Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Don't Say This To A Suffering Person

            Living amidst a pandemic is challenging. Every second or third person we may encounter may be suffering.

            Comforting a suffering soul is not simple. Not all of us can comfort a suffering soul. Sometimes what we say may have the opposite effect of comfort.  

            So let’s see what not to say and what to say to a person in pain and misery.

DON’TS

            The Bible advises us to not speak mindlessly (James 1:19).

            I am there for you always: While uttering words of comfort we may say, “I am there for you always. Count on me.” Let us not say this and then not contact the suffering soul or disregard them when the suffering person contacts us.

            I’ll always pray for you: This is a serious commitment we are getting into when we utter these words. Let us not say this and not communicate to the sufferer for an extended period.

            It may be acceptable if we pray diligently for this person but remain out of contact. But the alternate – to not pray – is to be dishonest.

            There is greater dishonesty: To say we are praying for him when we are actually not praying for him.

            This is an exhibition of travesty: To merely pray or wish the sufferer well when God has placed us in a position of being a greater help to them (Cf. James 2:15-17).

            To not alleviate the financial needs of a suffering soul is a classic example. To not use our authority to help a jobless person get a job is another example.

            When ministering to a suffering soul, it is better to not speak much. Instead, let us listen and offer our shoulders for them to cry on.

            Do not dismiss the feelings of a suffering soul:1 [Emphasis Mine]

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when someone tells you bad news is to deny you heard anything troubling…Changing the subject, making jokes or coming up with reasons why the problem isn’t a problem cut off communication and tell the sufferer that it’s not all right to express sorrow.

Comments like “Don’t worry,” “Don’t cry,” “Cheer up,” “It could be worse,” “It’s not that bad,” “Everything will be fine” and “Look at the bright side” can do the same thing.

When you respond in these ways, you are in effect casting aside the sufferers’ concerns and telling them you’re not interested in hearing about their struggles. This can leave them feeling unheard, misunderstood or deserted. They may feel as though they’re being corrected for feeling the way they do. Their burden becomes heavier, not lighter.

Part of the problem is thinking that when we’re facing trials, we must always put on a cheery façade, even if we’re hurting. But Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there’s “a time to weep.” It’s okay to admit we’re in pain.

Those who are hurting need you to accept their feelings and acknowledge what they’re going through. Reassure them that their concerns are valid. Allow them to be sad, grieve or cry when they’re with you. Don’t expect them to pretend that everything is normal just so you can feel more comfortable.

            Here’s more of what not to say:2 [Emphasis Mine]

1) Do not say: “It could be worse.”

…We have some odd ways of cheering each other up.

The comment is accurate—everything could be worse. We suffer and then, along with the suffering, have a comforter who says it could be worse.

Such a comment is utterly thoughtless. God himself would never say or sanction it. God does not compare our present suffering to anyone else’s or to worst-case scenarios. Ever. If we hear friends do this in their own suffering, it does not give us the right to chime in. Instead, it might be a time to warn them.

“Yes, your suffering might not seem as severe as _______, but God doesn’t compare your sufferings to others.”

If we make such comparisons, we might be tempted not to speak of the suffering from our hearts to the Lord because we would consider it whining, which it certainly is not.

So even though things could be worse, that is never an appropriate thing to say to others or to let others say about their situation. God is not dismissive of our hardships, and neither should we be.

2) Do not say: “What is God teaching you through this?” Or, “God will work this together for good.”

Those platitudes are biblical in that God does teach us in our suffering, and he is working all things together for good (Rom. 8:28). We agree with C. S. Lewis when he writes that pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf world. But these kinds of comments have hurt so many people; let’s agree that we will never say them.

Consider a few of the possible problems with this and other poorly timed misuses of biblical passages:

Such responses circumvent compassion. Will you have compassion if someone is being “taught a lesson”? Not likely.

Such responses tend to be condescending, as in, “I wonder when you will finally get it.”

Such responses suggest that suffering is a solvable riddle. God has something specific in mind, and we have to guess what it is. Welcome to a cosmic game of Twenty Questions, and we’d better get the right answer soon; otherwise, the suffering will continue.

Such responses suggest that we have done something to unleash the suffering.

Such responses undercut God’s call to all suffering people: “Trust me.”

In our attempts to help, we can over-interpret suffering. We search for clues to God’s ways, as if suffering were a scavenger hunt. Get to the end, with the right answers, and God will take away the pain. Meanwhile, the quest for answers is misguided from the start and will end badly. Suffering is not an intellectual matter that needs answers; it is highly personal: Can I trust him? Does he hear? Suffering is a relational matter, and it is a time to speak honestly to the Lord and remember that the fullest revelation he gives of himself is through Jesus Christ, the suffering servant. Only when we look to Jesus can we know that God’s love and our suffering can coexist.

