Monday, December 26, 2016

The Most Important Question!

What is the most important question that anyone could ask?  I believe the question is, "Who is Jesus Christ?"

Why is this the most important question? Because knowing the answer is the key to eternal life in Heaven... it is the key to our purpose... it is the only thing that can give life true meaning... It is light in the darkness, it is true wisdom and knowledge, it is peace amid chaos, it is faith, hope and love. Why do I say this?  Hopefully what follows will help to clarify these points.

There is one primary source of truth that can be counted on to provide the answers to the deepest questions of life, and that is the written Word of God, the Bible. It says of itself (in II Peter 1) "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever brought about through human initiative, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" and "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." (Heb 4). Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the Bible (176 verses), and EVERY verse in the psalm makes mention of the Word of God. Clearly God's Word is a source that can be trusted (for God cannot lie!). What does the Word of God, the Bible, say about Christ?

Jesus Christ is the central figure in the Bible.  The entire Old Testament leads up to his coming, and the entire New Testament is about his ministry and what he accomplished. As we will see, he is present and active from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. How can I say this? I will explain:

Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
John 1:1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." This one, seemingly simple, yet enigmatic verse holds a deep wisdom.
John 1 goes on to clarify, "He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it...He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 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." 
So we clearly see that Jesus is the Living Word of God, and that from the beginning, He was both with God and is also God. This theme is reiterated in Colossians 1:

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions 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. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, .."

What all this means is that Christ existed with the Father long before He came to earth and became human as well as divine. As we read in Philippians 2: 
"In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
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!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."

All this having been said, you may still be wondering, how can Jesus Christ be both the Son of God and also be God? For most believers, the trinity is still a mystery. I believe it is not as hard to understand as some have made it out to be. Consider that man was originally made of soul, body and spirit (that third part, the spirit, was lost by Adam but restored by Christ in his followers)... making us a sort of 'trinity'.  The Bible says in Genesis 1, "God created mankind in his own image...". As God is a 'trinity' we were made a 'trinity', but of course God is a 'trinity' on a much grander scale (to say the least)!  You see, that which we understand as 'God the Father' is the 'Soul' of God, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is the 'Body' of God, and the 'Holy Spirit' is the "Spirit" of God. What evidence do I have for this? Look carefully at the wording in John 1. "...Through him [The Word] all things were made..." and in Colossians 1, "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him." What we see here is the God the Father is the SOURCE of all creation and the Word, Jesus Christ, is the MEANS of creation. In Genesis 1: 2 we read, "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters", so that completes the trinity that created all things. 
What does it mean when we say that Jesus Christ (i.e. the Word of God) is the body of God? We live in a multidimensional universe. The material realm exists in the three dimensions plus time, and God, who is Spirit, is most present in the spiritual dimension. For God, as spirit, to create in the physical dimension, He needed an 'interface', a means by which He could create a physical reality. That 'interface' is His Word. Note that Genesis 1 states that "God SAID let there be... and there was..." When God 'speaks' that is His Word in action. That Christ is the 'body of God' is confirmed through the use of a figure of speech called a synecdoche.  A synecdoche may use part of something to represent the entire whole. In several places Jesus is referred to as the "Arm of the LORD". The Prophet Isaiah said (prophesying of Christ):

"Who has believed our message and to whom has the ARM of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground... 
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."

When we ask, 'Is Jesus Christ God?' it is the same as asking 'Is your arm you?'  If someone cuts your arm, have they hurt you? Yes.  Yet, your arm is a part of you.  You would still be you without your arm.. but somehow incomplete. Your arm is 'with you' and your arm is 'you'.  The Word was with God and the Word was God.  

From this we see that Jesus Christ is interdependent with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. He is the Lord over all creation because it was through Him that creation came into being. We need to make the choice to make Him our personal LORD if we are to spend eternity in Heaven (meaning we agree to live as He wants us to live). Doing His will is the purpose for our existence. When we are doing His will, our lives have meaning, and we can have peace in the midst of the most violent storms. We have faith in and get faith from the Lord, our hope is in His return, and we can love with the love we receive from Him. Time itself is centered around Christ (BC = Before Christ and AD = Anno Domini, which is Latin for "year of our Lord", and it means the number of years since the birth of Jesus Christ). He is Light in the darkness, He is full of all wisdom and knowledge. He is the head of the Body, and we (who serve Him) are the members... the hands and feet of Christ on earth, here to do good to all we meet, to help the needy, defend the defenseless, heal the hurt, comfort the afflicted, to declare the Great News of the Gospel!

