Recommended approach

Sojourner's paradigm challenges atheists and skeptics to make a shift in the way they examine and approach the claims of the Bible and Christianity. It is best to first watch the gospel message video and read the foundational truth of God. Other blogs speak on a variety of topics.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Keep on keepin' on

The Bible has much to say about the need to persevere. Right away the question might be, if Christ is doing his work within us, what need is there to persevere? Perseverance is not the same as working our way towards acceptance by God. In fact, perseverance is an opportunity to strengthen our faith as the trials of life come our way. The definition of perseverance according to Encarta dictionary is a steady and continued action or belief, usually over a long period and especially despite difficulties or setbacks. James had this to say about the subject, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:3-4. Therefore perseverance is an integral component of our maturity in Christ. In the 5th chapter of Romans Paul points out that we rejoice in our sufferings, “because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Without perseverance, the Christ follower would stagnate. The Christian’s character, his or her heart, would not develop. We would lose hope.
We may at times feel that life has become too difficult. We may feel that God has abandoned us. We need to be reminded that Christ himself persevered. The same Spirit which strengthened and empowered Christ lives within those who call upon the name of the Lord. “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” Romans 8:11. One of the ways, then, to persevere, is to stay connected to Christ. In the same way we must stay connected to the Word of God and to His Church. We may often find Christians isolating themselves during times of testing. Peter, when asked by Christ why he and the other disciples did not abandon him after so many others did so, answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68. Such should be our attitude.
One aspect of perseverance is often the need to wait. Waiting is something most of us to not tolerate very well. Counselees will want to overcome issues quickly but we can point them to such passages as Psalm 27:14 which reads, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
We also need to understand and act upon one more component of perseverance. If we are to persevere, we must continually pray. Jesus is our model. During his earthly ministry he often went aside to pray. He knew his strength came from his Father. In Luke 6:12 we are told that Jesus, “… spent the night praying to God.” Paul wrote in Phil 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Paul once spoke of a brother in the Lord named Epaphras who wrestled in prayer for the believers. Prayer is hard work. Instead of striving in our own energy and strength, we should strive, or persevere, in prayer.
The ability to persevere is not its own reward in this lifetime only. James tells us, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12. The writer of Hebrews provides us with a portrait of the who’s who of faith and an example for us to follow. “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Heb. 11:39-40. Then we have these propitious words written to spur us on towards endurance. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Heb. 12:1. How is this possible? “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Heb. 12:2-3. This is a message every believer needs to take to heart.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Does the Lord really understand and care about my struggles?

The writer of Hebrews was making a case for Jesus as Lord over all heaven and earth. The Hebrews (Jews) were deeply entrenched in the ceremonial law along with the duty of the high priest. It was the high priest’s job to enter the holy of holies and make atonement for the nation of Israel. The high priest was to represent the people of God. The writer of Hebrews then correlates this position to Jesus, our definitive High Priest, who has entered heaven, making atonement for our sins, but just as importantly, representing mankind. Just as the earthly high priest was, “… able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray…” (Heb. 5:2a), Jesus too, our heavenly High Priest is able to do the same. He is able to do this, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are yet was without sin.” Heb. 4:15. As such the writer then concludes this thought in verse 16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

You may not feel this when the pain and struggles of life overtake you. Even so, this truth is one upon which you can stand.  For Christ himself empathizes and understands your feelings. Why? Because He too was tempted just as we are. He too met the same challenges as you or I. He grieved as when he considered the lost condition of Israel. He shed tears upon the death of Lazarus and the anguish of those around him. He cried out to his heavenly Father during his own time of need.  He too patiently endured during his time of pain and anguish.

Since the sinless Jesus was tempted just as we are, he also was able to overcome the temptation. Having the Spirit of Christ residing within those who have received Christ as Savior, we too have the ability and power to say “no” to temptation. This is our hope by which we wait patiently for the Lord’s work within us. Paul writes this in Romans 8:26, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” All of us have had those moments of trials where we did not know what to do or pray. These verses from Romans and Hebrews, along with many more, can reassure us that our troubles have not gone without notice. Christ knows and understands our condition. Our job, then, is to wait patiently upon our Savior while we seek to know Him more and more.  We can begin to understand the human side of Christ as well as His sovereign power, omniscience, and ability to see us through and overcome life’s most difficult challenges.

Since the Lord knows and understands our struggles, He has not left us without resources to see us through those times of need.  In fact, life itself is a struggle.  Where do we go to find the help we need?  Read carefully these words from 2 Peter 1:3, "... His divine power has granted to us everything we need for life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence."  In order to overcome the issues of life, we need to know Jesus more and more.  How?  God tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16:  "All Scripure is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."  The Scriptures are our source for overcoming all of life's needs. 

Yes.  The Lord understands and cares about your struggles.  The key is to go to Him and His Word to see you through the issues of life.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why did Jesus Christ die?

The answer to why Christ died can be answered from several different perspectives. For what purpose did Christ die would be one of those perspectives. “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” 1 Cor. 15:3. Paul mentions in the above passage that Christ died “according to the Scriptures…” This means that Christ’s sacrifice was prophesied throughout the Old Testament. The first reference, as vague as it is, is found in Genesis 3:15 where it reads, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” The serpent (Satan) will strike or bruise the heel of the woman’s offspring (Christ). Yet, Christ will crush the head of Satan. This passage alludes to the fact that Satan will attack Christ thinking he has annihilated him. But Jesus Christ’s victory over death means he has “crushed” the head of Satan. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 1 Cor. 15:55. Christ’s death and resurrection has made Satan powerless in the life of the believer. We are given a prophetic account of Christ’s death in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are heeled.” Isaiah 53:5.

Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome thoroughly covers the necessity for Christ’s death and resurrection. God has a standard by which he pronounces his requirements of mankind. It is called the Law. If anyone would desire to be found acceptable to God, one way is to be obedient to that law. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matt. 5:48. However, we are faced with a tragic fact. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. Paul also adds, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Romans 3:20. But then Paul begins to reveal the reason for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22a. God’s law handed down to Moses required animal sacrifice as a means of atoning for Israel’s sin. The writer of Hebrews explained that, “The law is only a shadow of the good things to come- not the realities themselves.” Heb. 10:1. He then adds, “because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” Heb. 10:4. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, died as the “sacrificial lamb” to take away the sins of the world once and for all. His sacrifice for sins accomplished much on our behalf. All of these accomplishments can be wrapped up in this one declarative statement: We get God back.

Although Christ’s sacrifice was prophesied in Scripture and fulfills God’s plan for redeeming mankind, there is a second reason Jesus Christ died. Sinful men put Jesus upon that cross. Jesus claimed equality with God. His message and the claims he made about himself threatened the power controlled by the hierarchy of Judaism and perhaps the authority of Rome. Before we point the finger of judgment upon those who brought about Jesus Christ’s death, we must realize that three fingers are pointing back at us. We put Jesus upon that cross. It was our rebellion. It was our desire to rule our own lives apart from God’s authority that necessitated Christ’s death.

There is a third reason Christ died. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. God’s love for us, as sinful and as rebellious as we are, sent Jesus to the cross.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The role of anthropology in Biblical counseling

Political and societal factions are battling it out within today’s American culture to determine what should be classified as “normal” acceptable behavior. As recently as the mid 60’s society found cigarette smoking perfectly normal behavior, even among the clergy. That view has now changed. Sexual involvement between unmarried partners was once considered by Americans as something “good girls and boys” simply didn’t do. Today it is flaunted and considered odd if not regularly practiced by dating individuals. According to A.C. Neilson, the average Americans spends at least 4 hours per day glued to their TV sets being fed all kinds of “normal” and “deviant” behavior and attitudes as defined by the writers of television programs. And we swallow it whole. In an attempt to study and define people, we are left to basing our conclusions on whichever criteria we deem is an “acceptable standard.” When American culture is combined with a myriad of cultures from around the globe and then examining these findings along with historical data, we can see that a study of mankind can be quite an undertaking. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A good place to begin an anthropological view of man is to first examine the Creator of man. Every creator has a purpose and standard for his or her creation. An artist’s desire is that his artwork convey an idea as defined by the artist. A builder builds his structure for a specific purpose as defined by that builder. In studying a painting or a structure, the question always becomes, what did the artist or builder have in mind? The same holds true in the study of mankind. An evolutionary view states that man has evolved from a lower form of life without the benefit of a creator. The Bible, on the other hand, states just the opposite. The evolutionary view has no basis upon which to draw any conclusions about the purpose or nature of mankind. The conclusions are based solely upon the one making those conclusions. Carl Marx had one view. Sigmund Freud had another. Darwin, Kinsey, Skinner, Pavlov, Watson, and many others have a variety of views concerning … us. Take your pick. The Bible is the only document which claims to provide us with an authoritative word concerning God’s design for man. The authority of scripture has already been examined and discussed. The Bible, therefore, transcends all other views of mankind. If we are to believe the Bible, then an accurate view of man’s nature and an analysis of “normal” behavior can be obtained.

