Monday, December 23, 2013

The Path Of Peace - A Christmas Prequel

There are tons of movies that have sequels. A sequel is sort of the next episode - part II. The Christmas movie "Home Alone" had a sequel, "Home Alone 2".  It's just a continuation. The opposite of a sequel is a prequel. A prequel is a movie that tells a story that precedes the original movie. For example, "The Planet Of The Apes" came out originally, and then, years later, a prequel came out, "The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" which described how it all started. I know you can think of many more examples yourself.

Well, the story of the birth of Christ, as found in the New Testament,  has a prequel too. This prequel begins 15 months before the birth of Jesus, and it starts with a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He and his wife, Elizabeth, had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.

One day, it was his turn to perform his duty at the temple, burning incense in the sanctuary. Suddenly, an angel appeared to him and said, "Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth."  But Zechariah had doubts and asked, "How can I be sure this will happen?" Because of that doubt, the angel, Gabriel, the same angel who appeared to Mary 6 months later, told Zechariah that he would not be able to speak until his son, who would become John the Baptist, was born. 

So for 9 months Zechariah was dumb, speechless. When his son was to be circumcised at 8 days old, they were to name him. Everyone thought he would be named after his father, but Zechariah wrote on a tablet that his name should be John. At that moment his speech was miraculously returned to him. And the first thing he did was to praise God. He also prophesied about the coming Messiah. Here's what he said...

"Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79 NLT)

I can just hear the excitement in his voice, perhaps yelling at the top of his lungs those words, trying to convince everyone that something big, really big, was about to take place. He was predicting the birth of Jesus!  Six months before it happened!

The "morning light from heaven" is a reference for Jesus. Jesus was about to come to earth - from the spiritual to enter in the physical realm. A similar title for Jesus is found in the book of Revelation. The bright "Morning Star". In astronomy, Venus is called the bright morning star because in some months, it appears just before dawn, heralding in a new day. Another word used in this text is Dayspring, meaning a new era or a new order of things. What Zechariah was saying is that the Messiah is about to come, about to break upon us, bringing a new era, and bringing light in a dark world. 

Jesus is called the light of the world. The Apostle John describes Jesus as the light. "The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world." (John 1:9 NLT)  The Apostle John also says, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it." (John 1:5 NLT)

What does this light do? This light that can never be extinguished?  First it reveals. In other words, Jesus, the light, reveals God to us. Through His life - through His word. Secondly, the light, Jesus, illuminates our way. He brings light - new light -  to those who sit in darkness - those without hope, those locked in the bondage of sin and despair.  He offers forgiveness and a way to be right with God. Instead of being in conflict with God, we can be in a loving relationship with Him, through Christ.

Notice Zechariah's words, that the morning light from heaven will "guide us to the path of peace". What he was predicting is that Jesus, the light, will illuminate for us the way to the path of peace. Jesus show us how to find this path. Who wouldn't want to walk on the path of peace as we go through this life? This walkway of peace is sure better than the road of chaos, confusion, and despair. Jesus offers us the path and He is always calling, "Come, follow me."

Also notice how Zechariah says that the coming light, which will illuminate the way to peace, inner peace, and peace with God, is all the result of "God's tender mercy". What a Christmas present!

The prophet Isaiah, when prophesying about the coming birth of Christ, 700 years before it happened, referred to Jesus as the "Prince of Peace." 

This Christmas, if you are not already walking on the path of peace, may you let the true light of heaven guide your way to it.  May the Prince of Peace guide you to the Path of Peace. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Without Santa?

I like Santa. Even as a Christian. When my children were little we had fun with the idea of Santa. They just knew it was 'pretend'. And they knew right from the toddler stage the real reason why we celebrated Christmas....the birth of Jesus. So, Santa was just pretend and just fantasy, and that was the way my family handled it. We even sort of jokingly put cookies and milk out for Santa. I don't think my kids were fooled by it. They just went along with my craziness.

I like Christmas trees, and Christmas lights, and Christmas presents (but not Christmas shopping). I love Christmas movies. I can't count how many times we have seen the Grinch. Our house is filled with Christmas decorations, as well as Christmas cards and cookies. However, there has never been a Christmas in my house without our manger scene. My family knows the real Christmas story. And to me, all the decorations and the hype that comes with Christmas is fine, but it's just the frill - the fireworks - the confetti - for just one thing......the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord! That's what the celebration is all about.

Christmas celebration in America is extravagant when it comes to the hoopla. My question is this. Could you personally still celebrate Christmas if all the hoopla was gone? If Santa is removed, the Christmas lights are taken away, the Christmas decorations are gone, the Christmas tree is not there, and there are no presents.....could you still celebrate Christmas?

There are places in the world like that...without the frill. Just look at the situation in the Philippines right now. Because of the recent typhoon that killed approximately 4000 people, four million people are displaced from their homes! In other words...homeless! There is no extravagant frill there. In such a terrible situation, can a Christian there still celebrate Christmas?

In North Korea, don't even try to put up a Christmas tree in front of your home. Christianity there is forced underground. North Korea is one of the worst places in the world when it comes to Christian persecution. People have been given the death sentence, executed, for simply possessing a Bible! Are the Christians there, who are in secret, celebrating Christmas this year?

Recently in the news, you may have heard about Pastor Saeed Abedini. He is the Christian preacher who is currently being held in an Iranian prison, one of the worst prisons in the world, for preaching Christianity. He is an American citizen and has been in prison there since September 2012. He has been beaten and tortured in attempts to have him renounce his faith in Christ. If he would submit to that and return to Islam, then he woud be released to his wife and two small children.  He is held in the violent criminal ward, in terrible conditions, and his health is failing. Because of his beatings, he has had internal bleeding, with very little medical care or concern, if any. But throughout all that, his faith is stronger than ever. Will he celebrate Christmas this year?

Will the Christians in the Philippines and in North Korea celebrate Christmas this year? Will Saeed Abedini celebrate Christmas this year? You better believe it! That's because Christmas is the day that commemorates of the birth of Jesus - His entry in this world - and because of that, it is a very special day.  Jesus is the one who brings light into a dark world - who brings the promise of new life, even life after death. And through His life, His death, and His resurrection from the dead, and our faith in Him, we have hope and salvation. 

Maybe the question you really need to stop and consider is this..."Would I be able to celebrate Christmas, even without Santa, without the frills, without the presents, without the decorations, even if I was alone and in uncomfortable circumstances?" The answer will reveal your true heart and your true faith. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Chronological Christmas Story - 7 Day Bible Reading Plan

When's the last time you've read the Christmas story in the Bible? At this time of year it's something you should definitely do. It's not that long, actually. It's only found in 2 of the 4 Gospels. The Book of Mark and the Book of John don't mention the details of the birth of Jesus at all. Only the Book of Matthew and the Book of Luke talk about it. So below is a 7-day Bible reading plan that is in chronological order as far as how the timeline of events occurred. Read it at least once through before Christmas. There are some amazing, miraculous things going on in that story, so take your time and read slowly. Make today Day #1.

