The Incredible Message

I admit that I have been wrestling with a big question. Why would God entrust the message of “Salvation” for the entire world to such a small group of followers? Spreading the news to every person on earth, in my view, is an impossible task.

Then I ask another question. Why was the message not there from the beginning? The Old Testament pointed to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. In other words, the Old Testament patriarchs and matriarchs had an incomplete message. However, it must have been sufficient.

We read in the New Testament that even the angels are amazed by the message of “Redemption.” Those who benefit from a knowledge of Christ are of all people on earth most blessed and even celestial beings acknowledge this truth.

So why the incomplete message, in the Old Testament? And why the partial knowledge among people groups of the world, historically, and in the present?

What greater message than the possibility that our sins can be forgiven and we can begin a new, guilt-free life? Why withhold or obscure this message? This is a really big question for me, and, as I usually do, I lay it before God and wait for an answer.

Today, as I was reading in the book of Luke, I began to get a glimpse of understanding. I read about Peter leaving his great catch of fish and following Jesus. Earlier Jesus spent some time speaking to the people on the shore from where he was, in Peter’s boat, before he told Peter to cast his net in the water. Peter explained to Jesus that fishing had been futile that day. He still did as he was told. He had nothing to lose. The catch he drew caused Peter to fall down in worship before Christ. This is our response when we encounter the supernatural, unfathomable provision of God.

The provision of God is something we can’t make happen. We can only be open to it.

I have sought God in conventional and unconventional ways. In fact, it has been my mission in life to know God. This has turned out to be the most stimulating and rewarding search. Because of my fabulous journey, I am particularly concerned about the message getting out. I want everyone on earth to have the same opportunity.

As I ponder the message, and the distribution of the message, and the reception of the message, my mind goes to another problem and this is the matter of “predestination.” So much ink has been spilt on this topic, I’m not going to belabour it. But we have to ask, are there some people who will be “saved” because it was “predestined from the beginning”?

In the early chapters of Luke, I saw references to “angels”, the “Holy Spirit”, the “devil”, “sickness”–which Jesus healed, and “demons” he cast out. I say this because I am made aware that we are not just dealing with a message. We are dealing with resistance, too. We are informed of a “spiritual” realm where there are spiritual beings, in opposition to one another. There is a confrontation. Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, God, and the angels, are on one side. The devil, demons, imperfection, oppression, sickness and evil are on the other.

There is opposition, not only to the message, but to the delivery, which makes it even more amazing that the spreading of the message was entrusted to so few.

I have noted that shepherds learned about the birth of Christ through the supernatural message of angels. The wise men who came from the east, followed a star, also a supernatural phenomenon. Herod, the king, was so threatened by the message conveyed to him by the wise men–the possibility of the birth of another king–that he ordered all of the newborns in the district killed. Note that this was foretold, prophetically in the Old Testament: “Rachel” would not be comforted because of the loss of her children. This raises another question, concerning the justice of God. Why did these mothers endure such sorrow, as a consequence of the birth of Christ? This story also reminds us of the birth of another “deliverer”–Moses. The Pharaoh of Egypt sent out an edict to have babies of Israelite mothers killed. Ironically, the “deliverer” was raised in the royal household, right under the Pharaoh’s nose.

From this I learn that, 1) sometimes the message is spread supernaturally, and, 2) the message and the messenger will be interpreted as a threat and fiercely resisted in some corners. The most radical evidence of this resistance is the crucifixion of Christ.

Every healing, every miracle, every true word spoken, by Christ, was a confrontation. I fail to comprehend the need to crucify the most loving, generous and wise person that walked the earth. It is so paradoxical–the need to kill the “Savior.” We can only understand this within the context of true evil. We are told it was because of “envy” that they delivered him up to be crucified. Jesus Christ was going to displace the thing they relied on, weak and faulty as it was. But that is the nature of deception. It does not see what really is.

God is able, and sometimes chooses, to spread the word without the assistance of mere humans. However, it is through the “foolishness of preaching” that we often receive the message, implying that talking about the message is a very imperfect form of communication. It is still essential, however, and we are encouraged to spread the word verbally. The apostle Paul, probably the greatest preacher of the message of Christ, claims he did not come in man’s wisdom, but in humility, recognizing his inadequacy, and total dependence on the “demonstration of power” that would accompany the message. This demonstration, I might add, is sadly lacking in Christian contexts today.

Jesus’ miracles of provision, of casting out demons, and of healing the sick, were demonstrations of the power of God at work. Jesus knew people would struggle with the message, so he pointed them to his ministry–the evidence of the power of God at work.

God at work. That is what we see. That is the message.

God is not willing that any should perish, the Bible tells us. The gift of salvation–the forgiveness of sins— is extended to all.

We tend to make Christianity complicated. The scriptures are profitable for correction and instruction in right living. From the beginning we were intended to live a life free from fear, a life of worship towards God and care for our fellow human beings, a life that is at peace with our God-given conscience.