3) Do not say: “If you need anything, please call me, anytime.”

This heads in a better direction; it is not quite a platitude. However, this common and kind comment reveals that we do not really know the person. Sufferers usually don’t know what they want or need, and they won’t call you. The comment is the equivalent of, “I’ve said something nice, now see ya later.” It gives no real thought to the sufferer’s needs and circumstances, and the suffering person knows it.

       Please do not be Super-Spiritual or judgmental. Read point (2) again.

DO’S  

         Let’s be connected to the suffering person. Call them at least once a week. Visit them.

        Pray with them. Listen to them. Let us offer our shoulders for them to cry on. 

        Offer them help. Every suffering person needs help. Alleviate their financial and other needs, if any.

         Here’s a very valuable piece of advice as to what to do while ministering to a suffering person:3

When a friend is suffering, rather than offering “help” that actually hurts, keep these three principles in mind:

1. Sit and listen. Having someone listen as I pour out my heart has helped me more than any words ever have. I just want someone to be there. To weep with me. To say she is sorry things are so hard. To not expect me to have perfect theology. To let me rant. What an amazing gift it is not to feel judged by every word I utter in desperation.

2. Make specific offers to help. Concrete offers are the easiest to accept. Statements like: “I’d like to bring a meal next week. Would Tuesday work or would you prefer another day?” Or “I’m about to go to the grocery store. What can I get you?”

3. Stay in touch. Pray. Write notes. Call or visit. Text. Send little reminders that we’re not forgotten.

All of us have let our friends down in their struggles. And all of us have been hurt or disappointed by our friends in our own grief. We cannot perfectly comfort someone else, and we don’t need to “fix” our friends. Instead, let’s sit with our suffering friends. Cry with them. Support them as they grieve. They need grace to heal.

Remember, our suffering friends don’t need a savior. They already have one . . . and so do we.

Endnotes:

1https://lifehopeandtruth.com/relationships/communication/what-not-to-say-suffering/

2https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/explore-the-bible/3-things-not-to-say-when-someone-is-suffering.html

3https://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2015/january-week-4/what-not-to-say-to-someone-whos-suffering.html

Websites last accessed on 30th September 2020


Friday, September 4, 2020

Cult Watch: Emperor Emmanuel Church

 

            Naïve Christians, especially from the Roman Catholic Church, are being lured into joining the Emperor Emmanuel Church. This group is located at Muriyad in Thrissur district of Kerala state, India. It is also known as ‘Zion.’

            Is Emperor Emmanuel Church a cult? Let us examine a few facts.

About

            Zion or Emperor Emmanuel Church is significantly established. They exist in India and other countries.

            This excerpt is from their website:1

Zion is the little flock that believes that Jesus Christ has come again in flesh, his true name is Emmanuel and that he will transfigure and take them to the Eternal City in the New Earth…Zion believes that God the Father will come to visit them and when He comes, they will become like Him and so they eagerly wait for Him…Emperor Emmanuel Church is located at Muriyad in Thrissur district of Kerala state, India. This Church consists of 80 local fellowships in Kerala as well as other states such as Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Puducherry, etc. Emperor Emmanuel has overseas fellowships in places like Australia, the UK, the USA, Ireland, Italy and the Gulf countries such as Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain, etc.

            Zion was pioneered by Mr. Roy Joseph aka Joseph Ponnara. (Emphasis Mine).

            Catholic apologist, Michael Prabhu has published pertinent information about Zion on his website. This excerpt provides significant details about Joseph Ponnara:2

Emperor Emmanuel is a charismatic-style, rabidly anti-Catholic doomsday cult whose centre is in Muriyad, near Irinjalakuda in Kerala. It is also known as "Zion". Its founder and leader is one Joseph Ponnara, a former drawing teacher in a school in Erattayar where he was active in the Catholic charismatic renewal. He started his activities in Thodupuzha in Kerala in 2000, calling his centre the "Embassy of Emperor Emmanuel", before moving to Muriyad in 2005 and renaming it "Zion".

Apparently, he lacks an academic background, theological formation as well as Biblical scholarship. His knowledge of English is insufficient for him to preach in any language other than Malayalam, so he depends on a translator. His only credentials are his personal interpretations of Scripture and what he claims are revelations from the Father and the Holy Mother [Mary]. Of course, he claims having discernment and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Ponnara is the cult’s sole preacher and teacher. Two priests have joined the cult. One, the elderly Fr. Joseph Ayyankoil, left the Vincentians [which runs the retreat centre at Potta and the Divine Retreat Centre at Muringoor, both of which are situated just a few minutes drive from "Zion"] in 2005. The other is a young Irinjalakuda diocesan priest Fr. Roby…

A three-storey concrete Noah’s ark is under construction at "Zion". Here, they are preparing for the Second Coming of Jesus.

