Archive for the ‘salvation’ Tag

First Noel   1 comment

This is a part of a series. Check it out.

It was probably September when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a tiny backwater town in the shadow of the Herodium – King Herod’s royal palace.

The town overflowed with the descendants of David because Caesar Augustus had decreed a census and the Jews were permanently wedded to their ancestral land — you could sell it for a time, but every 50 years the ownership of it came back to you.

Joseph didn’t have a house there. Contrary to the King James translation of the Bible, there was no inn in Bethlehem as we know inns. There was probably a relative who had a large house where people could sleep on the floor. Maybe Joseph and Mary got there late and there was no more room or maybe at the first pangs of birth, the other guests demanded they leave or at least move to the lower story of the house where the animals lodged in winter. God was looking out for them.

Birth in the 1st century Jewish culture was a ritual nightmare. Blood in general was. A house where there’d been a birth required ritual sanctification, which involved not just the structure, but the people in it. Nobody would have been able to leave for months had Jesus been born upstairs in the human part of the house.

By being born in that lower area, Jesus did not inconvenience the other travelers lodging there, but more, his parents retained their freedom to move about. Because animals were born in stables, they were considered ritually unclean places, so the elaborate sanctification rituals involved in birth were not required and thus, they were not stuck there for months.

What’s more, the humbleness of Jesus’ birth makes it clear to mankind that God does not just deal with the rich and powerful or the special people wearing priestly robes, but with everyone — the shepherds, the truck driver, the fishermen and the maid.

Jesus didn’t come to the pope in his gilded palace, but to you and me in our everyday lives. He didn’t come to shower anyone with wealth or to shift the income of the wealthy to the poor, or to force one racial group to bow to the demands of another racial group.

The Son of God stepped down into history and become the Son of Man so that human beings can have the opportunity to become the sons of God.

We Just Go Nuts At Christmas   1 comment

Hi, this is Brad because Lela is probably cooking Christmas Eve dinner.

Ah, Christmas, season of goodwill toward … uh, well, not my fellow man judging by the guy who flipped me off in the parking lot when I took the parking space he wanted and the woman who shrieked at the store clerk because the latest Star Wars bauble was sold out.

Peace on earth might come about if someone could find and destroy the musak machine and slip tranquilizers into the alcohol supply, but I know that’s dreaming.

What exactly gets people in such a tizzy? Is it being forced to give gifts to people they probably can’t stand the rest of the year? Surely it can’t be that you actually have to vacuum before guests come over! I thought we were the only people who neaten up before letting non-residents into the house. No?

Yeah, okay, I’m glad to know I’m not alone. I grew up in a very Irish Catholic family … BOSTON Irish Catholic, so for most of my childhood, Christmas started with going to church on Christmas Eve afternoon to confess my sins so I could take communion at the candlelight service and then going home to Christmas Day which was essentially a drunken party where the adults got into huge fights over football and broke the furniture wrestling in the living room. I haven’t made peace with that yet, but Lela has mostly made peace with her family’s issues and I would love to be in the same mind-space because I know it’s a healthy place to be. Meanwhile, I live in Alaska and do my best to avoid the Saturnalia while concentrating on Christ’s birth. Yeah, IF he makes it heaven, the pope who decided it was a good idea to hide Christmas in Saturnalia is going to have some explaining to do.

But let’s take a deep breath and consider Christmas for a moment. A cousin (or, er, I think he’s really my father’s second ex-wife’s kid by a third marriage) is all up in arms this year about Christmas. He keeps posting Facebook memes (like that word? Lela taught it to me) about how God is a sadistic bastard for sending his kid down here to be killed.

I decided not to respond directly, but hey, Lela has a blog for a reason.

So, just to set the record straight —

Jesus is God come to earth as a flesh and blood human being so He could understand us.

I know! We make a big deal about how Jesus is the Son of God, but that’s really not the true relationship. Jesus consistently referred to Himself as “Son of Man.” Why? The simplistic understanding is that “Son of God” focuses on His deity and “Son of Man” implies His humanity. Both are true.

Jesus was, during His lifetime on earth, a human being, but He is and remains God, the Second Person of the Trinity with all of the divine nature fully in Him.

 

Jesus was born of a human woman and conceived by the Holy Spirit. He had no human father in the physical sense. Jesus was and remains divine and He was human during His lifetime on Earth.

But there is a more important and sophisticated historical insight buried behind the simplistic explanation. In Daniel 7, the Bible introduces “the Son of Man” as a very exalted figure. It must mean something that Jesus adopted the term as His favorite self-designation.