This begs the question, can we be saved without a knowledge of Christ?

When people do not receive the message of Christ delivered to them, can they still be saved?

Salvation is restoration to a relationship with God, our creator, through forgiveness of sins, and the embarking on a new life. I may be wrong in this, but I think it is possible to believe in God without a knowledge of Christ, as we see in the Old Testament. But when Christ is introduced, the believer will recognize Christ as God.

The Bible says, “All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” It also says, “demons also believe, and tremble.” So, it is insufficient to merely acknowledge the message. One must engage with the message, as a believer. The Israelites who looked on the serpent Moses lifted up on a post, were healed from the plague. They accepted the hope and deliverance offered to them. This was a symbol of what was to come, Christ lifted up on the cross, for the healing of many.

In the book of Luke the crowds initially heard Jesus gladly, but then the people turned on him. It happened after he told them about the healing of Naaman and God’s provision for a widow during a time of drought. There were many other lepers, at the time, who were not healed, and many other widows who were not provided for in the same way. When Jesus pointed this out to the people, it incited their rage. I don’t fully understand why, but it could be for the same reason people react negatively towards the message today. They think all should be healed and provided for.

It seems that God is not troubled by the fact that only Naaman was healed and only one widow was helped. And he apparently is not overly disturbed by the fact that only a few will be saved. This is a fascinating thought to consider. We might be tempted to say God is unjust. And by what standard of judgment would we declare this? Only by the one we have derived from our limited understanding of justice and of God, as revealed, primarily, in the Bible. Be angry at God, if you will. Lift your fist in his face. Tell him he is wrong. Tell him he is unjust. He will still choose whom he pleases.

So, when he chooses us, we fall on our face before him, like Peter. Maybe we think to ourselves, at first, this probably won’t work. We’ve already fished all day and caught nothing. But we have nothing left to lose. And then the wonder happens.

Jesus, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Living Water. He is the missing element of sustenance we need in our lives. He will come and abide with us, live in us, by his Holy Spirit. He will guide us–He is light. He will nourish us–He is bread. He will quench our thirst--He is water for our souls.

“To whom shall we go, for you have the words of life,” Peter declared to Christ. He believed Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus’ response to Peter, as we read in Matthew chapter sixteen, was, “this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” The message, ultimately, is revealed, supernaturally.

We may participate in the distribution of the message, but God ultimately takes responsibility for the revelation.

Don’t Wait for Someone to Tell You About Christ

I knew there were Christians in my school and I waited for them to tell me about Christ. I think I used that as an excuse.

Looking back, I know that Christ was knocking at the door of my heart. I didn’t need anyone to tell me. I just needed to open the door.

In many ways I’m thankful that nobody talked to me about Christ. I don’t have a model of how it should be done. Nobody hounded me. Nobody pressured me. Nobody tried to talk me into becoming a Christian. In fact, nobody talked to me about Christ. None of my peers even invited me to go to church. I knew some of them went to church.

Was it their example that made me want to be a Christian? Was it something they said or did? I can’t point to anything. They were nice people, that is the ones that I thought were Christians. I think I could tell, mostly. But it was not the desire to be like them that led me to make the decision to be a Christian. It was a personal life choice.

For awhile I separated myself from the Christians, maybe out of a rebellious heart. All of our hearts have some rebellion, I think. We hesitate to cross the line and give control over to God. It’s a pretty scary thing to decide to follow Christ. It means crossing over. Leaving the crowd.

I sat on the fence for awhile. I wasn’t really a bad person. I lived a basically good life. But it wasn’t a surrendered life. I was OK with people believing I wasn’t a Christian. Then one day I decided to change that. I decided to take a public stand. There were things about me, outwardly, that looked like a rebel. One was my dark demeanor. I didn’t have the joy I had after I committed my life to Christ. We choose to live in darkness or light. Darkness is where self and sin rule.

There is a song that goes, “We are all God’s children,” and it is true in the general sense that we are all God’s creation and he loves us all. But we are not all “disciples” of Jesus.

I knew it would cost me something to be a disciple, and I was right. It has cost me a lot. I’ve had to stand against the crowd. I haven’t had friends when I might have had them, if I would have compromised a little. I’ve been mocked. I’ve been misunderstood. I’ve been shunned. I’ve been criticized. But I have not yet experienced the extremes that many believers have been subjected to. Thousands of Christians, worldwide, die every year for their faith. Many are tortured. This is something I have not experienced.

Becoming a Christian required that I counted the cost, in other words, what it would cost me to stand in opposition to the thinking and the ways of the world. It’s not popular to be a Jesus follower. I’m glad I didn’t continue to use the excuse that nobody told me about Christ. One day I saw, that it really was just up to me. What will you do about the claims of Christ?

False Teachings in the Church

There are false teachings in the churches today. We can only discern them when we seek God and submit ourselves to his ways.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sins and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

As believers we war against principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places.* We pull down spiritual strongholds. We cast out demons. We heal the sick. We declare the kingdom of God. We shine a light in the darkness. We expose sin.

