Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Mystery of Godliness

"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory" (1 Timothy 3:16).

Christmas Greetings from My Anonymous Friend

For me Christmas memories involve many things. Cold, snowy weather, church and school programs, special food, candy and cookies, family gatherings, gifts, and of course, music. I was raised in a German home so we learned the carols in both English and German. I find myself still able to recall the words to songs we sang 50 years ago. I also remember that George F. Handel's Messiah was a big part of Christmas for us. We sometimes found a church or community group somewhere that was performing it and we would attend.

I also remember that every Christmas morning the Queen of England gave a Christmas greeting to her subjects and later some radio station would always play Messiah by Handel in its entirety. In my college days I had the privilege of being part of a huge oratorio chorus and symphony orchestra that performed Messiah in Chicago. I have this magnificent music in long playing records, CD, and now in my I-pod. Today it is difficult to find any group performing this oratorio and I am grieved that the Hallelujah chorus has been cheapened as it is used sometimes in commercials and other flippant settings. But not always!! I hope your computer has the ability to download this short clip. It is incredibly inspiring and takes place "spontaneously" in a Canadian mall. I have been sent this same video by several people this season and in case you have not seen it yet, here it is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXh7JR9oKVE If you copy and paste it into your search engine it should open up. It worked as I tried it just now.

I wish to write a little about Handel today. I have long marvelled at his incredible ability to write an entire oratorio that is almost verbatim from King James Bible selections. Messiah has three parts and Handel brilliantly captures the messages of Christ's advent and birth, then His passion and resurrection, and finally prophetic words about His second coming. It is majestic. Words cannot describe the inspiration millions of people have received over the years as they have listened to the words and the beautiful music.

Handel (1685-1759) was born in Germany and lived in several countries before becoming a British citizen in 1726. I have seen his burial place in Westminster Abbey in London. Handel's father did not want his son to pursue a career in music and preferred he should study law instead. However, the young Handel somehow got a clavichord into the attic of his family home where he would sneak away at night to practice. Over the years Handel wrote many operas, cantatas, oratorios, and concertos. Messiah was written in only twenty-four days and it is said that Handel hardly slept during this time. He was a stickler for excellence and often tore up scores he wrote until they were exactly as he wanted them to be. In 1742 his oratorio was first performed in Dublin.

One of the traditions of Messiah is that when the strains of the Hallelujah chorus begin, the audience rises to its feet. This tradition began with King George II. When a monarch stands, everyone in the audience does too! Was King George II recognizing a greater Monarch than himself? Or was he just moved by the music? We do not know for sure but I would like to believe the former to be the case.

I find it fascinating what other great composers and musicians thought of Handel. Mozart, who was just a young lad when Handel died, said, "Handel understands effect better than any of us. When he chooses he strikes like a thunder bolt!" That describes how I feel when I hear that first "Hallelujah!" Beethoven who was born eleven years after Handel died, wrote, "Handel was the master of us all, the greatest composer who ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb!" As they say, it takes one to know one!! This is quite a compliment.

There is a story about Handel I like very much because it expresses my own inability to describe the majesty and inspiration of Messiah. One day his assistant shouted in futility to get Handel's attention. He finally entered the room where Handel was and asked, "What is the matter?" Handel looked up with tears in his eyes. In his hand he held the score of the Hallelujah chorus. Handel said, "I thought I saw the face of God!" ...

... Today, there are storms in Europe affecting air travel in Paris and London. Here in California there is heavy rain with snow in the elevations. There are also other storms in our world. Great suffering and anguish, incredible uncertainties and anxiety about economies and terror wars. In all of this we pause to remember the Messiah! He came as God in the flesh as a little baby. This is what we are celebrating! He had a timetable to be born in Bethlehem and He has a timetable and a plan for each of us individually and for this world!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Simeon

By My Anonymous Friend

This week I read on a Facebook posting where someone has determined that the return of Christ will take place in May of 2011. I am not sure what the basis is for that date exactly but I believe such statements are nonsense and directly contradict what Scripture teaches. No man knows the day or the hour. An event took place when Jesus was born that bears some similarity however to date setting. It is part of the Christmas story but probably not well known. Let me expand on it for you today.

Simeon was a righteous and devout man in Jerusalem who longed for the "consolation of Israel". This is a reference to the comfort and hope Messiah would bring to His people at His coming. It is also called the redemption of Jerusalem. Simeon had been told somehow by the Holy Spirit that he would live to see this day. When he beheld the infant Jesus he somehow knew that He was the fulfilment of this long awaited promise.