Mark 10:45 “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That’s just one example.

On the face of it, Son of Man is an ordinary phrase for “human being.” Jesus was born as a human. But if you know about Daniel 7, you know He was claiming a very exalted role in the history of redemption. Mark 10 suggests He meant to fulfill that role.

Jesus subtly revealed His identity to those with eyes to see, but He didn’t announce it so blatantly that everybody would come and make Him king. He steered a very narrow course in disclosing His identity, rather than openly announcing, “I’m the Messiah, I’m the King of the World. Come and acknowledge me as King.”

Instead He would make claims that were explicit in certain settings and implicit in others. Only when the time was right—mainly when He was on trial for His life, and they asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the living God?”—did he say, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man coming with great power and glory.” So He confessed His open deity right at the point where He knew He would be crucified for it.

It would be very cruel if God sent a helpless baby to Earth to die for our sins, but in reality, Jesus was God Who voluntarily stepped down into human flesh so that He could understand us. I don’t completely understand why that would be necessary … maybe it wasn’t and He was just curious as to why His creation keeps wandering from His loving-kindness … but whether I fully understand why or how it was possible for God to become a human being is not nearly as important as what He accomplished in doing it.

He put a human face to deity. He understands why we struggle with sin. He gave Himself to fulfill His own requirements rather than have us do it. There is absolutely no reason to be angry at God for sending Jesus to die in a barbaric way because God Himself sent Himself to earth knowing that we humans would kill God rather than admit that He loves us … but He also knew that some folks would recognize His sacrifice and let Him save them.

Pause and take a moment to consider that the baby in the manger was God Himself submitting to our messy existence so that He might love us all the more by understanding us fully. The creator of the universe enduring hunger and crappy diapers, skinning his knees and doing chores, puberty, ridicule, shame, cold, sleeplessness and hatred, and even torture, humiliation and death by one of the most barbaric forms of execution ever devised … and He chose to do it because He loves you, and wants you to be reconciled to Him, which will bring peace to you that could, if you let it, spread to others.

Merry Christmas.

Peace on Earth

Goodwill to Mankind

Gratitude Flourishes Amid Grace   2 comments

In the United States, Thanksgiving is a secular holiday. The government gives us a day off. For many Americans, it is simply a day of watching football and overeating. That was pretty much how Brad and I were raised in the non-Christian homes (his,  cafeteria Catholic and mine, unchurched) that shaped our childhoods.

Our coming to see Thanksgiving as a Christian celebration has progressed over the three decades we’ve been together. It all started with being invited to a Thanksgiving gathering by my brother’s inlaws. His mother-in-law tried to interject some meaning into the holiday by asking what people were grateful for. Cleo’s best efforts were quickly drowned out by the football game, but Brad and I remembered it when we started celebrating Thanksgiving in our own home.

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Christmas is such an insane season and it is really not a terribly grateful one. Has anyone seen the commercial where they have renamed Thanksgiving to Thanks-Getting? We just shook our heads while watching that.

By taking a pause right before the start of the silly season, I don’t buy into the BS. I think about all the things in my life that matter and realize that almost none of them come from Santa. Yeah, I appreciate the gifts I get, but I’d really rather spend time with my family and play fetch with the dog in the snow.

I could designate another day of the year for doing that. In fact, I try to do it periodically throughout the year on a more or less quarterly basis that roughly coincides with my church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper, but Thanksgiving is usually when I suck the rest of my family into the practice.

There are so many blessings in our lives that walk around dressed up like ordinary life. I’ve been highlighting some of mine lately, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on MY blessings today. Suffice it to say that, to me, much of ordinary life is a miracle. In fact, that I can even call it ordinary is a miracle.

I’m just going to ask you to take a pause and list some of your own ordinary miracles. If you’ve got a Christmas stocking, roll it up in a scroll and slide it in there and see what you think of the message you wrote to yourself in saner times.

Trust me! Christmas will be a whole lot better because you have identified what is precious and praise-worthy on Thanksgiving.

Arguing with the Indoctrinated 3 (The Rich)   2 comments

Jesus had a lot to say about the rich who thought only of themselves and oppressed the poor. He didn’t protect them from the natural consequences of being abusers. But Jesus isn’t an Occupy Wallstreeter who sees the world in simplistic terms. He knows the hearts of man.

Joseph of Arimethea accepted Christ and remained a rich man afterward. But wait, you can’t come to God as a wealthy person … right? Wrong. Lots of followers of Christ were wealthy. Lydya, the seller of purple cloth. Barnabas certainly had material means. Philemon was clearly a rich man.