Day #1: Read Luke 1:5-25
The Birth Of John The Baptist Foretold

Day  #2: Read Luke 1:26-56
The Birth Of Jesus Foretold
Mary Visits Elizabeth
Mary's Song Of Praise

Day #3: Read Luke 1:57-80
The Birth Of John The Baptist
Zechariah's Prophecy

Day #4: Read Matthew 1:18-25 and then Luke 2:1-7
The Angel Appears To Joseph
The Birth Of Jesus

Day #5: Read Luke 2:8-20
The Shepherds And The Angels

Day #6: Read Luke 2:21-38
Jesus Is Presented In The Temple
The Prophecy Of Simeon
The Prophecy of Anna

Day #7: Read Matthew 2:1-23 and then Luke 2:39-40
The Wise Men
The Escape To Egypt
The Return To Nazareth
Jesus Grows Up In Nazareth

The more you read these scriptures, the more you really get a good knowledge of the true story of Christmas. Everything else aside from scripture is speculation. So....don't base your theology on a Hallmark Christmas card!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The 19 Supernatural Events Of The Christmas Story!

It’s amazing to see the extent of God’s providence in the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Not only is an Angel used at least 7 different times, a multitude of Angels are used at one point also. Dreams are used no less than twice. A miraculous star appears on two occasions. The influence of the Holy Spirit is involved at least 4 times. Considering all this, it’s easy to see that the birth of Jesus leaves nothing to chance. It was planned and orchestrated by God!

#1. The Angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah (Luke 1:11-17)
#2. The Angel Gabriel strikes Zechariah dumb (Luke 1:19-22)
#3. God allows Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, to become pregnant (Luke 1:23-25)
#4. The Angel Gabriel appears to Mary (Luke 1:26-37)
#5. Mary miraculously becomes pregnant (Luke 1:38) 
#6. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:39-45)
#7. Zechariah’s speech miraculously returns (Luke 1:57-66)
#8. Zechariah speaks prophecy (Luke 1:67-79)
#9. An Angel appears to Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25)
#10. An Angel announces the birth of Jesus to shepherds (Luke 2:1-12)
#11. A multitude of Angels appear to the shepherds (Luke 2:13-20)
#12. Simeon speaks prophecy when baby Jesus is brought to the temple (Luke 2:21-35)
#13. Anna speaks prophecy acknowledging Jesus (Luke 2:36-38)
#14. The Wise Men are led by a miraculous star to Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1-8)
#15. The miraculous star reappears to the The Wise Men and leads them to Jesus (Matthew 2:9-11)
#16. The Wise Men are warned in a dream to escape from Herod (Matthew 2:12)
#17. An Angel appears to Joseph to tell him to escape to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-18)
#18. An Angel appears to Joseph to tell him to return to Israel (Matthew 2:19-21)
#19. Joseph is directed in a dream to bring Jesus to Nazareth (Matthew 2:22-23)

Amazing!! Now....don’t just read the list above, read the scriptures listed, in order. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Red Friday Good Friday

At one in the morning the stores are mobbed, the highways are jammed, and the lines are long. Starbucks is open all night. The rush is on. It's "Black Friday". The biggest shopping day of the year. I think it's become bigger than Thanksgiving itself! We might as well make it a national holiday. Shopping frenzy day! Shopping fanatical, hysteria (maybe hysterical) day. Shopping chaos day. Panic buying, impulse buying day. Made house day. Made rush day.

It used to be that stores opened early on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Then to keep up with the Jones', or maybe to keep one step ahead of the Jones', stores started opening earlier than their competition. And earlier, and earlier. Then someone got the bright idea to simply open at midnight on Thursday. It was a huge success. That is, until someone opened at 10:00pm on Thursday - a super-early Black Friday. 

This year, for the first time in its 155 year history, Macy's in NY, will open on Thanksgiving day at 8:00pm. Not to be beaten, Walmart opened at 6:00pm. On Thanksgiving day! Has the family turkey dinner simply become a shopping planning event? I hate to see next year's opening day. Soon the Thanksgiving holiday will be overthrown! By shoppers! And similar to how we stuff ourselves with turkey, shoppers will turn into consumer gluttons! Although I think they have already.

How did this name for the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, come about anyway? It seems to me that Good Friday, the day we observe as Jesus dying on the cross, should be Black Friday, not Good Friday. And Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, should be called Good Friday because of all the good deals. 

O, I know, Good Friday is good because Jesus died to take away our sins, but for me, I think I would prefer to call it Black Friday. Now, the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, most likely got its name because all the businesses are expected to make such a profit that no company will be in the 'red' that day. So, Red Friday would not be a good name for Black Friday, although, Red Friday, symbolizing the sacrificial blood of Christ, may be even a better name than Good Friday. However, if Black Friday was named, as some say, because of the crazy traffic that will clog up the roads and cause havoc on the day after Thanksgiving, then perhaps Black Friday should be called Red Friday after all.

So Black Friday should be called Good Friday or possibly Red Friday, and Good Friday should be called Black Friday or possibly Red Friday unless Black Friday becomes Red Friday first.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Merry Christmas....I mean Happy Holidays! we go again. That season is upon us. OK all you bank tellers, grocery store workers, retail store clerks.....I know you secretly want to say "Merry Christmas!" to your customers, but whatever you do, bite your tongue. You know the company policy. We don't want to offend anyone. Just politely say "Happy Holidays". And don't forget to smile. 

How dare you remind someone that the reason for all the December excitement and celebration is.....shhhh (Christmas). Soon even Santa will start exclaiming, "Merry Holiday to all, and to all a good night." Lowes will be selling Holiday trees and Holiday wreathes. And what about the Holiday lights that everyone will put up. Parades will be referred to as Holiday parades. Office parties will be Holiday parties. People will be rushing to buy Holiday presents before it's Holiday eve. And on Holiday day, we can all gather the family to open our Holiday gifts and then later have Holiday dinner together, with Holiday cheer and Holiday candy. 

And what about the Holiday songs. They need to be changed too. Soon radio stations will be playing "I'm Dreaming Of A White Holiday", "O Holiday Tree, O Holiday Tree", "The 12 Days Of Holiday", "We Wish You A Merry Holiday", and they'll dub Elvis' voice to sing, "I'll Have A Blue Holiday Without You".

Christmas (ooops, I mean Holiday) movies will need to be re-released as "White Holiday", "The Grinch Who Stole Holiday", "Holiday Story", and "Holiday Vacation". And what about the great poem, "The Night Before Holiday"? We will need to re-learn everything! "Merry Christmas" will need to go 'underground'!