But this Jesus is not the Jesus that other Christians know. Neither is the Second Coming the one that either Catholics or the fundamentalist Protestants teach.

Cultish Characteristics

            A closer observation of Zion through a cursory reading of their own website reveals the following cultish characteristics:

            A. Zion proclaims a “New Jesus” – a Jesus who has already come to earth for the second time, “Zion is a community that believes in Jesus Christ who took flesh from Holy Mother, was born two thousand years ago, preached the Kingdom of God, died on the cross, rose from the dead, and who procured forgiveness of sin for the children of God. Having received the salvation he gave 2000 years ago, this flock called Zion waits for him as a savior. Zion is the little flock that believes that Jesus Christ has come again in flesh, his true name is Emmanuel and that he will transfigure and take them to the Eternal City in the New Earth.” (Emphasis Mine).3

            In another article on their website entitled “Jesus Christ: The Savior,” Zion teaches, “Behold, Jesus Christ has come again in flesh on this earth now! Today, he is called by the Name Emmanuel, the only Name of the Son of God that God revealed to Prophet Isaiah more than 2700 years ago. The Second Coming of Jesus Christ and his Glorious Manifestation are not one and the same event, but two distinct events. Even though both these events take place in the End Times, there is a time gap between these two events. The Second Coming of Jesus Christ is his Coming in flesh from Heaven to this earth in the End Times. But the Glorious Manifestation of Emmanuel is the revelation of the Son of God in all glory after living on this earth for a period of time.

            We are now living in the time period between the Second Coming and Glorious Manifestation of the Son of God, Emmanuel.” (Emphasis Mine).4

            B. Zion has a non-biblical source of authority. In an article about Jesus on Zion’s website, Zion alludes to the non-biblical authority, “This article is not based on worldly knowledge or any human philosophy or thought. Instead, it is solely based on the knowledge that comes from faith and Divine Wisdom.” (Emphasis Mine).5

            C. Zion rejects all churches subscribing to historical biblical Christianity when it teaches that all churches will be destroyed, “Emmanuel, the Son of God, is Going to Annihilate all Churches (1 Cor. 15/24)”6

            D. Zion subscribes to a new interpretation of the Bible.

            For instance, 1 Corinthians 15:24 says, “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” (RSV).

            Zion interprets this verse as the destruction of all churches subscribing to historical biblical Christianity. This is an incorrect interpretation of this verse.

            The correct and contextual interpretation of this verse is that Christ would destroy all rule, authority, and power that opposes HIM.

            Interestingly, by teaching a new Jesus, Zion stands opposed to the Jesus Christ of the Bible. Thus, when Christ would destroy everything that opposes HIM, HE would also destroy Zion (but HE would not destroy the churches subscribing to Historic Christianity). Sadly, the adherents of Zion do not understand this stark truth.  

            Intriguingly, Zion’s own website reveals these Cultish characteristics. 

Belief

            Michael Prabhu reports that Zion believes and teaches the following:7

1. Jesus has already come on earth in the flesh, born of a virgin. His name is Emmanuel and not Jesus.

2. The name of the Father is Jesus. The Father has a physical body of flesh and blood. So, too, does the Holy Spirit. Melchizedek, the priest, and the king of Genesis 14 is the Holy Spirit.

3. The Blessed Virgin Mary, or Holy Mother as they call her, is co-eternal with the Father and was present at the creation of the world. Ponnara taught that Mary is to be worshipped.

4. While not attempting to hide the fact that they are not Catholic, and while teaching that the Catholic Church is the agent of Satan, they say the rosary, hear people’s private confessions, and celebrate Mass among other things. However, all of these are very different from what Catholics are familiar with.

5. The cult’s followers believe that the end of the world is imminent, that Jesus is already here and so are some of the prophets of the Old Testament, that they will turn up at "Zion", the Father will be there too, that only a pre-ordained 144,000 will be saved from annihilation, and that the 144,000 will only be those who accept the "Zion" gospel preached by Ponnara who is apparently, though he doesn’t say it in so many words, one of those prophets.

Conclusion

            Is Emperor Emmanuel Church a cult?

            This post offers adequate information with which you can arrive at your own conclusion.

            Their own website reveals stark cultish characteristics [about Zion]. Their beliefs, if what’s documented is factual, are also cultish.

            So, beware!