But, but, but … it’s just as impossible for a rich man to get to heaven as a camel to thread the eye of a sewing needle. That’s in the Bible!

Ah, yes, taking verses out of context with surrounding verses and with the culture in which they were written has its downsides.

No camel ever threaded the eye of a sewing needle, but many camels have walked on their knees through the man gate of a closed larger city gate. Jesus’ listeners understood the reference. It isn’t impossible — just very hard, but you also need to pay attention to the full verse, not just the part you like.

Luke 18:24-27 “When Jesus noticed this, He said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this said, “Then who can be saved?He replied, “What is impossible for mere humans is possible for God.”

Most people come to Jesus because they feel a lack in their life, but when you are surrounded by wealth, it is easier to trust in your personal resources than to trust in God. Rich people therefore have a harder time seeing that they have a need that only Jesus can fill. They are more likely to want to solve whatever ails them with their own resources. The poor are more likely to recognize that they can’t solve their own problems because life shows them that they lack resources and, therefore, they find it easier to relinquish their will to God.

Except … Americans are none of us truly poor. Homeless people have cell phones and shoes, they qualify for government benefits that prevent them from starving. Often they qualify for government housing if they’ll give up drugs and alcohol. There’s a homeless housing project here that doesn’t even require that.

So Americans (and I will submit citizens of most developed countries) really struggle with the understanding that God is the only answer to whatever we lack in life. Our corners are sufficiently padded by government benefits that God is truly not necessary in our physical lives. We have other resources that replace God in our lives.Therefore, it is very hard for 1st worlders to come to Jesus for salvation because we truly don’t see that we need Him.

But what is impossible for man is possible with God!

Ultimately, whether you will be accepted into Heaven has nothing to do with the status of your bank account. God makes these determinations and there is “No rich or poor” before God (Proverbs 22:2, James, 1 Corinthians; Galatians 3:28). There are only people who have obeyed God and people who have disobeyed God. Those who have given themselves to God and agreed to do things His way rather than their own will be accepted in Heaven — even regardless of whether they successfully keep that promise, by the way. Those who followed their own will rather than God’s will at the most basic level of accepting Christ won’t like what God has to say to them at the Judgment. It’s God who makes the decision and His judgement is not based on our petty human measures.

The rich man who gave all his wealth to some worthy cause will not get into heaven unless he gave his will to Jesus. The poor man who never had a dime to his name will not get into heaven unless he gave his will to Jesus. It’s the giving your will to Jesus that is important. What you do after that is evidence of where your will rests, but it’s not what gets you into heaven.

Often people who support socialism think that anyone who opposes socialism is arguing against God, but Jesus was clear — He is the only way to God and believing that He is God is the only way to be acceptable to Him. Your bank account is at best a secondary issue. Once you know Jesus, He’ll get back to you on what to do with your money and His instructions vary according to the believer. Depending on your attitude toward your wealth, He may not have anything to say about it at all.

God’s Existence Does Not Depend on Our Belief   1 comment

A lot of non-believers want to believe that God doesn’t exist, that simply by not believing they can somehow make God not exist.

God’s not Santa Claus, guys. His existence does not depend on our belief — not yours, not mine, not Richard Dawkins. If nobody on the planet believed in God, He would still exist. It’s sort like when people didn’t believe in germs, but still died of infection. God exists regardless of your belief in Him.

So why doesn’t God prove His existence?

That would be impossible because we have freedom of thought. There is not a single thing God could do to demonstrate His existence that someone wouldn’t find an objection to it. They’d insist the witnesses were hallucinating or dreaming, that someone was creating an optical illusion, that it was a natural phenomena science just hasn’t explained yet, or that it was a hoax — someone masquerading as God or an advanced race of aliens. The demonstration was misinterpreted, they’d say. Hey, I’ve even heard it argued that God was around once, but He has since died. And didn’t The Matrix teach us that reality is really just a virtual simulation created by aliens to occupy our minds?

Since those objects can’t be absolutely disproven, God’s existence cannot be absolutely proven. God has granted us freedom of those, which includes the freedom to deny His existence. Jesus pointed this out in Luke 16:19-31, and we see it in practice in passages like Mark 3:22 and Exodus 32:1.

