Tuesday, January 20, 2015

PAUL’S VIEW OF HIMSELF: “High Self-Esteem?”

Self-esteem” is a concept that is very popular today, particularly in education. It is interesting to note that the United States is near the bottom in many academic areas compared to the rest of the world, but we rank number one in “self esteem.” In many cases, we are training our young people to know little or nothing but to feel very good about themselves in the process. They are being taught to stand up for their rights when they should be learning to stand up for what is right.
 
Even in some Christian circles, “self-esteem” is taught as a very important component of the Christian life. Some even push the idea that sin is low self-esteem, while salvation is high self-esteem. This is an extreme teaching, and it is far away from Biblical truth, but it is nevertheless out there. Following are a number of quotes from the book, Self-Esteem:The New Reformation, by retired pastor Robert H. Schuller, who ought to know better.
 
“…Sin is any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem … the core of sin is a lack of self-esteem…”
 
“Sin is psychological self-abuse ... the most serious sin is one that causes me to say, 'I am unworthy. I may have no claim to divine sonship if you examine me at my worst.' For once a person believes he is an 'unworthy sinner,' it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ.”
 
“To be born again means that we must be changed from a negative to a positive self-image – from inferiority to self-esteem, from fear to love, from doubt to trust.”
 
“Jesus never called a person a sinner.”
 
“The Cross sanctifies the ego trip. For the Cross protected our Lord's perfect self-esteem from turning into sinful pride.” (What? Jesus could have succumbed to sinful pride?  Heresy!!!)
 
These statements by Schuller are just the opposite of the truth. A person must recognize his terrible condition as a totally helpless, hopeless, vile sinner BEFORE salvation is possible. We stand before God as guilty, lost sinners, and we have no method of salvation other than to “throw ourselves on the mercy of the court” on the basis of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. God saves us by his grace, totally without any merit of our own.  "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:19-20, NKJV).
 
Jesus’ View of Self-Esteem
 
Jesus said, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:28, NKJV).
 
Some use this to justify “self-esteem” as Biblical, saying that Jesus was teaching that “You must learn to love yourself first so you can love others.” Is this true? Please note the following, based on the Scripture quoted above:
 
(1)   The emphasis is on loving the Lord first and our neighbor second.
 
(2)   There is an assumption that we already love ourselves. The reality is that every human is born helplessly and hopelessly in love with himself. This is stated quite well in the following quote from my longtime friend and co-worker, Ed Cardwell:  “I think some people we have known over the years suffer from too much of the world’s ‘self-esteem.’ Just ask any thug, criminal, or general meathead bully. They think they are the most important person in the world, and if they don't get their way you might just suffer severely if you happen to be in their way.” This doesn’t sound like someone who needs to learn to love himself.
 
(3)   Self-love is not commanded; it is assumed. There is nowhere in the Bible a commandment to learn to love ourselves. That would be like a commandment to teach our children to sin. They will sin by nature. It would be a Biblical absurdity for God to command us to do those things which we will automatically do because of who and what we are. We will love ourselves without any instruction to do so. "For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church" (Ephesians 5:29, NKJV).
 
(4)   Love for God and love for others is what needs to be learned. These things are what Jesus commanded, and His commands are based on things we otherwise would not do without His instruction to do so.
 
Paul’s View of Self-Esteem
 
Some say that Paul was very arrogant because he referred to himself numerous times as worth “imitating” when it comes to spiritual growth and maturity.
 
"Therefore I urge you, imitate me" (1 Corinthians 4:16, NKJV).
 
"Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1, NKJV).
 
"Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern" (Philippians 3:17, NKJV).
 
"And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 1:6, NKJV).
 
"For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you … to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us" (2 Thessalonians 3:7,9).
 
Paul did not say these things in arrogance. He had grown in the Lord to the point that he recognized he could say these things because he had learned Godly humility. He had matured, he was imitating Christ, and he knew that if others imitated him, they would also be imitating Christ. Maturity according to Paul is boasting in nothing but Christ’s grace and his own weakness. "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14, NKJV).
 
Paul didn't start out as a humble servant. Before his conversion, he was quite proud of himself. …though I also might have confidence in the flesh. "If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:  circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee;  concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Philippians 3:4-6, NKJV).
 
He was the overseer at the stoning of Stephen.  "and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul" (Acts 7:58, NKJV).
 
He was fanatical, the haughty persecutor of the early church.  "As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison" (Acts 8:3, NKJV).  "Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest  and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem" (Acts 9:1-2, NKJV).
 
