Monday, December 26, 2016

The Prince Of Peace Has Arrived!

The great prophet Isaiah lived approximately 700 years before Jesus was born. And what is amazing about this prophet, is that his book, The Book Of Isaiah, found in the Old Testament, gives incredibly accurate glimpses of the coming Savior, Jesus. Actually, the Old Testament as a whole, contains an anticipation of a coming Messiah. It just seems like Isaiah really nails it. And nails it several times throughout his book.

First, Isaiah predicts the virgin birth of Jesus!! 

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14 -   Immanuel means 'God with us) 

Then Isaiah gives titles for the coming Messiah, Jesus. 

"For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

What I want to focus on is the specific title, the "Prince of Peace". This title describes Jesus perfectly. Jesus is the one, and the only one, who can guide us to the path of peace. 

"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)

Jesus is truly the Prince of Peace. I love that title for Jesus. A prince by definition is a monarch, a ruler, a member of the royal family. Jesus is a prince in the sense that He is part of the God-head (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). And He is a prince in the sense that He has been giving all authority, and has supremacy over all things. (Matthew 28:18, Colossians 1:15-20)

The great news announcing the birth of the Prince of Peace was announced to the shepherds by a multitude of angels. The angels proclaimed...

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth PEACE to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

But what is this "peace" that Jesus brings? Is it peace in the sense of elimination of war and violence. No. Is it peace in the sense of no personal troubles, hardships, or sorrows? No. So what is this peace that the angels were talking about - the peace that Jesus offers?

The clue is found in the last phrase of what the angels announced to the shepherds. 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS.” (Luke 2:14)

The peace that Jesus brings is offered to those who believe in Him, who follow Him, who accept Him and not reject Him. You see, the peace He offers is not of the physical realm, but of the spiritual realm. It's an inner peace. We, as Christians, have this inner peace for several reasons.......

GOD IS WITH US. Remember the title Immanuel, which means God with us. Jesus was God in the flesh. He came to earth in the form of a man in order to die on the cross for our sins, offering us salvation, so we can be right with God. Jesus experienced our hardships, our temptations, and our sorrows, and our concerns. He knows what we go through, therefore He can relate to everything we experience.

GOD IS IN US. As Christians, Jesus now lives within us. We have His spirit in us to guide us and comfort us and counsel us. And He is with us no matter what we go through. He will never leave us or forsake us or give up on us. Here is one important truth....we are never alone or abandoned if we are one of His.

GOD IS FOR US. In good times and in bad, He works for the good of those who love Him. He is the perfect Father who cares for His children. He is a real-time God who works in our favor, intervenes in our life, and we can rely on His providence. He is in control.

So...the Prince of Peace delivers a peace that is an inner peace. He guides us on the path of peace throughout our entire life. He is with us. He is in us. He is for us.

That's why we celebrate His birth. We celebrate because we know what His entry into this world delivers. That's why the angels proclaimed. "Glory to God in the highest." We should echo those same words. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Real Reason The Wise Men Came

It took a lot for the Wise Men (also referred to as Magi) to successfully locate Jesus. Prompted by God's supernatural star, they were convinced to make the long journey to make homage to what they were convinced was a new-born king of the Jews. They were sure that this new strange star, located in the direction of Jerusalem, was a sign. It must have been an amazing sight in the night-time sky. And who knows, maybe it was even visible in the day time. 

Their journey had to take a lot of preparation. They would need to get a caravan together, which included supplies, food, animals, and people. Their journey could take weeks or even months. They intended to encounter this new king, bow before him in worship, and present to him gifts. The gifts they chose to bring were very expensive and precious. 

There were 3 gifts. The first was gold. Even back then gold was considered the finest of all metals, and very costly. Secondly, frankincense, which was a valuable incense. And thirdly, myrrh, which was a precious anointing oil. You can be sure, they brought an ample amount of each. 

When the Wise Men finally found Jesus, they bowed down before Him, and worshiped Him. By their bowing down, it showed their humility, their reverence, and their acknowledgement of Jesus as King - a good lesson for us about worship. Then they presented Him with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh." (Matthew 2:11)

I like how their worship was independent of their giving of gifts. Another good lesson for us. After all, Jesus would later say, "worship the Lord your God, and serve him only."

