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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Jesus was Born of a Virgin

Jesus was Born of a Virgin
The prophet Isaiah wrote these words “Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).  These words were written about 750 years before Jesus was born.  And 750 years later, Matthew believed that the old prophecy of Isaiah was finally being fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. 
Inspired by God, Matthew writes: “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’”  (Matthew 22-23) 
One of Jesus’ names was to be “Immanuel”. The name Immanuel here declares the presence of God with His people. Also, the angel told Joseph to name this baby “Jesus” and the name “Jesus” means “Yahweh (God) is Salvation.”  Jesus would be the long-awaited Messiah.  Obviously, the baby Jesus would be different from any other baby ever born. And His conception would be different from any other conception – in that He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would be God and He would be human.  
The gospel of Matthew starts out with the genealogy of Jesus.  This genealogy demonstrates continuity between the Old Testament and Jesus and it also shows Jesus’ royal line in that Jesus was a Son of David.  And it also demonstrated Jesus’ link with Abraham the patriarch or father of the Jewish race in that Jesus was called a “Son of Abraham”. 
We usually read the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth from the gospel of Luke since Luke’s story is so beautifully written, - the shepherds and the wise men – the bright star and the angels singing in the heavens – the stable and the baby Jesus sleeping on the hay in the manger –  and Mary and Joseph standing watch over the Christ child.  And our Christmas carols reflect Luke’s miraculous story.
But when Matthew’s gospel describes Jesus’ birth, his words aren’t so magical, and they do not easily lend themselves to Christmas carols. Matthew jumps right in talking about the problems Jesus’ birth brings.  First, he gives us a glimpse of the problems Mary’s pregnancy causes her with her fiancé Joseph.  Matthew writes: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.  Then Joseph her husband, being a just man and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to divorce her secretly.” (Matthew 1:18-19). 
“But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  (Matthew 1:20-21) 
Biblical scholars tell us that there were no sexual relations during an ancient Jewish betrothal period, but an engaged couple like Mary and Joseph were considered to be “husband” and “wife” and their engagement could only be broken by divorce.  Matthew uses the terms “husband” and “wife” for Joseph and Mary before they were married.
Joseph obviously did not believe Mary when she told him that she was pregnant and that she had not had sex with another man. A pregnant virgin – impossible!  It had never happened before – or since – so how could Joseph believe that Mary could be the only woman in the world who became pregnant without having sex?  He wasn’t stupid, was he?  
Mary told Joseph about Gabriel, the bright angel that had appeared to her bringing news that she would become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. And she told him about this same angel who had promised that she would give birth to the Son of God, the One who would save His people from their sins!  That yes, she was the only virgin to ever be pregnant with a child, but her Child would be the only Child to save His people from their sins!  A miraculous pregnancy and a miraculous Baby!
 But this was all too much for poor Joseph to take in. All he knew was that the woman he loved - the woman he had trusted – the woman he called his “wife” -this woman had betrayed him and was pregnant with someone else’s baby! And soon the whole village would be whispering about it.  It must have been humiliating and painful – not only for Joseph but also for Mary.
We are not told how Mary felt in all of this. She had wanted God’s Will in her life.  But submitting to God’s will was already causing her to lose her man. She had counted on her Joseph to be there for her and to believe her when she told him about how the angel had given her this wonderful news.  But instead Joseph had become angry with Mary’s news of the Baby. He didn’t believe one word of her story. He thought she was lying. And he didn’t leave room for God in her story either! So Mary was pregnant and watching the man she loved reject her and walk out of her life.  And while he was walking away, he promised that a shameful divorce would soon follow.  At least he was good enough not to have her stoned! 
But then God stepped in and took care of the misunderstanding.  God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream and told Joseph that what Mary had told him really was true!  That Mary was indeed pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that she truly would give birth to a Son who would save His people from their sins!  And they should call His name “Jesus”. 
Matthew continues the Christmas story by telling us that Joseph woke up from his dream and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and he took Mary to be his wife. Joseph and Mary later traveled to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.  And wise men or Magi from the East came to Jerusalem asking where they could find the king of the Jews.  They had seen His star and they had come to worship Him. 
Matthew now describes a second problem that the birth of Jesus brings!  It seems when Jesus came into the world as a baby two thousand years ago, His birth caused problems for some. And when He comes into our lives and world today, it is the same. His Presence with us can also cause problems from a rejecting world. 
