Thursday, July 30, 2009


My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about Angels:

Q: Are angels real and how much do we really know about them?

Angels have probably been one of the most popular subjects in spirituality over the years. On one hand, angels are real beings, described by the Bible, but on the other hand, some popular beliefs regarding angels are no more than superstition or speculation. Because we see so many examples in the Bible of angels in action, there are many things we can know about them. First, we know that angels were created by God. Because God says in the book of Job that they were present when God “laid the foundations of the earth,” they were probably created on the first day that God began to create the world.

Angels are not just a spiritual phenomenon, but they are individual, personal beings. The Bible shows us that angels have names, such as Michael and Gabriel, but they are neither male nor female and do not marry or reproduce—something Jesus reveals to us in the Gospels. They experience joy when sinners repent, and they exist to serve God and follow His commands.

There are also different types or ranks among the angels. The picture we usually imagine of an impressive glowing angel with wings dressed in white would probably resemble the Seraphim. (Incidentally, the Bible never describes an angel who looks like a chubby, winged toddler.) Seraphim surround God’s throne in heaven and their task is to praise and glorify Him. They are described in Revelation 4 and Isaiah 6. Cherubim are angels who act as servants to God. They assist in carrying out God’s will and His commands in heaven and on earth, as seen in Genesis 3:24 and Ezekiel 1. Another class of angels, described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and Jude 9 is the Archangel.

We do not know how many angels there are, but we do know from a statement made by Jesus (Matthew 26:53) that there are at least 72,000. All angels were originally created by God to serve Him, but soon after creation, one angel began a rebellion in heaven, leading one-third of the angels to oppose God. These angels were condemned for their rebellion and are now known as demons. Michael, the Archangel is described as fighting against Satan and the demons.

The angels’ task is to praise God (Isaiah 6, Revelation 5) and carry out His will in the world (Revelation 7 & 14). They defend earthly rulers who God approves (Daniel 6) and destroy the enemies of God’s people (Exodus 14, Acts 12). They watch over the households of believers and guard their children (Job 1, Psalm 34, Matthew 18), and they guard and protect Christians from the time of their Baptism until their death (Psalm 91, Luke 16, Jude 9). When Jesus returns, the angels will separate the condemned from the saved and carry out His punishments against them (Matthew 13 & 25), and they will escort the saved into the eternal life.

One of the most popular myths about angels is that people can communicate with them or seek their guidance. There are even services available where, much like a psychic reading, a person claims that they can connect you with the angels and (for a fee, of course) tell you what they have to say. This sort of practice is entirely contrary to the teachings of Scripture. God did send messages to Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, John, and some of the prophets through angels, but He has never promised that He will do the same for us. Additionally, those Biblical saints heard directly from the angels and did not require the assistance of a “professional.”

Furthermore, Paul informs us in 1 Timothy that, “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” The fact is that since Jesus has died and risen for us, Christians do not have need of anyone to stand between them and God to assist in communication. Christians have the privilege to hear God’s Word for them directly from the Bible and to speak back to Him directly through prayer. Jesus, not any angel, is the only mediator who can connect us with God the Father.

Readers are encouraged to submit questions for inclusion in future issues. According to your preference, you may include your first name or submit questions anonymously, and I will do my best to answer your questions as my knowledge and research allow and according to their suitability for publication. You may submit questions by email to or by mail to P.O. Box 195; Burt, IA 50522.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Jesus' Teen Years

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about Jesus' teen years:

Q: What do we know about Jesus’ child and teen years?

The Bible gives us a detailed account of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Luke. This is probably one of the most familiar portions of scripture for most Christians because of tradition of reading it on Christmas Eve. It is likely that many readers even memorized portions of this chapter of Luke as a part of their childhood participation in Christmas Eve services. The New Testament Gospels also give us generous amounts of information on the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, which occurred between His Baptism by John at age 30 and His death, resurrection, and ascension about 3 years later. The time between Jesus’ birth and His thirtieth year, however, does not receive a great deal of attention in the Bible, but it does show us a few memorable events.

As a young child, Jesus’ is visited by three Magi from the East who came to worship Him and to bring Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We often see these wise men portrayed in Christmas decorations and manger scenes as being present at the stable where Jesus was born, at the same time as the shepherds, but the Gospel of Matthew tells us that their visit came somewhat later than the shepherds, while Jesus was a young child. As a result of the attention brought by the Magi, King Herod, became afraid for his throne and sent soldiers to Bethlehem in an attempt to do away with this “new king” which the Magi were seeking, but God rescued Jesus and His family from this threat by warning Joseph in a dream and instructing him to flee to Egypt with Jesus and Mary.

