Monday, July 28, 2014

Help! "I've been worshiping a false god." A conversation with a friend.

Hi David,

My father sent me this MSG below and I don't even know how to respond. I feel like he's been this mission to disprove the God of Christianity and Jesus. I was wondering if you have heard of this and if so your thoughts on the matter.

Well I found out today that jehovah is not the creator god! I have been worshipping a false god. Gods real name is El-Elyon.His name means most high god.It was the jews who decided that jehovah or yahweh would be the real one god.jehovah is one of 77 sons born to the god EL and is there fore a demi-god or minor god.


My Response:

Hey,

I'm sorry your dad is on that kind of mission. What a sad place to be.

Unfortunately, his information is almost completely inaccurate. Some of it is right, so that's good. :)

There's a lot here so I'll keep it as succinct as possible.

(1) God is never called "Jehovah" in the Bible. That word is completely made up. Why? Jews refuse to pronounce God's covenantal name, YHWH (or with vowels, Yahweh) because of several Old Testament texts. Instead of saying that word, they actually pronounce the word "Adonai" (which means, "My Lord"). So, when you join the consonants of YWHW with the vowels of Adonai, you get "Yawohaiw." Around 1100 AD the Y was changed to a J and the spelling was corrupted a little bit to "Jehovah." So, the actual name, Jehovah, is made up from two Hebrew words in an attempt not to profane the actual name of Yahweh.

Unfortunately, this means that what your dad stated is clearly mistaken (or whomever told him that information). It is impossible for Jehovah for be a son of El because the name "Jehovah" is made up. On top of that, it was made up about 3500 years after the Canaanite religion. And if your dad meant that Yahweh was a son of El, that's also mistaken. The name of Yahweh didn't exist until the Jews introduced the term after it was revealed to them, much later than Canaanite religion.

(2) The term, "El" is a very old Canaanite/Semitic term. It means "deity or god." In various ancient literature it can be used as a general term for "god" or as a name for a particular god, the chief god of Canaanite religion. When it's used of one particular god, El, it refers to the Father/Creator of humans and animals in Canaanite religions.

In the Bible, the term "el" is used of other "gods" and it's also used for the God of the Jews. This is key: when they used "El" for the Jewish God, they didn't think that He was the same god of Canaanite religion. The Old Testament makes this very clear (there are numerous crucial distinctions like the fact that El in Canaanite religion had a wife named Asherah, while the Jewish God had no such relationships, and many more such big differences). Around 1500 BC or so, Jews were convinced that God/El revealed Himself in a particular, definitive way to Moses on Mt. Sinai in the burning bush event. At that event, they learn that God's particular name is "YHWH or Yahweh." Read Exodus 6:2-3.

So, your dad is right in that the God of the Bible is a few times called El Elyon, "God on High" (Gen 14:18-20; Deut 32:8; Ps 78:35;). In fact, there are about fifteen different forms of His name given in the Bible. They are just various titles for Him (like "God of the Mountain" and "The Righteous One" and whatnot).

Jews believed that His covenantal name - the one revealed to Moses -- was Yahweh.

All of this is quite irrelevant to the claims of Christianity. We don't worship a name of God; we worship God the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ in the enabling of the Spirit. Jesus is the center of Christianity, not a Hebrew name for God used 4000 years ago. Christianity rises and falls on the truth claims of Christianity: who Jesus was and is, what He taught and did, why He died, His resurrection, and His work in people today.

Well, that's all for now. :)

Keep up the good work! It takes time and patience sister!

How to Get Ready for Your Testimony: A Sermon on 1 Peter 3

Saturday, July 5, 2014

"God said to me..."

I once worked with a woman who, several years ago, was single and dating men occasionally. She was interested in marrying one day as most people do. Another woman came up to her one day and said with such conviction: “I was having my devotional this morning and God told me that you should give up trying to marry because you’ll never get married. God wants you to stay single for the rest of your life.” How do you think the single woman felt after that?

In case you wondered, that single woman is no longer single. She’s been married for a few years now. So much for hearing the voice God during that woman’s devotional time!

I’m sure you would agree that it’s not uncommon to hear Christians say how “God spoke to them.” Have you said it before? I say it myself from time to time. Yet, if asked to defend that concept, would you explain exactly what it means? Is it really based on the Bible or a practice in the early Church? What prevents any person from saying any crazy thing and baptizing the message with a “God-told-me-it” stamp? Unfortunately, I bet you could think for a few seconds and list some cult leaders who have claimed to “hear from God.”

Throughout the church, there have been four major sources of receiving God’s direction, will, or knowledge: (1) Inspiration, (2) Miracles, (3) Other People, (4) Scripture. Let’s think about each one. (I’ve deliberately cut back on citing too many Scripture references to conserve space.)

Inspiration: This is one of the earliest and most predominate ways God communicates to humans. Boy, if only the Bible explained how this worked! However, when you read the Old Testament prophets, what seems clear enough is that God introduced thoughts into the minds of the prophets to speak. There is no reason to assume that Yahweh only speaks four languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or Latin (the languages used in the Bible). No. Yahweh seems to have used the prophets like a hand uses a glove.  Exactly how much the prophets were “controlled” is unclear (e.g., 1 Sam 10:6; 2 Sam 23:2; Is 59:21; Ez 11:5).