Matthew begins by telling of how Herod, the evil king at that time, was troubled by these traveling Magi asking where the new baby king of the Jews could be found. Who was this “new king” they were asking about anyway?  Herod was the only “king” the Jews could have!  How dare they talk of a “new king” being born!  Jealously and rage filled Herod’s heart.  He asked the wise men to return to his palace after they had found this “new king”.  Return and tell him where this baby king was so that he could go and “worship” him also.   (King Herod had no intention of worshipping Jesus!) 
The wise men or Magi followed the star to Bethlehem and Scripture says that these men “rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”  (Matthew 2:10b) It seems that Jesus’ presence brought exceeding great joy back then and His presence in our lives brings us exceeding joy today!  And when the wise men came before the baby Jesus and His mother Mary, they fell down and worshipped Him. And they gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Magi were probably Gentiles.  Matthew shows that people of all nations acknowledge that Jesus is “king of the Jews” and we Gentiles come to worship Him as Lord like the wise men did.  But God warned the wise men in a dream not to return to the wicked Herod and tell him where Jesus was but to travel back to their country another way.
King Herod waited for the wise men to return and tell him where he could find this “new king” – the baby Jesus.  But when the wise men never returned to Herod with that information, he flew into a rage.
 When the wise men had first asked King Herod where to find this new king, the scribes and religious scholars of the day had come before King Herod and referred to an Old Testament prophecy in Micah as to where the new king would be born.  There are many prophecies in the Old Testament pointing to Jesus’ birth, but this one in Micah says that the Messiah or king will come out of the town of Bethlehem.  This scripture reads: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me, the One to be ruler in Israel.  Whose goings forth are from of old and from everlasting.”  (Micah 5:2) 
The scribes and the religious scholars believed from studying Scripture that their Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They referred to Micah’s prophecy when the wise men asked where He might be found. Yet none of those ancient theologians bothered to accompany the wise men to Bethlehem (a 7-mile journey) to see if, indeed, the Messiah had been born!
The little town of Bethlehem is now a point of pilgrimage for thousands of Christians yearly.  But let us learn from those scribes and religious leaders in Jesus’ time who knew all the right answers but did not make that first pilgrimage to Bethlehem. They knew where their Savior was to be born from studying prophecy, but they did not love Him enough to go find Him for themselves.
 Today neither our orthodoxy, biblical knowledge, nor church attendance guarantees that we will see what God is doing in our midst. We can know all of the correct answers like the religious leaders of old did and yet miss the Savior! Let’s be willing to love Him enough to follow the leading of God and His Word wherever it may lead.   

Saturday, December 1, 2018

A Young Man was Recently Martyred as He Tried to Share Christ

A Young Man was Recently Martyred as He Tried to Share Christ
On November 16,2018, a young American man was shot and killed by remote primitive tribesmen with bows and arrows as he was trying to share his Christian faith. John Allen Chau, an American from the state of Washington, and a graduate from Oral Roberts University was just twenty-six years old. He felt that God was calling him to bring Christianity to a remote primitive tribe that lived on North Sentinel Island, one of the islands near India.
North Sentinel Island is a place so shrouded in mystery that the Indian government says that no outsiders know the language or the customs of the warlike people living there.  It seems that these North Sentinel islanders reject any contact with the civilized world. They are hunter-gatherers who will kill to protect their isolation from all outsiders. And in the past, they have murdered anyone who has ever tried to set foot on their island.  The Indian government has declared the North Sentinel Island “off limits”.
John Chau knew how dangerous it would be for him to go where no one else could go, but he felt that God was calling him.  He loved these people and believed that they would become Christians and that they would be with him in heaven. 
John flew to India in early November 2018 and hired five local fishermen to take him in their boat to the forbidden island, but he told no one.  He didn’t want to put others at risk with the Indian government.  He knew his mission was illegal.  That his helpers would have to maneuver their boat to avoid the Indian authorities who patrolled the waters around North Sentinel Island.  But on November 14th, the fishermen with John set off in their boat by night across the dark waters toward North Sentinel Island to avoid detection by the Indian government.
On November 15,2018 they arrived in the area and the fishermen let John Chau off a half mile from North Sentinel Island.  They feared being shot by arrows from the angry islander’s if they brought their boat any closer.  John paddled in a kayak to the remote island and went ashore smiling and offering gifts of fish, scissors and safety pins to the islanders.  He sang worship songs to them and tried to make friends.  For a while the naked tribesmen surrounded him speaking in high-pitched sounds and gestures.  But then one of the men shot at John and the arrow went through his Bible.  Others raised their spears to attack.
John ran away and swam back to the fishermen’s boat, anchored the half mile out in the harbor. Disappointed and  torn by fear but urged on by faith, he prayed asking God for guidance.  What should he do?  Should he go back and try again to reach these people tomorrow?  “I’m scared,” he wrote the evening of November 15th in his diary.  “Watching the sunset and it’s beautiful – crying a bit…wondering if it will be the last sunset I see. I think I could be more useful alive…but to you, God, I give all the glory of whatever happens,” And then he asked God to forgive “any of the people on this island who try to kill me, and especially if they succeed.”  He left 13 pages written in pen and pencil with the fishermen who had transported him to the island. 
John was galvanized by the feeling that he was God’s instrument to these lost people.  He so wanted them to know Christ. And he believed that the Lord was with him. “Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your Name?” he wrote in his diary that last night. 
And then the next morning, November 16,2018, John made his final trip to the forbidden island.  The fishermen watched from their boat as he disappeared into the forest.  And then they watched anxiously all day and all night.  But there was no sign of John Chau. Then on the morning of the following day, November 17th, the fishermen sadly watched as tribesmen could be seen dragging Chau’s body along the beach and burying his remains.  Chau was apparently shot and killed by arrows, but the cause of his death cannot be confirmed. 
John Chau is a modern- day Christian martyr. He joins the ranks of all the other Christian martyrs. Down through these last two thousand years, millions of Christians have been killed for their faith in Christ.  Steven might have been the first known martyr who was stoned to death because he was leading others to Christ. James, Jesus’ disciple, was killed by the sword. And most of Jesus’ disciples lost their lives because they were spreading the gospel. 
In the book of Revelation in the Bible it says: “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been killed because of the Word of God and for the testimony which they held.” (Revelations 6:9) These martyrs were praying for justice and God gives them white robes (representing righteousness and victory) and tells them to “rest a little longer”. 
Jesus calls all His followers to go into all the world and spread the gospel – the good news that Jesus will give us eternal life.  Christ calls us to go and lead others to Him. Here are Jesus’ words. “Then Jesus came to the disciples and followers and said, ’All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18-20) This is the “Great Commission”.   
Some people think that John Chau was wrong to visit this remote island tribe.  That the tribe was harmed by John’s visit.  But John’s faith and prayers for this tribes’ salvation may be answered in ways that we cannot understand.  There is a spiritual side that we can only begin to see by faith.  The early Christians were forbidden by Rome and by the Jewish religious leaders to spread their faith.  If the early Christians had obeyed their rulers, Christianity would not have spread and we would probably be heathens today.
 In 1954 or 1955, five young missionary couples from Wycliffe Bible Translators traveled with their children to the jungles of Ecuador in South America and prayed that they might share God’s Word with the Aca Indians, who lived there.  The Aca tribe, like the tribe on North Sentinel Island, were warring primitive people who did not trust their civilized neighbors.  After sending gifts to the Aca’s and praying and preparing, the five missionary men set out through the jungle to meet these people.  Nate Saint, one of the missionaries, promised his wife Marge that he would call her on their two- way radio that evening.  His call never came through.  When the authorities sent troops into the jungle to find the men, they found their five bodies in the jungle, brutally cut to death by the Aca’s swords and spears. 
Elizabeth Elliott was one of the five young missionaries who was left a widow when her husband, Jim Elliott, was martyred along with Nate Saint and the three other missionaries.  Elizabeth loved the Aca Indians and believed that her husband and the other men did not die in vain.  She believed that God wanted the Aca Indians to become Christians.  She cried and prayed and traveled through the Ecuadorian jungle to the Aca Indian village along with Marge Saint.  These two women were taken into the Aca village where they loved on the people who had savagely murdered their husbands.  Over a period of several years these women learned the language of the Aca Indians and shared Christ with them. Soon, the whole Aca Indian tribe accepted Christ and became Christian.   Many photos were sent back home of Elizabeth and Marge along with the Aca Indians all praising God together. 