So knowing who Christ is, how can we do any less than make Him Lord of our lives?  Romans 10:9,10 says, "If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved." When you accept Christ as your Lord, you receive the holy spirit, which is God in Christ in you! If you haven't already, won't you make that verbal covenant with God to make Jesus your Lord? Like a wedding vow, your life should change for the better... you become the bride of Christ and you no longer put anything or anyone before Him. That is what it means to make Jesus Lord of your life. You live as he commands (it's one thing to fall from time to time and repent, but another to live a life of deliberate, habitual sin, which is rebellion and refusal of Christ's Lordship).  What are his commands? 'Love God with all your being, and those around you with the same love that we received (and continue to receive) from Him' (Matt 22:37, Jn 13:34) and share the good news (Matt 28:19)!  In doing that we fulfill our purpose. Have you accepted Christ as your Lord? Welcome to the Family... the Family of God! As John 1 says, "Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God" and " No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” Heaven is waiting for YOU! 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

HOPE: The Great Motivator!

As a young man, I looked ahead to the end of my life and saw nothing but a black abyss, and deep within my soul I silently cried out, "NO! This can't happen!"  I could not bear the thought of being extinguished like a lonely candle on a rainy night. I sensed that there had to be more to life... that there must be a way beyond this mortal realm... I hoped I would find the way, but did not know where to look. Though I was raised agnostic, to me that only meant that I had not yet found something that I could believe in. I deeply wanted to have hope, but I was coming up empty.

Beyond the bounds of space and time, my quiet heart's cry that even I barely acknowledged was heard by the Creator of the Universe, and through an unlikely series of events, He reached down from Heaven and into my heart where Hope found me. The uncle of my college roommate, who we had met a year earlier by 'freak chance' invited us back to visit, and hinted about changes in his life. He was a deep man (a former professor of psychology, he had been sidelined by an illness and had previously spent his days exploring an ancient Chinese method of divination), my visit was surprising, intriguing, and ultimately life changing. There was a lightness, a peace, a hopefulness, and an overflowing sense of joy in that household that I had not seen the year before. He began to tell me about how Jesus had come into his life and how he (and his wife) had been redeemed, and that they had been given the free gift of Eternal Life. Now THAT caught my attention! I asked questions and he answered them in a way that made the pieces fit together like never before.  I knew I wanted what he had...  but how?  He explained that Jesus was standing at the door of my heart knocking, and that all I had to do was open the door and let Him in. I got on my knees and prayed to God and Jesus and asked the risen Lord Jesus Christ to come into my heart, and said that I would accept him as my Savior and Lord if He would save me and give to me that free gift of Eternal Life.  As I prayed, I became aware of this calm that was unlike anything that I had ever experienced, as though I had been living in the midst of a stormy sea and suddenly the waves had been calmed by the Master's hand... confused at first by this unfamiliar feeling, I finally realized that it was perfect peace! When I glanced out the window, there before me was a brilliant red cardinal, which I took as a confirmation of His presence. That evening God in Christ came into my heart and made His dwelling place there, and He has never left. Since that day my life has never been the same. Though I stumbled at times, turned left when I should have turned right, went down when I should have gone up, and wandered down the occasional dead end street, God gently kept me in the palm of His hand, picked me up when I stumbled, and pointed me back in the right direction. Through life's twists and turns, I never again feared the abyss. I never doubted God's saving power, and at last, I had the Hope of eternity in Heaven.

Now, I need to make a very important distinction here. 'Hope' to a true believer in Christ means something very different than what many people think of as 'hope'. For most, 'hope' means there is at least some chance that something good will happen... it is a glimmer, a long shot, a big time maybe. The absence of hope (hopelessness) is one of the darkest conditions known to mankind (it is a common denominator in deep depression and suicide). When all hope is gone, there is no motivation to go on. This is hope at the most basic level. That is not the kind of Hope I am talking about here. A ride can be a rustbucket, or a ride can be a new Ferrari.  A meal can be a box of stale crackers or a meal can be a Thanksgiving feast! That is the difference between what most people think of as hope and Hope for the true believer.

In an earlier article I quoted the 'love' chapter in the Bible, I Corinthians 13.  The last verse starts out, "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love...".  We have talked about why faith and love are key, but why hope? We find these three elements together again in the book of Colossians: " ...we have heard about the faith you have in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all of God’s people. You have this faith and love because of your hope, and what you hope for is kept safe for you in heaven." Did you get that? Faith and love are empowered as a result of us understanding that we have a 'hope' stored up in Heaven. Not many years past, unmarried women stored up many of the things they would need when married in a box called a 'hope chest'. A faithful Christian does not just have a 'hope chest'; they have a 'Hope mansion' stored up in Heaven! Jesus said, "In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you... Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." By our actions on earth, we can put treasures in our 'Hope mansions'!

What else can we learn about this 'Hope'? The Apostle Peter said, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a Living Hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in Heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.. Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your Hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming." Our Hope is not just inanimate objects... it is a fresh, strong, active, powerful Living Hope!  The Apostle John said, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!... we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this Hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure." Hope purifies us. The Apostle Paul wrote to Titus, "For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed Hopethe appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." Hope makes us strong against evil and eager to do good!

