Tag Archives: Christianity

Acts of God

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word”  (Hebrews 1:3, NIV).

“For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust”  (Matthew 5:45, ESV).

If nature’s laws were not universal and consistent, science would be impossible. Experiments are worthless if we cannot be assured that the same thing will happen again under the same conditions. Without universal laws of nature, life would be chaotic and very difficult (if it would be possible at all). What if water boiled at 100 degrees celsius today, but under the same conditions tomorrow it wouldn’t boil until it reached twice that temperature? Actually, we wouldn’t even have the celsius scale to measure it, since celsius is calibrated according to the freezing and boiling points of water! What if the magnetic North Pole moved around randomly? Compasses wouldn’t work. What if gravity fluctuated erratically? Let’s say gravity suddenly became the same strength on earth as it is on the moon, then a week later it was equivalent to Neptune? If I weigh 180 lbs on earth, I’d weigh just 30 lbs (yes, thirty!) when gravity shifted to Moon-Strength, and I’d weight a whopping 3,078 lbs (one and one-half tons!) when Neptune-Strength gravity kicked in. Aren’t you glad we live in a world where nature is consistent?

Storms, accidents, and natural disasters impact both moral and immoral people. Earthquakes, tornados, droughts: all indiscriminately effect Christians, Jews, atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and agnostics; in short, everyone. 

Everything in the natural order works according to established laws. God is not the direct (efficient) cause of everything that happens. I’ve heard and read preachers who say that God makes the breeze blow the branches of the trees. When those who believe this way say, “God is in control,” they see him as the immediate cause of everything.  The trouble with this micromanaging approach to God’s sovereignty is, it ignores a fundamental reality: we are living on a planet that is separated from God. There is evidence of God’s absence on earth, and this reinforces the argument of the atheist. However, as we’ve seen there is also reason and evidence to believe in the existence of God. So, what’s going on? 

The Fall includes, not only human beings, but all of creation: 

“the creation was subjected to futility… and bondage to decay…. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now”  (Romans 8:20, 21 & 22). 

Only after the Son of God returns to earth to reign over and transform everything and everyone, will life be what it should. Until then, we are living in a broken, dangerous world, a world from which we need to be saved.

I am not advocating deism, the belief that God created everything and then withdrew. God is indeed still in control. He remains all powerful, and all knowing. What I am saying is God’s control over the universe is mediated through the laws of physics and nature that he set up. I do believe that God is omnipresent. However, God’s presence is not manifest to his creation naturally. Again, we can see evidence of God in the order of creation, but we do not naturally perceive God anywhere. He is hidden. “No one has seen God at any time….” It is critical that we understand this in order to answer the question, “Why is there evil in the world?” It is a fallen world, and that extends to every part of creation.

Miracle

God does sometimes act upon the world by superseding the laws of nature, which we call a miracle. However, he does not regularly interfere in the natural order, not even for good people, not even for his own people. God is unlikely to work a miracle because of the selfish prayers of someone who feels entitled to have things their way! I don’t believe God makes it a habit of changing the outcome of a football game because I pray for my favorite team, nor will he make it stop raining just so my family may have a nice picnic. Our prayers need to be less selfish.

“If the course of nature is the work of an intelligent Being, should we not expect that he would vary the course of nature only infrequently at times of great importance?” 

(William Paley)

“That God can and does, on occasions, modify the behaviour of matter and produce what we call miracles, is part of the Christian faith; but the very conception of a common, and therefore, stable, world, demands that these occasions should be extremely rare.” 

“But if matter is to serve as a neutral field it must have a fixed nature of it’s own. 

“If a ‘world’ or material system had only a single inhabitant it might conform at every moment to his wishes– ‘trees for his sake would crowd into a shade.’

but if you were introduced into a world which thus varied at my every whim, you would be quite unable to act in it and would thus lose the exercise of your free will.”

“In a game of chess you can make certain arbitrary concessions to your opponent, which stand to the ordinary rules of the game as miracles stand to the laws of nature. You can deprive yourself of a castle, or allow the other man sometimes to take back a move made inadvertently. But if you conceded everything that at any moment happened to suit him– if all his moves were revocable and if all your pieces disappeared whenever their position on the board was not to his liking– then you could not have a game at all.

So it is with the life of souls in a world: fixed laws, consequences unfolding by causal necessity, the whole natural order are at once the limits within which their common life is confined and also the sole conditions under which any such life is possible.”

 (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, pp, 31-32)

Providence

 God may act without superseding or suspending the laws of nature. Instead, as the master of time and space, he has arranged for things to occur in a specific order with a specific purpose in mind. We may call such activity providence. We can see that the entire universe is an act of providence.  Providence in an individual’s life may be understood to be “a coincidence that God has arranged.” Miracles of providence are common in the lives of believers.

“All things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

I believe that is is essential for believers to recognize God’s providential activity, and learn what he has in mind for each circumstance and event in our lives. Further, we can have confidence in a good, loving and powerful God to turn even the worst situation into something that works out for our good and his glory.

Obsessed With Control

Humans have become obsessed with control. We want everything to go our way. Science has been so successful at informing us about the natural world and giving us control over it that we are frustrated when we cannot do so. C.S. Lewis observed a connection between the motives of those who seek to manipulate reality through magic and those who use applied science.

“There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men.”

I think many of us pray for the same reason. 

What Did I Do to Deserve This?

There exists a common belief (call it a suspicion, perhaps) that those who are struck by catastrophe or physical infirmity have done something to deserve it. I was told by a devout believer that my hearing loss in one ear is God telling me that I’m not listening. I suppose that could be. I really need to pay attention to God’s leading. However, God has a greater purpose than punishment when bad things happen to us. I have an entire section in this book dedicated to that theme: Not All Suffering is Equal… or Evil.

Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans in 2005; many people lost their lives and many more lost their homes. Then on the 16th anniversary of Katrina in 2021, hurricane Ida came ashore and took out the power grid of the Big Easy. The entire state of Texas nearly lost its power grid due to freezing temperatures in February of 2021. A tornado swept through Garland and Rowlett the day after Christmas 2015. Were these natural catastrophes sent by God? After all, these kinds of events (tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis) are sometimes called “Acts of God.” Is the Lord trying to say something to us? The Lord is always seeking to lead and teach his people. However, the answer is not as simple as: “God is punishing our sins.” Did these storms and catastrophes only affect the property or take the lives of people who have done something wrong? Hopefully, your answer is “no.” 

I am sure good people died and I know that there were Christians in the 2015 tornado who lost everything. Did God work in people’s lives during and after these catastrophes? Yes. The Garland/Rowlett tornado struck the day after Christmas of 2015. That may seem cruel, until you recognize that many people were not home that day. As a result many deaths were likely averted. Did God offer protection to those who were praying and paying attention to his Spirit’s leading? I believe so. We’ll look at that very important aspect to God’s salvation in the next chapter.

Jesus Healing a Man Born Blind

Jesus healed a blind man once, whom the people of his day presumed had done something to deserve it.

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 

‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him'”  (John 9:2-3, NIV). 

God has good reason for allowing natural afflictions and tragedies to occur in people’s lives: so that the Lord’s redemptive work may be observed in and through them. In the case of the man who was born blind that work was the miracle of physical sight that resulted in the revelation of Jesus.

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 

“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” 

Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” 

Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him”

(John 9:32-38).