One theory is that Simeon was one of the translators of the Septuagint. This was a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek completed sometime in the third century BC at Alexandria, Egypt. When Simeon came to Isaiah 7:14 which records that a virgin will conceive a bear a Son, he was filled with questions and doubts. This did not seem possible. An angel revealed to Simeon that he should translate this verse as written and that it would miraculously come to pass. Furthermore, he would live to see it happen! One problem with this theory is that Simeon would have been several hundred years old when Christ was born. I remind you that it is a theory.

What is sure is that Simeon had a profound faith and confidence that he would live to see the birth of the Messiah. How did he know that Jesus was the fulfilment of the Isaiah prophecy? I do not know the answer except that Scripture says the Holy Spirit revealed this to him. I simply leave it there. It is fascinating.

Simeon was overwhelmed with delight and thanksgiving when he realized that the Messiah had finally come. He responded with praises that are known as the Nunc Diimittis which are still an important part of worship in liturgical traditions. These words of Simeon are recorded in Luke 2:29-32.

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

Simeon then continued by speaking a blessing and a prophecy to Mary.

This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.

Please consider several fascinating aspects to this story.

1. How did Simeon know that this baby was finally the One he and others were longing to see?

2. Note that Simeon says that the salvation the Messiah would provide would be for ALL people.

3. Note that Simeon predicted the sufferings of Jesus which both He and His mother Mary would experience.

4. Simeon predicted the division and controversy Jesus would bring. I find it fascinating that to this day, it is relatively acceptable to speak of God in generic terms. However to refer to Jesus specifically brings out howls of protests and controversy. He is indeed a controversial and divisive figure.

Interesting points to ponder at this time of year.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Jesus came to offer....... what??

By My Anonymous Friend

We are into the Advent season and I have been trying to look at the birth of Jesus in new and meaningful ways. I ask myself and here I ask you as well,

Jesus came to offer....... what??

I know most who read this know the answer but let's think together for a moment and perhaps "the reason for the Season" as the saying goes, will take on new meaning for you.

What might Jesus have come to offer?

1. He could have come as a philosopher. By doing so He could have introduced new ideas and concepts for intellectuals and others who cared, to ponder. Perhaps He might have been an innovative philosopher to introduce philosophies that no one ever had thought of before.

2. He could have come as a political reformer. Surely the people of His day longed for political renewal and an overthrow of a repressive Roman regime. Some actually believed (or perhaps just hoped) that indeed Jesus would usher in a new political system. This hope reached its peak on what we now refer to as Palm Sunday. How dreadfully disappointed these folks must have been later that week when Jesus was crucified and it became clear the Roman yoke was not about to be overthrown.

3. He could have come as a scientist or researcher. Perhaps He could have found a cure for the ravaging diseases of His day. In our day cancer would come to mind. How noble it would have been for Jesus to come to usher in an end to disease and suffering.

4. He could have come as a consultant or life coach. He could have written books and lectured on how to achieve personal goals, how to be a better leader, and how to live a happy and profitable life.

5. There are other possibilities: therapist, social worker, engineer,--- add your own list.

All the above would have had degrees of merit. The world would have been a better place if Jesus had come in any of the scenarios I have described. And, in a sense He was some of the things I listed.

However, had Jesus come only in the capacities mentioned above, it would have been like applying band-aids to the human condition. Humanity needed more than new philosophies or political reform. What was needed was more radical and profound.

Now recall the words of what we call the Benedictus in Luke 1 and the words of the angels to the shepherds in Luke 2. It is clear from these and other references that Jesus had a unique mission that transcended any suggestions I have made above. He came to be a Savior! Why? Because humanity needed saving. Pretty simple. Yet very, very profound.

Some years ago I was called a savior! It is true. I was in an airport waiting to fly to my home. The flight was greatly overbooked and the airline personnel were desperately seeking passengers who might be willing to give up their seats. After I was assured that a flight an hour later had room for me and that I would be rewarded financially for giving my seat up, I volunteered. The person at the check in counter was overwhelmed with gratitude. He said to me with passion,

"Thank you! Thank you! May I call you Jesus?"

I assumed he used that term because I had been a "savior" of sorts so I replied, "No, not really! I know Jesus personally and I do not think I qualify to bear His name!"

That led to an interesting discussion as you can imagine.

