Tag Archives: Jesus

God’s Purpose for the Pandemic

I know many of you think it’s bad. Certainly this virus is bad for some who catch it, very bad for a few. Can good come out of bad? Did God send this? Is it judgment for our sins? Does God have a purpose for the pandemic?

First of all, God is omnipotent and sovereign. That means He may do whatever He pleases, and He is powerful enough to do it. Therefore, whether God sent this virus, He is certainly powerful enough to stop it. God is also good, and His purposes, although often inscrutable (beyond our understanding), are ultimately good. God is love, but at times His love is what we might call “tough love.” “We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). 

This ain’t heaven. We live in a fallen world, and it is filled with hardship and suffering. Even those of us who believe in Jesus and try to follow Him suffer, sometimes more because of our faith. We’re not going to make our world into heaven, but heaven is coming. This is bootcamp for eternity! God has a purpose for our suffering and difficulty down here: to make us more like His Son, Jesus.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28–29, NIV)

God can make good come out of a bad situation. God has a purpose for the pandemic we are currently experiencing. What is it? Let’s look at something Jesus said when confronted with the suffering of his countrymen. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and many of the people, believed that when something bad happened to someone it was God’s judgment on them. They deserved it because of their sin. Now, we can certainly bring suffering upon ourselves as a consequence of our bad decisions and evil actions, but that doesn’t mean that every time something bad happens to someone, it is some kind of punishment from God for a particular sin.

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”” (Luke 13:1–5, NIV)

Unless you repent, you too will perish… We all sin. Sin is falling short of God’s purpose for you. It is rebellion. It is breaking the moral law. Sin is failure or refusal to believe that God exists and rewards those who seek Him. It is refusing to believe that God is, and is good and loving. Sin is self-centered idolatry. Sin is Pride. “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). 

We all sin, and we must all turn away from sin and toward God. We must put our faith in the one who can and will save us, Jesus Christ.  If you don’t, then you’ll eventually be destroyed by your sin. “The price for sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a). This is eternal death, separation from God, total destruction in hell. The reason for death and hell is sin. The reason the world is fallen is because of our sin. “But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 

“….but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). Jesus came to save us from eternal destruction. Jesus was raised from death on the third day, Easter Sunday. All of those who are in Christ will overcome death too. In fact, He promised those who believed in him would not see death. “Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” (John 8:51, NIV) Those of us who believe in Jesus and follow Him because of our faith will not die forever. In fact, we’ll not really perceive death, only a transition into the presence of God. We will not perish. We have received His gift of eternal life. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will live, even though He dies” (John 11:25).

In a very real sense, everything bad that happens down here, including and especially death, is God’s judgment, which is the consequence of our sin. So, I’m not sure the distinction is all that important between God causing a particular thing and it happening due to nature. The world we have inherited is separated from God. That’s the judgment. What you and I must do is turn our lives over to God by putting complete trust in Jesus. We must repent of our sin, which means change our thinking and our ways.

I believe God’s purpose for the pandemic is to bring about repentance, especially repentance from idols. It is a reason for you to turn from worthless things, and turn (or return) to Jesus. The world is filled with idols, and we have set our hearts on those idols. Now, some of them have been taken from us, albeit temporarily. No sports, no eating out, no parties, loss of money, loss of precious freedom. These are not necessarily bad in themselves, but we value them too highly. Too often we look to them rather than God. As author and pastor Tim Keller put it: “Anything we look to more than we look to Christ for our sense of acceptability, joy, significance, hope, and security is by definition our god.” Now, you may say, “Well, I don’t really value sports, my gym, or favorite restaurant that much.” Here’s the test of whether something or someone is an idol. Once again from Keller, “A sure sign of the presence of idolatry is inordinate anxiety, anger, or discouragement when our idols are thwarted. So, if we lose a good thing, it makes us sad, but if we lose an idol, it devastates us.” 

You and I are forced to stay at home right now so we might focus on what is really important: our souls, our homes and families, and our relationship with God. So, what are you doing with the time you’ve been given? As for me, I’ve been thinking and praying about making some changes in my life for quite some time, but I never seem to quite do what I want to do.I begin but don’t carry it out to the end. I’ve asked God to help me, and He has, but I return to the same old patterns. The pandemic is a wake up call. It has given me perspective. It has laser-focused me. It’s like chemotherapy for my soul. It’s killing some things that needed to die. But it can’t last forever, or it will kill what is good too.