In grace, he was informed of his error by "…Jesus whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:5, NKJV). Soon Paul recognized the worthlessness of his background and human achievement, and counted all these things "...as rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8, NKJV).
 
Once his view of Christ was proper, Paul's view of himself began to decrease. This continued as he got older. Paul’s view of himself diminished and his dependence on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ increased. Notice the common thread of GRACE than runs through the three steps in the progression of Paul’s view of himself:
 
(1)   Paul begins by recognizing himself as the very least of all the apostles. He knew he had persecuted the church “ignorantly in unbelief.”  "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; (High self-esteem?) but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief (I Timothy 1:12-13, NKJV). For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me " (1 Corinthians 15:9-10, NKJV).
 
(2)   Next, he recognizes himself as “less than the least of all the saints.” Not only did he see himself as the least of the apostles, but now as less than the least of all believers. "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8, NKJV). He became more and more aware of his own worthlessness as he saw the magnificent grace of God at work in his life. If we humans were already righteous, there would be no need for the grace of God.
 
(3)   Finally, near the end of his life, Paul recognizes himself as “the chief of sinners.” "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Timothy 1:15, NKJV). By comparison to the righteousness of God, we are nothing but helpless, vile sinners, and each one of us should see ourselves as “the chief of sinners.” That is quite an indictment of self, but it illustrates the tremendous grace of God. "…But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more…" (Romans 5:20, NKJV).
 
Only by the grace of God was Paul able to be a humble and effective servant of God, although he was the least of the apostles, the least of all the saints, and the chief of sinners. While in his depravity, man thinks he is higher than the highest, better than the best, greater than the greatest. Paul’s self-evaluation is the exact opposite:  lower than the lowest, worse than the worst, less than the least.
 
Other key Scriptures touch on this topic of self-esteem:
 
"For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3).
 
"For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells…" (Romans 7:18).
 
The only Scripture that has both the word “self” and the word “esteem” in it is Philippians 2:3.  "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself" (NKJV).
 
"…greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world" (I John 4:4).
 
"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Corinthians 3:5, NKJV).
 
"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (I Corinthians 15:10, NKJV).
 
Paul knew he could take no credit for what God had made of Him. He was privileged to be a choice servant of the Lord, to lead many to Christ, to pen roughly half of the New Testament, yet he could take no credit. It was all by the grace of God.
 
Self-esteem is not a Biblical concept. We need Christ-esteem, not self-esteem. Proper “self-esteem” is not self-esteem at all. It is Christ-esteem. Paul did not have “self-esteem,” but he had “Christ-esteem.”
 
"He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30, NKJV).
 
"…that in all things He may have the preeminence"  (Colossians 1:18, NKJV).
 
"Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1, NKJV).
 
Paul described himself and others as:
 
(1)   "servants" - from the Greek word which means "under-rower."  An "under-rower" was a slave and an oarsman who served in the lowest level of a ship.
 
(2)   "stewards" - from the Greek word for "house manager." The steward of a household supervised the affairs of a household and was held accountable for the affairs of a household by the owner or master of the house. This word emphasizes responsibility.
 
Jesus Himself, the great Creator-God of the universe, practiced humility. "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8).
 
Based on the teachings of Scripture, we need to remove all of this “self-esteem” nonsense from our vocabulary and from our teaching. We need to see that the grace of God is sufficient to deal with all of our sinfulness, and that an emphasis on “self” ultimately results in pride and arrogance, which will lead our Christian lives in the wrong direction.

Monday, January 12, 2015

IF THIS MAN WERE A PROPHET . . .

IF THIS MAN WERE A PROPHET . . .
Luke 7:39 NAS
by Ed Cardwell

The word ‘IF’, though one of the smallest in our English language, has often been acclaimed the biggest word in the dictionary. That may very well be true in a practical sense, because even the simplest of decisions, contingencies, and eventualities often hang precariously upon the uncertainty implied by this single two-lettered word. As we have all become painfully aware, much in life pivots on this one-syllable instrument of communication.
 
Throughout the Scriptures this one word introduces an almost limitless parade of intrigue and fascination. In Luke 7:36-50, for example, we read the fascinating story of our Lord’s acceptance of an unlikely invitation to dine at a Pharisee’s house. While there He was attended by a woman of ill repute who had found in Him her living Messiah. He had lifted her burden of sin and guilt, and had thereby filled her heart with unspeakable joy and gladness. As He reclined at table she came in behind Him, as was permitted by custom, and attended Him in reverent service while pouring out her soul with tears of thanksgiving.
 