Today we commemorate the death of Christ. There were false teachings among the believers in Jesus’ day, as well, and the religious leaders were the ones who incited the mob to demand that Jesus be crucified. Jesus, who cast out demons, who healed the sick, who proclaimed the kingdom of God, who never did any evil or harmed anyone. If that is not enough evidence that we are at war against evil forces, then there is nothing that will convince us.

A very strange thing is happening in the world today. We are seeing death on every side as a result of the coronavirus. People are helpless in the face of this tragedy. We are also seeing economic hardship as businesses are shut down to prevent the disease from spreading. Even places of worship are closed.

In the past decade there has been a renewed interest in “spirituality” as a significant aspect of people’s lives. “Meditation” has become increasingly popular. However, there is extreme care taken not to specify the object of this faith. Supposedly it can be applied in any direction with the same result. Well, this is not true. My prayers will only be as effective as the power of the one to whom they are directed. Apart from this, the outcome is left to chance, or to evil and deceptive forces eager to participate in our undiscerning spirituality and meditation. While a lot of good can come from positive thoughts and actions, we are still left to decide whether we will choose to honor and worship a holy God, and follow his ways, or limit ourselves to our own understanding and refuse to acknowledge the designer of our universe and the forgiver of our sins.

The Rev. Bill M. Ferg stated the following in his book Every Believer’s Authority (1995): You and I are the greatest problem that satan has on the earth.

Satan has a problem with the believer. He had a problem with Jesus too. He succeeded in nailing him to the cross. When we confront heresy in the church, the response is often to try to nail us to the cross, in the sense that every effort is made to effectively silence our voice. But truth will not be silenced.

Some errors within the church are more serious and have more dire consequences than others. There is still value in gathering with believers, and we are exhorted not to forsake going to church. But let’s not be gullible and accept false teachings.

As a young teen I was part of a church that erred in its teaching. I turned to my Bible to find the truth. Eventually I found another church with a fuller understanding of the Bible. I experienced a great renewal and blessing in this church.

The errors of churches include distortion of Scripture, over-emphasis of certain teachings, exclusion of other teachings as irrelevant, adding to what the Bible teaches, changing the meaning, or being indifferent.

Even Jesus was frustrated over what he saw happening in the temple. He declared, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.” Greed had corrupted the house of God. We also see in the book of Revelation that God rebukes churches and requires that they change.

God is a God of mercy and grace, but he is also a God of wrath against men who hold the truth in unrighteousness. God hates sin. He who gave his own son to die for the forgiveness of the sins of the world will not in turn tolerate sin in the believer. Believers have lost their authority because they have rationalized that they can still harbor sin.

Psalm 103:3 says, “I will set no evil thing before my eyes.” The Bible admonishes us to be holy as God is holy. We are also not to think of ourselves as beyond temptation. If we are trying to help someone who is struggling there is the likelihood that we too could falter and fail. For this reason we walk in humility. Our susceptibility teaches us to have compassion for others. Jesus had compassion too, but he did not have tolerance for sin. In fact, he came to “destroy the works of the evil one.” (1 John 3:8) Sin is the work of the evil one.

God is purifying his church. He is preparing a bride. This is the symbolism used in the Bible for the church joining Christ for eternity. He is looking for a holy church, without spot or wrinkle.

The church does a disservice to believers when it fails to teach about the undeniable significance of being Christ-like in every respect. We are seated in the heavenly realms with Christ, having all dominion along with him. All authority is given to us as believers, along with Christ, when we walk in his will.*

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

*References from Ephesians 6:11-12, 1:20, 2:6, Matthew 28:18, Luke 10:19

River of Life

There are a few things that set Christianity apart from other religions and make it distinctly attractive. One of these is the deep inner joy and peace evident in the lives of those who grasp the essence of the faith. I have been in the presence of Christians whose faces are radiant. Light shines from their eyes. Many have been drawn to Christianity by noting this and wondering about it.

Around the globe there are significant differences in understanding of the Christian faith. Teachers in certain faith groups have been revered on the level of prophets. Traditions have been added over the generations which have no basis in the Bible.

In some Christian circles reading of the Bible is not encouraged for the average person. It is relegated to those in authority in the church who may or may not have theological training.

The benefits of personal Bible study far outweigh the risks of possible misinterpretation. Admittedly, the Bible is a difficult book to understand but the Holy Spirit helps us to grasp its meaning. One of the most fundamental distinctions of Christianity is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit for the one who believes.

Jesus instructed his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit whom he promised to send to them after his ascension. “You shall receive power, after the Holy Ghost is come upon you,” he told them (Acts 1:8). He also told them that the Holy Spirit would comfort them and teach them and bring to their remembrance all the things he had taught them (John 14:26). John the baptist said of Jesus, “I baptize you with water, but there is one who comes after me who will baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33). John said he had been told this by the one who sent him to baptize.

