Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Mark of Cain

Cain was not cursed with Black skin as the White Supremacist cults would have us to think. In fact, he was not cursed with any type of mark at all. When Cain spilled his brother Abel's innocent blood out of jealousy and anger, he caused the ground to be cursed against him. In Genesis 4:10 The LORD said:

What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.

The ground would no longer be easy to work and to grow food in. It was cursed. Then Cain cried out to God. He was afraid of being driven away from the presence of God and that whoever found him would kill him. God replied:

Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.

Instead of "appointed a sign for Cain," some translations read "put a mark on Cain." This sign, or mark, was a symbol of agreement, a type of covenant, perhaps a miraculous sign or warning to others. But for Cain, it was protection. The sign was a symbol of God's mercy, compassion and protection. We don't know what the sign was, but there is nothing in the text that would indicate a change in skin color. That is just hate-filled, racist fiction. This was a distinguishing mark or symbol. If I were to wager a guess, I might propose that it could have been something like a cross. We don't know. But what we do know is that this mark was absolutely NOT a curse. It was a blessing. The sign was a symbol of an agreement, a covenant between God and Cain that promised The Lord's protection and that if anyone harmed him, God would be his avenger of blood, the one to make it right. The mark was a sign of God's mercy, compassion and protection, even for a murderer like Cain. This is good news for us, because He has shown this same great compassion on the entire human race through Jesus.

The curse on the ground is the only curse mentioned in the text of Genesis 4 which records these events. God's covenant with Noah removed this curse. Genesis 8:21 records:

I will never again curse the ground for man's sake...

The curse that Cain caused from the ground was lifted after the worldwide flood of Noah's day. That curse no longer exists. The sign he received was a sign of God's promise to protect him. It was the sign of a covenant between God and Cain. This event demonstrates God's amazing mercy and compassion on sinners. For this, we all can be grateful.
Here are links to my other articles in this series against false, racist, theologies:

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Biblical Role of Goverment in Protecting Citizens and Promoting Peace

So, North Korea threatend to fire FOUR Ballistic Nuclear Missiles at Guam, a U.S. territory, and the internet Blew Up in a firestorm of controversy and anger over President Trump's remarks. He said that if they continued making threats They will be met with fire, fury and frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before. I will be addressing Biblical principles of just war and the importance of peacemaking, but can we stop and remember for just a moment, that an evil tyrant who is a terror to his own citizens, now has Nuclear weapons and wants to use them against the United States? Yes, Mr. Trump's remarks were Incendiary and Yes, I have concerns about his tendency to exaggerate. But it is not wrong for a President to feel protective of his people. That is a good leadership quality and becoming for a President. Mastering one's tongue and carefully considering one's words are also good qualities.

Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas, a member of the President's evangelical advisory counsel, threw fuel on the fire by exclaiming that God has given the President authority to use whatever force is necessary, including war or assassination to take out Kim Jong Un and protect the American people, citing Romans 13 as proof. Phrases like "Whatever force is necessary" tend to conjure up visions of nuclear attack and I share in the concern and genuine horror that so many others have voiced at such a thought. Both men have expressed their desire for diplomatic solutions. Dr. Jeffress emphasized the importance and value of peace bringing measures. Yet Social Media and the Blogs have Exploded with criticism of the Pastor. But what does the Bible say? What authority has God given to leaders? What is the purpose of that authority? Does the Bible teach us anything about foreign policy? Are there lessons about "just" war found within the pages of God's Word that can be applied today? Let's examine the Scriptures to see if these things are so:

Romans 12 and 13
Romans 12 and 13 compare and contrast the role of the church verses the role of the state. These chapters highlight the difference between the response of an individual to evil verses the response of the government to evil.

The Role of Individuals and the Church:
ROMANS 12 teaches us as individuals and followers of Christ to be patient during affliction, to be persistent in prayer, to live in harmony with one another. We are told not to repay evil for evil. and for our part, to try to live in peace with everyone. We are instructed:

Friends, do not avenge yourselves, instead leave room for God's wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me, I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

This chapter is all about our work as priests in the Kingdom of God. Our work is missionary oriented. The position of the church toward North Korea is that of missionary and evangelist. Christians must not be vigilantes who seek revenge for wrongdoing. Instead, our focus should be on forgiveness and rightdoing. There is a dual meaning in the verses above. Our enemy needs not only food and nourishment for his physical body, but spiritual food and living water. Fiery coals represents purification and testing. Our goal is to defeat our enemy by making him a brother in Christ.