Well done Wise Men. Seems like their mission was accomplished. Or was it? Maybe in their mind it was. But in God's mind, their mission was much bigger than they ever suspected. They were players in God's incredible plan. It had to do with the family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus.

You see, Joseph and Mary were poor. The type of gift they presented when they brought baby Jesus to the temple proved it. However, they would soon need money, and a lot of it. That's because they had to flee Bethlehem, and travel all the way to Egypt because of Herod's intent to try to kill Jesus. Herod ordered all boys 2 years old and younger in Bethlehem and it's vicinity to be killed. 

So flee they did. They traveled all the way to Egypt, and they lived there until Herod died. That took money - money that they didn't have. Guess what? It was the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh that sustained them. God, in His great providence, used the Wise Men and their gifts to provide for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. That's the real reason the Wise Men came. They were players in God's big-picture plan, and didn't even realize it.

That's how God works sometimes. He is able to arrange situations, and line up people with each other. It's called providence. That's because He is all powerful, and sovereign. Sometimes we don't even realize how He is working in our lives. But when we reflect back, it becomes clear. The Lord is alive and well.

There may be times when you are in situations that seem too difficult to resolve. Perhaps you need a door opened. Or maybe you simply need God to provide for the needs you have. Remember that nothing is impossible with the Lord. Have faith and trust in His providence - that He is able to do all things - that He is aware of your situation, and that He is in control. 

Other posts on the Wise Men:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Recent Survey Shows Christians Don't Know The Basics

A recent survey by Lifeway Research was taken of Christians - those who indicated that trusting in Jesus’ death on the cross is the only way of salvation. They totaled 586 survey-takers.

Seven out of ten said that Jesus was the first being that God created. What?!! Seventy percent were wrong! One of the basic foundational truths of Christianity is that Jesus is God in the flesh - God coming to earth in the form of a man - that Jesus is Deity. Emmanuel = God with us. 

I hope this survey is not accurate. But I'm afraid that there are many who attend Christian churches who don't know the truth of scripture. As a matter of fact, I'm sure of it. I remember teaching a Bible study where we were discussing the first 3 verses of the Gospel of John.  

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created." (John 1:1-3)

I pointed out that if it wasn't for John 1:14, we wouldn't be sure who or what "the Word" was, but it reveals without a doubt that "the Word" is Jesus. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14). Therefore, when looking at John 1:1-3, Jesus can be substituted for "the Word":

"In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. Jesus was with God in the beginning. All things were created by Jesus, and apart from Jesus not one thing was created that has been created." 

This is a super powerful, heavy duty verse. And for those reading it for the first time, it's an eye opener. One of those attending our Bible study had never read it before. He didn't admit though until the next week when we met again. When he came into the room, he said "I'm upset. I've been upset all week." I asked him what was wrong. He said, "Nobody ever told me that Jesus was God in the flesh!"

This truth that Jesus is God in the form of a man is reinforced in the verse below:

"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)

Jesus is not a created being. Rather, He created all things! Look at John 1:3 again, "All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created."  The "all things" in this verse means everything physical in this universe, and even includes created heavenly beings such as angels. This means Jesus, as part of the three in one Godhead, pre-existed before creation. 

If anyone thinks Jesus is a created being, or even an angel, think again. Jesus couldn't "create" Himself, that would be ridiculous. On the contrary, "all things were created by Him." (John 1:3)

"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. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." (Hebrews 1:2-3a) 

Even the Old Testament confirms that the 3-fold Godhead was involved from the beginning: "Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness..."  (Genesis 1:26)

One piece of advice...don't think too hard trying to figure out how God is 3-in-1. You might short-circuit. We weren't created with brains smart enough to comprehend such spiritual realities. Instead, just trust God's word and believe. It's called faith.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Where The Universe Ends

It's obvious when you look up at the sky at night that the universe is gigantic. It just keeps going and going, as far as the eye can see. Behind one star is another, fading farther and farther into the distance and into the darkness. The heavenly expanse goes beyond what the strongest telescopes can explore, and beyond what radio waves can travel. And the two questions that man has asked from the beginning of time still baffle us today, "Does the universe go on forever? And if not, what's on the other side?"

