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Posts Tagged ‘God’s Word’

In Matthew 22 Pharisees, Herodians, and Saducees were trying to “trap Him in what He said.” (v.15)  The issues they used were the poll tax to Caesar, remarriage, and the ranking of commandments.  The real issues were heart issues of authority, belief  in the resurrection, and the prioirty of loving God and your fellow man.  Since they were questioning Jesus’ authority the whole time, after His adept answers He turns the tables and asks them a question about authority from Psalm 110:1: “If David then calls Him ‘Lord’ how is He his son? (v.45) Both Jesus and the Pharisees would agree that this passage spoke about Messiah when is says ‘my Lord’. The Pharisees taught correctly that Messiah would be a son of David but their understanding of authority structure did not allow a son to rule a father.  However, the real reason they were unable to answer Jesus was because they were spiritually “blind men” and blind guides” (Matthew 23:13,14,15,23,25,27,29).  Jesus had no need of answering them because the answer had been repeated by three sources: Scripture, the people, and Jesus’ own works and miracles. Such Scriptures as Jeremiah 23:5-6 speak of the offspring of David who is “the Lord our righteousness”, and of His suffering when “Messiah will be cut off” (Daniel 9:26), and of the time of His arrival in 69 weeks of years (Daniel 9:25).  The people were positively identifying Jesus as the “Son of David” (Matthew: 15:21: 20:31; 21:15-16,9). In the latter of these verses the Pharisees see His works and hear the peoples’ declarations and effectively ask Jesus to silence them.  Jesus affirms that their praise of Him is praise of God and happens because “You have prepared praise for Yourself” (21:16).  And the miracles testified of His authority: “the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me” (John 10:25) and that they should “believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (v.38). So, Jesus does not answer His immediate question to them so that “You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive” (Matthew 13:14; Isaiah 6:9), but so that we might search deeper and both hear and see.

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The more I read the Old and New Testaments, the more I think that God is most usually repeating Himself in the New and expanding on the thought.  When He repeats Himself He must have a reason and we had better listen carefully. For instance, we tend to believe Leviticus to be the driest of reading and yet Jesus quotes it several times in the Sermon on the Mount and other places throughout Matthew. Hebrews also frequently uses Leviticus; we should look closer at it.  Among the most repeated Old Testament passages are those of Psalms 110.  I have long been fascinated by the repetition of verse one in the New Testament which reads, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.’”  It is indeed important and the unfolding of its interpretation in the New Testament is quite interesting.

          In order to understand the train of thought it is helpful to have some understanding of the psalm itself.  In just seven verses it packs in amazing insight on three persons and two groups of people.  The first person in sequence and in priority is the LORD (Yahweh in Hebrew), the Great I AM, who is the covenant-keeping God revealing Himself to Abram in Exodus 3:14-15, and who is declared Creator (Exodus 20:11) as He acts as Law-giver in the conveying of the Ten Commandments.  He is speaking to the Lord (Adonai in Hebrew), who Yahweh declares will rule (v.2) and preside as a permanent priest (v.4) and reside at Yahweh’s right hand.  The third person indicated in the psalm by “my” is David, who wrote the psalm, the present king of Israel. Because he refers to “my Lord” he clearly identifies himself as a servant of Adonai.  He is perhaps standing at the foot of the throne as Yahweh makes these declarations to Adonai in verses 1-4 and Adonai responds in verses 5-7.  And Adonai’s response is just as bold as Yahweh’s declarations as He affirms that He will fulfill His position and role.  From this position of strength, at the right hand of Yahweh, Adonai will act as a warrior king, smashing the enemies among whom He rules (v.2,6).  As a picture of the victorious champion He will lift up His head from drinking (v.7) as He pursues His enemies, fully confident of the outcome, which is, His enemies as a footstool (v.1). His people are those who freely volunteered when He came to power, plentiful as dew and sanctified (holy array) from the inception of His rising (dawn) (v.3).  His people are greatly blessed by walking in the victory He is given by Yahweh and secures by His rule, while His enemies, the kings and their nations will be shattered and their corpses spread over a wide country (v.6).  When the enemies are subdued He will continue as a priest among His people even as Melchizedek, king of peace and righteousness (Hebrews 7:2).  Melchizedek, and therefore Adonai by Mechizedekian priesthood, is clearly greater than Abraham, the father of the Hebrews (Hebrews 7:4-7), because Abraham blesses him.  Thus, He will fulfill being “a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices” (Zechariah 6:13).  But who is this “Branch” (Zechariah 6:12), this Lord, this king, this priest, this champion?  The proclamation of who is laid out in careful sequence with abundant evidence in the New Testament.  I want to write about that another day.

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Jesus is God

Soon many Christians of the world will celebrate Epiphany (“appearance” of Christ and visitation of the Wise Men, January 6th).  But to whom were these Magi coming, a mere peasant or the forsaken descendent of a long defunct dynasty?  If the New Testament is to be believed He was and is much more.  My last article demonstrated in part the external, pre-Nicean and internal, scriptural evidence for the New Testament’s reliability.  The presence of each of the 27 books and the absence of others (particularly late, Gnostic writings) is valid apart from accusations that the Council of Nicea and emperor Constantine contrived it. The same Scripture and pre-Nicean church fathers present a clear and strong case for who Jesus is.