Some years ago member of our church had a stroke and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Those among us who’ve been exposed to this understand the fear, confusion, anxiety and panic a stroke causes in the person who has experienced it. The following is part of a text she sent me.

“I am being humbled and rediscovering the presence of God especially when I panic. The only thing getting me thru a panic attack is his presence and looking at others in the rehab part where I am now I know just how lucky I am and how much God is with me.”

God is at work, friends, even and especially in our darkest moments. He will be with you if you will call on the name of His Son Jesus, and receive His Spirit. “No one has seen God at any time, but the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him” (John 1:18). God has revealed himself through Jesus. He is the light of the world (John 1:12).

Jesus gave sight to the man born blind, and he will open your eyes too. However, this also demonstrates the spiritual blindness of the religious who claim to know God, but follow their own ways. 

“Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’ Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.’” (John 9:39-41, NIV)

Don’t presume to understand why seemingly bad things have occurred in someone else’s life. Trust that God is good and loving, and that he is at work—even when we cannot see it. The world is separated from God by sin, but that doesn’t mean He is not at work in the world. Christ is at work all around us through the Holy Spirit, seeking to save those who are lost. God rested from his work of creation on the seventh day, but Jesus said, “My Father is still working and I am working” (John 5:17).

As a believer, God is working within me to make me like His Son, instead of working for me to make things the way I want them to be. I need to concentrate my prayer life on seeking God’s presence and wisdom to bring me through the storm instead of demanding that he stop it. Do I want “my best life now” instead of praying to my Father, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” Do I want to be happy when God wants me to be holy? The Father is working to transform me into the image of His Son, and that is a process which involves suffering, self-denial, faith and trial.

Paradise Lost and Regained

O Eve, in evil hour thou didst give care

To that false Worm, of whomsoever taught

To counterfet Mans voice, true in our Fall,

False in our promis’d Rising; since our Eyes

Op’nd we find indeed, and find we know

Both Good and Evil, Good lost and evil got,

Bad Fruit of Knowledge, if this be to know, 

Which leaves us naked thus, of honour void,

Of Innocense, of Faith, of Puritie,

Our wonted Ornaments now soild and staind…

(John Milton, Paradise Lost)

Paradise Is Lost

This isn’t paradise. Eden was an experiment. What happens when you give human beings a utopia, freedom, and the opportunity to rebel? They rebel. Humans have continued to fall short of God’s glory ever since. 

According to the book of Genesis Adam and Eve were the first created beings whom God made in his own image. They were given the choice to live in communion with their Creator and eat from the tree of life, or to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and pursue self-determination. 

“When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it.”  (Genesis 3:6, NET Bible)

God clearly commanded the first man and woman not to eat the fruit from this tree. Further, he promised that if they did it would result in death. Sin always produces death, which is separation from the source of life. 

“And the LORD God said, “Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God expelled him from the garden in Eden”  (Genesis 3:22–23).

Conscience

So, the first couple turned from God-life to self-life, and from being innocent of evil to experimenting with it. God kept them from the tree of life, and so condemned them to die. However, they didn’t physically die on the spot. They were separated from the Author of Life, and now so are we. How would they make their way? God graciously gave them (and us) a conscience, which made them ashamed of their nakedness. Since they were no longer in fellowship with God, conscience became the immediate source of moral knowledge for them, and for the rest of the human race. We have an intuitive sense that there is good and there is evil; there is right and there is wrong. Conscience gives humans insight into what we might call the Moral Law. God created the cosmos, and he created human beings. There is a way things are supposed to be. There is a way we are designed to behave, but without God to teach us himself, we are left to ourselves. That is why God gave human beings a conscience.

Knowledge of good and evil is not entirely intuitive. Certainly, there is a basic dichotomy established, wherein things are right or wrong, but humans can (and do) overwrite the conscience with bad instructions, calling darkness light and light darkness, treating good as evil and evil as good, pursuing wrong as though it were right, while rejecting the good God established. We see this regularly in our world. 

In Nazi Germany it was considered good to annihilate the Jews. Suicide bombers believe they will be rewarded by Allah if they blow themselves up to kill infidels. Members of Antifa think they are on a righteous crusade when they show up to cause trouble and fight those who they deem “fascists,” which recently included a peaceful outdoor Christian worship service in Portland, Oregon. On January 6th, 2020 protesters broke into the Capital in Washington DC because they believed the election was stolen. Yes, friends, we are living in a fallen world, and many have scarred their God-given conscience and chosen to believe something other than the Word of God.

Children of God?

Even though human beings are made in God’s image, we are not naturally God’s children. True, the Apostle Paul affirmed to the philosophers of his day that we are God’s offspring (Acts 17), and your translation may say “children,” but the term in Greek refers to a distant relation, not a child in the immediate family.  

Human beings are filled with pride and rebellion, unbelief, selfishness and sin. Our sin puts us at enmity with God. Because of this we are under God’s wrath, and the curse of death. We are spiritually stillborn. We are separated from our Creator and have lost the ability to innately sense or know Him. There is nothing any of us can do to change that reality, even if we desired to do so. And we don’t naturally possess that desire. 

“…there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless.”  (Romans 3:11-12a)

Philosophy and science may supply evidence for God’s existence, while religion speculates about the divine nature, but to go beyond that, or to make contact with him, is naturally impossible. If someone rejects the supernatural, and relies solely upon scientific inquiry to determine what is real, then that person will never make contact with God. There is evidence for the existence of God in nature, but all we can know is “his divine nature and eternal power,” not personal qualities like love, righteousness or fairness. 

Sin and Death

Why is there evil in the world? Because we are fallen people living in a fallen world. Human beings sin. Sin means to fall short. It is failure be what God designed us to be. Sin caused Adam and Eve to be removed from Paradise and kept from the Tree of Life. Sin continues to separate the human race from our good Creator.

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden his face from you so that He does not hear.”  (Isaiah 59:2, NASB)

Sin is the reason death exists. Biologically speaking our cells continue to renew themselves when we are young, but somewhere in our 20’s cells no longer regenerate as quickly as they die, and thus the march toward the grave begins. Scientists have no explanation as to why this happens. Why don’t we continue to have the energy and strength of our youth? The Bible’s answer is, death is God’s curse because of sin. 

“but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2: 17)

“The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20)

“For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a)

“and sin when it is full grown gives birth to death.” (James 1:15)

The Apostle Paul called this “the Law of Sin and Death,” and it is as ironclad as any law of Physics. Everyone sins. Everyone dies. Everyone, except the One who never sinned, who died for sin, who rose on the third day to overcome death for everyone.

Salvation

So, there is hope! God himself did something about our intractable problem. The Creator reached down to us by sending his Son, Jesus Christ.

“…but the free gift of God is eternal life in his Son, Jesus Christ”  (Romans 6:23b). 

Jesus sets us free from the Law of Sin and Death.

“There is therefore not condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)

Although we can do nothing on our own, the Son of God has made peace with God for us through His cross. 

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

You may only receive and realize this by faith. 

