Archive for the ‘salvation’ Tag

My Empire of Dirt   Leave a comment

Johnny Cash was a reprobate saved by a forgiving Savior and he never forgot that, even while he always remembered where he’d been when Jesus lifted him out of the muck he’d made of his life. The term “my empire of dirt” SOOO typifies the life we build outside of God.
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt
I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liars chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt
If I could start again
A million miles away
I will keep myself
I would find a way
Songwriters: Trent Reznor
Hurt lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

Dealing with Death   Leave a comment

“How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.” Admiral James T. Kirk, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan

We’re looking at Paul’s conclusion to his glorious passage on the resurrection. Consider these closing verses to be a climactic song of victory, similar to Brahm’s Requiem and Handel’s Messiah. Actually the music analogy is a strong one, considering there are three movements or sections to this passage.

Celebrate the future transformation of your body 

Now this is what I am sayingbrothers and sisters: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of Godnor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. ListenI will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a momentin the blinking of an eyeat the last trumpetFor the trumpet will soundand the dead will be raised imperishableand we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishableand this mortal body must put on immortality.  (1Corinthians 15:50-53)

Image result for image of transformationWe are fans of Supernatural, so excuse the borrowing from this highly entertaining, if somewhat irreverent, show. Paul explained that a meat suit, a natural human body consisting of flesh and blood as we know it, is unsuitable for heaven. Hence, those believers still alive when Jesus returns at the Rapture will receive their new bodies by transformation rather than by resurrection. You and I can’t go to heaven just as we are today. No matter how healthy, strong, and beautiful we may be, we are unfit for heaven. You can’t have a decaying body in a permanent home. You have undoubtedly seen a restaurant sign in the front window that reads something like this: “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” This means that one’s appearance and attire has to meet certain standards, or he or she is not welcome. That is the way heaven is. Heaven is a place where there is no pain, sorrow, sickness, or death. These perishable bodies that we possess here on earth are not suited for heaven. The death and burial of our earthly bodies is not an unfortunate circumstance; it is a necessity. In order to go to heaven, we must receive “imperishable” or “ageless” bodies. They must be changed into a glorified state so that we can live in God’s presence before His perfection, holiness, and beauty.

The word translated “listen” in verse 51 is given more dramatic treatment in the King James Version. “Behold”  is like pulling a curtain aside to reveal a new truth. The modern vernacular doesn’t do it justice. In the Bible the term “mystery” refers to a truth not revealed until it was disclosed by the apostles.The Old Testament predicted the bodily resurrection and the Second Coming of the Messiah, so Paul was not referring to either of these events. This “mystery” is what is called the Rapture of the Church. The Rapture was newly revealed truth. There will be a generation of Christians who will inherit their glorified bodies without having to “sleep” or die. This is the great hope of the Christian. That all Christians will not die was a new revelation. Whether we as believers die and are resurrected, or whether we are caught up to meet the Lord without dying, we shall all be changed! The last chapter in life for the believer is not the cemetery, the casket, or the grave. No, the last chapter is transformation.

This transformation will not be a gradual process but instantaneous. The word translated “moment” is the Greek word atomos, from which we get our English word “atom.” The Greeks believed the atom was the smallest particle of nature, completely indivisible. The “twinkling of an eye” is at least as fast as a blink. It takes only a fraction of a second. Paul said this change will occur in an indivisible moment of time, as fast as an eye can twinkle, in an atomic second. It will not be an evolutionary process and it will not occur by gradual osmosis.

The reason that the Rapture will take place so quickly is given in 15:52b-53: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable [eternal], and we will be changed.15For this perishable [temporal] must put on the imperishable [eternal], and this mortal[temporal] must put on immortality [eternal].”  I could get into a pre-Tribution versus post-Tribution debate here, but I’m going to skip that for today. Paul described our resurrected bodies as immortal and fit for the eternal state. In light of this reality, Paul called us to live in the present with the future in view. One great way of doing this is to expect Christ’s return in your lifetime, but plan as if it is centuries away. This allows us to be expectant for Christ’s return, yet also accomplish His will for us while we still have time.

Celebrate the future termination of sin

Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortalitythen the saying that is written will happen

Death has been swallowed up in victory.  

Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting? 

The sting of death is sinand the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to Godwho gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (1Corinthians 15:54-57)

The resurrection of dead believers and the transformation of living believers signal the death of death. Justice will be served. When Jesus died on Calvary’s cross, I’m sure Satan felt he had finally whipped his mortal enemy. All the opposition he had stirred up from the attempt of King Herod to kill Jesus as an infant, to the hatred of the Sadducees and Pharisees, to the kangaroo court He endured in Jerusalem culminated in Jesus’ execution on the cross. Satan had finally won! Truthfully, through the event of Christ’s crucifixion, Jesus purchased our salvation, redeeming us from sin and the Law. By His resurrection on the third day, He demonstrated His own power over death. He served notice to Satan of his eventual loss. When Jesus resurrects the dead and transforms the living, His victory will be complete. He will turn the tables on death by causing death itself to die.21

A boy and his father were out for a ride when a queen bee flew in the car window. The little boy, who was allergic to bee stings, was petrified. The father quickly reached out, grabbed the bee, squeezed it in his hand, and then released it. The boy grew frantic as it buzzed by him. Once again the father reached out his hand, but this time he pointed to his palm. There stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. “Do you see this?” he asked. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore. I’ve taken the sting for you.” In a similar way, we all suffer under the curse of sin like the little boy from the first sting and the next sting from death would mean our ultimate demise. But we have a Savior that came to our rescue and took the sting for us and we no longer have to fear death. Though death may buzz over us and land on us it can do no harm and one day death itself will die.

“When death stung Jesus Christ, it stung itself to death.” Peter Joshua, Leadership, Vol 7, no 4.

We must always remember that only on this side of the curtain is death our enemy. Just beyond the curtain the monster turns out to be our friend. The label “Death” is still on the bottle, but the contents are “Life Eternal.” Death is our friend because it reminds us that heaven is near. How near? As near as a heartbeat … an auto accident … a stray bullet … a plane crash. If our eyes could see the spirit world, we might find that we are already at its gates. Death is not the end of the road; it is only a bend in the road. The road winds only through the pass through which Christ Himself has gone. This Travel Agent does not expect us to discover the trail for ourselves. Often we say that Christ will meet us on the other side. That is true, of course, but misleading. Let us never forget that He walks with us on this side of the curtain and then guides us through the opening. We will meet Him there, because we have met Him here.

This reality ought to cause us to break out in thanksgiving, as Paul does in 15:57. AThe verb “gives” is in the present tense. Literally, God keeps on giving us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Every morning is Easter morning as we continually lay hold of the resources of Christ. We can go to Him for forgiveness when we fail. We can trust Him to meet our needs. He is available to us as our risen Lord. He is not a long-gone historical figure who died and then was purported to have been raised from the dead. We celebrate a risen, living, victorious Lord! 