God hasn’t given us proof, but He has placed enough evidence in the world for people to believe in Him (Romans 1:18-20). Romans 1:20 states, “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities…have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” Throughout history, people have seen both the power and beauty of nature. Questions such as “What controls thunder and lightning?” and “How did the stars get in the sky?” led naturally to “Is there someone who created the universe and controls it?” And once someone asks that question, they need only ask God to reveal Himself to be given what further evidence they may need to believe (Matthew 7:7-8).

Of course, someone will insist that if the evidence is so plain to see, why doesn’t everyone believe in God? God’s existence and Christianity are not propositions like “matter is composed of atoms” that can be regarded neutrally; their truth or falsehood affects our lives and our entire world view. Since the Fall, everyone has a bias against God. No one wants to stand before a perfectly good God and realize how far we have fallen short of the standard. There is a part of us, both Christian and non-Christian, that wants to reject God, just as there is a part in all of us that wants to do good. That bias causes people to act in a variety of ways: some people don’t want to investigate any evidence for God, while others will try to explain it away.

Even if God provided proof that was satisfactory to everyone, faith and trust would still be required to follow God. The atheist’s question would merely change from “Why doesn’t God prove His existence?” to “Why doesn’t God explain why He did this and not that?” Atheists themselves would become theists, but not all of them would become Christians. That’s right. You can believe God exists without believing that Jesus’ death atoned for our sins or that He is worthy of worship.

God wants us to trust Him, not just believe He exists. If our demands for proof and explanation were satisfied, we’d only trust and follow God to the extent that He proved Himself to us. We would rely on the external evidence and our own judgment of it, not actually trusting God. For us to actively trust God, we have to continue in our belief even when what we believe isn’t proven. Trust is paramount because it requires a deeper relationship with the one trusted. Anyone will believe a stranger’s statement if he immediately produces proof to back it up, but believing a person without having proof requires the believer to have a positive opinion of the person that takes a certain amount of risk. If the risk is large, the believer is dependent on the person. If the trust turns out to be justified, the believer has a higher opinion of the person and a stronger relationship with them.

But first consider this. When it comes to the possibility of God’s existence, the Bible says that there are people who have seen sufficient evidence, but they have suppressed the truth about God. On the other hand, for those who want to know God if He is there, He says, “You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you.”

Before you look at the facts surrounding God’s existence, ask yourself, If God does exist, would I want to know Him?

If you don’t want to know Him, all the proof in the world will not be sufficient for you to love Him, so He’ll give you the dignity of your choices and let you go to Hell where you won’t be bothered by the reality of His presence.

But we’re talking about evidence …

And there is plenty of evidence, more than can fit in a blog post, so I’ll just list a few.

Our universe and the planet we inhabit in it are incredibly complex. The Earth is a perfect size with the existence of Godcorresponding gravity to hold a thin layer of mostly nitrogen and oxygen gases, only extended about 50 miles above the surface. If the Earth was smaller, an atmosphere would be impossible (think Mercury). If the Earth was larger, its atmosphere would contain free hydrogen (Jupiter). Earth is the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life. It’s also located just the right distance from the sun. If the Earth was any further away from the sun, winter temperatures would freeze us all. Any closer and we would burn up. Even a fractional variance in our position relative tot he sun and life on Earth would be impossible.

Our moon is the perfect size and distance from the Earth for its gravitational pull, creating important ocean tides and movement so ocean waters do not stagnate, and yet our massive oceans are restrained from spilling over across the continents.

Think about water. No living thing can survive without it. Plants, animals and humans consist of mostly water. In fact, water’s cproof of Godharacteristics are uniquely suited for life. Its wide margin between boiling and freezing allows us to live in an environment of fluctuating temperature changes, while keeping our bodies a steady 98.6 degrees. Water is a universal solvent that allows various chemicals, minerals and nutrients to be carried throughout our bodies and into the smallest blood vessels. Water is also chemically neutral so that it does not affect the makeup of the substances it carries, thus enabling food, medicines and minerals to be absorbed and used by the body. Water has a unique surface tension, which allows water in plants to flow upward against gravity, bringing life-giving water and nutrients to the top of even the tallest trees.

The human brain simultaneously processes an amazing amount of information. Your brain takes in all the colors and objects you see, the temperature around you, the pressure of your feet against the floor, the sounds around you, the dryness of your mouth, even the texture of your keyboard. Your brain holds and processes all your emotions, thoughts and memories. At the same time your brain keeps track of the ongoing functions of your body — breathing, eyelid movement, hunger and movement of the muscles in your hands.
The human brain processes more than a million messages a second. Your brain weighs the importance of all this data, filtering out the relatively unimportant, to focus on that which is essential. The brain functions differently than other organs. There is an intelligence to it, the ability to reason, to produce feelings, to dream and plan, to take action, and relate to other people.