Both scenarios are mind boggling, and impossible to reconcile in our minds. How could the universe go on forever? Don't think about that too long and hard, you may short-circuit. But just as bewildering, if there is an end, what's on the other side? 

Scientists have attempted to come up with all kinds of theories, but there is no definitive answer, just speculation. This mystery is unsolvable, at least in human understanding. But perhaps that's the point. Perhaps this mystery is beyond human understanding, and was designed to be that way. 

Humans are naturally inquisitive in nature. So of course we would always attempt to reason how things work or exist. But in reality, neither our minds are intelligent enough or our science accurate enough to have an answer to this quandary. There are really only two positions to take. One is a purely physical explanation that eludes us. One is a purely spiritual explanation that satisfies us. Take your pick. But realize this - neither position can be proven.  

That's where faith comes into play. If you're like me, it is definitely a matter of faith. And because of that, this mystery doesn't bother me at all. Faith gives me an understanding that totally puts me at ease with regard to the mystery of the universe. That understanding is this - that God created the universe, and designed it in a way that shows His power and enormity. It's a simple as that.

"By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen." (Hebrews 11:3)

For me, that settles it. I'm convinced that God formed the universe exactly as we see it. The stars, the heavens, the sky should be obvious physical evidence for everyone to see and come to the logical conclusion that there is a Creator God, the God who designed and created all things. Maybe that's why God designed the universe as He did, revealing Himself through His creation, which is a reflection of His power and nature.

"For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God." (Romans 1:20)

I like to look at it this way - the expanse of the universe is God's physical demonstration of a spiritual concept. The physical, seemingly unending universe, is sort of a model of an unending spiritual eternity. Just like an unending physical universe, an unending eternity cannot be reasoned by the human mind. 

Do you know what a fantasy of mine is regarding the massive universe? I know it's crazy, but what if the universe does end, and at the very edge, eons away, the physical world morphs into the spiritual?  For me, it's fun to imagine such a thing. Maybe where the universe ends, the realm of heaven begins.

Here's what I do know, being a sky-watcher. When I look out into the expanse of the heavens, it prompts me to worship and praise God, and be in awe and wonder of Him.

"Those who live at the ends of the earth stand in awe of your wonders. From where the sun rises to where it sets, you inspire shouts of joy." (Psalm 65:8)

For more on this subject:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Followers Of The Way

When the church began, way back in the first century, those early believers were not called Christians, at least at first. They were first referred to as "the Way". I remember when I initially came across that term in the Bible. It just caught my attention and I loved it. I still do.  

I don't know who first coined that term, whether it was someone on the outside or on the inside, but regardless, if you were considered a follower of Jesus back then, you were considered a follower of the Way. And that's with a capital W.

I lean toward the idea that those who comprised the early church came up with the name themselves because they knew without a doubt that Jesus was "the way". Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) Very powerful words.

Jesus is the way to the Father, the way to eternal life, the way to forgiveness, the way to peace, hope, and joy in this life. The only way. I am a follower of the Way. To say that I am a follower of the Way is to say that I am a follower of Jesus. A Christ follower. I might even get a t-shirt that says "follower of the Way".

I guess the reason I like the term, follower of the Way, is because the term Christian seems to have been watered down in many ways. If you were to ask people if they are a Christian, many would say yes, whatever that definition is to them. However, if you were to ask them if they are a Christ follower, that could be a different story. You may get some hesitation there.

Being called a Christ follower raises the bar. That sounds like more serious commitment. A Christ follower is more than just someone who believes who Jesus was. A Christ follower is one who follows the teachings of Jesus, and follows Him for life. But wait, isn't a Christ follower exactly what a "Christian" is supposed to be anyway? I think so.

The first followers of the Way were Jews who were converted from their long standing religion. They believed Jesus was the Messiah who died for their sins. And from the perspective of the Jews, the followers of the Way were heretics, deserters. Not only that, they were considered a cult.

Before the Apostle Paul became an Apostle, he was called Saul. He was a zealous Jew, a Pharisee, who was so against the followers of the Way, he tried to disband them, get rid of them, and even kill them!