The Pharisee, reclining at table across from Jesus, observed her intimate actions, and knowing who she was, said to himself:
 
IF this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”  LUKE 7:39 NAS
 
On the surface of it one may wonder whether this Pharisee named Simon is on the threshold of a great discovery. Is he searching out this man wondering whether or not He is a prophet? Or is he giving Him the benefit of the doubt waiting to see the outcome?
 
Our key to the penetration of the Pharisee’s thoughts lies in the exactness in the Greek of that smallest of words ‘IF’. We are unable to feel its force in the English, but in the original it speaks volumes!  Let us examine the word more closely so that we might gain added insight into what the Holy Spirit has preserved for us.

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There are primarily three different classes of ‘IF’s in Greek, each one introducing a conditional clause. Each has its respective form and carries its particular power and weight to the meaning of the statement:
 
CLASS I – The ASSUMED-TRUE Condition. This condition was used when the speaker assumed, or wished to assume, that his premise was TRUE. The grammatical construction is simply the introduction of the Greek word ‘if’ (eiv) at the beginning of the conditional clause followed by a verb in the indicative mood (in the same clause).

As an illustration we have the case of the Temptation of our Lord in Matthew 4. In verses 3 and 6 the Class I condition of ‘IF’ is used both cases:
 
IF You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” vs 3 NAS
 
IF You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down.” vs 6 NAS
 
Satan’s objective was the nullification of the plan of salvation. His strategy was to lure Jesus out of His self-imposed human character as an obedient servant of God and into His rightful character as Lord over nature, but without first going to the Cross. The leverage the Tempter uses on this occasion is the assumed fact of Jesus’ deity. Satan insisted that the Lord make His rightful demands upon the ‘IF’, or better interpreted, ‘since’, or ‘it being true that’ He was the Son of God.
 
How this passage comes alive to us today with all the intensity of a great drama!  How we can more readily see the infinite pathos of our Lord’s suffering in order that His work FOR US might be fully accomplished.
 
CLASS II – The CONTRARY-TO-FACT Condition. This condition was used when the speaker assumed, or wished to assume, that his premise was UNTRUE. Let us look at three illustrations:
 
a.       A simple example would be the declaration made by both Mary and Martha in John 11. In addressing Jesus upon His arrival, each said in turn:

“Lord, IF You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Joh 11:32 NAS
 
The condition is Class II, contrary-to-fact. We can, of course, surmise this by the context of the narrative. We know that Jesus was not there when Lazarus died; He tarried beyond the Jordan. But had we been unaware of these added circumstances we could have made the matter certain by reading the passage in the original. There we find the special Class II grammatical construction (eiv [ei] + past tense of a verb in the indicative mood + a;n [an]).
 
b.   Another illustration can be found in our Lord’s declaration in John 15:22 and 24. This statement concerns the meaning and result of His coming to earth – to bring the glorious light of Truth and thus to expose sin in all its hideousness, so that men might see their desperate need and thus be drawn to Him, the True Light.
 
IF I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin.” vs 22 NAS
 
IF I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin.”  vs 24 NAS
 
But our Lord DID come and He DID speak to them; and He DID work among them the works which no one else did. So the condition presented is stated contrary-to-fact; and the net result of the unreality is revealed by our Lord in verse 22:
 
“But now they have no excuse for their sin.” NAS
 
In this case, as well as in example ‘a’ above, the meaning is plain from the whole context. But again the Greek grammatical construction of the sentence (eiv [ei] + verb + a;n [an]) confirms the conclusion with certainty.
 
c.   A slightly less obvious example is found in John 5:46. Jesus says, in addressing His skeptical Jewish audience:
 
“For IF you believed Moses, you would believe me .” NAS
 
Our Lord is not leaving anything open to conjecture here; the simple Greek grammatical construction (eiv [ei] + verb + a;n [an]) proves the existence of a conditional clause the negative reality of which is assumed. They didn’t believe Moses. They were idolaters. They were a self-initiated elite who had long since lost the true meaning of being the children of Abraham. They flatly rejected Moses. OTHERWISE, Jesus was saying, you would believe me.”
 
CLASS III – The UNDETERMINED-FULFILLMENT POSSIBLE Condition. In this condition uncertainty is implied, with the possibility of fulfillment. In Scripture the use of the Class III is far more frequent than any of the other conditions, but two examples will suffice:
 
a.   In the story of the Temptation in Matthew 4, referred to above, we have an illustration of the Class III condition in verse 9 where the Tempter says:
 
“All these thing will I give You, IF You fall down and worship me.” NAS
 
Satan was hoping for fulfillment, but doubt encompassed the issue. The premise was neither a question of being True (Class I) nor Untrue (Class II), but remained, at least to him, a possibility of fulfillment. The uncertainty in such cases is often clear, but should the context leave us in doubt, the original once again comes to the rescue with the Class III construction in Greek:  eva.n [ean] + subjunctive mood of the verb.
 
b.      Another interesting example of the Class III condition is found in Acts 5:38 where it is contrasted with a Class I condition in verse 39.
 