The eye can distinguish among seven million colors. It has automatic focusing and simultaneously handles an astounding 1.5 million messages. Evolution focuses on mutations and changes from and within existing organisms, but evolution alone does not fully explain the initial source of the eye or the brain — the start of living organisms from nonliving matter.

existence of GodScientists are pretty much convinced that our universe began with one enormous explosion of energy and light, which we now call the Big Bang. This was the singular start to everything that exists: the beginning of the universe, the start of space, and even the initial start of time itself.

Astrophysicist Robert Jastrow, a self-described agnostic, stated, “The seed of everything that has happened in the Universe was planted in that first instant; every star, every planet and every living creature in the Universe came into being as a result of events that were set in motion in the moment of the cosmic explosion…The Universe flashed into being, and we cannot find out what caused that to happen.”

Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in Physics, said at the moment of this explosion, “the universe was about a huexistence of Godndred thousands million degrees Centigrade…and the universe was filled with light.”

The universe has not always existed. It had a start…what caused that? Scientists have no explanation for the sudden explosion of light and matter.

The world is often chaotic, but think about what we take for granted every day. Gravity remains consistent, a hot cup of coffee left on a counter will get cold, the earth rotates in the same 24 hours, and the speed of light doesn’t change — it’s the same on earth as in galaxies far from us.

How is it that we can identify laws of nature that never change? Why is the universe so orderly, so reliable?

Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winner for quantum electrodynamics, said, “Why nature is mathematical is a mystery…The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle.”

existence of GodAll instruction, all teaching, all training comes with intent. Someone who writes an instruction manual does so with purpose. DNA is a very detailed instruction code, much like a miniature computer program, that exists in every cell of our bodies. It’s made up of four chemicals that scientists abbreviate as A, T, G, and C. There are three billion of these letters in every human cell!! DNA instructs the cell telling it to act in a certain way. It is a full instruction manual.

existence of GodHow did this information program wind up in each human cell? These are not just chemicals. These are chemicals that instruct, that code in a very detailed way exactly how the person’s body should develop. Natural, biological causes are completely lacking as an explanation when programmed information is involved. You cannot find instruction, precise information like this without someone intentionally constructing it.

What is it about atheists that they want to spend so much time, attention and energy refuting God’s existence? If they don’t believe He exists, why does it matter so much to them that I stop believing in Him?

Are you just concerned for our mental health and you just want to set us straight, to help us realize that our hope is completely groundless? Or are you hoping that someday someone will give you a convincing argument so you can join us? Or maybe you think that you’ll be free to go on merrily with your life if you can conclusively prove to believers that God doesn’t exist.

proof of GodMy own experience is that the topic of God will weigh heavily on a person because God will press the issue. He certainly did with me. God wants to be known. He created us with the intention that we would know Him. He has surrounded us with evidence of Himself and He keeps the question of His existence squarely before us. I spent a year and a half wrestling with the question of God’s existence and I couldn’t escape thinking about the possibility of God. In fact, my sinner’s prayer (alone in my bedroom) began with, “Okay, you win…” It might be that the underlying reason non-believers are bothered by people believing in God is because God is actively pursuing them.

Malcolm Muggeridge, socialist and philosophical author, wrote, “I had a notion that somehow, besides questing, I was being pursued.” C.S. Lewis said he remembered, “…night after night, feeling whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.” Lewis went on to write a book titled, “Surprised by Joy” as a result of knowing God.

Why Jesus? Look throughout the major world religions and you’ll find that Buddha, Muhammad, Confucius and Moses all identified themselves as teachers or prophets. None of them ever claimed to be equal to God as Jesus did. Jesus stands apart from the others. He affirmed God exists and that humans seek Him. Though He talked about His Father in heaven, it was not from the position of separation, but of very close union, unique to all humankind. Jesus said that anyone who had seen Him had seen the Father, anyone who believed in Him, believed in the Father.

proof of GodHe said, “I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He claimed attributes belonging only to God: to be able to forgive people of their sin, free them from habits of sin, give people a more abundant life and give them eternal life in heaven. Unlike other teachers who focused people on their words, Jesus pointed people to Himself. He did not say, “follow my words and you will find truth.” He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.”

Jesus did what people can’t do. He performed miracles, healed people…blind, crippled, deaf, even raised a couple of people from the dead. He had power over objects…created food out of thin air, enough to feed crowds of several thousand people. He performed miracles over nature…walked on top of a lake, commanding a raging storm to stop. People everywhere followed Jesus, because He constantly met their needs, doing the miraculous. He said if you do not want to believe what I’m telling you, you should at least believe in me based on the miracles you’re seeing.