Endnotes:

1https://www.emperoremmanuel.org/page.php?slug=about_content

2http://www.ephesians-511.net/results.php?q=joseph+ponnara (A word document in this website search entitled “EMPEROR EMMANUEL A DANGEROUS DOOMSDAY CULT” offers this information.)

3https://www.emperoremmanuel.org/page.php?slug=about_content

4https://www.emperoremmanuel.org/page.php?slug=temp_four_content&id=291

5Ibid.

6https://www.emperoremmanuel.org/page.php?slug=temp_four_content&id=123

7http://www.ephesians-511.net/results.php?q=joseph+ponnara (A word document in this website search entitled “EMPEROR EMMANUEL A DANGEROUS DOOMSDAY CULT” offers this information.)

Websites last accessed on 4th September 2020.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Cult Watch: Definition, Modus Operandi and Characteristics

 

            Cults are aggressively deceiving God’s people.

            A cult is a perversion, a distortion of historical Christianity and/or a rejection of the historic teachings of the Christian church, says Josh McDowell. He also cites Walter Martin’s (a Baptist minister and a counter-cultist) definition of a cult: A cult, then, is a group of people polarized around someone’s interpretation of the Bible and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly the fact that God became man in Jesus Christ.1

            Christians are seduced by cult groups for several reasons:2

            (1) They are ignorant of the Bible (Christian doctrines) because they have not diligently read the Bible and the church they attend does not faithfully teach the Bible.

            (2) Christians do not know why they believe in what they believe.

            (3) Most cults brainwash their followers by telling them what to believe, how to behave and what to think.

            (4) Cults always emphasize their followers to depend upon the group or the leader of the group for their emotional stability so much so that any member of the cult shall not dare disobey the leadership of the cult.

            (5) Cults will devour people going through crisis in their life by offering them love, acceptance and direction.

            (6) Cults provide seemingly authoritative answers to man’s basic questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?

            It is not the stupid people who join cults. “People who join cults are not stupid, weird, crazy, weak-willed, or neurotic. Most cult members are of above-average intelligence, well adjusted, adaptable, and perhaps a bit idealistic,” says an article in the Apologetics Index.3

            Cults can be identified by the following characteristics:4

            A. New Truth: Many cults promote the false idea that God has revealed something special to them. This is usually truth that has never before been revealed and supersedes and contradicts all previous revelations.

            B. New Interpretations of the Bible: Some cults believe that they alone have the key to interpreting the mysteries in the Bible. The Scriptures are their only acknowledged source of authority, but they are interpreted unreasonably and in a way different from that of orthodox Christianity.

            C. A Non-Biblical Source of Authority: Some cults have sacred writings or a source of authority that supersedes the Bible.

            D. Another Jesus: A common characteristic found in cults is false teaching about the person of Jesus Christ in the light of historical biblical Christianity.

            E. Rejection of Orthodox Christianity: Many cultic groups launch a frontal assault on historical Christianity. One common allegation is that the church (subscribing to historical Christianity) has departed from the true faith.

            F. Double-Talk: Some cultic groups will say one thing publicly but internally believe in something totally different.

            G. Non-Biblical Teaching on the Nature of God (Trinity): Cults will usually teach an inadequate view of the Trinity or they will deny the blessed Trinity. Thus they will have a perverted view of the nature of God.

            H. Changing Theology: Cult doctrines are continually in a state of flux and have no sure foundation on which to anchor their hope. Adherents of a particular cult will learn a doctrine only to find that doctrine later changed or contradicted by further revelation.

            I. Strong Leadership: Cults are usually led by strong and central leader figures who consider themselves as messengers of God with unique access to the Almighty. Since the leader pretends to have such a special relationship with God, he/she can dictate the theology and behavior of the cult.

            J. Salvation by Works: One teaching that will be totally absent from all cults is the gospel of the grace of God. No one is taught in the cults that he can be saved from eternal damnation by simply placing his faith in Jesus Christ. On the contrary, it is always belief in Jesus Christ and “do this” or “follow that.” All cults attach something to the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. It might be baptism, obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, or something else, but it is never taught that faith in Christ alone will save anyone.

            K. False Prophecy: Another feature of the cults is they often promulgate false prophecy. They make bold predictions of future events, supposedly revealed by the inspiration of God. When these predictions do not come to pass, these leaders are exposed as false prophets.

            Some famous cults are:

            1. The Church of the Latter Day Saints (The Mormon Church).

            2.  The Unification Church.

            3. Christian Science.

            4. The Way International.

            5. The Worldwide Church.

            6. The Jehovah’s Witnesses (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society).

            Overcoming cults is possible if we know the truth. Learn how to and how not to interpret the Bible.