Celebrate the future compensation of your work

So thendear brothers and sisters, be firmDo not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lordknowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1Corinthians 15:58)

Paul concluded his discussion of the resurrection with an exhortation to be faithful in the present. The word “therefore” wraps up this entire passage.30 The phrase “my beloved brethren” demonstrates Paul’s love for the Corinthians, despite the deficiencies in their theology and their behavior.This ought to compel us to love one another despite our theological differences. Paul was dealing with Christians that were waffling on their own bodily resurrection. This is a fairly significant doctrine, yet despite their erroneous theology Paul continued to love his people. Even when we are misled in our theology, if we have believed in Christ for salvation we will spend eternity together.

After affirming his readers, Paul launched into one command (“be steadfast, immovable”) with two participles (“abounding” and “knowing”) used as imperatives. This grammar leads to a simple three point conclusion: what we should be, what we should do, and what we should know.

What we should be. Paul commanded us to “be steadfast, immovable.” Like the Corinthians we are prone to be impatient, easily discouraged, and lazy. We let the circumstances of life blow us out of the water. We allow financial setbacks or job problems to depress us. Instead, we should be firmly rooted in what we know to be true about life and death because we have confidence in the resurrection. It gives solid footing. We won’t be swayed by every idea that comes along about this life and the afterlife. We can stand firm. We know who we are, why we’re here on earth, and where we’re headed in the future.

What we should do. Paul urged us to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” The verb “abounding” pictures something flowing over the edges on all sides. No one gets to the Olympics, much less walks away with a medal, who did not give himself or herself fully to their sport. The commitment of those athletes is phenomenal. They give up privileges, educational goals, relationships, sleep, favorite foods, anything, because of the goal that is before them of securing a place on the victor’s stand. So also no one will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” if he does not give himself fully to the work of the Lord.

What we should know. Someone once said, “I’m learning more and more about less and less. Now I know everything about nothing.” Paul urged us to “know[ing] that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” The word “toil” used here means “working to the point of exhaustion.” Have you ever been worn out because of your work for the Lord? I’m afraid many Christians would have to say they have never been. And too many look forward to retirement as an opportunity to do even less, though in reality it’s a fantastic time to do more ministry than ever before. Reasonable rest is important and necessary, but if we err Paul said it should be on the side of doing more work for the Lord, not less.

Let me challenge you with this truth: you cannot grow spiritually unless you are serving the Lord and others. It is absolutely impossible. Yeah, you go to church and you read your Bible and you pray. That’s wonderful, but it doesn’t mean you are growing spiritually. Spiritual growth takes place when the Bible changes us and we begin to bless others. The Bible teaches that servanthood makes a man or woman more like Jesus. Additionally, the Bible promises us great eternal reward for serving Christ in this life.

God’s Wisdom   Leave a comment

If you just read the first part of 1Corinthians, you could come away with the impression that Paul said the gospel really is foolish and weak. Not at all! This is only the way the world perceives the gospel. In chapter 2, Paul revealed that weakness and simplicity are not the end of the story but the beginning. It is through the weakness of proclaiming the gospel that the wisdom and power of God are made manifest. The world regards God’s wisdom as foolish because it is incapable of comprehending or accepting its truths. God’s wisdom is a mystery which the unsaved cannot grasp, and no one would have known apart from divine revelation. Through His Spirit, God has revealed Himself to people. The Spirit who searches the depths of God has been given in a special way to the apostles. Through those inspired men, divine thoughts had been translated into divine words. Those who possess the Spirit by faith in Christ can appraise the spiritual truths of Scripture. Those who are unsaved, and thus without the Spirit, cannot. No wonder they think God’s wisdom is foolish. They cannot understand it—or God. But we who have the Scriptures and the Spirit have the mind of Christ.

Now we do speak wisdom among the maturebut not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishingInstead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mindimagined,  are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 1Corinthians 2:6-9

Image result for image of wisdomAt verse 6, Paul changed from the first person singular (“I”) to the first person plural (“we”). Verses 1-6 spoke of Paul’s mind set, message, and methods when he first came to Corinth with the gospel. In verse 6, Paul spoke for more than just himself. I understand the “we” to refer principally to the apostles. As further developments in this letter and 2 Corinthians will show, the real struggle was not with Corinthian cliques, each of which had chosen to follow a different apostle, but with those in Corinth who had turned from the apostles to other teachers, of which some will prove to be “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).

What was the Corinthians’ beef with Paul that they chose to follow other leadership? It is Paul’s “simplistic” devotion to Christ crucified. Paul has chosen to be a one-note Sally and continue to stress that which was offensive to both Jews and Gentiles. Consequently, for a Corinthian Christian to identify with the apostle Paul was to embrace that which is foolish and weak to the unbelieving mind of his era. To identify with Paul and his preaching was to become a fool in the eyes of the world. Fools were without status. So some were tempted to identify with new leaders whose methods and message were far more acceptable. Associating with them gave one a much higher status.

They weren’t unlike Christians today.

Paul didn’t deny that his message and methods were foolish. In fact, he emphasized that is was. But in moving to the first person plural (“we”), Paul linked himself, his message, and his methods with all of the other apostles. Paul’s message and methods were no different from those of his fellow apostles. He spoke with and for all the apostles as he admonished the Corinthians.

At verse 6, Paul made another shift in his emphasis. Up to this point, Paul had granted the fact that his gospel was foolish and weak. Now he began to clarify and expand his instruction. The apostolic gospel is foolish and weak to unbelievers, but it is neither foolish nor weak in the sight of God. Neither should it be regarded as foolish nor weak in the sight of the saints. In verse 6, Paul insisted that the apostles did speak wisdom. This wisdom is not for all, however. There were two groups from whom apostolic wisdom is withheld. The first group is those who was immature (verse 6). In chapter 3, verse 1, Paul plainly told the Corinthians they were “men of flesh,” “babes in Christ,” and in verse 3, he contended that they still remained in the same condition. Did the Corinthians chafe because Paul’s message was too simple? The problem was not with Paul or his colleagues; the problem was with the Corinthians. They could handle a more indepth gospel.

Image result for image of god's wisdomThe second group from whom apostolic wisdom is withheld is unbelievers (2:6). Paul said the wisdom the apostles preach is not of “this age.” Consequently, the rulers of “this age” are not able to grasp it. Even those who are the wisest and most powerful people of this age are unable to grasp it. This is evident at the cross of Calvary. There, at the cross, the rulers of this age rejected Jesus as the Messiah as God’s means of salvation. God’s “wisdom”was never more clearly manifested to men than in the person of Jesus Christ, but the best of this age were not able to see it. It is obvious that they did not receive this “Wisdom” because they crucified Him.

Paul’s words here help us to distinguish between God’s wisdom and worldly wisdom. God’s wisdom was revealed in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ at His first coming, but the world rejected Him and the wisdom He manifested. The wisdom of God is “eternal wisdom,” a wisdom established in eternity past yet to be fully implemented when Christ’s kingdom is established on the earth. The wisdom of this world is “empirical wisdom,” based upon that which can be seen and heard and touched. The wisdom of God cannot seen by the naked eye, heard with the ears, fathomed by the natural mind. It surpasses even man’s imagination. It is other worldly. This should not come as a surprise to the Christian. The prophet Isaiah indicated as much in the citation which Paul included in verse 9.