The nature of man has already been discussed. The next question in counseling might be, “what is considered normal behavior?” Psychology might define “normal” as nothing more than the “average” behavior of any given society. Since the Bible tells us what to expect from different attitudes and behaviors then we are wise to heed those admonitions and warnings from Scripture. The Bible states the problem; sin and the nature of fallen mankind. Abnormal behavior then is a life controlled by that sin nature. The Bible gives us the answer; Christ and the new nature we can obtain for overcoming the issues of life. Normal behavior then is a life controlled by the Holy Spirit given to us upon our decision to follow Christ.

Since life’s trials and troubles still plague us even upon our conversion to Christ’s life, the counselor’s role becomes one of replacing error with truth and then holding the counselee accountable. If the counselee does not hold to the Biblical view of the nature of man, then he or she is left to consider the best ideas of man, apart from God’s directives.  They will still be trying to make it through life and its many obstacles the best they know how, where they are depending upon that four pound mass of tissue between their ears as their final authority in life.

Monday, February 15, 2010

All for One and One for All - a view of the Trinity

Visit any Jewish Synagogue and you will hear the “Shama”, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Deuteronomy 6:4. Christians, of course, will also stand upon this verse, for it is a foundational principle in the worship of our Lord. How then do we justify the doctrine of the Trinity? The Trinity is the doctrine stating that God exists as three persons in one; The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Let’s examine the Biblical basis for this doctrine.

To be properly interpreted, every passage of scripture must support and align with other passages of scripture. For instance, the very first words of Scripture found in Genesis declare, “In the beginning God…” Gen. 1:1. And yet, 26 verses later we read, “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” Gen. 1:26a. These words immediately provide a hint of the Trinity. Jesus, upon his ascension commanded that we, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Matthew 28:19.

Throughout the Old Testament, many references are made to the Spirit of God. In most cases, these passages refer to the Holy Spirit as an extension of the Lord. For instance, in Isaiah 63:11b-121a, Isaiah writes, “Where is he who set his Holy Spirit among them, who sent his glorious arm of power to be at Moses’ right hand…”.

Isaiah again in verse 10a states, “Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.” In these passages the Holy Spirit is given a separate identity and yet also given equal status with God.

Jesus often referred to God as “my Father”. Although there are a few passages found in the Old Testament referring to God as Father, it was considered by the Jews blasphemous to claim such an intimate relationship with God. By referring to God as “my Father”, the Jews recognized that Jesus was claiming equal status with God. In John 5:18 we read, “For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” Satan himself recognized this unique status of Jesus. Satan tempted Jesus with these words, “If you are the Son of God…”. During Jesus’ transfiguration, God referred to Jesus as his Son. (Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35) Jesus never denied this divinity. He did not deny his own equal status with his heavenly Father. On one occasion, he told the Jews, “I tell you the truth… before Abraham was born, I am.’ At this they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” John 8:58-59. Jesus’ claim as the only begotten Son of God is prophetically verified throughout the Old Testament. In the 9th chapter of Isaiah, he makes a prophetic announcement when he writes, “Unto us a child is born, to us a son is given… and he will be called Mighty God, Everlasting Father…” Isaiah 9: (portions of verse 6). Jesus told his followers, “I and the Father are one.” John 10:30. On another occasion the disciple Philip said to Jesus, “…show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” John 14:9a. Jesus answered Philip by saying, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” John 14:9b. Other passages such as this once again support the doctrine of the Triune God: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Referring once again to our Lord’s ascension; before giving us our great commission to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Jesus emphatically declares, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matt. 28:18b. This is a great reminder to us that it is through Jesus we come to know God. Each Person of the Trinity provides everything we need in life. Through our Father we gain acceptance. Through the Son we gain forgiveness. Through the Holy Spirit we gain purpose and the power we need to live the Christian life. The doctrine of the Trinity is a solid three legged foundation upon which we can stand.

For God's sake, who am I?

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27. Having heard this verse all my life, I grew up never considering mankind as anything other than what it declares. But in today’s culture where even this simple truth is questioned, it becomes necessary to defend it. Voices in science and academia want us to believe that we are nothing more than a higher form of animal. In Genesis 2:7 we read that, “the Lord formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The implication is that God breathed His life into Adam. We are not told that God breathed life into the animals he created. Solomon pondered this issue when he wrote, “Or Who knows the spirit of man, which rises upward, or the spirit of the animal, which goes down into the earth.” Eccl. 3:21. When animals die their life goes with them into the ground. When man dies, while his body goes back to the “dust of the ground”, his spirit is returned to God from whence it came. As living souls created in the “image” and “likeness” of God who are to rule over all other created beings, God elevates us to a higher status than merely a more evolved animal on the evolutionary chain. Included within that status is an astonishing responsibility. As such, our value is immeasurable… but here is where we must insert a comma. Despite the value God placed upon us, Adam and Eve relinquished their God given standing, charge, and relationship with God and with one another. Their decision to sin has affected man’s self image and standing before God ever since. In the 5th chapter of Romans Paul points out that death entered mankind through Adam’s sin and, likewise, to all of us because we all sin. That sin has likewise affected our own view of ourselves. Man tries to define himself apart from God’s divine design.

The Bible indicates that mankind is endowed with a body, soul, spirit, and a heart (not the blood pumping organ). Let’s face it. Most of us focus more attention on our bodies in contrast to our inward being. As Christ followers we know that our body is the “temple” of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19) and therefore should be taken care of. It is through our earthly bodies that our Lord’s work will be accomplished on earth. Even bodies which are paralyzed or crippled through disease will accomplish God’s task as long as we are controlled by God’s Holy Spirit. We are told in Romans to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice”, meaning we are to offer ourselves continually as dying to self and living for Christ who died on our behalf.

The Bible speaks often of our souls. The Bible does not provide us with a well defined definition of the soul. However, the Bible describes our soul as the very essence of who we are inwardly. Perhaps even without our bodies, we would be recognized by our soul in the spirit realm. David often wrote about the condition of his own soul. In the Psalms 42 and 43 David lamented, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?” David then in Psalm 35:9 says, “Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD and delight in his salvation.” This suggests that our souls can find both sadness or joy depending upon the control we give it. This is where it appears the spirit of a man enters the picture. Encompased within our soul is what the Bible calls the “spirit” of man. There is debate over whether the reference to both soul and spirit are one in the same or separate. The prophet Isaiah quoted God when he wrote, “ I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me— the breath of man that I have created.” Isaiah 57:16. Job’s friend, Elihu, who had come to provide Job with comfort and support, spoke these words, “But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding. Job 32:8. The spirit of man is the life substance given to us by God. The spirit of man appears to be our spiritual conduit with God contained within our soul. The Bible also speaks about the “heart” of man. It is the heart of man which truly defines who he is. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Sam. 16:7b. Our hearts can be hardened or softened towards God. For instance, Scripture says that Pharoah hardened his heart towards God. But it also says that David had a heart for God. When scripture talks about the “heart and soul” of man, this encompasses the entirety of our inward being. Without Christ reining within our heart, we are under the compulsion of our sin nature. Our intellect and thoughts, the choices we make, our affections, conscience, and our emotional responses are under the control of that nature. Consequently our spirit is not “alive with Christ” (Eph 2:5 or Col. 2:13). When Christ reigns upon the throne of our soul, His Spirit gives life to our spirit making us alive with Christ. Consequently, our heart begins to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, making us more like Christ.

David reflects upon the majesty of God and condition of man when he writes, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:3-5. We too should take pause to consider that the great God of creation places such value on us. As such, the question becomes how do we reclaim and fully realize our God given honor. “For just as the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:19. Christ’s life becomes our life. We once again regain our God given standing. We also regain an accurate view of ourselves. We are sons and daughters of God. We are brothers and sisters of Christ and with one another. We become fully aware of our inestimable worth having the distinguished honor of bringing glory to our heavenly Father. For such is our ultimate purpose.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Does God really know everything? Even the future?

In almost the exact center of the Bible is found a passage of scripture which clearly portrays the omniscience of God. “Oh Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise, you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out, and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” Psalm 139:1-6. From the first words of Genesis to the last words of Revelation, God’s omniscience is clearly seen. The characters revealed, the events which transpired, the prophecies foretold and fulfilled, and the messianic ribbon woven throughout the pages of scripture; all impart an epic as if written by the pen of one great Novelist. Our all knowing God is that Author, and yet it was mankind’s individual choices seemingly made apart from God’s direct influence which lays out the story of God’s plan for redeeming us from our oppressive captivity.