            Identifying an error is impossible if we do not know the truth, “…develop an intellectual depth to your biblical study. J. P. Moreland argues that two of the great Christian cults were started on the heels of the great American revivals.17 Because many of these new Christians didn’t know their Bibles very well, they were easily captured by the false teaching of these cult groups. Paul predicted that the false teachers in Ephesus would actually arise from within the church itself (Acts 20:29-30). Therefore, in the modern church, we need to learn how to interpret and read our Bibles with clarity in order to combat false teaching like this… when we have been steeped in the word of God, we become more effective at identifying counterfeit Christianity,” says an article in Xenos.org.5 

            Last but not the least; let us never forget the teachings of the Bible that motivates us to be aware of the cults amongst us in order to reject them.

            “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” ( 1 John 4:1, NIV).

            “But examine all things; hold fast to what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, NET).

            “For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted…For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” (2 Corinthians 11: 4, 13-15, NASB).

            Stay away from the cults. Remain in the Lord Jesus. Amen.  

            

Endnotes:

1Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, p17.

2Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, p18-19.

3https://www.apologeticsindex.org/265-who-joins-cults-and-why

4Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, p20-25.

5https://www.xenos.org/essays/what-cult

Websites last accessed on 2nd September 2020.


Friday, August 7, 2020

When Hope Hurts

             The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel increased in brightness. Hope gradually increased in anticipation of finally being healed and delivered after years of horrendous suffering. But alas! Just when the light seemed to be the brightest, the light died. Darkness eclipsed light. Life returned to its customary condition – being in darkness – filled with pain and misery.

            This could be the plight of a person physically ailing for years. The ailing soul’s hope could have been greatly increased when the surgeon assured healing through a final surgery. Alas, that surgery failed too. Suffering in ailment became the typical condition for this soul.

            Hope, which was as bright as a full moon’s light, was brutally eclipsed by evil’s shadow.

            This could be the plight of a jobless soul whose latest endeavor may have offered the greatest hope and then his hope was brutally nuked when the greatest prospect of reemployment deluded him again.  

            This could be the plight of numerous individuals and families living in utter misery and pain.

            Hope loomed large, and then suddenly, when hope disappeared, hopelessness became a constant companion to the suffering soul.

            There are instances when the word hope may appear to be the greatest cuss word in the dictionary of one’s life. This would certainly resonate with those living in utter misery for years together.

            This is not to say that those living under such despicable circumstances rebel against God. No, that’s not the case always.

            In fact, those living in utter misery could be devoted disciples of the Lord Jesus because of their constant dependence on HIM and HIM alone.  

            But when it comes to hope, they could choose to be pessimistic rather than being optimistic. Does this mean they lack faith that God would deliver them from their horrendous misery? That’s an incorrect understanding of a suffering soul as well.

            In order to understand the faith of the one who is in utter pain for several years/decades, watch out for the peace that remains in him (cf. Romans 8:6). If the person in pain has the peace of God both inside and outside his home, then his faith is in the right place – in the Lord Jesus.

            Even if the suffering soul is unhappy, irritable, angry, and reclusive, do not misjudge them. Their faith in Christ could still be strong, but they may genuinely be angry with their fellow Christians, who may have abandoned the suffering soul.

            These children of God may have lost their faith in their fellow Christians, but not their faith in the Triune God.

            So would a suffering soul, after years of suffering, lose faith? Would they believe that God would not deliver them?

            They could very well believe that it may not be in God’s will to deliver them. Christ did not heal every sick person at the pool called Bethesda, HE healed only one. Thus they know that it is not God’s bounden prerogative to save and heal any and everyone.

            If it is God’s bounden prerogative to heal and save everyone, people would flock to God for material benefits such as health, wealth, sanity, and success. But God will not grant material blessings to everyone seeking them. In fact, the Bible teaches that we are to primarily seek the spiritual. When we seek the spiritual, the material blessings will follow (cf. Matthew 6:33).

            Is it possible to pray for healing, but not hope for healing? If an ailing person does not hope for healing, then does it allude to his faithlessness?

            Job remarked that he does not have the strength to hope (Job 6:11). It is true! The suffering soul needs strength to hope, but when their mind loses its strength, then their hope begins to fade. However, their prayers need not cease.

            For years, these suffering souls would have hoped and longed for healing and deliverance. But all the years of hoping would have been in vain.

            It is one thing to hope for healing and not to receive healing. But it could be catastrophic to hope for healing but only to receive greater adversity. When you hope for suffering to cease, you are not in the frame of mind to receive more pain and misery. It is at this very moment that hope hurts.

            Job experienced this situation, so he groaned, “Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me.” (Job 30:26-27, NIV).

