“Jonah: Fact or Fiction”

“Dude, you’ll never believe the fish I caught on my last trip to the lake…” We’ve all heard stories that began something like this. However, we’ve learned to listen to fishing stories with somewhat of a skeptical eye because we realize that every time the story is told, the fish seems to get bigger and bigger. Recently at Maranatha Baptist Church, we began a study through the book of Jonah during our Sunday Night service. While Jonah is one of the most familiar Bible stories, I have a feeling that many people consider it to be another “fish story”; something that is too fantastical to be true. While Jonah is a fish story, in fact the biggest fish story ever told, I think readers of this ancient book must take into account all of the evidence before you make a decision.    

While the book of Jonah has been the subject of much debate as to its historical and literal validity, some are willing to conclude that the question of Jonah’s historicity is not important because the lessons of the text can be understood and taught apart from a historical background. Therefore, some would claim, Jonah can be read as an allegorical or mythological text that is intended to relay truths about God; however, the events themselves never truly happened in time. Unfortunately, this is not a tenable position for Bible-believing Christians. Either Jonah happened or it didn’t. And if it didn’t, then we have a big issue on our hands because the Bible presents Jonah, not as a fairy tale, but as true history. So how can we come to any conclusion on this book?  

While the amount of space given in this article does not allow for an in-depth discussion, an overview of the issue will suffice. First, the question must be asked, “Why do people assume Jonah cannot be a true historical record?” The reasoning behind these assumptions are: 1) the events of the “great fish” seem far too fantastical and unrealistic, 2) our contemporary understanding of Nineveh doesn’t match with Jonah’s account, and 3) there seems to be no historical verification of Nineveh’s repentance. 

First, is has been debated as to whether a whale (a likely candidate for the “great fish”) could actually swallow a human whole. Once in the belly of the animal, how could Jonah have survived for three days? Yes, these questions are valid; however, they miss an important part of the narrative, namely, that God is involved in all of these circumstances. An argument based on the whale/fish is merely a denial of the supernatural. The God who created this world and all living things in it can certainly make them do things that would normally be impossible; that’s the very definition of a miracle (cf. Matt. 19:26). So while things beyond human understanding occur at times in Biblical events, that does not, in and of itself, prove the record false.  

Secondly, through excavations and other archeological work, information has been gathered about ancient Nineveh and its surrounding walls. It has been concluded that the city was not as “an exceedingly great/large city” as Jonah makes it out to be (3:3). However, the possibility of Jonah referring to the territory around the city, as some expositors conclude, or the fact that Jonah may have seen more than is available to archeologists today both make this a weak claim on the historicity of the text. 

Finally, the claim that no extra-biblical text contains a record of the repentance of Nineveh as proof of its lack of historicity is found wanting. For example, the repentance of Nineveh only lasted for a short time, as later God brings judgment upon the nation for its continued sin and corruption and how the nation leads people astray (cf. Nahum 2:8, 3:7). With this in mind, it is understandable why there would be no record of the repentance of the people.

The primary reason, however, to trust the book of Jonah as historical fact is because that is the way the Lord Jesus Christ treated the book. “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40).” In this text Jesus compares His own death and resurrection, truly historical events, with that of the Jonah’s time spent in the great fish. Therefore, if one is going to doubt the historical validity of Jonah, one may be dangerously close to doubting the historical validity of the resurrection of Christ.  

Instead of coming to the book of Jonah with suspicion, it is better to regard the book just as it claims to be: a true and historical record of a prophet raised up by God for a particular reason in a particular time in history. While many people work tirelessly in order to somehow disprove the Bible or cause you to question its validity, the Bible can be trusted. The Bible is true. The Bible is the Word of God. Likewise, the record of the prophet Jonah is not merely a “fish story”, rather, it is the true Word of God.

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Ruth and the Providence of God”

The Bible shows the world as it truly is and at times, it’s not a pretty picture. Reading through the book of Judges proves to be disconcerting as one encounters the outworking of sinful man. Whether we are referring to graphic violence (cf. Judg. 3:21-22, 4:21), human sacrifice (cf. Judg. 11:29-40), or rape (cf. Judg. 19:22-30), it is clear that the book of Judges is not for children. The closing line sums up the essence of the book, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judg. 21:25) This is one of the reasons the brief book of Ruth is a breath of fresh air as we move forward in our Bibles.

            Taking place during “the days when the judges ruled,” (Ruth 1:1) the book of Ruth reassures the reader that faithfulness to God remains even in the darkest of times. Drs. Hill and Walton explain: “Rather than Israelites abandoning their loyalty and deserting the worship of Yahweh for other gods, the story portrays Ruth acting out of loyalty and embracing Yahweh, denouncing other gods, even as that which becomes the Davidic line hovers on the brink of extinction.”

            Being a fairly short book at only four chapters in our modern Bibles, Ruth is a beautifully constructed narrative that covers multiple emotional scenes within a brief amount of space. Kennedy writes, “The story as a whole in amazing brevity, [achieves] superb balance between the absence of details and the presence of all essentials.” It is the mixture of the engaging love story, covenant loyalty and faithfulness, and God’s gracious providence that has made the book of Ruth much beloved among the people of God.