We tend to think of eternity as a “very long time.” Our minds think in terms of sequential events. That happened back then. This is happening now. Something else will happen in the future. The Bible, however, presents eternity as the always present NOW. Prophetic accounts in Scripture are often quoted as if they have already happened. Isaiah wrote 700 years before Christ was born into this world, “He was pierced for our transgressions…” Isaiah 53:5. In Revelation 13:8 John refers to Christ as “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” All of this is to say that God knows our future just as certainly as our past. He not only perceives all things, He is the great Conductor orchestrating all events; past, present, and future, together in the eternal NOW.

Let’s pull the car over for a moment and consider another point. “But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:16-17. Pause and let that sink in for a moment. Now listen up. Let those who love to debate open theism against God’s omniscience do so beyond the earshot of these little children. For a child simply wants to know that his parent loves him, cares for him, and will protect him as he grows to maturity. Such should be our attitude.

But for the sake of the question asked regarding open theism, I will deal with the issue. Open theism is a term which has a broad range of definitions, depending upon whose definition one cares to consider. It seems to me to be a doctrine which falls within the inference of this passage of scripture, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.” Titus 3:9. Never-the-less, open theism is basically a doctrine which says that God does not know the future and will change according to human choices, actions, prayers, and circumstances of the present. Several verses can certainly be sited to support this premise. For instance, we read in Exodus the account where the Israelites rebelled at the foot of Mount Sinai. We pick up at Exodus 32:9 where God is speaking, “I have seen these people,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.’ But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. ‘O Lord,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was the evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth?’ Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” Exodus 32:9-14. Did the Lord really forget his promise to Abraham? Was he going to change his original plan? Did he need to be reminded of his promise or need to repent? I would strongly suggest that these verses do little to support the ideas of open theism, and do more to support the notion of God’s faithfulness, mercy, and sovereignty while also providing for us a portrait of our responsibility and privileges as God’s chosen people. This passage was presented in such a way that we are able glean the very message God intends for us to grasp. As we consider this episode in Biblical history and examine it along with every other historical event in scripture, we begin to see that God was working out his plan all along, even taking into account the many choices Biblical characters were making. Without events taking place exactly as the Bible imparts them to us, the very heart and soul of his plan would not have been accomplished. I would even suggest that Adam and Eve’s fall in Eden is precisely what needed to take place for God’s intended plan to be realized. Names given to children by their parents, names of cities and nations, choices made by Godless men, prayers lifted up to God, reckless acts by Israel’s righteous and unrighteous rulers alike; all were under the sovereign hand of a God who is all knowing and all powerful. Did these people make individual choices? Yes. Were they orchestrated by God? Yes. While human understanding and reason want to deny the compatibility of these two truths, the scriptures will not allow us to do so. Both are true.

Our brains, as wondrous as they might be, have limitations put upon them by our Creator. The ways of God cannot always be grasped. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8

Picture this. Suppose we all lived in a two- dimensional world. The third dimension does not exist. We are much like line drawings on paper. That is all we know or can follow with our two dimensional brain. Then suppose God were to put his finger tip on the plane of our world. What would we see? All we would be able to see and comprehend is a round flat blob. This illustrates the point I am making. Our minds on this side of eternity have limitations placed upon them by God.

The counselee, like a child coming to Jesus, needs to know that his or her heavenly Father is in control of life’s destiny. God will see them through their struggles. He gives them his Holy Spirit which gives them the means to overcome. Do they have individual choices to make? Absolutely. Can they read in scripture those whose choices produced tragedy? Yes. Can they read in scripture where those who chose obedience were able to overcome? Yes. Can they come to realize that this world is passing away and that it only offers temporal pleasures compared to the eternal joy provided by God? They can only do so if they believe that their heavenly Father is an all knowing, all powerful, and ever-present God. Praise be to God.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Just a little bit about our heavenly Father

Jesus was speaking to a crowd who had gathered. He spoke of many things. At one point he said, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Matthew 11:27.

Before we can know the attributes and character of God, we must first come to know Christ. Otherwise the human heart will form all kinds of erroneous images of God. Since we have already addressed the issue of the authority of God’s Word, we can move on to discovering the glorious picture Scripture unfolds to us regarding our heavenly Father.

The Lord our God is sovereign, meaning there is no greater power than God and He alone reigns supreme. Scripture is replete with this message. King David wrote, “Yours, O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” David was not stating anything that God himself had not already declared. David suffered hardship but he still clung to this truth. Christ himself placed himself in submission to God the Father. The Psalms of scripture are there for a reason. When we grow weary and wonder if God is really in control of our lives, we can learn from the Psalmist. For there we are reminded of God’s supreme rule. Contained within God’s sovereign rule we find the truth that God is unchanging (immutable). A husband announces to his wife after 17 years of marriage that he now wants out of the marriage. She feels betrayed. A boss promised a promotion to a dedicated employee but then changes his mind and promotes another. While people are prone to let us down, causing us heartache and misery, our Father in heaven is different. The prophet Samuel turned to Saul and said these words, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man that he should change his mind.” 1 Samuel 15:29. God does not lie. He is immutable which means he does not change. He can be counted upon. When everyone else lets us down, God will not. It is true we do not always understand why God allows certain trials to come our way. But wrapped up within God’s unchanging nature are the very attributes which allow God to work in different ways according to various circumstances. For instance, while God is a just God which means he will always act in a right and just manner towards an offense, “ He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” Deut. 32:4, He is also a merciful God which means he forgives offenses as well. “ The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him;” Daniel 9:9. The sacrifice of Christ enables him to do what is right and just as well as show mercy to those who sin.

God is our Father. We may casually pass this attribute off without much thought. “I will be a father to you and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Cor. 6:18. God is, “A Father to the fatherless…” Psalm 68:5a. Jesus compared our heavenly Father to an earthly father who is eager to give his children gifts. If we are Christ followers then we are also members of God’s household. As such we have an inheritance far superior to any this world has to offer. When we feel our own earthly Father has let us down, we can know our heavenly Father cares for us.

God is Patient and Kind. Others may lose patience with us. We may even lose patience with ourselves. We want to try and do better and then mess up time and time again. “I must not fail. I do not want to let others down. I don’t want to let myself down”, might be our mantra. When we do fail we may then feel guilt and shame. It is at those times we are reminded of God’s patience with us. “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy.” Titus 3:4-5. He is not a wrathful God ready to zap us every time we falter. We can stop the guilt and shame knowing that God forgives and is gracious to restore us time and time again.

As such, “God is Faithful” 1 Cor. 1:9. He is faithful to his word. He has said that he is faithful to see us through this life. He is faithful to provide the resources and provisions we need for this life and to then receive us into his glory at the end of our lives. Do you worry about tomorrow? God knows all of the tomorrows. Even when people and circumstances and even Satan throw the most distressing burdens our way, God already knows about it, has ordained it so, and is giving us the tools we need to overcome any ordeal.

Finally, this verse from Zephaniah 3:17 should bring us a great deal of comfort as we meditate on the great love God has for us. "The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." - Zephaniah 3:17

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What does the Bible have to say about theological controversies?

Theological controversies have always plagued the Church, and before that, Judaism. Controversies within the Church have at times mistakenly been called “interpretive issues.” True, we must often rely on Bible translation to convey the accurate interpretation of the original text. And there are also interpretive issues within Scripture in which even the most astute theologians will disagree. Often, however, these matters of controversy have nothing to do with the interpretation of text. They more often deal with humanity wishing to adjust scripture to conform to its own set of beliefs and values. These controversies may deal with such matters as homosexuality, election vs. free will, ecumenical authority, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and numerous others. More often we see scripture being twisted or “interpreted” to conform to human or Church tradition, feelings, reason, experience, and societal norms. In every case, the authority of scripture must always be the basis for any accurate revelation of God’s message.

The Apostle Paul wrote these words to Timothy, “Keep reminding them (believers) of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth”. 2 Timothy 2:14-15. Paul also admonished Timothy in this way, “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” 1 Timothy 6:3-5. Then again Paul charges Timothy with these words, “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.” 1 Timothy 6:20-21. These passages reveal the absolute necessity of adhering to and correctly handling the Word of God. Correct interpretation of scripture must begin with a humble heart in submission to God’s authority through His scripture. A false understanding of the gospel message, or denying it altogether often leads to miss-interpretation of other passages of scripture. Paul had to confront Peter over the matter concerning circumcision. Peter was allowing peer pressure and a false gospel to lead him astray. Paul used the basic truth of the gospel to confront Peter. The matter was laid to rest. A false view of God can lead us in the wrong direction. We often want God to conform to our image of him rather than the other way around. When we allow these other elements such as human and Church traditions, feelings, reasoning, experience, or societal norms to supersede scripture, damaging consequences occur.