Somewhere, though, a remnant will remain. There will still be a select few, scattered among us. who secretly will say "Merry Christmas" to each other, maybe softly, maybe even just mouthing the words, silently. But somehow, someway, this phrase, which is on its way to being banned for public use, will survive. There will be a remnant that carries on. And someday children will be taught how long ago, a cheerful, joyous greeting was once exchanged between 2 people at Christmas time, with a smile and a sparkle of excitement in their eyes. 

And hopefully, this winter Holiday greeting will eventually come full circle - once everyone realizes who the offended ones really are. WE ARE!  It's the Christians! "Happy Holidays" is the offensive term, not "Merry Christmas!"  To us, "Happy Holidays!" tries to cover up the real meaning of Christmas. Christmas is all about Christ. If you don't like "Merry Christmas" -  sorry! But Christmas is about Christ - and it's about us - Christians.

The reason we say "Merry Christmas!" is because Christ's love is for all people, regardless of who they are. And because of that, we as Christians extend our best wishes to everyone, regardless if you are a Christian or not. "Merry Christmas!"is a positive, gracious, cheerful greeting, not an offensive one. 

We need to not be ashamed of "Merry Christmas!", it would be like being ashamed of the Gospel message - the good news of the birth of a baby King, Immanuel, God with us, the King of all kings, who became our King - who brings hope and peace and joy. Now that's something to celebrate, proclaim, and share!

So............."Merry Christmas!" to all, and to all a good night.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Don't Make This A Godless Thanksgiving!

Let's see....when you think of Thanksgiving, what immediately comes to mind? For most, I would say turkey dinner with family and friends. Perhaps a day off. Family reunion. Football. The beginning of Christmas season. We're thankful alright, for things. For stuff. For good health. For living in a land of liberty and freedom. All great things, but have we forgotten something? Have we been so focused on the holiday itself that it's turned into a Godless Thanksgiving? Consider this....should we be just thankful "for"? Or should we also be thankful "to"? That's the real question. Thanksgiving "for" (for all the things we have), or thanksgiving "to"(to the one whom all blessings flow)?  

On this holiday, have we reduced our gratitude to God to just a ritual pre-meal prayer before we stuff ourselves? Thanksgiving shouldn't  be about being grateful for all the things we have, as if inventorying personal assets, without acknowledging that all our blessings are by the grace of God. It should be a day of reflection, gratitude, and praise done with humility, with no hint of greed or selfishness. 

The key to really focusing on what this holiday is all about is to simply go back to Abraham Lincoln's proclamation, which established the Thanksgiving holiday in 1863. He declared it to be "a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens". Awesome! In other words, Thanksgiving is supposed to be about God! It's meant to be a special day our country is to stop, and be united in the purpose of acknowledging God's hand in who we are and what we have. That our blessings are the "gracious gifts of the Most High God".

So this Thanksgiving, be reminded of the true purpose of this holiday. And throughout the entire day make sure you give thanks "to", and not just "for". Make it a day of "thanksgiving and praise", just as President Lincoln intended it to be.

Below are the words of Abraham Lincoln (I've added coloring):

"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union." In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth. By the President: Abraham Lincoln. William H. Seward, Secretary of State

Saturday, November 16, 2013

5 Reasons Why The Bible Is Still Relevant

The Bible is not just ancient reference book to add to your collection. It's not just some out-of-date religious history journal. And it's not just a collection of old, fanciful stories. So what is the Bible? Maybe a good descriptive title would be "The Book Of God". After all, it tells us who God is, what He has done in the past, what He promises to do in our current daily life, and what He promises for the future.

"The Book Of God" isn't just about God though. It is about us. It's about God's gracious plan of how we can be made right with God. That plan involves the One who saves - Jesus. Without the Bible, we would not know of God's plan to save us from eternal destruction. So to say the Bible doesn't apply to us today would be crazy. The Bible does apply to us today, and the Bible is still relevant. Below are 5 reasons why.

1. The God of ancient times is the same God today
If the God described in the Bible was a different God than the God of today, then the Bible would certainly not be relevant. It wouldn't apply to our day and age. It wouldn't apply to our lives. Then it truly would be just an ancient history book of times long gone. However, our God, the one and only God, never has changed. That means the God we pray to, the God we serve, and the God we worship is the same God who created this world, and is the same God who sits on the heavenly throne at this moment. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)

Because the God we know today is the same God who is revealed in the Bible, the Bible is still relevant in today's world.

2. The Bible still changes lives today
I've talked to many Christians over the years, and I have yet to hear a Christian say that the Bible has not changed their life. The Bible is the only book that can permanently change one's life forever. How does this happen? It happens because the belief and faith that develops from Bible truths results in a transformational response in the way we live and act.

"Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ." (Romans 10:17)

Our lives change because our faith drives it.  But there's much more to it. Our faith develops because the Bible is more than just words on a page - much more than just black and white. The Holy Spirit is involved, and we become convicted.

"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

Besides that, the Bible continually changes lives through a life-long transformation. It's on-going. "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2a)

Changed lives is the proof that the Bible is still relevant.

3. The Bible is written to believers
The Bible assumes that the reader believes. And if the reader doesn't believe, the intent is to persuade readers to believe. The Bible presents truths. But there is more to it than simply truths, it presents truths that are convicting. The Apostle John wrote the Book of John for the specific purpose of persuading his readers to believe in Jesus.

"Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:30-31)

Perhaps the strongest argument that the Bible is relevant, especially the New Testament Epistles, is the fact that the Epistles are all addressed to Christians. Paul addressed his letters to Christians of different churches or regions. For example, here's one of Paul's greetings, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 1:1) If the Epistles are written to Christians, and we are Christians, then the principles found in these letters apply to us. 

4. The Bible's principles are timeless
Regardless of culture, and regardless of the time frame, the Bible principles are universal. How humans should treat each other, how to live righteously,  and how they should come to know God are ageless. Teachings on subjects such as peace, joy, and love are always relevant.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23)

A mature Christian will begin to display there qualities in increasing measure. They are timeless. 

5. The Bible doesn't have an expiration date
 God's plan for us to be made right with God through Christ doesn't have an expiration date. Well, it does, on the Final Day, when Jesus comes back to gather His church. But until then, the New Testament truths go on. And God's plan of redemption is always available. It doesn't change, God's promises are true, and God is faithful to His word. And even long after this world passes away........

“My Words will not pass away” – Mark 13:31

The Bible deals with eternal things, spiritual things. It deals with things not just in the past, or even in the present, but things of the future, such as life after death, how the earth will end, and what heaven will be like - things that haven't yet come to pass.