Acts 9:1-2
"Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains."

Acts 22:4
 "And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison." (the words of Paul)

Of course, we know that Saul was eventually totally converted from Judaism to become a follower of Jesus. He was actually miraculously chosen by Jesus, on the road to Damascus. Saul did a 180, and became one of the most dedicated and devoted Christians. He wrote most of the books of the New Testament. He testifies to the fact that he was a follower of the Way himself. “But I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult." (Acts 24:14a)

Over time, the followers of the Way began to be called "Christians". "Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. 26 When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)" Acts 11:25

As I reflect on those early believers, I realize that those who were called a follower of the Way, personally chose to be a follower of the Way. And it holds true today. No one makes you a follower of the Way, a Christian, a Christ follower. It's up to each individual person. Are you a follower of the Way?

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

What I Learned From My Trip To Africa

Recently, my wife and I spent 3 weeks in Tanzania, Africa. My son and his wife are missionaries there, working with a Bible translation team, making Bibles available to those who have never had one in their own language. They have 2 children, a boy who is almost 3 yrs. old and a girl who just turned one. They've been in Tanzania 6 years, and they've come back twice - for the births of each of their children. 

We've visited there once before, in 2012. This time, we stayed for 3 weeks. It was a somewhat different experience this time - not so intimidating, and not so much culture shock. After all, it is a third-world country. And when you experience that for the first time as an American, it's intimidating. You wonder if you are safe, or if you will get sick, and if you will be able to communicate. This time, however, we didn't feel that way at all. Instead of feeling unsafe or intimidated, we were fascinated with the culture, and took it all in. Of course, it helps that our son and daughter-in-law speak fluent Swahili. And that they are very comfortable in the culture where they live. 

We had a great family connection time while we were there. And we came away believing that we have a good feel for how our son's family live, and the things they deal with on a daily basis. We also got a good taste of what the culture is like, as well as the climate and the geography. In many ways, we can see why they call Tanzania home. It's a beautiful place and the people seem warm and friendly. 

One night I got to sit around a campfire with my son and some of the missionary guys who are on the translation team. I asked a ton of questions about everything from life in Africa to their backgrounds to their area of expertise. All of these guys were amazingly talented in their field - linguistics, computer programming, Bible. They are excellent at what they do, and any of them would be in high demand in America. I had to ask myself what motivates them. 

Their motivation can't be money, that's for sure. They aren't paid by their missionary organization - they must rely solely on monthly donations, support that they raise. To them, the term "the Lord provides" is something that's real, and something they depend on. 

And their motivation can't be prestige or power. They certainly didn't choose to become missionaries to gain recognition or praise. Many of their team's accomplishments involving the translation of Bibles aren't widely publicized. Actually, they all tend to display humility. 

As we talked around the campfire, I realized that they all have somewhat of a spirit of adventure. They all agreed. Maybe a better description would be one of courage. 

These missionaries and their families sacrifice so much. For one, they sacrifice good health care. The closest hospital, at least one that you would dare to walk into, is a four hour drive on rough roads. And there is always the threat of malaria and other diseases. Some of the missionaries have had malaria, and they all accept the fact that they will probably get it sooner or later. 

Another big sacrifice is just being away from family and friends. They miss so many things like weddings, funerals, and family events. I'm sure they battle homesickness from time to time. All I can say is that I'm thankful for technology - the internet, texting, and video chats - so we can communicate with them. 

And they sacrifice the many comforts found in America, like air-conditioning, or stable electricity, or fast internet. We sat around one night and talked about things we liked about America. Here are some: the ability to brush your teeth with water out of the faucet. Water that actually comes out of the faucet. Water that comes out of the faucet that you can safely drink. No fear of malaria or yellow fever. Foods that are safe to eat. Good restaurants. Abundantly stocked stores. Doctors, nurses, and hospitals. Safety and security. The ability to call 911. And so much more. 

One time my daughter was in Starbucks here in America, talking about her brother in Africa who gave up a big house, a high-tech computer programming job, sold his car, and left everything to live in a third world country with his wife. The lady she was talking to was startled and said, "How could he do that!?" She couldn't understand why anyone would make such a move. And I suppose if you were not a follower of Jesus, and not in a personal relationship with Him, and not a faithful servant, you would not understand. 