“By grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

You do not have, nor can you obtain or attain, a relationship with God naturally. God is the only one who may initiate the process of reconciliation, and it was He who paid the necessary ransom for our redemption. Do not presume that you have a relationship with God by virtue of your humanity, your birth into a certain religious family, your church membership, or a misguided belief in your own morality or goodness. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Apart from what God has done in Christ, you and I are lost in a fallen, broken world. Jesus is the only way out. That is not a narrow-minded religious claim, it is a statement of fact. Jesus spoke plainly:

“I am the way, the truth and the life and no one can come to the Father, except through me.”  (John 14:6)

You see, the reality is:

1. Jesus is the one and only Son of the one and only God. 

“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”  (John 1:18, NASB95)

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”(1st Timothy 2:5-6, ESV)

2. Jesus is the only one who has ever come from heaven to live on earth, and returned there.. 

“No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven.” (John 3:13)

3. Jesus is the only one who has died for our sins. 

“He who knew no sin became our sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, have been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18)

4. In fact, Jesus is the only one who could die for our sins. 

“No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough— that he should live on forever and not see decay.”  (Psalm 49:7–9, NIV84)

5. Jesus is the only one who has conquered death. 

“Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.”  (John 11:25-26).

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20)

If you’ve never done so, why not reach out to God who has reached down to you through His Son, Jesus? How do you do that? Pray. Prayer is talking to God. Speak as though he is next to you now This might seem strange, or it may be second nature. The Bible promises, “whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). The “Lord” in this case is Jesus Christ. Call out to him now. Tell him what’s on your heart and mind. Above all, ask him to come into your life to save you from all of the worthlessness and evil in this lost world. Then a little paradise will be restored within your heart.

God IS Good

“There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him.” (C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce)

“That tastes good!” 

“Oh, I feel so good!”

“That was a good movie.”

“She is a good person.”

What is the primary meaning of good? Am I saying the same thing whenever I use the word? Is good an essential concept, or merely a word I use to show I have a positive feeling about something?

Widely used definitions of the term good include: beneficial, pleasurable, successful, and happy. All of these are both subjective and selfish. Without an objective basis for good there is merely what is good for me and mine. However, in this subjective, selfish sense, what is good for me could be harmful to you. My good, (like “my truth”) could well be your idea of evil. Take a hot button issue like abortion. There are those who consider “a woman’s right to chose” to terminate her pregnancy good. However, preserving unborn human life is good to those who are against abortion. So, who is right? What is good?

Eighteenth Century philosopher David Hume said the concept of good and evil is nothing more than “positive and negative approbation,” meaning the terms are another (perhaps stronger) way of expressing subjective likes and dislikes. This is a disastrous view. If good is only in the eye of the beholder, then what is to keep a nation from upholding racism and genocide as good, as was the case with Nazi Germany? What is to stop a culture from embracing pedophilia or rape as good? Who can say that sadism or masochism is bad to someone who genuinely believes one or both to be good? These may seem to be extreme examples to you, but there are already groups who would support such ideas. And it may not be long until the culture shifts to support some or all of them, unless there is a consensus for recognizing an objective basis for good and evil.

What is the objective basis for good? What can we all look to as a standard and agree, “yes that is what good means”?

Human Flourishing

There are philosophers who have pointed to the idea of human flourishing as an objective basis for good, This means whatever promotes happiness and growth for the human population is the standard for determining good. The question is, how do we define happiness for an entire population? Some might ask about animals. What of their flourishing? Eating meat makes many people happy, and it is arguably healthy. However, that is certainly at odds with the interests of the animal being eaten! What if I am only concerned with my own happiness and/or that of my family and friends? On what basis would I concern myself with happiness and growth for billions of other people, all of whom are competing for resources. From this perspective one could well support extreme measures in population control in order to ensure that there is enough to go around. For many years the Chinese Communist Party only permitted the citizens of China to have one child per family. If a woman became pregnant with a second child, she was forced to have an abortion. They believe this is good because it promotes human flourishing by ensuring China doesn’t become overpopulated. Is that really what good is?

 What is good for me and mine may deprive others of life. Is it right to be forced to sacrifice your life or happiness for the “good of humanity”? For some that is noble, but is it good? Human flourishing may be a good aim, but it cannot be the objective basis for good.

It is ironic to observe that some who refuse to believe in a good God base their concept of good on what Christians attribute to God: love, justice, righteousness, patience and the like. Recently, several high profile Christian leaders have left the faith, but seek to maintain their status as “influencers.” These celebrities are now influencing others to be atheists. Where they were once passionate in their proclamation of Christianity, they’re now equally zealous about disbelief.  The moral advice of many of these erstwhile Christians, however, sounds quite familiar: be forgiving, love people, be compassionate. Sounds like, well, Jesus. Why promote Jesus’ teachings? All it got him (and most of his closest disciples) was an excruciating death. If there is no good God, one could hold (as Ayn Rand famously promoted in her philosophy of Objectivism) that selfishness is the supreme virtue. Many agree with this. Why should I care about anybody else? Why in the world should I listen to “influencers” who once persuaded their followers to believe what they now repudiate? Who is to say they’re right now. All they’ve proven is their own instability, while affirming an objective good, but without any basis beyond an emotional appeal.

The Form of the Good

The Greek philosopher Plato believed in a world of perfect forms above our own, and at the highest level of this theoretical world exists what he called “the form of the good.” Plato’s concept affirms the need for an impeccable, objective standard for good beyond subjective human feeling and evaluation. Some have observed that Plato’s world of flawless forms could be realized within the mind of the perfect God, Creator of everything. 

Apart from a good God there is no objective good. Apart from objective good, there is no evil. As philosopher William Lane Craig frames it:

If God does not exist, then objective good does not exist.

Evil exists.

Therefore, good exists.

Therefore, God exists.

Amazingly, this syllogism uses the existence of real evil as reason to believe there is objective good, and a real God. God defines what good is.

Does that mean whatever God says is good becomes so? What if he decides murder is good? Could he simply reverse the 10 Commandments because he feels like it? If you find that problematic, then is God accountable to a law outside himself? Going back to Plato once again, we find that he and his students wrestled with this problem and stated it in what is known as the Euthyphryo Dilemma

A) Is it good because God wills it?

B) Does God will it because it is good?

If “A” then God could call evil good and it would be so.

If “B” then God is subject to something higher, which would mean something rules over God, which would make him less than the supreme being. Are we stuck on the horns of this dilemma? Let’s go to the teaching of Jesus to resolve it.

Only God Is Good

“A certain ruler asked him,  ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 

Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.'” (Luke 18:18-19, NRSV)

God is Good. Good is essential to His nature. “God works all things after the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). God wills what is good because He is intrinsically good. Therefore, God’s nature is the objective standard for good.

God is great. God is good.

God established a moral law, which is revealed through the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, but good is perfectly realized in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17, CSB). Whoever believes in the Only Begotten Son of God walks in the light of perfect good. “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1st John 1:5). “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness” (John 8:12). 

God promised to write his law on the minds of his people (Jeremiah 31:33), so they will always know what is good. He promised to give them a new heart, so they will always be willing to do what is good (Ezekiel 36:26-27). These promises are realized when a person believes in Jesus and receives the Holy Spirit. Jesus didn’t come to earth to show us the right way to live, then leave us on our own to do it. Rather, he came to make us new people with a new nature that seeks  to do what is good and right. 

God is good. Jesus is God. Jesus Christ is the perfect objective standard of good.

Addiction!

An addiction is anything that gets ahold of your “want to” and won’t let go. It will have increasingly destructive consequences, but you excuse or overlook them in favor of what you want. Examples are myriad: alcohol, gambling, porn, sex, eating, fasting, exercising, adrenaline. An addiction may be to something healthy or unhealthy. 