          Following are quotes of church fathers from AD 105 to AD 305.1 Recall that the Council of Nicea occurred in AD 325.

   “God himself was manifested in human form.” (Ignatius)

  “It is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as God.” (Clement)

“The Father of the universe has a Son. And he… is even God.” (Justin Martyr)

“He is God, for the name Emmanuel indicates this.” (Irenaeus)

“…Christ our God.” (Tertullian)

“No one should be offended that the Savior is also God” (Origen)

“…He is not only man, but God also…” (Novatian)

“Jesus Christ, our Lord and God” (Cyprian)

“…He truly was and is… with God, and being God…” (Methodius)

“We believe him to be God.” (Lactantius)

“Christ performed all those miracles…the…duty of Divinity.” (Arnobious)

Polycarp, disciple of the apostle John who “was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ”, wrote in his Letter to the Philippians (not the book in the Bible, this having been written between AD 120-140), “to all those under heaven who will yet believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father who raised him from the dead.”  Polycarp was burned at the stake in AD 155 affirming his belief in Christ as his Savior.  These men were not no-names or cronies from a political party.  They were leaders in their churches, different nationalities and generations (independent sources), who affirmed that Jesus is God. 

          How could they do otherwise and be truthful?  The New Testament gives abundant testimony to the nature of Christ as both fully man and fully God.  The most clearly attested New Testament books, the Gospels, record Jesus’ declarations of who He is. “So the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’  Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’  Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him…” (John 8:57-59).  The strongest evidence that this clearly is a declaration of deity by Jesus was given by the Jews who attempted to stone Him. They rightly understood that Jesus was declaring Himself to be the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14 and proceeded to execute the judgment of “anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death” (Leviticus 24:16).  Jesus also said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  On another occasion Jesus said to His disciple, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9).  These two declarations of unity with the Father do not mean similarity but congruence of essence and nature.  But why doesn’t Jesus just say He is God?  The reason is clear.  Jesus says of Himself, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me of whom you say, ‘He is our God’;” (John 8:54).  Jesus is giving more than enough information for anyone who hears Him to believe that He is claiming to be God and backs it up with miracles and fulfilled prophecy.  But “The Jews gathered around Him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’  Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you, but you do not believe.  The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me.’” (John 10:24-25).  What a privilege I have to begin the New Year with the declaration that Jesus is my God and Savior.  What a good time for Him to become yours.

1A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, editor David Bercot, 1998.

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A Canon of Truth

          Many students are deceived by a common perspective in high school and college classrooms of today that attributes the core doctrine of Christ’s divinity and the books accepted as inspired by God to the political scheming of Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.  Are these two ideas, that Jesus is God and that the canon of the New Testament includes the 27 books that it now contains, the convenient creation of a Roman emperor and his political cronies for political gain?  No, they are not, because the evidence of both predate the Council of Nicea by 150 to 200 years.

          New Testament historian and apologist, Michael Licona states, “Within 300 years of Christ almost 36,000 quotations of the New Testament appear in the writings of the early church fathers. In fact, every verse in the New Testament is quoted but 11.”  Among these church fathers were Justin Martyr whose writings around 150 and 161 AD affirmed the four Gospel accounts and the Revelation by John as teaching from God.  And Irenaeus of Lyons, disciple of Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John, in his writing about 180 AD quoted from 22 out of the 27 books now in the New Testament in defense of their truth.  And Tertullian of Carthage between 200-220 AD affirmed all of the present New Testament books quoting from them, except II Peter, James, II John, and III John.  All of these church fathers and more stated and confirmed what the Council of Nicea merely clarified later.

          On the other hand, a book like the Gospel of Thomas was not affirmed by any of the church fathers and certainly condemned by Origen of Alexandria.  This matters for two reasons.  This book (and others, like the Gospels of Mary, Judas, Matthias, Philip, and Truth and about two dozen others) was a Gnostic writing written at least a century later than the books of the Bible.  Gnosticism was a prevalent religion of the second and third centuries that taught the dualistic view that spirit is good and material is bad.  It twists what the Bible has to say about Jesus.  Secondly, many modern writers, teachers, and some film makers choose to believe these heretical stories, deceiving many to believe lies about Jesus and early Christianity.

          The evidence for which books were considered to be Scripture before Nicea is strong. The evidence against other books grew as their heresy spread and church leaders spoke against them and confirmed the God given books.    But what difference does it make?  It is very important because our salvation depends on what we believe and what we believe is based on what sources we accept and read.  Paul says in II Timothy 3:15-16 that “you [Timothy] have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable to teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”.  If the Scripture is added to by accepting books that twist who Jesus is and what He did, we will not have the “wisdom that leads to salvation”.  Jesus declared His purpose for coming in Luke 24:45-47 when “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, ’Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”  And Paul the Apostle further confirms what is Scripture when he quotes the words of Jesus (Luke 10:7), and the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 25:4) by  saying, “For the Scripture says” (I Timothy 5:18).  And Peter declares, “our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him wrote to you, as also in all his letters speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”  And I might add to the destruction of those deceived by them.  The Scripture is internally consistent and clearly attested by external sources so that we can know that the person and work of Christ for salvation is true.