Elizabeth Elliott wrote the book, “Through Gates of Splendor” telling the amazing story of how the whole Aca tribe miraculously became Christian.  Elizabeth believed that in some way, God used the deaths of her husband and the other missionaries to open the hearts of the Aca Indians to Christ.  We will never know.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Why aren't Christians sometimes not Nicer than Non-Christians?

Why aren’t Christians sometimes not Nicer than Non-Christians?
Jesus said that if you put yourself in His hands, if you believe in Him as Savior and Lord, that He will change you and make you perfect, as He is perfect.  (Matthew 5:48) Jesus promises to cleanse us and makes us fit for heaven. Of course, that will take time. The change will not be completed in this lifetime. Death is an important part of the treatment.
But after death we will be perfect!  We will be changed!  We won’t be just nice people, but we will be new people! Scripture says that “We will be like Him (Jesus) for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2) We will be like Jesus!  Can that be?  Can we even imagine what all this means?
We will be in heaven in God’s presence.  And no sin can exist in God’s presence. (Habakkuk 1:13) Not only will all sin be banished from heaven, but everything bad that happens now because of sin’s grip on this world will finally be gone forever.   
Since Jesus is working on us Christians now toward the goal of making us perfect, why then aren’t we Christians often not nicer than non-Christians?  Even if we are not perfect yet, shouldn’t Christ shine through our lives for others to see? We can see Christ shining through the lives of many Christians, but why not all? 
 When we Christians behave badly, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world.  The non-Christian is right to judge Christianity by its results.  Jesus told us to judge by results.  He told us that a tree is known by its fruit. (Luke 6:44, Matthew 12:33)
But we are also commanded not to judge one another.  That job belongs to God. Only God can see the true picture.  We see through a glass darkly. (1 Corinthians 13:12) What can we know of other people’s souls – their temptations and struggles and their personal demons?  Miss Smith who is a Christian may have an unkinder tongue than Bill Jones, who claims to be an atheist.  Why isn’t Miss Smith, the Christian, nicer than Bill Jones, the non-Christian?    
Bill Jones’ was born with his placid temper and friendly disposition.  He inherited these healthy traits and he was raised in a loving functional family.  So much of his niceness is God’s gift to him. Bill Jones is quite satisfied with his bank account and his sound nerves.  And he’s proud of his intelligence, health, popularity and good upbringing.  Why drag God into his life when he feels he has it all?  He feels that his niceness is all his own doing!  He doesn’t recognize his need for Christ.  Scripture says that it is hard for those who are ‘rich’ in this sense to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  (Matthew 19:23-24)
It’s a very different story for the nasty people – the little, low, warped, timid, thin-blooded, neurotic people.  Or the sensual, unbalanced, mentally ill people - if they make any attempt at living a good life, they quickly learn that they need help.  It is Christ or nothing for them.    
They are the lost sheep that Jesus especially came to find, I believe. The ordinary peasants, without education, the poor, the unwashed – they were mainly the ones who were attracted to Jesus when He walked the hills of Galilee. The ones He blessed and healed when He lived on earth as a man.  The Pharisees criticized Jesus for hanging out with the ‘awful set’ and of course modern Pharisees still judge Him because of that.  ‘If there were anything in Christianity those ‘awful’ people would not be Christians.’   
Our Miss Smith is one of those ‘awful’ people.  Heredity and natural causes working in a world spoiled by centuries of sin have produced in Miss Smith the narrow mind and jangled nerves which account for most of her nastiness.  Also, Miss Smith’s father was never there for her when she was a child, and her mother was addicted to drugs and neglected and abused her.  Miss Smith endured a sad and dysfunctional upbringing.  
But God intends, in His own good time, to set that part of Miss Smith right.  Someday Christ will change us and clothe us in His righteousness.  Scripture promises that Miss Smith and all believers will be victorious through Christ on the other side of this life!  (Revelations 20 and 21)
Scripture says: “Behold, I show you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.  In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible.  And we shall be changed.  For this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality.  Death is swallowed up in victory.  Oh death, where is your sting?  Oh grave, where is your victory?  Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (1 Corinthians 15:51-55; 57)  It doesn’t get any better than that!