The wise Gamaliel seeks to restrain the Council’s murderous intentions against the apostles. He challenges his colleagues to keep their heads cool in this matter:
 
“And so in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, For IF this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown.”
 
“But IF it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
 
In the conditional clause in verse 38 we find the Class III construction – Doubt, but Possibility. But in verse 39 we find Class I – Assumed True.
 
Gamaliel assumes the validity of Christianity, at least for the sake of his argument, and he puts the alternative (that these activities under discussion are only from men) in the realm of uncertainty. We cannot conclude absolutely that Gamaliel was a Christian nor that he was leaning in that direction; he may merely have wanted, as some suggest, to score a further point against the Sadducee contingent of the Council, whose opposing political and religious influence was suffering embarrassment at the hands of the apostles. On the other hand, neither can we rule out his leaning toward the apostles’ faith at this time, for we read in Acts 6:7 that “A great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” NAS  Also early tradition includes Gamaliel by name in that innumerable company of saints. If so, it would be this contrast in conditions of Class III (verse 38) and Class I (verse 39) that gives us the first hopeful hint at such an eventuality.

*                    *                    *                    *                    *
 
Now, having examined the three possible conditions, let us return to our story in Luke 7.
 
The woman who is attending Jesus is a woman who has been deeply shattered by a new and keen awareness of her sinful state; she is now, however, rejoicing in reverent jubilation that He, her Messiah, has brought to her a new life and a lasting hope, and that without measure. By her presence and by her attendant adoration she is a living testimony to all those reclining at that table that this great Personage has a special attraction for those in great need. Sinners whose lives have become hopelessly shackled to the bonds of sin and degradation need only appeal to Him. And this woman! How animated is her intense display of thanksgiving! What a message to all who are witnesses!

But does the Pharisee hear her testimony?  Does he accept her witness?

By no means! He has a closed mind. He welcomes any shred of evidence that might point to Jesus as a fraud. How revealing is the statement by Simon – to himself:  “IF this man were a prophet…! How intimately we are able to peer into the abyss of his darkened heart and at once learn of his sad condition (and that from his own thoughts!) - that he is a man ruled by pride and overcome by spiritual blindness.

(His ‘if’ statement in Luke 7:39 is found in the original to be Class II – his premise is assumed UNTRUE!  He has, to his own peril, already concluded in his heart that this man IS NOT a prophet. To give evidence and weight to this conviction he reasons to himself further that:  “Otherwise, this man would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” NAS)

Why do such men reject this Jesus? Why do they deny Him? How can they ignore all the evidence that points to His deity?

This Pharisee has judged Jesus through the eyes of one who is confined to his fallen nature, devoid of all spiritual insight. He imagines that his Guest must conform to the contrived and futile standards of spiritually impoverished men, who compare themselves to one another to establish their goodness. He is the ‘natural’ man (1 Cor 2:14) who finds nothing worthy of adoration in Him, but only contempt, and he is, therefore, utterly repulsed by what he observes.

The Pharisee’s mind had been prejudiced by the sundry doctrines of humanism of his day (as is true in our day).  As examples:  We exist by the chance occurrence of ‘favorable’ mutations, ie, we are brothers of the boulders and we are cousins of the stars [evolution]; there is no God outside of ourselves; there is no life after death nor is there a day of judgment awaiting us; and, for the ‘religious’, there are many ways to God. The list is almost endless.

Salvation had come to Simon’s house – in Person!  Oh, how many would have given anything to trade places with Simon! But our Lord chose to visit him. Because it was at Simon’s house that a great sermon was to be preached. But Simon didn’t think that the message was for him. There is no grand reception, no hint of appreciation. He is thankless, cynical, and proud. For he was blinded by his pride and trapped in unbelief, and thus did not recognize this great hour of his visitation – that the full embodiment of the Love and Mercy of the great God of the Universe had left His home in glory to come down to dine before Simon at his very table.