Another tendency by believers is to try and fill in the empty spaces, so to speak, of scripture with our own rational explanations. For instance, we often want to know what happens to infants when they die.  Before attempting to answer that question, the better question might be, “do you really need to know that?”, or is it that you simply “want to know that?” So we dig into scripture and when we don’t find what we consider a direct answer to our questions, we try and “fill in the blanks.” In many cases, the Lord is asking us to trust him. Is he faithful? Yes. Is he loving? Yes. Is he sovereign? Yes. In Deuteronomy 29:29, the passage reads, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” Rather than allowing such questions to become divisive and troublesome, we would do well to simply trust God with the unanswered questions. Rest in the knowledge that God is merciful, loving, and just. Hold fast to his revelations which he knows you need to know, not necessarily want to know.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:2-4 “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, or do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” It is not difficult to recognize this truth as it pertains to those who are “perishing”. Believers must guard against those individuals who clothe themselves in a cloak of Christianity, but inwardly wish only to devour and destroy the faith of others. (reference Matt. 7:15-16.) We would do well to follow the example of the Bereans who “were more noble than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11.

Finally, if and when these controversial theologies suddenly transpire in conversations with others, we must remember this admonition from Paul to Timothy, “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:24-25. Consider Jesus, who possessed all knowledge and understanding. Others incessantly threw controversial theological issues at him. As he ministered to others, he never became boisterous or argumentative. He was respectful. He was empathetic. It is true that he spoke and acted with authority, but not in a proud, demonstrative manner. He was meek which means he was powerful but self-controlled. He “spoke the truth in love.” (reference Ephesians 4:15). This “speaking the truth in love” comes from the fourth chapter of Ephesians. (Once we obtain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ), “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:14-15. If we are to grow up in truth, it will only occur under the authority of Christ. Paul associated this with unity of the body of believers. (Eph. 4:13) When will controversial issues cease? When we fall under the authority of Christ and are fully built up in Him.

Is God's revelation to us complete?

“Sola Scriptura” is a term handed down from the reformers meaning Scripture alone. It denotes the sufficiency and authority of scripture as God’s final revelation of himself to man until Christ returns once again for his Church. Some, among Christian circles will argue that God is continuing to reveal his message to man through various means. There is danger in entertaining this doctrine. The Lord’s final revelation comes to us as the New Testament’s final book by the same name. Inserted just before this prophetic account of future events is a short letter written by a little known author by the name of Jude. While referring his readers back to quotes from Old Testament scripture as well as references from the Apostles’ letters, Jude has little additional revelation to add. Instead, Jude is a book of warnings. After Jude’s salutation he immediately writes, “… I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Jude 3b. He then goes on to explain that certain individuals were slipping into the fellowship of believers and were distorting the message of the gospel. Jude then reminds his readers of the condemnation of such men from times past. His passionate message is ardent in its warnings to us about altering scripture. In his words “contend for the faith”, he is referring to the gospel message which encompasses the ultimate revelation of God to those who believe. By writing, “once for all entrusted to the saints”, he is referring to this final message as complete and authoritative. We in the Lord’s Church must “contend” for this final, complete, and authoritative revelation from our Lord. That’s why I am writing this article.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he writes that the Lord’s Church is built upon the foundation established by the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. (Eph. 2:19-20). “The apostles” is in reference to the New Testament writings which point to Christ our salvation. “The prophets” references the Old Testament prophecies pointing to Christ our salvation. Paul’s passionate plea is for God’s people to grasp the unfathomable riches (Eph. 3:8) found through God’s final message to man wrapped up in Jesus Christ.

Paul ends his letter to the Romans by declaring, “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made know through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him” (Romans 16:25-26). Paul, after presenting what may arguably be the best proclamation of the gospel where he pulls together all the previous mysteries of God into a final conclusion, once again emphasis the fact that God’s revelation has now been made known and complete to accomplish the task God intended, “that all nations might believe and obey.”

In another letter to the Corinthians, Paul urges believers by reminding them; “Do not exceed what is written.” (1 Corinthians 4:6) He points out that it is the Church’s task to be stewards of the message already delivered to them.

And yet, we humans still feel there must be more. Paul warned Timothy about such an attitude, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3) Some argue that the words in scripture do not address all the issues mankind faces. In 2 Peter 1:3, we read, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” We already have everything we need. Peter goes on to write, “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:4).

Even so, well meaning Christians continue to believe that God will pour out further revelation through such methods as continued prophecy which usually is uttered through tongues, astounding miracles, or gifted Prophets of God. They justify this belief by citing passages from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthians were, in fact, gifted by God in many respects. God was continuing to bring converts into the Church. His revelation was continuing to be manifested through miracles, prophecies, healings, and speaking in tongues. “For we know in part and we prophecy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). This suggests, once again, that God was still clarifying his message during this first century Church. The Canon of scripture had yet to be declared. The apostles were continuing to illuminate the message of God: Through Jesus Christ we get God back. All of the Old Testament law and prophets were now summed up in this message fulfilled by Christ. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Heb. 1:1-2a). (emphasis my own)

One would do well to read both of Paul’s letters to Timothy where he emphatically warns those who would want to add or distort the simple, clear, and foundational message of the Gospel. In Galatians he writes, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:8-9)

Pride keeps us from being satisfied with God’s final revelation found through the authority of scripture. We would do well to heed the final warning in the Bible found in Revelation 22:18-19, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

What is the difference between natural revelation and Biblical revelation?

Suppose that you had not been born but were created suddenly as a fully functioning, intelligent, and rational thinking adult. To help you imagine this, after reading this sentence I want you to close your eyes briefly then open them suddenly. Got it? Okay, close your eyes for a moment.

Poof! You have suddenly been created. Now look around at your surroundings. What questions might you ask? Perhaps some might be, “Where am I? Who am I? Who made me? Who made all of this? Why am I here?” General revelation, or natural revelation, can only partially answer these questions. As we peer up into the night sky we are awestruck at the vastness of the universe. As we look at the beauty of flowers, or examine the complex and yet, functioning human body, as we view the thousands, or perhaps millions of species of ocean life or watch the intricate workings of a spider as it weaves its web, as these things are revealed to us we cannot help but wonder who designed and created all of this immense and wonderful world and universe? Before any other revelation or explanation is provided, we are already privy to a few things. We may deduce that whoever created the universe must be an enormously superior and powerful being. We then begin to see how everything seems to work in harmony with other things. The seasons come and go with exact precision and consistency. The sun rises and it sets and then repeats the cycle to form an exact measurement of time. The moon cycles through its phases every 28 days. On and on it goes. We then realize this awesome being must be far more intelligent than our mind can conceive. We then experience a strange, but wonderful sensation. We discover it is called love and wonder where it originated. But then we discover the antithesis of this love. It shows up in the form of self centeredness, or even harmful actions by others directed towards us. And then we discover we too have a tendency towards concern only for our own interests. We discover evil and once again wonder why. We know there must be a reason for all of this. We realize there must be purpose in all of this. We realize we too must have some sort of purpose. We now want answers. We must have answers.

Look at the answers evolution supplies. The universe just occurred by happenstance. A big explosion started the ball rolling. This chaos somehow produced order. You too only came into existence by happenstance. There was no reason for your birth. All of the harmony you see around you in the universe occurred over billions of years of trial and error, so to speak. Life just suddenly occurred by some weird event which we can’t explain. There was no designer. There was no creator. You are a victim of chance. Just try and make it through this existence the best you can before you die and go back to being dust.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” Psalm 19:1-2. General revelation ideally can give us some clue as to God, but it cannot answer the big questions. It ideally should lead us to the source of further revelation. Before addressing Biblical revelation, one more issue must be brought up. The factor that keeps us from recognizing the existence of, and accountability to a Creator is a soul within us that is marred by sin. This sin nature within us wants to put our own explanations above any revelation from God. Either that or we want to pick and chose which revelations we will receive into our minds.

Biblical revelation explains general revelation. We have already discussed the inspiration and infallibility of Biblical revelation. The authority of scripture is a higher authority over any judgments we might make about general revelation.

Paul wrote a letter to the Romans where he states, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1:18-20. We are told that men are without excuse. God’s creation should draw us to him. Again, it is our sin nature which suppresses this truth. As Paul goes on to say, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…” Romans 1:22a. It is amazing to me that those individuals we deem as highly intelligent and wise who claim to know the truth concerning creation, can be so utterly foolish. Yes, the world around us reveals certain truths. Our challenge is to not distort those truths by our own pre-conceived notions about life. Again, general revelation should lead us to the source of answers found through Biblical revelation. For then, and only then, can we truly understand the mysteries of creation.

What does it mean that the Bible is infallible and why should it be my authority?

I grew up in the days when the Dallas Cowboys were referred to as God’s team. These were the days of Coach Tom Landry, and players like Roger Staubach and Randy White. The Cowboys were invincible. Everything they did was right and sure. They were, in my mind, infallible. As time progressed, my impressionable mind was discovering that the Cowboys were not infallible after-all. It soon became apparent that everything else was equally flawed. Who or what could I trust to stand firm? As I formed my view of the world, what was going to be the basis of my authority? Okay, I could see that God exists and must be pretty intelligent and grand. But how could I know for sure? I certainly wasn’t going to rely on my own brain to figure Him out. After-all, I was flawed as well. But even with my flawed mind I still needed something or someone to hold onto. There was truth and I just needed to discover it.