When the addiction is to a healthy thing, it became an addiction when you couldn’t do without it, at the point when it got out of balance. Let’s take food for example. Obviously, we need to eat. However, when I self-medicate by eating, when I continue to eat too much and too often, when I cannot do without a meal, snack or drink without feeling deprived or uneasy, then I may well be addicted to eating. Relationships are healthy. We need to be connected to other people. However, when I cannot go a moment without someone, when I feel the constant need to know where they are and what they are doing, when I become jealous of other people who may take the person’s attention for any period of time, then I’ve got a problem. So does the person to whom I am addicted. 

Then there are addictions to dangerous things. This is usually where we identify addiction. The physiological attachment to something that destroys health. Why would someone do heroin, a sober person asks? Well, they may have been tempted to try it, then it got ahold of them, caused chemical changes in their body and made them need it.

Interestingly, a chemical doesn’t have to be physiologically addictive to gain a hold on you. Many people enjoy marijuana, and they will tell you that it is not an addictive chemical. Yet, the telltale signs of addiction may still occur: constant need for the high, continuous use of the drug even when it is obvious to those who are sober that negative consequences are occurring, escalation of usage, and/or an unwillingness to cut back. I’ve watched people over the years who have brought negative consequences into their lives as the result of smoking weed, but they will not slow down or stop. As an example, several years ago a young adult I was seeking to mentor got into some trouble with the law and was given probation. As a condition of his probation he was prohibited from using any illegal drug. He was required to meet with his probation officer weekly, and would receive random drug tests. He loved smoking weed so much that he stopped meeting with his p. o. in order to avoid being tested. He tried to hide. He got busted and is now serving an extended sentence for the original crime. Why? He needed marijuana.

Alcohol is a well known addiction. Those who recognize that they are addicted may call themselves “alcoholic” and see it as a disease. In fact, that is the dominant model for alcohol addiction. However, it has the same characteristics and consequences as any addiction. What alcohol has in its favor is social acceptance (marijuana is catching up). My father was an alcoholic. It is believed by some that alcoholism is hereditary (again the disease model in effect). As the result of this, and coming to faith in a baptist church that opposed drinking, I didn’t touch alcohol until I was 37 years old. For many years after that I enjoyed an occasional glass of wine or beer, or perhaps a margarita. I could do with it or without it. Recently that has changed.

I don’t want to stop drinking alcohol. I’ve done a number of fasts over the past few years, but it has been difficult to give up alcohol for more than a few days. Drinking too much gives me a headache. You’d think that this would be enough to stop me. All it does is slow me down. I’m careful. But I don’t want to quit. I like the feeling it gives me, until I don’t. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m addicted, if not to alcohol, then to the reward, the feeling I get as the result of drinking. So, I need to stop. Is it a disease? I don’t believe so (check out the book The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not a Disease by Marc Lewis). Is it an addiction? Yes, and I need to not need or want it, or I need to end it altogether.

The Bible teaches “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). That last phrase is very important. An addiction becomes the master of a person. I begin by enjoying something, but when it takes hold, it starts running my life—and ruining it. However, as a Christian, I have professed Jesus Christ as my Lord, which means I’ve given him control of my life. How dare I, or worse some chemical or thing, take control from Christ.

So, what to do? Well, during Lent I’ve been fasting alcohol, then my birthday came up and I started drinking occasionally again. Today is Monday of  Holy Week and I’ve chosen to (following a fellow minster and friend) do a complete fast until Easter. No food. No alcohol. I want nothing in control of my desires but Christ. 

I hope my little confession has helped you to evaluate your life, and maybe encouraged you to make some changes. I am not a clinician, psychologist or certified addiction counselor. You may need to get help from someone like that. I am a minster of the Gospel, and I will try to live up to that as well as I am able, with God’s help.

Persistent Peace of Christ

It is foretold that Messiah will be Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

“For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end…”

We believe Jesus fulfills the prophecies concerning Messiah. What about him being the Prince of Peace?

At Jesus’ birth the angels proclaimed: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14, NIV)

Has Jesus brought us peace? There appears to be a glaring contradiction, even in what Jesus said about himself.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).

“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. rom now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.” (Luke 12:51-52)

Certainly, in our world this is the case, isn’t it? Families are divided over politics and religion. Christians are disregarded, disrespected, or hated when they follow Jesus’ actual teaching. So, how is he the Prince of Peace? Let’s look further at what He said to his students.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

(John 16:33, NIV84)

The Peace is In Christ.

In the world we will have trouble. As we observed a moment ago, following Jesus may increase the trouble you face in the world. Notice, the angels proclaimed that peace would come “to those on whom his favor rests.” The secret to Jesus’ peace is to put faith in his unmerited favor or grace, and trust Him to take care of you. When He is genuinely your Lord, then He is in control. Nothing will happen in your life that your Lord is incapable of handling, and giving you the wisdom, courage and perseverance to go through. In the passage surrounding this verse Jesus has promised to send the Holy Spirit to stay with his disciples. In fact, he promised the Holy Spirit would live inside them! When you have the presence of God within, you have the power of God to go through any circumstance with peace and confidence.

This isn’t to say you will be able to control all of your circumstances. In fact, the need to control everything will rob you of peace.

You cannot control everything but you can control yourself!

Ever feel like you’re out of control… and you just can’t seem to get it back.

Good news for believers is that self-control is a direct result of being indwelt & empowered by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

Realize you cannot control other people, but you can control your reaction to them.

Realize you cannot be in control of the world and many of your circumstances, but you can determine how you will respond and act.

You cannot control everything but you can pray to the God who created the heavens and the earth.

The world is fallen and many people are in rebellion, so a lot of bad things are happening. Maybe you’re afraid something bad will happen to you! Rest assured God is on his throne in heaven and is in ultimate control.

“The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19)

Invite the LORD into your current situation and intercede for others, even if don’t believe or trust Jesus.

God changes things when we pray & trust him to work.

First and foremost God changes me when I pray. He gives me peace when I pray.

“Be anxious for nothing but in everything with prayer and petition with Thanksgiving make your requests known to God and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Jesus promised that if we believe when we pray we can move mountains. So, yes, God can and sometimes will change circumstances when we pray. But we must trust him to move.

The peace of Christ is not freedom from conflict;

at least, not coming from others. Certainly, you and I as followers of Jesus are not to be staring fights with people over our opinions or the faith. We are taught to “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV84)

We are taught to “speak the truth in love,” (Eph. 4:15),

which doesn’t mean to add, “but I love you,” as a tagline to your diatribe against someone’s lifestyle or opinion.

The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say, the conviction about when and how to say them, and anointing to make you effective (Mark 13:11, John 14:26, 20:22, 1 John 2:20 & 27)

The peace of Christ is not the absence of challenges

As long as you’re in the world, you will face trouble. There will be obstacles. There will be trials. Jesus will not remove all your struggles because you need to overcome them by relying on His Spirit in order to become more like your Lord.

We are promised that God will make everything work out for our good and his glory!

“All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)

We have to go through the difficulty and overcome to become. God’s primary goal is to make you like Jesus, friend.

“For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (and sisters) (Romans 8:29).

Those of us who practice weightlifting know that through resistance we become stronger.

You will be tempted. Instead of crying for the Lord to take the temptation away, learn to rely on him and resist!

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to people. God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, but will with the temptation provide the way of escape so that you may endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

We are promised total victory when we fight the good fight of faith.

“If God is for us who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31)

“But in all these things we are overwhelmingly conqueror through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37)

The Peace of Christ means I have nothing to fear and no reason to be troubled

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The world offers superficial answers, outright lies and temporary solutions to help you with fear, stress, anger and other emotional challenges.