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FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Additional Scriptural passages which contain the conditional ‘IF’ are given according to Class:

CLASS I:  Mat 5:29, 30; Mar 3:26; Luk 12:26; Joh 8:46; Act 4:9; Rom 7:16, 20; 1Co 7:9; 2Co 3:7; Gal 2:14; Col 2:20; 3:1; 1Th 4:14; 2Th 3:14; 1Ti 3:5; Phm 17, 18; Heb 2:2; Jms 1:5; 1Pe 1:17; 2Pe 2:4; 1Jo 3:13.

CLASS II:  Mat 11:21, 23; 12:7; 23:30; 24:43; Luke 7:39; 10:13; 19:42; Joh 4:10; 5:46; 8:19, 42; 9:41; 15:19; 18:36; Act 18:14; 26:32; Rom 7:7; 1Co 11:31; Gal 1:10; 3:21; Heb 4:8; 8:4; 11:15; 1Jo 2:19.

CLASS III:  Mat 6:14, 15; Mar 1:40; Luk 17:3(2), 4; Joh 11:25; Act 9:2; Rom 2:25(2), 26; 1Co 5:11; 2Co 5:1; Gal 5:2; Col 4:10; 1Ti 1:8; Heb 13:23; Jms 2:2; 1Pe 3:13; 1Jo 1:6, 7, 8, 9. 10; 2:1; 3Jo 10; Rev 3:3; 22:18, 19.

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NOTES:

1. Some scholars identify four Classes of conditions, the fourth being a further division of Class III. This further distinction is most often hazy, is never found in its full form, and has been characterized as a highly ornamental and little used construction. It is therefore omitted here from discussion.

2. Because thought is not always expressed in the most clearly defined forms, the student of the New Testament is met throughout with sundry mixed, implied, and elliptical conditions and grammatical exceptions. All of theses insure that one will never master the language entirely and that he will never exhaust the innumerable challenges presented by these variations.

3. It must be emphasized that the condition itself of Class I and II is concerned only with the statement, not with the actual reality or unreality of the matter.

ecardwells6@gmail.com
 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

God of the Impossible

It is easy to imagine that every Christian has heard the skeptical question, “Could God create a rock so heavy He could not lift it?” This question is usually asked by someone who desires to bring doubt on the existence of God or to push an evolutionist view of life. Often, such a person will smugly think that merely asking that question somehow proves that God doesn’t exist, that the Bible is not true, and that he has won the argument by default. He believes he has Christians “quaking in their boots” by merely asking a question that has, in reality, been asked and answered countless times. This question is akin to the ever-popular “Where did Cain get his wife?” and “How do you Christians explain the dinosaurs?” (See article here.)
 
The argument goes like this:  “If God can create a rock that He cannot lift, then God is not omnipotent. If God cannot create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it, then God is not omnipotent. According to this argument, omnipotence is self-contradictory. Therefore, God cannot be omnipotent.” (Reference here.) 
 
“Omnipotence does not mean that God can do anything that you can string together in words. Stringing together things in words may not be anything that is actually even possible … For example, God cannot make a married bachelor … but that doesn’t count against God. If it is not a thing that is conceptually possible, then God cannot do it.” (Reference here.)  I might add to that, “…nor would He want to.” There is nothing in the character of God to indicate that he would fool around with the absurd.
 
The problem here is that people assume that if God is omnipotent, that means He can do “anything.” That is, however, incorrect. There are things God cannot do. He cannot sin. He cannot lie. He cannot deny Himself. He cannot do anything contrary to His nature. As a matter of fact, I can do some things that God cannot do. I can die. He cannot. I can sin. He cannot. There are many such examples. Does my ability to do some things God cannot do make me more powerful than Him? Of course not! Such a notion is absurd. The things God cannot do speak not of any weakness on His part, but they actually speak of His great power.
 
For a rock to be so big and heavy that He could not lift it, then it would have to be infinite and equal to His infinite lifting power. Material things cannot be infinite, so the question really is, “Can God make a contradiction?” That question is absurd, and the logic is flawed. The simple answer to this alleged difficult question is that God can make a rock of any size He chooses, but “infinite” is not a “size.” A rock of any size would not be infinite, because it could be made larger. Larger than infinite is another example of absurdity. Clearly, God can lift anything, regardless of its size or weight, because His power if infinite, and physical things are not. The obvious answer to the question is, “No, God cannot make a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it, and that does not diminish His omnipotence. Rather, it underscores it.”
 
I started college in 1964 and embarked on a path that let me into the field of education. Over all those years until I retired in 2012, I have heard repeatedly, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” I understand the desire on the part of a teacher not to put down students and make them feel foolish in front of their classmates. However, it did not take me long to realize that there are, in fact, stupid questions. “Could God create a rock so heavy He could not lift it?” Now that’s a stupid question. Rather than making the point it is designed to make, it instead identifies the person asking it as being ignorant of truth, reality, and the nature of God. Such a question is a very pathetic attempt to prove a point, but it ends up proving just the opposite.
 
