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Thoughts on Christian spirituality.

The last hundred years of history show that God is still prophetically active

A few weeks ago I wrote an article titled "Reasons why I think God exists". In it, I gave a very brief overview of just over 25 reasons why I think it's sensible to assert that God exists. On reflection I wonder whether or not it appeared to be the case that I put too much emphasis on fulfilled Bible prophecies regarding Israel. The reason it looked that way was because I started putting together my personal list of reasons when I was starting to look into the topic of Christian Eschatology. For a while, my proofs for God's existence merely consisted of a list of facts regarding Israel's regathering and over time I added other reasons that were not prophetically or eschatologically based.

One hundred years since the Balfour declaration of 1917, the most powerful country in the world has become the first to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital city. It's hard to see this, and other related events of the past 100 years, as anything other than amazing for the Jewish people, who 100 years ago did not even have a country to call their own. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the major events regarding Israel over the past century have been fulfilment of Bible prophecy:

  • The Balfour declaration in 1917.
  • The declaration of the independent state of Israel in 1948.
  • The capture of Jerusalem in the Six Day War of 1967.
  • The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017.
  • You can certainly get a sense of the magnificence of these events by reading some of Benjamin Netanyahu's recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly earlier this year:

    Ladies and gentlemen, in this year of historic visits and historic anniversaries, Israel has so much to be grateful for. One hundred and twenty years ago, Theodore Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress to transform our tragic past into a brilliant future by establishing the Jewish state. One hundred years ago, the Balfour Declaration advanced Herzl's vision by recognizing the right of the Jewish people to a national home in our ancestral homeland. Seventy years ago, the United Nations further advanced that vision by adopting a resolution supporting the establishment of a Jewish state. And 50 years ago, we reunited our eternal capital, Jerusalem, achieving a miraculous victory against those who sought to destroy our state.

    Theodore Herzl was our modern Moses, and his dream has come true. We've returned to the Promised Land, revived our language, ingathered our exiles, and build a modern, thriving democracy.

    In this article, I shall try to give a few more details regarding why I think God exists, expanding on the Israel-centric short headlines that I provided previously.

    This is a well discussed topic

    I am not the only person to notice that Israel's regathering in 1948 seemed to be against all odds. Many Christians believe it to be the fulfilment of Bible prophecy and it has been discussed extensively over the years. For example, Dr Robert Newman gives a fantastic summary in his article "The Regathering of Israel", and there are other summaries available too. Focusing on eschatology, Mike Bickle gets quite enthusiastic in his articles.

    The Jews never lost their identity

    In AD 70 Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. This was because the Jews rejected Jesus as their king and therefore were left to their own devices. They were mostly expelled from the land and ended up residing in many countries until the end of the second world war.

    Despite this diaspora, the Jewish people managed to maintain their unique identity for 2,000 years. They did this without a land of their own, and also without their usual temple rituals, and without leadership. In fact, God said this would be the case via a prophecy written in Hosea:

    Hosea 3:4-5: For the Israelites shall remain many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the Israelites shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; they shall come in awe to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.

    I know of no other nation that was destroyed and then subsequently regathered after a long time. When nations are conquered, the people normally lose their identity and become the people of a different nation.

    Jerusalem has been extensively trampled on

    In Luke 21, Jesus said that Jerusalem would not belong to the Jews any more until it has been trampled on extensively by other peoples.

    Luke 21:24: They will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

    Indeed, after 70 AD Jerusalem was conquered many times by many different civilizations. From the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Empire, Jerusalem was occupied by more than ten nations until 1948.

    Jerusalem has been trampled on by the nations

    It took two world wars for Jerusalem to become available to the Jews once again. In the first world war the Islamic Ottoman Empire collapsed and the region became the mandate of the British Empire. After the second world war, in which the Jews were nearly wiped out, they moved in large numbers to the land we now call Israel and declared an independent state. In 1967 they won a defensive war and took Jerusalem, thus ending the times of the Gentiles.

