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Are we living in the last days?


signs

Yes, we are living in the ‘last days.’ It should not be a cause for alarm, however, because we have been living in the last days for more than two thousand years!

The ‘last days’ refer to the last great period of history, the Christian Age. There have been three great dispensations or ages of God dealing with mankind. The first was the Patriarchal Age, when God dealt directly with the heads of families (from Adam to Moses). This period ended with the beginning of the Mosaic Age, when God gave the Law of Moses to Israel. The Mosaic Age (the age under which Jesus lived) ended with the advent of the Christian Age, ushered in by the preaching of the Gospel and the establishment of the first century church.

On the Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ, Peter rose up with the rest of the apostles to speak and said, concerning the things that were happening, ‘This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; and it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’ (Acts 2:16-17). Peter said that the events of that day were the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy concerning what would happen ‘in these last days.’

Succeeding verses describe dramatic events: ‘…wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood and fire and vapour of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come’ (2:19-20). This ‘apocalyptic’ language describes cataclysmic events that man could hardly imagine. Some have suggested that these events refer to the crucifixion of Christ or the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies.

The Spirit was poured out on ‘all flesh,’ as the Gospel message was to go from Jerusalem to all the nations of the world, a message of salvation: ‘And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Acts 2:21). To the Jews it was almost unbelievable that the Gospel could be for the whole world, including Gentiles, but Peter promised such: ‘For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call’ (2:39). He called all present to respond: ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for (in order to have) the remission of sins’ (2:38).

Later Peter wrote that Christ ‘was manifest in these last times’ (1 Peter 1:20).

Time may be drawing to an end.  Today may be the last day. Or, the Lord may delay His coming for a thousand years so more can ‘come to repentance’ (1 Pet. 3:9).

Look for no special ‘last days’ signs in present events. Do not listen to false teachers who set dates for the second coming or the end of the world. Do not be lulled into thinking you have plenty of time to make your life right with God, either. We should prepare to meet Christ-the angel may be getting his trumpet ready (1 Thes. 4:13-18). Now is the time to obey Christ (2 Cor. 6:2).

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2019 in Doctrine

 

Solving Our Money Problems


No test of a man’s true character is more conclusive than how he spends his time and his money. The following table might give us three perspectives which can be useful:

  POVERTY PROSPERITY STEWARDSHIP
View of prosperity Non-materialistic, disdain for possessions Prosperity is the reward of the righteous Possessions are atrust given in varying proportions
Possessions are: a curse a right a privilege
Scriptural reference Luke 18:18-22: sell, give to the poor (rich young ruler) Matt. 7:7-8 ask, seek, knock Matt. 25:14-30: parable of the talents
Mitigation Prov. 21:20 In house of wise are stores of choice food & oil, but a foolish man devours all he has Prov. 23:4-5 Don’t wear yourself out to get rich None
Needs met by “carefree attitude” don’t worry- seek kingdom 1st Matt. 6:25-34 “transaction”tithe for a blessingMal. 3:10 “faithful administration”1 Cor. 4:2;Matt. 25:21, 23
Concept Rejecter Owner Steward
Attitude toward poor We are We owe We care
Preoccupation Daily needs Money Wisdom
Attitude Carefree Prov. 3:5-6 Driven Prov. 10:17 Faithful Luke 16:10-11

Poverty Theology:  This theology is disgusted with worldliness, best symbolized by man’s obsession with money. He believes possessions are a curse and has rejected materialism in any and every form. A strong bias toward helping the poor exists, but he has few, if any, resources to actually help with the solution. A few guilty Christians with wealth may also fall into this category, especially if they inherited their money.

Prosperity Theology: This theology believes you have not because you ask not. They often have learned about tithing and have experienced the material blessings available by following the tithing principle. Because of their success with tithing, a preoccupation with money develops. They soon begin suggesting that the reason others are not experiencing God’s blessings financially as a lack of faith. No room is allowed for God to call some people to be poor. Many disciples of prosperity theology live consumptive lifestyles.

Stewardship Theology: Stewards believe God owns and controls everything. Possessions are a privilege and not a right; the steward gives up his rights. He reads Scripture to say possessions are a trust given in varying proportions, depending upon the innate, God-given abilities he has and his faithfulness and obedience to follow Biblical principles. The steward believes prosperity results from faithfully administering his talents, as given by God in His sole discretion.

Which one is correct? The steward!

Scriptures for discussion:

Proverbs 13:11: “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, But the one who gathers by labor increases it.”