Jesus Christ showed God to be gentle, loving, aware of our self-centeredness and shortcomings, yet deeply wanting a relationship with us. Jesus revealed that although God views us as sinners, worthy of His punishment, His love for us ruled and God came up with a different plan. God Himself took on the form of human and accepted the punishment for our sin on our behalf.

There are people who think that sounds ludicrous, but many loving human fathers would gladly trade places with their child in a cancer ward if they could. The Bible says that the reason we would love God is because He first loved us. What is more loving than God (Jesus) dying in our place so we could be forgiven. Of all the religions known to humanity, only through Jesus will you see God reaching toward humanity, providing a way for us to have a relationship with Him. All other religions are Mankind reaching to God. Only in Christianity does God reach to us, forgiving us and loving us, fully accepting us. He says “I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” This is God, in action.
If you want to know if God exists, investigate Jesus Christ, because “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

But there’s a stumbling block in the way of many modern humans. God does not force us to believe in Him. Yes, He has the power to do it, but He does not. He created us with the ability to make our own choices because He wants us to love Him of our own free will. He has provided sufficient proof of His existence for us to willingly respond to Him.

It’s up to you to decide what you will believe, but God only provided the one way to salvation. If you want to be forgiven by God and come into a relationship with Him, you can do so right now by asking Him to forgive you and come into your life. Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door [of your heart] and knock. He who hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him.” If you want to do this, but aren’t sure how to put it into words, this may help: “Jesus, thank you for dying for my sins. You know my life and that I need to be forgiven. I ask you to forgive me right now and come into my life. I want to know you in a real way. Come into my life now. Thank you that you wanted a relationship with me. Amen.”

God views your relationship with Him as permanent. Referring to all those who believe in Him, Jesus Christ said of us, “I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.”

Anabaptists   Leave a comment

There are reasons I’m a Baptist by membership and here is one of them.

A young man grew up in our church, the son and grandson of devout Christians. When he was 8 he walked an aisle and made a public profession of Jesus Christ as Savior and was shortly thereafter dunked in the Chena River. When he was in high school, however, he came to doubt his Christianity. He decided he liked to be in charge of himself. He held this thought through high school into college.

He didn’t exactly quit believing in God. It is hard to live in Alaska and not at least think there has to be a higher order of intelligence behind the beauty here. That’s my own take on it from having been a completely unchurched teen when Jesus reached out to me. I always believed in some sort of high power in charge of Alaska’s beauty. For want of a better term, I called it God, but I by no means believed in the God of the Bible. It was more a god of my own design.

This young man continued to believe that there was something like a god and that being a good person was a good thing, but that whole Christianity thing — well, that put someone else in charge of his life besides him and he wasn’t interested. And he carried that attitude into college.

And then a relationship he had wanted very much ended abruptly and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He realized that as much as he had thought he was in control of his life, he wasn’t really in control of his life. Through that experience, he began to question whether rejecting Jesus as Savior was really the right way to go. Last summer, through the witness of his mother, he rededicated his life to Christian living.

But it wasn’t enough, he realized. He had actively said that Jesus was not God and could not be Savior and Lord of his life. He was sure now that he is a Christian, but as he started reading the Bible, he kept running across verses that said “If you deny Me before men, I will deny you before My Father.” He he knew he had done that. He began to question if that childhood experience of walking an aisle and being “baptized” had any validity.

So today, he gave his testimony before the church and was baptized, not only to assure that he was following Jesus in the appropriate steps of salvation and obedience, but as a public testimony of the inward change he has recently gone through.

Baptists maintain that baptism (full immersion) is an outward sign of an inward change and something to be done only by believers. We don’t baptize babies or very young children because we don’t believe they can grasp the concepts needed for salvation — sin, the need for regeneration, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, repentance. Usually, the youngest candidates for baptism are six or seven and I can count on one hand the number of those very young candidates who are still in church in their 20s and 30s. I tallied up the baptisms at my current church and the majority of them  have been older than 16, which says we are either very good at reaching adults for Christ or that we encourage our children to wait until their salvation is real to them.

Baptists do not believe baptism is retroactive. If you walked an aisle when you were nine and were dunked, but didn’t accept Christ for real until you were 21, you should be baptized now as a believer. If you were sprinkled as a baby (like my husband), that was a pretty ceremony for your parents, but it didn’t mean anything to you, so if you’re 21 and you accept Christ (like my husband), you need to be baptized.