God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people.  1Corinthians 2:10-13

Paul has just shown us why God’s wisdom, which the apostles proclaimed, is rejected by the great but unbelieving men of this age. Men of this age are limited to temporal, human wisdom. They cannot grasp God’s eternal wisdom. They cannot see, hear, or comprehend the things of God. How then can mere mortals ever know God’s wisdom?

In verses 10-13, Paul expounded the doctrines of inspiration and revelation whereby God has made His wisdom known through the apostles who have inscripturated the “depths of God.” 

How can men really know a God Who cannot be seen and whose provisions are beyond human thought? The answer: through the Holy Spirit, who has imparted the knowledge of God to and through the apostles in the New Testament Scriptures. The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of God.” Just as man’s human spirit knows the deep thoughts of the man, so the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, knows the intimate things of God. When the Lord Jesus was on Earth, He spoke many things to His disciples which they did not understand or even remember. Jesus told them that after His departure, He would send His Spirit. The Holy Spirit would not only call the things He had spoken to their remembrance, He would also enable them to understand them so that they could record them for others. In addition, the Spirit would reveal things to come, things of the coming age (see John 14:25-26; John 16:12-15)

Image result for image of god's wisdomPaul had already spoken of the wisdom of God as a mystery (1 Corinthians 2:7). A mystery is something God reveals concerning the future, which is not fully grasped before its fulfillment because it is beyond human comprehension. The apostles played a unique role as “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). After God has completed a work that was formerly a mystery, He fully disclosed that mystery through one of His apostles. Paul was surely one of the great “mystery apostles” in that it was his privilege to speak of several mysteries. In the Book of Ephesians, Paul spoke of the privilege God had given him as an apostle to reveal some of these mysteries (Ephesians 1:3-14; 3:1-13; 5:32).

In 1 Corinthians 2:10-13, Paul described the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise to His disciples (remember that Paul was divinely added as the twelfth apostle). Man, Paul said, could never know God on his own, but God has chosen to make Himself known through His Word and through His Spirit. His Spirit was given to the apostles in a special way so that the things of God might be inscripturated, divinely inspired and recorded as a part of the Bible. The apostles have been given the Spirit in this unique way so they “might know the things freely given to us by God” and might communicate them to us. The Spirit superintended this process by “combining spiritual thoughts (“the depths of God,” verse 10) with spiritual words” (the words of Holy Scripture).

Here is a very crucial difference between the true apostles and false apostles. The apostles claimed to speak for God, and they did! False apostles claimed to speak for God, and they did not! God can be known intimately because He has chosen to disclose His innermost thoughts and being to men by means of His Spirit working through the apostles, resulting in the New Testament Scriptures. To reject the apostles and their teaching as the “wisdom of God” is to reject God, for they are the only ones through whom God has chosen to disclose Himself. Is the gospel simplistic? It is because God’s way of salvation is simplistic—one way (Matthew 7:13-14; John 14:6). To reject the apostles’ teaching is to reject the God Who disclosed Himself to men through them.

The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him?  But we have the mind of Christ. 1Corinthians 2:14-16

God has disclosed Himself to men through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit knows the intimate things of God and, by inspiring the apostles, has translated spiritual thoughts about God into spiritual words—the New Testament. Yet the unbeliever seems blinded to the truth contained in God’s Word. How can some find a rich source of revelation in the Bible which enables them to know God more intimately, while others find the Scriptures a senseless mixture of writings which cannot even be understood? Why are some drawn to the Scriptures and others repulsed by them?

The difference is the presence or the absence of the Holy Spirit. We see in verses 10-13 that Paul spoke of the Spirit’s work in conveying God’s thoughts to men by inspiring the apostles to convey spiritual thoughts through spiritual words, that which comes down to us as the New Testament. Now, in verses 14-16, Paul wrote of the work of the Spirit, enabling men and women to understand the Scriptures and know the mind of God.

Previously, Paul had divided mankind into two groups:

  1. those who trust in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary for their eternal salvation, and
  2. those who do not, who cannot understand the wisdom of God as revealed in the Scriptures.

True wisdom cannot be grasped by those who are unsaved, by those who do not have the Spirit of God dwelling within them illuminating the truth of the Scriptures so they can know the deep things of God. True wisdom speaks of things which pertain to a future age and of things which no man has ever seen, or heard, or is even able to imagine. The only way this kind of wisdom can be known is for men to trust in Jesus Christ so that their spiritual eyes may be opened to see the wonders of the wisdom of God and the world to come.

The Christian is called “spiritual” (verse 15) by Paul. Most often, we understand the term “spiritual” to refer to those who are mature, who manifest the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Paul seemed to use it to refer to those who possess the Spirit, who live in the realm of the Holy Spirit because they have trusted in Jesus Christ. The one who possesses the Holy Spirit is able to grasp and to appraise both temporal and eternal matters. Paul said the Christian who possesses the Holy Spirit is able to “appraise all things” earthly and eternal, things pertaining to this age and the next.

While the Christian—“he who is spiritual”is able to appraise all things and thus to understand the beliefs and the behavior of the unsaved, the unsaved (“natural”) man is unable to understand the Christian (“he who is spiritual”). No wonder Christians are misunderstood and even persecuted. No wonder they are considered foolish and weak. This is the best the unaided mind of the natural man can do.

Paul closed this section of the letter with the words of Isaiah 40:13: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:1-16). These words sum up the difference between the non-Christian and the Christian. God has revealed Himself to all men in the person of Christ and in the Scriptures (verses 10-13). The Scriptures make no sense to the unbeliever. This is because it is impossible for the unbeliever to grasp the things of God apart from the Spirit of God. Who can know the mind of the Lord? No one can, apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit in revealing the Word of God through the apostles and in illuminating the Scriptures to the individual believer.

In contrast to the unbeliever, who is oblivious to the mind of God, the Christian can say confidently, “We have the mind of Christ.” The “we” may refer either to the apostles, who alone can speak the “mind of Christ,” or more generally, of all the saints who possess the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. It is through the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit that the “mind of Christ” is conveyed to the saints. The Christian has both the Word of God and the witness of His Spirit, the Author of that Word. What more can one ask for than this?

This final statement sums up the vast difference of opinion which exists between Christians and unbelievers over “wisdom.” The unbeliever is incapable of understanding God’s wisdom and so is confined to a very limited, distorted temporal wisdom. The Christian has the means for knowing the mind of God and thus has access to the wisdom of God. The Christian should not be surprised by the reaction of the unbeliever to the preaching of the gospel. Christians should not forsake the vast wisdom God has made available to us in order to pursue the wisdom which the world seeks.

Men can come to know God in only one way—through His Word and through His Spirit. There are many different beliefs about God, but there is only one true God. This is the God Who has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. All views of God which originate with men, rather than with God, are false. All views of God which come from some other source than the Bible are false. It does not matter how you would like to think of God. Paul’s words inform us that the way we think about God is certain to be wrong, for true wisdom comes from above, not from below. True wisdom flows from God to men, not from men God-ward. The Bible reveals to us a God that we would not have imagined, a God whom we would not have wanted, a God whom we would not have received. Apart from the Spirit of God and the Word of God, we could never have come to know God.