My point is that when we use the word "Savior" with regard to Jesus, the meaning is enormous. I have the ability to "save" an airline a measure of embarrassment for selling more seats than the plane has on board, but in no way whatsoever can I or anyone else be the kind of Savior Jesus was and is.

He saves people from their sins! Only a perfect sacrifice (lamb) can make this kind of saving efficacious. Jesus fit the bill perfectly.

So, my hope is that somehow the well worn and familiar words and expressions of Christmas will take on new meanings to you this year.

"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord!" (Luke 2:10-11).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Practical Look at Theology

Recently I had a brief conversation with one of our associate pastors relative to theology. Although the conversation was very short, he said some very profound things, and I scrounged a piece of paper right after we were finished in order to write down what he had said.

He said there are three principles to remember when looking at theology, as follows:

1. "There is a God, and I’m not Him.” The first time I ever heard it put like that was while watching the movie, “Rudy.” The main character, Rudy Reuttiger, was desperately trying to get into the University of Notre Dame. He asked a priest if he had done enough, prayed enough, etc. in order to be admitted. The priest responded, “Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and I'm not Him.” While there is much Catholic doctrine which is based on the traditions of men instead of the Word of God, I believe the last half of the priest’s statement is very biblically accurate. “There is a God, and I’m not Him.” My theology needs to be based on what God has said in His Word, not on the opinions of any man, including my own.

2. "Never take the opposite side of what Jesus taught.” Jesus was very clear relative to His teachings, and it is always dangerous to take a position on the other side of any issue. He clearly knew and taught that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. That makes it quite foolish to adopt the documentary hypothesis. He taught that Noah’s flood was a fact and was God’s judgment on the world at the time. All the statements that the flood is a myth are contradictions of statements made by the Son of God. That is dangerous ground. He taught that salvation is by grace through faith, which negates all the human opinion to the contrary. There are many such examples. Bottom line – the safe ground is to be in agreement with what Jesus said.

3. "When you come to a problem you can’t answer, just make God bigger.” There are many things we can’t explain. We accept God’s word by faith, and there are times we simply don’t understand what God has done or how He has done it. Do we need to know? No, we really don’t. We just need to realize that our God is bigger than any difficulty, and no matter how big we make Him, we can never make Him too big. As a matter of fact, we can never even make Him as big as He is. He is infinite. We are finite. Our God is bigger than any question a skeptic can ask, and He is bigger than any situation.

These three principles are good guidelines to follow when considering the truth of Scripture.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Evolution: “Just a Theory” or Not a Theory at All?

There was a time when Christians would say that “evolution is just a theory.” Then the evolutionists decided to use a different definition for the word “theory.” The definition of the word used by those who said “evolution is just a theory” is found here, as follows: “A proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.” Now the evolutionists have decided instead to use the following definition:  “A theory in technical use is a more or less verified or established explanation accounting for known facts or phenomena.”

Changing the commonly accepted definition has enabled evolutionists to stick their fingers in the eyes of creationists and essentially say, “Thanks for recognizing the scientific nature of evolution.” This is, of course, only playing with words, because no one who ever said “evolution is just a theory” actually meant to recognize evolution as even remotely scientifically valid.

I have often in the past told my classes that we need to stop making any statements about evolution being only a theory and put it in its proper place. Based on what is now being used as the definition of a theory, evolution is, at best, not a theory but only a hypothesis, and not a very good one at that. According to the same dictionary webpage, a hypothesis is “a conjecture put forth as a possible explanation of phenomena or relations, which serves as a basis of argument or experimentation to reach the truth.” Evolution is a “conjecture.” It is certainly nothing more than that.

I can live with that definition, but I even wonder if maybe calling evolution a “hypothesis” is giving it far too much credit. In reality, it would be more appropriate to just call it “a stupid idea."

Someone has written a brief article on this exact topic, and I am glad they did. It is on the “Answers in Genesis website and is entitled “Evolution: Not Even a Theory.” If you would like to read it, please click here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tale of the Blinded Man

There once was a man who began to be very frustrated by his failing eyesight. At one time, he had perfect vision, but in recent months, things had started to appear more and more blurred. Some of his friends tried very hard to convince him to see an eye doctor, but he listened instead to another group of so-called "friends" who convinced him that eye doctors didn't know anything, and that the real answer was to be found inside of each individual.

He tried a number of medications, salves, and ointments recommended by his friends, but none of these things did any good at all. His eyes grew steadily worse until he was all but blind. As his eyes grew worse, so did his frustration level. He finally became desperate, but still he refused to see an eye doctor. By now he had become even more convinced that no eye doctor could possibly know the answer.

