Friday, July 26, 2013

Access to God was always the same

An Equal-Accessibility Deity1
Does God Have Different Rules for Different People in Different Periods?

Dr. Paul Manuel—2007

Does God have different rules for different people in different periods of history? Does the way they receive salvation change as His plan unfolds? ...No. God is an "Equal-Accessibility Deity," in that believers, both Jews and non-Jews, come to God the same way.
  • People have always had contact with Him through prayer (without the need of additional human mediation)2
  • People have always been justified by faith apart from works.3
  • People have always received forgiveness for sin upon repentance.4

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Salvation in the Old Testament

Salvation in the Old Testament1
Dr. Paul Manuel—1995

Parts of the biblical text can become so familiar to us that we read them without thinking, assuming we understand when, in fact, we may be missing the point or even failing to notice a potential problem. One such passage for me was...
Rom 4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
I had considered it, as I assumed Paul intended, to be one of the clearest statements that God has always justified (i.e., saved) by faith, that there was no difference between the way people got saved before or after the New Testament. However true that may be, when I looked more closely, I noticed a problem with the Old Testament text Paul cites and the way he uses it.
Gen 15:5 [The LORD] took [Abram] outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." 6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
What is the problem? ...The Genesis passage is not about salvation.2 How, then, does this affect (our understanding of) Paul's argument?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Calvinism and Arminianism

Calvinism and Arminianism1
Dr. Paul Manuel—2006

Most believers are in agreement on the major issues of theology we have examined thus far, so I have spiced up the discussion with statements on these topics by pseudo-Christian groups. The finer points of soteriology, however, have generated significant debate among orthodox Christians, especially during the sixteenth century Reformation, when two prominent schools of thought emerged: Calvinism and Arminianism.

Calvinism derives its name from the French reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564). The primary emphasis of this school is God's sovereignty, and proponents at the Council of Dort (1618) distilled the main tenets into five points, with the helpful acronym: t-u-l-i-p.
  1. Total depravity (or natural inability)
  2. Unconditional election (or predestination)
  3. Limited atonement
  4. Irresistible grace (or effectual calling)
  5. Perseverance of the saints
Calvinism is the dominant theology of Anglican, Reformed, and Presbyterian churches.

Arminianism derives its name from a Dutch theologian, Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), who was himself a Calvinist but began to question some of the teachings of that school and became an outspoken critic of it. The primary distinction of Arminianism is its recognition of man's responsibility, and proponents outlined the system in the Remonstrance of 1610, largely in answer to the five points of Calvinism (albeit without a helpful acronym).
  1. Freewill
  2. Conditional election
  3. Unlimited atonement
  4. Resistible grace
  5. Failure of the saints (or falling from grace)
Arminianism is the dominant theology of Wesleyan and Methodist churches.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Theology Series Chapter 7: Salvation

Chapter VII: Soteriology
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

Our last unit established, among other things, that man has 'fallen and he can't get up,' at least, not without God's help. This next unit deals with divine aid, what theologians call soteriology or salvation. Because this is just a survey, we will confine our study to answering two questions:
  • First, why does God save us? What is His purpose, His motivation and intention in acting on our behalf?
  • Second, how does God save us? What does the procedure involve, and what is our part, if any, in it?
Most of the information about this topic comes from the New Testament, an interesting distinction that we will examine later.
[The end notes can be found in the linked pdf]

Monday, July 22, 2013

Honorable service

The Father's Willingness (John 12:26; 15:16)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2011

Sometimes boys will get in a bragging match over the merits of their respective fathers: "My dad's stronger than your dad. Well, my dad's smarter than your dad." It is good when a child can be proud of his father, although such an exchange is often given to some exaggeration.
An Army kid was boasting about his father to a Navy kid. "My dad is an engineer. He can do everything. Do you know the Alps?" "Yes," said the Navy kid. "My dad built them." Not wanting to be outdone, the Navy kid spoke: "Do you know the Dead Sea?" "Yes," said the Army kid. " dad's the one who killed it!"
It is good when a child can be proud of his father. This applies to earthly fathers as well as to one's heavenly Father. The difference, of course, is that bragging about your heavenly Father is not given to exaggeration, because however you describe Him does not even come close to how great He is.

It is common in Judaism to refer to God as "Our Father."1 So, when Jesus teaches his disciples a short prayer, he addresses it to "Our Father, who is in heaven" (Matt 6:9).2 Jesus often describes God in ways that give his disciples and us insight into God's character. What does it mean to have God as our Father? As his children, what obligations do we have to Him? Can we expect anything from Him? ...In Jesus' final week before his crucifixion, he answers these questions, explaining the requirements God has for His children and how He will respond when they meet those requirements. Please turn to John 12, where Jesus espouses an important...