I could lose everything if God doesn’t step in and do something powerful and  miraculous. Lifewell Church is my life’s work. For some who attend our church, it may just another activity, something to do on Sunday, a place to gather with friends, hear some music, maybe listen to a nice message, some teaching from the Bible. For me, well, If I lose this church I lose everything. I lose what I’ve worked for for more than 20 years. What happens if the shutdown lasts for months? Will people lose interest? What happens if they lose their income and stop giving? We can’t pay our bills. Would the church dissolve, and I fade into the light of common day? If I didn’t believe God would protect us and hold us together, I would be in despair right now. I’d be living in panic and fear. 

This leads me to realize that according to Keller’s evaluation, even Lifewell Church might be an idol to me. So, I’ve made it clear to the Lord that as long as I have Him, nothing else matters. I need His presence, His protection, and His direction for my life. “Whom do I have in heaven but You, and I desire nothing on earth beside You” (Psalm 73:25). Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac, the child God promised him. Abraham was willing to give up his son, and God gave Isaac back, along with affirmation that Abraham’s descendants would be a multitude and become all that God had promised. 

“By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”” (Genesis 22:16–18, NIV)

Sometimes you have to give something up to keep it from becoming an idol, and if it is God’s will you’ll receive it back. Only then it will become what God intended it to be in your life. This works with anything, or anyone, we value too much. I have given Lifewell Church over to the Lord completely. God has given me confidence that our church will be well. I am at peace. I am not afraid. I am waiting on the Lord to act miraculously. I still believe we will become all that God established us to be. In fact, I believe we will actually grow during the pandemic! We’ll come back stronger than ever. I believe.

Here’s something you desperately need to realize during this potentially dangerous time: God can and will protect you if you trust and rely on Him. If you turn from your self-seeking ways toward God’s perfect plan for your life. then you and your family will be protected. This is true of all who will remain “in Christ.” You may suffer, but you will not be destroyed. That is not the case when you think like the world and wander around doing your own thing. That’s living like a practical atheist, even if you say you believe in God. 

I cling to Psalm 91 in times like these. 

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty… “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” (Psalm 91:1, 5–7, NIV). 

We’re under an emergency order to “shelter inside your home” right now. Well, Almighty God is my home, and He will protect me because I am sheltered in Him. You can count on God to keep you safe from destruction if you are in Christ, because God promised to do so and He keeps His promises.

So, I have been fasting and praying daily for the past week, and I plan on continuing to do that until Easter Sunday. I am praying for the protection and prosperity of my Lifewell Church family. That’s what they are to me, family, not followers, parishioners or attenders. I am praying daily that none of us gets sick. I am believing we will not. I am praying for a miraculous breakthrough in this pandemic by Easter Sunday. I am praying and fasting and praying for our nation and our world! I do not receive sickness, hospitalization or death. I believe the report God gives in His Word, not the fear-mongering media, and not the unbelieving masses online.

I am desperate. I am determined. I am in the process of making changes in my own heart and life. I confess this with the hope that you will look closely and carefully at your life too. Let the Spirit of God encourage you and grant you a change of heart, friend. Decide. Change your thinking; change your ways. “Don’t be conformed to this world any longer, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may test and approve God’s perfect and pleasing will for your lives” (Romans 12:2).

Will you join me? Will you repent? God can, and I believe God will, stop the pandemic, but not until his purpose is accomplished. That purpose is not punishment, or I’d be sick already. God is warning us. Our repentance may well be what God is waiting on to shut this down.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV)

In the end God will accomplish his purpose, and he is working everything out for the good of those who love him and are called to that purpose, which is to make us like Jesus. So, have faith, be confident. Faith is inherently positive when it is invested in the all powerful, good and loving God. This is the One we may call Father because of Jesus. 

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Romans 8:15, NIV)

Remember, fear is the opposite of faith, and Jesus’ followers have the Holy Spirit, not a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). Seek the Lord and make the necessary changes to your life. “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path” (Proverbs 3:6). This pandemic will result in good for those who follow Jesus to God’s glory. I am believing God that this will end soon. Make it so, Lord, amen!

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!

Jesus is the Reason… for Everything Good

My message for Christmas Eve 2017 as delivered at Lifewell Church in historic downtown Garland.

Six Symbols of Christmas

Christmas is all about Jesus. He is the reason for the season,
and for everything good in the world.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together.”
(Colossians 1:15-17).
And we who believe should live our lives for him.
“Whatever you do in word or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father though him.”
(Colossians 3:17)
Tonight I want to tell you about the Symbols of Christmas.

You see, they’re all about Jesus.