In his desperation, he concocted a mixture of several salves and ointments and applied it to his eyes. The sting was intense, but he hoped the pain would be worth it when his vision was restored. To his great disappointment and dismay, his eyes not only did not improve, they got much worse, and he finally just closed his eyes and assumed he was totally blind.

His blindness at first resulted in rage. He was especially angry with all of the eye doctors who had not helped him, even though he had never really sought their help. However, his rage eventually went away and was replaced by a relative degree of comfort in his situation. All the while, he refused to open his eyes, because he "knew" he would not be able to see, even if he did open them.

He soon developed a very interesting view of life. He concluded that being unable to see was a great way to live. He further concluded that since he could not see, he was now an expert on vision. Since he was unable to see, obviously no one else could see, either. As a matter of fact, since he had not seen an eye doctor recently, he was no longer sure if such a thing as an eye doctor even existed. Since he didn't know, obviously no one else could know, either.

Even though he once could see, he seemed to forget that fact, and he dismissed all efforts to convince him that vision was a reality, because he based all of his views on his own recent experiences. None of the people trying to convince him that they could see knew what they were talking about. How could they possibly know anything that he didn't know? Because of his unwise choices and flawed thinking, he closed his eyes, steadfastly refused to open them, and spent the rest of his life as a blind man, believing that everyone else was blind, as well.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Follow-up to "Character Matters"

by My Anonymous Friend

Last week I received more emails in response to last Sunday's writing on character issues than any I have received previously. I find this very interesting. … One person shared an interesting story confirming my comments about people in ministry expecting or demanding preferential treatment. This person told how a musical group insisted on traveling first class by aircraft and insisted on certain kinds of food to be delivered to their luxury hotel rooms. So sad to read these kinds of stories.

All week I have been thinking about why this email appeared to generate more interest than others I have written. My conclusion is that you long for authenticity and genuine humility as much as I do. Since my writings each week are read by people in various continents of the world, I very rarely ever write about political issues that may be of interest to me but not to those in other parts of the world. However, the matter of character most certainly applies in this realm of our society as well. I find that I tend to let the words of politicians go "in and out of my ear." I realize I am "painting with a broad brush" and that there are of course sincere, committed, public servants who stand on principle and core values. I know such people as well and I am grateful for them. But, others campaign and say one thing. Once elected, they often demonstrate something entirely different. I pay little attention to what they say. I can confess to you that when I hear some politicians on TV, I either switch stations or hit the "mute" button. I try to pay a lot of attention to what they do however. That shows me what they really believe regardless of what they might say. I have heard people say over the years that they would rather see a sermon lived than to hear one. I think this is the same principle but in the church context not in the political arena.

All this supports perfectly the concept that Jesus expressed when He said that people would know we are Christians by our love! Once a man said to me, "I am not religious, but if I ever decided to be, I would join......! (certain cult). They at least take care of people." I was saddened to hear him mention a cultic group. Why did he not say that about the church or group with which I identify? Maybe he saw us fighting and squabbling too much and about peripherals no less. I wonder?

I have long liked the thoughts recorded in 1 Corinthians 8:1. Paul writes that knowledge makes arrogant but love builds up. I am ashamed when I think of welcoming cultists into my home at times and then trying to argue them into my way of seeing things. I doubt whether they saw much of a Christ-like spirit in me. I also doubt seriously that they were drawn to explore the truths of Christianity because of my persuasive arguments. Once after a cultist expounded to me all the things that the Bible teaches in its original languages, I handed my Greek New Testament to him and asked him to show me from that text what he was talking about. Of course he did not know the Greek alphabet much less any of its vocabulary. All I probably did was embarrass him in front of people he was mentoring in his beliefs. I felt like a proud peacock with my "superior" knowledge, but in truth I was a stupid Pharisee for doing what I did. I never do that anymore but instead try to have some literature of my own to give them in exchange for what they wish to give me. Rarely do they accept it but that is their choice. I receive what they have to give me and thank them for making the effort. I then hope for an opportunity to also tell them just a bit more about who Jesus really is, for example.

So, I am glad that many of us think the same way here. Let us pray that we will live our lives in such a way that people may be drawn to God and seek to glorify Him.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Character Matters

by My Anonymous Friend

A few days ago I met with a pastor friend for whose church I have done some work this year. He comes from a very different tradition. In a number of ways his political views are much more liberal than mine. Theologically we are fairly close although our church tradition, polity, and so on, are very different. It has been a fascinating journey for me to develop a friendship with this person. Two days ago my wife and I were invited to join my friend and his wife for a concert. It was a wonderful evening and a good step in the formation of a new friendship for us as couples.