Principle: The Father will honor those who are dutiful.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hints of Heaven #5: The Great Challenge

Hints of Heaven:
Reflections on the Realm of the Righteous—
#5 The Great Challenge (Matt 25:21,34)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

Do you ever get bored? I have never understood the concept of boredom, perhaps because I have always found a way to occupy my attention. I understand, though, that some people are not so easily amused as I am and may even prefer some diversion, if they need to pass the time.
Fred, Jim, and Scott were at a convention together and were sharing a large suite on the top floor of a 75-story skyscraper. After a long day of meetings, they were dismayed to learn that the elevators in their hotel were out of order and that they would have to climb 75 flights of stairs to get to their room. Bill said to Jim and Scott, "Let's break the boredom of this unpleasant task by concentrating on something interesting. I'll tell jokes for 25 flights, Jim can sing songs for the next 25 flights, and Scott can tell sad stories for the rest of the way." At the 26th floor, Bill stopped telling jokes, and Jim began to sing. At the 51st floor, Jim stopped singing, and Scott began to tell sad stories. "I will tell my saddest story first," he said.... "We have to turn back." "Why?" came his friends incredulous and unison cry. "Because" Scott replied... "I left our room key in the car."
Thankfully, the 'stairway to heaven'1 will not require us to climb several flights or to amuse ourselves along the way. In fact, the ascent is not difficult at all, and it is to a destination that entails "The Great Challenge."

The final installment in our series, Hints of Heaven, brings us back to the Olivet Discourse, where the disciples ask Jesus about the kingdom of heaven. In Matt 25, he explains people's experience when they come before the great king who will determine their fate. As we noted last time, in "The Great Contrast," there will be only two groups at the end, a division Jesus confirms here. He also offers clues about the prospects of those who enter the kingdom.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hints of Heaven #4: The Great Contrast

Hints of Heaven:
Reflections on the Realm of the Righteous—
#4 The Great Contrast (Luke 16:19-31)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

Are you indecisive? Do you have trouble making up your mind? Are you afraid of commitment? Rather than taking a stand, do you prefer straddling the fence?
A large group of people gathered in the 'no man's land' of the hereafter, between heaven and hell. On one side stood Jesus, and on the other side stood Satan. Separating Jesus and Satan was a fence. Jesus and Satan began calling to people in the group and, one by one, each having made up his own mind, they went either to Jesus' side of the fence or to Satan's side of the fence. Eventually, the whole group had divided, moving to one side or the other. Jesus took his group to heaven, and Satan took his group to hell. One man, however, joined neither group. He climbed the fence and sat on it. Soon, Satan returned. "Have you forgotten something?" the man on the fence asked. "Nope," Satan said, "Come with me." The man objected, "I sat on the fence. I chose neither you nor him." "That's what you think," Satan replied.... "I own the fence."
Contrary to popular mythology, Satan is not in charge of hell. Remember: hell is not the devil's playground; it is (or, will be) his prison.1 Nevertheless, he does to some extent "own the fence," which is what Jesus meant when he said, "He who is not with me is against me" (Matt 12:30a).

The next installment in our series, Hints of Heaven, is "The Great Contrast," which illustrates that there are only two sides in the cosmic conflict and there is no neutral ground, no fence on which to sit.2

Friday, July 19, 2013

Hints of Heaven #3: The Great Company

Hints of Heaven:
Reflections on the Realm of the Righteous—
#3 The Great Company (Rev 7:9)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

People often view death as the end of existence, but it is not, and what is on the other side will be pretty amazing.
A man was driving along the highway when a rabbit jumped in front of his car. The driver, being a sensitive man as well as an animal lover, pulled over and got out to see what had happened to the rabbit. Much to his dismay, the rabbit was dead. The driver felt so bad he began to cry. Another driver, a woman, saw the man crying and also pulled over. She asked him what was wrong. "I feel terrible," he sobbed. "I accidentally hit this rabbit and killed it." The woman told him not to worry. She opened the trunk of her car, took out a spray can, and sprayed the dead rabbit. Miraculously, the rabbit came to life, jumped up, waved its paw at the two humans, and hopped down the road. After twenty feet, the rabbit turned and waved again. Hopping another twenty feet, it turned and waved yet again. The man was astonished. "What did you spray on that rabbit?" he asked. The woman showed him the label on the can, which read: [Are you ready?] "'Hare Spray' Restores Life to Dead Hare.... Adds Permanent Wave."
People often view death as the end of existence, but it is not, and what is on the other side will be pretty amazing, although not because of hare spray. For the righteous, the other side will include the presence of other believers in "The Great Company" of heaven.