Posted March 5, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity, Uncategorized

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What’s On My MP3?   4 comments

This week’s blog hop topic is “What’s your favorite song? Provide background information.”


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I have a lot of songs I like and some are my “favorite” for short periods of time. Currently, I can get jiggy with Luke Bryan’s “Kick the Dust Up.” The white-lightning reference aside, it describes the sort of casual fun Alaskans have … just exchange the cornfield for a bonfire. The main reason, though, is I like songs with that sort of beat. In a year, I probably won’t even remember that I liked it, and because I don’t listen to country music very often, I won’t remember Luke Bryant exists.

Image result for image of amazing graceIn a similar style, Christian group Superchick’s “Pure” has been a favorite for a long time. Here are the lyrics so you understand what I like about it, but really, you have to hear them together to truly understand the attraction. I heard the song the first time after a really rough day at work and that song on the radio at lunch kept me from calling in sick for the afternoon and possibly resigning my job. It still has that effect on me.

But this post is about our FAVORITE song and why. I actually have two songs that I would want sung at my memorial service. Yeah, when you hit your mid-50s, you start thinking about stuff like that … even though my mother’s family routinely lives into their 80s and 90s.

The runner-up for “Favorite” (but would still be at my memorial service) is “Because He Lives” by the Gaithers. I actually heard Bill and Gloria Gaither sing it in a Baptist student conference in the 1980s. It was a pretty intimate setting, only a few hundred people. Gloria explained that they’d written what is now the 2nd verse for the birth of their first child, never expecting anyone to ask for it again, but so many people loved it that they had to write the other two verses and the refrain to go with it. It’s that refrain – “because He lives, I can face tomorrow … all fear is gone ….” that speaks to me. I remember the flip side of that and so it is very poignant for me.

Image result for image of amazing graceBut my all-time Favorite Song is “Amazing Grace” by John Newton. I suspect every Baptist in the world would name John Newton’s song as their favorite if they were pressed because the overwhelming message is redemption available to anyone.

Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.John Newton started his career as an English sailor at a young age. He was impressed into the Royal Navy at 18. After the captain had him flogged and humiliated, he transformed to a slave ship bound for West Africa, but he didn’t get along with the crew so was left in West Africa with a slave trader named Amos Clowe, who gave him to his wife, an African tribal princess. She abused Newton as if he were any other slave. He was 23 when rescued and returned to England. On the voyage for home, the ship near foundered and Newton, terrified, called out to God. The cargo shifted, blocking the hole in the hull and the ship made it to port.

Newton marked that experience as the beginning of his conversion to evangelical Christianity. He later described it as a mult-stage process. He began to read the Bible and other religious literature. It marked a huge change in his life style, though he continued to work the slave trade. That’s hard for us to take today, but in Newton’s era, slavery was considered normal. He was bothered by how slaves were treated, but he didn’t immediately come to the conclusion that the slave trade itself was wrong until many years later. He expressed his struggle with that in his later writings.

Image result for image of amazing graceHe suffered a stroke at 29 that caused him to leave the seafaring trade. A year later, he took a job as a tax collection in Liverpool, and began to spend his spare time studying Greek, Hebrew and Syriac. Around 1757, he began to apply to various Christian groups for ordination.  He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1764, but he remained friendly with evangelicals as well. His preaching was quite popular, and this was how William Wilberforce came to know him.

In 1788, 34 years after he retired from the slave trade, Newton published a pamphlet “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade” in which he described the horrific conditions of the slave ships. He sent copies to every MP. He and Wilberforce allied to abolish the African slave trade.

Image result for image of amazing graceEvery saint has a past and every sinner has a future and that portal between sinner to saint was exemplified by Newton’s life and expressed in his song. I’ve lived the journey myself, which is probably why it speaks to me so deeply. Newton’s “stages of conversion” reminds me greatly of my once-in-a-lifetime salvation experience, followed by years-later bending my will to God, followed by periodic stages of growth. It wasn’t that he was not a Christian in those years between, but that God had a lot of work to do with him.

I chose the Celtic version of the original song because I just love how it sounds, but it’s a song that’s been redone more than just about any other and multiple verses added to the original verses over the years. I’ve heard great rock, jazz, bluegrass, and hip hop versions. I’ve even heard gypsy and South African versions. Chris Tomlin did a version that proclaims “Amazing Grace: My Chains Are Gone“. I can’t really pinpoint a version that would be my favorite, though I really love hearing the original song, posted below, sung a capella by a solo baritone.

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

 Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come.
’tis grace that brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead us home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
as long as life endures.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
than when we first begun.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

Read more: Gospel – Amazing Grace Lyrics | MetroLyrics


What Is Love?   Leave a comment

Modern society will tell you that God is love and then go on to define love in very specific ways that justify their own deeds. What did Jesus, Who is God in the flesh to walk on earth among humans, have to say about love?

For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

This is perhaps the most recognizable Bible verse in the world. There are two things modern man gets wrong about this verse. One — they really hate that God sacrificed His child for our salvation. They are actually angry with God for this. What they fail to understand is that Jesus is God. I don’t fully understand how it works, but Jesus made it clear that He and the Father are one in the same. God sent Himself to earth to die for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to Him. Why was that necessary? Maybe so the sinless spirit God could understand why human beings are so weak against sin. Or maybe to show us that frail humanity can stand against sin for 30-odd years and die a horrible death and still not sin. Or, maybe just to show us that He loves as THAT MUCH that’s He’s willing to endure anything so that those of us who believe in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.

Because I am not a Bible translator, I’m providing the notes on this verse from the NET Bible.

Although this word is often translated “only begotten,” such a translation is misleading, since in English it appears to express a metaphysical relationship. The word in Greek was used of an only child (a son [Luke 7:12, 9:38] or a daughter [Luke 8:42]). It was also used of something unique (only one of its kind) such as the mythological Phoenix (1 Clement 25:2). From here it passes easily to a description of Isaac (Heb 11:17 and Josephus, Ant. 1.13.1 [1.222]) who was not Abraham’s only son, but was one-of-a-kind because he was the child of the promise. Thus the word means “one-of-a-kind” and is reserved for Jesus in the Johannine literature of the NT. While all Christians are children of God (τέκνα θεοῦ, tekna qeou), Jesus is God’s Son in a unique, one-of-a-kind sense. The word is used in this way in all its uses in the Gospel of John (1:14, 1:18, 3:16, and 3:18).

The other thing they get wrong is not to read the rest of what Jesus said. This was a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. It wasn’t a string of unrelated verses.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. John 3:17

During His earthly mission, it wasn’t Jesus’ job to condemn those who sin in the world. His job was to offer salvation through belief in Him e the world. If He’d stopped there, modern man wouldn’t have much to worry about, but Jesus had more to say on the subject.

The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. John 3:18

We really like the warm fuzzies of 3:16-17, but we really don’t like this verse because it creates choices. It demands choices. Believers in Jesus Christ as Savior are not condemned. Yay! That’s great! But what of the nonbelievers? I can almost hear Nicodemus asking that question. Jesus explained that their lack of belief condemns them. Jesus doesn’t need to do any condemning because they have made their choice to not believe in the name of Jesus

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but as God, He will judge the world and this will be his criteria.

Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God. John 3:19-21 

At a prior point in John’s gospel, Jesus is identified as the light. Apparently Nicodemus knew this. The Light has come into the world, but instead of embracing the Light, people preferred darkness because their deeds were evil.

So what does that mean … their deeds were evil? Those who come to the Light (Jesus) are not afraid to be associated with Him because it is plain their deeds have been done in the light. This is evident because they are not ashamed of their deeds.

Again, the margin notes from the NET Bible are helpful.

sn John 3:16-21 provides an introduction to the (so-called) “realized” eschatology of the Fourth Gospel: Judgment has come; eternal life may be possessed now, in the present life, as well as in the future. The terminology “realized eschatology” was originally coined by E. Haenchen and used by J. Jeremias in discussion with C. H. Dodd, but is now characteristically used to describe Dodd’s own formulation. See L. Goppelt, Theology of the New Testament, 1:54, note 10, and R. E. Brown (John [AB], 1:cxvii-cxviii) for further discussion. Especially important to note is the element of choice portrayed in John’s Gospel. If there is a twofold reaction to Jesus in John’s Gospel, it should be emphasized that that reaction is very much dependent on a person’s choice, a choice that is influenced by his way of life, whether his deeds are wicked or are done in God (John 3:20-21). For John there is virtually no trace of determinism at the surface. Only when one looks beneath the surface does one find statements like “no one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

Love it that Jesus was God Who took on human form to live among us and to die for our sins so that those of us who choose to believe will not be judged, but will be saved from eternal condemnation. We can choose to reject Him, but if we prefer the darkness rather than the light, there are consequences.

Posted September 4, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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Bearing Witness   Leave a comment

Contrary to what many want to believe about the Bible, Jesus did challenge sinners to live according to God’s principles and there are plenty of examples when you take the Bible in context rather than cherry-pick verses for your own ends. I believe that, as much as possible, we should take the Bible in context. Which means that I post long passages because you have to understand what is said in context with the general conversation in order to understand the message God is trying to convey.

In John 4, Jesus is passing through Samaria and he has an encounter with an unsaved, seeking sinner. The encounter is illustrative of how Jesus dealt with sinners and how we should as well.

John 4:5-26

Verse 5: Now he came to a Samaritan town called Sychar,near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his sonJoseph. Jacob’s well was there, so Jesus, since he was tiredfrom the journey, sat right down beside the well. It was aboutnoon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her,“Give me some water to drink.” (For his disciples had gone offinto the town to buy supplies.) So the Samaritan woman saidto him, “How can you – a Jew  – ask me, a Samaritan woman,for water to drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) John 4:5-9

A couple of things to recognize in this passage. The Jews avoided Samaria because they felt it was filled with sinful people. The Samaritans were descended from Jews who had been left behind during the Babylonian exile. They had intermarried with the Canaanites and formed a Judaic cult. Jesus didn’t avoid Samaria nor did he “keep kosher” when he encountered the woman. The woman came to the well at noon, which generally flies over most people’s heads. She was there alone in the heat of the day. Women in Middle East culture, then and now, went to the well in the morning before it got too hot. They went as a group and it was a social time. This woman had been ostracized by the women of her village.

Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you wouldhave asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

Sir,” the woman said to him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? Surely you’renot greater than our ancestor Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and hislivestock.” 

Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again.But whoever drinks some of the water that I will givehim will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternallife.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” He said to her, “Go call your husband and come back here.” John 4: 10-16

Jesus used everyday life as a springboard to talk about salvation. At this point, the woman is still thinking of physical water, but she may have had some idea that it was magical. She was intrigued and seeking the water of which He spoke.

But, notice that Jesus doesn’t say “Here you go, here is salvation, go off an enjoy a wonderful life just as you are living it today.” He certainly had the power to do that and He had done so with others in the past. But He didn’t do it with this woman because He knew something we cannot. Remember, Jesus is God. He knows the hearts of men and women. So, instead, He cut to the heart of the matter.

Before she could accept this living water, she had to acknowledge that she was outside the will of God. She had failed God’s standard.

The woman replied, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “Right you are when you said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband. This you said truthfully!” John 4:17-18

Jesus cut right to the chase. “You have sinned,” he said, “but at least you’re truthful about it.” Contrary to popular belief, Jesus did deal with people’s sins. He had the power and authority to judge her. He didn’t ostracize her. He was still a Jewish man speaking to her directly in the heat of the day and asking her for water in violation of Jewish ritual regulations, but He didn’t let her walk away from Him without her sins acknowledged.

The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountainand you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, womana time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in JerusalemYou people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. But a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. God is spiritand the people who worshiphim must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:19-24

Misdirection much? The woman didn’t want to talk about her sin, so she switched the channel to a theological argument. Where is the right place to worship? Should I be a Baptist or an Episcopalian? Jesus didn’t pursue the red herring. He answered the larger question about Who she should worship — the God of the Jews, Who is seeking true worshipers to worship in spirit and in truth.

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming(the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.” John 4:25-26

At this point the woman admits that she believes in the Messiah and expects Him to come and explain “everything” to them. In this, she sounds very similar to skeptics Christians encounter today who say our interpretation of the Bible is wrong and that when Jesus comes we’ll learn the “real truth”. To my ears, she seems to be simply trying to avoid the implications of His knowing about her sin and His correcting her theological errors, but Jesus again KNEW her heart and accepted what she said as a confession of God’s grace working there. Of course, Jesus knew what we cannot because He could actually know what was in her heart, but we could learn from that, to be a little less argumentative and a bit more discerning. Jesus then revealed Himself  as the Messiah to her.

You can (and should) read the rest of passage for yourself. I recommend the NET Bible online because there are notes attached to the verses that explain the passage. You can even explore Greek translation of the passage all within an online environment. So much easier to carry with me than Strong’s Strongest, a comprehensive concordance and a Bible dictionary, although I do now need to do weight lifting at the gym to make up for the lack of hefting those sizable volumes.

The disciples, who had gone into town to get food, returned. The woman left her water bucket and ran into town to tell people “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” In other words, she acknowledged that Jesus had revealed her sin and made a change in her life.

Believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord and confess that belief before others = SALVATION (Romans 10:10)

How do I know that the woman was really saved?

Well, how do we know about this conversation? The disciples weren’t there, including apparently Matthew who appears to have been the note keeper for the group. John says Jesus was alone, so John must not have been there either. Did Jesus tell John about it? Maybe … they were best friends …

… except this passage isn’t written in John’s style, though it appears to have been part of an early version of the Gospel of John, suggesting that it was part of the original manuscript. So where’d it come from if John didn’t write it?

The best guess comes from the style. It has lots of details — the well of Sychar, noon, she was alone, she left her water jar. Scholars say it was almost certainly written by Luke and for some reason left out of the Gospel of Luke. Maybe he didn’t learn the story until after he circulated the Gospel. The Gospel of Luke was written in the AD 60s. The Gospel of John was written late AD 70s, early 80s. That’s a long time to meet new people. It’s highly likely Luke and John met in Ephesus where there was a large Christian community in which John was an elder and from which John wrote his gospel. They probably knew one another well enough for John to borrow passages from him or for Luke to say, “Hey, I wish I could have put this into my gospel, will you put it in yours?”