Here we have two examples of foreknowledge, or prophesy. John the Baptist knew he would encounter Jesus who would “baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” We read of this event occurring in the book of Acts. A very helpful online resource in the study of the Bible is BibleGateway and I recommend you go there and read the book of Acts. It is a remarkable account of the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers.

Many religions have a Holy Book, but I have not encountered one that has an indwelling Holy Spirit. This is the “river of life” which Jesus promised would flow from our innermost being. I cannot tell how many times I have been led by the Holy Spirit in my daily life and guided and enlightened and comforted in my Bible reading.

In Mark 12:36 we read that David, in the Old Testament, spoke prophetically, “by the Holy Ghost,” concerning Jesus. The Holy Spirit was active before the time of Christ, in prophesy.

The revelation of Scripture by the Holy Spirit, the knowledge of the future through prophesy by the Holy Spirit, and the personal receiving of power by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, for the believer, is what makes Christianity distinctly unique from other religions.

Imagine there’s no heaven

I am reading Matthew 10 today and I admit I am surprised. Jesus sends out his disciples to declare the message of the kingdom of heaven and instructs them to heal the sick, cleanse the leprous, cast out demons and even raise the dead. This seems to be common around Jesus and his ministry.

What surprises me is that people will hate them for it. Hate them for preaching about the kingdom of heaven. For living it. Why?

I’m of the naive school that believes that if I am kind to others they will be kind to me. It works, sometimes, but not always. And when it doesn’t, I am always surprised. But I shouldn’t be. Because Jesus warns his disciples of this very thing happening to them. In fact, he says parents will turn against their children, and children against their parents and actually have them put to death. Why? It looks to me like this will happen because they hold strongly to different beliefs.

Many wars have been fought over ideologies. Some of my readers will recall the John Lennon song, Imagine. “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today. Aha-ah…. Imagine there’s no countries, it’s easy to do. Nothing to kill or die for, no religion too. Imagine all the people, living life in peace….” Lennon’s dream was that the world would live as one, admittedly a good dream. In the song the enemy appears to be religion, the fact that people hold to different beliefs, ideologies, worldviews.

Religion is pretty diverse. I recently read in a book by Bruce K. Wilborn, entitled Witches’ Craft-A Multidenominational Wicca Bible (2011), that Wiccans consider themselves as part of the oldest religion on earth. I read further that, although they don’t believe in “hell,” in regards to the breaking of one particular law they will condemn the violators to the “Curse of the Goddess” with the result that they are never to be reborn, but to remain, “where they belong, in the Hell of the Christians.” It fascinated me that Wiccans may not not confess to believing in hell, yet are quite willing to utilize it on their enemies.

We can imagine whatever we desire about the life hereafter. It will not make it real or false, although it will create a sort of “reality” for the present life and possibly affect our behavior. I am of the Christian belief that there is both a heaven and a hell and that I can’t wish them away, even if I try. In other words, there is future reward and judgment, or punishment, for behavior. Some would call this justice.

On a personal level, I have family who don’t believe in hell because they cannot reconcile a “God of love” being a God of judgment as well. In their mind evil doers will go unpunished. At least, not sent to hell.

I have a lot of questions about hell. Do only our spirits go there, or do our bodies go there too? Do people go there immediately after they die, or is there a kind of “purgatory,” a holding place, where they wait until the judgment on the last day? The Bible doesn’t give us a clear treatise on hell, just bits and pieces of information here and there and some of them don’t jive. One thing seems to be clear in Jesus’ mind. God, his father, ought to be feared as the one who has the power to cast both body and soul into hell (Matthew 1:29).

I’m very uncomfortable talking about hell. I don’t like the idea of the motivation for serving God being to avoid being sent to hell. I admit that I, too, am culturally influenced. I may even find, down the road, that some of my current beliefs need to be modified. But one thing seems logical. It seems logical to hate someone who believes in hell. It seems logical to hate someone who declares evil will be punished. It seems logical to hate someone who calls you out on your lifestyle, maybe even on your beliefs, and says you will go to hell if you don’t change.

Christians have been called haters (because they believe in hell)…by haters. But we can’t change the score. Nobody can. What will be will be. We may have faith that it will be one thing and find out one day that it turns out differently.

John Lennon’s song has a basic flaw. He believes the world will “live as one” if we do away with religion. The trouble is that religion is just the label we put on a set of beliefs and the practices flowing out of those beliefs. Religion generally involves a deity or deities, and, depending on your definition, it can even have no “god.”

People will always organize themselves around a set of beliefs. That is where the song is flawed. One man may believe that he can have many wives and another that he ought to have only one wife. Because there will always be greed, there will always be unfairness. And for this reason there will always be rules made around distribution and things like how many wives a man can have or how many husbands a woman can have.