   1 Timothy 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.”

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2019 in Encouragement

 

Experiencing Joy… Happiness is a feeling. Joy is an attitude. A posture. A position. A place.


flowerIt says in the Declaration of Independence that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those words are the preamble to the American dream. But more than 225 years later, the innocent, hopeful intentions of our founding fathers have become blind and dangerous compulsions.
We all know we can’t buy happiness, and we are often surprised by what brings us happiness and frustrated by what we believe should make us happy.

It has been suggested that we are becoming a nation of men and women who, in the quest for happiness, all too often fall short of achieving any kind of inner peace. Instead of life’s journey being an exhilarating adventure into the unknown, for many of us it is a compulsive and tiring trek, an exhausting journey where the next stop for replenishment never seems to arrive.

George Santayana: “A string of excited, fugitive, miscellaneous pleasures is not happiness; happiness rsides in an imaginative reflection and judgment, when the picture of one’s life, or of human life, as it truly has been or is, satisfies the will, and is gladly accepted.”

“Many apparently successful people feel that their success is underserved and that one day people will unmark them for the frauds they are. For all the outward trappings of success, they feel hollow inside. They can never rest and enjoy their accomplishments. They need one new success after another. They need constant reassurance from the people around them to still the voice inside them that keeps saying, “If other people knew you the way I know you, they would know what a phony you are.”.

Happiness is not about having what we want…but wanting what we have! In many ways, happiness is within us waiting to be discovered.

Fewer than 10 percent of Americans are deeply committed Christians, says pollster George Gallup, who adds that these people “are far, far happier than the rest of the population.” Committed Christians, Gallup found, are more tolerant than the average American, more involved in charitable activities, and are “absolutely committed to prayer.” While many more Americans than this 10 percent profess to be Christians, adds Gallup, most actually know little or nothing of Christian beliefs, and act no differently than non-Christians. “Overall,” says Gallup, “The Sunday School and religious education system in this country is not working.”

They (we) need to discover the difference between happiness and joy! If our goal in life is to match our will to God’s in serving Him, then we will always have work to do. In that work we will be content. And in that contentment we will find joy.

The Bible talks plentifully about joy, but it nowhere talks about a “happy Christian.” Happiness depends on what happens; joy does not. Remember, Jesus Christ had joy, and He prays “that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves.”

I was told recently of a Russian view of happiness: An Englishman, a Frenchman and a Russian were discussing happiness. “Happiness,” said the Englishman, “Is when you return home tired after work and find your slippers warming by the fire.” “You English have no romance,” said the Frenchman.

“Happiness is having dinner with a beautiful woman at a fine restaurant.” “You are both wrong,” said the Russian. “True happiness is when you are at home in bed and at 4 a.m. hear a hammering at the door and there stand the secret police, who say to you, ‘Ivan Ivanovitch, you are under arrest,’ and you say, ‘Sorry, Ivan Ivanovitch lives next door.'”

Statistics show that despite conflicts, married people are generally happier, live longer, and contribute more to society than those who remain single or leave a spouse.

People seem to believe that they have an inalienable right to be happy–“I want what I want and I want it now.” No one wants to wait for anything and, for the most part, no one has to anymore. Waiting is interpreted as pain. … People walk into my office and say they are Christians, but I see no difference except that they want to be happy and now expect God to make it so.

The problem is that, in this country, you can have what you want when you want it most of the time. … People like the fact that they can buy a 50-foot tree and instantly plant it in their yard. Why on earth would anyone want to wait on relationships or wait on God?

In the grand and deeply moving prophesy of the ancient prophet Isaiah, it was foretold that when Christ comes He would impart to His people “the oil of joy” for mourning (Isaiah 61:3). Joy has always been one of the most significant hallmarks of God’s people. Joy springs from the presence of God in a person’s life!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s personal experiences certainly proved correct the statement that “the cross of Christ destroyed the equation religion equals happiness.”

Millions of men and women across the centuries attest to a transformation in their lives. It is what is meant by Paul in Romans 14:17: “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” God is here! He is alive! He is in charge!

Can this statement be said of you? Now that I know Christ, I’m happier when I’m sad than I was before when I was glad.”

I ask you, “Do you have that joy?” It’s obvious that many people don’t. And you’ve been around them, haven’t you? They’re grumps, they’re gripers, they’re very negative about virtually everything that happens in life, complaining almost all the time. As a result, they just aren’t much fun to be around.
One of my favorite stories about a person with a grumpy personality begins with a man going into the doctor’s office. As he walked in, he was met by the receptionist. He told her that he had a sore on his chin that he want-ed the doctor to examine.