This pastor has endured some unfair treatment from a segment of his church parish. They have slandered him and said very troubling things about him. His reactions have reminded me of what Scripture says about Jesus....."when He was reviled, He reviled not again!" My friend has been very gracious and has been careful not to speak ill of his detractors. When we drove into the church parking lot for the concert, I happened to notice that his car was parked in the very last parking place the farthest away from the church. They were expecting a large crowd and he was thinking of others. This in itself is not a particularly important matter but it is an indication of what sort of man he is. I was touched by this simple expression of charity and concern for others. I have seen the opposite as well where clergy have insisted they have a special parking spot reserved for them as near to the doors of the church as possible.

So why do I mention all this?

As I get older I believe more and more that character is what is most important in a person. I have seen many things over the years and find myself now less and less impressed with persons who are eloquent, flamboyant leaders, prolific authors, in demand speakers at conferences and seminars, and so on. I believe our society honors the wrong things at times. We measure the greatness or value of persons by the size of their parish if they are members of the clergy, by the number of employees, or the annual earnings if they are in business, or by the size of their homes or by the number and type of cars they own. I am less and less interested in these sorts of things. I have found that sometimes these sorts of people are narcissistic, self centered, ungrateful, demanding, and difficult to deal with. I recall a visiting musician/speaker, well known in our area, who was determined to tell me, the pastor of the church where he had been invited to preach, how the service would be conducted. I also recall a well known conference speaker refusing to ride in a certain car to the airport because he really thought he should have a limousine at his service. I was shocked when I observed this personally.

I want to be with people who truly are committed to serving others. I want to be with people who have learned to yield their rights instead of demanding that their rights be granted to them. I sometimes wonder just how God will deal with rewards in heaven. I am guessing some of us might be surprised. Those who were greatly revered and honored here on earth may possibly not be so regarded in heaven. Those who served without notoriety and fame here on earth may perhaps be greatly honored in heaven. I really do not know how all this will work, but I do know that God values faithfulness. In the parable of the talents, the "2-talent" man and the "5-talent" man both received precisely the same kind of affirmation and commendation from the master. Only the man who did nothing with his "talent" received a rebuke. So that is a clue to me.

What do you think? I want to live out my years as a faithful person. I want to be gracious and generous in dealing with people. I hope they see a little of Jesus in me when they observe me. I wish that for you too.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Labor Day

by My Anonymous Friend

In North America and in several other countries around the world, the first Monday of September is set aside as a holiday to recognize the contributions made to society by labor. Its origins were in the labor movement near the end of the 19th century, which advocated 8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, and 8 hours for recreation. It was initially celebrated with parades and speeches to remind citizens that workers represent the backbone of society. For many today this long weekend marks the end of summer, the beginning of school, and the beginning of collegiate athletic activities for the school year.

There is a labor story of sorts in the Gospels which I find quite intriguing. I wish to share it with you today. Jesus told the story in Matthew 20 This is the story:

A number of laborers were hired to work in a vineyard. These workers were hired at different times of the day. The first group commenced their work "early in the morning"..... perhaps 6 or 7 AM. They agreed to the terms of payment and went to work. At 9 AM a second group was hired. Around noon and again at 3 PM new groups of laborers were deployed to work in the vineyard. Finally at around 5 PM the last group of workers was hired and sent to work. This group only worked for an hour when the foreman called all the workers together and began to pay them their wages. What a surprise awaited the early morning group!! To their chagrin they noticed that the 5 PM workers were paid exactly the same wage for the one hour they had worked as the early morning group was paid for the 12 hours or so that they worked. This seemed like a gross unfairness... the very kind of injustice that the Labor Day holiday sought to address in more modern times! After all, the first group worked through the heat of the day and for many more hours than the last group. It just did not seem fair and the first group let their unhappiness be known. After all, it is hard to accept that someone could get for almost nothing, what they worked so hard for, the entire day long.

The owner of the vineyard presented his arguments:

1. A deal is a deal. Group #1 agreed to work for a certain wage. So why are they complaining?

2. A land owner can make whatever deals he wishes. It is his prereogative.

Here are some lessons I see in this parable.

The grace of God is generous and even reckless. God's generosity knows no bounds and does not respect people.

Those who believe that performance is the basis for God's system will not appreciate the grace of God. This is a very subtle but very basic principle.