            When we experience such a situation we tend to think that God allows a situation wherein our hope could be uprooted. Job said, “He tears me down on every side till I am gone; he uproots my hope like a tree.” (Job 19:10, NIV; cf. Job 14:19).

            You will understand this only if you have experienced horrendous suffering for years together. Only then would you empathize with Job’s words, ““My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope…” (Job 7:6, NIV).

            There are situations when hope could hurt us!

            Hope that God would deliver us may fade from our lives, but the faith in God’s existence and HIS power will remain. We learn this from Job’s life when he uttered these glorious words while in utmost suffering, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27, NIV).

            Are the Christian churches geared to minister to these suffering souls? You know the answer.

            I am moderately pessimistic.

            Churches may disappoint us, but the Lord Jesus never would. Run into HIS outstretched arms. You will receive divine comfort and peace (Matthew 11:28).

            When you encounter a suffering soul, do not judge. Rather prayerfully encourage and comfort the individual and the family in Christ. Amen.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Is Water Baptism A Necessary Condition For Being Filled With The Holy Spirit?

            Acts 2:38 says, “Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (NET). After reading this verse we cannot help but think if baptism is a condition for being filled with the Holy Spirit.

            Before we go any further, let us understand the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers from the Old and the New Testament.

            Old Testament:

                        Giving of Prophecy (Ezekiel 2:2; cf. 8:3, 11:1,24; 1 Samuel 10:6 etc.).

                        Artisanship: Construction & Furnishing of the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-6).

                        Administration (Genesis 41:38; Deuteronomy 34:9).

                        Extraordinary Strength (Judges 14:19).

                        National Leadership (1 Samuel 10:10, 16:13).

                        Spiritual Life of the Israelites (Nehemiah 9:20; Psalm 51:11, 143:10; Isaiah 63:10).  

                        Produces fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2-5).

                        Brings forth justice, righteousness, and peace (Isaiah 32:15-20).

                        Devotion to the Lord (Isaiah 44:3-5; Ezekiel 36:26-28).

                        Furthermore, the Old Testament witness to the Holy Spirit anticipates a future wherein the ministry of the Holy Spirit would be more complete both in the lives of Jesus and his believers (Isaiah 11:1-5, 42:1-4, 61:1-3; Joel 2:28-29).

            New Testament:

                        In the New Testament, the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Lord Jesus was significant. But we will not examine this aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit because we are focusing on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. So the Holy Spirit, in the believer, does the following:

                        Conversion, which includes repentance and accepting the work and promises of Christ (John 16:8-11).

                        Regeneration - the miraculous transformation of the individual (John 3:3,5-6).

                        Being witnesses for Christ (Acts 1:8).

                        Guidance, Counsel & Teaching the believer (John 14:16-17,26, 16:13-14).

                        Intercession for the believers (Romans 8:26-27).

                        Produces Sanctification (Romans 8).

                        Imparts Spiritual Gifts (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 4:11).

            When we observe the diverse works of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers, how can we not but deeply desire for an overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit in us? If we, until this very moment, have not deeply desired for the ever-increasing presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, let us do so now.

Is Water Baptism A Prerequisite?

           The Bible is replete with instances of believers being filled with the Holy Spirit (continually being filled with the Holy Spirit for increased sanctification). But is water baptism a prerequisite for being filled with the Holy Spirit?

            Let’s examine a few verses that do not stipulate water baptism as a condition to be filled with the Holy Spirit:

            1. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born (Luke 1:15).

            2. The followers of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31), and there’s no mention of baptism here. If these followers were the 5000 who believed in Jesus (Acts 4:4), then it is reasonable to believe that the filling of the Holy Spirit happened before their baptism.

            3. In a more explicit scenario, the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit even before they were baptized (Acts 10: 44-48).

            4. Apostle Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was baptized (Acts 9:17-18).

            Since there are explicit references in the Bible for water baptism not being a condition for believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit, we conclude that believers could be filled with the Holy Spirit even if they're not baptized.


Disclaimer: The intent of this article is not to assert that water baptism is unnecessary in a believer’s life. Water baptism is necessary, but it is not a condition to be fulfilled for the believer to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Similarly, the author believes that water baptism is not a necessary condition for a believer’s salvation.


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Would God Lead Me To Marry The Person Of HIS Choice? (Reconciling God’s Will & God’s Knowledge)


            Some marriage related questions in young people are:

            1. I want to marry a girl according to God’s will, but would God will that I marry girl ‘A’ and not girl ‘B’?

            2. Does God know who I would marry?

            3. Would God lead me to marry the boy of HIS choice?   
   
            Consider a young girl’s prayer to God to lead her to marry the boy of HIS choice. This prayer presupposes that God knows which boy is the best possible fit for this young girl. Another presupposition is that God would intervene and lead this young girl to marry the boy of HIS choice.