I did indeed discover the source of truth, or should I say it found me. I have already addressed the inspiration of scripture. This leads to the premise that it would therefore be infallible, or without error.

Proverbs 30:5 states, “Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.”

Since God’s Word is flawless, I can then hold it out as the final authority in my life and therefore use it as protection against errors and false attacks that will come against me. Psalm 33:4 states, “For the word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all he does.” These words do not convey the writer’s opinion, but asserts that whatever the Lord declares is true and therefore authoritative. As such, we can depend upon the Lord to be faithful to do what He declares. We are reminded repeatedly all throughout the 119th Psalm that God and his word are always true and reliable.

Is the Bible the authority over every area of my life? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, it is the final authority, even indirectly, over every issue in life. However, the Bible only addresses certain issues directly. We are blessed to live in an age where medical science has been able to locate and overcome the effects of disease. While we may regard medical science as the authority on matters of health and wellness, we can also read about God’s directives to the Nation of Israel concerning dietary and sanitation, and there discover that God was actually protecting them from disease. He was their source of health and well-being. Even when we benefit from the findings of medical science, we must not place those findings on a higher authoritative plane than God and His Word. We can see that the Bible is an authority both directly and indirectly over every issue in life.

God has granted us the privilege of discovery. In the 4th chapter of Genesis we learn that certain descendents from Adam became farmers and raised livestock. Other descendents became musicians. Still others were skilled in technology. Men and women became skilled in their pursuits. Much has been discovered and many inventions contribute to our world and lives. Every person may be an “authority” in his or her line of work or interests. God graciously blessed all of us in this regard. Still, we need to be certain that our pride does not try and supersede God’s authority.

Authority is a critical issue in Christendom. The Catholic Church believes that scripture is the product of the Church and, therefore, will hold Church doctrine and tradition as a higher authority over scripture. They will use scripture to try and justify this stance. Isn’t that interesting? This leads to the premise that the Pope is infallible. We are admonished in scripture to “test” those claiming to speak the words of God. In Deuteronomy the Israelites were even directed to “put to death” false prophets. The true prophets of the Old Testament have been found true and reliable against the test of history and alignment with God’s truth. In other words, contradictions do not occur in Scripture. Popes, on the other hand, along with many others who have claimed themselves as a higher authority over scripture have repeatedly been found wanting. Deception and corruption have repeatedly come out of so called Christian circles. Christ himself warned against false prophets. In Matthew 17 he declares, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” Matt 7:15-16a. Their lives reveal their false motives and false authority. We unfortunately see this played out on a regular basis on the media. Therefore, we are wise to trust in the authority of God’s word rather than the authority of men, no matter how convincing the argument supporting their claims.

Therefore, what is the relationship between infallibility and authority? Revelation has come from God through His Word. We must trust the authority of the infallible word of God.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is the Bible inspired by God?

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.’” Exodus 34:27. From these words found in the book of Exodus, we first gain a hint that perhaps the words found in scripture actually originated from the Spirit of God. All throughout the Bible we find the words, “the Lord spoke”, or “God said”, and similar phrases. Research finds that these phrases occur over 2100 times. Of course, many more variations of these words and expressions occur all throughout scripture, advocating the assertion that the words we read came directly from the Lord Himself.  In summary, this sets forth the premise that scripture is inspired by God. The word “inspired” denotes the fact that Scripture, while written by men, was actually authored by God.

Does this mean that all scripture was written under the inspiration of God?  Let’s examine the evidence. In Paul’s charge to Timothy he writes, “… and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (emphasis my own) II Timothy 3:15-17.

Paul was not only referring to what we would call the Old Testament. He knew that God was still in the process of setting forth His words to the Church. This same Paul, once known as Saul, had been a persecutor of Christians. When struck blind by Christ, he was directed to the house of a believer named Ananias. The Lord spoke to Ananias, saying, “Go! This man (Saul/Paul) is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (emphasis my own) Acts 9:15

Paul was not a man who merely developed a new religion. He was God’s chosen instrument to bring God’s message to us. Paul claimed the authority of Christ and warned against those who would bring “another gospel, another Christ, or another Spirit” (reference from 2 Corinthians 11:4).

Peter too claimed the authority of Christ in the words he wrote. In 2 Peter he reminds the converts that it is imperative that they remember the words being given to them. He says, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” 2 Peter 1:16. He then goes on to state, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (emphasis my own) 2 Peter 1:20-21. Those who want to claim that scripture is merely the words of men will do well to heed this admonition.

The apostle John referred to Jesus as “the Word”. By this he was denoting the fact that Jesus Christ was the fullness of God’s Word. He is seen throughout all of scripture as to his coming, his birth, his mission, his message, his very being, and his death. 1 Colossians 1:15-19 in speaking of Jesus states, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (emphasis my own) 1 Col. 1:15-19. This is quite a claim but is essential towards establishing the truth and inspiration of Scripture. If Christ were not the “fullness of God”, and if his mission of salvation were not true then we would have good reason to question the authority and inspiration of scripture.

Jesus, in speaking to a large crowd of followers said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (emphasis my own) Matthew 5:17-18. Jesus himself was giving support to the authority and truth of scripture even to the smallest stroke of the pen.

Even more evidence can be provided to support the premise that “All scripture is God breathed…”  2 Timothy 3:15. What it all comes down to is a choice. Either God has left it up to us to try and figure out His truth by whatever means we can find or decide came from Him, or He has chosen to reveal his truth to us through the medium of his choice. That medium is His Word, the Bible.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Letter to atheists, skeptics, and those fed up with Christians and their message

I want to challenge you with the following claim.

God does not need nor does He even desire to prove His existence to you.