So, what is the answer? What is their motivation to be missionaries in a third world country? It's got to be a strong feeling that God wants them to be doing what they are doing - where they are doing it - using their talents for Him. It's got to be conviction. It's got to be a commitment to their team and to the ministry of spreading God's word to people who have never had it in their own language. It's got to be a matter of faith, trust, surrender, and obedience. 

Bottom line...what I learned from my trip to Africa...missionaries are very special people. And I'm sure that's true in the Lord's eyes as well.

And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Best Dad Ever

There are all kinds of dads in this world. Some are simply wonderful, some are extremely terrible. Some support and encourage their children, some abandon and frustrate their kids. In the U.S., we have a holiday called Father's Day. Some look forward to it, some hate it. Some have had compassionate dads, and some have had abusive dads who are tyrants. 

There are many who have never even gotten a chance to know their dads. In our country, the statistics aren't very good regarding stable families. The divorce rate is almost 50%. Even worse for second marriages (60%). Thirty-seven percent of all families have a single parent. 

If I were to ask everyone I encounter, "How would you rate your dad? - lousy, ok, fairly good, or the best?", I wonder what the breakout would be? I'm sorry to say that most likely, the response of "the best" would not be at the top of the list. But regardless of the answers, I'm certain of one thing. Everyone yearns to have a great father.

So, what would be the traits of the best dad that anyone could ever have? Let's take a look. Here's my top ten list of the characteristics of the ideal dad. 

1. He Has Great Character
Honest, humble, trustworthy, even tempered, sober minded, compassionate, moral
2. He Is A Provider
Hard worker, diligent, resourceful, provides stability
3. He Is A Family Man
Looks out for the family, cherishes their relationship, has fun together, faithful to his wife and family
4. He Disciplines When Necessary
Corrects and admonishes; yet doesn't exasperate, but is merciful 
5. He Is A Man Of His Word
Does what he says he will do, keeps his promises
6. He Is An Encourager
Builds up, doesn't tear down, instills confidence
7. He Gives Wise Advice
Guides, shares experiences, teaches, warns, directs
8. He Leads Spiritually
Prays, faithful follower of Christ, a Bible reader, teaches his family Biblical principles
9. He Leads By Example
Models, not only says what to do, but does it, always does the right thing
10. He Loves Unconditionally
Loves regardless, expresses love in words as well as actions

Here's the point. All the above 10 characteristics are demonstrated by God himself.

1. He Has Great Character
"Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty..." (Revelation 4:8)
2. He Is A Provider
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)
3. He Is A Family Man
I will be their God and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:7)
4. He Disciplines When Necessary
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:7)
5. He Is A Man Of His Word
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)
6. He Is An Encourager
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)
7. He Gives Wise Advice
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)
8. He Leads Spiritually
God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)
9. He Leads By Example
I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (John 13:15)
10. He Loves Unconditionally
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.(Romans 5:8)

You see, God is the perfect father - the perfect role model. And for many, He is the wonderful father that was missing in this physical world. He is the "father to the fatherless" (Psalm 68:5). Many have a hard time understanding God's love for us because they never had a good relationship with their own earthly father, and it's hard to grasp what that relationship should be like. God simply wants to be in a loving father-child relationship with us.

Many see God as a religious icon, a powerful judge who instills fear in the hearts of those under Him. That's not the case. There is an Aramaic word, "Abba", that was used when Jesus was on earth. It basically means "daddy". It's an intimate, loving description of a father. That's how we should see God. Not as a tyrant, but as our loving, compassionate "daddy".

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15 NLT)

He loves His children so much, He would lay down His life for them. Sound familiar? He did just that! Jesus, as God in the flesh, died for us, took our punishment for sin, so that we can have new life. He died for our sake, laying down His life for us - all this because of His love for us. 

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1 NKJV) That's right, through Christ, we are adopted by God as His children. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:5)

For all those who want to know how to be a good father, I have good news......God models it for us. Just come to know Him more fully, listen to Him, learn from Him, and you will become the best dad anyone could ever have. And for all those who are currently trying to be the best dad anyone could ever have.....keep up the good work! And keep being dad, no matter how grown up your children become.