Our 'Hope' is looking forward to the return of Christ and all the wonderful things we will receive of him in the glorious kingdom of Heaven! With that kind of 'Hope' we can endure anything and still come out victors! Jesus Christ himself held on to that Hope during the greatest trial of his life.... the cross. "...let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. " While dwelling in his mortal body, he could see eternity... and that Hope is what kept him motivated. We can do the same! Attacked for doing good? "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in Heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Thank your persecutors, for they have made you richer! Suffering illness, injustice or lack?  "The sufferings we have now are nothing compared to the great glory that will be shown to us. Everything God made is waiting with excitement for God to show his children’s glory completely." For believers, Hope is a safe harbor that protects us from all the storms of life. It is transdimensional, rising above the limitations of our material existence. No matter what difficulties we are faced with, if we hold on to that Hope, nothing can take it away from us.

Our hope is not just a pipe dream or a wish... our Hope is glorious beyond imagination... a city with streets of gold and filled with mansions and a world where there are scenes of natural beauty beyond compare, and God's love permeates the air like the scent of roses in a rose garden. There is unconditional forgiveness, love and acceptance flowing like a river from the throne of God. What is even more motivating is that there are signs everywhere that we could be in the 'last days' (insane weather, waters turning blood red, sink holes, mass animal deaths, etc.) and 'be changed' when Christ returns for his own, not having to pass through death. The time we have on this planet may be very short indeed, so take action while you can!

So now perhaps you have a glimpse of what true Hope means. It is your Glorious Reward once you have taken the same leap of faith I took so many years ago... accepting the risen Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior (i.e. deliverer, redeemer) and Lord (commit to living your life in accordance with His will) and then live your life accordingly. It is then that you not only have hope... you have the Hope of Glory!

  I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness — the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the Hope of Glory!

(Colossians 1)

Monday, October 27, 2014

FAITH... The Keys to the Kingdom!

FAITH. To have FAITH means to believe in something that cannot be "scientifically proven".  It cannot be measured in a lab, viewed under a microscope, or reduced to an equation. In this age where 'scientific materialism' is the 'religion of the day', many have abandoned FAITH as unworthy of consideration. But is it really?

Scientists have theorized that there are as many as 11 different dimensions, but have no clue as to what that might mean for our existence. Just because something is not measurable in the four dimensions that we are aware of (3 dimensions plus time), does it mean that it does not exist? What if it exists in one or more of those other dimensions that we can't measure? Before there were microscopes, a belief that 'germs' existed and acting on that belief and taking precautions saved thousands (if not millions) of lives. Scientists believe in 'dark matter' and proclaim that there is more 'dark matter' in the universe than there is matter, yet, they cannot even define what it is, nevermind measure it. They have spent billions building the Hadron Collider trying to find the "God Particle", but most spend almost no effort trying to find GOD! Scientists often believe in things that they cannot prove scientifically, but have a bias against anything that smells of spirituality, dismissing it as so much 'hocus pocus'. Much of the media and the 'Hollywood elite' treat Christians with mockery and disdain. Despite all of this, around 78%* of Americans identify themselves as Christian. Why?

A person accused of a crime often must be judged as guilty or innocent based on what is called 'circumstantial evidence' (indirect evidence that tends to establish a conclusion by inference, as opposed to 'direct evidence'). Inference is "a conclusion or opinion that is formed because of known facts or evidence". It is possible therefore, to prove something to be true 'beyond a reasonable doubt' based on 'circumstantial evidence'. So if that in which people have FAITH cannot be proven by 'direct evidence', can it be proven by circumstantial evidence? What is the circumstantial evidence that would support a belief in God and in his Son, Jesus Christ? Taken individually, the evidence is compelling. Taken as a whole, it is, I believe, overwhelming.

Let's start with nature. The book of Romans (1:20) states, "...God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made...", meaning nature. The idea that the majesty, beauty, order, complexity, and balance that exists in the nature as nothing more than random luck makes no more sense than the idea that if enough tornadoes pass through enough junkyards, one of them will create a 747! Consider that the second law of thermodynamics states that, "the quality of matter/energy deteriorates gradually over time", yet nature does just the opposite. The human brain is still the most complex object in the known universe! The DNA in one person if strung end to end could go to Pluto and back. The miracle of you and the natural world around you is in itself strong evidence for God. Isn't spending time in nature in itself healing, calming, and restorative?  Nature is not just 'intelligent design'; it is 'genius design'! Evidence #1 submitted for your consideration.

Another compelling piece of evidence is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy by Christ. The number of prophetic descriptions of the coming Messiah (Savior, Redeemer) fulfilled by Christ number in the hundreds. According to the Old Testament prophecies, the Messiah would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem, come out of Egypt, be of the tribe of Judah, a descendent of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and King David, and would fulfill Isaiah's prophecies, including (as He himself states), “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” It was also prophesied that he would be falsely accused, betrayed, hated without a cause, crucified, die for our sins, be resurrected after his death, and be a light not just to Israel but to all nations. I could go on, but the statistical probability of him fulfilling even half of the ones I just listed are astonishingly small. He fulfilled hundreds of Old Testament prophecies. What are the odds? Evidence #2.