Does this statement sound a bit arrogant to you? After-all, who am I to speak for God?  Nevertheless, my assertion is that those trusting in their own innate ability to scrutinize the existence of God may need to embrace that statement before it is even possible to come to the truth concerning God’s existence.
The entire subject concerning God’s existence must be approached from an entirely different paradigm or perspective than the one many people use in drawing their conclusions.
Approaching a subject from a different paradigm will often bring clarity along with a new perspective.  Consider the magician who has you completely stumped by his sleight of hand.  You spend hours wracking your brain but to no avail.  Then comes the “ah ha” moment when the illusionist reveals the secret.  He provided a new paradigm and suddenly the seemingly impossible is perfectly obvious.  Simply put, one must examine a problem, challenge, or belief from a completely different point of view before ascertaining the definitive truth. Until a new paradigm or method of examining a situation changes, a comprehension of the truth may not occur. In a sense, this is the challenge I am making.
Proving God’s existence is not the main issue. 
When it comes to resolving the existence of God, the false assumption is that a person must somehow obtain enough evidence to convince him or herself that God exists. That is the old paradigm and it must shift before a realization of the truth is even possible. The problem is not for lack of evidence.  The evidence for God is overwhelming.  Much of this evidence could be brought forward but that is not the intent of this article.  The snag comes in our reliance upon a potentially flawed four pound mass of tissue between our ears, our brain, as our final authority in judging the truth of God’s existence.  How much evidence is enough to satisfy you? How much evidence is enough to satisfy someone else?  Maybe you would disagree.  In fact, you may be quite certain that God does not exist and wonder how any intelligent person could conclude otherwise.  Believers in God are delusional you say.  If God were real, then surely He would supply enough evidence to make his existence apparent to everyone (I am not claiming that God has not made his existence clear to all).  Then perhaps intelligent and rational thinking would prevail and settle the issue.  Perhaps you feel that modern science along with centuries of knowledge is enough to disprove the existence of God.   I would suggest to you that all of our greatest tools of discovery and even God’s best undeniable and verifiable evidence is still not enough to overcome the real issue which has nothing to do with determining whether God exists.  Once the subject is approached from a different paradigm, you may come to realize that God planned it that way all along.   Perhaps at this point you are expecting me to say something along the lines of, “therefore we must just have faith that he exists.” Actually, no, that is not going to be my argument. And that is because the matter regarding God’s existence is not resolved by our own inborn ability to resolve it.  Keep tracking with me. 
The difficulty in discovering God stems for our inward nature.
In other words, (and this is an easy one to believe) people everywhere are messed up. Our inborn nature along with the influence of the world around us has tainted our minds, our choices, our affections, and our emotions.  On top of that, everyone is left with his or her own interpretation of the truth.  Much of the world’s problems are in part, due to this fact.   My assertion is that all of mankind does not have the ability to make a grand, unified truthful and good conclusion about anything. ANYTHING!  
Our minds are like a computer that has been corrupted by a virus.  It cannot correctly process data. 
The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick.  Who can understand it?”  (Jeremiah 17:9).  Do you doubt this?  Not only does the Bible make this claim, but an honest appraisal of society substantiates this truth.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he says, “Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar…,” (Romans 3:4a)
God alone is righteous and true.  Not us. In a society that promotes relative truth, one man’s right is another man’s wrong. One man’s truth is another man’s error. I would suggest that this wretched state we are in is an obvious fact, but even that would be challenged by someone.
I am hoping that you and I can agree on that.
Who is on the throne?
Picture this. One day you are going about your daily routine when suddenly a massive glowing being standing thousands of feet high, well up into the clouds, appears before you. Maybe He appears before everyone.  His majesty is so great that it knocks you to your knees. You are blinded by the glorious light. You fear for your life but then he suddenly smiles at you and it’s even kind of reassuring. You might be thinking to yourself, “Hey, self, could this be God?” And then he opens his mouth to speak. His voice is so loud that you have to hold your hands over your ears. It’s like thunder.  He says, “I am God!!!” By this point you are thinking that maybe he is who he says he is. But you’re still not totally convinced so you think, “Maybe he should perform a few miracles.” That might just do the trick in convincing you he is God. So you dream up your best set of miracles (one of which is that he must know what you are thinking and tell you so.) And sure enough, he knows what you are thinking and performs the miracles which you were thinking should nail down the coffin in the unbelief department. He even goes well beyond your expectations. He creates another moon right in front of you. Then he explains all of history to you to the extent that you are saying to yourself, “Oh now I get it. He has explained everything, answered all my hard questions and now I finally have all the criteria I need to believe that he exists.” So you tell him so. You let him know that he has finally convinced you as to his existence. You even shout it from the mountain top. “I BELIEVE THAT GOD EXISTS.” Hallelujah and all that stuff. But then he does something totally unexpected. He suddenly looks at you sternly and announces in his thunderous voice, “I BANISH YOU TO HELL.”                                                             And so…now you’re in hell.  What?!
Who is submitting to whom?
Wow, some loving good God he turned out to be. But in case you haven’t figured it out yet, in this particular scenario, who was on the throne of judgment?  Who was submitting to whom?   I would suggest to you that you, in fact, were trying to take the place of God. You were acting as judge over God, expecting him to meet your particular criteria for belief. So the fact is that you were not submitting to God at all, but were expecting him to have to submit to you. You had your criteria for belief, He met it, and then you decided for yourself that He was worthy of your belief. It might be compared to a two year old requiring the parent to submit to his authority and way of thinking. The parent doesn’t have to “prove” anything to the two year old.  Keep in mind that you are relying upon a four pound mass of tissue between your ears in making this judgment.  If intelligence were the deciding factor, then those with the largest amount of grey matter would be found more worthy of God’s acceptance.   Since God is the one who gave you that brain, then he still gets to make the call.  He knows you better than you know yourself.  He knows what’s going on inside that brain.  He knows just how messed up you really are. Do you?
So again, I ask you, who was submitting to whom?    Oh, and by the way, all those thousands, or perhaps millions or billions of others who saw all of this and were saying to themselves, “he better meet my criteria for belief or I’m not going to believe.” They too were relying on that four pound mass of tissue between their ears as their final authority for determining the truth.  Even still, the Bible states that God has given us all the evidence and revelation we need so that all of creation is silenced and everyone is without excuse. 
Here’s one such passage from the book of Romans, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.  (Romans 1:18-20) 
This inborn nature which prevents everyone from receiving evidence from God has a name.  
It’s called the “sin nature“. The word “sin“ in scripture is defined as “missing the mark” and refers to any transgression of God’s laws.   Each of us has been born with a soul that is way off target and has transgressed God’s laws.   Well, then, isn’t God to blame for this? Hold that thought.   We’ll come back to that. 
The Bible describes God as both totally just and totally loving. Many unbelievers would scoff at this characterization. They do so because they look at the world around them with all the pain and suffering and tragedy and can only conclude that it must mean that there is no such thing as a perfect loving God.  How could a loving, perfect God have allowed all the injustice, death and pain in the world?  This needs to be addressed.  We’ll come back to that but let’s stay on point for now. 
God said, “It is good.”
The first book of the Bible, Genesis, begins by describing God’s act of creation. (Genesis chapter 1) After he makes the earth, he says it is “good.” After he makes the heavens he says it is “good.”  Each time something else is created it is always followed by the statement, “it is good.”  The account ends by declaring, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31)  So far all of what God created might be compared to a pure glass of water. There are no impurities in it whatsoever.  It is a pure glass of water and it is “good.”   God eventually created the man and woman and clearly states his requirements governing His creation, which He knows, as long as they are followed, everything he created will continue to remain good, whole and in perfect harmony.  That perfect world we all yearn for today and then blame God for when we see that it isn’t… it once was absolutely totally pure, loving, whole, and… “Good.”  But then there is that whole episode in the Garden of Eden.  Don’t write off this subject without examining closely the implications.  The fact is, God actually gave our distant relatives, Adam and Eve, a choice, not just to obey Him from a sense of duty, but a heart choice to love and trust Him.  But then that fateful hour occurred when they disobeyed.   Couldn’t God have just let it go? Surely it was no big thing.  Think back to the diluted water illustration.  I don’t care how big and pure that glass of water is. If you were to drop even the tiniest drop of sulfuric acid into it… then it is no longer perfect, whole, and “good.” That impurity will always be there. There is nothing anybody can do about it. (Okay, maybe the water department folks know how to do it). Anyway, you get the point. Fact is, that act by Adam and Eve changed everything from there on out and is still playing itself out today.  By the way, look at the reasoning by Eve. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” (Genesis 3:6)  Same thing is still going on today. Except we might call it “the lust of the eyes (that thing sure looks good to me), the lust of the flesh (that thing sure makes me feel good.), and the pride of life (that position of power and success sure would make me feel significant.) Or maybe pride might come off as “I am going to do things my way because, after-all, I am the captain of my soul.”  At the heart of each of these desires, is the dissatisfaction with the good which God provides.  Lust and control takes over and pushes God’s provision aside.  The Bible goes on to explain that since God is totally pure, righteous, just, loving, holy and such, he simply cannot allow anything impure or unrighteous to be tolerated. It would be as if a cancer has invaded the body and must be eliminated or death will occur. The condition of the world and society all throughout history attest to the fact that things are pretty messed up and God’s perfect holiness cannot allow it to remain so forever in His presence. His laws and his very being are so absolutely holy and perfect that we simply could not stand in his presence. We would be consumed by that holiness and be destroyed just as a fire consumes all impurities. He is so righteous and just that he can do no wrong.  He is the perfect Creator and Judge.  If he says we are guilty and sinful, then we are. We try and rationalize and come up with some other explanation.  We may want to try and give God some sort of human characteristics to conform to our way of thinking.  We reach up and try and bring God down to our level. 
Man is finite.  God is infinite.