Surely the 5 PM workers did not utter a complaint. I suppose they hurried to their local bank to cash their checks. I am sure they did not enter into long discussions with the early morning group. They did not ask what others were paid. When we receive mercy we do not care who else gets it, too. If we are bothered by the 5 PM salaries, then we are likely a person who is depending on something other than God's mercy to make us acceptable to God.

I meet people sometimes who actually dislike God's grace although they would rarely say so. They do not like when sinners are extended grace. They may say something like, "I have served God all my life, I have been part of a church for years and held every office in it. I deserve more than someone who comes off the street, has perhaps lived a wicked life and now is regarded by God with the same degree of favor as I am!" But this is how "unfair" the grace of God is! We do not like this much. It seems unfair. It is,..... if we base our acceptance by God on performance. But if we do not, then we clap our hands with delight and fall on our knees with gratitude.

What group of workers are you in?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Just in Case

by My Anonymous Friend

Ever had a really frightening email or phone call? I assume all of us have at some point. I got one such email this past week. A friend sent me a note to say that his doctor had used the dreaded word “Cancer” as he diagnosed some concerns my friend went to see him about. Suddenly everything changes!

We both serve together on a board. My friend suggested we go to the bank to add one more name to be authorized to sign checks for our organization, “just in case!” As we talked about some plans we had to attend a football game together later this fall, my friend said, “Let's see first what happens, just in case! Several more times during our board meeting time he said, “Let's see what happens, just in case! My friend went on to tell us that he was rethinking the lease on a new car because it might not be needed in the future, – “just in case!!”

We tend to live our lives as though we will live forever even though we know full well that we will not. We simply assume we will do this or that tomorrow, next week, or next month. My friend's announcement this past week reminded me once again how fragile and temporal life is.

Scripture addresses this topic:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).

Speaking or thinking as though we are in charge of our lives is called arrogance and evil by this Scripture. I was struck by the harshness of this idea. But when we really think about it, assuming we are in charge of our lives really is arrogance. We are taking upon ourselves a prerogative that is not ours to take. Although we may not actually say so, we are really telling ourselves we are in charge of our lives when we say, “I will do this or that tomorrow!” We shut God out and assume He has nothing to say about our lives.

We are not in charge and the experience of my friend this past week was a painful reminder to me of this truth. I often say, “"God willing” when I make plans with others but today that expression takes on a fuller meaning.

Have a great week and be careful how you make plans – “just in case!”

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

by My Anonymous Friend

...we visited an exhibit entitled "Body Worlds and the Brain." This is a traveling exhibit making its way around North America. If it comes near where you live make the effort to go see it along with the more than 26 million people around the world who have already seen it. It is spell-binding and features preserved human bodies revealing inner anatomical structures in a process called plastination. This technique was developed at the University of Heidelberg in the 1970's. The exhibition shows nervous, muscle and bone systems and how they function together to make our bodies perform. Over 200 specimens of real human organs or organ systems are displayed along with 25 full body plastinations. It also demonstrates the development of the human body prior to birth from the first few weeks onward. I enjoyed the display of prosthetic devices (heart valves, hip joints, and the like) thinking I may not be so far away from needing some of this technology in the days to come. Hopefully not for a long time!

All the while we were there I kept wondering when someone or some display would raise the question of how all this came to be. Just how is it that our bodies are so incredibly wonderfully designed? The underlying assumption all through was that all this evolved over time. I could not help but wonder how anyone could really believe this to be true. In my mind all I could think of was the Scripture that says we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

I am not a medical person and medical things do not usually excite me. For my wife and daughter who are both nurses the exhibit was particularly fascinating from that standpoint. However, I too was spell-bound by all this. Having seen what goes on inside my body I now feel almost afraid to move lest anything be pushed out of place or somehow be damaged. Of course that is foolish, but it points out how intricately our bodies are designed and how fantastically they function.

To me it all serves as a reminder that we have an omnipotent and sovereign God, the Ultimate Designer and Creator! Praise be to Him!

Monday, July 26, 2010

God is Sovereign

Following are some words of wisdom from A.W. Pink, 1886-1952.

How different is the God of the Bible from the God of modern Christendom! The conception of Deity which prevails most widely today, even among those who profess to give heed to the Scriptures, is a miserable caricature, a blasphemous travesty of the Truth. The God of the twentieth century is a helpless, effeminate being who commands the respect of no really thoughtful man. The God of the popular mind is the creation of a maudlin sentimentality. The God of many a present-day pulpit is an object of pity rather than of awe-inspiring reverence.