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Psalm 103 begins with both a call for the hearer to worship and summary of what the psalmist desires to communicate to himself and those listening to him.  David is alerting his own soul to bless God’s name and His benefits.  But names of God seem to be absent and even the word “name” only appears once in the psalm, so how is His name blessed?  Consider, how do we know the greatness of God’s name?  We know the greatness of it by what He has done.  All works He has done are benefits to those who trust Him, and the greatness of His name is revealed through these benefits.  Add the admonitions of verses 11,13, and 17 to fear Him and we see the summary teaching and application of the Psalm:  Bless His name, remember His benefits, and fear Him.  This application is not merely a spiritual ‘icing on the cake’, it is the means of survival amidst spiritual battle.  David knew the value of it.  In First Samuel 30:3-6 we observe a desperate situation for David and his men.  Having just returned from following the Philistines, they find their hometown, Ziklag, burned down, their wives and children kidnapped to become slaves, and most of their possessions stolen.  The men have wept over their families until they have no strength and are discussing stoning David because of the loss.  The Scripture  records David’s reaction: “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” (v.6).  Now your plight and mine probably are not presently so severe.  The danger is to ignore the need for strengthening ourselves in the Lord.  We are thus rendered weaker for the lesser battles and ill-fit for the greater battles.  And so David urged his innermost being to bless the Lord and not forget His benefits.  May we practice the psalmist’s discipline and experience God’s joy.

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Based on a response I received from comments I made in church I began to review and reflect on physical Israel and spiritual Israel.  Most of what can be gleaned from Scripture about the relationship between these two and the existence of the latter as distinct from the former is found in Romans and Galations 3. 

In Romans 2:28-29, Paul clearly says that being Jewish is not merely physical, having the sign of circumcision.  Real Jews would have physcial and spiritual (“by the Spirit”) circumcision.  There is, however, a physical Israel, Paul’s “own race”, still recognized by God, who have a type of adoption and the covenants and more but are lost (Romans 9:3-5; 10:1).  Romans 11:28-29 sets forth the relationship between them and the redeemed (spiritual Israel).  They are clearly enemies in the sense of being unbelieving and counter to the gospel of Jesus, but because “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable” (cannot be nullified), God still has a plan for them and we should still love them.  They are lost apart from CHrist, but some will not be in the future and others are part of God’s end time plans as set forth in the seventieth week of Daniel (9:24-27).  And God is saving Jews as Paul testitfies about himself and other “He foreknew” (Romans 11:1-8). The remnant that believes is exemplified by the 7000 of Elijah’s day who had “not bowed the knee to Baal” (11:4).  So Israel, the elect, have not fallen “beyond recovery” (11:11).  And Israel as a whole provided the means for fulfilling God’s plan of salvation (Romans 15:8; Act 2:22-24).

But what of this spiritual Israel, is it merely the saved Jews?  No, for Paul says, “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Romans 9:6), but rather, “the chidren of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring” (9:8).  Who are these other children of Abraham?  “Those who believe are children of Abraham” (Galations 3:7).  “God would justify the Gentiles by faith” (3:8), and “those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham” (3:9).  We receive “the blessing of Abraham… to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus” (3:14).  “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (3:29), what I’m calling spiritual Israel.

How did this transition in Israel come about?  Paul uses the analogy of grafting branches onto an olive tree in Romans 11:17-24.  Israel was cut off because of unbelief and Gentiles were grafted in based on belief.  The reverse is said to be possible as a warning against unbelief.  The fact that Israel is referred to as “natural branches” (11:21) once again emphasizes that physical Israel exists and has a claim on God’s calling.

A better understanding of these concepts may be gained by reading the fuller passages to which I have referred, namely, Romans 2:17-29, Romans 9-11, and Galations 3.

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The United States is not a Christian nation any more than the Northern Kingdom of Israel was a godly nation in the days of Elijah.  King Ahab and his father had made sure of that by not merely carelessness with God’s commands but actually having ”forsaken the commandments of the Lord” (I Kings 18:18).  As it says in Nehemiah 9:26, “they…cast Your law behind their backs.”

 

          So Elijah comes along to chide Israel, God’s people for turning godless, right?  No, hear what he said: “Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you hesitate between two opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.  But the people did not answer him a word.” (v.21)  The challenge that Elijah gives these wayward people is actually an idiom, or word picture, in the original language.  As Charles Ryrie conveys it the question should read literally, “How long are you hopping between two forks?”  Picture someone, who is not well endowed with balance high up in a tree, trying not to fall as he jumps between two branches, wanting to discover which is easier to perch upon.  Their choice was between the covenant keeping God, the Creator, Who was the Originator and Sustainer of Israel on the one hand.  On the other hand is Baal, whose name means ‘lord’, an idol who is the fertility god and rainmaker and highly favored in the palace to the risk of life and property if you did not worship him.  So the people ‘play both sides’ or ‘ride the fence’ as we say.  “The people did not answer him a word.”  What can they say?  He has described their procedure.  When you are desperate or needy apply to this God for help; when it’s safe and convenient declare for that one. 

 

And how is it different in America?  “I believe in God.  I go to church.  I’m a Christian.”  But all too frequently under the surface you will find a humanist, who is one who “upholds human [as opposed to God’s] reason, ethics, and justice, and rejects supernaturalism.”  Based on this stance they are apt to say things like the following. “If it’s an unwanted child wouldn’t everyone be better off if it were aborted?”  “God could have created using evolution.”  “How I dress is my own business.”  “I just couldn’t live with him/her.”  And in numerous other ways we ignore God’s Word for our own preference.  Elijah’s challenge to you, America, is declare for God and live for Him or stop pretending and live for your idol, yourself.  God hates vacillation, for He says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm…I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16). 

 

See where complete departure from God gets you.  Of course, many are refusing to acknowledge God and our society is coming apart at the seams, beginning with the family.  Elijah challenges those people as well:  “Elijah said to the people, “let them [the prophets of Baal] choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other ox and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people said, ‘That is a good idea.’” (v.22-24)  The prophets of Baal dance and sing, pray and yell and cut themselves all day long, “but there was no voice and no one answered” (v.26).  The path we as a people are taking is failing as fast as the day comes to an end.  We will not succeed apart from God because there is no truth for living life there.  And we will not succeed in wavering between two opinions.

Americans, Burke County residents, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).  It is a good way and a way of life and truth.

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A common thought and pronouncement in our culture is, “That’s not fair.”  But we don’t really want fair ultimately because then we would all be in a world of hurt.  And that world is called hell.  What we want is privilege. Privilege is offered to all who will accept it by admitting they have done wrong and trusting the Savior to rescue them from fairness, that is, hell.  Without hell there would be no need for a Savior.

         

          So why not choose to believe that there is no hell and no Savior?  There are several problems with that decision.  First of all, if there is no hell it is not fair or logical.  If there is no hell then God is not just because everyone who does bad things no matter how heinous gets away with it.  If you execute them they either go to heaven or cease to be.  This lack of belief in hell is one of the reasons I believe there is an ongoing occurrence of mass murders followed by suicides.  If someone kills a dozen people and then kills himself he thinks he has avoided all punishment while expressing his deep anger and controlling his own destiny.  We need to teach people about hell so they will have a vague sense of the torture that awaits those who neglect the Savior for control of their own destiny.  God says, “He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:7) and “The soul that sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). 

 

          So how about having a Savior?  Is that fair?  Is that just?  An evil person does a horrendous crime to another individual or to a whole nation and later believes that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  How can God be just to let this monster off the hook?  He is just because Jesus took the punishment on the cross by being “marred more than any man” (Isaiah 52:14) and by being “sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 6:21).  On the other hand, why should someone who told a “little white lie” be committed to hell?  It is because “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10).  So, if you want fairness you cannot eliminate hell and if you want privilege you cannot eliminate the Savior.

 

          Secondly, you cannot arbitrarily refuse the existence of hell and believe in God because God’s Word says it exists.  Jesus speaks of hell frequently in His great sermon as when He says that anyone who speaks to his brother “’you fool’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matthew 5:22).  Later in Matthew 10:28 Jesus warns us, “Do not fear those unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  You may object that you do not believe the Bible or do not accept all parts of it.  Then you are creating your own god.  How do you know this god exists and what is your basis of authority for this belief?  My authority is the Bible.

 

          Maurice Rawlings, an initially skeptical emergency room doctor, corroborates the evidence for hell in his book, “To Hell and Back”, by chronicling a number of near death experiences of those claiming to have been in hell.  Why do the popular accounts record “warm lights” but never include these horror stories?  Dr. Rawlings notes, “If the interview is delayed just a little bit…only the positive experiences will be found.  The negative experiences have long since been relegated to the painless portions of the memory, the victim apparently unable to coexist with this painful memory.” (p.33)  His most striking story is about a man whose treadmill test was shortened.  Several times he collapsed and was revived by Dr. Rawlings applying CPR.  He says, “I would reach over and start him up again.  But this time he was screaming the words, ‘Don’t stop! I’m in hell! I’m in hell!’  Hallucinations, I thought…But he was saying the opposite: ‘For God’s sake, don’t stop!  Don’t you understand?  Every time you let go I’m back in hell!’  When he asked me to pray for him, I felt downright insulted.  In fact, I told him to shut up…” (p.36-37).  After the patient’s pleading and the nurse’s “expectant look” he makes up a prayer, “Jesus Christ is the Son of God…keep me out of hell, and if I live, I’m on the hook. I’m yours.” (p.37)  Dr. Rawlings reports, “A religious conversion experience took place…He was no longer the wild-eyed, screaming, combative lunatic who had been fighting me for his life.  He was relaxed and calm and cooperative.  It frightened me.”  He confides that besides converting the patient “this miserable prayer of mine had opened the road to my own salvation.” (p.37)

 

          You can have fair if you like but I prefer the privilege of rescue from hell through my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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Let me say it up front. I see most movies after they have gone DVD. I hear most news from a biweekly magazine.  I find out how the ball team did after the season.  By the time I try it out it’s gained the adjective “classic”. That way someone can tell me if it’s worth seeing or hearing or doing. So a friend prevailed upon me recently to read The Shack by Wm. Paul Young, saying it was so good and profoundly affected her (couldn’t stop crying or laughing).  I had intended not to read it after several unfavorable reviews.  But she sent it to me and I agreed to read it, so I decided I could evaluate it objectively given the positive and negative input I had received.

          I was struck early in the story with how compelling his tale is, so real and wrenching.  But my first and subsequent contacts with “God” in the story compelled me in a different way.  Mr. Young’s theology is atrocious, in a word, unbiblical. I believe his misrepresentation of the triune Godhead is deepened by the heart rending story and the excellent points he makes about relationship, reconciliation, restoration, and spiritual strongholds. Because he does such a good job of dealing with these ideas many people may be accepting of or overlooking his falsehoods about God. You cannot have a proper or full relationship with a God who does not exist, a figment of Mr. Young’s and perhaps American Christianity’s imagination.

          Consider the following quotes and how they align with Scripture. Papa (the name he uses for Father God) says to Mack, “I don’t need to punish people for sin” (p.120).  Scripture says, “Your sins have made a separation between you and your God” (Isaiah 59:2); “I will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7).  Next he follows up by saying, “It is not my purpose to punish sin” (p.120).  It is His purpose for He is “the One forming light and darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these” (Isaiah 45:7).

          Young rejects authority structures as un-needed among Christians and nonexistent within the Godhead: There is “no need for hierarchy” (p.124).  Ephesians 1:10 says, “He purposed in Him [Jesus] with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times.”  Jesus said, “We must work the works of Him who sent me” (John 9:4).  Hebrews 5:8 instructs us that “although He was a Son He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.”  But Young has his Jesus saying, “We are submitted to you in the same way” (p.145), referring to sacrificial love.  But the Bible says, “He has put all things in subjection under His feet” (I Corinthians 15:27).  It is true that doing things for people out of a sense of obligation is not love but that does not negate roles and responsibilities.  As an example Young’s Jesus character says, “Fulfilling roles is the opposite of relationship” (p.148).  “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25); “Wives be submissive to your own husbands…so that…they may be won without a word” (I Peter 3:1).  Proper fulfillment of roles is a sacrifice of love pleading for relationship.

          Previously my mind and heart have flown caution flags at the idea of representing God in visual images such as “The Passion of the Christ.” This view was suggested to me by a former elder who pointed out that the second commandment warns against idols or images in the likeness of God.  I had thought little of it at the time and even thought it did not apply since the actor was representing the second person of the Godhead faithfully in the form of a man which He was.  But having read this erroneous account, red flags went up and I began to question all representations of God apart from Scripture, from a crèche to Aslan.  Then Young limits Jesus to human needs (hunger) and mistakes (like dropping a bowl of batter).  Jesus is not so limited in Revelation 19 when “He judges and wages war” (v.11) and “from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike the nations” (v.15).  And what of a mere human Jesus “when the doors were shut,…Jesus came and stood in their midst (John 20:19).  God is not represented as a Father and therefore a man as Young’s character suggests because “once the Creation was broken, true fathering would be much more lacking than mothering…an emphasis on fathering is necessary because of the enormity of its absence” (p.94).  Rather, it is in His nature because He is “Eternal Father” (Isaiah 9:6).  Jesus “was calling God his own Father” (John 5:18)  and that upset the Jews.  We are only a reflection of that, poor though we be, not the cause of it. Attempts toward gender neutrality destroy pictures God determined for both man and woman.  The woman is the picture of “His bride”, the Church, who “has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).  And picturing God the Father as a man or woman in flesh is mistaken for “God is spirit” (John 4:24). 

          So despite Young’s insights into relationship with God and among men the ultimate result I believe will not be closeness to God because people will be disappointed as they find God is not who they thought He was.  It results in a wrong view of ourselves as well so that his Jesus says, “I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved” (p.182).  Certainly much referred to as Christian today is not, but it is not something to be ashamed of and retreat from.  Tremendous progress of the Gospel in and from Antioch resulted in “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26).  Lord, do such a work in me that I am that kind of Christian.  Help us to be “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (II Peter 1:3).  Oh, Lord, give us that “true knowledge of Him” so that we might catch a fuller glimpse of Him and His promises.

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“What Is Truth?”

Creatorworship

 

When Jesus was on trial before His death on the cross, Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea was questioning Him in order to discover why He was being accused.  Jesus gave Pilate answers and silence that must have seemed irrelevant to the accusations.  The apparent lack of correlation between accusations and answers pushed Pilate to frustration1 since he was trying to spoil the accusers’ design and release Jesus.  In the midst of the growing tension Jesus and Pilate have a verbal exchange of which the following is a small part:  “Jesus answered, ‘…for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’  Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’  And when he had said this he went out…” (John 18:37-38).  There is no evidence that he either waited for an answer or wanted one.

          There is a similar lack of commitment to discover the answer today so that we need to know it all the more.  “What is truth?”  The question is not simple and I believe it can be expanded into three questions.  How do we define the concept truth?  Does truth exist and can we objectively know it?  Assuming truth does exist, which set or sets of truth claims are true? 

          Several different dictionaries I referenced record that truth is “conformity to fact or reality.”  In other words, in order for something to be true it must be the original item or line up in visual (and 4 other senses) and verbal description with the original.  Josh McDowell points out that, for instance, lying is wrong not because my parents, my church, or the Bible teach it was wrong.  These sources report that it is true that lying is wrong, but they are not why it is wrong.  Neither is it wrong because it is illegal, it hurts someone, or feels wrong.  These perspectives are consequences of the truth that lying is wrong, but they are not why it is wrong.  McDowell’s concludes, “Lying is wrong because it is contrary to the nature and person and character of God,” which is “…God is true” (John 3:33).  He IS the original.  “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17) because it aligns with and accurately reports who He is.  Your parents, church, the law, your feelings, and their pain report truth when what they communicate corresponds to who God is.

          Answering the second question about whether truth exists and can we know it proceeds directly from whether or not the original exists and we can know it.  Jesus said, “I am…the truth” (John 14:6).  McDowell paraphrases this verse, “I have fidelity to the original”, which is effectively what Jesus said: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  To Philip’s request Jesus said, “…He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘show us the Father?’” (John 14:9)  Jesus has complete fidelity to the original.

          But which truth claim or claims are true?  First of all, we can eliminate the plural because two opposing claims cannot be true at the same time and in the same sense (law of non-contradiction) in that the truth of one requires the falsehood of the other. If you do not accept this law of logic you have no truth claim, being self-contradictory.  As to which claim is truth, my best effort is to agree with all the believers past and present that “He who receives His (Jesus’) testimony has set His seal to this, that God is true” (John 3:33).

          The reason we know that Pilate did not want his question answered is because, if he had, the answer was standing right in front of him.  In a song by Michael W. Smith the refrain begins, “Ancient words ever true, changing me, changing you…”  And why do they bring change?  It is because, “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  This truth is not meant to merely be some awesome monument which at first sight is admired and afterwards ignored.  Being “living and active”, it either penetrates the pores (“and marrow”) of your being purifying everything it touches or it work hardens your exterior by relentless pounding until you are brittle and break.  The truth exists. You can know it.  You should pursue it.

 

1In order to see this frustration building it is helpful to look at all four accounts:  Matthew 27:11-26, Mark 15:1-15, Luke 23:1-5, John 18:28-19:16

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 What are you focusing on this Christmas?  Even if your focus is noble it is at least harried with distractions of life in general and the Season especially.  Temptations to distraction were part of Christ’s earthly stay as well, but He was above the frey.  Consider His purpose and priority:

Why did Jesus come to the manger?  Why was this child special above all others?  Why do people both admire His life and dismiss much of what He taught?  The angels proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14).  They are certainly good words and true, but they are lacking as a purpose statement.  How will these two great goals be accomplished and how will we know when they are?  The angel’s declaration to Joseph is more specific: “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  But what are sins?  And what does it mean to be saved from sins?

            Many people want to strip the true meaning of Jesus’ coming by saying what we need is political salvation.  Those following Him believed He would set things straight, seen by the fact that when “He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11).  But Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).  Others think the salvation we need is rescue from poverty or prejudice, but Jesus said, “The poor you have with you always” (Matthew 26:11).  It was not that He did not care for the poor, for He said things like “when you give a reception, invite the poor…” (Luke 14:13).  Instead, He had a narrower purpose and a higher priority on this trip to Earth.

            Just before He left His disciples to return to heaven He explained His purpose succinctly, noting its agreement with previous Scripture, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:46-47).  This was not plan B after the crowds and religious leaders rejected Him.  He had been trying to explain it to His disciple frequently, but they didn’t get it.  “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things…and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matthew 16:21).  Of what benefit is this “forgiveness of sins”?   “He died for all so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” and “God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:15,18-19).  That’s salvation.  We can have a relationship with God.  Our problems are not political or poverty or prejudice or disease or war or hatred.  Our problem is separation from God.

            As I listened to Charles Colson in Charlotte recently He stated the case so clearly, “Only the gospel will change people.”  He quoted a Russian proverb that Solzhenitsyn used to say, “Men have forgotten God, that’s why this happened.”  Regardless of whether we have allowed falsehoods to seep in or turned all belief in God on its head Colson said, “False worldviews bring disaster.”  He continued by stating what he calls “Colson’s Law: Politics is how we organize our common lives together which is a reflection of our culture shaped by religion incarnate.”  Or to see the cause and effect more clearly:  Practical religion results in culture which results in politics.  We have strayed so far from true belief in God by embracing a soft babe in manger who will solve poverty and prejudice and political turmoil and bring peace.  Peace begins in the heart reconciled to God through belief in what Jesus did on the cross.

            One way my family remembers that at Christmas is a non-traditional advent wreath beginning with a red candle for the blood of Christ which we call the “Savior” candle.  We read prophecies about Him coming to save His people and sing one song of the cross before we begin Christmas carols.  My prayer for this Christmas season is that you would refocus on the forgiveness and reconciliation you have in Christ and how to bring it to others or if you have not yet known Him you will turn away from sin and trust Jesus as your Savior.  He is the Source of peace and reconciliation and the beginning of restoration.

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

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I did a Bible study with the youth group at my church on Perseverance.  They did the majority of the study in groups of 3 to 5 using a whiteboard, markers, and a Bible.  Through presentation, interaction, and follow-up questions we concluded that perseverance is good and neccessary and that we need to dwell more on the promises of God like heaven and His presence to succeed at it.  If you like you can use my notes to share it with someone else or yourself by clicking on countering-the-excesses-of-affluence

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About a month ago my computer came up with the feared “blue screen”. It was so irreconcilable that I had to take it to “Richard, the owner”, as he introduced himself the first time I met him, at his small storefront computer shop. My biggest concern was not the computer but the files and family pictures that appeared to be lost. The problem was so bad that he had to do “raw data recovery”. Some of you are laughing, but this was all news to me. Since then I have been sorting through the 20 gigabyte file of all of the jpeg files (the file type of my pictures) he saved to my hard-drive after reformatting . As he described it every picture anyone had ever clicked on or icon or text or figure which had a cookie (a short memory file to load or track activity) associated with it was recorded on the hard-drive. Random Access Memory had been stored for future use. Read it again: 20 Gigabytes of memory. The soccer shoes my son researched; the climbing equipment I checked on e-bay; the pictures on Facebook; every thought in “click-world”. As I eliminated memory of sites that I didn’t know my children were visiting to ferret out my family pictures the reality of cataloged thoughts, actions, intentions, words, neglected actions became more real to me. “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away,and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.  And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15) In the book, “To Hell and Back”, cardiologist and emergency room doctor, Maurice Rawlings, records many examples of people having near death or clinical death experiences. He says the evidence for hell is strong in experiences related by resuscitated patients, but “if the interview is delayed just a little bit… only the positive experiences  will be found. The negative experiences have long since been relegated to the painless portions of the memory, th victim apparently unable to coexist with this painful memory.” (p.33)  We certainly forget things or refuse to remember them, but there is an organized (non-random) record that will be accessed on every non-believer. They will be judged on the merits of their own deeds and will all fail because they refused to be judged on the merits of Christ and written in His book of life. Non-believers, take heed; there is still time to accept Jesus.  Believers, take heed; there is still time to share Jesus.

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Jesus is God

I was confronted yet again just recently by a new acquaintance we’ll call Bill, “Is Jesus God or not? People have argued about it from early on.”  Yes, they have and it is the very reason the Apostle John,  “the disciple whom He loved” (John 19:26), wrote the book in the Bible called “The First Letter of John”.  He writes, “These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.” (I John 2:26)  So, I want to turn to this little book and say, “See there it says clearly, ‘Jesus is God'”.  Or even better would have been for Jesus to have said I am God.  But it doesn’t and He didn’t.  And so, John  warns us, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (I John 4:1)  Many groups and individuals have denied either Jesus’ Deity or humanity or both: Mormons, Unification Church, Jehovahs’ Witnesses, Muslims, Jews, and Docetists and Gnostics, to name a few.  I mention the two obscure groups at the end because these are the ones John wrote the letter about which the believers should be cautioned.  John would not have used the former term, Docetism, the belief that “the human appearance of Christ is mere illusion and has no objective reality”(F. C. Baur), but he clearly is confronting the idea. This idea denies the humanity of Christ, defining “Christ”as a spirit separate from Jesus that surrounded or hovered about Him after birth and before crucifixion to avoid the ugliness of humanity being connected with God. Since Jesus is the man who suffered on the cross for our sins, it in reality denies Jesus’ Deity.  Gnosticism is a broader term enveloping many dualities of body and spirit including Docetism. Spirit is good and body is evil and so never the twain do meet. 

That the many problems these false views create are still with us is seen by the many ways that Jesus’ simultaneous deity and humanity are written off by modern non-Christian belief systems (only a few of which were named above). So how does John answer them?

He declares Jesus to be “God’s Son” several times (1:3,7; 2:22; 4:15). But is that just an exalted form similar to Jesus referring to resurrected believers as “sons of God” (Luke 20:36) or “sons of Light” (John 12:36). That is, does John declare Jesus to be God or another (albeit exalted, like a firstborn Jewish) son among many?  No, there is a distinction here, “This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.” (I John 2:22)  The Father is God; the Son is God. They go together.  “I and the Father are one,” declared Jesus to the Jews.  This is not similarity or cause and effect but unity, one and the same.  “Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘ Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father, how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?”” (John 14:8-9)  But Bill replied, “Yes, he is in the Father and the Father is in him but this does not mean that he is God.”  His explanation seemed to mean that they are in agreement but not one in substance.  But Hebrews 1:2-3 says, “His Son… is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.”  He has the same nature because He is the same substance, fully God. 

John also places the words Jesus and Christ in proximity, equating them in substance. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (I John 5:1). He does not say that Jesus has the Christ or is clothed in the Christ or functions as the Christ.  He is the Christ.  This “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (I John 4:2). Christ is not merely a spirit.  He has flesh; He is human.  The spiritual Christ and the human Christ are inseparable. Jesus suffered on the cross. So did Christ.  “Was it not necessary of the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:26). “But they…thought they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, …’See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have'” (Luke 24:37-39).  “He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'” (Luke 24:46-47).

The leaders of Jews definitely understood what Jesus was declaring when they were “saying, ‘If you are the Christ, tell us.’ But he said to them, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask a question, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ And they all said, Are You the Son of God, then?’ And He said to them, ‘Yes, I am.’ Then they said, ‘What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.'” (Luke 22:66-71).  And in another situation “the Jews answered Him, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make yourself out to be God'” (John 10:33).

John and the other New Testament writers make a clear case for ‘Jesus is God’ without ever making that statement.  Why not just say it plainly?  Would it have made a difference? “The Jews… were saying to Him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you , and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (John 10:24-26).

Belief is a remedy for this problem.  Believe that Jesus is God and Man and the Savior from sin.  Then you will agree with John’s letter, and oh, have eternal life, too.

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Preparing

As I looked out the window at the yellowing grass and the hills rolling back, I thought of the drought that is almost over but still lingers and the study my family is doing on revival from Hosea .  The Spirit works as He will and does accomplish what He wills.  And part of what He wills is that we be involved preparing for His work.  Hosea uses several images, the most obvious and powerful one being that of the marriage relationship and His pursuit of us.  But there is also this rain-farmer-ground-crop image.  I put my thoughts about it into a poem that you can read by clicking on Preparing for Rain

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Recently I was driving with my family (essentially down to two children that once was 5) in our van. I asked one of my sons (vaguely enough to not be pushy but specific enough to try to be involved), “What did you do today?” In typical teenage non-answer fashion he said, “Nothing.” In a moment of exasperation at being pushed away again I replied, “You mean all is dark, cold, and silent?” This come back received comment and I thought later that I could have added “vacuous expanse, hopelessness, worthless, non-communicative, forgotten, dry, and dead“. Afterall nothing is the lack of something: darkness the lack of light, cold the lack of thermal energy, silent the lack of material medium disturbance, and so forth. Nothing is so opposite of God. “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5). “His throne was ablaze with fire” (Daniel 7:9). As to sound “His voice was like the sound of many waters” (Revelation 1:15) and the sound of a gentle blowing… and behold, a voice came to him” (Daniel19:12,13). And furthermore you should “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19) because “He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things (Eph. 4:10). All hope is found in the “Hope of Israel, its Savior in time of distress” (Jeremiah 14:8 ). And “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). You can do that when “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) reigns in your heart. Of His worth Peter (first letter 2:6) says Christ is “a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” Christ is the very communication of God for “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,…., and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,14). And though He is God “He remembers that they were but flesh” (Psalm 78:38 ) and remembers us in our low estate” (Psalm 136:23). But He doesn’t leave us there giving us “living water, a very “well of water springing up to eternal life (John 4:14). In fact He said, “I am the bread of life (John 6:33), “the resurrection and the life (John 11″25).

So you see God is anything but nothing. Can you imagine Jesus sitting by the Sea of Galilee and being asked by one of His disciples, “What are you doing?” and Jesus replies nothing. Nothing! Hardly. But he was found “in the stern, asleep on a cushion” (Mark 4:38 ) you may say. That is a useful activity in its time, not at all like the condition of the sluggard of whom it is said, “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, then your poverty will come as a robber and your want like an armed man” (Proverbs 24:33-34). There is nothing. No, physical rest is good and spiritual rest is better. We are even urged to “be diligent to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11) which seems a contradiction in terms until you realize that your natural man wants to do nothing (unbelief) and your new man has to do something (belief) to enter and remain in rest. I will not go so far as the pope did recently to elevate the practice of “nothing” to the level of a deadly sin (all sins are eternally threatening). But our God is active, alive, filling all things. We should be involved in something according to His will rather than shrinking back to nothing.

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A second situation that prompted these thoughts happened last week over a period of nearly a week. One of my nephews drew fire over a blog entry that he had made. The opening salvo regarded whether Christmas has pagan or Christian origins. After 40 comments the discussion was moved over to a forum where two of my nephews and a friend of theirs attempted to ferret out the beliefs of two bloggers who had much more to say than what the beginnings of Christmas were. In the end  (198 more entries) it came down to the two not accepting any of the New Testament writings but Jesus’ words, claiming that His death was not a substitutionary atonement for the sins of those who trust in Him. They wanted salvation by Jesus’ words and the Law, not the grace He provided on the cross. Would you know how to defend the Gospel against very Scripturally and historically informed people who deny Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth? Afterall, Jesus never directly said, “I am God” or “Trust my death on the cross to forgive your sins.” I Peter 3:14b-15 says, “Do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence”. My nephews did an excellent job of drawing out the nature of the belief system, defending the truth with many Scripture references, and appealing to the two bloggers to repent and trust Jesus. Perhaps you think the solution is to stay out of blog forums, but how will you answer that colleague at the work or that soccer mom or that classmate who has a twisted view of Scripture? Twisted views of Scripture are common these days. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” I want to urge any believer reading this entry to make 2008 a year of studying the Word. And pastors 2 Timothy 4:2 says, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” Make exposition of the Word central and meaty. May all of us emphasize Bible study over book study, discussing the Word over discussing the weather, that we “may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10)

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I was urging one of my sons the other day to read the Word of God regularly. “Why?”, he says, “I know what it says.”  But there is a need in all of us to know and do the Word, as James 1:22-25 says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.” We are forgetful; we need reminding. There is no standing still in your spiritual life. You are either going forward or backward.  Get in the Word; stay in the Word regularly both individually and corporately.

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Advent Colors

As is our tradition, our family began the advent wreath last Sunday evening. But we celebrate the wreath differently than the traditions of many generations and churches. We use the colors of the candles to remind us of who Christ is and why He came. Note the colors in the picture and then take note of the S‘s in the following poem by clicking on Advent Colors

Advent Wreath

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