    Jesus' prophecy fits very well with what actually happened:

  • "They will ... be taken away as captives among all nations": In AD 70 Jews were dispersed among the nations.
  • "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles": Jerusalem was conquered by other nations.
  • "...until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled": Some time afterwards, the Jews will be able to reclaim Jerusalem.
  • I find that remarkable.

    The familiarity of the Balfour declaration

    The Balfour declaration gave the Jews hope that they could have a land of their own after the first world war:

    His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

    This declaration, made in 1917, seemed to be quite similar to the various commands to rebuild Jerusalem that are described in Ezra (particularly chapter 7) and Nehemiah. The book of Daniel tells us that the specific timing of the command to rebuild Jerusalem was the starting point for a prophetic clock regarding the appearance of the Messiah and the destruction of Jerusalem, and for this reason Daniel chapter 9 is probably one of my most favourite passages in the whole Bible. Although no such weight is given regarding any possible future declaration, for me it could be prophetic or merely coincidental that many of the important events regarding Israel in the past 100 years can be counted in 10s from the original 1917 declaration - 1947/48, 1967, and now 2017.

    A second regathering

    The commands to rebuild Jerusalem in Ezra and Nehemiah could technically be regarded as a small regathering, but it's pretty clear that these commands were mostly ignored by the Jews at the time who seemed quite content to remain in Babylon and the surrounding area. Nonetheless, in Isaiah 11 God said that the Jews will be regathered from all nations:

    Isaiah 11:11: On that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that is left of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Ethiopia, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.

    This verse is pretty amazing in my opinion. Notice the emphasis on how this regathering is for the "second time", and that the people will be regathered from nations a lot further than merely Babylon. There has been a massive influx of Jews during and after the establishment of Israel in the past 100 years from many countries, including Russia - initially not very amicable to the idea. Furthermore, there are in fact dozens of Bible verses regarding the regathering of the Jews, each just as good as this one. It's something worth paying attention to.

    Personally, I love the anecdote about babies being born in-flight during the migration of Jews to Israel. I wonder if the women involved felt particularly special when they read Jeremiah 31:8 and discovered that God was thinking of them in the ancient past:

    Jeremiah 31:8: See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.

    Born in a single day

    A few years ago my attention was drawn to a specific passage in Isaiah. It had such an effect on me I decided to take a closer look at other prophetic Bible passages, and it's fair to say that it is the reason why I am so interested in Bible prophecy today.

    Isaiah 66:7-8: Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be delivered in one moment? Yet as soon as Zion was in labor she delivered her children.

    To me, the Jewish declaration of the independent state of Israel in May 1948 strongly corroborates this prophecy of the nation of Israel being born in a single day. The newspaper article describing this event even goes as far as to use the term "born"!

    The State of Israel is Born!

    Not only that, but a large number of countries including the United States worked to immediately recognise the new state. I don't know whether or not the newspaper editor was aware that by using the term "born" in their headline they were fulfilling Bible prophecy, but the sudden and immediate nature of the recognition of this new state is hard to ignore. Countries generally don't collude to fulfil Bible prophecy!

    A Six Day War

    In my opinion Israel's crowning achievement took place in 1967 when they fought a defensive war against a coalition of surrounding enemy nations and managed to take possession of Jerusalem. One of the most surprising facts about this for me is that this war only lasted six days, and ended on the Jewish Sabbath, as if such things could have been planned in advance.

    Possibly a minor coincidence, I'd agree. However, it doesn't change the fact that after this war, the Jews no longer considered themselves in a diaspora and for the first time in 2,000 years they once again owned Jerusalem. Israel was whole, and has been for 50 years.

    The jubilee gap

    Jubilee years don't seem to be particularly important to us or the Israelites. They were very rarely celebrated. However, they are important to God, so if God himself ordains a time of celebration every 50 years and the Israelites ignore it completely, it does not mean that God also ignores them. I haven't looked into this in great detail, but I think that some major Biblical events occur in Jubilee years. I am willing to consider the possibility that the 50 year gap between the Balfour declaration in 1917 and the capture of Jerusalem in 1967 means that both events could have occurred in Jubilee years. Unfortunately, we do not know for certain which years are Jubilee years any more, and we don't know exactly how many days are in a Biblical prophetic year (for example, it could be 365.25, it could be 360 etc) but if these two events have occurred on Jubilee years then that gives us some sort of indication. And of course, the recognition of Israel's capital Jerusalem in 2017 is 50 years after 1967 and 100 years after 1917 - a reason to celebrate!

    Israel can't lose

    Somehow against all odds, and mostly on their own, Israel has survived multiple defensive wars against coalitions of surrounding enemy nations and in fact has made gains in these wars. External support for Israel is a recent thing: Israel had no military allies until after the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

    Israel's survival is remarkable. It is not ordinary for Israel to have won as if there were no contest. Israel's enemies should have been victorious, especially considering their advantages. Yet despite all of this, it seems to me that God was involved and whenever God supports Israel, Israel can't lose.

    Fast technological advancement

    Despite existing for only 50 years Israel can be rightfully considered a first world country. It is a technologically advanced country with many skilled people who have transformed the landscape and the economy and the culture for the better.

    God said this would happen

    The regathering of Israel is such an historic event that God wants to be known for it, even more so than the original exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

    Jeremiah 23:7-8: Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, "As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt," but "As the Lord lives who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them." Then they shall live in their own land.

    The east gate in Jerusalem remains closed

    According to Jews, the Messiah is destined to open the eastern gate of Jerusalem. Thanks to an Orthodox Jew amongst a group of Israeli commandos at the time, it is for this reason the gate was not demolished as part of a surprise attack in 1967. This is part of the reason why David Reagan from Lion and Lamb Ministries found the topic of Bible prophecy so captivating.

    It amuses me to think that the only thing that someone needs to do in order to significantly weaken the power of Bible prophecy is to simply go and open some gate, but of course I don't think it will happen. It could end up being a lot like when an earthquake coincidently happened to take place when there was an attempt to rebuild the Jewish temple before the time of the Gentiles was fulfilled.

    Restoration of Hebrew

    Zephaniah alludes to the language of the restored people of Israel, and thanks to great scholarly work Hebrew is now the resurrected, official language of Israel.

    Zephaniah 3:9: At that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.

    What is missing of course is the spiritual revival of Israel, a marvelous practical prophetic picture that God gives Ezekiel in Ezekiel chapter 37.

    And that's just my list

    So now I get to add another item to my list: 100 years after the Balfour declaration, an unusual United States president leads the way in recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital city.

    As I said before, these are just my personal reasons. I've expanded on them here to try to show what I have been thinking, but they aren't supposed to be a complete, authoritative list. There are many other reasons to believe that God has been prophetically active regarding Israel in the past 100 years, and I'm sure we can now see that God will continue to be prophetically active in the future. God still has more to do regarding Israel and in the future, He will continue to fulfil Bible prophecy.

    Ultimately, Jesus' last words regarding the nation will be fulfilled:

    Matthew 23:37-39: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

    Once Israel accepts Jesus as Messiah, He will return.

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    Why don't Christians do what the Bible says?

    A little while ago, Tony responded to my call for the "hardest Bible question" by asking:

    Why don't Christians do what it says?

    I started writing a response sometime in 2014 and now I am finally getting around to finishing that response. Obviously, I take all questions seriously!

    I had a think, and here's what I came up with.

    Is the Bible actually important?

    Let me ask you a question: do you think that the bible is important? I figure most Christians would immediately give some sort of positive answer to such a question - "of course it's important!". Nonetheless, I think it's possible, and maybe even likely for many Christians to say that the Bible is important, but to behave differently. Often, a person's actions give away their true beliefs. I think that a substantial number of Christians consider the Bible unimportant for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Perhaps they think for some reason that the importance of the Bible is on par with the importance of other religious texts, such as the Qur'an or Tao-te-Ching.
  • Perhaps they think that importance diminishes with age and therefore since the Bible is very old and historical, it shouldn't be treated as such important book today.
  • Perhaps they've already read it once and don't fancy reading it again.
  • Perhaps they struggle with the idea that it is an authoritative book.
  • A matter of understanding

    In order to successfully obey an instruction, it is necessary to understand the instruction. Therefore, in order to do what the Bible says, it is necessary to actually understand what it says. I think some Christians struggle to understand exactly what the Bible is asking them to do, for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Should we pay attention to the parts of the Bible that some consider to be deprecated? For example, what about all of those bits in the Old Testament?
  • What about those passages in the Bible that have multiple possible interpretations?
  • Should we only obey Jesus, or should we also obey Paul?
  • Is there a hierarchy of importance regarding the things that the Bible says?
  • Psychological reasons

    People so often underestimate the weight that psychological factors affect our reasoning. Even when we really understand something, we can still miss the essence of that thing. When it comes to the Bible, what sort of psychological reasons might come into play in regards to obeying it?

  • Some people may think that the Bible is generally boring or difficult to approach and engage with.
  • Perhaps the sort of language used in the most commonly adopted Bible translations are not as engaging today as they were intended to be when they were first written.
  • Perhaps the Bible asks too much of us and therefore, because we find it too difficult to obey, we drop the whole matter.
  • We see that other people around us don't do what it says, therefore we shouldn't need to put that sort of pressure on ourselves.
  • Cultural reasons

    Let's not forget important cultural considerations:

  • Cultural Christianity leads to people identifying as Christian by name only.
  • Many Christians are happy to get their knowledge from regular sermons rather than reading the Bible for themselves.
  • It has become an eccentric action to read and obey the Bible. For example, atheists seem to want to claim ultimate knowledge and to evangelise a world in which we shouldn't be referring to an "ancient book" such as the Bible.
  • We live in an era of Information Overload, and facilities like the Internet are keeping us too occupied to focus on things like the Bible.
  • How can we do what the Bible says?

    First of all, it is vital to read what the Bible says so that we can know what it says and therefore do what it says. Does this sound a bit obvious to you? Certainly, but Christians don't read the Bible.

    Then, we can try to better understand what the Bible says. There are commentaries all over the internet. There are also apologetics websites all over the internet to help you understand the tricky bits. Just do some searches.

    But it all comes down to this

    Others have contributed to this question, as it is a common question.

    Nonetheless, I think the question that is actually being asked here is not the same as the question that has been phrased.

    We see people all around us claiming to be Christians of some sort, but not acting kindly towards others. To love other people well is the essence of "doing what the Bible says", regardless of their personal attributes or social standing.

    Let's not understate the necessity of a close, personal relationship with God as the basis for everything else that follows in the Christian life. You'll be surprised at how everything else seems to come naturally, and this includes a natural tendency to pick up and read and understand and obey the Bible. And it wouldn't be an obligation.

    More questions?

    The original article asking for questions is still open, so feel free to ask me anything you like! Hopefully, I won't appear to obsess over each question as much as I appeared to do so for this one...

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    My three favourite Christian worship songs for 2017

    As we draw to a close this year I thought I would describe some Christian worship songs that I have really enjoyed listening to and singing along with at various events such as Soul Survivor, Naturally Supernatural and Shine Swansea and generally in my day-to-day.

    Soul Survivor have just released their album for 2017 called "The Promise" and I am currently enjoying those songs on Spotify.

    So, what are my favourite songs for this year?

    What a Beautiful Name

    In first place is this fantastic song from Hillsong's Brooke Ligertwood that is quite wordy and the song is better for it. The eight lines in the bridge are worth learning and can be quite anthemic.

    What a Beautiful Name - Brooke Ligertwood

    I'm quite partial to Bethel's rendition of the song, sung by Kalley Heiligenthal because it is also sung quite enthusiastically.

    Oh What a Saviour

    Also known as "Jesus I Love You", this great and simple song has only just been released as part of the "The Promise" album I linked above, and has also just been made available on the new Naturally Supernatural YouTube channel. It's so good the song appears on the album twice, and from what I've been able to gather in Tom's recent radio interview and his twitter feed, people love it!

    I think it made its debut in the summer of 2016 at Soul Survivor, because it was covered in the Late Night Worship venue by visiting worship leaders. However, it would take about 18 months for it to finally be released more publicly. In time, I'm sure it will become more widely available and covered but for now the only way you can listen to it is via iTunes, Spotify, a single YouTube link (below) and by purchasing a physical copy of the album (ah, how quaint!).

    Oh What a Saviour - Tom Smith

    On Twitter, David wrote:

    It was the youth that picked up on it. They usually focus on the upbeat dance praise tracks, but JILY was the one they associated with the most at SS16. Totally changed their whole attitude and mindset to praise and worship abs what is all about.

    So Will I (100 Billion X)

    Also created by Hillsong, this song written by Joel Houston Benjamin is a weirdly titled entry that comes in third place as perhaps the most wordy of all of the songs on this list. Good luck learning the lyrics! My favourite version of this song is the one sung by Abbie Simmons from the fantastic Upper Room Dallas church.

    So Will I (100 Billion X) - Abbie Simmons

    The Upper Room channel has a great selection of other fantastic songs, such as Wild & Crazy.

    A Worship List

    I created a public playlist on YouTube that contains a lot of other worship songs that I like. Feel free to check it out!

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    Reasons why I think God exists

    Over the past year I created a little text file on my computer listing the reasons why I think God exists. Whenever I think of another good reason I add it to the list, and the same is true whenever I stumble across another good reason in my day to day, mostly while browsing Christian websites. I refer to my list whenever I start to doubt and it's actually been very useful for me because it means I can treat God's existence as a given and move on to more important things, like living the Christian life and working with the Spirit, who is no doubt amused when I load it up.

    Some of the reasons on my list are really, really good. For example, it's fair to say that God almost certainly exists philosophically speaking. Other reasons are simply based on observations and high probability. For example, Israel's regathering is a pretty powerful statement in discussions about the modern fulfilment of ancient Bible prophecy. Finally, some of my reasons are rather personal, perhaps a bit contrived, yet useful to me even though they can seem a bit daft to others. For example: numerical calculations and colours of flags as evidence of the fulfilment of Bible prophecy.

    I think it's time to publish this list and therefore provide what is essentially a very brief but hopefully compelling proof for the existence of the Christian God. I won't be the first to do so, it's been done before by many people, some compelling and some not.

    It is my intention to write about some, if not all of these points in much greater detail in subsequent articles.

    So, on to my list:

  • The moral, fine-tuning and cosmological arguments for God's existence are quite convincing.
  • C. S. Lewis' argument from desire is emotionally convincing.
  • A belief in Jesus' resurrection is a reasonable conclusion for anyone who sincerely considers it a possibility and then thoroughly analyses all of the available evidence.
  • Daniel 9 gives a specific, dated prophecy about the appearance of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem, which no reasonable scholar would deny actually happened.
  • Jews are a civilization that maintained their identity for 2,000 years, without land or leadership as per Hosea 3:4.
  • After 70 AD, Jerusalem was conquered many times by many different civilizations as per Luke 21:24.
  • The Balfour Declaration in 1917 is similar to the commands to rebuild Jerusalem in Ezra (particularly chapter 7) and Nehemiah.
  • Possibility of 50 year gap between 1917 and 1967 being a "jubilee".
  • Israel was regathered from all nations, a second time, as per Isaiah 11:11.
  • Declaration of independent state of Israel seems to fulfil the prophecy of Israel being born in a single day as per Isaiah 66:7-8. News report of the day actually uses the term "born", likely unintentionally.
  • Ezekiel 4 specifies 430 years of punishment for Israel but Israel only served 70 years in exile. It's worth considering the possibility that the remaining 360 years, multiplied by 7 (as per Leviticus 26), takes us to 1948.
  • There were 19 years between declaration of state in 1948 and the capture of Jerusalem in 1967, which is the same amount of time between Babylon conquering Israel and capturing Jerusalem.
  • Interestingly, Israel's most important recent war was the Six Day War in 1967 which only lasted six days and ended on a Sabbath. Jerusalem was conquered almost "accidentally" in 1967.
  • Israel has survived multiple wars from coalitions of surrounding enemy nations and in fact has prospered in defensive war, almost entirely without external support.
  • Israel has existed for less than 50 years yet is at the front of technological advancement, and is a desirable place to live when considering the surrounding nations.
  • Israel and the Jews generally attract an unusual amount of contempt that is not easily explained. It can be said objectively that the UN is heavily biased against Israel.
  • God now wants to be known for His regathering rather than the original Exodus as per Jeremiah 23:7-8.
  • The east gate in Jerusalem remains closed.
  • Hebrew is the official language of Israel as per Zeph 3:9. Christianity may have been the strange bedfellow to ensure its survival.
  • The colours of the four horsemen of the apocalypse (white, black, red and green) are the exclusive colours of the flags of Islamic nations surrounding Israel today.
  • The Christ/Antichrist relationships in Islam and Revelation are set up so perfectly many can be easily deceived by Islam during the end times.
  • One of the few distinct earthquake fault lines run through the right side of Israel, especially over the Mount of Olives (Zech 14:4).
  • Consciousness is baffling.
  • The bible states things that were only recently known scientifically (i.e. Isa 42:5, especially Job 38:31).
  • There is no objectively good evidence that aliens exist.
  • Regular, accurate and impossible-by-human-means exhorting prophetic ministry by the likes of Shawn Bolz.
  • It's hard to completely disown the sheer number of people who claim to have experienced a miracle.
  • The terse nature of this bullet-point list does not do the arguments justice, but each is worth considering. As I said earlier, I therefore intend to explore some or all of these points in future articles!

    I've opened up comments on this article. Why do you think God exists?

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    Five bible passages you might have misunderstood

    Most Christians would agree that there are some passages in the bible that are very challenging, for various reasons. Perhaps they contradict other parts of the bible, or maybe they seem to demonstrate that God approves of actions that are clearly evil, or perhaps they just seem massively out of place. In this article I will discuss five well-known passages that are often easily misunderstood. For each of the passages, I shall seek to provide an alternative point of view. My responses are not necessarily authoritative, but hopefully they provide food for thought.

    Do not kill

    Let's start with a simple example taken from listverse.com, referencing Exodus 20, verse 13.

    You shall not murder.

    What people think it means: Do not kill.

    What it actually means: Do not murder.

    The bible distinguishes between killing and murdering. This means that it is possible to kill someone but not murder them.

    The article at listverse.com describes this in more detail, and contains many more examples of easily misunderstood bible passages, so be sure to check it out if you fancy some further reading.

    Criminals on the cross

    Now, let's take a look at the passage describing Jesus' hanging on the cross in Luke 23, verses 39-43:

    One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"

    But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."

    Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

    Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."

    What people think it means: The criminal went to heaven on the same day that he died.

    What it actually means: One possible alternative to consider is that, since the original text didn't actually have any commas, the introduction of the comma was somewhat arbitrary. Without commas, the verse reads "truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise" and can therefore feasibly be translated as "truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise". Various websites discuss this in depth, but they do not necessarily agree with this alternative interpretation.

    The 120 year life span

    Let's take a look at some fascinating pre-flood story from Genesis 6, verses 1-3:

    When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the Lord said, "My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years."

    What people think it means: Human lifespans shall never exceed 120 years.

    What it actually means: In 120 years, God will send the flood, notably at the time of the death of Methuselah. There is documented evidence of people living longer than 120 years in modern times.

    Sacrificing humans

    Now, here's a tough one. Here is a passage describing Jephthah's regretful promise in Judges 11, verses 29-38:

    Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."

    Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.

    When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, "Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break."

    "My father," she replied, "you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request," she said. "Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry."

    "You may go," he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.

    What people think it means: Jephthah's daughter was sacrificed as a burnt offering. God doesn't mind.

    What it actually means: Jephthah's daughter sacrificed her virginity. Note the focus in this passage on the state of Jephthah's daughter's virginity. Jephthah's daughter is stated to have spent a lot of time lamenting her virginity, rather then her death. The passage even ends by specifically saying "and she was a virgin". Note, in particular, that God's opinion on all of this is not expressed.

    Onanism

    Lowering the tone ever so slightly, let's take a look at Onan in Genesis 38, verses 8-10:

    Then Judah said to Onan, "Sleep with your brother's wife and fulfil your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother". But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord's sight; so the Lord put him to death also.

    What people think it means: Masturbation is a sin.

    What it actually means: Deliberately disobeying God's clear command is a sin. In this situation, God's will is clear and unambiguous.

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    What is the hardest Bible question that you can think of?

    So, this is probably the first meta-post that I have created since I relaunched my website after murdering the previous incarnation. I hope that you have enjoyed reading the various articles that I have published over the past couple of weeks. From now on, I hope to publish a new article every Friday. It does take quite a while to put together each article so every now and then there may be a week where I don't publish anything.

    Until now, I've created my own narrative in terms of what to talk about. This has included news, discussions on theology and lists of interesting things about the bible. More recently, I even put together a quiz.

    Now, here's your chance to direct the future in terms of this website. I'm particularly interested in receiving challenging bible questions, so if you have a question that you'd like to see answered in a future article, then please let me know. You can either tweet me, or add a comment below.

    Comments have been enabled for this post so that you can ask your tough bible question. Questions will be answered in future articles.

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    Do you know your books of the bible?

    I've put together a simple quiz, testing your ability to remember where in the bible certain books appear. How many questions can you answer correctly?

    Books of the bible

    Question 1/10: What is the first and last book in the bible?

    1: Exodus, Revelation

    2: Genesis, Revelation

    3: Genesis, Exodus

    4: Genesis, Matthew

    How many points did you get?

  • 0-8: You have a rather mediocre grasp of which order books appear in the bible.
  • 9-10: You appear to do nothing all day except memorise the order of books in the bible.
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    Why I do not have a problem with predestination

    In recent years Michael Ramsden, from RZIM, has been gracious enough to host several seminars at the Momentum summer conference. One of his more popular seminars involves asking the audience to come up with the hardest theological questions that they can think of and then answering them live. Possibly out of necessity, he asks the audience to write down the questions on a piece of paper so that he can pick and choose which ones he answers. Notably, he is heavily biased toward those questions that have chocolate bars attached.

    I've attended several of these seminars, and I've come to realise that the question most commonly asked by Christians concerns the topic of predestination. Christians seem concerned that they may not have free will if their future is determined in advance. Michael's live answers always left me a little disappointed, but he did upload a more involved version of his live answer to his website.

    Personally, I've never really had much difficulty with the implications of predestination.

    Suppose, for whatever reason, I've managed to put myself in such a position that I can know exactly what you are going to do next. I then have two choices. I can either choose not to interfere with the timeline in any way, and thus ensure that events will take place exactly as I have forseen. My other option is to interfere with the timeline, and in some way tell you what you're going to do next. You will then have two choices. You can either conform to what I have said, or perhaps seek to do something contrary to my prophecy in order to make some sort of statement to prove me wrong. Note that in both cases, you have had free will to choose what happens next. You may disagree with the conclusion, but keep in mind that this isn't too far off what we as humans are already capable of. We already have technology that allows us to go back in time without being able to interfere with the events that subsequently take place.

    I think that the actual issue that Christians struggle with concerning predestination is what follows should this argument be taken to its logical conclusion: That sometimes, God does interfere with the timeline, and does tell people what is going to happen in the future. Following that, events happen exactly as they are described. The reason why Christians struggle with this is obvious: How can you claim to have free will if God tells you what you are going to do, freely, and you cannot possibly make things happen another way?

    Personally, I don't have a problem with this either. Suppose God does tell you about the future. In this case, I feel inclined to believe that it would be inconsequential whether or not God told you about the future. In this scenario, I subscribe to the belief that it would be safe for God to let you know what you are going to do if God were certain that it wouldn't affect the outcome. I like to imagine playing around with an Excel spreadsheet in order to figure out what would happen in certain situations. Suppose God is playing with a cosmic spreadsheet and figures that nothing would change regardless of whether or not He told you about the future. God can then make a choice about whether or not to tell you, without any adverse consequence. The two possible resulting timelines would of course need to be extremely close to one another to make God's decision to interfere inconsequential.

    Of course, God can also choose to not tell you what He knows will happen in the future.

    In both of the above situations, you can still claim to have had the free will to do whatever you please, and you are therefore responsible for your own actions.

    Well, that is why I personally don't struggle with the implications of predestination. I suppose I would start to struggle if I were to consider what would happen if God knew the future, knew that disseminating that information would in fact change the timeline in some way not related to the revelation, and then proceed to go ahead and disseminate that information. I suppose I shall leave that scenario as an open question - what do you think? In this scenario, God is purposefully changing the future by informing people about it, either for our benefit or for His. Would that be cheating?

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    Did you know that Katy Perry used to be a Christian singer?

    I'm sure you've heard of Katy Perry, but have you heard of Katy Hudson? Katy Perry is merely her stage name. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that she had previously pursued a career in gospel music, and released an album called "Katy Hudson" in 2001.

    Here is some footage of her previous work. This first video is her song "Search Me".

    Katy Hudson - Search Me

    If you're into vintage media, then there's also an interview:

    Katy Hudson Interview

    Personally, I find it difficult to figure out whether or not Katy has abandoned her Christian faith, or to determine whether or not she even had a Christian faith to start with. As always, it's not my place to imply one way or another. I have noticed that there are some websites that have done some investigation. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of bias in the discussion.

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    Vicky Beeching's Gay! Who cares?

    So, the news it out today that our beloved, well-received Christian Worship leader (and now, media commentator) Vicky Beeching is gay. No doubt, there will be some sort of media frenzy over this. After all, she's a lovely woman and has historically been in a position of leadership, leading worship at large Christian events such as Spring Harvest and Soul Survivor (my personal favourite, in fact I will be attending this year's conference next week).

    I just wanted to add my own personal thoughts to this, as if it really matters (I suspect it doesn't). My thoughts are no doubt a tiny ripple in the waves of a potentially outraged Christian community. Actually, I'll take that back. I don't think there will be an outraged Christian community in uproar over this, because frankly, I think most people will have a very similar opinion to mine. Specifically, "so what"? When I read the news, I was not particularly surprised. This is not because I have inside knowledge, or divine knowledge, but rather, because I know there's nothing sinful about being gay and if Vicky was born that way (or even grew to become that way), then that's more of a minor personal struggle than a major issue that should cause people to think twice about having her host events.

    Whether or not I should have labelled it a "struggle" is possibly up for debate, but the fact remains that Vicky loves God and has a personal relationship with Him, therefore it's well outside of acceptability for me to have a negative and public opinion about her and her ministry. I'm sure God will continue to bless her.

    The challenge is this: Does this news cause you to reconsider having Vicky preach, teach and lead worship at your church?

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