The Responsibility of Individuals and Government
ROMANS 13 teaches us about our responsibilities as citizens and the purpose and God-given mission of government. We are told to pay our taxes, submit or cooperate with authority and show honor and respect. Where we as individuals are told not to avenge wrongdoing, the government is told:

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For it is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God's servant, an AVENGER that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.

God has put individuals and the church into a situation to do his work and show grace. He expects the government to provide an umbrella of protection for us while we do His work. It is the government's responsibility to right wrongs, punish wrongdoers and deal with criminals. Jesus is our Redeemer, he is an avenger of wrongdoing, but until He comes back to right every wrong and render ultimate judgement, God has given the government the right to keep the peace and promote domestic tranquility. In its original context, this passage seems to be primarily concerned with domestic policy, but the principle is not limited to wrongdoers within a nation's borders.

When Paul wrote this letter, Christians had not been kicked out of Rome yet and Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed. He wanted to prevent the type of zealotry, uprising and rebellion against authority that had caused Jerusalem to be destroyed once before. He was writing to preserve peace. And we, in the United States of America, would do well to show more respect for authority and to accept the protection it provides.

Verse 1 reads:

Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.

In the beginning, God gave Adam, mashal over the earth. He gave him the right to rule-over the earth. Therefore, all authority that man has comes from God and is to be used according to God's instructions. Kim Jong Un, for example, is not exercising his authority in a godly or appropriate way. No prophet anointed President Trump's head with oil. God did not place him as King over America. We elected him. We chose him as our leader. He has a responsibility to exercise his authority in a way that provides peace and safety for all citizens and to discharge his duties in a godly way. And we have a responsibility to submit to our leaders. Submission, or hupotasso, means that we should partner and work together with government, so it is absolutely appropriate, good and necessary to give wise counsel and advice to our leaders and to exercise our right to vote and to influence decision making with godly guidance.

What About Foreign Policy? Is there "Just" War?

When the people of Israel were travelling to the promised land, their cousins, Lot's descendants, the Moabites and the Ammonites refused to allow them to cross their land and would not even sell food to them for money. As a result, God said: You shall never seek their peace or prosperity as long as you live. (Deut. 23:6) They were not to do any business with them. Sound like trade sanctions to anyone? God was going to bless Israel and these neighboring nations would be punished because of their mistreatment. They were willing to let the Israelites starve to death by forcing them to take a longer journey around their lands and by refusing to even sell them food for the journey. This wanton lack of compassion for their fellow man was a serious offense against their Creator. The New Testament application is that while it might be appropriate to limit business with corrupt and evil governments, and it is definitely advisable to prevent them from prospering financially, it is our responsibility to consider the well-being of its citizens. Food, water, clothing and shelter are never to be withheld or denied and both church and state are responsible for caring about the plight of citizens under an evil regime.

There are some important principles of warfare found in Deuteronomy 20 that are also applicable for today. First of all, we must understand that Israel's campaign to enter the promised land is NEVER to be used as a model of modern warfare. This was God's judgement upon the people of a tremendously sinful nation and a picture of His ultimate judgement on evil. Israel was God's instrument of judgement against sin. While government has a responsibility to protect and defend its citizens, no nation has a similar role to Israel on this side of the Cross. In fact, once Israel was established as a nation, there were different rules for warfare against nations outside of their borders which contain some valuable lessons about what is just and right that we should consider.

1. Offer Terms of Peace
When you go near a city to fight against it, then proclaim an offer of peace to it. And it shall be that if they accept your offer of peace and open to you, then all the people who are found in it shall be placed under tribute to you and serve you.

The ancient world consisted of city-states, which were like individual kingdoms. God's army, Israel, was not allowed to attack without first offering terms of peace. If the city laid down their arms and surrendered, they would become like a territory, paying tribute to Israel, but also receiving the protection and blessings of the Kingdom. There was peace, protection and prosperity in the surrender.

It is appropriate to offer North Korea terms of peace that include surrender, require the immediate end of its nuclear program and surrender of all ballistic missiles, nuclear devices and technology. But it is also important to offer mutually beneficial trade, like the peace and prosperity mentioned above. This includes food, goods and services and most importantly religious freedom and protection for its own citizens and for missionaries and foreigners within their borders.

2. Do Not Harm Innocents
The rules of Holy War were for ancient Israel only, not modern America or any other nation for that matter. We should never even use the term Holy War, because our nation is not Israel and because it incenses radical Islamists, who we do not need to provoke. But there are aspects of God's righteousness displayed through these rules that we can learn from.