From these events, we know that Jesus spent His infancy in Bethlehem, but His early childhood years would have been lived in Egypt. When King Herod died, Joseph again received a series of dreams which instructed Him to return to Israel, and ultimately to settle in Nazareth, which we typically think of as Jesus’ home town. The Bible also portrays Jesus and His family as faithful worshippers of God who observed the sacrifices, feasts, and festivals specified in the Old Testament and even traveled on pilgrimages to Jerusalem to do so. On one of these trips to Jerusalem for Passover, when Jesus was twelve years old, the family realized while they were returning to Nazareth that Jesus was no longer with them. When they went back and found Him, He was at the temple, discussing theology with the priests and teachers there, who were amazed by His knowledge.

Several books outside of the Bible try to fill in these years of Jesus’ life with other stories, such as one where Jesus strikes a playmate dead, then at the pleading of Joseph, raises him back to life. In another account, Jesus is portrayed as making a bird from clay, then bringing it to life. These other “gospels”, such as the “Gospel of Thomas” are commonly believed to be forgeries, though, because they were written several centuries after Jesus life and by people who were not eyewitnesses to the events.

After Luke tells the story of Jesus at the temple he says that, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” The most likely reason that so little is said about Jesus’ childhood years in the Bible is that they were completely normal. He grew physically, learned, and acted like any of the other children. In fact, his early life was so normal that when He returned to Nazareth to preach later in life, the people there were surprised and did not accept His authority because they just saw Him as “Mary’s son.”

There is, however, one exception to the ordinary nature of Jesus’ childhood years. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin.” While Jesus life as a child and teenager was completely normal, it was lived differently than ours because He kept God’s commands perfectly, while we fail to do so throughout our lives. It is this perfect life that He lived, which makes him an acceptable substitute to be crucified for us, and it is because of this sinless life that death could not hold Him and He rose again on the third day.

Readers are encouraged to submit questions for inclusion in future issues. According to your preference, you may include your first name or submit questions anonymously, and I will do my best to answer your questions as my knowledge and research allow and according to their suitability for publication. You may submit questions by email to or by mail to P.O. Box 195; Burt, IA 50522.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tiller Killing

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about the killing of George Tiller and Lutheran stances on abortion:

Q:  Dr. George Tiller was recently murdered in Kansas because of his notoriety for performing late-term abortions.  Does the Bible approve of this type of killing?

Dr. Tiller was a nationally known figure in the controversy over abortion because of his willingness to perform abortions for reasons and at times when many other doctors would have declined to do so.  The position of the Bible, which has been affirmed by Christians throughout history, is that all human life is to be valued and respected from conception until natural death.  This means that any intentional killing of another person (except for the execution of convicted criminals, justifiable wars, or legitimate cases of self-defense) is murder.  Accordingly, Christians have typically considered both abortion and euthanasia to be contrary to God’s commands. 

Even though the majority of Christian churches throughout history have seen abortion as contrary to God’s will, there has also been near-unanimous consensus that lawlessly killing those who perform abortions is equally sinful.  This is seen in the teachings of St. Paul in the book of Romans, when he instructs Christians not to overcome evil with evil, but to “overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) He also says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” (Romans 12:17 ESV)  During the 1990’s, a rash of bombings and killings at abortion clinics prompted responses from national pro-life groups condemning violence against abortion providers, and following the murder of Dr. Tiller, U.S. pro-life groups again issued statements condemning the actions of the killer. 

Q:  According to the news stories, Dr. Tiller was killed while serving as an usher at a Lutheran church.  Do Lutherans approve of the practice of abortion?

In their statement on the events surrounding Dr. Tiller’s death, Lutherans for Life stated, “While George Tiller was a member of a Lutheran denomination that does not officially oppose abortion, it should be noted that almost all other Lutheran denominations do take an official stance that opposes abortion and asserts the God-given value of human life from conception to natural death.”
There are presently more than 20 different Lutheran church bodies in the United States.  The two largest of these groups, are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LC-MS).  All of the Lutheran congregations in Kossuth County, except one, are members of one of these two denominations. 

According to M. Z. Hemingway of, Dr. Tiller was, at one time, a member of a LC-MS congregation.  When the congregation began the process of excommunicating him for his refusal to turn away from his actions of aborting babies, he sought membership in a congregation of the ELCA.  While the LC-MS retains the position of Christians as early as the first century A.D in opposing abortion, the ELCA has a much more lenient position on the matter.  While not all individuals within the ELCA support this position, the church body’s official position, as laid out in their “Social Statement on Abortion” is neutral, if not somewhat favorable, toward abortion, and the health plan provided to church employees includes broad coverage for the procedure.  It is in light of these differences that Dr. Tiller was able to hold a leading position in a congregation of the ELCA, but was in the process of being excommunicated when he left the LC-MS. 

While the majority of Lutheran church bodies do oppose the practice of abortion, they do not condone actions such as Dr. Tiller’s murder.  Instead, they seek to change hearts and minds by proclaiming the message of Jesus, which promises forgiveness to all who trust in Him and turn from their sin, including women whose past includes an abortion and the doctors who have performed them.