To say that God the Father has purposed the salvation of all mankind, that God the Son died with the express intention of saving the whole human race, and that God the Holy Spirit is now seeking to win the world to Christ; when, as a matter of common observation, it is apparent that the great majority of our fellow-men are dying in sin, and passing into a hopeless eternity: is to say that God the Father is disappointed, that God the Son is dissatisfied, and that God the Holy Spirit is defeated. We have stated the issue baldly, but there is no escaping the conclusion. To argue that God is "trying His best" to save all mankind, but that the majority of men will not let Him save them, is to insist that the will of the Creator is impotent, and that the will of the creature is omnipotent. To throw the blame, as many do, upon the Devil, does not remove the difficulty, for if Satan is defeating the purpose of God, then, Satan is Almighty and God is no longer the Supreme Being. (A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, Revised Edition, 1961, page 21.)

“But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3, NASB).

God is sovereign! What more needs to be said? I am very thankful for my pastor who diligently proclaims the all-powerful God of the Bible!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Bible Speaks With Accuracy

by My Anonymous Friend

I discovered something interesting recently. The cycle of water that we observe in nature was actually known by the Romans as early as 30 BC. An engineer named Marcus Vitruvius understood what we know as the hydrologic water cycle. Ecclesiastes, Amos and Job all speak of it many hundreds of years earlier. Matthew Maury (1806-1873) is known as the father of oceanography. He read about the "paths of the sea" in Psalm 8 and used this concept to develop his ideas about ocean currents. What we take for granted today... that all water continually moves in a never ending cycle from the seas to the skies to the land and back to the sea to repeat the cycle, and that water moves in currents of the ocean, was discovered by men but mentioned in the Bible from the very beginning.

This may not be a profound revelation to you but to me it is once again a reminder that the Bible speaks with accuracy and truth in all it declares. Sometimes it is generations ahead of itself and we are slow to understand what it reveals. When we do not understand it is not the Bible with the problem. It is us! We do not know everything. We did not always know about the water cycle. We were unaware of ocean currents. We did not know the earth was round at one time either. The Bible declared all these concepts all along. What have we not yet discovered that the Bible has been stating all along? I wonder!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

All Who Come are Secure

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:35-40, NASB).
 
This passage and others like it are frequently ignored in Bible studies, because such passages bring up many questions that we often find easier to ignore than to address. The truths found here tend to be ignored, marginalized, or explained away today. It is important to recognize the balance found in the Scriptures. On the one hand, we know that the Bible teaches us about human responsibility. On the other hand, we see the sovereignty of God. Today things are out of balance. There is far too much emphasis on the human side and far too little emphasis on the Divine side.
 
Jesus claimed to be “the bread of life.” This tells us that He is the very source of and sustainer of life. Without physical food, we die physically. Without Him, there can be no life. Salvation is totally of the Lord, and it is by His grace.
 
Those who come to Christ and believe in Him will “never hunger” and “never thirst.” The use of the word “never” teaches us that salvation is eternal. We can NEVER lose our salvation. Many really resist this truth, because it takes away all pretense of human ego. Not only can we not save ourselves, but we cannot keep ourselves saved. Salvation is all of grace and not even partially of works, “...so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9, NASB).
 
Some of those who saw Christ and witnessed His miracles did not believe in Him. How often do we hear it said that if we could just see miracles, it would be so much easier to believe? Yet, many saw those miracles, but only some believed. The same is true today. Many know about Jesus Christ and what He did, yet they do not believe, because it is the nature of sinful man to reject the truth.
 
All those given to the Son by the Father will come to the Son. This certainly tells us that there are those who are not given to the Son, because if all are given to the Son, then all will come to the Son. That is not going to happen. The Scriptures make it clear that many will reject salvation and be eternally condemned. Those who have not believed are condemned already. Those who are given to the Son will come to Him and be saved. When the Gospel is preached, it is preached for this purpose. What an encouragement it is to servants of the Lord to know that it is never a waste of effort to proclaim the Gospel, because His Word will accomplish its purpose and there will be results! “…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, ESV).
 
No one who comes to Christ will ever be “cast out.” Here again, we have biblical support for the doctrine of “perseverance of the saints,” which means that true believers will endure, because they have been “born again” or “born from above.” There is a reason the Lord used “birth” as an illustration of salvation. People understand that no one can ever be “unborn.” Once we come into this world, our parents will always be our parents, no matter what may happen. Birth cannot be reversed and made as if it had never happened. In the same way, once someone is born again, they cannot become “unborn.” Since birth is a permanent arrangement, those who have been born again cannot be other than a child of our Heavenly Father for all eternity.
 