Another piece of evidence is Christianity itself. Jesus only taught for about three years, never preached more than 30 miles from home, had uneducated fishermen, laborers and a tax collector as disciples, was publicly humiliated and killed, and his followers were hiding behind closed doors after his death, in fear for their own lives. Today, Christianity is the #1 religion in the entire planet. Why? The resurrection of Christ. The power of the Holy Spirit that filled the apostles starting on the day of Pentecost. Martyrs that would rather suffer a horrible death than deny Christ. Countless men and women who have dedicated their lives in service to him. Miracles of healing and deliverance by the thousands, if not millions. Lives changed for the better. Charities formed. Governments founded on its principles. Joy, blessings, prayers answered, and much more, all of which defy natural explanations but is clearly a result of powerful spiritual forces of good at work. Evidence #3.

Then there are the hundreds, if not thousands of personal testimonies of people that have 'died' and come back from death with eyewitness reports of visiting Heaven and/or personally meeting Jesus Christ. Take, for example, the recent book and movie 'Heaven is for Real" about a young boy near death on an operating table that met his unborn (miscarried) sister, his long dead grandfather, angels, and Jesus Christ himself, telling of many things that he had no natural way of knowing. I have posted over 60 videos (and counting) of personal testimonies of people that have personally visited Heaven and come back to tell about it. Some were dead for hours, then came back to life. Some were blind and saw for the first time. Take a look for yourself here. The stories are amazingly consistent and cannot be explained by science. Evidence #4.

Do you need more evidence? Consider the fact that archaeological digs in the Middle East are constantly finding new evidence that supports the Biblical narrative, or that the constellations (properly understood) tell the biblical story. Did you know that scientific and medical knowledge is written in the Bible hundreds or thousands of years before it was accepted as true? Overwhelming evidence indicates that the Shroud of Turin, the apparent burial cloth of Jesus, is actual physical evidence of the resurrection of Christ! For more evidence, consider that many Christians have demonstrated an ability to speak in languages that they don't understand (referred to as 'speaking in tongues'), prophesy, perform miraculous healings, and other 'manifestations of the spirit'. How about the fact that we are living in a time in history that matches a great number of the events described in the Bible as "the last days"... increasing earthquakes, wars and rumors of wars, plagues (like ebola) rapidly increasing 'knowledge', and many more. Could that explain why things are getting so crazy? What about paranormal events and even so-called 'alien abductions'? Did you know that even they have been repeatedly stopped using the authority in the name of Jesus Christ? The Bible itself is another piece of evidence. It remains the best selling book of all time. It has been translated into nearly every language on earth. Written by dozens of different authors over literally thousands of years, it is a coherent and self consistent work without a single demonstrable contradiction.

Ah.... but I have saved the best for last! The best evidence of course, is to experience God and the Lord Jesus Christ for yourself. How, you may ask?  It all begins by first coming to God in prayer, admitting that you need to be cleansed from everything you have ever done wrong, and accepting Christ as both your Lord and Savior! At that point you are washed clean, you receive the gift of the holy spirit, and you have a completely fresh start in life! Next, get to know God and Christ by reading the Bible, the revealed 'Word of God' (I recommend starting with the Gospel of John, then the book of Romans, then reading the New Testament from the beginning to end). Now you can communicate directly with God by praying fervently and frequently with open ears and an open heart! Find a church that teaches Biblical Christianity (ex.ex.ex ex.), and go there; listen to Christian radio, and explore Christian web sites (but remember, the Word of God is the standard, not the opinions of men). If possible, attend the weekly Bible study groups and make some Christian friends (i.e. meet your new family!). Trusting God, change your life for the better (i.e. 'repent'); in other words, be a doer, and not a hearer only. Finally, commit to sticking with this new way of life, no matter what happens, and you will be transformed into a new creation! (note: you may do these in a different order, but each one of them is crucial!)

It is when you truly experience God and Christ for yourself that FAITH becomes FACT. It is then that you will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God is real and Jesus Christ is Lord! By FAITH you will have security of knowing that you will spend eternity in a wonderful place called Heaven, where you will be forever bathed in God's perfect love, His perfect grace, mercy and forgiveness, and be surrounded by a beauty that is beyond description! Yes, FAITH provides you with the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven itself! What joy! What wonder! What love! Eternal life is within your grasp! Don't hesitate. The time is now!

"Without FAITH it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him."
(Hebrews 11)

"Therefore being justified by FAITH, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by FAITH into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God."
(Romans 5)

FAITH...  it's something you can believe in!!!

(* note: text with a blue hue are links to more fascinating information!)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Rescue Mission!