Most of the ideas here were taken from C.S. Lewis’s book, “Mere Christianity”




Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Wisdom is Calling

Wisdom is Calling
In the Scriptures Wisdom is personified as a woman inviting all to come and listen to Her!   Proverbs 1:20-33
“Wisdom is standing on the top of the heights and beside the way, where our paths meet.  Also, she stands at the gates of the entrance to the town, and beside the doors of our homes.  She waits and cries out to us. 
 Wisdom is calling loudly in the streets and raising her voice in the public squares: At the head of the noisy streets she begs us to listen, and In the gateways of the cities she stands and makes her speech. 
But how long will you simple ones love your simple ways?  How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?  If you would respond to My rebuke, I would pour out My heart to you.  And make My thoughts known to you.
But you reject Me when I call, and no one gives heed when I stretch out My hand,
In turn I will laugh at your disaster:  I will mock when calamity overtakes you.  When calamity overtakes you like a storm and when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelms you.   
Since they will not accept My advice, and spurn My rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their own ways. And be filled with the fruit of their own schemes.
For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.  But whoever listens to Me will live in safety.  And be at ease, without fear of harm.”
In our Scripture reading today we see Wisdom calling out to everyone, but many are refusing to listen to her.  Refusing to take the gift of life that Wisdom will give. They want to do it their own way.  I see here in Proverbs the idea of Wisdom standing at every crossroad and every place of decision in our lives, calling out to us, “Follow Me.”  But are we listening?   
All through Scripture we find that God is behind the scenes waiting and calling His children to listen for His Voice.  To allow Him to direct them.  To allow the still small Voice of the Holy Spirit to lead them.  God is there and He is not silent.  But are we listening?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Let's Pretend

Let’s Pretend
We are presently going through C.S. Lewis’s famous book, “Mere Christianity” and touching on some of the highlights.  This book is all about describing Christian beliefs.  And today we will touch on the Christian belief of what happens to us when we accept Christ as Savior.
Scripture tells us that when we believe in Christ as our Savior, that we are “righteous”. (2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 4:5 and 13, Romans 9:30, Romans 3:22, and Romans 1:17) Christ’s righteousness has been wrapped around us!
But even though the Bible says believers are “righteous”, doesn’t it mean we “will become righteous” in heaven?  No Scripture says we “are” righteous right now when we know we are still sinning! When we say we are “righteous” aren’t we just pretending?  We still have ungodly thoughts and we still get angry when we shouldn’t!  What goes here? 
C.S. Lewis suggests that when you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do is to put on a friendly manner and behave (or pretend) as if you are a nicer person than you actually are.  And guess what?  In a few minutes, you really will be  feeling friendlier than you were.  Very often the only way to feel friendly or loving is to start acting friendlier and more loving.  Behaving as if you already felt friendlier and more loving.  And soon pretending becomes reality!  Christ Himself, the Son of God, is actually at your side and is already at that moment turning your pretending into reality!
If you ae seriously trying to be like Christ, there are lots of things that your conscience may not call wrong, but you feel that you cannot go on doing.  You are no longer thinking as much about right and wrong as about doing what pleases God.  The real Son of God is at your side, and He is beginning to turn you into being more like Himself.  He is speaking His kind of life and thought into you. 
You may be thinking that you have never had the sense of being helped by an invisible Christ.  We see the person who helped us without seeing Christ behind him or her.  But if there were no help from Christ there would be no help from other human beings.  Christ works on us in all sorts of ways. He works through His Spirit speaking to our spirit.  He works through nature and through others.  Through books and our own experiences.  And ways that only He knows.  We must go on to recognize the real Giver behind every good gift we receive. (James 1:17)
The Scripture speaks of “being born again” and about “putting on Christ” and “Christ being formed in us”.  This isn’t just a fancy way of saying that Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out.  It means so much more. 
The Bible means that a real Person, Christ, here and now, in the room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to you.  It is not a question of a good person who died two thousand years ago.  Christ, the Son of God is the Alpha (beginning) and the Omega (ending) of time. (Revelations 22:13)   He is alive today and is coming and interfering with you.  Killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has.  If all goes well, He will turn you permanently into a new little Christ, an eternal being, something we can only imagine!
We cannot by direct moral effort, give ourselves new motives.  After the first few steps in the Christian life we realize that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can only be done by God.  We think we are doing everything to change ourselves, but of course it is God who does everything in us.  But we at most allow it to be done to us.  Jesus became a man for no other purpose but to draw people to Himself.  The whole universe was made for Christ and everything is to be gathered together in Him. 
You might say that it is God who also does the pretending.  God sees before Him a self-centered, greedy, grumbling, rebellious human being.  But He says, ‘Because of her faith in Me I am her Father’.  She is My child- My righteous child!
  God looks at you as if you were righteous.  And Christ stands beside you making you righteous, His righteousness covering you.  Scripture says that we will never sin again after we die and go to heaven. Christ will have finished the job on us by then. God who see the beginning from the end can see us now as we will be in all eternity – a righteous saint.
  The idea of divine make-believe sounds rather strange.  But is it so strange really?  A mother teaches her baby to talk by talking to it as if it understood long before it really does.  And we treat our dogs as if they were ‘almost human’ and that is why they really become ‘almost human’ in the end. 
The ideas in this blog were taken from C.S. Lewis’s book, “Mere Christianity”.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Hope and Faith

Hope and Faith
We are presently going through C.S. Lewis’s famous book, “Mere Christianity” and touching on some of the highlights.  This book is all about describing Christian beliefs.  And today we will touch on the Christian beliefs concerning hope and faith.
Today the definition of “hope” means “wishing or wanting something to happen”.  One might say that he or she hopes their football team wins.  This is not what the word “hope” means in Scripture.   For Christians, hope is one of the Theological virtues.  The word “hope” in the Bible means “a continual looking forward to the eternal world”. 
Scripture says: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when He (Jesus) shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  Everyone who has this hope in him, purifies himself, just as he is pure.”  (1 John 3:2-3) These verses seem to imply that when we look forward to or when we “hope” for our eternal home, that our hope has a purifying effect on our souls!  Our hope in God changes us?  
In the Old Testament, hope is expressed by words meaning “safety”, “security”, “trust”, and “refuge” and “waited for”.  Scripture says that the coming of the Lord is called “the blessed hope”, that is, the act of expecting our future victory in Christ in heaven gives joy to the Christian.  (Titus 2:13) 
Most of us find it difficult to want ‘Heaven” because we have not been trained – our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world and not the next.  Heaven is present in us, but we often do not recognize it.  If most people would look into their hearts, they might find out that they do want something more that cannot be found in this world! 
Perhaps there is something we humans grasp at when we are young and idealistic that later never turns out quite as good as we had dreamed!  Never becomes as fulfilling as we had hoped!  Some put the blame on the thing itself.  If he had only married another woman, or gone on a more expensive trip, or made more money – then he would have caught that mysterious something we all seem to want.  Some spend their lives running from woman to woman (or man to man) or from job to job, always hoping that the latest is the “real thing”. And always becoming disappointed.  And others solve the problem of their disillusionment with life by telling themselves not to expect too much.  That some things are too good to be true.  
But what if it’s true and there is perfect love and joy and goodness in heaven?  And just suppose infinite happiness really is there for us? The Bible teaches, and Christians believe that we will live forever!  Forever in glory and our future in Christ will be more glorious and victorious than we can ever imagine. (1 Corinthians 2:9, Isaiah 64:4)   That hope is surely enough to make our earthly life joyful.
If we find ourselves desiring something which no experience in this world can satisfy, could it be that we were made for another world?  We must keep alive in ourselves the desire for our true country, which we shall not find until after our death.  And we must help others do the same.
We now turn to the subject of faith.  Faith simply means belief – accepting or regarding as true the doctrines of Christianity. Scripture tells us that Jesus is the author and the finisher of our faith.  (Hebrews 12:2)   And Scripture also tells us that if we believe in Christ as Savior we will be saved. (Acts 16:31, John 3:16)   And without faith it is impossible to please God.  (Hebrews 11:6)
Because our faith in Christ is so precious and so important – (without it we would not have salvation) we need to take care of it.  Nourish and feed it by prayer and praise, following Christ, Bible reading, helping others, giving to the needy and fellowshipping with other believers. If you look at people who say they have lost their faith in Christianity, it seems that some of them didn’t hold on to their precious faith tightly enough and when troubles came along their faith simply drifted away.