So where did Luke get the conversation? He wasn’t an original disciple so he wouldn’t have been there. Any journalist worth her salt recognizes when stories come from interviews and Luke seems to have been a dedicated historical interviewer. He includes incredible details from Mary, the mother of Jesus, that none of the other gospel writers do. There are so many historical details as well. My guess is he interviewed this woman from Sychar and for some reason he didn’t include it in his gospel. He then had a conversation with John who remembered the incident at Sychar. Maybe Luke even read John’s gospel while he was writing it and said “Hey, when you were at Sychar, did the conversion of the townfolks start with Jesus talking to an immoral woman at a well? Well, I have that interview.”

Bart Ehrmann believes it shouldn’t be in the Bible since we don’t know exactly who wrote it and it’s in the wrong gospel, but ultimately, this passage should be in the Bible because it tells us so much about how Jesus deals with sinners as He draws us to Him. I can totally see Luke and John having that conversation. Jesus offers us something wonderful while also confronting us with our sin and requiring that we acknowledge that we’ve failed God’s standard. He doesn’t expect us to clean up before we can become Christians, but He requires us to acknowledge that we’re outside the will of God. This is the narrow gate that John will speak of in Chapter 10. Jesus is less than concerned about what denomination we choose to attend at, so much as that we worship in spirit and in truth. And if we acknowledge in the barest of ways that by grace we are starting to believe He might be God, He reveals Himself. Then He uses our testimony of our encounter with Him to draw others to Himself.

We know this woman was saved by her encounter with Jesus because she left her water jar (water is extremely important in a hot climate) and ran to give testimony of Jesus in the town, where she was ostracized. She was willing to be uncomfortable and to talk about her sin in order to tell people of this encounter.

You notice nobody was directly saved by her testimony? They were made curious and they sought Jesus for themselves. This outcast showed a change in her behavior and it caused others to want to understand why. If she’d gone back to her old life, she would have had nothing of value to say them and that might have prevented some from coming to Christ, but because they received their salvation from Jesus Himself, her future behavior had nothing to do with their salvation.

And that is what witnesses with Jesus is all about, to point the way to Jesus for HIM to bring them to salvation. It’s not about us. We’re the signpost pointing to the wonder, not the wonder itself. We need to recognize that and simply tell people what we have experienced.

Rebirth – True Truth Continued   Leave a comment

This is part of a series What If Truth Went Viral. Check it out.

Nicodemus came to Jesus for answers and his first question was “How can I be right with God?” Jesus’ answer perplexed this teacher of theology. After saying “this is a true truth”, Jesus told him he had to be “reborn from above.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?” John 3:4

Nicodemus chose to understand Jesus’ words literally. He assumed the expression “reborn from above” must refer to some kind of literal re-birth. There are scholars who will insist that Jesus’s choice of words forced Nicodemus in that direction, but I agree with other scholars who say Nicodemus did not wish to pursue the implications of the only other direction open to him. It is easier to scoff at the physical impossibility of a grown man reentering his mother’s womb. Jesus’ words can be brushed aside as ridiculous and absurd, if taken that way.

We have an advantage over Nicodemus. Reading John’s gospel, we know he has already identified Jesus as God. The creation of life was His work in the beginning, and that included creating spiritual life. We have also read that those who become God’s children are those born by a divine act of creation (John 1:12). Nicodemus had not had those lessons yet, so he embraced a crass literalism and scoffed at Jesus’ words, not because Jesus was wrong, but because Nicodemus didn’t understand him.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows wherever it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8

Once again, Jesus began His response to Nicodemus by indicating the true truth of what He was saying. He then answered Nicodemus’ objection Nicodemus: “… unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (verse 5).

I believe we can safely reason that to be “reborn from above” is synonymous with being “born of water and spirit.” People ask, “What is meant by the terms “water” and “spirit”? Some take the term “water” to refer to natural birth, while they believe “spirit” refers to one’s spiritual re-birth from above. If this is what Jesus intended, then He said that a man must first be born naturally (“of water”) and then supernaturally (“of the Spirit”). According to my Bible guides, the support for interpreting “water” in this way is not strong and frankly I don’t see it as necessary for Jesus to argue the need for both physical birth and spiritual birth.

I personally favor understanding the terms “water” and “spirit” as one expression, “water and spirit,” which together refer to spiritual rebirth. Again, according to the Bible analysis I have available, several Old Testament texts seem to justify the conclusion that both “water” and “spirit” refer to one’s spiritual rebirth:

“’For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, And floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, And My blessing on your offspring; They will spring up among the grass Like willows by the watercourses.’ One will say, ‘I am the LORD’s’; Another will call himself by the name of Jacob; Another will write with his hand, ‘The LORD’s,’ And name himself by the name of Israel” (Isaiah 44:3-5, NKJV).

“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:24-27, NKJV).

This work of regeneration is also described in the Old Testament as the work of the “wind”:

Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army (Ezekiel 37:9-10, NKJV).

The New Testament describes God’s work of salvation as the “washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit”:

For we too were once foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to various passions and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another. But “when the kindness of God our Savior appeared and his love for mankind, He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7).

I believe that the “water” of which Jesus spoke  here is also related to the “water” of baptism. The Pharisees are most concerned to know why John is baptizing (John 1:25). Immediately after Nicodemus’ meeting with Jesus, John’s disciples express their concerns to him about the rising popularity of Jesus. Jesus has been spending time with His disciples and baptizing (3:22). John’s disciples then protest to John: “Rabbi, the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River, about whom you testified—see, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him!” (3:26). I believe the Savior’s baptism and John’s baptism are, at this point in time, one and the same. It is the baptism of repentance, in preparation for Messiah’s coming. Baptism was a part of the message and the ministry of both John and Jesus, and baptism by the Spirit is what John said distinguished the Messiah’s ministry from his own (John 1:33). Thus, to be born of water and the Spirit is to be “reborn from above,” to be saved.

Now let’s be clear (especially since we’re dealing in true truth here). Baptism is a good work that we perform as a result of salvation. It does not impart salvation and to push that theory would be to argue against what Jesus told Nicodemus. John’s baptism was viewed as preparatory to the coming of the Savior. It was a baptism of repentance. By being baptized, one testified that he or she was renouncing Judaism (law keeping) as the means of their salvation. This was precisely why unbelieving and unrepentant Pharisees refused baptism:

(Now all the people who heard this, even the tax collectors, acknowledged God’s justice, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. 30 However, the Pharisees and the experts in religious law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.) (Luke 7:29-30)

Jesus was very careful to identity Himself with John and his ministry. If a Pharisee or anyone else wished to enter the kingdom of God, they must do so through the means God had appointed—identification with John and with Jesus, the One of whom John bore testimony.

I do believe baptism was expected, but Jesus did not emphasize human action, but rather the sovereign work of God in salvation. To be born from above is to be born of God. To be born of God is to be spiritually born by the work of His Spirit (born from above). Jesus then described the sovereign saving work of God through His Spirit by using the analogy of the wind.