* * * * * * * * * *

Becoming part of this illustrious group is by no means automatic. In fact, Jesus says...
Matt 7:14 ...small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Nevertheless, given the billions of people who have ever lived, that "few" will still be a pretty substantial number. How does God keep track of them all? ...The answer is... He writes them down. He records their names in a book. ...Of course, God does not need to write down anything. His memory is perfect,1 because He is omniscient. As the apostle John says, "God...knows everything" (1 John 3:20b). He, thus, remembers everything, as well. The various references in scripture to the books He consults, especially in the final judgment, are meant to indicate that His deliberations will not be arbitrary but supported by a clear and unimpeachable record. (Keep in mind that the final judgment is not of the righteous but of the wicked, and it will take place after Jesus' reign in the Messianic Age. The righteous will have had their day in court earlier, at the beginning of the Messianic Age, when Jesus returns.2) So...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hints of Heaven #2: The Great Change

Hints of Heaven:
Reflections on the Realm of the Righteous—
#2 The Great Change (1 Cor 15:42-52)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

What happens to you when you die, and how will you know it when that time comes?
An elderly couple is lying in bed one morning, having just awakened from a good night's sleep. He takes her hand, and she responds, "Don't touch me." "Why not," he asks. "Because I'm dead," she replies. "What do you mean?" We're both lying here in bed together, talking to one another." But his wife insists, "No, I'm definitely dead." Puzzled, he assures her, "You're not dead. What in the world makes you think that?" "I know I'm dead," his wife answers, "because I woke up...and nothing hurts!"
What happens when you die, and how will you know it when that time comes?

Will you suddenly discover that nothing hurts? You will, indeed, notice a difference, and far more than the absence of pain, especially as you realize that difference will lead ultimately to "The Great Change" of the resurrection.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hints of Heaven #1: The Great Catch

Hints of Heaven:
Reflections on the Realm of the Righteous—
#1 The Great Catch (1 Thess 4:16-17)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

Our new sermon series is about where we will be spending a great deal of time in the future. It is a subject that attracts our attention and stimulates our imagination: heaven. Unfortunately, it is not a topic about which we have as much information as we might like. The biblical writers mention it often enough, but generally give no extended and detailed discourse (except for John's Revelation). There is no book of the Bible about heaven. Hence, like the poor at harvest time, we must go through the fields of scripture, gathering the gleanings we find along the way. Admittedly, these gleanings usually only whet our appetite to know more. Nevertheless, together they do provide sufficient spiritual nourishment to inspire our wonder, our gratitude, and our anticipation for what more God has in store. Such will be our task these five sessions as we look into God's word for Hints of Heaven.[1] We will concentrate on five major passages that offer insight into our future state.
I. The Great Catch (1 Thess 4:16-17)
II. The Great Change (1 Cor 15:42-52)
III. The Great Company (Rev 7:9)
IV. The Great Contrast (Luke 16:19-31)
V. The Great Challenge (Matt 25:21, 34)
We will also survey several other passages along the way that address questions people have asked me about some related matters.


There are certain aspects of flying people find less pleasurable than others. For example, some do not enjoy taking off, as the engines roar, the aircraft shakes, and the air pressure changes, making one's ears pop. People are usually more positive about landing—usually.
As he was landing the jumbo jet, the pilot hammered his plane onto the runway really hard. The airline had a policy requiring the first officer to stand at the door while the passengers exited, give a smile, and say "Thanks for flying with us today." He had a hard time looking the passengers in the eye, thinking that someone would have a smart comment. Finally everyone had gotten off except for a little old lady walking with a cane. She said, "Sonny, mind if I ask you a question?" "Why no Ma'am, what is it?" he replied. "Did we land...or were we shot down?"
People are usually more positive about landing—usually. Regardless of how you feel about flying, there is a trip in the future of everyone here. It will be "The Great Catch," when Jesus returns to gather the redeemed and take them to heaven.


Before I begin the sermon proper, here is a synopsis of events answering a general question....

Where Do People Go When They Die?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The truth will set you free

Discipleship and Freedom (John 8:31-32)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2012

We all face tests—driver tests, medical tests, school tests. Some tests have greater consequences than others, even determining one's freedom.
A mental institution picks two of its most reformed patients each year and questions them. If the patients answer correctly, they are free to leave. One year, Patty and Mike were the lucky ones. The doctor questioned Patty first, while Mike waited outside. "Patty, if I poke out one of your eyes, what will happen?" Patty answered immediately, "I would be half blind." "What would happen if I poked out the other eye?" "I would be completely blind," Patty said confidently, knowing that she had just earned her freedom. The doctor sent her out while he completed the release form.
In the waiting room, Patty told Mike the questions and the answers. The doctor called in Mike and asked, "If I cut off your ear?" "I would be half blind," he said, remembering to answer as Patty had told him. The doctor looked perplexed but asked the other question. "What would happen if I cut off your other ear?" "I would be completely blind," Mike answered with a smile, as if he knew he had passed. When the doctor asked what his reasoning was, Mike said, matter-of-factly... "My hat would fall down over my eyes."
Some tests have greater consequences than others, even determining one's freedom, which Jesus states is important in discussing Discipleship and Freedom.