We hear similar language in the New Testament concerning inspiration; except, in the New Testament, being enabled by the Spirit is related to the public proclamation of the gospel. Whenever a person publicly proclaimed the saving gospel of Jesus, it was called the “Word of God” or “God’s Word.” [Christians never referred to the Bible/Scripture as “God’s Word” since that was written. The “word of God” was spoken aloud. E.g., Lk 8:11; Acts 4:31; 6:7; et al.] When the gospel was spoken, early Christians believed that the Spirit was right in their midst, inspiring what they said and helping them stay faithful to what they had learned from Jesus (e.g., Jn 14:26; Acts 2:4; 4:31; 1 Cor 2:13; 14:6).

Hearing from God was a very big deal. It was special revelation. However, some “inspiration” was driven by evil (1 Tim 4:1). The message had to match with the apostolic teaching already passed down. This is why John told his congregation to “test the Spirits” to see if they’re true (1 Jn 4:1).

Miracles: This one’s easy enough to understand. This category would include any time an angel gives a message (e.g., Ex 3:2; Matt 1:20; Lk 1:19; 2:9; Rev 22:6), a person receives a vision (e.g., Gen 46:2; Jer 25:15; Ez 8:3; 2 Cor 12:2-4), or receives a dream to interpret (e.g., Gen 20:3; 28:11-15; Judges 7:13-14). These are quite rare in the Bible.

Other People: God speaks through other humans (e.g., Exod 7:16; Judges 13:6; Acts 9:17; 1 Cor 4:17; 2 Cor 1:4). And of course, we must remember that once God even spoke through a donkey (Numb 22:28).

Scripture: Once all of the narratives, prophecies, poems, psalms, and other genres were written down to comprise what we call the Old Testament, Jews and Christians used it to discern God’s direction in life. It was not uncommon early on to use specialists--we might say, "Bible scholars"--in understanding Scripture (e.g., 2 Chron. 17:9; Neh 8:7-8).

The same thing occurred with the composing of the New Testament: when the various Gospels, letters, poems, narratives, and other genres were collected, Christians used it to discern God’s direction in life. The entire Bible is a library: a collection of various types of literature used to teach us about God and His dealings with humans.

The early Church used the Bible as a guide. For example, Clement of Alexandria, an influential theologian (ca. 195), said, “To those who ask questions, there is given from the Scriptures the gift of the God-given knowledge.” Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage (ca. 250) said, “Be constant in both prayer and reading. Now speak with God; then let God speak with you. Let Him instruct you in His teachings, let Him direct you.”

So, there you have it. The four major sources for knowing what God wants in life: inspiration, miracles, other people, and Scripture.

So what? A few reflections.

First, throughout the history of the church, Scripture has been considered the primary means of understanding what God wants. And so it should be. God has revealed so much of who He is to us in Scripture that we should get very good at understanding how to read it and apply it well. Yet, in my experience, Christians aren’t good at this at all. Our churches are full of kindergarten-level Christians. If you’re a new convert, that’s certainly acceptable. That’s where you should be. Yet, most churches are full of people who have grown up in Church! The author of Hebrews shared the same frustration: he wanted to teach “solid foods” but they were limited to “milk” (Heb 5:11-14). On the other hand, far too many Christians think that “old so-and-so was such a strong Christian…she really knew her Bible facts.” Knowing Bible facts is good. Knowing how Bible facts should be used in Christian decision making is best. The devil knows the Bible; the devil doesn’t apply the Bible.

Second, in my experience, most Christians don’t receive instruction from Other People. I know of so many Christians who merely have superficial, acquaintance-level relationships with other Christians. How many people really know you? To whom do you confess your sins (James 5:16)? Who builds you up and who do you build up (1 Thess 5:11)? Instead of using one of God’s most vital and precious sources of guidance, too many Christians are nearly completely unconnected to other mature Christians. We get lost in a sea of smiling, well-dressed people who don’t really know each other, keep each other accountable, or know how to encourage.

Third, in my experience, so many Christians think God directs them (or they want God to direct them) by Inspiration the most, while they really beg for Miracles. That is, they expect to hear a special message from God, while they really want a special sign. I’ve heard it so many times: “Please send me a sign…” That’s a miracle. That’s asking God for a special revelation of Himself just to know what to do.

Is that bad? No, of course not. But here’s my concern: in our experience-driven age, where we typically seek an emotional experience with God, we seek after special things to evoke awe and wonder, rather than God’s instruction. That is, we chase an experience and not guidance. When’s the last time someone said to you, “I received a message from God! He said to sell my house and give the proceeds to the poor! Yeah!” Or, “I received a sign! Jesus told me to deny all of my ambitions, go confess my sins to those I’ve hurt, and seek out reconciliation. Yeah!” For some reason, when someone “hears from God” or receives a vision, it usually confirms a wish they’ve had. Not all the time, of course. But, I’ve seen this pattern all my life in the Church. And in so doing, their “god” becomes a cosmic Santa Claus, who just needs to be asked “for a blessing.”

I encourage you: think carefully for a moment. Where do you receive God’s instruction? I don’t mean where you think you ought to receive it. I mean, where, really, when you want God’s wisdom, do you receive it? Why there? If anything, what can you do to be more in line with what the Bible exemplifies?

Don’t give up. Don’t despair. Get to work in the grace of God and in the authentic relationships of other Christians, knowing that He’s waiting on you. It starts today.


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