            As the story opens, we are introduced to a man named Elimelech and his wife Naomi. Together they are driven to the country of Moab by a famine in Judah. This Ephrathite family from Bethlehem remains in the land long enough for their two sons to marry woman of Moab. After a span of some time, Elimelech and his two sons Mahlon and Chilion die, leaving the women as widows.

            Recognizing that her only hope is to return to her homeland, Naomi encourages her daughters-in-law to stay behind in Moab and remarry.  One of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, responds, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

            It is when the women make it back to Bethlehem that the story really begins to move forward. At first, Naomi, in her bitterness, seems as if she wants to give up all hope for life even as Ruth hopefully stays by her side. Again, this is not a story that is intended to simply teach a moral. but to show how real people deal with hardship and how God is faithful to them when it seems like all is lost. However, the question remains, “How will God provide for Naomi and Ruth?”

            Question 15 of the Baptist Catechism of 1693 asks: “What are God’s works of providence?” to which the answer given is: “God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions.” Meaning, God is not a distant, derelict Father, but is intimately involved in daily care over His creation. God governs and preserves His creatures through ordinary, daily means. His activity in events and circumstances may not be explicitly seen or understood, however it is certain. An example of God’s continuous providential care can be seen within the circumstances found in the book of Ruth.

            Ruth and Naomi’s problems begin with the basic need of food; yet ultimately the need is for family. How will the family line of Elimelech continue? When they arrive in Bethlehem, Ruth decides she will go to the fields to enact the gleaning laws, which seems like a very normal choice, given the woman’s destitute state. As she heads out to the fields, the narrator comments that “[Ruth] happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.” (Ruth 2:3) The text literally states “as chance chanced” Ruth came to this particular field to glean. Did Ruth come to this field simply by an act of luck? Iain M. Duguid explains: “Only, as the narrator is inviting us to see, there was no such luck driving this chain of events. This was all part of a higher plan. It was nothing less than a divine appointment that brought Ruth to the fields of Boaz.” The hand of God leading this situation in order to bring about His purposes in the lives of these individuals.

            The book of Ruth is a lovely and inspired story that shows us God’s daily provision and care of His people. Even when the people of God fall into times of calamity, He is there and His care is never ending. The beauty of Ruth is found in its simplicity and fullness. The story is simple, yet the richness of its teaching and purpose has great depth. Ruth teaches God’s people how to trust the Lord through suffering, it teaches how to believe in God’s providential care even in the  midst of life’s greatest storms. Finally, Ruth is a piece of God’s great plan of redemption in action. Through these brief events, we see a glimpse of Christ, God’s promises made flesh. Ruth will continue to be comfort and joy for the people of God until we all see our Kinsman Redeemer face-to-face.

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Theology Is Only the Beginning”

Whenever my wife and I get the opportunity to travel to a new place, we have a few things we generally like to do. First we look for local book stores to see if we can find some hidden treasures. Secondly, we check to see if any local theatres have shows in production. Finally, we enjoy visiting the art museums, especially in big cities.

            My favorite period in art history is the Impressionism of the late 1800’s. So when we are deciding which art museum to check out, I always ask if they have any work from Monet, Degas, Pissarro, Renoir, Cassatt and the like. If they do, that’s where I want to go! I love to stare at these masterpieces, the swirls of colors, the movement on the canvas; it all just captivates me.

            Likewise, I am a firm believer that one’s study of theology, the study of God, who He is, what He has done, should be captivating. While some may study theology because they want to great debaters, or want to be known as intellects in the church, I believe it is imperative for all Christians to have the desire to study theology because we love God and want to know Him more.  

            Our study of God should lead to deeper devotion, more joyful worship, and sacrificial service to God. I try to share this passion in my local church by 1) encouraging a daily walk with God, 2) implementing dynamic, expositional preaching and teaching of God’s word, and 3) fostering an environment of intentional evangelism.

            To begin with, it is important to recognize that any true relationship is built upon the basic principle of talking and listening. Many people claim to know God and have a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ, yet they spend little to no time talking and listening to God throughout the week. If a husband treated his wife like this, one would believe they had a very troubled marriage. Likewise, I encourage people to spend time cultivating a daily talking and listening relationship with God. This is done very simply through intentionally spending time in prayer and Bible reading. This should not be something that becomes just another thing to check off of the “to do” list. Rather, followers of Christ should love this time and look forward to it every day with great joy.

            Secondly, as we teach and preach systematically through books of the Bible, Christ-centered churches should try to show how God’s word ought to continue to overwhelm us. As we listen to Bible messages, we should be filled with awe as we read the very words of God and recognize who we truly are and what He has done for us. A dynamic Bible message should be one that accurately follows and is faithful to the text. It also should show the joyful delight that comes from studying God’s word. This means that listening to the preaching of God’s word at church should not merely be a passive activity where one simply sits and listens to a lecture. Rather, as we hear the Word of God preached we should be actively engaged, following the arguments of the Biblical writers, and weighing what is said by Scripture.

            Finally, theology should shape how we live and serve God. Churches should desire to foster an environment of intentional evangelism. If local churches were more involved with sharing their faith in the community, I believe that they would be healthier and stronger. That is to say, church members would grow in their love and knowledge of God. I do not believe that numerical growth is the sole way that we are to measure the benefits of evangelistic endeavors. Instead, I see evangelism as a way to grow the maturity and faithfulness of God’s people as we perform that task given to us by our Lord (cf. Matt. 28:19) while we look to Him for the results.

            Evangelism can be nerve-wracking and scary for people, but this should cause us to depend upon God to help us and strengthen us through any opportunity. Perhaps a Christian may not have an answer to a question during an evangelistic conversation. This will drive them to God’s word so they are able to answer that question in the future. When a church is intentionally witnessing the truth of the gospel, they will grow closer together in prayer and fellowship. 

            I believe that if we can continue to grow and encourage each of these areas that local churches will come to understand more and more that our theology, our understanding of God, is not the end, but the beginning of loving, serving, and worship Him.

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

   

“The Big Picture of Salvation”

“Don’t miss the forest for the trees.” This familiar idiom helps people grasp the big picture and not get lost in the details. When it comes to salvation, at times Christians have lost sight of the big picture of what God is doing in salvation and have relegated it to simply “asking Jesus into your heart.” While this is a fine way to teach children, God’s redemptive plan is bigger than we can possibly imagine. We can begin truly appreciating what God is doing in the work of salvation by tracing this important topic through the pages of the Old and New Testaments. 

            God’s salvation of humanity began before time itself. God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). That is, God’s plan to redeem fallen sinners is an eternal decree dependent solely on His mercy and grace. Through the unfolding of redemptive history, we see how this eternal decree has worked out in the lives of God’s people.

            To begin, God created a good world, free of sin and corruption. “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31).” The crowning work of creation was man and woman. Created in the image of God, they were called to spread the image of God all over the world (“Be fruitful and multiply”) and to act as the under-rulers of creation (“have dominion”). Yet they gave into the temptation to sin and, consequently, now had a broken relationship with God, bringing punishment and death into the world. However, in the midst of the curses God justly gives as a consequence of sin, there is a glimmer of hope. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15).” Theologians regard this verse as the first announcement of the gospel, or the protoevangelion. God promises to redeem sin through one who will destroy the evil one. It is this “seed promise” that must be traced in order to see the unfolding of God’s redemptive work. 

            The failure of mankind to live up to God’s standards is evident by the continuous fall into sin in Genesis 3-11. However, in Genesis 12, God makes a covenant promise to Abraham which ensures fulfillment; namely, that God Himself will be the one who brings about the desired ends. When the other iterations of the creation mandate were given, it was up to mankind to perform (cf. Genesis 1:28, 9:1, 11:4). Yet, in the Abrahamic Covenant, God takes the role of completing the task Himself. “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3).” The unconditional nature of God’s promise to Abraham becomes the hope through which the people of God could ever be assured of salvation (cf. Romans 4).

            The giving of the law is the next question. If God’s covenant with Abraham was unconditional, why did God give the law through Moses? The Apostle Paul explains “It was added because of transgressions (Galatians 3:19).” So as God calls Moses to lead the people out of slavery, He gives them His law so they may 1) come to know, love, and serve the one true God (Ex. 20:3, Deut. 6:5-6), 2) be protected from the nations which surround them, and 3) recognize their utter failure to live up to God’s holiness. (Rom. 3:19)

            The sacrificial system was put in place not merely as a means to cleanse from sin, but to point forward to a perfect sacrifice. It can be said that the law, sacrifices, and rituals were merely shadows prefiguring the reality that was to come (Colossians 2:17). King David says: “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering” (Psalm 51:16). Yes, the law required sacrifices, but David recognizes it has always been the heart that God is trying to get to. 

            Throughout the history of Israel, it becomes clearer that these chosen people will never live up to the holiness of God on their own. Through various rulers and kings, through exile and return, the people remained hopeless in their own strength.

            Yet God had not forgotten the promise made to Abraham. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). When Christ comes to earth, God’s plan crystallizes (Matthew 1:21). The people needed a seed, or offspring to defeat the work of the serpent. When Jesus is born, the promise is fulfilled (Galatians 3:16).

            Jesus is the faithful Israelite, the promised seed come to destroy the works of the serpent (Revelation 12:9). Therefore all of the unconditional promises of God belong to Him. How can we receive these benefits? By being united with Him in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:5). 

            Christ’s sacrificial death upon the cross atones for the sins of His people and His resurrection assures that sins have been forgiven. When individuals come to Christ in repentance and faith, they can be sure of salvation. We can be certain of the unconditional nature of salvation as promised to Abraham by virtue of our union with Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10).

            At Christ’s return, we look forward to glorified resurrected bodies in which we love and serve Him for all eternity. We look forward to a New Heaven and New Earth where righteousness dwells. We look forward to the final stage of salvation where all of God’s people enter into His presence with great joy, finding all of our rest and peace in Him forever (cf. Rev. 21:3-4).

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Am I Ready To Die?”

“So I’m dying… faster than everyone else.” These are the words of Claire Wineland in the trailer of a new documentary about her life. Claire is a popular face on YouTube, an online video community, as she has shared her story of growing up with cystic fibrosis. Some of her most engaging talks deal with her perspective of living with the imminence of death. Claire explains, “When I was born, I had a life expectancy of 5 years old. And then it moved to 10 years old. And then it moved to 13 years old. And then it moved to 18 years old…” She explains how the eventuality of her death has always been in the back of her mind; yet she must find ways to live in the moment, not allowing the thought of death completely consume her.

Claire Wineland

            This is a topic relevant to us all as death is, in fact, a part of the grand scheme of life. It is the ultimate statistic: 10 out of 10 people will die. So perhaps, the question we must consider is, “Are you ready to die?” Now, this is not intended to be a morbid thought experiment, but rather an important aspect of self-reflection. It is possible that some of you are living your last days. Some readers may know they are in their last days and others may not. In truth, no one really knows how much time they have left. Still, the question remains pertinent: “Are you ready to die?”

            The knowledge of impending death is often romanticized in popular music and films. So when an individual learns he has an incurable disease, he is told to live those last few days with great joy and passion. One country song says, “I went skydiving. I went Rocky Mountain climbing. I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu…” I’m not saying that is the wrong response, I’m just wondering how realistic it is.

            Wrestling with the reality of death is not new. People of every place and time have spent moments wondering about what happens after we die. Do we just cease to exist? Do we go to some sort of an afterlife? How can one truly know?

            Writing around the year 380 BC, the Greek philosopher Plato constructs an interesting dialogue in his book The Republic on this very topic. The conversation is between his teacher Socrates and an older man named Cephalus. As they speak about aging and wealth, Cephalus moves the discussion to the reality of death and how people think about death as it slowly, but truly approaches.

            “When a man thinks himself to be near death, fears and cares enter into his mind which he never had before; the tales of a world below and the punishment which is exacted there of deeds done here once a laughing matter to him, but now he is tormented with the thought that they may be true.” In other words, what is to come of me when I die?

            One of the most famous lines in all of Shakespeare’s plays comes from Act 3 of Hamlet. In this scene the prince of Denmark cry’s out, “To be, or not to be? That is the question.” Hamlet considers whether life is worth living anymore. Is it “nobler” to go through the pain and suffering of life? Or perhaps death would be a nice escape from hardship. “To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in the sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this moral coil… Must give us pause.” Again, what is to come of me when I die?

            I am not trying to belabor the question incessantly. I only intend to make sure that we all take this question seriously before it is too late. You see, while we may personally not know what exactly happens when we die, there is One who does. One of the central claims of historic, biblical Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. So central to the Christian faith is this truth that the Apostle Paul declares that if Jesus did not truly rise from the dead, then Christians are simply fools wasting their lives (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:14). However, if Christ did truly rise from the grave, then all of His words and teaching are instantly vindicated. He knows what is to come.

            “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27).” This alone, like death itself, is bad news. The gospel is the good news that God has made a way for broken sinners such as myself to be made right with Him through faith in Christ alone. The gospel is made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) Jesus lived a perfect life, died the death we deserve, and rose again defeating sin and death; when we turn from our sins and believe in what Jesus has accomplished for us we can be certain that we have eternal life. That death from this life is not the end. Do you have this hope?

            Sadly, Claire Wineland died September 2018 at the age of 21 due to a stroke after complications with a double lung transplant. Life is truly a precious gift. While Claire lived knowing that death could come at any moment, we often do not. So take some time today and think about this topic. Again, ask yourself, “Am I ready to die?”  

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“When God Doesn’t Hear Your Prayers”

Having a close friend, someone you can talk to about anything, is important. Yet we’ve all been in a situation where those same bonds can become fractured. In these moments it is no longer an easy thing to pick up the phone and connect. Similarly, followers of Christ must recognize that we have a great, merciful God who loves to hear the heart cry of His people but that connection can become fractured at times. What I’m trying to say is, God doesn’t always hear your prayers. Did I get your attention?

            That idea might seem foreign in our day and age. We sometimes have a vision of God being some cosmic grandfather who doesn’t care about our actions but merely “sees the good in us all.” Biblically speaking, nothing could be further from the truth. God cares about who you are and what you do. And sin is such a big deal to God that the only way for Him to appease His holy justice was to send Jesus to be die in the place of His people. Sin is a big deal to God, therefore it needs to be a big deal to us. One way we can come to understand this is through the way the Bible speaks about prayer.