            The first presupposition is predicated on God’s knowledge and HIS will. The second presupposition is predicated on God’s intervention in human affairs. 

            In order for God to lead a young person to marry according to HIS will, God should know who this young person should marry. Thus there is an overlap between God’s knowledge and God’s will.

            Three broad questions are in order for a greater understanding of God:

            (1) Does God have a specific plan for your life and mine? Is there a God’s will for you and me?

            (2) Would God intervene in my affairs and enable me to do HIS will?

            (3) Would God foreknow our choices?

            First, does God have a specific plan for your life and mine? Most surely, yes! While affirming God’s plan for our lives, Dr. William Lane Craig asserts that we have the freedom to make our choices, and he advises us as to how we could do the will of God:1

God has promised to guide us along life’s path.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3.5-6)
A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. (Proverbs 16.10)…
I suspect that those who oppose the idea of a specific plan of God for your life are reacting against a sort of divine determinism, according to which God moves us about like toy soldiers on His playing field to do His will. But affirming that God has a vocation for your life or a mate in mind for you in no way implies that we are puppets. We have the freedom to do God’s will or not. Even Paul could say, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” through which he received his calling to become an apostle (Acts 26.19). Indeed, the fact that we can miss the will of God for our lives and have to settle for His backup plan underlines the importance of walking in the Spirit, not grieving the Spirit through sin in our lives or quenching the Spirit by failing to respond to His guidance. None of us perfectly lives out God’s plan for his life, but God can still guide you from whatever juncture in life you are at.

            Second, would God intervene in my affairs and enable me to do HIS will? Yes!

            To say that God cannot intervene in human affairs is to question God’s immanence (i.e. God is inactive or not with us) or God’s omniscience (i.e. God does not know what to do) or HIS omnipotence (i.e. God is powerless).

            In the Old Testament, Joseph’s life was a testimony to God’s intervention in human affairs. For example, the instance where Joseph was betrayed by his brothers was a part of God’s plan (cf. Genesis 50:20).

            In the New Testament, Jesus did not idle in a corner, waiting for people to become HIS disciples. He intervened in the lives of HIS disciples when HE called them to become HIS disciples.

            Similarly, the resurrected Lord Jesus intervened in the life of Saul while he was on the road to Damascus (Acts 22: 6ff).

            Today, Jesus appears in dreams and visions. Thus HE intervenes in your life and mine.

            God’s intervention in human affairs is in both tangible and intangible forms. The intangible intervention of God is when HE ministers to us through a gentle whisper (cf. 1 Kings 19:12).

            Third, would God foreknow our choices? I ate cornflakes for breakfast today. Would God have known yesterday that I would eat cornflakes today? Yes, God most certainly knows why, when, and what we would do in the future.

            Does that mean I was determined to eat cornflakes? Did I not choose (based on my free will) to eat cornflakes?

            Just because God knows what we are going to do in the future does not mean that we are determined by God to do them. Dr. William Lane Craig clarifies this predicament:2

If God foreknows everything that happens including our choices then are we really free to do otherwise than as God foreknows we shall do? In other words, does God’s foreknowledge imply a kind of theological fatalism about the future that everything that happens happens necessarily. I argued that that conclusion does not follow so long as we keep clear the distinction between the chronological priority of God’s knowledge to the event foreknown but the logical or explanatory priority of the event foreknown to God’s knowledge. God’s knowledge does not determine the event. If we use the language of “determine” we would say that the event determines what God foreknows.
So when Judas’ betrayal was predicted by Jesus, Judas had the ability not to betray Jesus. He did not have to do it. But if he had chosen not to betray Jesus then God would have foreknown that instead and Jesus would not have predicted it. So we have the ability to do other than as God foreknows that we shall do, but if we were to do other than as he foreknows that we shall do then he would have foreknown something else instead. So long as we keep that distinction between chronological and logical priority clear I think we can see that God’s foreknowing the future doesn’t in any way threaten human freedom.

            Thus, we have the freedom to make choices and God knows our choices.

            So the following is clear:

            (1) God has a specific plan for you and me. That includes education, marriage, occupation et al.

            (2) God could also intervene in our affairs to enable us to do HIS will.

            (3) God knows our choices even before we decide.

            Although God knows our choices, our choices need not necessarily be according to HIS will and pleasure. We are more than capable of disobeying God. When we disobey God, we would not be doing his perfect and pleasing will for our lives. God has blessed us with free will, which enables us to accept or reject God’s plan for our lives.