Let me be clear:

Panic is Satanic.

God doesn’t inspire panic or the kind of terror that leads you to cower and run away. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but that is deep reverence not terror.

Faith brings the presence of God. Satan is the one who thrives on fear and drives you to panic. Panic means you feel vulnerable and without the ability to control some real or imagined circumstance. Admit you have not control, then. Give control to Jesus. TRUST the LORD! Pray. Sing songs of praise. Get on your face and worship the Living and True God.

Confusion comes from the Father of Lies

If you’re confused, it is not God. The spirit of confusion comes from the Father of Lies. “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21). God has made himself clear in his Word. He has a purpose for you. First of all, to make you like His Son Jesus. Are you completely committed to Jesus? If not, that is the real source of your confusion. God wants to reveal specific direction for your life. How will you know what it is? Commit yourself completely to Christ. Align your will with God’s. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Seek his kingdom above your ambition or profit. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33).

You’ll know what to do when you’re willing to do God’s will no matter the cost. “If anyone is willing to do His will that person will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own” (John 7:17).

Depression is of the devil.

Depression may result from frustration and internal anger over your circumstances or relationships.

It may be a response to loss. Ultimately depression is a lack of hope. The devil has told you that you’re unworthy of God and His love. OR he has made you believe that you deserve better. Either way, tell the truth to yourself, and to God. You ARE unworthy, whether you think so or not. None of us deserve God’s love. None of us has earned the right to be forgiven. None of us have lived a perfect life.

God offers grace to the undeserving

Grace is unmerited favor. God chooses to look your way, listen to and answer your prayers. Why? Because of What Jesus did on the cross to buy your forgiveness. Once you admit you’re unworthy, you’re in the perfect position to receive God’s love. He chooses to love you. It is in his nature.

Hope is renewed when we find and put our faith in God’s promises

God has offered us many promises in which to place our hope.

Let me remind you of the promise I believe God offered us last week Lifewell

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.” (Zechariah 9:11–12, NIV84)

It is because of the blood of Jesus that God offers this, not because we deserve it.

You have been set free of your depression, your panic attacks, your fear. That is the promise. Believe and it will be!

Whatever the devil has stolen, God will restore two-fold or more! That is the promise. Believe it and receive it.

There are many more promises I believe God has made to me for this church. As you are willing to receive them, I will continue to deliver them.

But don’t wait for me. Search the Scriptures. Put your hope in God’s promises. Put your trust in Jesus. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Be at peace!

Apostasy and the Man of Sin

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3–4, ESV)

The Rebellion

Literally, Apostasy or falling away. The Apostasy or Rebellion is a large scale turning away from God’s Law, and from faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son.

“Since the reference here is to a world-wide rebellion against divine authority at the end of the age, the ideas of political revolt and religious apostasy are combined.”  -FF Bruce (Word Biblical Commentary on 2 Thessalonians)

“This rebellion, which will take place within the professing church, will be a departure from the truth that God has revealed in His Word. True, apostasy has characterized the church almost from its inception, but Paul referred to a specific distinguishable apostasy that will come in the future”   -Walvoord/Zuck (Bible Knowledge Commentary).

This is what we are seeing in the USA now, and what has been happening in the Christian lands of the West beginning in the 1700s. There is a great falling away from faith in Jesus Christ, which founded Western Civilization. We re primed for a strongman to take over and change times, laws, morals and values. Academia, the Entertainment Industry, the most powerful corporations, all have turned against Christianity in our time. The most alarming apostasy, however is in the church. Mainline denominations turned away from confidence in the Bible 50-100 years ago. Now those same nominally Christian organizations have turned toward the validation and celebration of sexual immorality and the culture of death (abortion industry). Increasingly they reject the miraculous, acts of Jesus, his resurrection, and even his deity. This last certainly marks them as apostate, not part of God’s chosen people. The essential confession of faith is: Jesus is Lord. Apart from that no one is saved.

Man of Lawlessness

This figure has a several names in the New Testament, two here: Man of Lawlessness (also translated Man of Sin) and Son of Destruction (also Son of Perdition). John calls this figure the Anti-Christ, and in Revelation The Beast. In Daniel, the Little Horn (7:8). Jesus quoted Daniel in calling this leader’s image the Abomination of Desolation (Matt. 24:15, cf Dan. 11:31, 36)

There are numerous examples of powerful political leaders who opposed the faithful up to this point and beyond.

Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.” (Daniel 11:31, ESV) This was Antiochus Epiphanes who abolished sacrifices, set up an altar to Zeus, offered pigs blood on it and punished those who circumcised their children.

Antiochus Ephiphanes may be the archetype, and we may read of him in the so called Apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees, which Roman Catholics and others accept, but which were rejected as canon by the Jews and by most Bible believing Christians.

Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that all should give up their particular customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, 45 to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals,  to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. He added, “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.” (1 Maccabees 1:41-50)

Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah, and offered incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. They kept using violence against Israel, against those who were found month after month in the towns. On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks.” (1 Maccabees 54-60)

 

Near the time of Paul’s visit to Thessalonica the Emperor Gaius, also known as Caligula was in power. He insisted that he be known as a god. Other emperors, beginning with Augustus were deified after death, but Caligula insisted on being worshiped. He decreed that a statue of him be erected in the Temple at Jerusalem, but was assassinated in AD 41 before these orders could be carried out. This would certainly be fresh on the minds of Paul and his readers.

In both of these notorious leaders (Antiochus and Caligula) we find an initial fulfillment of the prophecy about the Abomination of Desolation in the temple (Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11). Evidently there will be a greater example, and a final fulfillment of this prophecy immediately prior to the return of Christ.

Next there was Nero, who persecuted and martyred Christians in Rome. Coating Christians with pitch and burning them to light his garden.

Then there was Domitian, who insisted on being referred to as “Dominus et Deus,” Lord and God.

The first empire-wide persecution occurred under Decius circa AD 250.

The worst persecution was the last under Diocletian circa AD 300.

Throughout history other anti-Christs like Hitler have murdered millions of Christians and/or Jews.

But none of these has been the ultimate and final fulfillment of Anti-Christ. That one is still to come.

Characteristics of the Anti-Christ to watch out for:

  1. Powerful world leader with absolute global authority (Revelation 13:1-10).
  2. Rejects Jesus of Nazareth is Messiah and God’s Son come in the flesh (1 Jn. 2:22, 3:2-3) 
  3. Exalts him/herself as God or a god, and will demand and receive worship from everyone (above Daniel 11:36, Revelation 13:8).
  4. Opposes the Bible’s revelation of right and wrong.
  5. Changes the calendar and the law to reflect rejection of Christian and Jewish faith (Daniel 7:25)
  6. His image will be set up in the Temple (Daniel 11:31). I believe that this will be his demand for ultimate allegiance from everyone, which amounts to setting up his image in the hearts of people. We see examples of this in Communist N. Korea today, ie Dear Leader Kim Young Un.
  7. He will even be given authority to make war and successfully conquer God’s people for a short time (Rev. 13:7)

God’s Will Is for His People to be Holy

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”
(1 Thessalonians 4:3–8, ESV)

This is an admonition for us. Christians must be holy, and that is a process. In the sexually immoral culture of 1st century Rome it was necessary to emphasize that holiness includes sexual purity. So important was this issue that it was one of the few prohibitions contained in the circular letter from the Jerusalem Counsel, a formal meeting that was called to determine the relationship between Gentiles and the Mosaic Law.
“But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses. The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. (Acts 15:5-6, ESV)
James, the half-brother of Jesus and Pastor of the Jerusalem church, came up with the language in the brief circular letter of response.
“Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:19–20, ESV)
Here we find one prohibition to avoid offending primarily the Gentiles: “abstain from things polluted by idols.” Then there are two prohibitions against practices that would offend the Jews: “abstain from what has been strangled and from blood.” Finally, there is the prohibition against sexual sin, which was more prevalent among Gentiles, but equally relevant to Jews, and to us.