A great storm blew in from the sea, and the waters began to rise. When the water was a foot or two deep, a local trucker pulled up the large gray house and shouted to the man standing on the porch, "Hey, mister... jump in! I'm here to rescue you." With a glint of pride in his eye, the man said calmly, "I don't need you. I've lived a good life. God is going to rescue me." Off the trucker drove. The waters got higher than the first floor as the storm raged on. In the midst of the driving rain and rushing waters, a boat pulled up to the house and someone yelled, "Anyone in there? We are here to rescue you!" The man poked his head out of the second story window and said, "Don't bother yourselves... God is going to save me." The waters continued to rise to the point where the man was forced to climb onto the roof of his house. Before long a helicopter came over the hill, hovered over the house and let down a harness. "You don't need to bother with me. God is going to save me" the man said confidently. Finally the raging waters rose above the roof of the house and the man was washed away and drowned. When the man arrived at the pearly gates and stood before the throne, he had a look of shock on his face. Indignant and unhappy, he muttered,"I thought you were going to save me!?!" God looked him squarely in the eye and said, "I sent a truck, a boat and finally a helicopter. What more did you expect me to do?"

Do you think that you are a good person?  Good people go to Heaven, right?  So what do you have to worry about... Why all this talk about Jesus Christ?  He lived and died 2,000 years ago... what does that matter? Why do people still read the Bible... some dusty old book? They didn't have the internet back then... what did they know?  And churches?  Just a bunch of hypocrites talking about God on Sunday morning and then cursing and yelling like drunken sailors when the game comes on Sunday afternoon. Right?  You tell yourself, 'I'm basically a good person...  I don't need any of that outdated fairy tale stuff to get to Heaven... right?' Suddenly, your heart stops, you get hit by a bus, or you are killed by cancer. The next thing you know, you are standing before the throne, confident that you are good enough to get in. To your shock and horror, God says, "Depart from me. I never knew you".  Mixing terror with anger you cry out, "God, I was basically a good person... I thought you were going to save me?" On that day He could well say, "I sent my Son to earth to die and pay the price for your sins, but you neglected and rejected him. I had holy men put My Word in black and white so you could read it for yourself, but you dismissed it as rubbish. I established my church on earth and sent them on a mission to tell you about me, but you treated them like fools. What more did you expect me to do? You rejected all my efforts to save you, so you remain unsaved and stained with your disobedience and rejection. Nothing unclean enters into the kingdom of Heaven, so your choices are the reason you are banished." Yikes! If that's a sobering thought (or not), please read on... it's Big Picture time!

In the time before time began, God who is spirit had a passion to create, to give, to do, to love. Being non-physical, God brought into manifestation his 'body' per se... a means by which he could interact with the multi-dimensional universe that he was about to create. That 'body' (i.e. the Word of God), while part of God, was given a will and consciousness that was interdependent with God, so that God had someone with whom to share of joy of creating the universe! (This explains how Jesus Christ can be both the Son of God and God... He is the 'Arm of the Lord'... is your arm you?) The Word became the firstborn of all creation (and thus became his 'Son', who he named 'Yeshua' in Hebrew (meaning 'to rescue' or 'to deliver'), translated 'Jesus' in the New Testament), and it was by the Word (Jesus) that God 'spoke' the universe into being (quantum physics has shown that all matter is simply different vibrational states of energy/power... notice the connection between 'speaking', the 'Word', and 'vibration'). The Gospel of John famously starts out, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." Elsewhere it is written, "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." Remember in Genesis, where it says, "God said, Let there be light...", etc.? When God 'said', that was God 'speaking' and 'his Word' brought it into being.

Prior to Adam, God had created other beings called 'angels' in the Bible, under the leadership of three archangels, Gabriel, Michael and Lucifer. At some point Lucifer became prideful and organized a failed mutiny against God (along with his 1/3 of the angels) and they were banished from Heaven. Stripped of their glory and banished from the presence of God, the fallen angels mutated into demons, and these inter-dimensional beings became the ancient (and contemporary) aliens, 'gods' of old (small 'g'), all types of 'paranormal phenomena', and (what we recognize as) demons. The remaining angels are still angels and often work for our benefit on behalf of God (though mostly in an alternate dimension so unseen by us).

The crown of God's creation, however was mankind. Made in God's image (God is body [the Word, Jesus] soul [God The Father] and spirit [the Holy Spirit]), the first humans (Adam and Eve) were also a three part beings, consisting of a body, soul and the holy spirit (that they received from and shared with God). Given free will, when man still chose to love God, it was the highest form of love for God in the universe. Jealous of God and Adam's relationship, Satan (who's name had been Lucifer, meaning 'Lightbearer', after his fall is referred to as Satan, meaning 'the enemy/adversary') deceived mankind and caused them to fall. The holy spirit 'died' (was removed) but the body and soul lived on. Unlike the fallen angels, however, because of free will, man could choose to be obedient to God and, if he was really faithful (and I mean Abraham/Moses/Isaiah faithful), he could earn his way into Heaven under the Law of the Old Testament.