The early Christians sold property and had everything in common, we read in the book of Acts, much like Lennon says, “no possessions…no need for greed or hunger.” But later we read that other churches had to make donations to the believers in Jerusalem. Who bought the land that they sold, I ask? Where was the power re-distributed? After they sold their land they no longer had a place to raise their livestock and grow their crops and so they became impoverished and dependent on others for supply. It was a very short-sighted plan.

Jesus saw that religion was not the issue. There was a heart issue. People lacked love, compassion and generosity. When he told one man to, “Go, sell all you have and give the money to the poor,” he was not setting him up as an example of a precedent. He was merely pointing out how attached we can become to our possessions. He was encouraging generosity and sharing as opposed to hoarding for ourselves.

The reason Marxism, for example, does not work, is that people actually need leaders and unfortunately leaders will often be corrupted by power. Even in Marxism there will be leaders who will tell people what they should and shouldn’t do and who will feel responsible to police this. Who owns the land? Who distributes resources? Who decides how much a person receives? Who decides what they must do in exchange? This quickly turns into a situation resembling slavery if people do not own land.

We will never all “live as one” as long as not every single person has a perfect heart towards God first, and then towards his neighbor. We need to be answerable to someone, and we need someone to settle our disputes. We need a common compass. This is what religions have sought to give us. They have sought to teach us “what is right” as opposed to “who is right,” so that we all adhere to the same guiding principles.

We need commandments such as “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, not his ox, nor his ass.” Without this, we will covet. It is not because some people have more and some have less that we see corruption, as it is a lack of generosity on one side, and jealousy and resentment on the other. We need exhortations like “Godliness, with contentment is great gain.” We need to aspire to something higher and greater and more righteous and more loving than merely acquiring and hoarding in this life.

We need to believe this world can be better. That people can be better. John Lennon was definitely right about that. We need to believe that we have a significant part to play in making this world a better place, by virtue of the fact that we were born on this earth.

In fact, we need heaven. We need the hope of heaven on earth. We need the prayer, “Thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” John Lennon didn’t know how close he was to saying this.

 

Can a Person be Righteous?

I have long been fascinated by the story of Job. When I was in Bible College I was taught that Job was a righteous man and his friends were wrong when they insisted that he must have done some evil to cause this calamity to fall upon him. Through the years I have met Christians who insisted that Job’s friends were right and Job was indeed presumptuous to claim to be righteous. This caused me to dig deeper into the text, and every time I do so I come out believing more firmly that Job was righteous.

Today as I read the book of Job, something leapt out at me.

The story begins, “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” Job even offered sacrifices for each of his children after they had enjoyed a time of feasting and reveling on their birthdays, just in case they had sinned and “cursed God in their hearts.”

What an interesting thought, cursing God in their hearts. Later, in chapter two, Job’s wife tells him to “curse God and die.” Job said she was speaking as a foolish woman. The text continues, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

What stood out for me today was Satan’s response to God. When Satan appeared before God with the other angels, God asked him if he had considered his servant Job, “There is no one like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Satan’s reply is, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not…blessed the work of his hands….But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Job’s wife essentially told Job to give up on God. Why would you serve a God who sends such calamity? What is the point? This is exactly what Satan was saying. Job would no longer serve God if God stopped blessing him. People only serve God for what they can get. The big question is, Will Job still trust God if God removes his hedge of protection from him?

Satan argued that Job’s reverence for God was conditional. It was dependent upon God’s goodness to him. Satan was convinced that if God would strike Job, Job would indeed curse God.

Job’s response to his wife, however, was, “Shall we accept good from God and not evil?”

Throughout the Bible we see a pattern of God blessing his people when they obeyed him and causing evil or harm to come to them when they disobeyed. The Bible literally says it will be well with us if we obey God. The King James Bible version puts it this way:

Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess (Deuteronomy 5:33).

As a result of this scripture and others like it, people have concluded that if something bad happens to us, we are somehow at fault. Presumably we have sinned or not been righteous enough. Job’s friends took the view that the trouble he was experiencing was evidence that he must have some sin he needed to confess.

Jesus challenged the belief that if something bad happens it is because a person has sinned. When he was about to heal a man who was blind from birth, Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus if the man was blind because of his own sin or the sin of his parents. This association of sin with affliction was deeply rooted in their understanding. Jesus responded that neither was true. Rather, this would bring glory to God (John 9).

If we look in the Bible we find stories of people who were not evil and still experienced great trials. Think of the story of Joseph, as an example (Genesis 37-46). The Bible teaches that God will give us the grace and strength to endure trials (2 Corinthians 12:9), that God can cause good to come from harm (Romans 8:28), and that he will not allow us to be  tempted beyond what we can endure (1 Corinthians 10:13). Clearly trials will come.

While the Bible says God will bless us if we are faithful, it does not promise that nothing bad will ever happen to us. After all, it happened to Job.

The Bible also does not say that God will not bless us if we are unfaithful. In fact scriptures like Psalm 73 wrestle with the fact that sometimes the wicked prosper.