God making a rock so big He can’t lift it is not only an impossibility, but it is a logical absurdity. God cannot and does not deal with logical absurdities, which are nonsensical, such as square circles, married bachelors, numbers larger than infinity, etc. People using logical absurdities to try and disprove God’s power and therefore His existence are merely playing games with words, and their words do not prove them to be clever or right.
 
There is a big difference between that which is logically absurd and that which is merely impossible. Even though God cannot do things that are logically absurd, because that would put Him in a position of contradicting Himself, He can do the impossible. Notice what the Scripture says.
 
"Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son" (Genesis 18:14, NKJV).
 
"Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You" (Jeremiah 32:17, NKJV).
 
"Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?" (Jeremiah 32:27, NKJV).
 
"But He said, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God" (Luke 18:27, NKJV).
 
The life of our Lord Jesus Christ here on earth was “bookended” by two marvelous, miraculous, “impossible” events – His virgin birth and His bodily resurrection from the grave. Yes, these events were impossible, at least from man’s perspective, but they were not logically absurd. We can  believe in a virgin birth and a bodily resurrection from the dead, done by the power of our miracle-working God, but we cannot even imagine such things as a married bachelor, a square circle, or “my brother is an only child.” Those things are logical absurdities.
 
God is the God of the impossible. He has done many “impossible” things. He created the universe out of nothing. Yes, scientists try to tell us that the universe came about in a “big bang” in which virtually nothing exploded and became all the stars, planets, and everything else in our universe. That is impossible. Only God can create out of nothing. God made life from non-life. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7, NKJV). Scientists would have us believe that life is just chemicals that managed to get arranged in the right order at the right place and the right time in order to produce life. That is nonsense and certainly describes something that is impossible without the supernatural working of the great Creator God.
 
God has done one miracle after another throughout the history of the universe. The virgin birth of our Lord Jesus Christ was no small miracle. "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14, NKJV). This was impossible, but God had no trouble performing such a miracle. Even Mary had her doubts when the Angel Gabriel came to her and told her what was going to happen.  “‘And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’ Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:31-35, NKJV).
 
God the Son, the great Creator of the universe, came out of eternity into time and space as the sinless, perfect, holy, God-man. He was born just like every one of us – with one very notable difference. He had a human mother but no human biological father. As a result, he had no sin nature and was therefore a fitting sacrifice for our sins. If He would have had a human father and therefore a sin nature, he could not have died in our place to save us from our sins. The virgin birth of Christ is an absolute necessity to the Gospel narrative. He could not be God if He were not virgin-born, and He could not be our Savior if he were not God.
 
The great miracle at the other end of the time the Son of God spent on earth is the resurrection. The resurrection makes the Gospel complete. Without the resurrection, we have, like most of the world religions, nothing more than a dead prophet. However, with the resurrection, we have a living Savior who has defeated death, and because of that, we who trust in Him have the gift of eternal life.
 
The resurrection is one of the most well-established facts of history. It is only because of bias and unbelief that this event is not recorded in secular history books.
 
“…the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days…” (Acts 1:2-3, NKJV). [Emphasis mine.]
 
“…He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:4-8, NKJV).
 
The evidence, biblical and extra biblical, for the resurrection is overwhelming. Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and that fact establishes the truth of the Bible, the truth of Christianity, the truth that He is God the Son, and the fact that there is salvation only in Him. "...and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4, NKJV). Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NKJV).
 
As Christmas approaches, we hear so much about those who want to remove all “religious” symbols from the holiday. Some even go so far as to say Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman are “Christian” symbols and that the holiday should just be called “Winter Solstice.” I really couldn’t care less about Santa, Frosty, Rudolph, the Winter Solstice or any of the other secular symbols of Christmas, and it is ludicrous for anyone to call these things legitimate symbols of the holiday.
 
Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of our Savior into this world. There are many who are OK with that, just so long as we leave off the “virgin birth” part and see Jesus as nothing more than a baby in a manger. They see it as a sweet little story of a sweet little family who endured the hardship of the birth of a child in a stable. Their patience and enduring is a lesson in love, patience, and kindness for all of us, etc., ad nauseam. However, there is much more to it than that.
 