Learn to control your *vessel, which is to say your body, especially what we today would call your sexuality. We must control the body and the sexual urges of an old, fallen nature. If you belong to Jesus, then it is not your body any longer, even if you continue in management over it.
“The body must be treated as the Lord’s property and not used as a means of wanton self-indulgence.” (Bruce)

“not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God”

Those who pursue sexual immorality do so to the exclusion of knowing or experiencing God. Pursuing sexual passion is often the surrogate for the indwelling intimacy of knowing God, which is why it is common among those who don’t have a relationship with Christ. It is the highest form of pleasure that they know. Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure, and many in the world are hedonists. Sexual desire consumes many people, so much so that they are willing to risk reputation, career, family and even their lives to pursue and fulfill it. Yet it is insatiable. It is never fulfilled. Only those with the Holy Spirit’s wisdom will be capable of accepting this truth and denying themselves in order to become what God wills them to be: pure and holy vessels, filled to overflow with God’s love and life.

So, how could someone who has experienced the power and presence of the Holy Spirit turn back to worthless desires when infinite joy is offered to them in Christ? As a pastor and a former youth pastor I’ve watched many young people trade their supposed commitment to Christ for sexual immorality. The result is a once spiritually sensitive and alive young person hardens their heart and becomes dead inside. They have little or no interest in Jesus. It’s all in what you choose to believe, or who you choose to believe in. Do you believe God’s word or your feelings? Do you believe in Jesus Christ or yourself?

“that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter”

We must not take advantage of another. In context this refers first to adultery, which is taking advantage of one or both partners in a marriage covenant. Let us say a man is having an affair with a willing woman. In so doing, he wrongs her husband. However, he also enables his illicit sexual partner to commit sin. A follower of Jesus encourages and empowers others to overcome sin; he is not a stumbling block into it.

Sexual morality distinguished the church from the Roman world.
“Christianity from the outset has sanctified sexual union within marriage (as in Judaism); outside marriage it was forbidden. This was a strange notion in the pagan society to which the gospel was first brought; there various forms of extramarital sexual union were tolerated and some were even encouraged.” (FF Bruce, Word Biblical Commentary)
Over time, Christians changed the sexual ethos in the Roman Empire, as they did in other important areas such as respect for life and protection of the weak. It was a common practice in Rome to simply leave a baby exposed to die if the parents didn’t want it.

In America and around the world today, it is acceptable to kill a baby in the womb. This is an extension of our value of personal freedom, pleasure and profit. I don’t want my freedom limited. I don’t want to take responsibility for the life I’ve pro-created. So, I terminate it. If Christians obey the commandment of God regarding sex, they will not find themselves in a situation where a sexual partner determines that the life of a baby must be taken in order to preserve their freedom or reputation.

We must not take on the sexual ethos of our dying culture. It has gone back, like a dog to it’s vomit, and like a pig to the mud-hole, to immoral practices, which Christian influence had brought into disfavor for nearly two millennia. Today, some churches are  embracing sexual immorality and gender confusion as a norm to be accepted, even blessed. Re-read the biblical text from 1st Thessalonians above. We are to be holy, separate, different than our culture. We follow the design of our Creator, which Jesus himself affirmed.
“He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”” (Matthew 19:4–6, ESV)

Therefore, sexual immorality is not God’s creation, and this includes homosexuality and manifold transgender identifications. That said, biblical Christians must be merciful, gentle and understanding when communicating, “speaking the truth in love” to those who identify or are struggling with issues of sexual confusion. Understanding and grace don’t  constitute a change in sexual ethics however. We have no right to reorder God’s design of male and female, marriage and sexual expression in order to make those who struggle feel better. When it concerns sexual practice, the follower of Jesus must stand out as an example of moral integrity and sexual purity.
“…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Phil. 2:25, ESV)

“The Lord is the avenger”

Notice, there is a coming consequence for sexual immorality. Even those in the ancient world were wise enough to fear the consequences of adultery. Consider the cases of Abraham and his son Isaac. First, there was Abraham, who told the Egyptians that his wife was his sister to keep them from killing him and taking her. Pharaoh indeed took Sarah into his harem. In consequence, the people of Pharaoh’s house were subject to a plague. When the Egyptian ruler discovered that Sara was actually married to Abraham, he admonished the patriarch: “So Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.’” (Genesis 12:18–19, ESV)
Like father, like son. Years later Isaac pulled the same trick with another local king. This ruler feared God and admonished Isaac about the lie, then warned everyone to stay away from Rebecca under penalty of death (see Genesis 26:6-11).

The question is, why have we become so foolish? Why is adultery becoming increasingly acceptable with the advent of websites that promote it, so called open marriages and the like? The answer is simple, many in our world no longer fear God.

There are consequences for sexual immorality: sickness, disease, depression, spiritual insensitivity and a hardened heart towards God. These all come upon the sexual sinner. Then she must stand before God to give an answer, and that is what should truly inspire fear. Judgment Day is coming, and we must all give an answer for what we’ve done in the body, good or evil (2 Corinthians 5:10, Rom. 14:10, Heb. 9:27). This fact alone should cause even the most sexually profligate, calloused person to fear God and apply self-control, regardless of feelings or identifications.

This applies all the more to those who would molest or take advantage of someone weaker, even if the weaker partner goes along with sexual activity. It is always wrong for an adult to be involved with a minor sexually. The teacher has power over the student, even if they are not that far apart in age. A 20-something has power over a teenager, even if she is 16 or 17. Willingness may quickly turn to disgust, shame and anger. Sex leaves a permanent mark, and this is especially true when the person exposed to it is young and inexperienced.

It is also wrong to take advantage of someone who is financially needy by offering money for sex. The person may go along, but the one paying or bribing them has the greater guilt, since he is also a stumbling block.
Jesus said, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:6, ESV)

We each have pet sins. We have weaknesses. Sexual immorality is often that sin or weakness. However, as Christians we are called to represent Jesus. As the Apostle Paul states elsewhere, “Let not sexual immorality be named among you as is proper for God’s saints… or “don’t let a hint of immorality be seen among you” (see Eph. 5:3). Instead, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14).

“God has not called us to impurity but in sanctification”

A former member of this church made a confession on Facebook some time ago. He stated that he now wanted to pursue a sexually immoral lifestyle, even though continuing to identify himself as a follower of Christ. I responded that the two pursuits are mutually exclusive (to negative reactions from some of his friends). Here we have evidence of what I said: God has not called us to impurity. You may feel an urge to follow some desire, some lifestyle, but that urge is not God calling you. It is the flesh, the world and the enemy of our souls pulling you away from God and His purpose for you.