We tend to read the story of Job through the grid of our New Testament understanding that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We understand that “…by one man sin entered into the world….” (Romans 5:12), speaking of Adam and Eve in the garden. In light of this it could appear presumptuous for Job to claim that he is righteous.

When Jesus healed the man who was born blind, the leaders of the synagogue questioned the man, wanting to know what had happened to him. His response was “All I know is that once I was blind but now I see” (John 9:25). I propose that Job knew he was righteous because he experienced the difference between being blind, living in darkness, and seeing. He recognized what his friends were trying to pin on him. It may have been his past, but of one thing he was certain. It did not describe his present.

Christians who cannot accept that Job was righteous are in fact aligning themselves with his friends. At the end of the story we read that God was angry with Job’s friends and required a sacrifice of atonement from them. He accused them of not speaking the truth about him. He also instructed Job to pray for them, “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:8).

We see here that the very knowledgeable friends of Job were wrong in their conclusions about Job, and that this, in the sight of God, was a serious offense which required sacrifice and intercession.

Although all that Job valued was taken away and he suffered incredibly, he possessed what his friends did not have. Job possessed righteousness. To say he was not righteous would have been to slander God. The truth Job spoke was about God.

I think today the “Christian” thing to do, if we were in Job’s place, would be to offer a show of humility and say something like “we all sin.” Job’s friends would probably have been satisfied if Job had just conceded that much. But Job refused. Job possessed an incredible understanding of God and righteousness.

Job’s relentless refusal to yield continues to challenge me, personally, especially when I think of how easily we confess to sin. Job’s testimony of righteousness was so powerful that God and Satan engaged in a contest to test its veracity. Wow!

Some people would accuse Job of self-righteousness and pride. This is exactly what his friends did. But God didn’t see it that way. There was a purity to his confession that could not be any further refined in the furnace of affliction. The trials he suffered only proved that what he had was real.

How to guard your heart

I want to talk about something close to my heart. It is the need to guard our hearts. “Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it proceed the issues of life” Proverbs 4:23.
 
What does it mean to guard our heart? Recently I felt like my heart was broken. My heart has been broken many times over in my life. How do I respond to a broken heart? I allow myself to grieve. It’s alright to feel the pain.
 
Sometimes our heart is broken because of injustice, or what we perceive to be injustice. Even injustices in the past that we did not personally experience. Or injustices in other countries. Or injustice that has happened to other people.
 
We are in a dangerous place when our heart is broken. The easy response is to become bitter. There are so many things we can become bitter about in the world.
 
In the Bible we read the story of how Cain became bitter towards his brother Abel. Cain’s heart was broken because the sacrifice he offered was not acceptable to God, while his brother Abel’s sacrifice was received by God. Pain can quickly turn to anger and this is what happened in this story.
 
When we become bitter, we instinctively want to cause pain or even destroy the people who caused the pain. Cain ended up killing his own brother.
 
God warned Cain when he noted that Cain’s “countenance was darkened.” He told Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door and it desires to have you.” Cain ended up yielding to this influence, despite the warning.
 
The Bible instructs us not to let a root of bitterness grow in our hearts. This can apply to any situation that disturbs us, past or present.
 
Guarding our hearts means we don’t allow our hearts to harden towards other people or people groups. We can separate the sin from the sinner. We can still pray for the tyrant leader, or the molester, or the hater.
 
Our pain does not have to cause us to become insensitive and uncaring like the ones who caused the pain. Neither does our pain need to cause us to turn bitter against God when we think he is unjust.
 
God’s response to those who question his justice is found in the book of Job, chapter 38, “Where were you when….” I love Job’s faithful response, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” Job 13:15. He was saying, God you can do whatever you choose to do in my life, I will still serve you. This is ultimate faith.
 
Cain’s real anger was towards God. And if we look deeply inside ourselves we will see we are no different.
 
Let’s guard our hearts from growing cold and loveless towards people and towards God. Instead, embrace a soft heart, a heart that can be broken and continue to love. I have found that this is actually the path to healing.

He is Risen Indeed

I struggled to fully embrace Christianity. I saw the value in living by the Golden Rule, to love your neighbor as yourself. I appreciated the Ten Commandments as laws for a successful society. I even believed in God, the Creator. But could I accept Jesus as more than a man who did good?

In our pluralistic society there used to be an “everyone to his own” attitude back in the sixties and seventies. But that has changed to everyone conforming to a new set of values which essentially oppose some of the very basic tenets of the Christian faith. In other words, we are facing an anti-Christian mindset.

In view of this it is imperative to be convinced of one’s faith. We not only need to know what we believe, but why we believe, or we will be easily shaken.

Recently I have been challenged by those in Christian circles who are taking issue with several basic tenets of the Christian faith, including the atoning death of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

This brings me back to the time when I chose Christianity above other faiths. Not only was I drawn to the character and life of Christ, I believed in his atoning death and resurrection.