 Faith is the art of holding on!  Holding on in spite of your changing moods.  And holding on when there is bad news, or when you are very sick.  Or when false teachers or heresies try to tempt you away from Christ as Lord and Savior.  Holding on when your church throws you out or fellow Christians turn against you. And holding on when you are living among a lot of people who do not believe.  Holding on when all at once your emotions rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on your beliefs.  And holding on when you want to sin and find it would be more convenient sinning if Christianity wasn’t true.  Yes, the troubles and temptations will come, and the storms of life will blow on your little house of faith.  But faith is the art of holding on.  “He who endures to the end will be saved.”  (Matthew 24:13)

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Forgiveness and Love

Forgiveness and Love
We are presently going through C.S. Lewis’s famous book, “Mere Christianity” and touching on some of the high-lights.  This book is all about describing Christian beliefs.  Today we will touch on the Christian beliefs concerning forgiveness and love.
C.S. Lewis insists that he didn’t invent Christianity when he discusses the fact that Christians are commanded to forgive.  Right there in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  (Matthew 6:12) Jesus made it perfectly clear here, and also in other portions of Scripture, that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven.  There are no two ways about it.  But sometimes forgiving another person is very difficult.  Impossible in our own strength!  So, what are we to do?
God wouldn’t ask us to do anything that would be impossible for us to do.  But sometimes forgiving a really bad enemy would be impossible for us to do - in our own strength.  But then that’s where God comes in.  God promises to be there with us and help us with the impossible things in our lives.  And that means He will give us the strength and power to forgive our really bad enemies - if we ask Him to.  (Philippians 4:13; Isaiah 41:10; Matthew 7;7-8, Luke 11:9) Help is there for us if we want it.  We just need to ask and then stand on God’s promises!    
Lewis insists that the Christian teaching of forgiveness does not call us to reduce the hatred we feel for cruelty or treachery or for any other sin or crime.  Forgiving doesn’t mean saying that the sin isn’t so bad!  We ought to hate sin.  And forgiving a person who has sinned does not mean that that person is not to be punished by the law if a crime has been committed.
We are to hate the sin but love the sinner!  When you are trying to obey God’s command to forgive, try picturing the person you are forgiving the way God created him or her to be. God created all persons to be good. Pray that the one you are forgiving, the one who sinned, will become the good person he or she was meant to be.  Give this person to God and pray that he or she will be changed. 
Sometimes we can feel resentment towards this bad person or group we are trying to forgive.  We would like to hurt their reputation or their feelings or put them down.  Each time these feelings pop up in our minds we must put them down. God is not only calling us to “do” the right thing, but also to “think” the right thing!  Thought patrol?!  That’s what the Good Book says!  We are instructed in Scripture to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)  
Instead of hating the bad person or group, we are commanded to bless our enemies and pray for them.  (Luke 6:28, Matthew 5:44) It is hard work, but not impossible. God can love them through us. God has commanded us to forgive and forgiveness is hard work.  
We are to give this person we are trying to forgive over to God and let Him deal with the sin that they committed. We should not try to get revenge ourselves. Scripture says that God will take care of the person who hurt us or who stole from us.  Vengeance belongs to God and to Him alone.  Paying the sinner back for his sin is God’s job, not ours.   (Romans 12:19), Deuteronomy 32:35)
We move on to the topic of Christian love.  We Christians are commanded to love God with all our hearts, minds and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  (Matthew 22:37: Deuteronomy 6:5) C.S. Lewis suggests that we not waste time worrying whether we ‘love’ our neighbor.  He advises that we act as if we love our neighbor that soon we will find one of the great secrets in life.  That secret is that when we behave as if we love someone, we will presently come to love him or her. 
When we obey God’s command to forgive and love, we become more loving with each decision we make to obey and love.  We learn to love a little more each time we choose to love and soon loving ways become a habit.  And good habits become our good character.  That is why little decisions we make every day have such infinite importance.  Good choices or evil choices can increase at compound interest in our lives.
Christian love, either towards God or towards other people is an affair of the will.  Though our loving feelings may come and go, God’s love for us does not. He always loves us.  God’s love is not wearied by our sins, or our indifferences.  And His love is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of all our sins, at whatever cost to us, and at whatever cost to Him. 

Many of the teachings in this blog were taken from C.S. Lewis’s book, “Mere Christianity.”