At its root, impurity is not just sexual in nature: it is a divided loyalty, a divided mind. God has not called anyone to be what he clearly prohibits in Scripture. We live in a fallen world. I have no doubt that someone may be deeply enthralled and inured by sexual immorality. Calling it a “sexual orientation” is a redefinition that makes it seem natural. Sex is a powerful motivator that reinforces behavior associated with it. Those who practice sexual immorality are shaped by the practice, even if that is private in nature. They bend their minds and emotions toward a delusion, then believe that it is real, normal and even created by God. God did not create, nor does he ordain what is perverse and inordinate according to his revealed will, and many times obvious in nature. God has not called you to commit adultery. God has not called you to follow homosexual desire, or to pursue a homosexual relationship. God has not called you to move in with your boyfriend or girlfriend and live as though you were married. He has called you to holiness, and that means you must be different than our dying, disordered, anti-Christ culture. You must be different than your friends and colleagues. You must be like Jesus, and the Holy Spirit will give you the conviction and the confidence to do so, unless you push him away…

“Whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”

The Spirit of God is holy, and those who belong to Christ are inhabited by God’s Holy Spirit. There is a fundamental incompatibility between pursuing sexual sin—of any kind: homosexual expression, adultery, fornication—and being led by the Holy Spirit. When you go on in sin–although our culture accepts and celebrates it–you grieve the Holy Spirit. You are hardening your heart against God and his leadership. This is a very dangerous game. The Holy Spirit gently convicts you of sin, but you harden yourself to this and excuse your behavior as being part of your nature, justify the sin as acceptable; in fact, you may even justify the desire or tendency as coming from God. God created me this way. No, friend. Now you’ve moved into the most dangerous territory, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, where you call right what the Bible teaches and the Spirit convicts is wrong.

I believe God is merciful. I don’t believe making mistakes, sexual or otherwise, disqualifies you from heaven. However, I read soberly passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 wherein the Apostle Paul clearly states that those who practice sin will not inherit heaven.
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”
(1 Corinthians 6:9–10, NKJV)

From Fatness to Fitness, a Journey

It started on November 8th, and today is February 26th. I was sick and tired of my gut and my “snowman body,” which had accumulated over four years. In early November I weighed around 170 with 19% body fat (according to my smart scale, which may not measure body fat with great accuracy but was my gauge all along). My last weigh-in showed 147.4 pounds. I used calipers and found between 8.38% to 10.12% body fat, depending on the method of calculating. I dropped from a 33” to a 30” waist.

Previous to this I had worked hard and effectively to arrive at the same point. However, everything accumulates over time: fatness or fitness. It all depends on what you’re doing, or not doing in the case of decreasing levels of discipline and activity. I didn’t decide to start being unhealthy one day; in fact, I never stopped going to the gym. Everything happened gradually.

I think I did make a decision to gain some weight, but I wanted it to be muscle. However, I broke my clavicle and was unable to perform any bench presses. This is demoralizing for a guy. I continued to work out, but not very hard, and finally averaged only once or twice a week. I continued to eat a fairly healthy diet, and I didn’t overeat. In spite of this, I gained fat and lost muscle mass. Four years ago I weighed 149, so I gained 21 pounds, or five pounds per year. Had I continued on this gradual increase I would have eventually become obese, and likely struggled with type-two diabetes, which runs on my father’s side of the family.

My vanity kicked in when I stared at myself in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. Coinciding with this was my decision to return to teaching karate’. I have been an instructor for over 30 years, but had quit teaching or even practicing. I didn’t realize how out of condition I had become. We deceive ourselves when we get older, thinking that everything is pretty much the same this year as it was last, or five or ten years ago. Unlike young people, who naturally grow, when we hit about the mid-twenties we begin to decline, slowly at first, but everything accumulates over time. If you’ve not chosen a disciplined lifestyle of exercise and healthy eating you may be in your late twenties (even younger) and already show significant signs of decreasing fitness.

The last time I started, it was a more difficult journey out of the slough of fitness despondency in which I had found myself. I am happy I didn’t wait any longer to get back into shape. It could have been significantly more difficult to do at this point if I had not already built a fitness foundation. As we get older we have decreased physical capabilities and increased liabilities. In spite of this, we may not realize how far removed we are from the halcyon days of our youth. The result? I go to the gym and attempt to do what I used to 10 or 20 years ago, and discover I cannot. Disappointment may stop me there, or soreness and injury may slow me to a stop later. Then I quit, become depressed, eat more, care less, and put myself at risk for serious physical problems. I learned to meet myself where I am (as opposed to expecting I will be where I used to), and keep moving forward. This motivational strategy has worked to keep me going each time.

I really like being skinny! I have more energy. I look better in my clothes. Since I’ve been going to the gym regularly I’m stronger. Since I’ve been running my cardio-vascular system is healthier and I have more energy. I have more self-discipline in other areas of my life too. Temptation is tough. I was at a birthday celebration at an Asian buffet two days ago and our room was right next to the dessert section. All those beautiful little cakes, cookies and tiramisus were calling to me. I resisted! Why? I’d just purchased new jeans and pants a few hours earlier with waist sizes between 29 and 30. I’m not going to keep myself from fitting into those new clothes! I want to be lean, look good, feel good, have energy and have no self-consciousness about a pooching belly. Half of that is vain, but it’s honest.

In the end, I’m a Christian and a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus. I’m called to offer my body to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, which is my reasonable and spiritual offering in worship. God is worth more than a feeble sacrifice. I want to present a clean, healthy body for him to use. If I am going to serve the Lord by teaching karate’, then I need to be in top condition. If I’m going to keep away from sickness, and disease like Alzheimer’s, then I have to discipline myself to exercise, eat healthy, as well as reading and writing regularly. If I’m going to defend myself or my congregation against the attack of some violent individual, then I want to be as trained and fit as possible to do so. My body belongs to God; it is his temple. I want him to be pleased. That’s worship. That’s the best motive of all.

Six Miracles

Parthenogenesis is a virgin birth. This doesn’t happen among mammals in nature. However, with intelligent assistance a female mouse was genetically engineered to give birth to its own offspring without the involvement of a male.
Humans cannot naturally do this. However nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37).

What’s a miracle?
/Miracle/ means something exists or occurs supernaturally, above and beyond nature. In other words, a miracle means something didn’t just happen, or come about naturally.

1. Existence.
“Why is there something rather than nothing? Why does anything at all exist?” -Leibniz
The fact that anything at all exists is the first miracle.
Existence didn’t just happen. Nothing cannot cause or result in something. “From nothing, nothing comes.”
Something, or Someone has always existed, and whomever or whatever that is, is by definition a miracle, since it is beyond the natural world in which we exist.

2. The Universe
For those who conclude as Carl Sagan did, as the Greeks did, that the universe is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be, the argument that existence is a miracle might seem foolish, but I believe the question is still, why? Why does the universe exist? They would respond that it is just a “brute fact,” and feel smug and comfortable that the “why question is a foolish one,” as Dawkins states. Yet many of us are still asking this very human question. Moreover, the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe has far and away the best and most prolific evidence, and it demonstrates that the universe began to exist 13.7 billion years ago. The universe is a miracle.

Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its existence. The best explanation is that the universe was brought into existence by a personal Creator, who existed prior to it. Personal because only a person is capable of freely making something happen apart from a prior cause. God is a personal, infinitely powerful, unimaginably intelligent being who, by definition has always existed. God is the uncaused cause of the universe, and everything else that exists.