“The world’s Christmas celebration is bound up in a disturbing incongruity. On the one hand, people go to great lengths to support and sustain the legend of Santa Claus, using his mystical benevolence to leverage good behavior from their children. On the other hand, they systematically minimize the Person and work of Christ — the holiday’s rightful celebrity — to the point that the Lord is nothing more than a plastic infant, frozen for all time in the familiar nativity scene. They exchange the singular Christ for a cheap hoax” (John MacArthur, “The Fullness of God in Helpless Babe”). This entire article is available here.)
 
Beyond Bethlehem, there is the cross of Calvary and the resurrection. He did all of this to save us, and the Gospel message is very clear. “… I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you by which also you are savedthat Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, NKJV). [Emphasis mine.]

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Story of Christmas is the Story of Jesus Christ

I wrote this article several years ago when I was administrator of a Christian school. It was published in the school’s monthly newsletter.
 
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“And by common confession great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Beheld by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory” (I Timothy 3:16, New American Standard Bible).
 
Each year it seems more and more as if the Lord Jesus Christ is being excluded from the holiday that purports to celebrate His birth. His name is not even permitted in certain places, and anything which has any kind of a ring of being “religious” is systematically removed from every phase of official life. In some quarters, even the term “Christmas Break” has been replaced by “Winter Break.”  There are those who refuse to recognize the birth of the Savior but celebrate the “Winter Solstice” as an excuse to “party.” It has become utterly ludicrous that people celebrate a holiday but totally ignore the One to Whom that holiday is supposedly dedicated.
 
The story of Christmas is the story of Jesus Christ. It does not end in a manger in Bethlehem. It does not even begin there. It begins in eternity past. God the Son, Jesus Christ, is the great Creator of the universe. Yet, he willingly humbled himself to be born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago and become a perfect, sinless human being. He came because of the His great love for us. There is certainly no other reason for His having done this. He lived for thirty-three years, doing good, healing the sick, raising the dead, preaching and teaching among the people. He never did even the slightest wrong thing, yet sinful, rebellious mankind accused Him of all sorts of crimes and condemned Him to death. Never in their wildest imaginations did any of these individuals realize that the hand of God was at work, even in the many lies they told about Him. God is so wise that He can use even the sinfulness of man to bring about His will, and that is just what He did in the trial and execution of His Son. Jesus Christ came to this earth to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, yet He said of Judas, who betrayed Him, The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24, NASB)  How can this be?  Because God is absolutely sovereign, and His plan cannot be thwarted. Even the rebellion and foolishness of man play right into the hands of Him Who ultimately controls everything. What a comfort for the Christian!
 
In the single most significant event in all of history, the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead three days after He was crucified. This made the salvation of all believers totally and permanently secure. Nothing and no one can ever change that. Satan, sin, and death are defeated foes which are only temporarily present. They cannot ultimately do us any harm. The skeptics often claim the Resurrection is a hoax, but it is, in fact, a historical fact of absolute status. It is more provable and demonstrable, even outside of the realm of faith, than a very large percentage of other historical facts. This single fact vindicates the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It proves who He is, and it proves what He did. It proves the Bible to be true from cover to cover, from the literal creation of the universe and all it contains, to the ultimate judgment of all humans and the culmination of all temporal things into eternity future. This fact of the Resurrection totally validates the sinfulness of man, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the need in the heart of all people for the salvation which only He can provide. It makes foolish all the arguments of ungodly men and challenges them with the haunting question of the Roman Governor, Pilate, who asked the crowd, Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22, NASB). Every human being must personally answer this question. There will be no exceptions.
 
At this special time of year, please consider Jesus Christ and what He has already done for you. Often, people get depressed around the holidays. Yet, all that He has done for us gives us every reason to be anything but depressed. He has proven the great love of God for each one of us. Nothing further must be done in order for God to prove He loves us. It has already been done. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”(Romans 5:8, NASB). You need Him as your Savior. If you come to Him, He will give you eternal life, which is His great gift to you. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, NASB). Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved...that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...” (I Corinthians 15:1-4, NASB).

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Can Smart People Believe Stupid Things?

Can smart people believe stupid things?
 
All too frequently we hear someone call his or her opponent ugly names, such as stupid, dumb, insane, foolish, idiotic, or maybe even worse. While this is very common, it remains true that the last tactic of those who have no substantive argument is name-calling and ridicule.
 
There are many situations in which smart people on both sides of the issue resort to name-calling as their chief strategy in the debate. For example, many very smart people believe that the way for a country to get out of debt is to spend more money, and they call their opponents "selfish," "stupid," "out-of-touch," etc.  Many smart people believe that somehow human beings have caused and continue to cause "global warming" or "climate change," and they accuse their opponents of being, among other things, "science-deniers" or "ignorant."  It is likewise true that many smart people believe that the way to stop gun violence is to disarm the potential victims so only criminals are armed, and they call those who disagree with them "gun nuts," "Neanderthals," or worse. In each of these situations, the other side often throws back equally abusive insults.
 