If they refused to surrender and war was fought, all the men of the city would have been considered its fighting force--army--not innocents. But the women, children and even livestock were never allowed to be harmed. They would have become part of the nation of Israel and became their responsibility to take care of. Going to war against a nation's leadership means that we become responsible for the citizens of that nation. We do not have the mandate to kill every single member of an enemies army as Israel did. The world lives under a different covenant. But I believe we are justified in going to war against them when necessary. And we DO have a clear Biblical mandate to protect the innocent. This means that dropping a nuclear bomb on a city with innocents present is absolutely wrong, completely out of bounds and never an option. Surgical strikes to take out military targets, weapons and tech are highly advisable and if peaceful options fail, the deaths of North Korean soldiers, while sad and tragic, fall within the boundaries of justifiable warfare. We also have the option of offering terms of peace on multiple occasions, even after hostilities begin and we should pursue these options to the fullest extent possible.

3. Don't Destroy The Land
When you besiege a city(state) for a long time while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them if you can eat of them. Do not cut them down to use in the siege, for the tree of the field is MAN'S FOOD.

We should avoid warfare that destroys land and food or prevents people from returning to a good and peaceful life when the war is over. We have read about not destroying cattle and not destroying fruit trees. Again, this speaks to caring about the well-being of our fellow man and for those who will live there after war has ended. Nuclear destruction and fall out violates this principle. Again, the New Testament calls on us to feed our enemies. This goes beyond the Old Testament mandate to simply not destroy something and calls on us to do better in our treatment of other human beings. When we go to war with a nation's leadership or army, we become responsible for its innocent citizens.

We must have compassion on the citizens of every nation. War is destructive and all peaceful means of resolution should be pursued first. Just war seeks to preserve peace by putting a stop to evil. The ultimate goal is not to display power, but to protect human life. My sincere hope is that if we show mercy, compassion and genuine human concern for the well-being of the citizens of North Korea who are suffering under the regime of this tyrant, perhaps hardened hearts may be softened and wisdom will prevail. So what should we do? We Pray:

I urge that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people--for kings and ALL those in authority, that we may live peaceful/tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What Does The Exodus Mean For Modern Christians?

The Exodus, or departure, of the Hebrew people from Egypt is among the most important events in human history. I frequently hear people allegorizing this historical narrative, or applying it to their lives in the wrong way. Let's take a look at some of the main occurrences of this journey and what we can learn from them.

Rescued From Slavery
In the same way that God redeemed Israel and brought them out of slavery in Egypt, He saves each Christian from bondage and slavery to sin.

Released From Pharoah's Clutches
When God called Israel to come and worship Him, He told Pharoah: Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me." Hosea 11:1 recalls this event: When Israel was a child I loved him and Out of Egypt I called my son. God called Israel as His children and Pharoah refused to let them go. Even after He released them, he came chasing after them to try to force them back into slavery.

In 2 Corinthians 6:18, God tells us: I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters. When God calls us as His own children, Satan acts in much the same way as Pharoah, tempting and trying to pull us back into sin. Jesus said: Truly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in the house forever, but a son does remain forever. So if the son sets you free, you are free indeed. God set us free to be His children and members of His household forever. Don't go back into slavery.

Israel was warned not to look back or long for their old life in Egypt. Think about the way that Lot's wife was turned to a pillar of salt when she longingly looked back at the sinful towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is an important principal with God. We should be grateful and not long for our old life of sin, but live in freedom.

A Crooked Path
God did not take Israel on the most direct path to the Promised Land, He took them on the safest path.

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter/nearby. For God said, "If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt. So He led the people around toward the Red Sea along the road of the wilderness. (Exodus 13:18)

In our lives, we might not always understand where God is leading us, but we can trust Him that it is for our good and for our benefit. His path might not be the Fastrack, but it is the Best track.

Parting the Red Sea
When the Egyptian army came chasing after Israel, they were pinned up against the Red Sea. The Red Sea represented an insurmountable obstacle, keeping God's people from being saved and entering into His rest. The Red Sea has 2 arms reaching upward in a V-shape. In between is the Sinai peninsula, where Moses received the law. The left arm, the Gulf of Suez, where they likely crossed, is 20 miles wide. Like this body of water that separated Israel from the place God wanted to bring them, because of sin, there was an in-crossable gulf separating us from God. 1 Corinthians 10:2 tells us that when God parted the Red Sea and Israel crossed over on Dry ground, they were Baptized into Moses, the Law. In the same way, we are Baptized into Jesus, our Savior, through Grace. Where there was no way, God made a way, a bridge to cross the gulf between us and that way is Jesus. As huge of a miracle as the parting of the Red Sea is, it also serves an object lesson to show us what an enormous miracle was necessary for us to be saved.