The one who came from heaven, God the Son, came to do His Father’s will, and that perfect will is that all those the Father gives the Son will come to the Son, that the Son will lose none of them, and that the Son will raise ALL of them up at the last day. Here again we find the doctrine of “perseverance of the saints.” This doctrine is a great comfort to believers.
 
The same truth is once again repeated. When God says something once, it is very important. When He repeats it a second time or even a third or fourth time, it is EXTREMELY important, and He wants us to hear it. Sometimes we are slow learners, and we need to hear something several times. This passage concludes with another reference to our resurrection and a mention of the fact that we have “eternal life.” Somehow, the definition of eternal life gets twisted around to mean just about everything but what it actually means. It is not a difficult concept. Eternal life is life, the source of which is Christ, which is eternal (never ending, not even when we sin). What could be clearer? Eternal life is a present possession, and if it could ever end, then it would not be “eternal” and God would be less than truthful, which means He would not really be God. He cannot go back on His promises. That is why I frequently say, “My salvation is as secure as the integrity of God.” That is as secure as anything gets.
 
God gets to be God, whether we like it or not. Does this fact eliminate human responsibility? Absolutely not. Do I completely understand that? Not really. I can only humbly believe what God has said. He does not contradict Himself. Scripture complements itself; it does not contradict itself. Whether we understand it or not and whether we like it or not, when someone comes to Christ for salvation, God gets all the glory, and when someone is condemned, he gets all the credit for his own condemnation. It is interesting that even many who believe salvation is a matter of the will of man will pray to God for the salvation of their friends and loved ones. I am not really sure why they do that, unless they somehow suspect that God is really more in control of things than they are willing to admit. The fact that we go to God in prayer indicates tacit agreement with the fact that God really does get to be God, and He is in charge.
 
God is sovereign. Man is responsible. An unbeliever cannot blame God for his lost condition. A redeemed man cannot take credit for his salvation. That is what the Bible teaches. God does not ask us, in our limited ability, to understand every detail. He only asks us, in simple childlike faith, to believe what He has said.
 
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18, NKJV).
 
"He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36, NKJV).
 
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28, KJV).


 

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Significant Sequence of Events

by My Anonymous Friend

I have been curious sometimes why Gospel writers under the direction of the Holy Spirit recorded certain events in the sequence they did. These events are not always in chronological order and sometimes time passes in between one incident and another.

A good example is Luke 5. The chapter begins with the miracle of the fish catch. The next narrative is about a leper healed. The third "cameo" in this chapter concerns the paralytic who was lowered through the tiles of a roof so he could get near Jesus and be healed.

So why are these three events following each other? I wish to offer a suggestion. It can be said that each of them teach a lesson about the human condition. Let me show you what I mean:

Fishing story – Peter responds, "Get away from me, I am a sinful man." A most unusual response we could say. Jesus said to him, "Be not afraid!"

Leper – Dr. Luke reminds us that this man was full of leprosy. In light of biblical teaching about leprosy we could say he was HOPELESSLY sick. Jesus said to this man, "I am willing to heal you!"

Paralytic – Had to be helped by others. He was HELPLESSLY sick. Jesus called this man "Friend!"

Do you see the progression?

Fear,.... hopelessness.... and helplessness. Then.... Do not be afraid,..... I am willing,..... Friend!

A beautiful picture we have here. Our initial response to God may well be fear. When we are made aware of His presence as Peter was, we shrink back in fear and terror. But Jesus tells us not to be afraid. Leprosy is a frequent picture of the pervasiveness of sin. Luke takes pains to let us know that the person was full of leprosy. The paralytic was entirely helpless. He needed others to bring him to Jesus. We too are hopelessly and helplessly lost and in need of healing.

The response by Jesus in each instance is fantastic. Who would not be comforted to hear Him say, "Do not be afraid." Who would not be thrilled to hear Him say, "I am willing to heal and cleanse you!"? Many believe their "leprosy" is too far advanced or beyond healing. Not so! Who would not be thrilled to hear Jesus say, "Friend" and to continue to hear the words, "Your sins are forgiven you!"?

Well these are some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for a time. I hope they give you occasion to think and to realize that these three cameos present a beautiful picture to us of God's grace and love.