The effects of the wind can be seen, but the wind itself is not seen. Neither can the wind be controlled. The wind goes where it wishes and does what it will. Men do not control the wind. The Spirit’s saving work is like this. The Spirit goes about His life-giving work, and no man controls Him. No one, by his own works or manipulation can direct the Spirit in His work. But when the Spirit brings about the new birth, the effects are evident. We know it is the work of God’s Spirit, unseen and beyond man’s control. In this sense, neither Nicodemus nor anyone else can save themselves, nor anyone else for that matter. Salvation is the sovereign work of God, accomplished by the Holy Spirit.

Pharisaism saw itself as the guardian of the Law of Moses. It viewed itself as the pure remnant of Judaism – the “gatekeeper” of the kingdom, governit it by the rules and regulations it had added to the law through oral tradition (see Matthew 23:13-15). Like his peers, Nicodeumus felt as though the Pharisees had the kingdom under control. Jesus shocked him by saying that part from being reborn from above, Nicodemus and his fellow moralists would not be seeing heaven anytime soon. In fact, Jesus was set to blow this myth right out of the water.

Posted June 17, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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I Tell You True Truth   1 comment

This is Part 10 of a series What If Truth Went Viral? Check it out.

John the apostle wrote his account of Jesus’ life decades after the events. What are termed the synoptic gospels had already been written and were in circulation. As an elder in Ephesus, John no doubt read one of the traveling copies. Why did John feel he needed to write his own gospel? There is a theory that Luke asked him to and there is some evidence for Luke’s involvement (I’ll get to that someday).

John may have been the last of the apostles still living by the time he set pen to parchment. The others had all died in persecutions. Although he wrote his gospel later, he had to have written before AD 79 because there is no textual evidence that he knew about the destruction of the Temple. He speaks of the Temple as though it still existed. So it’s about 30-35 years after the events he wrote of, but he had the other gospels to refresh his memory and Luke may have been there as well. Luke was not witness to the events of Jesus’ life, but textual critics say his gospel evidences the skills of a historian.

I suspect John had found something missing in the other gospels. The other gospels were not inadequate for their own purposes, but John had a somewhat different message. Thus, his gospel (while a book of history) is really a book of theology. It focuses less on details of where Jesus traveled when and more on what Jesus taught.

Thus the exact chronology of the gospel may not be wholly accurate and that’s why the gospel is not “synoptic”. It doesn’t matter because it is a book of theology and not a historical text.

At the age of 12, Jesus accompanied Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with them. When His family left for home, Jesus stayed behind, His absence unnoticed. When Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem in search of Jesus, they found Him in the temple listening to the teachers and asking questions (Luke 2:46). It wasn’t long before they were asking Jesus questions, and they were amazed at His answers (2:47). Jesus was already an astounding teacher at 12 years of age, whose understanding of the Scriptures amazed Israel’s finest scholars.

Several years later, John the Baptist commenced his public ministry, proclaiming the Word of God and calling Israel to repentance in preparation for the coming of Messiah. The Jewish religious leaders took note of him and sent a delegation to inquire about his ministry and message. It is apparent that the Pharisees chose not to identify themselves with John and his preaching, as they refused to be baptized by him (Luke 7:30).

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, but not to talk about himself or Pharisaism, but to learn more about Jesus, His message, and His relationship with God. What does Jesus say about Himself? Nicodemus opened the door by assuring Jesus that he sees Him as a man with a mission and a message from God. All Jesus had to do is pick up from here and tell Nicodemus what His mission is. I think Nicodemus was surprised where the conversation ended up.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is [re]born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus began by indicating to Nicodemus that the words He is about to speak convey a most solemn truth. He uses an expression unique to this Gospel, which in the King James Version is rendered, “Verily, verily …”  In essence, Jesus said “This is true truth” and then He swept away all that Nicodemus stood for and demanded that he be re-made by the power of God.

Nicodemus’ brand of Judaism did not know anything of re-birth. Quite frankly, the Pharisees thought one birth of the “right kind” was quite enough.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit worthy of repentance! And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ because I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones! 10 Even now the ax is ready at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7-10, emphasis mine).

To many Jews, to be born a Jew was to be born into the kingdom of God. We know the Jews also believed that Gentiles are born “lost.” Even the Jerusalem church leaders had to be forcefully convinced that God had purposed the salvation of Gentiles (Acts 10; 11:15-18), and even then, the practice of many Jewish believers did not match their profession (Acts 11:19). Paul, likewise, hit hard at this point. All Israelites are not true Israelites (Romans 9:6). Those who trust in the atoning work of Jesus Christ for salvation are true Israelites, whether their racial origins are Jewish or Gentile (Galatians 3:28; 6:16).

I can imagine the shocked look on Nicodemus’s face when Jesus told him that his natural birth (as a Jew) wouldn’t save him, and that he must be reborn from above. The implication was (and remains) clear: Unless Nicodemus was reborn from above, he would not see the kingdom of God. Here was a man who thought he had reserved seats on the blue line of heaven. Jesus told him that he was not even going to get into heaven as he was. He first must be born again, from above.

And that, folks, is Jesus’ brand of true truth.

Part 9 – Secret Meeting

Part 10 –

Secret Meeting   1 comment

This is Part 8 of a series – What If Truth Went Viral. Check it out.

When Jesus began His public ministry, the people who heard Him recognized a difference between His teaching and that of the Jewish religious teachers. Jesus taught as one having authority and not as their experts in the law. Our Lord’s authority was bolstered by His healing of the sick and casting out of demons. More than that, His authority was evident in the impact His words had on His listeners. The experts in the law taught with great dogmatism (Romans 2:17-20; 1 Timothy 1:6-7; 2 Peter 2:18), but their message lacked the power of Jesus’ message. His teaching rang “true” to His audience.

Luke 5:17 records the Pharisees quickly take note of Jesus. In fact, Pharisees from the entire nation of Israel gather to observe His ministry and teaching. We know from Luke’s words that Jesus was performing miracles at this time. John’s gospel is not as chronological as the synoptic gospels, so we don’t know if this occurred before or after Jesus’ with Nicodemus, but it seems logical that Nicodemus would have sought Him out around this time. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Why at night? It may simply have been the only time that Jesus had for a private chat. Scholars have argued for centuries about whether Nicodemus’ original mission was on behalf of the Pharisees or if it was a private meeting for Nicodemus’ own sake. The Pharisees were hard pressed to speak critically of Jesus or His ministry. How could His teaching be criticized? How could anyone speak against Him when He performed miracles openly, and so many people were watching? Jesus made the Pharisees look bad, and there seems to be little they could say against Him. Later, they would throw caution to the wind because Jesus refused to comply with their rules and He didn’t have much good to say about them:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfill. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do this, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20).

Jesus performed His first sign at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, but very few even realized what had happened. The cleansing of the temple captured the attention of the religious leaders (John 2:18-22), while the signs our Lord accomplished in Jerusalem caught the attention of many others (John 2:23-25). Contrary to popular interpretation, the Pharisees were not the ones who caught the brunt of Jesus’ purge of the Temple. They were not the ones behind the merchandising which took place in the temple courts. The priests and Sadduccees were the hosts of the market. It’s entirely possible the Pharisees stood by as Jesus cleansed the temple, looking on with great satisfaction as the priests and Sadducees were publicly humiliated.