The Wilderness and The Promised Land
The Promised Land for the people of Israel was Canaan. The Promised Land for Christians is Heaven. Our promised land is not here on earth. It isn't the perfect job or the perfect marriage or the perfect life circumstance. It isn't the fulfillment of our goals, dreams, plans or visions for this life. Our promised land is much bigger and much better than that. Our Promised Land is Heaven.

Although Christians are citizens of Heaven, we are God's representatives here in the wilderness. But there is good news, Wonderful news in fact. There are blessings in the wilderness.

Blessing #1: PROVISION

FOOD: God provided the people with sweet manna from heaven to eat. He will provide for our daily needs. He also provides us with spiritual food from His word.

WATER: Twice, God miraculously brought forth water out of a rock when the people were thirsty. He also provides us with living water through His Spirit that restores, refreshes and quenches our thirsty souls.

SHELTER: The people of Israel had strong tents to live in. God cares about our daily needs and that includes a safe, clean place to live.

CLOTHING: The entire time the people of Israel were in the wilderness, their clothes and shoes never wore out:
Your clothing did not wear out on you and your feet did not swell these 40 years. (Deuteronomy 8:4)

Matthew 6:25-34 tell us not to worry about what we will EAT or what we will DRINK or what we will WEAR because God knows that we need those things and He will provide for us: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be PROVIDED for you. God has always provided me with a job and I am very grateful for that provision. We can trust Him. Just don't forget to ask.

Blessing #2: PROTECTION
God protected Israel and fought for them. Jesus did battle for us on the cross. God protects us in this life and it is appropriate to pray for the protection of ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Blessing #3: POINTING
God's points us the right way. He GUIDES us. God went before Israel, leading them in the way they should go by a column of fire and He will lead us through the counsel of the Holy Spirit, who is our guide and helper.

Blessing #4: PRESENCE
Joshua spent times of sweet fellowship in the very Presence of God inside the tabernacle, or tent of meeting. As Christians, we have direct access to God's Presence and the privilege of fellowship with Him

Blessing #5 PEACE
God gave the people Sabbath rest in the wilderness. We too, can have peace and rest in this life.

Blessing #6 PEOPLE
The people of Israel were surrounded by family and friends in the wilderness. They had fellowship. God blesses families. He has also has provided that fellowship for us through His people, the church. We are part of Israel, grafted into Abraham's family tree. We are the family of God.

Blessing #7 PURPOSE
For 40 years, Joshua and Caleb were stuck in the wilderness because the people of Israel lacked the faith to enter Canaan. Why couldn't they go in by themselves? Because they had a divine purpose, to lead others in. So why doesn't God just take us to heaven the moment we are saved? Because we have a divine purpose to lead others into His rest. God has a purpose for us to fulfill in this life. Ephesians 2:10 gives us some very encouraging news:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

God has prepared a PURPOSE for us in this life. That is encouraging and that is good news. We aren't meant to wander aimlessly. We are meant to impact our world right where we are at, right here and now.

In the same way that Israel was delivered from bondage and slavery in Egypt, we have been saved out of bondage and slavery to sin. In the same way that God parted the Red Sea to rescue and Baptize them into the Law of Moses, He has provided salvation for us to be Baptized into Jesus through Grace. In the same way that Joshua and Caleb had a purpose to lead God's people in the wilderness, we have a purpose to bring people to Jesus so that they can enter the promised land with us. In the same way that God defeated the Egyptian army in the Red Sea as they pursued Israel and then defeated and drove armies out of the Promised Land before them, Jesus has defeated Satan and will ultimately defeat and destroy all evil. Then we will enter into His perfect protection and rest in Heaven. 

Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. -Joshua 21:45

The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some understand slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance....But in keeping with God's promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. -2 Peter 3:9,13

In the same way that Israel entered into God's rest and every one of his promises to them was fulfilled, we will enter into heaven and every one of God's promises to us will come to pass.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Debunking The "Curse of Ham" Myth

The alt-right white supremacists have resuscitated an old LIE that Noah's son Ham was "cursed" so that all of his descendants would be slaves. Many African-American pastors have expressed dismay at the spread of this malicious fallacy and we should all be equally concerned. Some Cults also teach the lie that Ham was cursed with black skin, though the Bible never teaches that. A few years ago, I was shocked and appalled to come across a large number of musty "theological" books from the 1800's indoctrinating readers into this same fiction, justifying the enslavement of people of African descent based on the so-called "Curse of Ham." Anyone who has read their Bible knows that Ham, son of Noah, was never cursed and no such thing exists. Not only is this a nasty and offensive false teaching, but from a theological perspective, it is just plain nonsense.

