowledge Him as savior during this life will bow down alright, BUT Isaiah 65:12 tells us they will bow down to the slaughter. God consistently punishes sin throughout Scripture. Sodom and Gomorrah were punished because of sin. Genesis 15:16 prophesied the destruction of the Canaanites because of their sin. Even His own people, Israel, were punished because of sin. God's judgement of sin is such a pervasive theme in Scripture that it is simply impossible for a Bible-Believing Christian to deny that God punishes sin.  

3. Papa acts like she has no idea what Mack is talking about when he asks about God's Wrath and claims that she is not like that. 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 show how God's wrath comes upon people because of sin. They are displeasing to God and hostile to all men, by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! While it is good to know that those of us who seek forgiveness will not face God's wrath, God also loves justice and He will absolutely bring judgement on those who persist in doing evil as he has done throughout the entirety of Scripture. Going along with the role of a redeemer as an avenger of blood and bringer of justice. Revelation 6:10, 16 and 17 describe Jesus as an avenger of blood and describe the coming wrath of the Lamb. Revelation 14:10 and 19 specifically record God's wrath and anger being poured out. A redeemer sets wrongs right. A redeemer would seek justice for a family member who had been killed or wronged. Revelation 19:1-3 record God avenging the blood of his servants. For those who do not accept God's forgiveness, retribution is coming.

4. Mack's dad, who was evil and abusive, is shown to be a religious fake who was not a believer and never repented of his sin, yet he is shown to be in heaven. Mack's father becomes furious when his son revealed his true nature to a pastor and unleashed his wrath upon his son. No one enters heaven without repentance, forgiveness and being born again through faith in Jesus.

While the god of the Shack is relational, loving and creative, like the God of the Bible, unlike the God of the Bible that god is one dimensional. That lowercase g god is entirely lacking in justice or a true sense of right and wrong. That god does not punish sin. Papa is fond of everyone, including the most evil people on earth. She isn't concerned with rule following and does not even know what wrath is. That weak one dimensional god is not the Capital G, God of the Bible, the Great I AM.

The movie does make an admirable effort to portray one aspect of God's personality, His goodness and compassion. Over and over, Scripture tells us as it does in Psalm 103:8: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast, merciful lovingkindness. He is the God who forgives iniquity, the God who does not stay angry forever, the God who loves us and provided a way for us to have a relationship with Him.

However, Psalm 33:5 tells us The Lord loves righteousness and justice, the earth is full of his unfailing love. The love of right and justice is an aspect of God's personality that must not be overlooked. The god of The Shack is not interested in justice. The GOD of the Bible IS. Psalm 37:28 assures us: The Lord loves justice and will not abandon his faithful ones, they are kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked will be cut off.

There is a powerful moment in the movie when Mack has to choose to forgive his daughter's murderer and trust Papa to do the right thing. When I read the book, I assumed that justice was implied if the man never repented. Now that I know the background of the author, this does not seem to be the case. Could you really place your faith in a God who did not care about justice? I can fully place my faith in a God who hates evil and will ultimately destroy it. I am grateful that God is patient and offers all people the chance to be saved, born again, redeemed and forgiven. I trust Him to deliver justice to those who refuse as only He has the right to do.

I believe that the author of The Shack is to be commended, not for his theology, but for the courage and conviction he has shown in attempting to answer some of life's most difficult questions in a well-crafted, compelling and artistic way. While he does make some serious mistakes, as we all do, if we discuss them in a healthy, Biblical and brotherly way, then we can all learn and grow. The ultimate take-away from the movie is this: God is loving and forgiving and wants to have a relationship with us. But unlike the god of The Shack, the God of the Bible also loves fairness and justice and He will punish evil. A relationship with God is available to all people, but only if we repent of our sins, accept Jesus as our Lord, ask for forgiveness and welcome the Holy Spirit's redemptive, renewing, restoring, healing work in our lives. This is the decision that Mack had to make in the movie and this is the decision each person must make in this life. What is your choice?

You have a strong arm. Your hand is mighty. Righteousness and Justice are the foundation of your throne. Faithful love and truth go before you.  -Psalm 89:13-14