God Only Hears The Prayers of His People
            If I’m out in public with my daughters and I hear one of them call, “Daddy!” I turn immediately and listen. However, if another child calls “Daddy!”, I simply ignore it. Why? My responsibility is for my children. The children of God are those who have come to trust in Christ through faith alone. These are the ones who have been given “the right to become children of God (John 1:12).” These are the ones who hear the voice of their Shepherd and know that they belong to Him (cf. John 10:3).

            Those who do not belong through faith to God’s family remain separated from God because of their sin. The Prophet Isaiah says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” The consequence of this separation is that God does not hear your prayers. Isaiah continues, “and your sins have hidden [God’s] face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2) So when a non-believer tells me they’re praying for a new job, or for healing, I wonder why they think God will listen. This person continues to ignore God in every aspect of life. The prayer that really needs to come from the mouth of unbelievers, and one that I know God hears, is the prayer of a contrite heart who makes a confession of sin and a desperate need for Christ. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).”

God Does Not Always Hear Christian Prayers
            “What do you mean God doesn’t always hear the prayers of Christians?” If you are a true follower of Jesus Christ, God doesn’t just save you from your sins (justification) but He desires that you are continually growing and maturing (sanctification). One way God does this is by teaching that our prayer life will be hindered when we indulge in sin. “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened (Psalm 66:18).” Loving my sin more than God is a sure way for me to lose connection with Him.

“When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood (Isaiah 1:15).” Dr. John N. Oswalt comments, “Prayer is not a device that allows sinful persons to continue in sin. Rather, it is a way that a repentant worshiper communicates with a gracious God. Prayer is useless without true repentance.” True followers of Christ will hate having a fractured relationship with their God. Therefore, we must recognize this situation in order to confess and turn back to God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).”


God Does Not Hear Selfish Prayers
            Finally, we must keep in mind the purpose of prayer. Prayer is not the Christian version of making a wish. Prayer is first and foremost communing with the God of the Universe. Prayer is aligning our heart and will with God’s. Therefore, God will not hear our selfish prayers. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (James 4:3).” Pastor John Skaggs of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church here in Globe comments on this verse, “God is not a Genie in a bottle to summon when you have a wish. God is holy, holy, holy and will be treated as such by his children.” I don’t care what those false teachers on “Christian” television say, God is not going to hear your petty prayers for fancy cars or bigger houses.

Prayer is an amazing gift from God. Being able to communicate with our Creator is simply mind-blowing. So please, pray and pray often. But remember, if you want God to really hear, approach Him in His way: humbly, with a desire to have His will be done. Having direct contact with the God of the universe is the most important connection you could ever have. This is the relationship that we should desire above all.

 Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.     

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Let The People Think!”

I love the theatre. To be clear, I’m not saying that I love a particular room with a stage and seating; no, I love the art of the theatre. I love the stories. I love the power a play can have as an audience is suddenly transported out of their own reality for a moment and placed within the imaginary circumstances provided by the playwright. I love how a well-done production causes audiences to laugh, or cry, or think. For all of these reasons and more, I love the theatre. It saddens me to see the theatre slowly fading from our culture. However, while it lasts, I think the theatre is an important means of illuminating ideas, political or otherwise, in a way that all people can grasp. This has always been a strength of the arts, to act as a mirror of the culture.

            Years ago I had the privilege of directing a production of Seussical, a musical retelling of the beloved stories of Dr. Seuss. Although the play is very colorful and energetic, I wanted my actors to find moments of substance that would ground the characters. One particular moment that we discussed was in the musical number “The Biggest Blame Fool”, wherein the majority of the characters are harassing Horton the Elephant because he believes something which no one else does. His large ears allow him to hear the tiny Whos on the dust speck, while the others cannot. The Sour Kangaroo leads the other characters in singing, “Tellin’ lies, makin’ jokes it’s an elephant hoax! Brother, that’s against the law! Breakin’ the peace, creatin’ a fuss! Somebody’s thinkin’ different than us! Biggest blame fool in the Jungle of Nool!”

            Right there on the page, the line jumped out to us. “Somebody’s thinkin’ different than us!” What does this mean for the characters in the story? They feel empowered to treat Horton however they deem right, whether that is to chase him off, incessantly harass him, or even throw him in jail. Thought crimes are just too much for these silly creatures to handle.

            The crazy thing is, however, while this silly musical is intended to entertain children, it gives a lucid look at an important topic in our own day and age. Namely, the popular culture is becoming more and more aggressive toward those whom they see as committing a “thought crime”. In other words, “Believe like us, or else.”                           

            In last week’s article I gave an historical sketch of Isaac Backus and his role in the fight for the separation of church and state in the 1700’s. Though I didn’t give much commentary throughout the article, one of my primary purposes was to highlight the fact that people of all backgrounds should desire that we retain, as a nation and in culture, the vital right of free speech and free thought. While most people seem to affirm this ideal, sometimes the evidence points in other directions.