Genesis 9:20-27 records an event in which Ham disrespected his father by finding him drunk on wine, looking at him naked and then telling his brothers about it. Shem and Japheth were respectful of their father, entered his tent backwards and covered him.

Noah awoke and announced:

Cursed be Canaan. A servant of servants He shall be to his brothers. Blessed be the LORD the God of Shem and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth and let him dwell in the tents of Shem and let Canaan be his servant.

Here is what Satan's twisted logic looks like: Various slaveholders, theologians, pastors and religious figures once believed that all of Ham's offspring from his many sons should be their slaves and they used this passage to justify their position. That is a senseless, corrupted, perversion of Scripture, a doctrine of demons. Here is what this passage really means:

Noah saw the future and prophetically revealed that a generational curse had taken root in Ham's son Canaan. Sin had made it through the flood. Whatever rebellion, disrespect or perversion was in Ham, had corrupted his son. Over hundreds of years, this sin would grow worse and worse with each generation of Canaan's descendants, the Canaanites. They built cities, planted orchards and terraced vineyards, planted fields full of crops and then, when their sin was full, their nation was driven out and destroyed and everything they had built was given to the people of Israel, Shem's descendants. In this way, they were servants of Shem.

I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant. -Joshua 24:13

The Bible frequently refers to nations by the name of their ancestor and speaks of them in the singular. Noah's prophecy was fulfilled when everything Canaan had worked for, all the fruits of his labor was given to Israel. In this way, Canaan was Shem's servant.

Ham corrupted his son Canaan, whose descendants lived in modern day Israel, NOT Africa. There is no mention of a curse on Ham's other children who did live in Africa. The idea that all of Ham's children and therefore, all people with dark skin, are cursed to be slaves is ludicrous. This outrageous false teaching is nothing more than a made up racist lie. Dark skin is the result of high levels of melanin, something that all people have. Melanin rich skin is beautiful, remains looking younger and healthier and provides great protection from the sun. Dark skin is a sign of God's love, protection and wondrous creativity.

The sons of Canaan were judged because of their SIN, not the color of their SKIN, which we do not even know. They could have been lighter skinned, like the Egyptians who were also descended from Ham or like the Phoenicians who were Canaanites themselves.

Even though the nation of Canaan was cursed, many individuals escaped this fate through faith and others by fleeing which showed a fear of God. They have many descendants who were clearly loved by God: Simeon had a son with a Canaanite woman. Judah married a Canaanite woman and their descendants became the fine linen makers of Israel who made the priestly garments. After his wife passed away, Judah fathered a child with Tamar, also a Canaanite woman. Jesus, Himself, was descended from 2 Canaanite women, Tamar and Rahab, which means that every King in the Davidic line, and most of the tribe of Judah had a measure of Canaanite blood running through their veins. Jesus showed grace and mercy by ministering to a Canaanite woman and setting her daughter free from demonic oppression. SIN was the reason the nation of the Canaanites was destroyed, not bloodline, DNA or skin color. That judgement was on a nation, but individuals were spared, such as Rahab’s entire family. Let's also remember that Joseph's wife was an Egyptian woman, so his children, the tribes of Manessah and Ephraim were also descended from Ham.

After the flood of Noah's day, all of the earth was re-populated by his three sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth. Like many Old Testament prophecies, Noah's prophecy had a second spiritual meaning. By prophesying that Japheth would dwell in the tents of Shem and that Canaan would be their servant, Noah predicted salvation coming to all three branches of the family, but that the pathway to restoration would be difficult for Canaan's descendants. Yes, the works of Canaan's hands were given to Shem's descendants and their labors served Israel. Yes, many of Canaan's offspring were destroyed because of their sin. But servants dwell in tents as well. Ultimately, ALL believers are grafted into Abraham's family tree. Dwelling in tents together is a sign of belonging and family. Remember that Abraham is the descendant of Shem? In a spiritual sense, we all dwell in the tent of Abraham (the tent of Shem) as servants of His God and as equals. We are all blessed through Abraham. We are all family, united by blood. Every curse is broken through Jesus Christ, including the curse of racism and disunity.  

Acts 17:26 tells us that “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.” The Canaanites and their descendants are human beings that bear God's image. There is no one on this earth that isn’t created in God’s image and worthy of being treated with dignity and respect. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 bids believers to “Go therefore and make disciples of ALL nations…” All people on earth, including those descended from the Canaanites, are worthy of a good-faith gospel presentation. According to Revelation 5:9 believers from every tongue, tribe, nation and people will be saved. We are part of one family, the family of God.

Here are links to the other 2 articles in this series: