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Written by: C. W. Booth

May 7, 2007

Reality Check--Divine Encounters will Happen

We are all to witness of Christ. One of us plants the seed of the gospel, another will water that seed. In His own good time, God causes the growth resulting in salvation. We may never know what our efforts in this regard will yield. Some with the spiritual gift of evangelism may be used by God to see numerous persons repent. Others, I suppose, must keep planting, trusting God to send the evangelist to reap the harvest.

A few years ago, a Mormon priest and I agreed to meet for lunch, every week for almost a year. Our stated and mutually agreed upon upfront goals were to convert each other through Bible study. He laid out the Mormon religion in exacting detail. In turn, he permitted me to lay out the biblical plan of salvation. It was a cordial and deep set of discussions. Neither of us converted. A year later I had a series of in depth meetings with a team of Mormon missionaries. Again, we cordially attempted to convert each other with null results.

Today, a Jehovah’s Witness couple came to my home. In the cool spring afternoon air, we sat on my front stoop and engaged in a couple hours of theological dialogue. I was quite impressed with the wife’s knowledge of her doctrine, and with a little book she referenced and read from with increasing frequency during our talk. It seemed to have all the answers to my general apologetics of the Trinity, a doctrine which the Jehovah’s Witnesses vehemently deny.

After a lively and respectful give and take regarding John 1:1, and whether the Greek language can support a translation of "and the Word was a god," I turned to an interlinear Greek-English publication, she read to me from her little book. No one was converted. The couple promised to stop by with more literature, I agreed to see them again.

These encounters are divine appointments, are they not? We are to give an account of our hope, in season (when it is convenient) and out of season (when it is not convenient--though I readily admit I have often failed in that regard). What I found out from these encounters is that I am not fully equipped to attempt to escort such individuals, steeped as they are in alternate religions and biases against the Word, around the minefield of their misunderstandings so as to be able to come to grips with the reality of Christ. Certainly only God will ultimately call and save individuals, but I am convinced I have an obligation to be studied and prepared so as to be of most use to God and to my unsaved neighbors.

In the near future, I will attempt to generate and post summaries of these two religions (from a purely Christian perspective) with which I have had an opportunity to interact, along with meaningful methods by which to explain the gospel to them in ways that members of those religions will hopefully be able to better apprehend. After watching the deft manner in which today’s visitor handled her witnessing guide, not embarrassed to read from it or openly reference passages in it, I realized Christians might well utilize such aids on behalf of others, with an eye toward the salvation of others. I can think of no good reason why I should not be as prepared as possible for such divine encounters.

---

[Note: the above essay was originally posted as a blog entry which I wrote and put online May 7, 2007. As such, it was subject to public commentary as is customary with blogging. As a practical matter, I normally delete the comments entered on the blog site when building this essay archive. If you wish to read the comments posted by others about the essays, you are invited to go online, read them, or post your own comments.

However, on a few occasions the comments and perhaps my own responses to the comments are so core to understanding the essay, or the implications of the essay, that I have chosen to incorporate them, as I have done below.]

Comments to the May 7, 2007 post entitled: Reality Check--Divine Encounters Will Happen

Begin Comment 1:

Did you talk with them about Colwell's rule?

End comment one posted by "stan"

Begin Comment 2:

Hi Stan.  No, we did not discuss Colwell's rule.  This was a very simplistic discussion of the fundamentals with an appeal to the preponderance of opinions by cited scholars.  Sadly, their little book of answers for Baptist objections actually contained one quote from Philip Harner refuting both Colwell's Rule and a literal translation of John 1:1.  What the little book did not do was quote Harner as fully as it should have, "In all of these cases the English reader might not understand exactly what John was trying to express. Perhaps the clause could be translated, 'the Word had the same nature as God.' This would be one way of representing John's thought, which is, as I understand it, that ho logos, no less than ho theos, had the nature of theos."  The nature of Christ is at the very heart of the matter, is it not?

Nonetheless, I am convinced there are adequate passages of Scripture to demonstrate that the Christ and Jehovah are one God.  I will publish the end result if it appears to be useful to others when complete.

End comment two posted by C. W. Booth

 

 

 

May 13, 2007

Spiderman 3 -- One Christian’s Movie Review

Spiderman 3 was a brilliantly written movie. Though it’s running time somewhat exceeded my viewing comfort, I must admit that this was a well conceived, well directed, and extraordinarily well scripted story.

For any visual media, the story is still the central thing, as well as the caliber of its retelling. In Spiderman 3 the story, the plot, the symmetry of all its elements (especially the intentional balancing of each character and their backgrounds) are masterfully implemented. Some critics have argued that there are too many characters, yet, they miss the point that each character is united in theme, history, choices, and integrity with another character in the play. For example, Sandman says to Spiderman about becoming a mutated human, "I did not choose what happened to me." Of course, the irony is that neither did Spiderman choose to become a mutant. Yet each chose how to use their abilities, and that in stark contrast to each other’s intentions. Similarly, the other two "super" beings did choose to acquire their abilities, and their own choices as to how to use those gifts finish the tapestry of potential choices and outcomes that make this film so rich a story.

Largely, an action film told in comic book style, Spiderman 3 is entirely a morality play. Pride is the key human frailty explored. A favorite line of mine from the movie has become, "If you want forgiveness, find religion." Forgiveness and redemption do indeed underlie the remedies found and missed by the characters as they work out their pride issues. Religion peeks out of numerous symbols and imagery saturating the film (watch for church steeples and church bells and their effects on pride personified).

There are a few weak points in the film. Too much camp was evident when trying to be humorous regarding Spidy’s new found self-confidence. A few fight scenes simply went on a bit too long. And Peter’s aunt deviates from the otherwise good morality of the film by telling him that forgiving himself and believing in himself are the hardest things to do in life. But these flaws are minor and do not really detract much from the overall experience.

Frankly, this film is very good because of the extensive contrasts, commonalities, and dualisms written into the central characters. Each one is distortedly reflected in another character or situation. Every character is dynamic, some unexpectedly so. Much use is made of visual and verbal imagery. Irony is abundant.

Yes, this is a thumbs-way-up movie choice. While not as much "fun" as the two predecessors, it is far deeper and more engrossing.

 

May 22, 2007

Three In One, an Encounter by Abraham

As I have been studying the doctrine of the Trinity in an endeavor to complete a short "guide to presenting the gospel to Jehovah’s Witnesses," I started reading Genesis 18. Jehovah meets with Abraham, but not in the form of a disembodied voice, but in the form of three men:

Now the LORD [Jehovah] appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, "My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by...and rest yourselves (Genesis 18:1-4a)

What is intriguing here is that Abraham bows down, and calls the three men, "My Lord [adoni]."

Traditional interpretations, such as those by Matthew Henry, assume that one of the "men" is either God the Father (Jehovah), and the other two are created angels, or, that one is Jesus the Son and the other two created angels. Permit me to speculate a bit. There may be merit in seeing Jehovah here in the form of three men as being incarnations of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Keep in mind that God is three persons in one, one being, one God, but three persons. Each person of God has a unique role and authority with reference to the other two, but the three are all the same God Almighty, of the same essence, of the same nature. Wayne Grudem does an excellent job describing the distinct roles and authority structure of the persons of the Trinity in his Systematic Theology. This is quite impossible for us to fully comprehend, to be sure, yet, they are all Jehovah.

Isaiah called Jesus, the "eternal Father." Isaiah was not denying that Jesus was a unique person, but he was saying that God is one, Jesus and the eternal Father are the same God. It is not wrong (or heretical) to refer to Jesus as the "eternal Father" or to call Him "Jehovah." God is one. Sometimes we Christians are a bit too squeamish about thinking of Jesus or the Holy Spirit as being Jehovah, yet, this is how Isaiah saw this truth.

When Abraham bowed at the feet of the three men and called all them "my Lord" and not "my Lords," he was offering a truth as to the identify of the men. Either only one was God, or all three were God. Yet he also said, "my Lord…rest yourselves." Now that is intriguing. One Lord, rest all of yourselves. If they were not all one, one Jehovah, how could Abraham say to just one of them, "rest yourselves"?

In verse 9 it is written of the three men that "they" asked Abraham about Sarah. Then in verse 10 it says of the three men that "he said…" How do we go from "they said" to "he said" so easily, so freely? In verse 13 the speaker is identified as Jehovah.

Even more interesting are the events beginning in verse 16, the three men stand up, and they hold a conversation with themselves. Jehovah asks the other two, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?" Why would Jehovah ask two created angels for their opinions about His all knowing, all powerful, and all perfect planning? In fact, He was likely here consulting the Son and the Holy Spirit, not two angels.

Then, in verse 20, Jehovah answers Himself by saying that He will personally go down to the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to determine for Himself if their sins warrant total destruction. Yet in verse 22, Jehovah does not go down to Sodom and Gomorrah, because He remains behind to converse with Abraham, only the two other men go down. Of course, the riddle is resolvable if we understand that all three are Jehovah. Then it is very possible for Jehovah to stay with Abraham while at the same time also personally going to investigate Sodom and Gomorrah.

In Chapter 19, verse 13, the two "men," now called angels (or "messengers" in Hebrew), state that Jehovah has sent them to destroy the twin cities. But in verse 14 they say that Jehovah is about to destroy the city.

So, were the two angels/men really Jehovah or not? Consider how Lot (the patriarch of the only family to be saved out of the twin cities) addresses these two men:

"But Lot said to them, ‘Oh no, my lords! Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die;’" (Genesis 19:18-19).

This is language that can only truly be addressed to Jehovah. No one says to an angel, "you have magnified your lovingkindness." Surely these two men were Jehovah.

If not, how the two men answer Lot is beyond understanding. Read how these two men are said to have answered:

He said to him, "Behold, I grant you this request also, not to overthrow the town of which you have spoken. "Hurry, escape there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there." Therefore the name of the town was called Zoar. (Genesis 19:21-22)

Two men are petitioned, one answers as "he" and "I," not "they" and "us." Also recall that Jehovah did not come along with these two men, so if the two men are not Jehovah, and if it is Jehovah who actually responded to Lot, then we are now back to all three being present, though the text does not support this. In short, the two who answered by saying "I grant you your request" were also Jehovah.

As if to answer the question of who is speaking (Jehovah or two angels), verse 24 says that the man (or was the two men?) who said, "I grant you this request also, not to overthrow the town of which you have spoken…I cannot do anything until you arrive there" was Jehovah Himself who "rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Jehovah out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities." Jehovah rained fire, and Jehovah overthrew the cities. But remember, it was the two angels who said they would overthrow the cities. Again, it must be true that the two men were also Jehovah.

One final note. When the two "men" first entered Sodom and Gomorrah, the men in the city attempted to assault them. So the two "men" struck the townspeople blind. It may be mere coincidence, but I find it curious that Jesus used this same technique of blindness on Paul as he rode into Damascus to imprison the Christians.

Though this passage warrants more study, there seems to be sufficient evidence to consider that possibly when "Jehovah appeared to Abraham…three men were standing opposite Abraham…and he bowed to the earth" that the three men were not created men, nor created angels, but the very creator Himself, three in One.

---

[Note: the above essay was originally posted as a blog entry which I wrote and put online May 22, 2007. As such, it was subject to public commentary as is customary with blogging. As a practical matter, I normally delete the comments entered on the blog site when building this essay archive. If you wish to read the comments posted by others about the essays, you are invited to go online, read them, or post your own comments.

However, on a few occasions the comments and perhaps my own responses to the comments are so core to understanding the essay, or the implications of the essay, that I have chosen to incorporate them, as I have done below.]

Comments to the May 22, 2007 post entitled: Three In One, an Encounter by Abraham

Begin Comment 1:

 

I have a hard time believing that the Father and the Spirit would take human form.  I think it's pretty clear from the rest of scripture that they are Spirit.  Jesus is the one who takes on human form to explain the spiritual to us (John 1:18).  I don't think there is enough in this passage to overturn this.

However, you make some interesting points with the Sodom and Gomorrah story.  I do think that what Lot said could be spoken to angels.  I think it is pretty common for men to speak too highly of angels.  The NIV translates this passage, "Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life."  The angels did just save his life after all by ushering him out of the city.  Also, I do think that angels would have the power to make men blind if it was given to them by God.  Also, I think the angels could be referring to themselves as a part of the destruction even if it was really Jehovah who was accomplishing it through them in some way.  Like I said...intersting but not conclusive enough in my mind to go against the rest of scripture.

End comment one by "stan"

Begin Comment Two:

To "stan,"

Until I read this passage I would have agreed with no second thought or reservation.  Then as I thought about any person of the Trinity appearing in human form, I recalled yet one more time that they are all spirit.  Jesus had not yet been "begotten" as a human person, so being the same nature as Jehovah, He was a spirit too during the Genesis 18 appearance.  For Jehovah, any person of the Trinity to appear as any form He desires is of small consequence to His ability.  Could not a spirit appear as corporeal even though being spirit?

I think of Jehovah appearing as a pillar of fire.  I consider Jehovah appearing as a column of smoke.  The Holy Spirit appeared in the visible form of a dove.  Also the Holy Spirit appeared as flickering flames over each apostle.  Yet Jehovah, the Trinity, is none of those things, not fire, not smoke, not dove, not man, He is spirit.

Still, the Son of God is the one who reveals God to His people.  That is the role He said He had.  And God does not change.  That is compelling reason to think that maybe one of the men was the Son and the other two created angels.  Still working on this, though a definitive answer may never happen.

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:18)

End comment two by C. W. Booth

Begin Comment Three:

Another thought after reading the scripture again.  I see no problem taking the text in the way that most of us have, which is Jesus and two angels.  The only problem I have with it being the Trinity, is the times in Scripture where it says no man has seen God and lived and since as you already said Mr. Booth, that they saw God in the fire and smoke, and other times, could those verses mean the whole Trinity?

End comment three by "Denise"

Begin Comment Four:

"...for they shall cry unto Jehovah
because of oppressors,
and he will send them a saviour,
and a defender, and he will deliver them."
(Isaiah 19:20)(ASV)-BibleGateway
 
"...At the time that God
has already decided,
he will send Jesus Christ
back again."
(1Timothy 6:15)(CEV)-BibleGateway
 
JESUS  DECLARED :
"I have come in My Father's name
and with His power..."
(John 5:43)(AMP)-BibleGateway
 
"I will come with the mighty acts
of the Lord Jehovah..."
(Psalm 71:16)(ASV)-BibleGateway

End comment four by "thevoice1"

Begin Comment Five:

 

Dear thevoice1:

Thank you for reading the blog and posting.  Having read both your blogs, I understand that you are a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses church.  As such, you do not believe that Jesus is Jehovah in any sense.  Rather you believe that Jesus is a created angel, and the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force, not Jehovah.  Further, you believe that Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead (only His spirit resurrected), Jesus did not die on a cross but on a pike, Jesus returned to Earth in 1914 (following the great Battle of Armageddon) and now rules the Earth via the Watchtower Society, Hell is not everlasting punishment, no one can become born again or become a member of the body of Christ (this spiritual remedy was closed by Jehovah in 1935), communion is no longer for the believer, and no new converts will ever gain Heaven.  As you are probably aware, such beliefs about Jesus are not "Christianity" in the historic sense, but comprise a new religion.

Not to be argumentative, but in my studies of Genesis 18, I did actually compare the text with the Jehovah's Witnesses New World Translation (NWT) and was surprised that the Watchtower Society did not choose to consistently translate the name of God into English.  Perhaps you can offer the explanation to me on their behalf?

Specifically, in Genesis 18:3, the Hebrew (translated into English) says, "and he [Abraham] said, 'my adoni [lord], if now I have found favor...'"

Yet the NWT renders Genesis 18:3, "then he [Abraham] said: 'Jehovah, if now I have found favor...'"  Why would the NWT change adoni (lord) into the name of the Almighty God, Jehovah?

Also, I am curious why the NWT chose not to say in English what the Hebrew says regarding resting "yourselves" (as I understand it this is a plural form meaning "more than one of you"): "and [Abraham] said, 'My Lord [adoni - singular, one adoni], if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves (plural--all of you) under the tree'"?  It is very interesting to me that the singular adoni (lord) is asked to rest "yourselves."

Thank you for considering my questions.

End comment five by C. W. Booth

 

May 29, 2007

Why is Obedience Better than Sacrifice?

A reader of thefaithfulword.org website wrote and stated he had recently heard a sermon in which the preacher decried any obedience that is motivated by gratitude toward God; such obedience which is generated by gratitude is hated by the Lord, he said. According to the preacher, such obedience was said to rob God of His glory because God already did all the work of salvation, and gratitude is simply too similar to attempting to pay back God for His gift. The preacher said that pay back is despised by God. Therefore, being motivated by gratitude is an abomination, and thus, quite displeasing to God.

In fact, I concur with the reader who wrote in, the preacher is simply quite mistaken. God is pleased with obedience to the very instructions and commandments He gave us, referring to them as the manner in which we "ought to walk." If one rejects that exhortation, and denies that God is pleased by our obedient walks, he rejects God Himself:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8)

The tension between duty/obedience and gratitude/joy simply does not exist as far as God is concerned.  To obey is better than sacrifice.  Of course, by that, God meant moral obedience is better than following the ceremonial law of sacrifices (if one had been morally obedient, he would not have had need to make as much use of sacrifices for sin).  But the key here is God’s priority on moral obedience.  Moral obedience is a minimum expectation of God.

It is true that we cannot repay God for our salvation.  We have no means by which to redeem ourselves (redeem means to "buy back"). So pay back for the gift of salvation is not really possible or necessary. Yet it is equally true that we MUST be grateful for that gift, and that gratitude includes working to please God which necessarily includes obedience. Gratitude is the essence of saying "Thank You" and is not an intent to repay in full for a gift given.

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28)

Hebrews informs our biblical motive for gratitude, gratitude by which we may offer to God an acceptable service, a way of saying, "Thank You."  How much more plain and clear can any passage of Scripture be?  We are required to give service to God as a token of our gratitude for the gift of our membership in His kingdom.

Most long time readers know that I place little persuasive value in arguments based in philosophy. Philosophy has a tendency to twist meaning and logic into pretzel shaped contortions resulting in the seeming ability to call good evil, and evil good. By contrast, Scripture I find to be overwhelmingly compelling. Especially such clear, plain, and unimpeachable passages as Hebrews 12:28. Gratitude must drive our obedient service to God.

No, Hebrews 12:28 does not advocate an attempt to pay back God for all He has accomplished. Nor do I. Rather, Hebrews 12:28 identifies the grace that provided us our salvation as the source of our gratitude, and it becomes the good, proper, and essential motive for our acceptable service which we may offer to God.

Just as God is pleased with our obedience to His commandments (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8), Paul says he rejoices when a Christian’s gratitude "overflows" into "good discipline" in following Christ’s commandments and instructions (i.e. obedience):

I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (Colossians 2:4-8)

In your own life, it is helpful to be fully aware that gratitude is an expectation of the Lord, and not merely gratitude, but gratitude that overflows into obedient service. If anyone challenges you otherwise, tell them you will not be "taken captive through philosophy and empty deception." Better to be obedient to Hebrews 12:28 than to man’s philosophy.

---

[Note: the above essay was originally posted as a blog entry which I wrote and put online May 29, 2007. As such, it was subject to public commentary as is customary with blogging. As a practical matter, I normally delete the comments entered on the blog site when building this essay archive. If you wish to read the comments posted by others about the essays, you are invited to go online, read them, or post your own comments.

However, on a few occasions the comments and perhaps my own responses to the comments are so core to understanding the essay, or the implications of the essay, that I have chosen to incorporate them, as I have done below.]

Comments to the May 29, 2007 post entitled: Why is Obedience Better Than Sacrifice?

Begin Comment 1:

 

Thank you for always  making the Word your focus.  If a preacher isn't using the Bible as the basis for his sermons what is the point?  As you said it's just man's philosophy and those are a dime a dozen.

End comment one by "whatisfaith"

Begin Comment 2:

Giving thanks and gratitude have NOTHING to do with paying God back but everything to do with acknowledging Him and His awesomeness.

End comment two by "Heather"

 

Begin Comment 3:

We praise God for what He has done. I praise God because I'm thankful realizing I would be eternal death otherwise. Is not Gratitude and thankfullness the same?  Could this Pastor have taken too extreme or interpretation too far by the one who listened to the message? I know many preach against good works/deeds/ or following commnandments from head knowledge to get there on their own without humbling themselves before God.

I know I work nights at times and can doze off for a few minutes during a sermon and miss a key point. Or, I can daydream off or decide to think about something esle during a sermon to miss a point.  I want Pastor's to preach the Word of God and not lead believers astray.  Leading believers astray is something to be feared on Judgment day.

End comment three by anonymous

 

Begin Comment 4:

Dear whatisfaith:

Thank you for your comments.  The person who wrote also sent along a partial transcript of the message.  It is safe to say that the preacher has a different agenda than to present a Hebrews 12:28 obedience-motivated gratitude.  The preacher was attempting to sway hearts to a philosophy of life of his own invention.

To your point, gratitude and thankfulness are essentially the same thing.  I might make this one distinction between them:  I see gratitude as my mental impression of thankfulness, whereas, I see thankfulness as expressed gratitude.  If thankfulness is left unspoken, is one genuine in their gratitude?

Similarly, if one remains disobedient to Christ's commandments, are they really grateful for the membership in His kingdom which He has freely granted?

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28)

Sad is the fact that the preacher’s words were precisely recorded on a transcript. Thank you for relating the difference in applicable ways.

End comment four by C. W. Booth

 


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