Many more such examples could be listed, but there is probably no place where this is more true than in the creation vs. evolution debate. Evolutionists frequently retreat to this tactic when they are in a place where they really have no answers. We hear that creationists are stupid, that they don’t accept science, that they ignore the evidence, that they are superstitious, and that they are in the minority and are therefore wrong. While none of these things are true, evolutionists find it necessary to keep repeating them so others will begin believing them. “No creationists are scientists, and no scientists are creationists” is frequently heard, and such a statement is, of course, absurd.
 
Richard Dawkins, a well-known atheist and evolutionist said, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that).”  (Richard Dawkins, “Book Review of Donald Johanson and Maitland Edey’s Blueprints.” The New York Times, April 9, 1989. Section 7, 34.)
 
It is very tempting to throw the name-calling right back at the evolutionists. I once read a quote from someone who turned Dawkins' statement back on him, as follows:  “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims that evolution is a proven fact, that person is ignorant, stupid, or Richard Dawkins.” While we can be amused by such things, name-calling is really not productive, because it doesn’t change anything. We who are creationists have truth on our side, so there is no reason to stoop to such tactics. Truth always comes out on top. There is no reason to fear that science will ever discover anything that proves God doesn't exist or that evolution is true. That which is false can never be proven to be true, no matter what anyone says or how the evidence is twisted.
 
In reality, there are many very intelligent and educated people on both sides of the argument. It is absurd for evolutionists to write off all creationists as stupid, ignorant morons who deny science. On the other hand, we who are creationists need to avoid throwing such invectives at evolutionists. Rather than making ad hominem arguments against individuals, it is far more productive to argue the merits of our position and attack the weaknesses of the other side.
 
If something is legitimately considered “science,” it must be observable, testable, and repeatable. Think of the things that really are not science at all that the evolutionist establishment asks people to believe. All matter came from a dot. Order came from chaos. Life came from non-life. Design came about without a designer. All of this happened without benefit of any intelligence behind it. This is nonsense and foolishness of the highest order. These things most certainly fall into the category of "stupid." Why then, do so many intelligent people believe these things to be true?
 
Evolution is full of holes, and it is absolutely ridiculous for evolutionists to claim they are practicing science when there is nothing remotely scientific about evolution, yet there are many very intelligent, educated people who accept it as proven science and absolute fact. How can this be? The operative words are “gullible” and “deceived.” There really is no other explanation.

When smart people are confronted with a stupid belief, the only way they can swallow it is to be deceived by it, and they can only be deceived if they are gullible. This is not a reflection on their intelligence. Rather, it speaks to their lack of common sense. Common sense should not be checked at the door when entering the science lab. If a scientist did so, it would certainly explain a great deal. When it comes to denial of the Creator God, it speaks to their spiritual blindness. "But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Corinthians 4:3-4, NKJV).
 
Please note that I am not saying such people are “stupid.” There is a huge difference between “deceived” or “gullible” and “stupid.” There cannot be a “stupid smart person,” nor can there be a "foolish wise person," but there can most certainly be a “foolish smart person,” an “ignorant (uninformed) smart person,” or even a “gullible smart person.”

Evolution is a lie. Very few of those who push evolution are outright lying, because they believe the lie they are propagating. Instead, they have been deceived into believing something that appeals to the man-centered belief system of so many today, and they do not realize they are merely repeating what they have come to believe is established scientific fact. This video is the brief story of a professor who came to his senses about evolution after really listening to what he was teaching his students.

Scientists who look at evidence and conclude it proves evolution are interpreting that evidence from an evolutionary bias. Much of this bias is rooted in a very strong desire for evolution to be true, because evolution removes God from the picture. Without God, there is no accountability, and man is free to behave as he wishes. Is it also true that creationists are biased? Of course, and thankfully so. As Ken Ham said, "It is not a matter of whether one is biased or not. It is really a question of which bias is the best bias with which to be biased." (The Lie:  Evolution.)

There is the creation model, and there is the evolution model. While neither can be directly observed because they are ideas about the past, it is wise to look at the evidence and ask, "Which model best explains the evidence?" The answer to that one is quite clear.

Can smart people believe stupid things?
 
The answer is obvious. All one has to do is to look at the teaching of many very intelligent and educated people who believe in evolution to see that the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
 
“Professing to be wise, they became fools…” (Romans 1:22, NKJV).