The requirements of living an entire lifetime of purity, faith and holiness without the indwelling holy spirit were so difficult for mankind, however, that most did not make it into Heaven (in the purest sense, just thinking of committing a sin is a in itself sinful). God loved man, but man was, generally speaking, a failure. That is why God implemented a secret plan. He began hinting at it throughout the Old Testament (ex: Psalms and the book of Isaiah), but the full nature of the plan was kept a mystery, because if Satan fully understood it, it was so shockingly powerful that he would not have had Christ crucified! Yashua (Jesus) the Word of God, the son of God, the one who participated in the creation of the universe with God the Father and sat at His right hand in glory, came down from his throne to this planet and became one of us. Instead of coming as a king, however, he was born a 'helpless' baby raised in obscurity and poverty.  Although Satan was out to kill him from birth, God kept him safe from harm, always one step ahead. Jesus, as the son of God, was the first man since Adam to be born of the spirit as well as body and soul. He grew in wisdom and power, and came to understand that the spiritual superseded the material. He became our example, loving, teaching, healing, and casting out evil wherever he went. Satan was furious, and figured out a plan to have Jesus killed. On Passover, somewhere around 31-33 AD, Jesus Christ was crucified. How the demons must have rejoiced. What they failed to understand is that he had become the Passover lamb, the substitutional sacrifice by whom all men's sins could be cleansed, by paying the ultimate price of his life... his death for our life. Imagine their shock and dismay when three days later, Christ rose from the dead and was once again seated at the right hand of God! Not only that, but on the day of Pentecost, the remaining faithful Apostles received the third part that Adam had lost so many years ago... the holy spirit! Suddenly the good news of salvation was spreading like wildfire! Thousands of souls received the holy spirit in the days that followed! They began speaking in languages they did not know, healing the sick, even raising the dead! Then, the ultimate mystery that was revealed is that not only Jews, but anyone (i.e. that means you and me!) could become part of the chosen, the elect of God! Like Neo of the Matrix, he is 'The One' who demonstrated authority over even the 'laws of nature'. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi of Star Wars, Jesus Christ became more powerful through his death (and resurrection)! Like a spiritual 'Rambo', he came into enemy territory under cover and overpowered an entire army of demons single handedly! Then he replicated himself in us by empowering anyone who believed in him with the holy spirit so that each one of us could have authority over all evil in his name!

YOU can be part of the 'body of Christ', being filled with the holy spirit (if you are not already), and destined for Heaven! How can you be saved, rescued, delivered from death and hell?  There are two parts to redemption... The first part (understanding that God raised Christ from the dead), is to make a verbal covenant promise to God that you accept Jesus Christ as your LORD (Rom 10:9,10).  This means that you agree to stop living just for yourself, and like a marriage vow, you commit to living in a way that benefits your 'marriage partner' (i.e. the Lord), even above yourself (no good deed will go unrewarded). When you accept Jesus as your Lord, then He becomes your Savior... you are washed clean of all past sins, and made worthy of Heaven. This is typically done as a prayer to God.  The second part of redemption is to do it... to live it out. We prove that we really meant it when we said that we accepted Jesus as our Lord by living that way. If we say it and then don't do it, then it was just a lie... a false promise. We can't lie our way into Heaven. What does it mean to live it out? We need to change our ways, from selfish to selfless, from taking to giving, from hurting to loving, etc. Bottom line: Love God with all your being, Love others as Christ loves us, and share the good news! So if you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord, now is the time! What matters more than anything else is where you will spend eternity...  Make Jesus the Lord of your life and you will be spending eternity in Heaven!  God sent His Son to rescue YOU.  Take His hand and fly!

Though the final outcome of this spiritual war is certain (he will come back, win a decisive victory, and reign as King of Kings, ruling over all creation... and that time may in fact be near), the destroyer, Satan, still wants to take down as many souls as he can, so the battles rage on. In war, 'bad things happen to good people'. All around us, men, women and children that are not living for Christ are prisoners of war, though most are completely unaware of it. In Biblical times, people's names had meaning and even great significance, often reflecting their nature or purpose in life. As I mentioned, the Hebrew name of Jesus, Yeshua, actually means "to rescue", "to deliver".  Jesus Christ is the great deliverer, and his rescue mission is now in full swing! Once we have been rescued by committing ourselves into his service, we have the opportunity to become part of the rescue team. It is through our voice and actions that he typically speaks (though there are still times he intervenes personally!). We can help people see that Christ is knocking at the door of every person's heart, asking to be let in. If a person opens the door of their heart to him, we become part of the living Temple, and God in Christ then dwells in us, giving us wisdom, direction and strength. We who have accepted him as both Lord (i.e. commanding officer) and Savior (rescuer, deliverer) have become his brothers and sisters and his hands and feet on this planet. To anyone who is willing, we can offer them the truth, and the truth can set them free! Then, when the end comes, he will take all those who have joined with him in the great global rescue mission to our home in the sky.... Heaven!

John 3:16

The Pursuit of Perfection and the Thrill of Victory!