Notice that I didn’t say “re-baptized”. If the candidate that goes under the water is not a Christian, the activity was not a baptism. Only believers can be baptized. Non-believers seeking to please their parents or look good just get wet.

And that is one of the reasons I am a Baptist, because it is understood that this young man was being baptized for the first time, in accordance with New Testament teachings.

This is another one of those church discipline things that modern churches really need to look at. If we’re serious about our faith and want to reach the world for Christ, we must first make sure that we are following His example and the example of the early churches.

Discipleship Rewarded   Leave a comment

The requirement of discipleship is so demanding that we really shouldn’t be shocked that so few choose the path of following Christ. I was recently accused of worshipping a very different God from some other Christians. My response was that I wouldn’t soft-soap the truth. Discipleship is the mark of a true Christian and discipleship costs.

That said, the rewards of discipleship make its requirements look easy.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

The Scriptures state clearly that we are the slaves of whatever controls us (Romans 6:16). Some are slaves to the body and its appetites. Other submit to a religious system, like the Jews of Jesus’ times. Ultimately, if we are not the servants of Christ, we are the slaves of sin and Satan, who is the ultimate cruel taskmaster.

Jesus is gentle and humble. To be His disciple is joy, not a dreary task of drudgery, but a delight. While the Pharisees and scribes ruled in pride and arrogance, Jesus gave His life for His sheep. Though the path to follow Him leads over rough roads, we have a gentle and skillful guide.

Jesus never requires more of us than He has enabled us to do. I’ve had my own doubts going into trials, but looking back, He was always there with me. The works-based crowd sets a lot of standards too, but they frequently aren’t around to help you bear the burden. Jesus is, every moment of every day. This is the crucial difference.

It is only to His disciples that Jesus reveals His innermost thoughts and most intimate secrets. Look at Scripture. While Jesus spoke plainly to His disciples about His purposes, these were carefully couched to the masses. “So with many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear. He did not speak to them with a parable. But privately he explained everything to His own disciples.” (Mark 4:33-34) His disciples asked why and he explained “The secret of the kindom of God has been given to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables.” (Mark 4:11) Discipleship brings us into a level of intimacy with Jesus that others cannot experience.

Our rewards for discipleship are not based on our actions, but on our motive. God didn’t save us on the basis of our potential contribution to His cause. He chooses the foolish things of this world (1 Corinthians 1:26-31), based on His own criteria of worth:

“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.  Whoever receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. Whoever receives a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, I tell you the truth, he will never lose his reward.” Matthrew 10:40-42

Our rewards are not based on the worldly value of our service, but on the sincerity of our motives – on our reason for service and not the response to our service. If we are obedient to our Lord and live so as to please Him, we shall have a reward.

Jesus is our great reward. If we seek to be followers of Him only for the fringe benefits, we fail to recognize the true benefit of a relationship with Him. He is our reward. The cost of discipleship is nothing compared to the riches of relationship with Him.

There is nothing Jesus denies His followers that is not for our ultimate good. If He takes something away, it is more than compensated by what He replaces it with. Like Eve in the garden, we can come to believe that God is withholding good from us. Eve is a cautionary tale. God always gives us good (Psalms 84:11; 34-10). If we have to give something up to be His follower, we can be assured that He will replace it with something better.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much – homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, all with persecutions  – and in the age to come, eternal life.

God spoke here in the flesh, saying that He only withholds from us that which is not for our good. We may never know what pain we missed out on because we followed Him instead of the world’s idea of “good”.

We should never misrepresent the demands of discipleship. Many who discover what is involved in following Jesus decide not to do it. Yet, when we consider the rewards and the alternatives to discipleship, those of us who have done it already know that there is no other, better or easier way than His way.

I know Sunday Christians who walked an aisle and then live as far from Jesus in their daily lives as possible. They hope they can enjoy the blessings of heaven in the future while soaking in the pleasures of sin in the present. They have their “fire insurance”, they suppose. If there’s no evidence for discipleship, there’s no evidence for renewal … which is not to say that Christians don’t stumble on occasion or that they lose their salvation when they do. We didn’t become saved from any effort on our own part. Why would we suppose we could become unsaved through our own behavior? Salvation is a gift from God, not of ourselves so we cannot boast that we earned it.