 (Republished from my blog dated 06/14/13)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Did Jesus Do Miracles As A Boy?

I can understand why people fantasize about Jesus doing miracles as a boy. It makes a good story - a good novel. There's even a movie depicting the boy Jesus doing miracles. There are a couple of things that disturb me about this if it's not true. One, if it's a fallacy, then it's exploiting Jesus, and should be offensive to Christians. Secondly, if it's taken as true and it's really false, then this position that Jesus performed miracles as a boy will contradict scripture. So is it true or not?

The problem I have with this idea of Jesus doing miracles as a boy is that there is actually one Bible verse that stops it in it's tracks. If it wasn't for this one scripture, then maybe. But for me, the truth is simply stated.

"This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him." (John 2:11 NKJV)

This verse is talking about the first miracle Jesus did - turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. That was the "beginning" of his miracles. His first one. 

As the New Living Translation puts it: "This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him." (John 2:11)

I take the Bible as the only source of truth - the revelation of God written by men who were supernaturally inspired on what to write and how to say it. I've heard it said, in a negative tone, that the Bible is written by men. Yes, it's written by men, however, these men were touched by the Holy Spirit on what to write.

As far as the New Testament, it's sacred collection of books, called the Canon, was well established by the beginning of the second century. We can be confident that our New Testament, the proper and complete collection of inspired, sacred letters, is legitimate because of three main reasons: 1) Historical accuracy, 2) Second century writers who refer to this collection, and most importantly, 3) Ancient manuscripts that confirm our New Testament as the accurate collection of inspired writings. 

Any other writings are considered non-inspired, and even heretical. There are some who claim that an ancient book, "The Infancy Gospel of Thomas", is proof that Jesus performed miracles as a boy. It describes the Him doing various signs. Be cautious. This book is not part of the inspired New Testament books. It was even considered non-authentic and heretical at the time of it's writing. 

For me, the Bible is the sole source of truth. Anything else is not. And as far as the Bible, it only briefly describes Jesus as a boy. The only important record we have of Him as a boy is when He was in the temple at 12 years old, asking the teachers questions (Luke chapter 2). They were amazed at his understanding. But there is no mention of miracles by Jesus as a boy in the Bible. The only description of the child Jesus that gives us a good indication of His early years is this verse. "And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." (Luke 2:52)

The real change for Jesus, the transition point that was pivotal, was His baptism. He was 30 years old by then. This happens to be the age when, according to the Jews, a man can become a Rabbi or teacher, so His age was significant. There is something much more significant - His baptism. It was a huge transition point in the life of Jesus. At His baptism, "the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

Before His baptism, Jesus did not begin His ministry, He did not make disciples and call people to follow Him, and He did no miracles. After His baptism, His ministry began, He chose disciples, and He began performing miracles. His baptism was a transition point. So it's no wonder that He would begin performing miracles only after His baptism.

I put my confidence in this one verse, "This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him." (John 2:11)

That settles it for me. His first miracle was at Cana. It was the beginning of His "signs". It was the first time Jesus reveal His glory - who He was. To think otherwise is to disregard scripture. Jesus did not do miracles as a boy. Don't fall for the fantasies. And don't get too caught up in it. It's not really important anyway. What's really important is your daily walk with Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Are you following?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What Did Jesus Really Look Like?

There are so many drawings, paintings, TV shows, and movies depicting what Jesus looked like. Usually He is portrayed as having long hair, a beard, and is fairly tall. Of course, no one really knows exactly how He looked. Was He tall, was He short, was He skinny, was He fat? For some reason, I really can't imagine Jesus as being short and fat. Nothing against short and fat people. I can't imagine Jesus being really tall either. Nothing against tall people. Maybe I've just been inundated by images of what people presume Jesus looked like.

What does the Bible say about how Jesus looked? Not much, but we do have some clues. Let's take a look at some of the different periods of the existence of Jesus. 

Jesus existed before the creation of the world. He always existed. Before Jesus took on the form of a man, He was referred to as The Word. Jesus was with God and Jesus was God. Immanuel - means God with us. "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) So, what did Jesus, as the Word, look like? Unimaginable.

Hardly anything is said in the Bible about the childhood and young adult life of Jesus. So we can assume that he was just a normal Jewish boy. The only clues to His appearance as a child are found in the second chapter of Luke. He was healthy, strong, and full of stature.

"There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him." (Luke 2:49) "Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people." (Luke 2:52)

So, what did Jesus look like as a boy? Probably just an average looking Jewish boy.  

I am leaning toward Jesus being slim as an adult, especially during the last 3 years of His life. He came from a poor family. He didn't live a life of leisure and have an abundance of food then. And during His ministry, Jesus did a lot of walking, that's for sure. Certainly Jesus and His disciples lived a plain, simple lifestyle. 

Some think because He is God in the flesh, He was an absolutely perfectly formed model of a human being. Maybe, but I doubt it. If Jesus didn't exhibit such humility in all things, perhaps He would be an extraordinary, attractive, handsome man. But humility is central to Jesus. From His birth to His life to His death, everything demonstrated humility. Look at the way He was born - in a manger. And look how Jesus is humbly described as far as His entrance into the physical, earthly realm....

'"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)

So considering all this, I would think that Jesus was a regular looking guy. Or look at it this way - a regular looking Jew! That's right, Jesus was a Jew. And His genealogy recorded in the Bible proves that He came from a long line of Jews. Now, I can tell you this....a regular looking Jew back then most likely had dark hair, dark eyes, and fairly dark complexion. 

There is really only one place in the Bible that gives a description of Jesus' appearance. It's found in a prophecy told by the prophet Isaiah about 700 years before Jesus was born. He describes the coming Messiah, Jesus, as nothing extraordinary. In other words, a regular looking Jew. 

"My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him."  
(Isaiah 53:2)

The word 'transfiguration' means 'a complete change of form'. There was an event recorded in the Gospels where Jesus temporarily and briefly went through a transfiguration. It was witnessed by Peter, James, and John. 

"As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light." (Matthew 17:2) 

This was a moment when the true identity of Jesus (God in the flesh) shone through. His face and even His clothes became white light! 

When Jesus resurrected from the dead, and walked upon the earth for 40 days, there were a few times when He wasn't recognized right away. Was this because He looked somewhat different, or was it because He simply appeared unexpectedly? Who knows. At the tomb on the day He rose, Mary Magdalene didn't recognize Him at first. The disciples on the road to Emmaus didn't recognize Him at first either. One thing is for sure - He had the wounds on His wrists and on His side because He showed them to Thomas. He ate fish with the disciples, so He was still in a physical body that was resurrected from the dead.

Jesus may have looked ordinary when He was on earth, but He sure does not look ordinary now, ascended into Heaven, sitting at God's right hand. There's a description of the resurrected Jesus that is found in the book of Revelation. Realize that the book of Revelation records the vision that the Apostle John had. So it's like describing a dream - very symbolic. 

"And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. 15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. 16 He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance." (Revelation 1:13-16)

This description by John could be literal, could be symbolic, or could be a mix of the two. Regardless, the appearance of Jesus in Revelation is certainly totally different than His appearance when He came to earth, taking on the form of a man. It seems the transfiguration talked about earlier was sort of a brief glimpse of the glorified Jesus who now exists. 

When Jesus comes to earth the second time, His appearance will be incredible. And totally different than when He came to earth the first time. When He returns, He will come as a victorious warrior and judge. The Apostle John sees a vision of what this will be like. Again, maybe part literal, maybe part symbolism, but certainly very dramatic. 

"I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:king of kings and lord of lords."  (Revelation 19:11-16)

Jesus has taken on many forms. He pre-existed, as part of the God-head, before the creation of the world as The Word. Jesus came to earth, God in the flesh, and took on the appearance of a man. Jesus revealed a glimpse of His true identity at the Transfiguration, where His glory shone through. He died on the cross and resurrected from the dead and appeared to many. He ascended into heaven, now glorified. And He will return to gather His church in brilliant appearance. He is truly the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, and deserves all our praise.

So when you see a painting or picture of Jesus, remember He is so much more than that. And so much more than what we can ever imagine Him to look like. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

5 Pointers On Reading The Bible For The First Time

There are many good plans on how to read the Bible. This one is aimed for those who have decided to get serious about reading the Bible, but may not know where to start. But before starting the reading plan, first consider these 5 pointers.

First, get a Bible. I'm serious. And even though there are many electronic Bibles available, go old school at first and get a book version. There's nothing wrong with electronic versions, I use several of them myself as well as paper versions. But there's just something about paper pages and a hand-held book, at least for the new reader. Paper versions can be very convenient, don't require batteries, and are easy to highlight or make notes in. Just remember this....if buying a book version, be cautious about the print size. If your eyesight is like mine you will need a large print.

Make sure you choose a translation that's right for you. That means don't just buy the cheapest one, or use an old one that's on the shelf. Buy a new one. Go to a Christian book store or go online to Amazon. Get a middle of the road translation, one that is easy to read but not too watered down. I recommend the New International Version (NIV), or the New Living Translation (NLT), or the New King James Version (NKJV). There are other good ones as well, but for starters, stay away from the King James Version (KJV) because it's too hard to read, and the Message version because it's too watered down. 

The Bible records the ongoing drama of God's relationship with humanity. There a 2 major divisions to the Bible: The Old Testament and The New Testament. Both are ancient writings, inspired by the Spirit of God, and written over many centuries, by many different authors. Basically the Old Testament begins with creation, the ancient Patriarchs, and chronicles the establishment and history of the God's chosen nation, Israel, its laws, its judges, prophets, and kings. The Old Testament culminates and is fulfilled in The New Testament (God's new covenant with man), which is about the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, who comes to earth, willfully dies for our sins, resurrects from the dead, ascends into Heaven, and is still with us in Spirit today. The New Testament chronicles the life of Jesus, as well as letters containing the teachings and writings of several authors, written to Christians. It contains 4 Gospels (recording the life of Christ), a history book (Acts) that records the founding and expansion of the early church, letters to Christians (Epistles), and a book of prophecy of the end times (Revelation). The Bible’s story is continuous, and is still played out in us, and through us. God’s plan of rescuing humanity reaches from creation, throughout the Old and New Testaments into today, and into eternity.  

It's good to get into a Bible reading routine. That means set apart a certain time of the day - whatever works for you. And try to be consistent. Like everything else, unless you plan a Bible reading time, it will never happen. As far as what time of day, everyone is different so it's totally up to you.

Here's a suggestion: Start with the New Testament first. That's because the New Testament is the new covenant that God's offers to us today, through Jesus. It's a covenant sealed by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and offers forgiveness of sins, a loving father-child relationship with God, the promised Holy Spirit in our lives, a new life in Christ, and ultimately our resurrection from the dead into eternal life with the Lord in paradise. The New Testament shows us how to be Christ Followers, and how to life a Christian life.

I credit the reading plan below to a great app that I highly recommend called "The Books Of The Bible", distributed by Zondervan. Buy this if you can. I bought it on Amazon for my Kindle reader. 

This plan starts with the Gospel of Luke then Acts. That's because these 2 books are written by the same author, and are essentially one continuous overview of the early church. Then from Acts, Paul's Epistles (letters to Christians) are added, in the order in which they were most likely written, unlike most Bibles where Paul's letters are organized roughly in order of length or size instead. This historical order more closely follows Paul's life and his ministry timeline. The other Gospels are added later and grouped with the other books that are somewhat related. The plan ends with Revelation, which is an apocalyptic, very symbolic book describing the vision John had regarding the end times.

Start at the top of the list, and work down. Read at your own pace. Take your time. Don't speed read, but slow down and don't try to accomplish too much at once. 

1st and 2nd Thessalonians
1st and 2nd Corinthians
1st Timothy 
2nd Timothy
!st and 2nd Peter
1 John
2 John
3 John

Once you are finished with the New Testament, then you can begin in the Old Testament, starting with Genesis and Exodus. Then skip Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (they deal with Mosaic law). You can come back to those later. Instead, read Joshua right through to the Psalms and Proverbs. Then add the other books ending with the Prophets. 

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."  (Romans 2:12)