Every few years the Olympics comes around and becomes the centerpiece of global culture. In a world filled with crime, war, poverty, and injustice, the spectacle of seeing people who have dedicated major portions of their lives to excelling at a physical discipline and rising to the highest levels of human achievement is not only a welcome distraction.  It is inspirational, uplifting, and even awe inspiring! Seeing someone spin in the air more times than you can count, then land on a slippery surface on 1/8" wide blade of steel and do it with grace is a stunning sight to see! Watching people sled on ice at 90 mph with no real steering mechanism and their face inches from the ground seems surreal... or downhill racers going at similar speeds standing on two high tech beams at the hairy edge between control and disaster...  it makes you wonder what drives them to put everything on the line with such rare abandon. While motivations vary and are often deeply personal, attaining the 'perfect run' and experiencing the 'thrill of victory' is one common fuel that keeps them focused and driven. There is something in us that longs for perfection, whether we experience it ourselves or see it in others.

There is a paradox of human experience that few people can really explain. When we see something so beautiful, powerful, wondrous and moving that we are filled with joy... why is it a very common response to weep... to be moved to tears? Tears are typically associated with sadness, yet in our most transcendent and happy moments, we often cry. While still in high school, I came across (and wrote a paper on) the writings of a French (first a Protestant, then agnostic, then Catholic) philosopher named Jacques Maritain who had the best explanation I had ever heard before or since. As I recall, his explanation was that we all long for Heaven, for God's reign, for perfection.  When we get a glimpse of perfection in this damaged world, that deep and potent connection with everything we long for is made for a moment, then broken. In that moment of transcendent joy we weep with sadness as we begin to experience the inevitable loss of what we know is slipping through our fingers, knowing that we are powerless to stop it. We have touched Heaven itself, and now we are being torn from it kicking and screaming as the world pulls us back to it's harsh reality. It all happens in a moment, an instant, faster than we can comprehend, and we are left wondering what just hit us as we wipe the tears from our eyes. 

One thing that is interesting about this is that it has a lot in common with 'near death experiences' (NDEs).  Quite often when people 'die' and go to Heaven, they are so overwhelmed with the love and joy and perfection they experience, when they are asked (or told) about coming back to their earthly existence to finish out their purpose, that is the last thing they want! Despite being separated from family and friends and all of their 'stuff', they most frequently want to stay, and are sad, and even angry, when they have to leave Heaven to come back to life. Wanting to understand and experience the joys and wonders of Heaven myself (if not experientially, then vicariously), I started collecting videos of people who have had NDEs (or waking dreams) whereby they went to Heaven and then came back to tell about it. I put together a YouTube channel (check it out here) with this collection which currently has nearly 2 million hits and counting, so I guess I am not the only one intrigued by this phenomenon! 

So what does it all mean? How can we use this information to bring more meaning and purpose to our lives? How can we tap into that powerful force that drives athletes in their pursuit of excellence? How can we 'touch Heaven', achieve that 'perfect run', and experience 'the thrill of victory' again and again in our lives? The first Olympics were held in Greece in 776 BC, so the Apostle Paul (being a Roman citizen and speaking Greek) would have been well acquainted with the Olympics (although 'Winter Olympics' hadn't been invented yet). He states, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air", and "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." He also said, "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace", and, near the end of his life, proclaimed, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." Paul saw himself and us as spiritual athletes striving for rewards that will last forever!

Bottom line? Jesus endured the most difficult course (of events) ever imagined... the cross. How?  Like top athletes, by keeping his eyes on the prize of the joy that was set before him (sitting at the right hand of God). We are encouraged to follow His example and keep our eyes on Him, the one who will reward us for all the good we have done as we stand on the podium. A true athlete feels reward from discipline, progress, and incremental success, but ultimately strives for that 'Gold Medal' (historically it was a victory wreath or crown). Christ reminded us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Getting to Heaven is one thing... gathering crowns and other rewards to be held until you arrive is another. Paul refers to a number of 'crowns' (or victory wreaths) to be attained for things like self-disciplineperseverance in difficultyspiritual leadershipwitnessing and discipleshipfaithfulness even unto death, and looking forward to the return of Christ. Christ saves us by His grace if we make him Lord and Savior, but if we are faithful in doing good no matter what, we will have great reward in Heaven! We can strive for 'perfection' in our walk with God each day... with our ear open to the guidance of our coach, the Holy Spirit, we can live in faith, hope and love, following the example of our Lord and his most committed spiritual athletes. We can raise our sights toward our heavenly calling and keep our eye on the ​heavenly rewards that not only will outshine anything this world could offer, but they will last for eternity! Perfect everlasting rewards are within our grasp! Lift up your eyes and go for the gold!

But wait... There's more! We who have faith also have daily access to experience perfection, to get a glimpse of Heaven, to live under God's reign through a living relationship with our perfect Creator... through prayer, through study of God's Word, and through Holy Spirit inspired action. We can experience perfection every time we seek and find His holiness. When the Love of God is real to you, you will keep coming back again and again, and find strength, power and wisdom (when you need it most) by dwelling in His presence. As Isaiah said,

"He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,    
they will walk and not be faint."