Why (Christian) Faith is Important?   Leave a comment

I ran across this article in the Alaska Dispatch News

Why young Europeans are becoming jihadis

One statistic that is compelling to me is how many of these kids come from middle-class Muslims homes that are non-practicing (about 60%). These kids are looking for something to believe in and they find it … and not for the good. The emptiness of life without faith cries out for significance and there is no good way to find that significance outside of God. It leaves our youths vulnerable to scam artists and cults and jihadi rhetoric. We see it in the Muslim community because right now there are images available that will draw them in … Muslim children dead in Syria. It could just as easily be American-looking children dead somewhere else that turns faithless American teens into crusading killers.

Obviously, I don’t believe the answer will be in atheism. It appears that the atheism of these families is actually contributing to the vulnerability of their kids. I also don’t think the solution will be found in Islam. It’s best to remember the history of Islam as a 7th century Christian cult. It is not worship of God, but worship of a counterfeit god.

I look back in our own history in the United States, to the 1960s when my parents’ generation was shocked that my older brother’s generation were taking to the streets and throwing rocks at cops of the Vietnam War. They remained shocked over my half of the Boom generation chaining itself to logging trucks and threatening to ram oil rigs. Those passionate young people had certain things in common and in almost every case, their families were non-practicing in terms of religion. You didn’t find Baptist preachers kids — for the most part — joining the extremist political fringe. Why? Because they already had something to believe in and as Christians, their faith informed them that God would take care of the world, so they didn’t need to blow things up. Christians fight the world spirit on their knees and are called to true martydom, where by they risk alienation and possible persecution for standing for what is moral rather than what the world tells us is “right” today (but could change tomorrow).

Faith is not the problem engendering a world of violence. To the contrary, lack of faith in the God of the Bible is what drives the world spirit of evil and violence. The solution to the problem is not less faith … but more and in the right object of worship because only a living and personal God can make the changes in the human heart required to change the world’s spirit.

It’s a Rocky Path   2 comments

There’s a flip side to the argument that a good lifestyle won’t get you to heaven. That teaching has led to a heresy that Christians can do whatever they want and “get away with it”. This heresy existed as far back as the writing of Revelation, AD 90-95.

There are some people who think that since we are saved by Christ’s finished work on the cross, we can just go on sinning and God will forgive us.

This is a complicated concept. Once saved, always saved, and Christians are forgiven when they sin, but good works will result from a true saving faith. Thus good works are evidence of a saving faith, but they do not impart salvation. This is very different from saying that we are saved by being a good person. While the Bible teaches that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, the Bible does not teach “easy believism.” Christianity is an active faith; it will show evidence beyond walking an aisle or attending church.

The complication comes because all humans sin. We will never be anywhere near perfect and even “good”. The uncomfortable truth is that Christians are all hypocrites and that it is impossible for us not to be. Our goal is not perfection, which is impossible, but obedience to God to the best of our human abilities, which are limited by our humanity. Christians will have ups and downs, but a true Christian will repent of his sins continually and surrender his life to God, continuing to improve his/her relationship with God over time through a process the Bible calls sanctification. So, while we are saved as a gift of God available to all who trust in Christ, after being saved, a Christian, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will seek to conform his life to God’s will—as best he understands God’s will and his duty.

So when the world sees Christians who are not perfect, it’s best to understand that the Christian life is more about direction than perfection. Jesus is perfect. His followers are human. Humans are not perfect. Only God is perfect.

Time is for Humans   Leave a comment

I don’t believe that the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 is threatened by the theories of science. The Bible is not a book of science. It’s a book of history and a specific kind of history, written for the people of the era from their perspective, inspired but not dictated by God. It therefore does not have to be scientifically precise. Science loosely agrees with the Bible with the theory of the Big Bang and even evolution is not really incompatible with the Biblical account … provided you recognize that the Bible is not a book of science and that God was acting outside of time until He created human beings.

Time is a human concept. We are born, we live, we die. We divide up our lives into increments so that we can keep track. God is eternal. He never had a beginning, He will never have an end. What use are “days” to Him? He has no need to keep track of days, weeks, years, and centuries. Therefore, you have a description of creation broken into “days” before there is a sun to revolve around an earth to mark those “days.” Was it six literal days or six periods of time? We don’t know and it probably doesn’t matter.

Trust me – at the Great White Throne and the Bema Seat judgments our entrance into heaven will not be based upon our belief in a literal six-days creation or some form of theistic evolution. We will rise or fall on whether we believe Jesus Christ is God crucified for the forgiveness of our sins and risen on the third day to show He has overcome the broken nature of creation.

Genesis 1 is a side issue compared to that!

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