One day during the time when I questioned Christianity it became apparent to me that the validity of the Christian faith rested entirely on whether Christ was indeed resurrected from the dead. I visited a Mosque once where I had a conversation with a Muslim who said, simply, that Jesus never died on the cross. When Jesus prayed for this cup of death to be removed, God answered his prayer.

On another occasion I sat with a Muslim man on a flight and was reading Psalm 32 in my Bible.

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.

We had an interesting conversation and he claimed, rightly, to know more about the Christian faith than I did about the Muslim faith. He told me that Muslims believe in the Old Testament. I still intend to do a deeper study on how the Muslim faith is informed by the Old Testament. What we know, however, is that Muslims are descendants of Abraham, as well as Jews, only through the line of Ishmael, not Isaac.

The Jewish and Muslim faith are closest to Christianity but both reject Christ as the Son of God or Savior. They are the two faiths I have been inclined toward, besides Christianity.

In my search I saw that I had to establish for myself, as satisfactorily as possible, whether or not Jesus died and was resurrected. I pondered the evidence over a period time and finally came to the conclusion that indeed, Christ died and was resurrected. No, his disciples did not steal the body out of the tomb and start a new religion. They went and hid, afraid for their own lives. And the Jewish leaders themselves asked Pilot to set a guard before the tomb to prevent theft, already anticipating this possibility. When the stone was rolled away and the grave was found empty, the soldiers were not punished with death. That was remarkable. The Jews, instead spread the rumor that the body of Christ was stollen.

Well, we could say the writers of the gospels made up this complex story. I don’t think the gospels would have gained much momentum if they were known to be a clear fabrication. What finally cemented my faith was the book of Acts. It was seeing how these timid followers of Christ turned their world upside down preaching the gospel of salvation through the atoning death and resurrection of Christ. They could not all have been willing to give their lives for a lie. No, they were completely convinced, and faced extreme opposition.

This opposition continues to this day. And that is another thing that adds credibility to Christianity. Major world governments consider Christianity to be a threat. The beliefs of Christianity are peace loving, living by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. The church, historically, has not always been effective in communicating the essence of the gospel and so we have seen unpardonable atrocities. Even today we see gross misrepresentations. In the words of J. I. Packer (Knowing God), “it is a long time since theology has been so weak and clumsy at its basic task of holding the church to the realities of the gospel.”

The notion that is gaining popularity today is the idea that God would not require atonement. That he would not sacrifice his son. This teaching also casts doubt on the entire Old Testament, reducing it to inspirational stories and myths. The reason behind this is the difficulty people have with reconciling the wrath of God with their view of a God of love. Of course, hell does not fit in either.

For decades now the church has emphasized the love of God in an effort to be seeker friendly and it has largely avoided reference to wrath, judgment and hell. Of course, if none of these are to be considered, then why do we need atonement? They don’t go so far as to say that we don’t need forgiveness, but God can forgive without requiring a human sacrifice, they claim. I happen to agree with them and this may be a surprise to some. I believe God can do as he pleases.

I think God can indeed forgive without a sacrifice. But I believe he chose to sacrifice his son and he had his reasons. For those who don’t believe this, you will have to do your own study, as I did.

The atonement causes the entire Bible to make sense. In fact, for me it causes life to make sense. My faith informs my life and gives it meaning. The atonement means there is justice.

The atonement means there is justice. There is judgement. There is just reward. And there is mercy and grace and forgiveness and newness of life. The old dies and the new is resurrected to life in Christ. Christian baptism is a symbol of this experience.

I don’t claim to fully understand how God became man in the form of his Son. Or how the Son of God could die. How he was able to descend to the depths to preach deliverance to the captives. How he was resurrected. But I know his forgiveness and his power in my life. I have his abiding peace and joy. I experience his indwelling presence. And today I declare, He Is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

 

 

When My Best Isn’t Good Enough

As a Christian I admit I have often struggled with what to do when I sense that my best isn’t good enough. Yesterday I made a few choices and later in the day I felt like they were the wrong ones. I had done my best but it wasn’t good enough. I had even prayed, however, in the end I thought I had let myself down and I had let God down.

I’ll tell you what it was. I put a purchase on a credit card with the intention of paying it off over a period of months. I did not have the cash at the moment to pay it. At the time I thought it was the right thing to do because I found just the item I had been looking for. But when I got home I suddenly second guessed myself. It was not like I committed some great sin, but maybe I got it wrong.

For Christians, Christ is set before us as a standard of perfection. In the Bible we are called to perfection, to holiness. How do we do this? Is this even possible? And if not, do we end up in a state of constant disappointment and even discouragement over our failure?

I have heard Christians get around this one by saying that God’s grace covers all of our sin–past, present and future. Does this mean, then, that I no longer need to concern myself with whether what I am doing is good enough?

In the Old Testament (the first section of the Bible before the record of the life of Jesus begins) we read that God’s chosen nation, the Israelites, were given the “law” by God to instruct them about right and wrong. In the New Testament Jesus said that basically all that was written in the Old Testament could be summed up as, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.”

While this may sound simple, Jesus also taught that no one is good, except God. He told his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone to enter the kingdom of God. His disciples asked him, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus’ response was, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27.

Jesus set an example of how we should live. He set an example of true, sacrificial love when he died on the cross. And he came to do the thing that was not possible with man. He came to forgive sins. He actually demonstrated that he had the authority to forgive sins. When Jesus forgave a paralyzed man of his sins, religious leaders challenged his authority to do so, saying that only God can forgive sins. His response was, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” Jesus then healed the paralyzed man and demonstrated that he had the power both to heal and to forgive sins.

Before Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, an angel appeared to Joseph to tell him that Mary, a virgin, would bear a son and he was to call him Jesus, because he would “save people from their sins.” The angel earlier told Mary that she would give birth to “the Son of God.” Jesus, the Son of God, came to save us from our sins. To forgive us.

It grieves me when I fail to live up to the standard Christ set for me. It seems as though Christians live in a constant state of depravity. Are we not “empowered from on high” by the Holy Spirit who indwells believers and is this not sufficient for us to no longer fail him? Apparently not.

Martin Luther, the great Reformer, struggled so intensely with the issue of sinfulness that he almost had a breakdown. Finally he received a transforming revelation: “The just shall live by faith.” This verse was penned by the apostle Paul in the New Testament and we also find it in the Old Testament, in the book of Habakkuk, chapter two verse four.

I looked up a few different translations of the verse and noted some interesting variations below:

“I, the Lord, refuse to accept anyone who is proud. Only those who live by faith are acceptable to me.”
Some people’s desires are truly audacious; they don’t do the right thing. But the righteous person will live honestly.
Behold, he that is unbelieving, his soul shall not be right in himself: but the just shall live in his faith.
This message cannot help those who refuse to listen to it, but those who are good will live because they believe it.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. (Scriptures from Bible Gateway.)

The above verses reveal our tendency to be proud, unbelieving, and dishonest about our condition, rather than humble, faithful and obedient.

The gap between who I am and who I want to be, is a consequence of my humanity. I am not a ‘god.’ I cannot be god-like without help from God. Simply said, it is pretty much arrogant to think I can live rightly on my own. I need to be “instructed in the way of righteousness.”

I find it humbling to have to face my inadequacy every day. But I can draw a little bit of comfort from the above verses which seem to indicate that humility is a necessary posture, one from which I can move forward, by faith.

When I turn my face from my failure to God’s faithfulness and forgiveness I find my heart suddenly filled with hope and joy and gratitude. I feel like a child who is let out of “time out” and is free to run and play again. Until next time.

Freedom from the fear of death

The first consequence of evil, when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, was a sense of guilt and separation from God. In the Old Testament God instituted an animal sacrifice ritual to atone for the guilt of the people. This was a temporary remedy pointing to the coming of Christ.

The Bible teaches us that sin results in death.”The wages of sin is death….” (Romans 6:23). The ordinance of sacrifice was instituted as a reminder that there was a great price to pay for sin, but the blood of goats and lambs could not take away sin indefinitely.

With the coming of Christ, animal sacrifices for sin were done away with. Jesus, God’s Son, born of a virgin and without sin, died and rose from the dead. He was the, “spotless lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Because Christ was without sin, death could not overpower him and keep him in the grave. Similarly, everyone who believes in him and accepts his gift of “salvation” from sin will experience the resurrection power of Christ. They will live with him for eternity.

This gift of salvation and eternal life is offered to everyone. However, people do not automatically receive forgiveness of sins. We must acknowledge Christ as our “Saviour.”

It is really very simple, but surprisingly difficult at the same time. The reason is that it is not just a matter of praying a prayer asking for forgiveness. If you believe that Christ is the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world, it follows that accepting his forgiveness also means you are committed to his kingship in your life. The Son of God deserves no less than our surrender and worship.

The prayer of acceptance of salvation and commitment to Christ may go something like this,

“Heavenly Father, I believe that Jesus died and was raised from the dead. His life was sacrificed for the sins of the world. I ask you to forgive my sins, in Jesus’ name. I give my life to you. I invite your presence to indwell me and empower me to live for you. Amen.”

When you have prayed this prayer you will want to tell someone about it and you will also want to find a group of people who have come to a similar faith. You may encounter resistance from those who do not believe. This is not uncommon. There are many groups of believers, some meeting in churches, some in homes, some in schools or other facilities.

If you do not find a group of believers immediately, you can still have a growing relationship with God by praying, talking to him daily about all aspects of your life, and by reading his word, the Bible. I encourage you to start reading the New Testament, that is the second section of the Bible. It is easier to understand and more relevant for daily living. It also begins with accounts of the life of Christ.

If you desire you may email me at: friesentina@gmail.com.