Let’s imagine that we all live on a two dimensional plane. Three dimensions do not exist in our world. We are like line drawings on a piece of paper. That is all our brains and our world will allow us to conceive. But now what if a finger were to come down on that two dimensional field. Keep in mind we cannot see that it is anything other than a big flat blob on our two dimensional world. And yet, that is exactly what we try and do with God. We try and use the limited resources he has given us in our physical world to try and explain something our minds cannot conceive of. And it drives us crazy. Where did time begin?  How can it possibly end?  Where does the universe begin?  How can it possibly end?  Yea, go ahead and chew on those for awhile. So when it comes to the eternal God, why do we still continue to think that we can figure Him out? If he doesn’t stand up to our own criteria for rational thinking, then we figure this four pound mass of tissue between our ears (which He put there by the way and gave it the limitations as he determined best) must be a higher authority than Him. Dwell on that end of time and universe thing a little while longer and then continue to tell me you can figure things out… much less God.  Do you really think science is the end all? God is eternal and beyond time and matter.  After all, he created time and matter.  He is the dimension we cannot fathom.  God laughs at our futile attempts to deny his power and authority.
He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them.”(Psalm 2:4)  Oh, the arrogance of men!!!  God, not mankind, is the One who holds all truth.  Our ideas of “relative truth” just won’t stand up alongside God’s authority and ultimate truth.
God is both just and merciful… but how can He be both at the same time?
Since there is no higher authority than God, He gets to decide what is right and wrong and determines the penalty for sin. And that whole penalty for sin thing simply comes, once again, with the fact that nothing unholy and impure can remain in his presence. It’s just a sad fact. That whole drop of acid in the glass of water thing or the cancer in the body thing.  Look at what this "cancer" (sin) has done to our society and world.  Now try and imagine if it were to remain so for all eternity.  But this cancer, this sin filled world has been a reality from day one (in a manner of speaking).  Why is God continuing to allow all this injustice to remain in the world?  When should final judgment begin?  Where should He begin to right all wrongs?  Should He begin with me... or how about you?  Will you stand up against God’s rightful verdict against sin?  The verdict is in.  “We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). 
 How am I ever to be found good enough to stand before this Holy God?  How am I to justify my defiance of his authority?  Do I stand on the grounds of my own goodness?   If goodness and self effort were the determining factor for acceptance by God, then pride would immediately rear its ugly head and proclaim, “Look at me and how worthy I am to stand before this holy righteous God.”  The arrogance of this position immediately negates its claim. God has plans for eternity and they do not include prideful, self-centered humans who are only concerned with their self interests and unable to “see” God because of their inward tainted sin nature.  
Governing this bleak picture is a God who is suppose to encompass love.  Well, let’s see. He is totally just so it only reasons that a perfect judge will judge sin perfectly. You can argue all day long that “God made me this way”, but that isn’t going to change the fact that you fall tremendously short of a totally righteous God and his decrees.  But if he is also perfectly loving which means he loves you more than you can ever imagine, then what is the remedy for this dichotomy?
The answer is Jesus Christ.
If Jesus is the solution to this dilemma, then we need to understand who He is and why He came into the world. 
Many passages make his identity known.  Here is one such passage.  Please consider carefully your response to its claim.  Colossians 1:15-20 says this, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
The first words written by the Apostle John in his  account of the life and ministry of Jesus reveal much about this man.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (John 1:1a)  By using the title “the Word”, John is indicating that this Jesus was the entire Word of God summed up and revealed in flesh.  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” (John 1:14a)   Quite a claim, wouldn’t you agree?
Through these accounts and many more, we are presented with the deity of Jesus.  This is why he is called the “Christ”.  Jesus didn’t come down from heaven as a cosmic celestial being, but was born into time and space by the Spirit of God.  God placed his seed, His Spirit, into Mary’s womb. She conceived a man, just like you and me, except that He was not born from Adam’s seed, which was carried down through the generations to Joseph, Mary’s husband.  If he had been born from Joseph’s seed then he would have that same sin nature that you and I have. But Jesus still had to live the same life as you and I, making the same kinds of choices, facing the same temptations.  This is a crucial point.  He had to be both fully human and fully divine.  Where his humanity is concerned, those desires to satisfy the eyes, the flesh, and the pride of life came against Him just as they do for you and me.  Side note:  if you read the narrative about Satan’s temptations while Jesus was on his 40 day fast in the desert before beginning his earthly ministry… the three temptations fall under those same old tried and true temptations that faced Eve as well as you and me:  lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and pride of life. Yet, Jesus never sinned. “(Jesus Christ) who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth;” (1 Peter 2:22) 
He remained in constant connection with His Father.  All of the “laws” of God he followed and carried out perfectly. They were wrapped up in Him. Recall that the Apostle John called Him “the Word”. (John 1:1) We Christians gain a great deal of joy seeing this portrayed throughout scripture in both the Old and New Testaments. In fact, some smarter people than me have said that there are over 300 prophecies concerning the coming of Christ, this Messiah, and all of them are fulfilled in this one man. That’s right. His mission, his life, his very being and nature are shown all throughout Scripture.  Jesus wasn’t a man who came on the scene one day and began a new religion.  He wasn’t just some prophet or inspirational teacher.  Even the date of his arrival was predicted through the prophet Daniel. And yes, actually, that can be “proved”.  Or rather, the reference can be shown and then either accepted or rejected.  Daniel was given a revelation regarding the determination of when this “messiah”, this “Christ” would arrive in Jerusalem, but the religious leaders of that day (as well as many today) purposely rejected it.  Why?  The sin nature rejects the truth because it knows it must give an account to that truth.  The sin nature wants to define its own set of values and truth.
The Bible states that since all of mankind is sinful, deserving of hell, then a penalty for this sin must be paid. Perfect justice demands it!  Someone did indeed pay that debt which you and I owe.
The great exchange.
Jesus, the sinless “Man”, took our place on a cross and paid that penalty of sin.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)  His death satisfied the debt we owe for our guilt.  And make no mistake about it.  You and I and everyone born into this world are guilty before a holy righteous God.  You can NEVER be good enough through your own efforts to be reconciled to God and have him actually reveal his full presence to you.  You might even at this point throw yourself into a great gulf of sorrow and tell yourself that you are going to live for God.   But even that won’t gain you access to God because you would still be depending upon your own effort.

What will reconcile you to God?  Here it is:          But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:8-10).
Believe that what Jesus Christ did was the price that had to be paid.  He purchased you with His blood.  Receive that sacrifice and allow him to de-throne you and take his rightful seat on the throne of your life.
 You see, it is as if you are standing before God, the perfect Judge, and He were to slam down his gavel and declare you guilty of breaking all of his perfect ways and rebelling against his Kingship, and therefore are banished from his presence forever in a place designated for demons.  But He then steps down from behind his bench, comes down to where you are and says that he himself will take the place for your punishment and banishment. The one who made the law is also the One who disseminates justice.         Not only that, but He is the ONLY ONE who can do that.  No one else is worthy.
Since Jesus was born of God being fully divine, but also born from man being fully human, then that is precisely what took place. Adam, the first man whose defiled nature still resides in all of us, results in our guilt. Jesus, the new Adam has taken that place within believers, but only if we will receive Him into our life, which is not really our life at all, but His.
How then am I, this messed up person, ever going to be found worthy to stand before Holy God?  It’s all about God’s grace. God’s grace does not mean he turns a sort of kindly old grandfatherly blind eye to what we have done as an offense to Him. No. It means that through God’s loving kindness, he has graciously provided the solution to dealing with those offenses.  In so doing He is able to reconcile His justice with His love.  We can then be justified before our God who is both perfect love and perfect justice.

Death could not hold Jesus in the grave because “the wages of sin is death“(Romans 6:23) , and Jesus did not sin. He arose which means that the verdict had been dealt with and that life was now available to all who would place their trust in Christ and HIS perfect holiness.
Controlled by the Spirit.   
The Bible promises that the same Spirit and life which is in Christ will come to live in us when we place our trust in Christ.  
Check out these passages.
“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
In the 15th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus is making the analogy that he is the vine which supplies nourishment and growth to the branches, indicating the absolute necessity to remain connected to Him and his life producing strength.  So you see, Jesus, the new Adam can now occupy our souls.  Something marvelous then takes place. You will have a different nature than the one you had previously. Does that mean that you won’t continue to mess up and sin? No, it means that there is now a Spirit living inside of you which enables you to overcome sin. Your relationship with God will take on a whole new dimension.  His love enables you to love Him and desire his presence in your life.  The nature you had before simply decided for itself what choices were right or wrong. The sin nature would not, nor could not submit to God.  It was impossible.
“But a natural man does accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)                       Another passage says this, “The god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:40) 
Without God’s perfect Spirit living on the inside of us we were totally destitute and simply relying on that brain, that four pound mass of tissue between our ears to guide us through life… to be our savior so to speak.  But when we allow Jesus to be our Guide, our Shepherd, our Savior, we have him on the inside of us giving us the desire and the ability to live for God.
Maybe this illustration will drive home the point.  Perhaps after a night of partying you ended up drinking too much. Once intoxicated, who or what was making your choices? You might say you are still making your choices and must suffer the consequences for those choices. You would be right. Or you might say that it was the alcohol that influenced those choices and therefore shares some blame in the matter. You would be right about that too.   Now, in a similar manner, if the Spirit of God is residing within you, then He will have an effect on your desires, your ability to accomplish those desires, and the choices you make.  So what I am saying is that we are living either with the old sin nature governing our choices, or our new “born again” Spirit filled nature governing our choices. The choices are still ours to make and we might not make good ones, but with God’s Spirit we now have the ability to make good ones. God’s grace continues to work in our lives until He brings us home. If we were suddenly made perfect after receiving Christ then perhaps pride would once again raise its ugly head or perhaps we would become a bunch of robots of sorts.  God’s work in our lives is a process.  This process involves suffering and testing.  The difference is that these life experiences can be a means of drawing us closer toward God rather than creating further division.  If we have sinned, we recognize it and are able to repent.  This can ONLY be true for one who has God’s Spirit residing within.                              God’s work in us does not end by receiving Christ. It is true that you have been “born from above” (John 3:3) and that means you have passed from eternal death to eternal life.
The new nature will give you the desire to know more and more about God as long as you do not “quench the Spirit of God” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) who is performing His work on your heart.  We’ll have more to say about this later on.  It is probably time to point out one important and absolutely crucial truth.
If we are to know God, He must reveal himself to us.
We have already seen that God reveals his eternal power and authority through nature.  But there are limitations to knowing God solely through His creation.  God further extends the revelation of Himself through His Word.  He does not give us the option to decide for ourselves who He is.  If this were the case, we would be creating a God to our liking.  He is God.  He gets to decide the means and method and medium by which He reveals himself.  Our need isn’t to try and figure Him out.  God declared this through the prophet Isaiah:   “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
We will never completely understand what he is up to while we are on this earth.  He says “the secret things belong to God”.  (Deuteronomy 29:29)
He has built into our brains and into our world certain limitations. We simply cannot depend upon our own flawed brains to figure things out and to “save” us. 

Once again,
The problem is sin. We are all messed up. The solution to overcoming this malady and restoring our relationship with God is through the sacrifice made on our behalf through our sinless Messiah.
Where does the rubber meet the road? It comes through faith. It comes through trust that what God has revealed and accomplished we can believe and stand on it…. No matter what!  No matter what trials and pain life throws at us. No matter who calls us names or tries to hurt us. “They will hate you because they first hated me,” Jesus said.  (John 15:18) Those who hated Jesus did so because he claimed to contain the ultimate authority of truth. We Christians are often hated for the same reasons. Despite all the problems we face we still rely on God and his truth. Even the pain, trials, and mess ups are part of His means of growing us and making us “more like Christ” which is the ultimate goal of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
God has given us His resources.

Once we receive the offer of salvation from Christ, God’s Spirit directs us to the resources he has lovingly given to us.
One of these is the Bible.  You can argue all day long using the limitations of human reasoning that it is merely the compiled writings of mere men so how can it have come from God.   Paul, in a letter written to Timothy, made this claim:  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)  Jesus, in one of his prayers to the Father said this, “Your Word is Truth.”  There are hundreds of instances throughout the whole of Scripture where we read, "The Lord said…” or “The Lord spoke…”.   I ask you, are you willing to rely on that brain of yours with all its limitations and faults to refute these claims?
God used a certain man, Abraham, and his descendents as his vehicle for bringing his revelation of Himself to all people.  He chose them.  They did not initially choose Him. He set in motion the history (His Story) of this nation with the declaration that through this nation he would bring about the One who would bring about salvation from sin and reconciliation with God. That nation is of course Israel.  From the first words found in Genesis through the last words of Malachi, God began to reveal his words and plan for redeeming mankind, using those individuals he chose to use, utilizing the very bents, gifts, talents, and status within their individual times, but then through the inspiration (God breathed) of the Holy Spirit, to put forth the words God knew we needed to hear.
Here is an illustration.  Suppose you were walking along a path and noticed a line of ants spread out in the field along your path.  Upon further inspection you noticed that the line formed by those ants spelled out the words, “Give glory to God.”  You reason to yourself that this cannot be possible, for ants are incapable of doing such a thing.  You would be half right.  The ants would not have the capability of doing such a thing on their own.  But there it is before you.  They did, indeed, spell out an intelligible sentence.  The sentence gives you a clue to its origin.  A vastly superior being must have made this possible and wants all who read it to know its origin.  This silly illustration makes the point that while Scripture was written by men, it had its origin with God. 

God chose to make his special revelation of Himself through humanity.  The entire Bible has the same thread. It has the same unity of message even though it was written by 40 different men from vastly different time periods, cultures and status over a 1500 year period to bring about this unified message of a coming redeemer to restore the broken relationship with God.

The writer of the book of Hebrews opens up his letter with these words, God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, but in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Hebrews 1:1-3)
Then in the New Testament, those who now had the Spirit of God living within them began to make that message plain.  He then used faithful spirit filled men of God creating the “Canon” of scripture which we now call the Holy Bible.
The mystery is explained. The message was made clear. But you must go to Him on His terms to hear it. Once you do, the understanding, the revelation from God continues to develop within your mind throughout your lifetime. Your rebellious heart of stone softens and changes.  “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. “ (more pliable).  Ezekiel 36:26.
We who place our trust in Jesus Christ have an awesome privilege of reading those words and having the Spirit reveal the truth to us.  Once again, the Bible says that the “natural man” or “those who are perishing” as scripture puts it cannot understand the Words of God.  They are foolishness to him. Natural man decides for himself which parts are worthy to be read and then tries to interpret them to line up with his own notions of what is truth.
Another resource is His Church.  The church is not a building or simply a religious organization.  It is not a gathering of people who rely on rituals and traditions to somehow make them presume to do good things for God, thinking perhaps that God is impressed by the sound of bells and chants.  This is merely man made religion.  Sadly many groups who call themselves a church are doing just that.  In these churches, the Word of God is rarely scratched below the surface.  In contrast, the true Christian church is made up of those individuals who have placed their hope and trust in Christ.  They dig deep into the treasure of God’s Word and desire to accurately apply it to their lives. 
Scripture refers to the Church in many different ways.  For instance, the Church is referred to as the “Body of Christ”.  Christ is the head and we are His body.  And just as our own bodies have many different parts which function in unison, we too are to be functioning in a variety of ways within the Church.   Christian literally means “follower of Christ”.  Christ himself formed the Church.   The “Church” is a resource he lovingly provided.  He never intended for us to be “Lone Ranger” Christians.  It is through the Church that God gives feet to His mission and message of salvation.
God uses His Word, His Church, and His Holy Spirit, accompanied by prayer, to accomplish not only his work in the world, but his work in each believer’s life.  We must remain connected to Christ, “the Word”, in order to fulfill God’s plan for our lives.  We can quench this work when we fail to adhere to the instruction and teaching from the Word of God.  The Holy Spirit works in tandem with the Words of scripture.  This is why much of the New Testament admonishes the Christ follower to study and apply the truths found within the whole of Scripture.  This is why we must remain connected to one another; to love, build up, encourage, and admonish one another.  We all know those individuals who call themselves Christians but who demonstrate no real change in their lives.   Unbelievers are quick to point out the hypocrisy of believers.  Believers are to exhibit the love and grace of God in all they do.  If and when we drift away from Christ and His resources, God’s love for us will bring about corrective measures in the life of His children.  
It’s time to make a choice.

Let me tell you what I believe may happen with you right now. Actually one of two different things may occur.

On one hand you may find yourself somewhere between indifferent, annoyed or even infuriated.  Perhaps you will be fed up with all this nonsense and continue to believe that Christians have bought into an irrational set of beliefs which defy logic and reasoning. How could we actually believe all of those fairy tales in the Bible? I mean, come on, people. Use the brains that God gave you…er, I mean that evolution gave you.

So what if what I am telling you is true? That changes everything. It even changes my motivation for writing this article and suggesting you need a “paradigm shift” in the way you approach the existence of God and His purpose for your life.
If not, then once again, you are left to that brain., that four pound mass of tissue with neurons making electrochemical transmissions which simply evolved without a creator over several million years as your final authority. Good luck with that.

Another thing which might happen is that you give God a chance to enter your heart. He may cause you to humble yourself and admit that you have “missed the mark”, and see the foolishness of requiring God to “prove” himself to you.  Perhaps the Spirit of God is bringing you to a point of recognizing your own sinful state.  You may come to realize that without a Savior, you are destitute and guilty before our holy, righteous God.

In which case you might simply talk to God and say something along these lines,
“Okay God. I get it. I admit my own arrogance and rejection of you.  I am messed up and totally deserving of whatever consequences you have declared.  I have not submitted to you and have ignored your authority over my life.  I’ve been blind to the obvious evidence of your power and wisdom and love.  I have to admit; my life’s a wreck. I am miserable much of the time. And I keep making other’s lives miserable as well.  If you have said that you can replace my anxiety with peace then I will just believe it even if it doesn’t make any sense to me right now.
Having realized this and the fact that my sin was what caused your own Son to have to pay an agonizing price for my sinful condition, I give myself to you.
I know you see right through me.  I cannot hide anything from you. I stand totally naked before you. Like I said, God, I am guilty. No excuses God. You’ve got me.
Almighty God, I am at your mercy.
Now I am making the choice to place my trust in what Jesus Christ did for me. I am thankful that his act of obedience now makes it possible for me to stand in your presence totally forgiven. Oh my Lord how I need to hear those words. I am forgiven. Thank you. I am yours. Show me the next step, Lord.  I still have troubling questions which don’t make much sense to me right now.  I know I need a group of believers surrounding me, loving me, and helping me on my journey. I know they too are on a journey and might mess up at times but give me your spirit of love and forgiveness. Show me that place Lord.”

God willing and by his grace and mercy that will happen to you.
If God begins to burden your heart, believe that it is coming from Him. It means that He desires to reveal himself to you and bring you into His family. Even if those nagging questions keep popping up which don’t appear to have an answer, don’t ignore what God has providentially revealed to you at this time.  There’s more to come.  Surround yourself with others who have experienced this revelation.   
If, however, you are not burdened as I described then perhaps you can at least stop the condescending remarks towards those people who only want to wish you well, and who, perhaps, have been praying for you. Besides, they really can’t help who they are… God changed their very nature and gave them the ability and privilege to not only know of Him, but to intimately know Him.