So, yes, the Bible is still relevant. And if it is still relevant, so what? So...... read it! And gain more faith as you go, resulting in transformational change that has eternal consequences. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Paradox of Wealth

The almighty dollar, cash, cold cash, hard cold cash, hard cold cash on the barrel, greenbacks, bread, dough, bucks, loot, money, moola. It’s been hoarded, collected, earned, stolen, gambled, won, lost and found. For some it’s been amassed into fortunes, and for some it’s been the ruination of life. 

And no doubt, all through history, there have been those who are rich, and those who were poor - mostly poor though. Yes, the poor have always been the overwhelming majority. But there’s something very interesting about many who are poor. It's possible to be both poor and rich at the same time! That’s the paradox - a paradox is a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet is true. How can one be poor and rich at the same time? They are opposites!

Poor yet Rich
This may be your story... "I don't have much, and it seems like I'm just getting by, but regardless, I feel rich in so many ways." If so, you understand the paradox.  

Someone who is poor can certainly be wealthy at the same time - wealthy in blessings such as family and friends, relationships bonded with love. What's more valuable than loving relationships? Loving relationships with friends, with family, with God!

Yes, someone who is in poverty can be wealthy at the same time! Wealthy in purpose, in fulfillment, in joy and peace and hope. Wealthy in blessings from God. On the other hand, someone who is financially rich can be poor at the same time. Poor in purpose, in fulfillment, in joy and peace and hope. Poor in blessings from God. 

The Apostle Paul certainly understood the paradox of having nothing, yet having everything. In describing himself as well as his fellow workers, he mentioned a lot of opposites  "We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything." (2 Corinthians 6:9-10 NLT) 

What a profound statement! "We own nothing, and yet we have everything." Regardless of the trials and persecution they went through, the punishments, the sorrows, and their poverty, they felt they had it all. 

It seems the more we start to prioritize what's really important in life, the more we develop a loving relationship with God, and live according to His ways, then the more we become rich, regardless of our circumstances. And the more we are fulfilled. And the more we can say, we've got it all. 

That's the paradox of wealth. But here's the most profound paradox:

Someone Rich became Someone Poor could be Rich

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9)

That's right, Jesus who was rich in the Heavenly realm gave it all up, humbled Himself, came to earth in human form, to sacrifice His innocent, sinless life so that we who are spiritually poor, in sin, underserving, could become rich in salvation, forgiveness, and promise. That, friends, is called grace - getting what we don't deserve. Jesus is the source of wealth! And you are the beneficiary. 

So, in this world, there are several scenarios: the rich can be rich, the rich can be poor, the poor can be rich, and the poor can be poor! Ha. 

The question is...where are you? Regardless whether you are rich or poor financially, "I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)

May you come to realize what true wealth is, and may you acquire it to the fullest. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Jesus Created The World!

It was Jesus who created the world! What?! Sounds whack doesn't it? But let's take a broader look at who Jesus really is, and not just know Him as the one who died on the cross for us (although the cross is obviously hugely significant). 

Let's start with this scripture. "In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God." (John 1:1-2 NLT) 

So, who is the 'Word'? If we didn't have John 1:14, it might be confusing, but look at verse 14: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14 NLT) That clarifies it! The Word is without a doubt Jesus. Now we can substitute Jesus for the Word in verse one above. 

"In the beginning, Jesus already existed. Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. Jesus existed in the beginning with God." WOW!!!

It gets even more amazing. Look at John 1:3, "God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him." The "him" in this verse directly refers to Jesus. In other words, "God created everything through Jesus, and nothing was created except through Jesus." Incredible. Based on that verse, forget the thought that Jesus was simply created by God when He was born as a human. He wasn't. Based on the above verse, it's absurd to say Jesus was a created being because Jesus can't make himself! Jesus was not a created being.....Jesus existed before all things, and through Jesus all things were created.

I love it when the Bible reinforces its teachings, when different scriptures corroborate truths. For example, look at Hebrews 1:1 NIV, "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe." This verse reinforces the truth that Jesus was involved in creation! Through Him God made the universe. Amazing!

Here's more support for the fact that Jesus was involved in creation. "The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:15-17 NIV)  It says that in Him, all things were created. And not just this world, but things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible. Mind-boggling!! ALL things were created by Jesus and for Jesus.

How can this be? It's because of the three-in-one Godhead. Some call it the trinity - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - one God in three persons. Don't try to totally grasp it because our finite minds are not capable of understanding such things of the spiritual realm. Some things need to be simply left to faith, and remain a mystery that we aren't meant to totally comprehend.

This idea that Jesus is God makes sense when you look at the above creation scriptures. This scripture helps clarify that truth. "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,  he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:6-8 NIV)

So, yes, Jesus was involved in creation. And even if you look back in Genesis chapter one, you'll see that the concept of the trinity was there from the beginning. "...Let us make human beings in our image..." (Genesis 1:26 NLT). Notice it says "in our image", not "in my image".

I hope this gives you a broader picture of who Jesus is, and how amazing it is that He came to earth, to die for our sins. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Mystery Of The Miracle Bread

OK - First realize this is not some secret bread recipe, although I have a really good wheat bread recipe I can share with you sometime. Instead, this mysterious "miracle bread" that I'm referring to was an actual, real-life food that God referred to as "the bread from heaven". The Israelites called it "manna", which literally is translated "what is this?"

Manna was miraculously provided by God for the people of Israel to eat. It appeared on the ground after the dew was gone. Manna could be gathered up, ground in a hand mill, or crushed in a mortar.  It could be cooked in a pot, made into loaves, and could be baked or boiled. It appeared as small flakes the size of coriander seed, and had the texture of resin or something like semi-dry pine sap. It tasted really good, like something made with olive oil, like wafers made with honey. It was incredibly and perfectly nutritious, and could, by itself, sustain human life indefinitely. Miracle bread! (see Exodus 16 and Numbers 11).

Each day, everyone was allowed to gather as much as they needed before the manna would melt away and disappear. However, if anyone tried to hoard it, or keep it overnight, it would stink and be full of maggots by morning. They had to trust that God would provide for them one day at a time, day in and day out. There was one exception. On the sixth day, they could gather a double portion because on the Sabbath, God told them that no manna would appear. It was the one day they could gather a double portion and keep it overnight without it spoiling.

The story of manna starts at the time Moses, when he led the nation of Israel out of Egyptian slavery. After the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, they ended up in a vast, desolate desert of rock, sand and dust, with no water and no food. That's where they lived for 40 years before they entered the promised land! I was checking out Google Earth on this whole area, and it's amazing that anyone or anything can survive there! If you get a chance, look at the views of that area. Today, it's the Sinai peninsula that's between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. 

How can tens of thousands of people live in a desert for 40 years, where nothing grows and there is absolutely no source of food? Simple...they can't! They might last a few days, but that's it. Impossible by man's reasoning. However, God can do the impossible! That's what I like about God. He fed His people when they couldn't feed themselves. He never abandoned them, but cared for them and provided for them. Even their clothes didn't wear out for 40 years!  ("Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years." - Deuteronomy 8:4).

So, why is this miracle bread, manna, a mystery? And what is the answer to the mystery of the miracle bread? It's a mystery because this miraculous provision of manna was only a model for something much, much greater to come! The answer to the mystery is this: It was a model for Jesus! Jesus is the real bread of life that came down from heaven.

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  “Sir, they said, “always give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:32-35)

Below are 10 parallels between manna and Jesus that help solve the mystery:
1. Both came down from heaven miraculously
2. Both offer a salvation from certain doom
3. Both offered free
4. Both given to those in a type of desert 
5. Both all-sufficient for sustaining life
6. Both white and pure 
7. Both were humble (manna small in size)
8. Both require bowing down to get it
9. Both faithfully and consistently present 
10. Both require faith and trust

You see, manna was just a shadow of greater things to come. It was a model for what Jesus brings to us today. Manna was the 'bread from heaven", but Jesus is the true "bread from heaven". Manna gave physical life but Jesus gives spiritual life.

So, how does solving the mystery of the miracle bread help you? Think of matter where you are in life's journey, even if you are in what seems like a 'desert', God, through Jesus, will sustain you through what ever it is, for He is a God who is faithful, day in and day out. He still cares and will never abandon you. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Believe and trust in Him and you will find life - real life, spiritual life, and eternal life!

"Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever." (John 6:47-51a)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

3 Ways How NOT To Read The Bible

The Bible is incredibly valuable. I can't imagine anyone arguing that point. It would be lunacy. The Bible is a collection of 66 books, written over hundreds of years, by many different men who had God-given ability (literally) to accurately record for posterity what I call the sacred writings. The Bible contains history, law, poetry, prophecy, and revelation from God - revelation of who He is and who we are, and what He's done and continues to do. In addition, it gives us the principles of how we should live, and how to be in a right relationship with God through Christ. 

For those deciding to pick up the Bible for the first time, it can be intimidating. "Where do I start?" "Will I be able to understand it?" "How does it apply to me?"

Perhaps the best way to know how to read the Bible is to first know how NOT to read it. 

1. Do NOT Read The Bible With Skepticism
If you are going to read the Bible, read it with the right attitude - humility. Read it with the intention of trying to learn and understand it. If you don't have a teachable spirit - forget it. If you read the scriptures with skepticism, how will you ever get anything out of it? On the other hand, when you read the Bible with the right attitude, you will gain more faith and understanding every time. So read it with curiosity, with awe and wonder, and as one seeking truth.

2. Do NOT Speed-Read The Bible
Once, I took a speed reading course. It was fantastic in developing the practice of scanning text while maintaining good comprehension. Speed reading works well for things like newspapers or general documents. However, the practice of speed reading should never be used on legal papers, technical documents, and especially.......the Bible!

The Bible should be read SLOWLY! - carefully and thoughtfully. Don't rush it. It's ok to read just a little at a time. Reading a few verses a day is better than reading no verses a day, and better than skimming over the verses. Don't try to quickly glance over it just to fulfill a daily Bible reading schedule. In other words, take your time! When it comes to the Bible, it's comprehension first, not speed. And even if you need to re-read some verses a few times, don't feel alone. That's usually what I need to do.

3. Do NOT Read The Bible Haphazardly
Do not open the Bible with your eyes closed, randomly pick a page, place your finger somewhere on the page, open your eyes and then read the verse, thinking that's where God wants you to read. Instead, read purposefully. Make sure you understand how the Bible is divided up. Basically, there is the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is mostly about the nation that God developed and sustained (Israel) through which a Messiah would come. The New Testament is about the Messiah (Jesus) who came through that nation, His life, His mission, and His teachings.

Here's a good way to mark up your Bible's table of contents.......

It's probably not a good idea to just start on page one of the Bible and read it like a novel. First of all, it's not in pure chronological order, and secondly, you can quickly get bogged down with Old Testament law early on, especially when you get into Leviticus and Deuteronomy. So instead of reading haphazardly and randomly, use a reading plan.

If you were to pick up the Bible for the first time, my advice would be to start with the New Testament, with a Gospel, such as the book of Mark. That will give you a rounded view of the life of Jesus. Then read the book of Acts (the history book of the early church). Then go back and read the gospel of John (John's a bit different than the other 3 gospels).

After John, read the book of Matthew, the book of Luke, and then Galatians, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians. After that, read the rest of the Epistles in order, starting with Romans. (Epistles are simply letters written to Christians). Then read the book of Revelation (just remember this one is full of symbolism). If your Bible has a synopsis at the beginning of each book, I definitely recommend that you read that too. It will help you have a clearer understanding of the context of each book.

At that point, you've read the entire New Testament.  Now it's time for the Old Testament. Jump back and read the book of Genesis. Read Exodus next, then all 12 Old Testament history books (see the chart above).

After that, at your own pace and discretion, alternate between the rest of the Old Testament books and re-reading parts of the New Testament (wherever you want), until you've covered the entire Bible.

Once you've accomplished reading the entire Bible, never stop re-reading it, especially focusing on the New Testament. No matter how many times you read a particular verse or chapter, it seems you always gather something new out of it. Besides, the more you read, the more you gain faith, wisdom, and understanding.

As you read the scriptures, always ask questions like "What can I learn about God from this passage?" or "What does God want me to do from this passage?" or "What can I learn about myself from this passage?" Also, when you are reading scripture, know who is writing it, who it's written to, and know the context (what's before the passage and what's after the passage). And remember, it's ok to read slowly and just a little at a time. Don't read in a big hurry. Read with good comprehension.

One thing is for sure....reading the Bible will change your life - for the better. After all, it's not an ordinary book - it's comprised of sacred writings, and delivers supernatural, Holy Spirit inspired insight and direction in our life, which ultimately leads to a way of salvation and eternal life through Christ! So read it with the right attitude, read it carefully, read it daily, and read it with purpose. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Astronomy, Astrology, and the Bible

I remember when I first began coming across facts about astronomy in the Bible. It was and still is amazing - how the Bible confirms science. Or should I say, science confirms the Bible. When you look at passages that describe the heavens, the stars, the moon, the sun and the earth itself, written long before telescopes were invented, it awakens you to the fact that God is Designer/Creator, and His revelations about the universe are found in scripture.

Many people who lived in the days of Columbus believed the earth was flat. Obviously, they never read the Bible! The prophet Isaiah, who lived approximately 700 years before Christ, describes a round earth. "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth..." (Isaiah 40:22)

The book of Job is considered by most scholars to be the oldest book in the Bible, and yet it implies gravitational forces!  "He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing." (Job 26:7)

Even evaporation is described in the Book of Job!  “He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams." (Job 36:27) Wow!  "He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight." (Job 26:8)

Here's a good question for you when you look up into the heavens on a starry night. "Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?" (Job 40:26)  Who created all these? Of course, the answer is God. "It is I who made the earth  and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts." (Isaiah 45: 12)

There are some things we simply can't comprehend. Like, where does the universe end? And if it ends, what's on the other side? And maybe there's a reason why we are not able to understand it all. Maybe such mysteries are God's way of demonstrating that His knowledge is far greater than ours. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:9)

And we can try with all our might to theorize and speculate how the earth was formed, but to the scientists who leave God out of the picture when it comes to answering the question of how the earth was made, God may very well be saying to them......... “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! (Job 38:4-5a) Ha. I love it when God is being sarcastic!

I think the prophet Jeremiah sums it up pretty well. "He made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding." (Jeremiah 51:15)

While astronomy is the science of the universe, astrology, on the other hand, is the practice of tracking the position of celestial bodies with the belief that they influence earthly occurrences and human affairs. Astrology is interesting because it's tied to astronomy, but there is a problem with it. God doesn't like it! And He doesn't like us to use it, especially if we use it as our life's guide.

Are you one of those who can't wait to get the morning paper, or the internet, to see what you daily horoscope says? Maybe you plan your day, or your week, around it. If so, you might want to rethink this practice. God is a jealous God in the sense that He wants your complete trust and faith in Him, and in Him alone. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God." (Exodus of the Ten Commandments)

God has made it clear that we should be loyal to Him exclusively, and turn to nothing or no one else. "And do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord." (Deuteronomy 18:10b-12a)

Do the planets and their alignment influence us? Maybe. Does a full moon affect man's behavior. It sure seems like it! You see the question is not about whether all these things are real or not. The question is this: "In whom or in what are you placing your trust?" That is exactly what God is asking you!

We can look at the heavens with awe and wonder because the universe is fascinating and incredible. But as far as the stars and planets are concerned, we are warned. "And when you look up into the sky and see the sun, moon, and stars—all the forces of heaven—don’t be seduced into worshiping them." (Deuteronomy 4:19a) Over the centuries, mankind has fell to this temptation of looking to the stars and planets as the controlling force in one's life. This distracts tremendously from God Himself. "They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen." (Romans 1:25)

The prophet Isaiah didn't think much highly of astrologers either. "All the counsel you have received has only worn you out! Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming upon you." (Isaiah 47:13)

The bottom line is this.....God wants your trust and faith in Him only. Forget relying on fortune tellers, astrologers, and psychics, or anything else for life's answers. Just rely on Him. That's where our faith should be placed.

And as far as astronomy is concerned, if you are looking to the stars to reveal something to you, let it reveal this.......His glory! "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." (Psalm 19:1)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The 10 Commandments Revisited

It seems that everyone has heard of the Ten Commandments. But have you looked at them lately? 'The Message' is a more recent translation of the Bible. Let's see how the ten commandments sound in that version. It's found in Exodus 20:1-17

#1. I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery.No other gods, only me.
#2. No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.
#3. No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.
#4. Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.
#5. Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you.
#6. No murder
#7. No adultery
#8. No stealing
#9. No lies about your neighbor
#10. No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.

Here's my condensed Christian version of the Ten Commandments.
#1. There is only one true God
#2. Don't worship anything but the Lord, or put anything above Him in importance or priority
#3. Don't use the name of God, or Jesus, in a senseless, meaningless, irreverent way
#4. Make the Lord's Day a special day - attend a worship service with other believers
#5. Always respect your parents
#6. Do not kill another person
#7. Do not commit adultery
#8. Do not steal
#9. Do not lie to anyone
#10. Do not desire anything or anyone that is not yours

And here's how I sum up the Ten Commandments, in paragraph style....

We must believe there is one true God, and He must be the highest priority in our lives. Our faith, our hope, our security, and our trust must be in nothing or no one else. Even His name is holy, and when we use the name of God or Jesus in a meaningless way, like an expression of surprise, or as a curse word, it's offensive to Him, and shows disrespect. Make sure that for you, each Sunday is considered to be the Lord's Day, and make it a priority to attend a worship service to purposely focus on Him. Respect your Mom and Dad. Family is important. And realize there are some basic things that are absolutely wrong in God's sight - like murder, adultery, stealing, or lying. And be content with what you have. Don't lust after what someone else has. That not only includes their possessions, but their spouse as well! God is a loving God, but He is also a just God. And to those who are in an obedient, loving relationship with Him, He extends His love, His mercy, and His faithfulness. 

Yes, I know, the Ten Commandments were in the Old Testament. But these principles still have truth and value. And it's true, we must remember the context. God needed to sustain a nation - the nation of Israel. That's because a Messiah was to come through that nation. So God gave laws to try to keep the nation of Israel from falling apart. He did everything to keep them intact through the ages, including miracles. It was all so that Jesus could come through that nation, fulfilling all the prophecies, and complete the plan - dying on the cross to bring us a way of salvation and forgiveness. And bringing us into a new era  - the era of grace, not law.

So, take the Ten Commandments as foundational principles that still are relevant. The God that gave these commandments is the same God that exists today. And Jesus did not do away with the Ten Commandments, He expanded on them. As a matter of fact, when Jesus was on earth, someone asked Him what He thought was the most important of all the commandments. Jesus gave a great answer that covered everything like an umbrella, for if we follow the answer that Jesus gave, everything else falls in place under it, including the principles of the Ten Commandments. 

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”  “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Why Did God Create Mosquitos?

I read a headline the other day..."Man's Most Dangerous Insect: The Mosquito". It's true! That disgusting, blood-sucking mosquito! Because of that nasty insect, millions of people have died from the deadly diseases it carries, such as malaria and yellow fever. And people in countries such as Africa are still dying. 

We, in America, don't realize what a threat malaria is to people in other parts of the globe. People in Africa can't believe that we don't deal with the terrible disease of widespread malaria here. To them it sounds impossible, unimaginable. They deal with it all the time. But guess what's creeping in right here in the United States? The West Nile Virus. And guess who spreads it? That's right, the deadly mosquito.

When you think about it, the mosquito is a totally disgusting insect. Sucking out your blood!! And who's blood was it sucking before it got to you? That's revolting. And what about the after effects of a single mosquito bite? Not only does this wicked creature suck your blood, its sting causes welts that itch like crazy. And still worse, the possibility of it carrying disease.

To top it off, this insect can fly. And it's aggressive. It's after you! It sneaks up on you. Yuck! I hate these creatures. And if there are a group of people standing around, outdoors, at night, guess who the mosquitos attack first? That's right, me!

When I was in Tanzania, Africa, we slept inside mosquito nets at night. They are made of fine mesh, and placed like a tent over your bed. Even though we were taking anti-malaria drugs, we were still frightened of those lousy insects. Fortunately, for the three weeks we were there, we didn't get bit once! But we were cautious and fearful of them buggers. 

So why would God create such an insect? He is the creator of all things, so why? Here's one man's scenario. It's possible that in the Garden of Eden, where everything was peaceful, pleasant, and perfect, the mosquito was not a sick-minded, blood sucking, vampire menace, but a nice, friendly, good-natured, nectar  feeding creature. It could be that the sound of it's wings sang out pleasant melodies at night. Maybe in harmony with hundreds of others. OK, maybe that's a little too much. 

Then came the fall of man - the sin of Adam and Eve - they ate fruit from the only tree in the garden that they were forbidden by God to eat - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

"But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:17)

When sin and corruption came into the world, everything changed, and went downhill from there. All of creation was affected, not just Adam and Eve. That's when that lousy vermin, the mosquito, first turned on us. And Adam and Eve were their first victims. Can you imagine what they thought when they received their first bite? "What's going on here?"

Not only did the mosquito turn on them, everything seemed to be against them. Because of their sin, all creation was cursed, plants, animals, and humans! Disease, sickness, pain and death entered the world. Even the ground started to produce thorns and thistles. They never had thorns and thistles before! O, the consequences of sin! 

And to the man he (God) said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. (Gensis 3:17-18)

Yup, thorns and thistles started to grow. Thanks a lot, Adam and Eve! And that's not all. Because of their sin, all women from then on will have pain in childbirth, as part of this curse!

To the woman he (God) said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)

Because sin entered the world, Adam and Eve no longer lived in a perfect world. The tree of life was cut off, and their lives, as well as the lives of all humans to come, would end in death.

By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19)

Because of the fall of man - the sin of Adam and Eve - when they disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit, all Hell broke loose, sort of literally. Satan had accomplished his goal, to influence Adam and Eve, and tempt them into sinning against God, causing all kinds of consequences. And Satan is still at work today. 

So, it's not that God created mosquitos to bite, annoy, and kill millions. It's that sin corrupted the world. And because of the influence of Satan, everything is corrupted, including the nasty mosquito. That's the problem....we have corrupt mosquitos! So kill as many of those varmints as you can. It's war! And as for Satan, you'll get yours in the end!

"Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay." (Romans 8:20-21)  ......and freedom from mosquitos!!!!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Will There Be Music In Hell?

We know there will be music in Heaven. But will there be music in Hell? I mean, in Heaven, there is a vision given to us in the book of Revelation showing praise and worship around the Throne. There are harps mentioned. There are songs being sung. There is great positive participation. But in Hell? No mention of music. We can just it simply the fact that Hell is void of music? Or could it torture!!!

Think about it. Is there a song that you just can't stand? Is there a song that prompts you to immediately change the channel at the exact moment it comes on? Do you cringe, cover your ears, or even run out of the room when a particular song plays? Could it be, for those who descend to the pits of Hell, that not only is there torture, fire, and torment, but your most hated song continually plays, over and over and over and over. For eternity. Non-stop.

Now, sometimes, if you're like me, when a song you can't stand unexpectedly comes on, you cover your ears and hum. I've got news for you. No humming allowed in Hell. 

This is not to say that there is no singing in Hell. Most likely, there is a strong possibility that you will actually be forced to sing your most hated song. That's right, you will be forced to sing the song that disgusts you the most! At the top of your voice. Over and over and over and over. For eternity. Now that's torture! 

In Heaven, there are nice, new songs being created all the time. "And they sang a new song....." (Revelation 5:9). Everything is fresh and pleasant. But in new songs! Just the old ones, over and over again. And I've got news for you. These old songs won't be all your favorite oldies. They will all be a collection of songs that you hate with a passion. 

Now in Heaven, beautiful harmonies are sung by massive choirs. But let me ask you this. Have you ever sang next to someone who is actually a worse singer than you? (I know for some of you that's not possible.) Well, in Hell, everyone around you is not just singing your most hated song along with you. They are singing off key as well. 

By the way, in Hell, there is actually some background music playing all the time. In Heaven, there's also background music, but it consists of beautiful melodies. On the other hand, in Hell, all the background music, as well as all music there for that matter, is extremely out of tune. If it's one thing that is absolutely annoying, it's listening to an instrument that's out of tune. You guessed it. In Hell, everything is out of tune.

How about the genre of music, the style of music? What music genre do you like the most? Country, Bluegrass, Jazz, Classical, Opera, Rap, etc? Forget it. You won't be hearing any of your favorite stuff in Hell. No. Playing constantly in the background is the style of music you absolutely loathe. And when you hear your most hated songs being sung in the background, guess what? They will be sung by a voice that sounds exactly like whatever particular artist's voice you couldn't stand here on earth (In some cases, it may be sung by the actual artist). 

In Heaven, the instruments are beautifully made, and wonderfully played. The harps are probably made of solid gold with precious stones as decorations, and the sound is breathtaking. In Hell, the instruments are junk. Or worse, they are instruments you can't stand to listen to. For me, I can't stand the sound of bagpipes. I'm making extra sure I'm not going to Hell just so I won't have to deal with that! Maybe for you, it's an out of tune violin, or a screeching bugle, or a whatever is most detestable to your ears. Yes, that's what's waiting for you if you end up in the flaming abyss.

One more thing. In Hell, while all these terrible songs are being played or sung, there's an annoying, loud, disruptive sound every 15 seconds or so. Sometimes a horn, or a gong, but most likely a siren. And guess who's behind making these crazy noises? Satan himself! All the while laughing and taunting you. 

So, the next time you hear a song starting to play that you really hate, just remember, you're just experiencing a quick glimpse of what Hell will be like! And believe me, you don't want to go there!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

How We Got The New Testament

The New Testament is an ancient collection of letters by Christian authors, written in the first century. Writing these letters wasn't an easy task. Back then, durable parchments had to be made from papyrus, a reed that was harvested, cured, dried, and pressed before it could be written on. Vellum was also used because of its high quality and long lasting durability. It's the skin of a young calf that had to be carefully cleaned, cured, dried, and stretched before it was ready to be written upon with special ink. Whether parchment or vellum, the preparation process could take weeks. And then the meticulous task of writing would begin by a scribe, letter by letter, following strict guidelines. 

Some of the New Testament books are huge. For example, the book of Luke has nearly 26,000 words! Can you imagine how long it took to write it? Obviously, each one of these New Testament writers were compelled to record for posterity what they knew and what they witnessed. Most of the letters began to be written around 30 years after Jesus died. It's no doubt by this time, the writers began to realize they wouldn't be around forever. The truth needed to be spread and preserved. Writing was the only way to do it with any confidence at all. Certainly, word of mouth wouldn't do for long, before it was changed, corrupted, and lost. 

Now these guys were well equipped. First of all, Jesus promised to his disciples that when He left, the Holy Spirit (the Advocate) would be sent to them, and would remind them of everything Jesus said. They would be able to recall and quote His exact words with some miraculous, supernatural ability, regardless of how much time had lapsed.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." (John 14:25-26)

Secondly, they had the uncanny ability to sense exactly what God wanted them to write. In other words, the Holy Spirit was able to place in their minds what words to use. The writers were the vehicle that God used to communicate what He wanted us to know. This is true of all the Bible writers.

“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

“If you claim to be a prophet or think you are spiritual, you should recognize that what I am saying is a command from the Lord himself.” (1 Corinthians 14:37)

“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

With all that said, we can still get some additional insight as to why some of the New Testament Bible authors wrote what they did. For example, the Apostle John wrote the Gospel of John so his readers would believe in Jesus, and by believing, have life in His name. Thank you, John. Thanks for writing your book. It's certainly helped me believe.
“And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”  (John 20:30-31)

Luke wrote his Gospel as a careful, truthful account of the events surrounding Jesus. Thanks Luke for your attention to detail. “Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)

Peter wrote his letters to get his readers thinking and remembering.  Thanks Peter for your great insight and understanding. “This is my second letter to you, dear friends, and in both of them I have tried to stimulate your wholesome thinking and refresh your memory. I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles.”  (2 Peter 3:1-2)

   This is how we got the New Testament. When the authors that were recognized as inspired wrote letters, the writings were highly treasured, and began to be circulated among the Christian churches. Then they were meticulously and carefully copied and circulated more and more. After while, a specific group of letters were considered to be Canon, those recognized as official, inspired writings. By the time the writers had died, in the second century, this collection of books began to be solidified and confirmed by scholars of the day to be legitimate. This collection developed into what's now called the New Testament. 

“After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.” (The Apostle Paul - Colossians 4:16)

  “I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.”  (The Apostle Paul - 1 Thessalonians 5:27)

All the ancient manuscripts confirm that the New Testament we have today is the correct collection of inspired writings. And because all the Epistles were actually written to Christians, it still applies. Thank you Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James, Jude, and Paul for taking the time and effort to write for posterity - to write for us to read, learn, and believe, even in this day and age. It means all the difference in the world.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Son of God and Son of Man?

Son of God. Son of Man. Why does Jesus go by both titles? So, here's my take on it: First, you need to understand that neither one of these titles is to be taken literally. God did not literally have a son called Jesus. And Jesus was not literally the son of a man - He miraculously entered into the physical realm through the womb of a virgin. Both titles, the Son of God, and the Son of Man, are figurative, not literal, terms. 

Next, you need to understand what the figurative phrase "son of" means. Literally, it would express genealogy (James, son of Jebedee). But figuratively, this term implies someone who takes on the character or person of someone or something else. Think of the term "son of" meaning "the exact representation of". Below are some scriptural examples of the figurative use of "son of".

"Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means son of encouragement)." (Acts 4:36). “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come , except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." (2 Thessalonians 2:3 NKJV - perdition means damnation). "And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, "Sons of Thunder")." (Mark 3:16-17)  

There's no mention in the Bible of Peter literally having a biological son, however, Peter refers to Mark, who no doubt learned much from being with Peter, as his son, figuratively speaking. "She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark." (1 Peter 5:13)

Did Paul have sons? Not biologically, as far as we know. However, there are some who were close to him, learned from him, whom he influenced in many ways. "Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight." (1Timothy 1:18) "I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains." (Philemon 1:10)  Timothy and Onesimus were not Paul's biological sons, but were ones who he discipled. He was their spiritual mentor. They became like him. 

OK, now that it's been established that the phrase “son of” figuratively means “the exact representation of”, then you can grasp the idea that the two titles of Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God, are 'descriptive' titles. They describe who Jesus is - the exact representation of man and the exact representation of God.


A) Jesus "Son of Man"
The term "son of man" can simply imply humanity - or being human.  “Then He said to me, "Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!” (Ezekiel 2:1) In this case it means ‘human one’, and is used 93 times in Ezekiel to distinguish between Ezekiel the prophet, and the many non-human beings in his vision. Jesus took on the form of a human. He became the exact representation of a man.  "And being found in appearance as a man,  he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:8) So, Son of Man = Jesus appeared in the form of a man.

B) Jesus “Son of God”
The title Son of God describes the nature of who Jesus is - the exact representation of God. "The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." (Hebrews 1:3a). Jesus is the perfect ‘son of’ in the sense that He is the pure image of God – the same as God – he IS God in the flesh! "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1) "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:14) He is Deity in human form! “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form…” (Colossians 2:9) He is, in very nature, God! He is equal to God! Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7) All I can say is "WOW!"  So, "Son of God" = Jesus is the same as God.

In review, 
Son of Man” = the exact representation of a human, although God. 
Son of God”  = the exact representation of God, although human.

Does that make sense? But wait, there’s more to the story! Besides being 'descriptive' titles, both the terms Son of Man and Son of God are also used as 'Divine' titles of Jesus. They identify and declare who Jesus is.


A) Jesus "Son of Man"
It's interesting that the prophet Daniel uses the term “Son of Man”:  "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence." (Daniel 7:13). In his prophetic vision, Daniel saw the Messiah figure who appeared to be in the form of man. Well, Jesus was the fulfillment of Daniel's vision. Daniel was seeing, in his vision, a prophecy of Jesus Himself. That's why Jesus took on this title, Son of Man, referring to Himself. And interestingly enough, Jesus always talked about Himself as the Son of Man in a third person perspective. “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death. (The words of Jesus, Matthew 20:18).
So, Son of ManA Divine Title of Messiah
When Jesus uses the phrase “Son of Man”, as referring to Himself, He is identifying and declaring Himself as the Messiah. Jesus uses the phrase Son of Man 84 times in the New Testament, referring to Himself. (NKJV)

B) Jesus "Son of God"
Even at first glance, the title Son of God implies someone not of this world - a divine being. Not only does the title Son of God imply the close association with God, or Jesus being of God, but it implies the unique identification of Jesus as the sole representation of God as the divine Messiah who came to earth as the one and only Savior. "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:31).  \
So, "Son of God" = A Divine Title of Messiah.
It's used 44 times in the New Testament, as referring to Jesus. (NKJV)

So, in summary....
The title ‘Son of Man’ has dual terminology as far as Jesus is concerned. It's a descriptive title, showing Jesus to be the exact representation of a human, although God. Yet it also serves as a divine title, identifying Jesus as the Messiah. 

Similarly, the title ‘Son of God’ also has dual terminology as far as Jesus is concerned. It's a descriptive title, showing Jesus to be the exact representation of God, although in the form of a man. Yet it also serves as a divine title, identifying Jesus as Divine.

Whew...that was a lot! You don't know how many times I've rewritten this!