            So those who pray to ask God to lead them to meet the person of HIS choice should walk in the Spirit and not grieve the Spirit of God by willfully ignoring or sinning against HIM.

            We are not done yet.

            There is a very important learning awaiting us.

            God’s will need not always result in a perfect, joyful and blissful wedded life.

            Remember Hosea? Hosea was a prophet in the Old Testament who was instructed by God to marry a prostitute named Gomer.

            How would Hosea’s married life have been? Not in any way perfect, joyful, or anything close to that.

            Interestingly and not surprisingly, that was God’s will for Hosea!

            In order to comprehend this and more, read Dr. William Lane Craig’s answer to multiple questions regarding marriage: [Emphasis Mine]3

Question:
Hi Dr. Craig,
I'd like to probe you more on your views of divine providence and marriage in particular. I believe you've said that God has a specific marriage partner intended for each person (unless perhaps that person is somehow called to celibacy).
This seems on the surface implausible, as from personal experience from many people there are many apparently suitable partners that one could marry. On your view then, would things somehow not be as good if one marries some other seemingly suitable partner? How could anyone know if the person they married is the 'right' one and that they didn't miss meeting someone better?
Does your view also mean that some people who are single haven't met or won't meet the right person because the partners they were meant to marry married someone else (perhaps because these partners were disobedient to God's direction, or made a mistake etc)?
Answer:
It’s important to note that my claim that God does have in mind a specific person for you to marry…So, of course, His plan for your life will include the monumentally important choice of whom you shall marry. Moreover, God has promised to guide us through life, so that as we walk in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, we shall not wander from the plan He has for us.
Now you say such a doctrine is prima facie “implausible.” Why? Because based on experience there seem to be “many apparently suitable partners that one could marry.” This objection evinces a drastic misunderstanding of what I affirmed. I have no doubt that there are many people you might marry who would be wonderful partners, resulting in a fulfilling and God-honoring marriage. But that fact is in no way inconsistent with the claim that God has in mind one specific person He wants you to marry.
What underlies your objection is, I think, the assumption that God’s only grounds for preferring one person rather than another is suitability. That seems obviously false. Think, for example, of the children you will beget and their progeny and theirs, on and on into the future. Your descendants are utterly unique. The course of world history shifts based on the person you marry in ways that are beyond our discernment.
Moreover, —and here I raise a radical thought—suppose God wants you to marry someone who is not well-suited to you…we have a natural tendency to think that God’s purpose for human life is to make us happy. But on the Christian view that is not true. The Bible says, “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (I Thessalonians 4.3). You may be brought more into conformity to the character of Christ by suffering in a marriage that is not what you dreamed it would be. God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1.2)! We’re all broken people psychologically, and God may work in you or your spouse’s life through each other’s shortcomings, as you both learn to forbear and forgive. God has much wider things to achieve in this world than our happiness, and the partner He picks for you will be the person with whom you can best advance the interests of His kingdom.
So on my view, would things not be as “good” if you were to disobey God’s will and marry the wrong person? That depends on what you mean by “good.” I suspect you mean that if you disobeyed God, would your marriage be less happy and fulfilling? Based on what I’ve just said, the answer is obviously, not necessarily! But the overall goodness of the world or the interests of God’s kingdom may well be impaired by such a disobedient choice.
“How could anyone know if the person they married is the 'right' one and that they didn't miss meeting someone better?” We have the confidence that as we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, God will guide our steps. So we need to focus on being the right person ourselves rather than on finding the right person. Certainty is never possible, but there’s no need to worry: just focus on being an obedient, Sprit-filled Christian and trust Him to lead you.
With respect to your last question, “Does your view also mean that some people who are single haven't met or won't meet the right person because the partners they were meant to marry married someone else (perhaps because these partners were disobedient to God's direction, or made a mistake etc)?”, keep in mind that God via His middle knowledge knew of that person’s disobedience in advance and so has a plan for your life that takes that into account. You might have similarly asked, “What if the person God intended for me to marry was never born because her parents were disobedient and failed to conceive her?” We needn’t rack our brains about such dizzying scenarios because God knew that such a person would not be born and so would not be His intended will for you. Similarly, a person who, had she been obedient, would have been God’s intended for you is not in fact God’s intended precisely because she was disobedient.
The bottom line is: don’t focus on finding the right person; focus on becoming the right person.

Endnotes:

1https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/guidance-and-gods-plan/

2https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-3/s3-doctrine-of-god-attributes-of-god/doctrine-of-god-part-15/

3https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/does-god-have-a-specific-marriage-partner-for-you/

Websites last accessed on 10th June 2020.