3. Life.
Evolution as an explanation for the origin of life is ridiculous. In the same respect as nothing cannot result in something, so non-life cannot produce life. Ironically, evolution is a poor explanation for the origin of any species. The infamous Miller-Urey experiment that every high school student is shown as proof that life began to exist as a result of natural causes fails to prove anything. Miller intelligently designed the experiment, using elements that he already believed would produce an amino acid. That’s an example of design, not chance. Additionally, Miller was wrong about the composition of the early earth, so an amino acid couldn’t have been produced the way he demonstrated. Finally, a single amino acid is not life. It is a long, long way from amino acid to viable protein, and much further to even the simplest single celled organism.

Biochemist Doug Axe demonstrated in an experiment published by Cambridge University’s Journal of Molecular Biology in 2004 that the likelihood of a single viable amino acid resulting from sheer chance would be 1 in 10 74th. To give you an idea of how ridiculous those odds are, consider that there are 10 65th atoms in our galaxie.

The belief that life could come into existence without apparent cause, is called /spontaneous generation/ People once believed that this happened all the time. For instance, mold seems to spontaneously appear and grow on a pile of damp rags sitting in the corner of a room. This was a very unscientific conclusion prior to knowledge of microscopic organisms. Yet, if we are to believe that evolution is the explanation of the origin of life, we’re forced into the same farcical understanding. In reality, life is a miracle. It came about as a result of something or someone above and beyond nature. Life was (and is) created by the same God who made the universe and the earth.

4. Consciousness.
We take for granted the reality that we are conscious beings. You are more than a body, you are a self. You don’t have a “me”; you are a me. You perceive qualities, not quantities. Not all life is conscious life. Self-awareness is not something that arose naturally via some sort of evolution. There must be something else present within a living organism to make it personal and conscious. That something is a non-corporeal essence, which some call soul, but would more accurately be understood as spirit. Human beings are both self-conscious and God-conscious, because they have been given a spirit from God and like God’s own. We are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). God breathed into us and endowed us with a supernatural component that enables consciousness (Gen. 2:7). It is the spirit that makes us aware of our own thoughts. The spirit is like a mirror, reflecting the mind and the self. “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all his inmost parts” (Prov. 20:27)
The spirit is like a phone, communicating God’s voice, but via intuition rather than spoken words.
“For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God”
(1 Corinthians 2:11 NIV).
God’s Spirit knows his thoughts and communicates them to us as God wills.
“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us”
(1 Corinthians 2:12 NIV).
The soul is conscious, earthly life. The spirit is subconscious and capable of communing with God and receiving eternal life. I understand God’s revelation via His Spirit who communicates with my spirit, once it is revived through the new birth.

This is miraculous, supernatural, not natural.

5. Incarnation
You might be wondering what all of this has to do with Advent. The Christmas story centers around the birth of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God who became a man. That is called the incarnation, and that is what Christmas is actually all about.
“although he existed in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God as something to be held onto, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).
Jesus’ mother, Mary was a young, unmarried virgin. The virgin birth is foolish in the eyes of those who do not believe in God or the miraculous. However, once you see that existence, the universe, life and consciousness are all miraculous you will likely find it quite easy to believe in the possibility of the virgin birth, which is necessary to bring about the incarnation of the Son of God. The God who created everything can certainly create within a virgin’s womb the sinless body of his incarnate Son.
The Gospel of Luke testifies that an angel visited the Virgin Mary. This was a supernatural messenger from God. When Mary asked how she could become pregnant, the angel replied: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God… For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:35, 37).

6. Resurrection
The baby born in a manger grew to be the sinless man who died on the cross and rose from the grave. Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead,” and the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” When you and I confess our sin and put our faith in Jesus who conquered sin, death and hell, we are given a new status as God’s children and a new hope as those who will follow Jesus through death to eternal life. That is the greatest miracle for us!
So, will you believe today? Will you put your hope in God’s offer of eternal life in Christ. Do you have hope that one day you will rise from the grave like Jesus. You can. If you only believe. That is the hope I offer you today.

7. A Transformed Life.
Will you be the 7th miracle? Believe in the incarnate, resurrected Christ. Pray and call on  him to save you now.

Christ vs. Mithra

Is Christmas just another myth?

What about Jesus. He was certainly an historical figure, but did the church create a mythological version of Jesus as Christ? Did Christianity take over and reinterpret pagan symbols and holidays? Yes and no. Christianity did overtake paganism, and the early church did reinterpret pagan symbols. For instance, the mythical phoenix came to represent resurrection. “The sun of righteousness who rises with healing in his wings,” (Malachi 4:2) is a prophecy from the Old Testament, which Christians see fulfilled in Jesus, and which fit well the winter solstice festival of Sol Invictus in Rome, or the celebration of the Unconquerable Sun.

There are many today (and they abound on the internet) who prove their ignorance of history, and betray an agenda to discredit Christianity, who would have you believe that Christ is just warmed over Mithra. Early Christians stole the identity of the pagan god Mithra and used it for their Jesus. This is false on almost every level. What follows are facts from an interview of historian Edwin Yamauchi by Lee Strobel.

Writers have claimed that a pagan mystery cult Mithraism is really the basis for Christianity. Actually, this is only one of several mystery cults that popular writers have associated with Christianity. Others are: Attis, Osiris, Adonis and Dionysus. However, the Persian god Mithras who was worshiped in the mystery cult called Mithraism is the closest parallel.

“Mithras… was born of a virgin in a cave on December 25, was considered a great traveling teacher, had 12 disciples, promised his followers immortality, sacrificed himself for world peace, was buried in a tomb and rose again three days later, instituted a eucharist or “Lord’s Supper,” and was considered the Logos, redeemer, Messiah, and “the way, the truth, and the life.”

“How do you respond when people present ancient ‘facts’ like this? What do you do once you’ve been told something like this?”

Mithraism as a mystery religion cannot be attested before about AD 90. “Gordon dates the establishment of the Mithraic mysteries to the reign of Hadrian, which was AD 117-138.”

Mithras was born of a virgin… No, the legend has it that Mithra was born out of a rock.

Mithras was born in a cave like Jesus…The New Testament doesn’t say Jesus born in a cave.

Mithras was born on December 25… Jesus was actually born in the Spring (Lk. 2:8).

“December 25 was the date chosen by Emperor Aurelian (AD 215-275) for the dedication of his temple to Sol Invictus, the Roman god called ‘the unconquerable sun.’ Mithras is sometimes depicted shaking hands with this god. It became the date Christ’s birth was celebrated. In AD 336, the year before Constantine’s death, following the Christian practice of appropriating pagan holidays for holy use.”

Mithras was a teacher with 12 disciples…. No, Mithras was a god.

Mithras’s followers promised immortality…. Inferred, but what’s new? That’s religion.

Mithras sacrificed himself…. He did not. He killed a bull.

Mithras buried and raised…. We know nothing about Mithras death, so there could be no resurrection.

Mithras was considered “Good Shepherd, Way, Truth and Life, Logos, Redeemer, Savior. “No… that’s reading Christian theology into this”

 

Mithras had a Eucharist meal…. Common meals shared in most religious groups.

Was a Mithraic rite called taurobolium the basis for Christian belief in Christ’s blood sacrifice for sins? Taurobolium- initiate was placed in a pit with a grate over it and a bull was slaughtered above allowing the blood to baptize him. It is an anachronism to base Christ’s sacrifice on the practice, since it is first attested to in the Attis cult in AD 160.

“Do you see any evidence that Christianity borrowed any of its beliefs from Mithraism?”

“Not really… they were rivals in the second century and later.”