1. Christmas Carols
What is a /Carol/? “a song, especially of joy.”
May have begun with St. Francis of Assisi a 12th century monk who established the Franciscan order. Pope Francis is named after this saint.
However, long before Saint Francis believers are encouraged by the Apostle Paul to “Let the message of Christ live in you richly. Sing songs hymns and spiritual songs to the Lord, with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16). We’re also told not to get drunk but to be filled with the Spirit, “speak to one another with songs, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19).
The best Christmas carols are worship songs.
O, Come Emanuel captures the longing of advent and our desire for the Lord Jesus to return and save us from this fallen world.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is about the magi who came t see Jesus. Listen to this line
God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day
to save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray
O, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.
O, tidings of comfort and joy.
/*Christmas carols were my first praise and worship songs.*/
I memorized that long before I became a Christian, but after I gave my heart to Jesus the words jumped out at me.

2. Christmas Tree
Garland, wreaths = evergreen, eternal life.
During his ministry Jesus was in the Temple during Hanukkah and said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me” (John 10:28).
Greenery was used for celebrations in winter as early as the Roman times. Like many pagan symbols and celebrations Christians converted the evergreen understanding it to represent the eternal life the Son of God gives. Martin Luther brought boughs into his house and placed candles in them, believing it looked like the starry night sky. He had a Christmas tree and sang carols to his children.

The evergreen also reminds me of something that never grows old. In the Psalms we are promised that the Lord, “fills all your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle” (103:5). The eagle is used as an analogy because it is strong, lively and soars above the mundane earth.
Give your life to Jesus and you’ll be youthful and ever green!

3. Creche or Nativity Scene
Of course Jesus was born in Bethlehem and there wasn’t any room for him at the Inn or in the guest room of any home. That’s why Jesus’ cradle was a manger, or feeding trough. But the Nativity Scene with animals, shepherds and wise men is actually another creation of Francis of Assisi! He loved animals and they used live ones in the first Manger Scene.
“On Christmas Eve 1223, in order to ‘Set before our bodily eyes … how he [Jesus] lay in a manger,’ Francis and his companions worshiped in a cave near Greccio, Italy, surrounded by the traditional oxen, sheep, and donkeys.” http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/christmas-traditions.html

4. Santa Claus
His original name is Nicholas, and a long time ago he was actually the Bishop, or Senior Pastor of a church in a city called Myra, which is in modern Turkey. Nicholas loved Jesus and he loved to give. The first gifts he gave were gold coins. He wanted to help three poor young girls get married, so he secretly slipped bags of gold through their window at night. One story says that some of the coins fell into their stockings as they dried above the fireplace.
Now you know why children sometimes get gifts in their stockings.
There have been many churches and cathedrals named after Nicholas, and the Catholic church recognized him as a saint. When you say “Saint Nicholas” really fast you can see how his name got changed to Santa Claus! What you need to remember is, Saint Nicholas really loves Jesus!

5. Christmas Presents
Why do we give gifts at Christmas?
It’s simple, really, God gave his son, and that inspires people to give.
The three Wise Men travelled 900 miles from Persia, modern Iraq, just to honor the newborn king. They gave gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Saint Nicholas gave those three young ladies the money to get married and has been known as a gift-giver since.
There’s just something about grace that prompts us to give.
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15)

6. Christmas Lights
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness” (John 8:12).
Jesus is not like a spotlight blinding you, but a beautiful light leading you to heaven. We follow Jesus and live our lives like he lived his: unselfish, giving, and caring for other people. If we follow his example we can’t go wrong. But we don’t always follow Jesus, do we? That’s why we have to believe in him and receive him in our hearts.

We put our faith in Jesus and his love for us. We believe he was born in a stable, grew up and lived the perfect life we’re supposed to but don’t. He is the perfect Savior who took our sins upon him. The Bible says: “He who knew no sin became our sin,” then he died on the cross to pay their price because “the wages of sin is death.” And as a result we who are believers “become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus conquered sin and death and rose on the third day. That’s what Easter is about. Without the resurrection of Easter we probably wouldn’t want to celebrate Christmas. You and I would still be slaves to sin, subject to death. But Jesus is alive, so we can say, “Death where is your victory, where is your sting!? Jesus offers you the greatest gif of all: eternal life! He will come and live in your heart. All you have to do is believe in him, call out to him, invite him. Jesus said, “Look! I stand at the door and knock, if anyone will open the door, I will come into him and we will dine together. Invite Jesus into your heart, then follow the light of the world, who lives in your heart.

What are you all about?
Is your Christmas celebration really about Jesus, or something else? Is your life all about Jesus, or someone else? Why don’t you make a change tonight, and really put your faith in Jesus. Start living your life, so that: “Whatever you do in word or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father though him” (Colossians 3:17)?

Push through the Disappointments

It’s been nearly a month since I determined to lose 16 lbs by the end of 2017. I’m happy to say that I am on track. There have been some disappointments along the way, however. On two occasions I was on target mid-week and magically picked up a pound the next day. My body doesn’t want to lose fat. It is not easy to make the transition from burning carbs to burning fat. I’ve cut both calories and carbs. I’ve increased my activity level. I’ve been working out more often. In spite of all that, there were those two disappointments.

If I see progress, it is much easier to stay motivated. When it appears that what I am doing is not helping, I am tempted to go to one of two extremes: quit or eat nothing. Either extreme is unhealthy. Fasting for a short period, even fasting a day or two per week may be healthy. However, fasting slows the metabolism and inhibits muscle growth. Yes, I did try it, and yes I will continue to include it in my regimen. There are spiritual reasons for this as well, which are contained in another article I posted here.

Whatever I do it must be sustainable. If I lose this fat, then go back to old habits, I’ll gain it right back. I know I can do this because I’ve done it before. In 2012 I got down to 7.5% body fat and stayed there for over a year. Even after that I stayed under 10% for two more years. What caused the weight gain? Disappointment. I inujured myself and couldn’t do the intense weight training I was accustomed to, so I gradually gave up. Not completely, but enough to gain 20lbs over 4 years.

I will face disappointments. I will miss a workout. I will have a day where I eat more than my allotted 1750 calories. My body will, inexplicably, gain a pound. I’ll injure myself, or be so sore that I cannot work out. What I have to do–what I have done, and will keep doing–is to persevere. Tenacity is important. I must keep moving forward, even if it appears (or feels) as though I’m not going as fast or as far as I expected or planned.

So, I pressed on toward my goal, and I’m over halfway there. My determination remains strong. I don’t want the things I did before because I have a higher prize in front of me. Saturday was a big temptation. The micro-brewery down the street from me had its anniversary with special beers. I considered taking a cheat day and going in there. However, I was 1.4 lbs away from my weekly goal as of Thursday, so I couldn’t afford to cheat. I resisted temptation. I met my goal this morning.

This all has spiritual application as well. There are many things I’m tempted to do that I resist, not because I’m afraid, but because I am pressing on toward a higher prize: becoming like Jesus in his resurrection. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Keeping my eyes on the ultimate prize keeps me from doing many foolish, worthless and destructive things. It keeps me from believing lies like, “Oh, that’s not so bad.” Or, “Everybody does it.” And the most damaging, “This isn’t really wrong.” Christ’s character and commandments determine what is right and wrong. If I am going to be like him in my character, and follow him in his resurrection, I must have faith first. Then I have to follow that faith with obedience. That will make me different than many people in my culture. That’s ok. A 55 year old man with less than 10% body fat is rare too. I don’t want to be obese, and I don’t want to be un-Christlike or immoral either.

So, I press on…

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.”

Return to Fitness 2

It’s been a week since I made the commitment to lose 16lbs by the end of 2017, and I’m happy to report: I’m on target. In fact, I’m slightly ahead. I didn’t starve myself, and I didn’t cheat. I ate a low carb diet, watched the calories and exercised for at least 30 minutes five out of seven days. When I see that I’ ve made measurable progress I am motivated to push harder and go further. So, I’m going to press on beyond the 16lbs after the 1st of January.

My ultimate goal is to get back down to the 7% body fat range with a size 29 waist, which is where I was in 2012 and 2013. Whatever I weigh at that point will be fine. Intitially without much muscle mass increase that will be around 150lbs, which is a good fighting weight for me.

Additionally, I will not drink alcohol more than once per week, and even then it’ll be one craft beer (or similar). I also want to detox on caffeine. The latter is a more daunting challenge. It usually takes around two weeks, during which time I fight headaches. However, I’m convinced that addiction is a bad thing, even if it is to something as harmless as coffee.

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).

The first quote is by the Apostle Paul and is in context with sexual matters. The second is from Jesus and references money as it’s primary application: “You cannot serve both God and money.” However, the principle behind both is found in the first commandment, and the Greatest Commandment. The first commandment of the Ten Commandments is: “Do not have other gods besides me.” The second commandment in the Ten is applicable here as well: “Do not make any idols.” Addiciton is an idol. It is a habit or a thing that has taken hold of my will to which I am primarily loyal. When there is a challenge between my addiciton and any other person or thing, even God, I choose the addiction. I love it. The Great Commandment is: “Love the LORD your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind” (Matthew 22:37, where Jesus affirmed the Jewish Shema in Deuteronomy 6:5), and in Luke Jesus adds, “with all of your strength” (10:27). I cannot love God above all when I am loyal to my addiction, even if that’s just coffee.

In the end, I want my heart to be pure and my mind single in love and devotion to Jesus. That’s the goal above all the rest. I hope I can inspire some of the people in my community to pursue the same thing. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).