These events seem to have riveted the Pharisees’ attention on Jesus. One highly-impressed Pharisee who was named Nicodemus. As I said, scholars argue over why Nicodemus sought out Jesus. Some think he was there on behalf of the Pharisees, perhaps hoping to co-opt Jesus into their order. They suggest Nicodemus came with a memorized script, and when Jesus interrupted him, he was totally disarmed and disoriented and allowed Jesus to talk.

Other scholars hold the view that I do. Jesus was a virtuoso of sorts and Nicodemus had heard Him preach. He recognized His genius and wanted to understand this young man whom he admired. Nicodemus was an elite Jew – a Pharsee, a renowed Scripture teacher, and a member of the Sanhedrin — yet, when he heard Jesus teach, he heard the answers to questions that had bothered him for years. He watched the crowds as they listened to Jesus, and he knew he had never held the attention of an audience like Jesus did. Jesus spoke in simple terms, but His message had (and still does) great power. Nicodemus observed the miracles Jesus performed, knowing he had never performed so much as one miracle. By nearly any standard, Nicodemus couldn’t hold a candle to Jesus.

1 Now there came a man of the Pharisees whose name was Nicodemus, a member of the council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could do the miraculous signs that you do unless God were with him.”

Nicodemus could not overlook the weight of the evidence. His fellow Pharisees quickly found alternative explanations for Jesus’ success, but Nicodemus could not set aside his personal conviction that Jesus had some kind of divine mission, and that He possessed divine authority by which He spoke and healed.

I am now inclined to believe that Nicodemus volunteered to go speak with Jesus, but if he had a predetermined agenda for this interview, he never got to it. He simply told Jesus that, from what he had personally observed, he had concluded that Jesus had come from God on some divinely inspired mission. Nicodemus’ words evidence a great respect for Jesus. Nicodemus called Jesus “Rabbi,” which was the same title used to address Nicodemus, for he was a teacher of the law as well. He further referred to Jesus as “a teacher come from God.”

When Nicodemus spoke to Jesus, he does not say, “Rabbi, I know that You are a teacher who has come from God,” but rather “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.” To whom is Nicodemus referring when he says “we”? It must be his colleagues the Pharisees (who, by the way, represented 1 in 5 Jewish men at that time). Was Nicodemus speaking for his fellow Pharisees here, expressing their point of view? Some scholars believe Nicodemus came as the official spokesman for the Pharisees and that it is certainly possible. However, it wasn’t the Pharisees’ style to act in such a secretive manner. In the cases above (John 1:19-25; Luke 5:17), the Pharisees made their moves very publicly, as if they intended to be seen. They wanted to be viewed as the accrediting agency for all those who taught the law.

So I think that Nicodemus was acting independently, without the sanction of the Pharisees. Why “we” then? I think there were other Pharisees, maybe not as brave as Nicodemus who stood behind him. We know from Acts that many Pharisees later became Christians. It’s also likely that Nicodemus thought in terms of his membership in the Pharisees. This explains Jesus’ answer that sought to show  Nicodemus that his system of religion does not, because it cannot, save anyone.

When you read the Gospels, you see Jesus returning the disrespect of the priests, scribes and Pharisees with a disrespect of His own. He refused to accept their authority over Him and He criticized them in harsh terms. Nicodemus sees another side of Jesus — the gentle teacher Who explains salvation to a willing pupil. Nicodemus came wanting to learn more from an inspired rabbi, but he was about to meet God Incarnate and learn a truth he was not expecting to learn.

Part 9

Truth Precepts   3 comments

This is Part 7 of a series – What If Truth Went Viral? Check it out.

There are some basic principles to understand about God’s Truth

First – There IS such a thing as Truth. It has been recorded in God’s Word. It is a proposition that says truth (true truth) is to be the focal point of Christian lives and discovered in and through Jesus Christ. Contrary to the teachings and beliefs of human philosophers and occult religionists, Truth exists and we can put it into word, phrases, and sentences that make sense. Truth is recorded in God’s Word (John 17:17). We can find the answers to life’s questions in the Bible. We are to know the Truth and to live it.

Listen, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You must love the Lord your God with your whole mindyour whole beingand all your strength.

These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the roadas you lie down, and as you get up. You should tie them as a reminder on your forearm and fasten them as symbols on your forehead. Inscribe them on the door frames of your houses and gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 

By the way, this passage known as the Shema would have been a principle Jesus was raised to believe and to quote every day and He referred to it when speaking with the Pharisees and temple priests.

Truth is embodied in Jesus Christ (John 14:6) Only hours before His encounter with Pilate, Jesus had said, “I am the Truth.” In Him, we see the Truth of God walking in a human body (John 1:14,18). If you want to know Truth face-to-face you will find it in Jesus.

Second – Biblical Truth is objective. What Francis Shaefer called “true truth” is utterly unlike liberal, existential forms of small truths. Biblical faith teaches that the events recorded in the Bible are reliable historical facts. If you look at the apostolic sermons in Acts 7, 10 and 13, you find that the preaching of the apostles was grounded in the historical truths of the Bible and thus is consistent with the preaching of Moses and the prophets of the Old Testament. The apostles were not mystics or philosophers. They preached and taught about God, who is, who acts, and who communicates through personal intervention in, and providential guidance of the history of human events. As the apostles recorded the gospel records, they were careful to stress the reality of what they were writing about. The life and works of Jesus actually happened.

Now many have undertaken to compile an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, like the accounts passed on to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginningSo it seemed good to me as well, because I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know for certain the things you were taught. Luke 1:1-4

Luke was a doctor who traveled with Paul and then Peter and possibly John. He was a careful historian whose claims have been backed up by archeology. He never walked with Jesus, but there is evidence in his gospel of his having interviewed those who had, including Jesus’ mother, Mary.

Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are recorded so 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

John lived and walked with Jesus and was witness to the events he recorded. He wasn’t trying to re-invent the wheel however. He was the last of the gospel writers. Matthew, Mark and Luke’s histories had been in circulation for several years when John wrote his. He didn’t need to record every event, though perhaps he recorded a few that the others had not.

This is the disciple who testifies about these things and has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. There are many other things that Jesus did. If every one of them were written downI suppose the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. John 21:24-25

Paul in teaching on the resurrection in particular, stressed the eyewitness accounts of it, and the importance of its factuality to the Christian faith.

Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been in vain. In fact, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or theythis is the way we preach and this is the way you believed.

Now if Christ is being preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty. 1 Corinthians 15:1-14

Paul invited his readers to go find the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Some of them were still alive and there were many witnesses … including Paul. One of the requirements of an apostle was that he had seen Jesus resurrected. Paul qualified because Jesus had appeared to him on the road to Damascus. That encounter had so changed Paul’s life that he could not deny the truth. He went from persecuting the church to being its greatest missionary because the Truth had made Himself known to him.

Truth exists and it is knowable. None of us today saw Jesus when He was alive and it’s doubtful we have seen Him in resurrected form. But we have the histories recorded by those who did live through those events and we have the testimony of those who have accepted that truth.

Christian know the Truth and Jesus the Truth has set us free.

Part 8

Posted June 2, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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