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.

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

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!

 

 

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.

A clear conscience

Our conscience is that voice inside us that convicts us when we do something wrong, like tell a lie or hurt another person. For those who believe in evolution, I think the conscience is a bit difficult to explain. It is not an organ that developed over time. The strange thing about our conscience is that it is clearly in tune with the morals expressed in the Bible.

Can the conscience be trained? Or untrained? Persistent disobedience will decrease the sensitivity of the conscience. When someone has no remorse after committing a hideous crime, we question their mental wellness. We lock them up to prevent them from re-offending. They are a threat to society.

When a person decides that Jesus is truly who he claimed to be–God’s son who has the power to forgive sins–and asks to be forgiven of his sins, choosing to live in obedience to Christ, that person will experience a change. This change is so remarkable it has been compared to a new birth. The conscience that was guilt-ridden is suddenly free of this miserable condition. The fear of punishment and condemnation is gone.

In Hebrew 13 the writer asks for prayer for a clear conscience and the ability to “act honourably in all things.” After experiencing forgiveness there is a renewed sensitivity to those things which bring guilt and shame. It becomes our goal to “act honourably in all things” to avoid returning to our former condition.

A clear conscience is a coveted state of peace with God, available to all who desire it. In fact, God is willing to help us maintain a clear conscience. He will “equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ” (v. 21).