The Big Lie Nobody Challenges... and How to Have Eternal Life!

We don't need to look far to find scandal, abuse, adultery, the use of pornography, lying, drunkenness and other types of reprehensible behavior among people that are supposed to be living good Christian lives. People that call themselves 'Christian' are many times the opposite of what one would consider a Christian to be (I include myself in this group, in times past). While there is an aspect of human frailty and weakness that we all will struggle with to some extent, there is a doctrine that has become a 'pillar' of the vast majority of Christian churches which is not Biblical and has led to a proliferation of immoral behavior among so-called Christians. Worst of all, it risks the eternal destiny of millions, yet it looks so good and has such mass appeal that most don't even think to question it. It is time to face this false doctrine head on, so that people can make enlightened and informed decisions about their lives.

Have you heard the phrase, "Once saved, always saved"? Have you heard preachers talk about how, once we 'accept Christ', we are forever cleansed of all of our sins, so that, no matter how we live our lives, we can be secure that we will go to Heaven? It sounds nice doesn't it? Very appealing... no rules, no self-discipline... just live our lives like we always have but add a little prayer and, voila, we have a free ticket to Heaven. So what is the problem with that? Consider the martyrs who went to their death rather than deny Christ. If one could do anything and be forgiven, why didn't they deny Christ then ask for forgiveness later? The problem is that it is not based on what the Bible clearly teaches. The problem is that people are taught to believe that they can commit all kinds of immoral acts and still get to Heaven... that, no matter what sins they commit, they get a free pass (it is often taught that all of their sins will be cast 'as far as the east is from the west', causing them to think there will be no repercussions for bad behavior, sometimes leading to even worse behavior than before they were 'saved'), so sin abounds unrestrained, and the name of God is disgraced. The problem is that millions of people that considered themselves Christians will stand before the throne of Judgment, and will be shocked and horrified to hear the words, "I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS'. I am sure you don't want to be among those caught by surprise!

So where did this doctrine come from? The most likely source is an early heretical splinter group that broke away from Christianity called the 'Gnostics'. In the book of Acts there is a man called "Simon the sorcerer". As described in Wikipedia (under 'Gnosticism')..."Charges of Gnostic libertinism find their source in the works of Irenaeus. According to this writer, Simon Magnus (whom he has identified as the prototypical source of Gnosticism, and who had previously tried to buy sacramental authority of ordination from St. Peter the Apostle) founded the school of moral freedom ('amoralism'). Irenaeus reports that Simon's argument was that those who put their trust in him and his consort Helen need trouble themselves no further with the biblical prophets or their moral exhortations and are free "to do what they wish", as men are saved by his (Simon's) grace and not by their "righteous works." Eventually, as with many other pagan beliefs, in an attempt to 'win over the pagans', the 'Christianized version' of this doctrine slowly worked its way into the thinking of mainstream Christianity. In addition, Martin Luther's focus on the texts referring to being 'saved by grace through faith and not by works', while true up to a point, is not the complete message. There is more to salvation than a single act on a single day. There is more required than an experience of being 'Born again'. While the 'new birth' is an important first step, and it is the point at which all of our past sins (done in ignorance) are cleansed (and the most poignant demonstration of God's grace in Christ), it is just the beginning. Jesus clearly teaches that, unless we bear good fruit (and stop bearing bad fruit), we will be cut off.

John 15: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.  You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” In Matthew He repeats a very similar analogy with the same message: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS'." (For further clarification on the Biblically accurate position, consider Hebrews 6:4-15 and 10:22-39).

So what is ‘good fruit’ and ‘bad fruit’? I think the book of Galatians says it most clearly. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh [i.e. the bad fruit] are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

Friends, brothers and sisters, we cannot live a life full of sinful behavior and think God is OK with that. He is not. While sin in ignorance is bad, willfully and habitually sinning after “accepting Christ as Lord” is far worse (it has  become deliberate betrayal), and it is clear evidence that we have not truly accepted Christ as Lord… if we had, we would not continue in willful sin. It is to God’s glory and to our benefit that we ‘bear good fruit’. If you have considered yourself a ‘Christian’ but have continued in willful disobedience to God, you still have a choice. Thank God for the story of the prodigal son! We can diligently seek God's mercy in prayer and turn from our self-destructive path (remember the father in the story said  “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.") and live a life striving for holiness and goodness. When we fall, repent (which means being truly sorry and committing never to do it again… then not doing it again!  As Jesus said, “Go, and sin no more”), then rededicate yourself to living right before God. You can do it!

Let us live lives that glorify God! Let us do good to all we meet. Let us love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength! Let us bear the ‘Fruit of the Spirit’ by ‘walking in the spirit’. That, my dear friends, will be assurance of Heaven!!!