As Jesus traveled throughout the countryside, he drew mixed reviews that spanned a wide spectrum.1
  • At one end of the spectrum were those who disliked him, often challenging him in public, and who sought to marginalize him, even eliminate him, like some of the religious leaders.2
  • In the middle of the spectrum were those largely neutral toward him, who found him entertaining but not necessarily convincing, although some attempted to exploit him for political advantage.
  • At the other end of the spectrum were those who believed his message and supported his ministry, those who were his disciples, including some of the religious leaders.
These differences intensify over time, causing considerable disruption and confusion. Please turn to John 7, where the author relates some of the differences.3 As I read, keep in mind that when John mentions "the Jews," a term he uses more than any other biblical writer (69x), he is rarely referring to the people as a whole (8x) but is usually referring to the religious establishment (50x), sometimes along with those members who supported Jesus,4 like Nicodemus.5

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fruit that will last

The Father's Assistance (John 15:16)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

When children are young, they look to their parents for many things, including their assistance in dealing with various problems.
After tucking their three-year-old in for bed one night, his parents heard loud sobbing coming from his room. Rushing in, they found him crying hysterically. He managed to tell them that he had swallowed a penny and was sure he was going to die. No amount of talking was helping. His father, in an attempt to calm him down, palmed a penny from his pocket and pretended to pull it from his son's ear. The boy was delighted. In a flash, he snatched it from his father's hand, swallowed it, and then cheerfully demanded... "Do it again, Dad!"
Children look to parents for assistance in dealing with various problems. Likewise, God's children look to The Father's Assistance in heaven for dealing with various problems, although without necessarily swallowing the answer.

Please turn to John 15, where Jesus relays a principle to his disciples. As they apply themselves to being productive for the kingdom, they can count on divine aid, because...

Principle: God the Father will help those who are fruitful (John 15:16).
John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
When you were born, did your parents have great expectations of what you would become later in life? Perhaps your true potential did not reveal itself until later. When you uttered your first word, did they say, "This child has the makings of a great orator"? When you took your first step, did they say, "This child will surely become an Olympic runner"? I wonder if after giving me my first trombone lesson when I was in the third grade, my father thought, "It's already obvious that my son will be part of the Philharmonic Orchestra one day and play at Carnegie Hall." As I got into my teens, and it became obvious that I would not become a great musician, my parents were probably thinking, "We just hope the kid graduates from high school."

Whether or not your earthly parents had great expectations, your heavenly Father does have great expectations, and He wants to do great things for you. In fact, He is willing and able to "give you whatever you ask." There is a catch, however, as Jesus explains here.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Jesus and Mary

Gentle Persuasion (John 2:1-11)
Dr. Paul Manuel—May 11, 2013

We have an official Mother's Day and an official Father's Day, but we have no official Married Couple's Day. Consequently, a minister may include remarks about one or the other party in that relationship on one of the official days. For example, he may talk about wives on Mother's Day, whether or not they are mothers.

As a minister gets to know a congregation, he becomes aware of problems to address as well as pitfalls to avoid. Last week, in anticipation of what I might say this week about the role of wives, someone said to me that she would be listening carefully to the sermon for the "O" word: "Wives obey your husbands." This is one of those pitfalls this minister will avoid. Contrary to what some might think, my reluctance to comment is not evidence of cowardice but of concern, concern for what the Bible actually says. Much as some might assume that is quote from Paul, it is not.1 What he does say about obedience, twice, and what this morning's message will illustrate, is "Children, obey your parents" (Eph 6:1; Col 3:20). We will consider that statement particularly as it relates to mothers, and how the expression of that obedience changes over time.

Children often appreciate their parents more as those children get older, and it is important for adult children to keep in touch with their parents, lest they miss some important sign that something is wrong.
Bill called his mother in Florida. When she answered the phone, he asked the typical question, "How are you doing?" "Not too good," she replied. "I've been very weak." This naturally concerned Bill, who asked why she was so weak? Her reply was even more disconcerting. In a voice that was obviously fainter, she said it was because she hadn't eaten in 38 days. His concern now approaching alarm, Bill asked, "Why haven't you eaten in 38 days?" "Because," she said... "I didn't want my mouth to be filled with food when you called."
It is important for adult children to keep in touch with their parents, lest they miss some sign that something is wrong, and it is important that adult children be sensitive to their parent's concerns, as Jesus was in response to his mother's concern and her Gentle Persuasion.

This is a familiar story from chapter two of John's gospel, about a wedding at Cana. It is appropriate for Mother's Day because of the insight it offers into the relationship of Jesus with his mother.