            Separation of church and state is the basic concept that the state will not mandate a particular church or religious philosophy to be believed by all at the consequence of judicial punishment. Yet, what about the philosophy, dare I say “faith”, of the secular culture? Should that be mandated by the state? Should individuals be punished if they do not bow the knee to the cultural “religion” of the day? Backus wrote, “How can such a union be expected so long as that dearest of all rights, equal liberty of conscience is not allowed?” So while certain groups and individuals will call for the freedom to express their ideas, in the next breath, they call for others to be punished for expressing contradictory ideas.

            “Wait a second,” someone may interject, “haven’t religious people done the same thing as various points in history?” To that I respond, yes! There have been individuals and groups that have done horrendous things to people with contrary ideas in the name of religion. I am ready and willing to admit that. However, just because people of the past did erroneous things does not mean would should continue the habit. Instead, we must be able to work together to ensure that the freedom of conscience remains intact in our culture.

            So while the secular world view gains more and more traction, the question must be posed about the place for people of faith. Will religious believers be allowed to think their own thoughts or should the state curb their ideas? Will Christians be allowed to be Christians in a Biblical and historic sense or will the powers of the culture bring their wrath upon the church?

            These questions become more and more important as we approach another election cycle in which candidates for the office of the President of the United States come forward to vie for your vote. Albert Mohler comments, “The candidates need to be asked if they, as President, would use executive authority through federal departments to force a secular orthodoxy on religious groups, organizations, and businesses. The candidates need to be asked if they will protect the rights of Christian colleges to educate their students and hire their faculty in accordance with the tenets of faith, without being threatened by the state.” In other words, will Christians be allowed to be Christian?

            Forced belief is bad idea for any world view. We must take a strong stance against any form of government coercion regarding belief. This doesn’t mean that people cannot disagree and shouldn’t passionately proclaim their beliefs. It does mean, however, that we have the right to agree or disagree without fear of government punishment. We must fight for the continued right to think!

 Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.      

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Isaac Backus and The Separation of Church and State”

The idea of the separation of church and state has become so common in the minds of contemporary people that it is almost a “given”, an assumption that this principle has always been around. However, a cursory look at history will show that many people had to come forward and fight for this, now treasured, ideal. It was not an atheistic or secular group of people who argued for the separation of church and state, rather, instrumental in its development were early Baptists and Baptist leaders. Baptists were not the only ones who stood for this principles but, as Gilbert Alan Parker explains, “They were among the most vigorous and outspoken champions of the principles governing the separation of church and state.”

            In their advocacy for religious liberty, Baptists took a strong stance against any form of government coercion regarding belief or practice. Scholar Albert W. Wardin writes, “Advocates of this principle maintain that the state would neither control nor subsidize the church, while the church would not seek to control the state.” It is this ideal of freedom that remains a hallmark of Baptist thought. Walter Shurden writes, “Religious freedom means separation of church and state and not accommodation of church and state… Baptists, not only in America, but around the world have been solidly on the side of the separation of church and state.” One of the most indomitable among them being Isaac Backus.

            Backus spent over sixty years of his life and ministry enveloped in the fight for religious freedom. Driven by his desire to allow the Bible alone to be the authority of the church, Backus believed “the union of the two governments [church and state] in the New England colonies must be broken if America is to become a truly Christian land.” Backus believed that the church should be governed by Christ alone and therefore, the church should be free from any governmental regulations. He was fervent in his preaching and writing in which he “articulated a system of religious liberty which was to benefit all denominations.” Freedom to choose and believe according to conscience was a forefront issue for Isaac Backus.

            Born in Connecticut on January 9th, 1724, his life span covered many vital moments in history including the Great Awakening and the American Revolution. Historian Stanley Grenz comments, “[Backus] lived in an age in which ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ were popular and often used words but in which full religious freedom had not yet been granted by the ruling civil-ecclesiastical establishment.” However, Backus would initiate an instrumental work that would begin to shake the old order of things and cause many rise up and take a stand for freedom from all forms of tyranny.

            Backus saw this as a gospel issue. While he did believe that Christian truth was vital for any society, he believed that a state church was detrimental to Christianity. Michael Haykin explains Backus’s belief, “A state church cannot be a true church because it forces people to belong against their wills.” Forced belief is contrary to the Bible’s clear teaching. Backus writes, “Religion must at all times be a matter between God and individuals.”

            In 1773, Backus published his most famous pamphlet “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty” in which he outlines his arguments for equal rights concerning, what Backus referred to as, liberty of conscience. Backus wrote his pamphlet to appeal to the common people, hoping that they would understand and affirm the logical points that he was arguing for.

            Backus begins his pamphlet by clarifying that he is not arguing for an abolishment of government stating, “What a dangerous error, yea, what a root of all evil then must it be, for men to imagine that there is anything in the nature of true government that interferes with true and full liberty!” Rather, Backus claims that submitting to government should not entail an encroachment upon true liberty, especially religious freedom. Scholar Peter Judson Richards points out how Backus was trying to reveal to the individual that liberty has political and spiritual aspects. Richards writes, “The general ignorance of the spiritual underpinnings to liberty caused a slide into mere licentiousness, and a disdain for the God-ordained institution of government.” Again, Backus was not trying to diminish the necessity of government, but to put government in the proper place. Richards continues, “Within this framework, Backus established a fundamental opposition between autonomous individualism and true liberty.”

            Backus then goes on to explain the differences between civil government and ecclesiastical government and how these two spheres must not be conjoined or confounded. History has shown that when these two governments are joined issues arise. Backus writes, “Where they have been confounded together no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued of which the Holy Ghost gave early and plain warnings.”

            Backus closes his pamphlet by appealing to the reason of the reader. He asks them to be consistent in their thinking in order that they may see and understand that what he is asserting is important for every man and woman, regardless of religious affiliation. He puts forth an important question as the nation prepares, in only a few years following the publication of his tract, to declare independence from Britain, “How can such a union be expected so long as that dearest of all rights, equal liberty of conscience is not allowed?” Backus was looking for a true response from the leaders and people of his day. It was his hope that his article would begin a conversation that would bring about the betterment of all involved. In the same way, I hope my brief articles open up conversations that will help our community think and grow as we consider the many important topics that we face today, including liberty of conscience.

 Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“It’s All The Same, Right?”

Sometimes making a choice can be one of the most difficult tasks for a person. Probably the most thorny of these choices is the always troubling question, “What do you want to eat?” I’m sure we’ve all been down this disastrous road a time or two. What’s the problem? Too many choices and too many individual tastes. I’ve been on road trips where we have circled an area five times only to end up in a restaurant that no one is happy with. However, once our stomachs are full and the argument is over, we realize that food is food, and in the end, it’s all really the same, right?

            Looking into the world of religious organizations and belief systems, one may come to a similar conclusion: “It’s all the same, right? I mean, does it really matter what you believe, what your faith is in so long as you have faith?” This kind of thinking is exacerbated when one considers all of the groups in town who claim the title “Christian”. In fact, I was recently having a conversation with a young man who, as the topic moved to spiritual matters, agreed with me but then interjected, “But I look around and see Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, and all sorts of other groups — how do I know which one is right?” This is such an important topic.

            To begin, we must start with the assumption this young man made; namely, that although each of the groups would claim, to varying degrees, the title “Christian”, there must be something which differentiates them. There must be something which makes one “right” and another “wrong”. So while we may try to be “PC” affirming that all groups who self-identify as Christian do so rightly, our instincts tell us otherwise.

            To begin with, we must have a standard about what a Christian is from an objective point of view. You see, words are only as good as their definitions. Somehow we’ve come to believe in our modern culture that words can mean whatever we want them to mean. If this truly is the case, then no words have meaning and all conversation and debate will go nowhere. Fortunately, words do have meaning and this is the case for the term Christian. The standard, then, we use in order to define Christianity must be the Bible. For in the Bible we learn of the Christ, from who Christianity comes. Therefore, if one is going to claim Christianity, we should be able to look at the Bible to discern the validity of the claim.

            However, it may be helpful to start with an illustration. We are currently inundated with coverage of the Democratic debates. Now imagine if a presidential hopeful got up on the stage and began to argue against the basic Democratic position on every topic and to argue instead for the Republican platform. How do you think the others would respond? Perhaps at first they would be confused, but eventually someone might be brave enough to say, “Why are you here? You’re not a Democrat!” The person might respond, “Yes, I am! How dare you say that!” However, in what sense could an individual be a Democrat if they do not hold to any of the foundational beliefs of the party? In truth, they couldn’t. You see, self-identification alone does not mean anything. The question is, “What is the content of your beliefs?” The content comes first and then the label follows.

            Similarly, just because a group or denomination claims a Christian label and perhaps even a Christian heritage, one must look at the content of their beliefs in order to discern how “Christian” they truly are. Now, let me be clear, I am not saying that I personally have a corner on the market of truth. There are areas in which true, Bible-believing Christians disagree, and yet both can still be legitimately considered Christian. The Democratic debates show that there are areas in which Democrats disagree on, while they all remain within the broad Democratic spectrum. However, there would come a place when a Democrat moved so far from that spectrum that they can no longer be consider a true Democrat. This is also true of Christianity. Some have moved so far from historic, Biblical Christianity that there is no way to truly consider them Christian (even while they cling to the term).

            What must be part of the content of the beliefs in order for a group to be considered Christian? Briefly stated, 1) One must believe that Jesus is who He said He was throughout the Gospel records. Jesus was not merely some teacher, guru, great example, or prophet. Jesus is God in the flesh (cf. John 1:1, 14). Jesus clearly recognized He is God (cf. Mark 2:5) and proclaimed Himself to be God (cf. John 8:58).

            2) One must believe that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God and that it can be trusted as such (2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 1:22-25). How can one be a Christian and yet believe the Bible is suspect? If you believe the Bible needs to be updated to fit current trends, that the Bible is missing “many parts which are plain and most precious,” or that the Bible needs to be corrected by science, then I don’t see how you can legitimately consider yourself to be a Christian.     

            3) One must believe that salvation comes by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone. Even a superficially reading of New Testament books such as Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians would make this point very clear. Yet, so many groups want to add rituals, organizational membership, or other types of “works” to the requirements of salvation. This is not Christianity.

            This is in no way intended to be exhaustive or my final treatment on the topic, but it is a starting place. As I talked with this young man, I encouraged him (as I do all of you readers), not to be sidetracked by names on buildings or organizational identifications. Rather, look to the content of their message. If a group is truly part of Christianity, their message and teaching will make it clear.

              Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com. 

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

           

“I Object! That Is Impossible!”

Have you ever been in that awkward situations where someone in a group announces a particular belief as if everyone in the group holds to it? “Everyone knows that (fill in the blank) is good and (fill in the blank) is bad.” The person assumes everyone will nod in agreement, and most seem to. Yet there are times when I watch as everyone nods, and I want to stand up to say, “I object! I don’t agree with what you are saying.” Sometimes I do, but sometimes I let it go because of the situation. No matter what, it can be uncomfortable.

            Over the last few weeks I have tried to engage readers with a number of arguments and ideas in order to create conversation about truly important topics. Everyone has an opinion about everything; however, sometimes we spend our time discussing futile things instead of the most important things. I think perhaps we are afraid to find ourselves in an uncomfortable, argumentative situation. I don’t want us to fear this; instead, I encourage thoughtful reflection and civil dialogue. Just because politicians can’t seem to pull it off doesn’t mean that we, as a community, can’t give it a go.

            One reader wrote of an objection commonly made when one makes a claim that entails the supernatural; namely, that feats beyond the natural world are scientifically impossible. He writes, “I don’t have reason to believe that anyone has ever walked on water, due to my understanding of gravity, water and walking, and to never having seen anyone walk on water.” A fair question.

            I will admit that I agree, walking on water seems completely outlandish and simply impossible! However, I’m not sure that the reasons presented for dismissing the Biblical claim that Jesus did indeed walk on water holds up to further investigation. I would like to provide three primary ideas behind my reasoning.

            There are many things which people have never seen that they believe are true, including facts about historical events and people. Can you prove to me that Julius Caesar existed without using records or ancient writings? How can I be certain that the Revolutionary War really happened and the government didn’t simply fabricate a genesis story of the country in order to drum up patriotism? Obviously, these are silly questions, but I think that is the point. Just because I have not seen something does not alone rule it out as true.

            Secondly, yes, our observations of the physical world do seem to preclude anyone ever walking on water. However, how many times have scientific, inquisitive minds halted particular theories because they seemed to upset previously held notions? My reading through the history of science has shown me that many times new ideas cause others to be thoroughly reassessed. As I was reading through theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking’s book recently, I came across this admission: “Many scientists were unhappy with the universe having a beginning, because it seemed to imply that physics broke down.” In other words, they didn’t like the theory because it messed with their current understanding of the world. Likewise, our knowledge of gravity, walking, and water does not, in itself, mean that the Bible record of Jesus walking on water is impossible. All one could deduce from current knowledge of gravity, walking, and water is that it doesn’t seem possible.

            Finally, I think that people begin in the wrong place when they try to use the miracles recorded in the Bible as an objection to Biblical truth. They are miracles! Of course they are hard to believe and are not part of the natural order of things. Even a cursory reading of the text shows that those who originally witnessed the miracles were amazed and, at times, disbelieving.

            Additionally, one must look at the foundation behind the miracles before considering them. Try to explain an airplane to a person in a jungle, who has never seen one. “I flew through the air in a giant metal tube with wings to get here!” They might respond, “Metal is too heavy to fly in the air! Do you think I’m some sort of fool?” Jumping right to a “flying metal tube” with someone who has no knowledge or foundation of the physics behind air travel would make an airplane seem crazy and unbelievable.

            Similarly, the Bible begins with an all powerful, all knowing, Creator who brings everything into existence by His mere word and will. If then, the self-existent God can create all things, it follows that He can do whatever He wants in and through His creation. Nothing stops Shakespeare from doing whatever he pleases in the worlds he creates — including supernatural events and characters that are not normal in everyday life.

            The God of the Bible is the ultimate author and artist. He is able to act in ways that are beyond the normal constraints of the physical world as we know it, and He has the right to do so! Therefore, while miracles are hard to believe, I can readily accept them because of the God who is bringing them to pass. In fact, anytime a miracle occurs in the Bible, they are done for the purpose of showing that only the true God can do things are beyond the natural world. Examples can be found here: 1 Kings 18:16-45, Isaiah 44:6-11, Mark 2:1-12.

            You see, objecting doesn’t have to be awkward. Nor does responding to objections. I still believe we can have important discussions about highly polarizing subjects in a civil and constructive manner. So please, let us read, think, and grow together in our understanding of the world, of God, and of each other as we consider these various topics. Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com. 

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe