Living Biblically – A Changing Paradigm

Did you ever wish there was a handbook for life – a HOW TO LIVE LIFE WELL BOOK? Well, there is!  It’s called the BIBLE!  God Himself guarantees that reading and applying the Bible will benefit our lives: Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. (Joshua 1:8 New Living Translation)

The Bible is unlike any other book:

  • It took 16 centuries to write by at least 40 different writers in 3 different languages and on 3 separate continents. Yet it has one clear, central and consistent theme – God’s salvation of humankind through His Son, Jesus Christ.
  • It has improved lives, stirred controversy and inspired social change around the world, like nothing else – ever!
  • It is the most translated, most published and bestselling book in history, and it remains so today.
  • It has Jesus’ personal guarantee of blessing to all who read it or hear it and apply its principles in their lives: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24 New International Version)

Great persons have said great things about the Bible:

  • Abraham Lincoln said the Bible “is the best gift God has given to men.”
  • President Theodore Roosevelt:A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.”
  • English Philosopher John Locke: “The Bible is one of the greatest blessings bestowed by God on the children of men. It has God for its author; salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture for its matter. It is all pure.”
  • Isaac Newton: “I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily.”

Just two more but very important quotes:

  • George Washington warned in his 1796 farewell address: “It is impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible. Of all the dispositions and habits that lead to political prosperity, our religion and morality are the indispensable supporters.”
  • Author Victor Hugo attributed the prowess of British culture in the world to the Bible: “England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England.”

So much good in the world and people’s lives is directly attributable to the respect given the Bible in previous generations. Unfortunately for all of us, that is changing.

A paradigm change concerning the Bible is sweeping Western countries and culture:

  • A change in public confidence – In a published study by the Pew Research Center dated May 15, 2017, it states: “From the mid-1970s through 1984, close to 40% of Americans considered the Bible the literal word of God, but this has been declining ever since, along with a shrinking percentage of self-identified Christians in the U.S. Meanwhile, the percentage defining the Bible as mere stories has doubled, with much of that change occurring in the past three years.”[i]
  • A change in cultural significance – A recent study reveals that the Bible’s perceived significance to life and society is diminishing rapidly, especially among the young. 77% of Americans believe that values and morals are declining in our country and 32% attribute that decline to a lack of Bible reading.  Also, while the number of those friendly toward the Bible has declined (45% to 39%), the number of those antagonistic toward it has nearly doubled (10% to 17%).[ii]
  • A change in personal importance – Although most Americans own from 1 to 4 Bibles, only 1 in 4 Christians read the Bible at least 4 times per week and 1 in 4 church goers never read it. Consequently, there is a growing ignorance of what the Bible teaches.  “As a whole, Americans, including many Christians, hold unbiblical views on hell, sin, salvation, Jesus, humanity, and the Bible itself.”[iii]

We are living amidst a societal catastrophe foretold and being fulfilled:

  • For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 New Living Translation)
  • When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. (Proverbs 29:18 NLT)

Endnotes

[i] At News.gallup.com/poll shows “Record few Americans believe the Bible is the literal Word of God”.

[ii] At Churchexecutive.com in article titled “What do Americans really think about the Bible?”

[iii] In article by Ed Stetzer titled “The Epidemic of Bible Illiteracy in Our Churches”.

Why Jesus’ Resurrection Matters

One of the first things we learn of in life is death. I was still very young, a preschooler, when a family member died – Uncle Clark, my dad’s brother. I remember him as a gentle, kind and friendly sort. He never seemed grouchy or perturbed by little kids, like others certainly were; and I enjoyed being around him. Then he was gone. I wasn’t allowed to sit up with the dead (like folks used to do) or attend his funeral, but I clearly remember the feeling of loss knowing that I would not see Clark again. And, in as much as my family attended a Holiness, Pentecostal, Bible believing, Jesus loving, salvation preaching, soul saving church (we really did), I heard it said multiple times: “It is appointed unto men once to die,” (Hebrews 9:27 King James Version).

To be sure – everyone dies. But inquiring minds want to know – is there anything beyond? Is there life after death? Now likely is that you do; but just let me prove it to you!

The Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture in a 2014 article entitled “Do people still believe in life after death” reported that most Americans do. Specifically, 72% of Americans still believe in an afterlife. By religious affiliation – “Mormons reported the highest rate of belief in a conscious afterlife (98 percent), followed by evangelicals, Pentecostals, and fundamentalist Protestants (94 percent) …, those without a religious affiliation (or who called themselves atheists or agnostics) were least confident in life after death, at 32 percent.” On belief in heaven and hell, the figures are lower. “Among afterlife believers, 68 percent said, “Yes, I think both heaven and hell are real places.” If we presume that Americans who do not believe in an afterlife also do not believe in heaven or hell, (stands to reason) then belief that heaven and hell are real places can be said to be characteristic of 51 percent of American adults. An additional 8 percent believe in heaven only, but not hell.” (I wonder why that is?) And what about a bodily resurrection – “Overall, 37 percent of Americans believe there will be a bodily resurrection of the dead.” [http://relationshipsinamerica.com/religion/do-people-still-believe-in-life-after-death]

Dinesh D’Souza, American philosopher, author and film maker says: “If there is no life after death, then we are like passengers on the Titanic. We can rearrange the deck chairs and turn up the music a little bit, but ultimately, we are doomed. . .If there is an afterlife, then we are in a better position to face death. We have to face death in any case, but now we can face it in the expectation that it is not a final defeat, . . .” [Dinesh D’Souza in an interview on life after death with Paul Kengor, 12/9/09]

The night before He was crucified, Jesus was preparing His disciples (followers) for His impending death. After having supper with them, He said: “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” He went on to say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:19,27 NIV)

Jesus’ resurrection matters to you, me and everyone because:

  1. It DEMONSTRATES death is not the end. Craig D. Lounsbrough writes, “Easter is a time when God turned the inevitability of death into the invincibility of life.” Jesus’ death was inevitable, but His life is invincible! In John 11:25-26 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (NIV)
  2. It LIBERATES believers from the fear of death. Following His crucifixion and death, the unbelieving world would not see Him again. But His disciples, those who believed in Him, loved and followed Him, did see Him again. Multiple times over a period of forty days following His resurrection. Paul said as many as 500 saw Him at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6).
  3. It SUBSTANTIATES our hope in Jesus. Had He not risen, then everything His death means to us (our sins forgiven, peace with God, eternity with Him in heaven, and more) would be a hoax. 1 Corinthians 15:14 says, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (NIV)
  4. It VALIDATES the Christian view of afterlife as correct. All the major religions of the world teach there is an afterlife. Only Christianity claims its founder died and rose again. Again, Dinesh D’Souza says: “the vast majority of historians would accept—the fact that Christ lived and preached, that he made enemies, that his enemies killed him, that he was buried in a tomb, that his disciples claim to have found the tomb empty, that they said Jesus appeared before them several times after his crucifixion, and that this event filled them with conviction and propelled a movement of conversion that was sustained even in the face of Roman persecution and resistance. So, these are the facts, and how do we account for them? If the resurrection stands up to historical scrutiny, if it is an historical event by the standards of historical verification, then the Christian view of the afterlife rises above the pack. It is the one to take seriously.” [Dinesh D’Souza in an interview on life after death with Paul Kengor, 12/9/09]
  5. It AUTHENTICATES Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Romans 1:4-5 says, “he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.” (NLT)

Hebrews 9:27-28 says, “And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.” (New Living Translation) We are destined to die. We are also destined to face judgment after death. God is the eternal judge and both the verdict and sentence are already determined against us. Our one and only hope of pardon is in Jesus Christ who died to take away our sins. “Confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

 

What Did Jesus Do for Me on the Cross?

“I am wholly deserving of all the consequences that I will in fact never receive simply because God unashamedly stepped in front of me on the cross, unflinchingly spread His arms so as to completely shield me from the retribution that was mine to bear, and repeatedly took the blows. And I stand entirely unwounded, utterly lost in the fact that while His body was pummeled and bloodied to death by that which was meant for me and me alone, I have not a scratch.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

In 2 Corinthians 5:21, the Apostle Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (New International Version of the Bible)

The sin was mine and the punishment should have been mine, but Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, took my place and yours and the place of everyone ever born or yet to be (1 John 2:2). Vicarious, substitutionary, propitiatory are all terms used to describe what exactly it was Jesus did for us by dying on the cross.

The Gospel (Good News) in a nutshell is this:

  • Perfect God created a perfect world and put the perfect couple in charge of running things which He required be done perfectly.
  • Everything got royally messed up though when the couple sinned (disobeyed God).
  • The consequences of their sin (disobedience to God) included pain, suffering, hardship, conflict with each other, separation from God, physical deterioration and ultimately death. Left alone, the entire human race was destined to perish.
  • But, “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 New Living Translation)
  • The sinless Son of God took on human form so that He might take our perishing (the penalty of our sin) upon Himself (Philippians 2:6-8). With Jesus’ death on the cross, justice was served, and God’s forgiveness was extended to everyone who will believe and receive it.
  • “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Acts 16:31

It really is as simple as A, B, C:

  • Acknowledge that you are a sinner (you have disobeyed God).
  • Believe that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, died for you (He satisfied the penalty for your sin).
  • Confess Him (Jesus Christ) as your Savior (from perishing) and Lord (Whom you will obey).

If all this seems or sounds foolish, crazy, unbelievable to you; think about this quote from over nineteen centuries ago by a man who hated the Christian movement so much he hunted its members down, imprisoned and even executed them:

“The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

“So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So, when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended, and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.”

“But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25 New Living Translation)

What changed Saul of Tarsus from being the chief enemy of Christians to the Apostle Paul, chief Christian missionary to the world? Well, that’s the story of Easter which we celebrate this Sunday.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Seat Belt Light is On”

If you’ve ever flown aboard a passenger aircraft, then you’ve heard that announcement. It’s usually preceded by a little bell; you look above your seat and the seat belt indicator is indeed aglow. And, if you are inclined toward following directions, and you know what’s good for you, you grab the clasp of the belt with one hand and the buckle with the other and “click” – you’re done. The dynamics are really very simple. When in motion, the vehicle and passenger are traveling at the same speed in the same direction. If the vehicle suddenly stops or makes a course change, the unrestrained passenger continues at the former speed and previous direction, and you have a catastrophe. But thanks to the inventive mind of English engineer George Cayley in the mid-19th century and several evolutions of the seat belt or safety belt, such catastrophes have been substantially reduced. Many lives have been saved and injuries minimized by a simple restraint that most of us anymore just take for granted. Except when you’re on an airplane and hear that announcement.

 
In so many ways, life is like an airplane ride. You’ve taken off, and made the climb and now you’re cruising at 35,000 feet – everything smooth as silk. Suddenly, you hear the “ding,” the light goes on, and then the directive – “Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seat belts.” Oftentimes an explanation will follow, i.e. – “There is some turbulence ahead. You might feel some bumpiness in your ride; but don’t be alarmed. Please keep your seat belts fastened until instructed to do otherwise.” Then it hits – or the plane hits it, and your seat leaves the plane seat; and were it not for that belt holding onto you, there could have been a genuine catastrophe.

 
Just a week prior to the date of this blog, the nation, the whole world was enjoying a wonderful, silky smooth ride to new heights in the international stock markets. For most of a year we saw one financial growth record after another broken. Then the course changed, and the rapid speed of incline was greatly surpassed by a more rapid decline. And, at this moment, the plummet continues. Just a little more than a week ago a very good man, traveling a route he had taken many times, lost control of his vehicle and perished. His wife and two young sons are left to live their lives without husband and father. Some weeks ago, a grandfather like me, lost his only grandchild suddenly and unexpectedly. The course and speed of life changes; abruptly and sometimes tragically. Seat belts were made and are used with an awareness, even an expectation, that such changes will happen.

 
“Ding;” “Ladies and Gentlemen – do you have your seat belts on?” Not the one invented by George Cayley, but the One who gave you life and knows everything there is to know about your life – every speed up and slow down; every twist and turn; every high and low. God is so aware of your life that nothing, absolutely nothing that happens in your life or anyone’s life takes Him by surprise. David, the great psalm writer said in Psalm 139:16 that God knows how many days you’ll live before you’ve lived the first one. And He knows not only the number of days in your life and mine; He knows the content. He literally is watching you and me and everyone else with a keen interest in everything we do: “From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth – he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.” (Psalm 33:13-15 New International Version) God has His eye on you; but He wants to be more than an observer. The seat belt light is on; is yours buckled?

 
The safety in a seat belt comes not from your holding onto it, but from it holding onto you. And there is no safety at all unless you buckle-up. We all live our lives under God’s awareness; but only those who choose to click-it (trust the Divine Safety Belt) can rest assured of His care: “When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared.” (Proverbs 3:24-26 New International Version) Many choose not to put their seat belts on – even though the evidence is they save lives. They argue that they are too confining; or they know people who actually were injured by them; or if this plane goes down, it really won’t make any difference. But, while all those arguments are to some degree true, doesn’t it just make sense to entrust yourself to something designed to cope with the sudden and ruinous turns in life. Wearing seat belts doesn’t mean you’ll never be involved in an accident; but it does increase your chances of surviving it. Trusting God with your life doesn’t mean you won’t have hardships or experience tragedies; it does mean He will personally see you through them and, in the end, bring you to a higher place. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Seat Belt light is on. If you haven’t already; it’s time to buckle up!”

 
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” (Acts 16:31 NIV)

 
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;” (Isaiah 43:2-3 NIV)

“Who Was That Child in a Manger?” – The Profile Evidence

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17)

The Apostle Peter’s testimony of Jesus reveals two very important things about who He was/is:  (1) Jesus was the long prophesied Messiah/Christ (anointed of the LORD to deliver God’s people), and (2) Jesus is the Son of (same in nature as) God.  But what evidence do we have to corroborate what Jesus’ lead spokesperson confessed?  Jesus said Peter had the revelation from the Father (God) in heaven.  What do we have?

We have the sure and very certain word of the prophets which has been given to us as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).  The word of the prophets is the Holy Scriptures and the Morning Star is Jesus Christ (Revelation 22:16).  Jesus said about the Scriptures, “They testify about me” (John 5:39).  The Bible is our final authority on the subject of Jesus, and when we read it, the same revelatory light from God that shined into Peter’s dark mind shines into ours.  And the more we read it, the more that Morning Star (Jesus) rises (becomes clearer and brighter) in our hearts.  The Bible gives to us profiles of both God and the Messiah that were uniquely satisfied in the one person, Jesus Christ.

Jesus uniquely fits the profile of “Immanuel”, which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:22-23). Colossians 1:15 says:  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.   But how can one person be both God and man?  The Bible says God is eternal (without beginning or ending); Jesus was born – He had a birthday which we still celebrate every year (Matthew 1:18).  The Bible says  God is immutable (never changing); Jesus grew and developed – He changed (Luke 2:52).  God is omniscient (all knowing); but Jesus confessed His ignorance about some things (Matthew 24:36).  God is omnipresent (everywhere at the same time); Jesus walked from place to place and even got tired (John 4:6).  God is omnipotent (all powerful); yet Jesus was taken, beaten and crucified (John 19:16).  Inquiring minds want to know – “If Jesus was God, why did He have human limitations?  And if He was human, why did He claim equality with God?

The more we read the Word of God (the Bible), the more we are able to understand the mystery of Jesus as both God and man:  The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130 NIV).  The biblical profile of Jesus is fully divine:

  • He is eternal: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1-2 NIV)
  • He is immutable: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8 NIV)
  • He is omniscient (all knowing): Now we can see that you know all things (John 16:30 NIV)
  • He is omnipresent (all present): “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NIV)
  • He is omnipotent (all powerful): “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18 NIV)

The biblical profile of Jesus is also completely human.  The incarnation (God made flesh) has been called the most profound mystery in history.  But again the Bible shines the light of understanding into our simple minds:

  • Always and forever the Son of God (John 1:1; 8:58) – Jesus became the Son of Man (John 1:14 – His birthday).
  • At times He demonstrated all the limitations of humanity right down to being tired and thirsty (John 4:6; 19:28).  At other times He displayed the limitless power of His divinity (Matthew 14:18-21; John 11:43).
  • When He became human, the Son of God somehow gave up, set aside, emptied Himself of His divine privileges (either selectively or entirely) while He dwelt on Earth (Philippians 2:5-8).
  • In the Person of Jesus, the divine and human are forever One – and can never be separated (Acts 1:11).

We do not comprehend the whole mystery of incarnation, but Jesus certainly fits the profile of that one Peter confessed to be the Son of the living God.

 Jesus also fits the profile of the prophesied and long awaited Messiah/Christ?  “There are several things that the Jewish people who anticipated the Messiah expected Him to be, based on Old Testament prophecies. The Messiah would be a Hebrew man (Isaiah 9:6) born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), a prophet akin to Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18), a priest in the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4), a king (Isaiah 11:1–4), and the Son of David (Matthew 22:42) who suffered before entering His glory (Isaiah 53). Jesus met each of these messianic requirements.”

“Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Messiah in that He was a Hebrew of the tribe of Judah (Luke 3:30), and He was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:4–7) to a virgin (Luke 1:26–27).”

“Another proof that Jesus was the Messiah is the fact that He was a prophet like Moses. Both Moses and Jesus were prophets “whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10; cf. John 8:38). But Jesus is an even greater prophet than Moses in that, while Moses delivered Israel from slavery, Jesus frees us from the bondage of death and sin. Unlike Moses, Jesus didn’t just represent God—He is God (John 10:30). Jesus doesn’t just lead us to the Promised Land; He takes us up to heaven for eternity (John 14:1–3). For these and many more reasons, Jesus is a prophet greater than Moses.”[2]

Perhaps the clearest and most profound of all Old Testament Messianic prophecies is that in Isaiah 53 – the Suffering Servant.  To read Isaiah’s words written seven centuries before Christ and compare them with the biography of Jesus in the gospels, leaves no doubt that He was indeed the Messiah: 

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.  He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.  Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.  And who can speak of his descendants?  For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.  For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:1-12 New International Version)

Both as Christ and the Son of God – Jesus fits the profile!  Hallelujah!

[1] Taken from The Case for Christmas: A Journalist Investigates the Identity of the Child in the Manger by Lee Strobel [Zondervan, 2005].

[2] https://www.gotquestions.org/is-Jesus-the-Messiah.html

“WHO WAS THAT CHILD IN A MANGER – The Evidence from Science and History?”

A Savior Who is Christ the Lord . . . A Babe Wrapped in Swaddling Cloths, Lying in a Manger (Luke 2:11-12)

Bible critics and unbelieving skeptics would convince us that the Bible is wrong and that Jesus Christ is a myth because if the Bible is right and Jesus is the Son of God, then He is our rightful Lord to whom we owe our allegiance, our worship, and our very lives.  Jesus said this:  And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (John 3:19-20 New King James Version)

Jesus said people hate Him because He exposes the sin they love; they hate God altogether; and their hatred is contrary to the evidence and against good reason:  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ (John 15:22-25 NIV)

Also, those who hate Jesus and God actually hate us (Christians) because His light that shines through us, through our message and lifestyle, exposes their sins:

  • Those who hate God without a cause do not speak peaceably, but devise false accusations against those who live quietly in the land (Psalm 35:20 NIV). They tell lies about those who desire peace and quiet in the land.
  • The first murder occurred between brothers because the one’s righteous works provoked the other whose works were evil (1 John 3:12). Abel’s only crime was living a godly life; but Cain felt convicted by it and so killed his brother.
  • This is why everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12 New Living Translation). The truth hurts those intent on living contrary to it; and they will stop at nothing to suppress that truth  (Romans 1:18).

Critics charge that science and the Bible don’t mix; or, science is for thinking people and the Bible is for the superstitious; or, science contradicts the Bible.  But true science actually confirms the Bible and who Jesus Christ is.  “Science is defined as ‘the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.’ Science is a method that mankind can use to gain a greater understanding of the natural universe.”[2]  True science does not contradict the Bible; rather it has confirmed the Scriptures’ integrity again and again.

Geology (the science of the earth’s physical structure) agrees with the biblical chronology of Earth’s development:[3]

  1. Earth began in a confused/chaotic condition which gave way to a more developed state (Genesis 1:2)
  2. A life sustaining atmosphere was formed (Genesis 1:6-8)
  3. Dry land appeared (Genesis 1:9-10)
  4. Plant life appeared (Genesis 1:11-13)
  5. Sea life appeared (Genesis 1:20-23)
  6. Animal life appeared (Genesis 1:24-25)
  7. Human life appeared last (Genesis 1:26-28)

The evidence is exactly the same, but creationists and naturalists (believers in evolution) interpret it differently. You have to wonder though – how did a fifteenth century B.C. nomadic shepherd named Moses know the order of Earth’s geologic development so well that he got it sequentially spot-on in writing his creation epic in Genesis chapter one?

Archaeology (the science of human history and prehistory by studying artifacts and remains) corroborates much of what we know about Jesus from the Bible.  Dr. Edwin Yamauchi (The Scriptures and Archaeology and the World of the First Christians) says that even without the Bible we know a lot about Jesus from other ancient sources:

“We . . . know that first, Jesus was a Jewish teacher; second, many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms; third, some people believed he was the Messiah; fourth, he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; fifth, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; sixth, despite his shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by AD 64; and seventh, all kinds of people from the cities and countryside – men and women, slave and free – worshiped him as God.”[4]

Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, wrote about Jesus: 

“At this time Jesus, a wise man (if it is appropriate to call him a man), appeared.  For he was a worker of incredible deeds, a teacher of men who happily receive the truth, and he drew to himself many Jews – and many Greeks, too.  This man was the Christ.  And when Pilate had executed him at the instigation of the leading men among us, those who had first loved him did not give up.  For he appeared to them on the third day alive again (the divine prophets had spoken concerning him of these and countless other wonders).  And to this day the tribe of “Christians” (named after him) has not vanished.[5]

And Tacitus, great Roman historian writing approximately in AD 115 about Christians said they were wrongly accused by Nero for starting the fire that destroyed much of Rome in AD 64.  Also, of the term “Christian” he stated – “The author of this name, Christ, suffered the ultimate penalty at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate during the imperium of Tiberius.”[6]

Jesus did miracles as evidence of who He is – a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  On one occasion He posed the question whether it was easier to forgive someone’s sins or heal them from a disease.  He then said:  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .Get up, take your mat and go home.”  (Matthew 9:6-7 New International Version)  Jesus’ did miracles as evidence that He could save people from their sins – His purpose for coming into the world.  Modern skeptics say it is unreasonable to believe in miracles; but Jesus said to the skeptics in His day that it was unreasonable to witness miracles (which He did in abundance) and not believe.

A Miracle on 34th Street is an all-time favorite Christmas movie classic at our house.  You may recall the ending how all those watching Santa on trial were encouraged by his supporters to just BELIEVE!  Jesus encourages us to believe in Him, not just because He wants us to, but because of the miracles He did which were observed by many witnesses (Matthew 13:53-56).    The Apostle John wrote in concluding his gospel:  Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31 New International Version).  Based on the evidence, believing really is the most reasonable thing you can do!

[1] From The Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel [Zondervan, 2005].

[2] https://www.gotquestions.org/science-God.html

[3] Gleason L. Archer, Jr. in A Survey of Old Testament Introduction p.193.

[4] In The Case for Christmas, p.57.

[5] Josephus in Antiquities 18.63-64.

[6] Tacitus in Annals 15:44

WHO WAS THAT CHILD IN A MANGER? – The Evidence from Eyewitnesses

(Based on information in The Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel)

We live in a time when people, many people are intent on removing Christ and the Christian faith from the public discourse.  By any means possible, they seek to discredit, demean and dissuade persons from believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners.  In his book The Case for Christmas journalist, author and pastor, Lee Strobel carefully elucidates some very compelling evidences that the child born in a manger in Bethlehem in the first century was real and that He was the prophesied and long anticipated Messiah/Christ – Savior of mankind.  Furthermore, He truly was Emmanuel – God with us.

This Jesus, for whom Christmas is named, was the most significant Person who ever lived or ever will live.  He changed the world forever.  To know Him is LIFE; to reject Him, disavow or deny Him is DEATH for a person as well as a people.  But how do we KNOW that child in a manger was who and what He claimed to be and the Christian faith has ever since proclaimed Him to be?  What is the evidence?

EYEWITNESSES TESTIFIED that the child, Jesus, born in Bethlehem was the Christ who died for our sins, was buried and rose again according to the Scriptures.  So said the Apostle Paul, himself an eyewitness to the resurrected Jesus.

I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; 4  that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; 5  that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, and afterward to all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:3-7 Good News Translation)

Paul says he passed on what he had received.  This describes very succinctly how the gospel, the story of Jesus, and the entire Christian faith has come down to us – what the first Christians received they passed on to others.  At first it was transmitted orally, then very soon in written form.  Indeed the whole Bible was communicated this way from generation to generation.  It was both accurately received and faithfully passed on so we can be sure that what we have today is the TRUE Word of God:  His truth endures to all generations (Psalm 100:5 New King James Version).

The grammar of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is such that Bible scholars believe it reflects a CREED already formulated in the early Church, RECEIVED by the apostle and PASSED ON in his letter to the Corinthians.  This is important to note because many try to convince us that Jesus’ life was “mythologized” in the centuries following his death.  They say the real Jesus of history was merely a mortal man teaching some very radical ideas.  But Paul was converted WITHIN TWO YEARS of Jesus’ death (c. A.D. 35) and already there existed a clear THEOLOGY OF JESUS that he received and passed on to those he discipled.  If we are to believe Paul, the author of thirteen of the twenty-seven New Testament books (and I think we should), then we must believe that Jesus is the Christ who died for our sins was buried and rose again the third day – all according to the SCRIPTURES!

Now most of what we know about Jesus comes from the four gospels in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  And Bible critics would have us doubt everything about them from authorship to accuracy to authenticity.  But, we can be sure the gospels tell it right because the authors were all eyewitnesses or closely associated with eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus, that child born in Bethlehem.

Written statements by early Church fathers (first and second century Church leaders) confirm the gospels’ authorship.  Irenaeus (c.125-202 A.D.), a student of Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote:  “Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the church there.  After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching.  Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher.  Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his Gospel while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.”[1]

Similarities between the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) substantiate the gospels’ accuracy because we would expect EYEWITNESSES to agree on things they saw firsthand.  Skeptics say that similar and sometimes identical passages in the first three gospels mean they must have all copied in part from a common but undisclosed document. They refer to that undisclosed document as Q.  But there is NO EVIDENCE at all that such a document ever existed.  However, as one of Jesus’ apostles, Matthew was an EYEWITNESS to Jesus’ life and ministry.  And John Mark’s knowledge of Jesus came from Peter – also an EYEWITNESS.  And Luke said his gospel was the result of his carefully investigating everything from the beginning, including EYEWITNESSES to what Jesus said and did (Luke 1:1-3).  Furthermore, as Paul’s associate, Luke was acquainted with the gospel Paul said he received by revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12 NIV).  It only makes sense then that these different biographers of Jesus’ life, all basing their accounts on either their own witness of Jesus or that of His apostles , would tell a similar story, at times even identical.

Differences between the four gospels give us a BIGGER PICTURE of Jesus. Panoramic is a feature on many digital cameras.  By moving your aperture slowly across the photo target while depressing the take button, you wind up with a much bigger picture than what you get from a single angle.  Now imagine each of the gospel writers standing on a different side of Jesus – front, back, left side, right side.  They each saw Jesus, the very same Jesus, but from a slightly different viewpoint (angle).  Each author chronicled the life of Jesus from his own viewpoint and highlighted  those things about Jesus’ most likely to touch the minds and hearts of his specific audience.  And, when you put the different pictures together, you get a bigger (panoramic) picture of Jesus:

  • Matthew wrote to the Hebrews/Jews and focused on Jesus the long expected Messiah and rightful King of Israel.  After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2 NIV)
  • Mark wrote to Christians struggling under Roman oppression concerning the Son of God who came to serve, not be served: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NIV)
  • Luke was a historian and wrote his gospel in a very detailed and orderly way for folks with inquiring and perhaps skeptical minds, like his friend:  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4 NIV)
  • John wrote his gospel last (c. A.D. 85) to an international and growing Church of both Jews and Gentiles about a Jesus who is bigger than time and space:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1 NIV).  And John was very straight forward about the evangelical purpose for writing his gospel:  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31 NIV)

Differences between the gospels also serve to confirm their authenticity. Simon Greenleaf, a well-known and accepted authority on what constitutes reliable evidence in a court of law, examined the four Gospels from a legal perspective. He noted . . . Had the Gospels contained exactly the same information with the same details written from the same perspective, it would indicate collusion, i.e., of their having been a time when the writers got together beforehand to “get their stories straight” in order to make their writings seem credible. The differences between the Gospels, even the apparent contradictions of details upon first examination, speak to the independent nature of the writings. Thus, the independent nature of the four Gospel accounts, agreeing in their information but differing in perspective, amount of detail, and which events were recorded, indicate that the record that we have of Christ’s life and ministry as presented in the Gospels is factual and reliable.[2]

More than a century ago, seminarian Samuel Valentine Crow, wrote concerning the endless attempts by men to discredit and/or destroy the Holy Scriptures:

“Hammer away, ye hostile hands, Your hammers break, God’s anvil stands.”[3]

We can be sure about who that child in the manger was and is because the Scriptures are true and trustworthy and they leave nothing to doubt:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 NIV)

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23 NIV)

 

[1] In Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christmas, p.19.

[2] https://www.gotquestions.org/four-Gospels.html

[3] “Hammer and Anvil” by Samuel Valentine Cole.

Good Overcomes Evil

Evil in the world has been a problem for nearly as long as people have been in the world.  And for those who believe in an all-powerful and loving God, it is no small problem either.  If God is omnipotent, then why does evil seem to triumph so often?  And if He truly loves us, why does He permit it in the world at all?  From the cross, Jesus echoed the disappointment of generations confused by God’s apparent inability or unwillingness to deal with the evil that afflicted their lives:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46 New International Version)  Leaving the question of why evil exists for another blog, allow me to assure you, God is both able and willing to deal with evil in the world; and in fact He has and does deal with it every single day.

Romans 12:21 says “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (New International Version)  This one verse tells us three important things regarding evil:

  • Evil is real.
  • Evil struggles with good.
  • Good overcomes evil.

Some faiths teach that evil and good are eternal and equivalent forces at odds with each other in the universe.  Sometimes evil prevails; at other times good triumphs; but both will forever be a part of our lives; get used to it.  Others believe evil to be strictly a matter of fleshly, material things.   We can transcend (rise above) that which is physical and evil by pursuing that which is spiritual and good.  You’ll know what’s good when you get to the place where physical and spiritual completely separate – when you’re dead.  The Christian faith teaches that evil is real and present in the world and it affects all people in all places in all ages; but it is not eternal and ultimately God will put an end to it everywhere.  By definition evil is anything that does hurt, harm or injury.  It can rightly be said that cancer is an evil disease, Hurricane Irma was an evil storm and certainly the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada and Sutherland Springs, Texas were evil acts.  The apostle Paul writing to the Ephesian Christians said the very days we live in are evil (Ephesians 5:16).  Evil is real; it exists in the world; and it hurts, harms and injures people – all people – in all sorts of ways.  As long as we live in this world we will struggle with evil, but God is good and good overcomes and will ultimately eliminate evil!

God overcomes evil with His goodness and mercy:  How great is the goodness you have stored up for those who fear you. (Psalm 31:19 NLT)  The term lavish means in excess, without measure.  Evil happens to all people; indeed good people often suffer more evil in their lives than bad people (Psalm 34:19).  But the promise of God is that however plentiful the evil touching the lives of His people may be, His goodness will be more abundant!  This certainly is the meaning of Psalm 23:6:  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life (New King James Version).  During fourteen years of slavery and imprisonment, Joseph suffered many things, but God lavished on him favor, wisdom, success and authority.  Ultimately elevated to second in power throughout the kingdom of Egypt, Joseph testified that what others meant for evil, God intended for good (Genesis 50:20). The apostle Paul suffered many things – beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck, stoning and more.  But he wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:5:  Just as we have a share in Christ’s many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in God’s great help. (Good News Translation)

God overcomes evil through His Son:  The sinner is a child of the Evil One; for the Evil One has been a sinner from the first. And the Son of God was seen on earth so that he might put an end to the works of the Evil One. (1 John 3:8 Bible in Basic English)  Those who perpetrate evil against others whether it’s murder, theft, sexual harassment, assault, false witness or anything else are children of the Evil One (the devil).  Jesus is God’s Son and He came to destroy the evil activities of evil people and their spiritual father, the devil.  He does this by changing their hearts and calling them to follow Him (2 Corinthians 5:17; John 10:27).  Paul, who penned Romans 12:21, is the prime example of Jesus overcoming evil in a person’s heart.  On his way to Damascus with warrants to arrest Christians, Saul of Tarsus met the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth and his life changed forever.  The great enemy of Christians became himself the greatest Christian in history.  Years after the fact Paul wrote how Jesus changed his life, and how He can change anyone:  This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life (1 Timothy 1:15-16 New Living Translation).  In every heart where Jesus resides, goodness lives and evil dies.

History proves that wherever the message of Jesus Christ spreads, people and whole societies are transformed from evil to good.  Just one and lesser known example is Mary Slessor from Scotland and nineteenth century missionary to Calabar in Africa.  The peoples in Calabar were renowned for their savagery.  Slavers and cannibals, they devoured their captives and brutalized unmarried women.  They murdered twins believing them to be the spawn of demons and turned their mothers out to be eaten by wild beasts.  Witchcraft, drunkenness and tribal warfare dominated the culture for centuries.  But all that changed as Mary shared with them the love and gospel of God’s Son.  As the chiefs of the various tribes were converted, the wars ceased; cannibalism, slavery, infanticide and abuse of women also ended.[i]  The story of Mary Slessor of Calabar is only one of thousands how God has and continues to triumph over evil through His people spreading the news of His Son – Jesus Christ.

God will overcome evil by making everything new!  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.   I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”  And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5 New Living Translation)

The cliché is starting with a clean slate.  John was given a glimpse of God’s clean slate at the end of the glorious vision we call Revelation.  Notice, there will be no more death, sorrow, crying or pain.  In God’s new universe there is no room for evil; but there is plenty of room for Him to dwell with His people.  God is good, and He is going to put an end to evil everywhere.  Paraphrasing what He said to John – “You can count on it!”

“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail!”  You know those words.  They are from H.W. Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells” better known as the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” He first wrote it on Christmas Day in 1863.  It was the height of the Civil War.  Brothers were fighting, thousands were dying and none knew at that time which side would prevail.  But for Longfellow the day was even bleaker.  Just two years earlier his dear wife of eighteen years was critically burned in a fire and died.  Henry had been severely burned himself while trying to save her.  And in November his oldest son Charles was seriously wounded in the war and was struggling to survive.  No wonder then the melancholy that clouded his mind, the despair that filled his soul when out in the city streets the bells, those Christmas bells began to toll.  Their tune was as always joyful; their message hopeful – “peace on earth, good will to men.”  Suddenly something warm and wonderful began to happen deep inside Henry Longfellow.  As he listened to the bells and considered their meaning he realized the child in the manger so celebrated by the bells was greater than life or death, and that because of Him his wife still lived, and his son would live and the nation would also live.  So his famous poem made carol, while recognizing the evil that touched his life, ends with this triumphant refrain:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”[ii]

Evil in the world; the evil that touches all our lives, tempts us to despair.  But remember Jesus’ words – “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 New Living Translation)

 

[i] D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born, pp.167-169 [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994].

[ii] Wikipedia.org/”I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

 

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Psalm 100 was likely written in the post-exilic period of Israel’s history.  Because Israel’s sins exceeded those of the Canaanite peoples God had driven out before them, He determined the nation would be overthrown and the people carried away captive to Babylon.  However, because the LORD is good and His mercy endures forever, He also decreed that after 70 years in Babylon a remnant would return to Jerusalem.  And Psalm 100, a psalm of thanksgiving, may well have been sung by that remnant of Israel back in the land on the day they dedicated the new temple and themselves to the LORD.

 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.  (Psalm 100: 1-5 New International Version)

Israel’s return to the land was an occasion to shout for joy (v.1).  Memories of home and country had tortured them while they labored in faraway Babylon:  By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion (Psalm 137:1 NIV).  Now they were in the land again – as God had promised and right on time.  Ezra the Scribe in his book recounts how, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing” (Ezra 1:1 NIV).  Cyrus’s proclamation freed the Jews to return to their homeland for the specific purpose of building a temple to the LORD, the God of heaven . . . at Jerusalem in Judah (Ezra 1:2 NIV).  They first built the altar on which they made sacrifices to the LORD.  Then they laid the foundation for the new temple which they celebrated with great fanfare but tinged with sorrow:  Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s Temple had been laid.

 But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy.  The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance.  (Ezra 3:11b-13 New Living Translation)

Like that day in Israel’s history, our lives are a mix of joy and sorrow.  At times the sorrows and joys of life occur so close together as to be almost indistinguishable one from the other – like a noise (Psalm 101:1 KJV).  But even in the noise of our lives there is reason to shout to the LORDConsider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance . .  . Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:2-4, 12 NIV)

God’s wants everyone to worship Him (v.1).  The joy of the LORD is intended for all the earth.  God does not respect or prefer or desire one person or group of people above others (1 Peter 1:17).  In a Charlie Brown animated feature it shows Charlie Brown receive an invitation to a Halloween party in the mail.  He is elated and promptly shares the news with others.  A little girl hearing the news says, “There are always two lists for invitations; one “do invite” and the other “don’t invite”.  If you got an invitation, Charlie Brown, somebody made a mistake.”  But God makes no mistakes in His invitation.  Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Dress yourself in PRAISE and come on in to His presence (v.2).  How should we dress for church?  In PRAISE!  God gives to all who love and worship Him a garment of praise (Isaiah 61:3).  Nehemiah encouraged the congregation of returnees to Jerusalem by reminding them the joy of the LORD is your strength (Nehemiah 8:7 KJV).  Paul wrote to the Philippians, a congregation that faced much opposition and persecution – “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4 NIV)

Science is proving happiness (the substance of praise) is good for your health.  In an article for Greater Good Magazine dated July 28, 2015, journalist Kira M. Newman writes:  “. . . scientific studies have been finding that happiness can make our hearts healthier, our immune systems stronger, and our lives longer.”  She goes on to list six ways happiness has been linked to good health:

  • “Happiness protects your heart” by lowering heart rate and blood pressure.
  • “Happiness strengthens your immune system.”  Persons with positive emotions show higher levels of antibodies which are vital to defense against ailments.
  • “Happiness combats stress.”  Science has known for years that stress is detrimental to good health.  One research study found “the happiest participants had 23 percent lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than the least happy.”
  • “Happy people have fewer aches and pains.”  Studies demonstrate happiness actually reduces pain levels in people.
  • “Happiness combats disease and disability.”  An Australian study reported “participants who reported being happy and satisfied with life most or all of the time were about 1.5 times less likely to have long-term health conditions.”
  • “Happiness lengthens our lives.”  Multiple studies suggest this.

Psalm 16:11 says, “In thy presence is fullness of joy.”

Remember, we are his (v.3).  Belonging to God means we have:

  • PROTECTION –  A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all (Psalm 34:19 NIV)
  • PROVISIONThe lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10 NIV)
  • PROMISE – God has given unto us exceeding great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4 KJV)
  • PURPOSEFor we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)

Now we boldly go where men could not go before (v.4).  In biblical times, the way to God was barred by temple walls (the courts) and by a huge veil (the gate).  These served as no trespassing signs to ancient worshipers.  The temple itself divided people from God and subdivided them from each other.  Only the high priest could enter into the presence of God in the holy of holies and that just once a year.  The people outside were allowed within a certain distance depending on their nationality and their gender, but they were never allowed into His presence.

Jesus removed all the things that divide:

  • He opened the veil that separated men from God (Matthew 27:51).
  • He demolished the walls that divided people from each other (Ephesians 2:14-15).
  • Now we can go straight to God for help:  So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive his mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need. (Heb 4:16 TLB)

Also remember, what God honors with His presence we ought not to dishonor with our absence. (Hebrews 10:25)

We come with THANKSGIVING (v.4).  Gratitude never expressed is worse than ingratitude.  The will of God is that we give Him thanks:  Always be joyful.  Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT)

Thankfulness blesses me!  Even when you don’t feel particularly grateful, living as though you are can make a big difference in your overall well-being.  Professor Robert A. Emmons (University of California) says that “even pretending to be thankful raises levels of the chemicals associated with pleasure and contentment:  serotonin and dopamine.  Live as if you feel gratitude, he said, and soon the real thing will come.”[1]

Three reasons we should be THANKFUL (v.5). 

  • GOD IS GOOD!  He is the measure of all things good.  To say that good and evil do not exist is to say that God Himself does not exist for GOD IS GOOD!  He deals with us according to His goodness.  Israel was in captivity because they deserved to be.  In fact they deserved a lot worse, but God preserved them and brought them back home (Ezra 9:13).
  • HIS MERCY (LOVE) IS EVERLASTING!  Peter asked how often we should forgive someone.  Jesus said seventy times seven or unending!  God’s mercy and forgiveness toward us is EVERLASTING!  If we confess our sins – He will forgive us our sins (1 John 1:9).
  • HIS TRUTH IS THE SAME FOR ALL GENERATIONS!  Someone said:  “The only thing you can be certain of is that there is nothing you can be certain of.”  NOT SO!  “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.” (Luke 21:33 KJV)

This was a new generation of Israel coming home to Jerusalem, but HE WAS THE SAME GOD!  And He was fulfilling a promise He’d made to their forefathers, i.e. after 70 years He would bring them home (Jeremiah 29:10).

God keeps His promises!  We have much to thank Him for!

[1] Reader’s Digest November, 2009, p.164.

Real Super Heroes

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:12 KJV). 

Tales of super heroes (Marvel and DC Comics character types) are the rage at movie box offices.  For years the likes of Thor, Hulk, Superman, Batman, X-Men and soon – The Justice League – have drawn millions into theaters and made billions for their producers worldwide.  These super human heroes appeal to contemporary minds and hearts just like the medieval knights in Europe and western cowboys in America have in the past.  Every generation is drawn to persons of extraordinary capabilities and achievements that can only be described as SUPER!  But, while the Man of Steel, the Dark Knight, Sir Galahad and even Matt Dillon are only fiction, super heroes have lived and walk among us even today.  

If super heroes are defined by their exceptional abilities and extraordinary accomplishments against incredible odds, then of course none is more SUPER than Jesus Christ!  He had power to control nature.  He spoke just a few words and calmed a raging storm (Mark 4:39).  He had power to create matter.  From just a little bread and fish, He produced enough food to feed thousands of people – twice (Matthew 16:9-10).  He had power to call the dead back to life (John 11:43-44).  He had power over demons, which are very real (Mark 1:34).  He even went toe to toe with the prince of demons, Satan, and won (Matthew 4:10-11).  As to His accomplishments, John wrote:  “If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)  Jesus really did return from the grave (Revelation 1:18).  But perhaps the most amazing thing Jesus did was give to others the power to become sons of God (John 1:12).

This power changes lives, and the change begins the very moment you believe on his name (John 1:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17).  The Greek term exousia (power) literally means super human power.  Jesus is the ORIGINAL SUPER HERO who defeated evil villains, thwarted plans of world domination, overcame cosmic powers, and saved countless lives from disaster.  And His power that accomplished such deeds of daring do in the first century continues in the twenty-first through the sons/children of God, i.e. as many as received him (thoughtfully accept what He says about Himself) and them that believe on his name (entrust their lives to His ability to care for them).  These are the REAL SUPER HEROES in the world.  The Word of God says about them:

  • They radiate a supernatural light that cannot be overcome (Matthew 5:14-16; John 1:5).
  • They possess a supernatural strength greater than all the power of the enemy (Philippians 4:13; 1 John 4:4).
  • They have a supernaturally enlarged mind that understands things others do not (1 Corinthians 2:16).
  • They have a supernatural Teacher who instructs them, trains them, commissions and energizes them, and remains with them for life (John 16:12-13).
  • They have supernatural abilities to carry out their missions (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
  • They have supernatural protection against enemy weapons and schemes (Isaiah 54:17).
  • They have supernatural weapons of great power they use to defeat their enemies (2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:13-17).
  • They have supernatural means to change outcomes (Ephesians 6:18).
  • They have a supernatural Captain in charge of operations; He has never lost a fight (1 Corinthians 15:25-27).

One commonality of the comic super heroes is just how really COMMON they are.  They have their weaknesses – they’re not perfect.  The Hulk’s incredible strength is slave to his uncontrollable anger.  Batman is cowered by memories from his dark past.  And Ironman’s shining gallantry is tarnished by his sordid hedonism.  These fictional characters are very like real people.  Though possessed with great powers and abilities and guided by good moral values – they shrink under attacks from their greatest enemy – SIN.

The apostle Paul stands tall as one of history’s greatest super heroes, but he professed his own inability to triumph over banal desires dominated by the law of sin which he described as waging war against the law of my mind. Paul’s tremendous desire to do and be good was continually undone by his penchant for evil.  His utter frustration boiled up in his outcry, “Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? (Romans 7:21-24 New Living Translation) Recognizing his own need for rescue, this hero heralds the Super Hero who answered his call – “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25 NLT).  By His great POWER Jesus SAVED Paul from the deadly grip of sin.  And He does the same for all who call upon Him (Acts 2:21).

The real super heroes in the world are those who have received superhuman power from Jesus Christ to set them free from sin’s dominion (Galatians 4:7); to fight for the truth (Jude 3); to defeat the Devil (James 4:7); to overcome evil in the world with good (Romans 12:21); to love even their enemies (Matthew 5:44); to live godly in an ungodly society (2 Peter 2:9); and to share with others what they received from Christ (Matthew 10:8).  Though super, they still are not perfect.  But they have been changed from children of darkness to children of light (Ephesians 5:8); changed from unrighteousness to righteousness (2 Corinthians 6:14); changed from similitude with an evil world to the likeness of their holy Creator (Colossians 3:9-11).  And when they make mistakes, they own up to them and, like Paul, cry out to the One who can and will come speedily to their rescue.  If this describes you, then welcome to the League of Super Heroes!  Welcome to The Children of God!  Let the adventure begin!