She said to him, “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.” “But ma’am,” he said, “it’s just a sore on my chin. I don’t think all that is necessary.” She repeated, “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.” “But ma’am,” he said. “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.”

So he went down the hall, took the first door to the right, walked in & saw another man already sitting there in his boxer shorts, shivering. He said to him, “Boy, that receptionist is really something, isn’t she? I just have a little sore on my chin & she told me to come down here, go through this door & take off my clothes.” The man in the boxer shorts said, “You think that’s bad? I’m the UPS delivery man.

There are some difficult people, aren’t there? “Some cause happiness whenever they go; some, whenever they go.” And what they need is a personality transplant.

There are only three kinds of persons; those who serve God, having found Him; others who are occupied in seeking Him, not having found Him; while the remainder live without seeking Him, and without having found Him. The first are reasonable and happy, the last are foolish and unhappy; those between are unhappy and reasonable.

Let me give you a definition of “joy.” “Joy is an evidence of the presence of God in your life.” If God is in your life, if you are filled with the Spirit of God, then this fruit of the Spirit will be obvious in your life. (Jesus Others You)

Now don’t mistake happiness for joy. It’s easy to do that. The Bible mentions “joy” or “rejoicing” 330 times. But it only mentions “happiness” 26 times. Happiness depends upon what happens to you. So if all the circumstances are right, then you can be happy. But joy comes from inside.

Kaufmann Kohler states in the Jewish Encyclopedia that no language has as many words for joy and rejoicing as does Hebrew. In the Old Testament thirteen Hebrew roots, found in twenty-seven different words, are used primarily for some aspect of joy or joyful participation in religious worship. Hebrew religious ritual demonstrates God as the source of joy.

In contrast to the rituals of other faiths of the East, Israelite worship was essentially a joyous proclamation and celebration. The good Israelite regarded the act of thanking God as the supreme joy of his life. Pure joy is joy in God as both its source and object.

If you want to live longer and have a more effective witness for Christ, let his joy in your heart spill over into happy laughter. When you laugh, your diaphragm goes down, your lungs expand, and you take in two or three times more oxygen than usual. As a result, a surge of energy runs through your body.
Dr. James J. Walsh said, “Few people realize that their health actually varies due to this factor. Happy individuals recover from disease much more quickly than sad, complaining patients; and statistics show that those who laugh live longer.”

C. S. Lewis in his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, writes, “Joy is never in our power and pleasure is. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchanged it for all the pleasure in the world.”

Joy is really the underlying theme of Philippians – joy that isn’t fickle, needing a lot of “things” to keep it smiling . . . joy that is deep and consistent – the oil that reduces the friction of life.

If we can convince people that we are on to something that’s full of joy, they’ll stampede one another to follow us.

Clyde Reid says in his book, Celebrate the Temporary: “One of the most common obstacles to celebrating life fully is our avoidance of pain. We do everything to escape pain. Our culture reinforces our avoidance of pain by assuring us that we can live a painless life. Advertisements constantly encourage us to believe that life can be pain-free. But to live without pain is a myth. To live without pain is to live half a life, without fullness of life. This is an unmistakable, clear, unalterable fact. Many of us do not realize that pain and joy run together. When we cut ourselves off from pain, we have unwittingly cut ourselves off from joy as well.”

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Some needed comment
flowerThe picture of Brinson holding the dandelion flower at the beginning of this post has a special story, which is told in two emails sent to the family by their father, Eric: 

“One of Brinson and Aiden’s favorite things to do on a walk is pick dandelions (and drag large sticks around…I wonder where they got that). By the end of today’s walk Aiden has accumulated quite a collection of sticks, branches, rocks, and dandelions. He continuously would drop one at a time and have to reshuffle all his treasure in order to bend over and pick the dropped one back up without dropping the rest. Brinson was satisfied with just one large branch and a small stick.

“Aiden collected every dandelion that we passed but Brinson would not pick any because they weren’t big enough…he was holding out for a ‘really big one.’ We got back to our house and he still had not found a dandelion that met his specs. We decided that we would pray for God to make a really big dandelion for Brinson to find on our next walk.

“At dinner and at bed time Brinson prayed for it. God says that if we ask in faith he will answer and Brinson fully expects to find his flower from God on our next walk. I invite you to pray along with us. Somewhere in our neighborhood tonight God is bringing up a little seed just for Brinson. It will go unnoticed by everyone except for one little boy…the little boy that it was made for. God is good and faithful…and I know that he will thoroughly enjoy watching Brinson search for his gift.”

The next morning the following email and picture came from Eric: “This morning Brinson prayed for his flower for breakfast and as he, Aiden, and Wendy were walking into their school he looked down and saw a big, yellow dandelion by the door. Obviously, he was very excited and kept it with him all day long. If only we all had faith like a child.” (In Him, Eric).

 

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2019 in Encouragement

 

The Discipline of Meditation


In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness,’ he will rest satisfied.

C. G. Jung remarked: “Hurry is not of the Devil; it is the Devil.” All the masters of meditation strive to awaken us to the fact that the universe is much larger than we know, that there are vast unexplored inner regions that are just as real as the physical world we know so well.

They tell us of exciting possibilities for new life and freedom. They call us to the adventure, to be pioneers in this  frontier of the Spirit.

It is a sad commentary on the spiritual state of modern Christianity that meditation is a word so foreign to its ears.

Genesis 24:63 (NIV) He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching.

God spoke to them (fathers and prophets of old) not because they had special abilities, but because they were willing to listen.

R. D. Laing: “We live in a secular world…There is a prophecy in Amos that a time will come when there will be a famine in the land, ‘not a famine for bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.’ That time has now come to pass. It is the present age.

Psalm 63:6 (NIV) On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.

Psalm 119:148 (NIV) My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.

Psalm 1:2 (NIV) But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

The detachment from the confusion all around us is in order to have a richer attachment to God and to other human beings. Christian meditation leads us to the inner wholeness necessary to give ourselves to God freely, and to the spiritual perception necessary to attack social evils.

“The contemplation of the saints is fired by the love of the one contemplated: that is, God.” (appreciation to Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline).

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2019 in Disciplines

 

10 Reasons to Believe in a God who allows suffering


Suffering Comes With the Freedom to Choose.
Loving parents long to protect their children from unnecessary pain. But wise parents know the danger of over-protection. They know that the freedom to choose is at the heart of what it means to be human, and that a world without choice would be worse than a world without pain. Worse yet would be a world populated by people who could make wrong choices without feeling any pain. No one is more dangerous than the liar, thief or killer who doesn’t feel the harm he is doing to himself and to others (Genesis 2:15-17).

Pain Can Warn Us of Danger.
We hate pain, especially in those we love. Yet without discomfort, the sick wouldn’t go to a doctor. Worn-out bodies would get no rest. Criminals wouldn’t fear the law. Children would laugh at correction. Without pangs of conscience, the daily dissatisfaction of boredom or the empty longing for significance, people who are made to find satisfaction in an eternal Father would settle for far less. The example of Solomon, lured by pleasure and taught by his pain, shows us that even the wisest among us tend to drift from good and from God until arrested by the resulting pain of our own shortsighted choices (Ecclesiastes 1-12; Psalm 78:34-35; Romans 3:10-18).

Suffering Reveals What Is in Our Hearts.
Suffering often occurs at the hand of others. But it has a way of revealing what is in our own hearts. Capacities for love, mercy, anger, envy and pride can lie dormant until awakened by circumstances. Strength and weakness of heart are found not when everything is going our way but when flames of suffering and temptation test the mettle of our character. As gold and silver are refined by fire, and as coal needs time and pressure to become a diamond, the human heart is revealed and developed by enduring the pressure and heat of time and circumstance. Strength of character is shown not when all is well with our world but in the presence of human pain and suffering (Job 42:1-17; Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-5; 1 Peter 1:6-8).

Suffering Takes Us to the Edge of Eternity.
If death is the end of everything, then a life filled with suffering isn’t fair. But if the end of this life brings us to the threshold of eternity, then the most fortunate people in the universe are those who discover, through suffering, that this life is not all we have to live for. Those who find themselves and their eternal God through suffering have not wasted their pain. They have let their poverty, grief and hunger drive them to the Lord of eternity. They are the ones who will discover to their own unending joy why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, NIV; see also Romans 8:18-19).

Pain Loosens Our Grip on This Life.
In time, our work and our opinions are sought less and less. Our bodies become increasingly worse for the wear. Gradually they succumb to inevitable obsolescence. Joints stiffen and ache. Eyes grow dim. Digestion slows. Sleep becomes difficult. Problems loom larger and larger while options narrow. Yet, if death is not the end but the threshold of a new day, then the curse of old age is also a blessing. Each new pain makes this world less inviting and the next life more appealing. In its own way, pain paves the way for a graceful departure (Ecclesiastes 12:1-14).

 Suffering Gives Opportunity to Trust God.
The most famous sufferer of all time was a man named Job. According to the Bible, Job lost his family to war, his wealth to wind and fire, and his health to painful boils. Through it all, God never told Job why it was happening. As Job endured the accusations of his friends, heaven remained silent. When God finally did speak, He did not reveal that His archenemy Satan had challenged Job’s motives for serving God. Neither did the Lord apologize for allowing Satan to test Job’s devotion to God. Instead, God talked about mountain goats giving birth, young lions on the hunt and ravens in the nest. He cited the behavior of the ostrich, the strength of the ox and the stride of the horse. He cited the wonders of the heavens, the marvels of the sea and the cycle of the seasons. Job was left to conclude that if God had the power and wisdom to create this physical universe, there was reason to trust that same God in times of suffering (Job 1-42).

 God Suffers With Us in Our Suffering.
No one has suffered more than our Father in heaven. No one has paid more dearly for the allowance of sin into the world. No one has so continuously grieved over the pain of a race gone bad. No one has suffered like the One who paid for our sin in the crucified body of His own Son. No one has suffered more than the One who, when He stretched out His arms and died, showed us how much He loved us. It is this God who, in drawing us to Himself, asks us to trust Him when we are suffering and when our own loved ones cry out in our presence (1 Peter 2:21; 3:18; 4:1).

 God’s Comfort Is Greater Than Our Suffering.
The apostle Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away an unidentified source of suffering. But the Lord declined, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” “Therefore,” said Paul, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul learned that he would rather be with Christ in suffering than without Christ in good health and pleasant circumstances.

 In Times of Crisis, We Find One Another.
No one would choose pain and suffering. But when there is no choice, there remains some consolation. Natural disasters and times of crisis have a way of bringing us together. Hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, riots, illnesses and accidents all have a way of bringing us to our senses. Suddenly we remember our own mortality and that people are more important than things. We remember that we do need one another and that, above all, we need God.

Each time we discover God’s comfort in our own suffering, our capacity to help others is increased. This is what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

 God Can Turn Suffering Around for Our Good.
This truth is best seen in the many examples of the Bible. Through Job’s suffering we see a man who not only came to a deeper understanding of God but who also became a source of encouragement for people in every generation to follow. Through the rejection, betrayal, enslavement and wrongful imprisonment of a man named Joseph, we see someone who eventually was able to say to those who had hurt him, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

When everything in us screams at the heavens for allowing suffering, we have reason to look at the eternal outcome and joy of Jesus who in His own suffering on an executioner’s cross cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

You’re not alone if the unfairness and suffering of life leaves you unconvinced that a God in heaven cares for you. But consider again the suffering of the One called by the prophet Isaiah “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). Think about His slashed back, His bloodied forehead, His nail-ripped hands and feet, His pierced side, His agony in the Garden and His pathetic cry of abandonment. Consider Christ’s claim that He was suffering not for His sins but for ours. To give us the freedom to choose, He lets us suffer. But He Himself bore the ultimate penalty and pain for all our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24).

When you do see the reason for His suffering, keep in mind that the Bible says Christ died to pay the price for our sins, and that those who believe in their heart that God has raised Him from the dead will be saved (Romans 10:9-10). The forgiveness and eternal life Christ offers is not a reward for effort but a gift to all who, in light of the evidence, put their trust in Him.

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2019 in Doctrine

 

10 Reasons to Believe in Christ rather than religion


God never asks us to be religious; He asks us to believe in His Son. So why have human beings turned God’s simple offer into something convoluted—and despairingly difficult?

Christ Is Someone to Know and Trust. Christ is more than a system, tradition or belief. He is a Person who knows our needs, feels our pain and sympathizes with our weakness. In exchange for our trust, He offers to forgive our sins, intercede for us and bring us to His Father. He cried for us, died for us and rose from the dead to show that He was all He claimed to be. Conquering death, He showed us that He can save us from our sins, live His life through us on earth and bring us safely to heaven. He offers Himself as a gift to anyone who will trust Him (John 20:24-31).

Religion Is Something to Believe and Do. Religion is believing in God, attending religious services, tradition, ritual, ceremony, and learning the difference between right and wrong. Religion is reading and memorizing Scripture, offering prayers, and giving to the poor. Religion helping the poor and making amends for past wrongs. Religion is something that was practiced by the Pharisees, those Scripture-loving, conservative, separatist, spiritual leaders who hated Christ enough to call for His death. They hated Him not only because He broke their traditions in order to help people (Matthew 15:1-9), but also because He saw through their religion to their hearts.  

Religion Doesn’t Change Hearts. Jesus likened the religious Pharisees to a group of dishwashers who clean the outside of a cup while leaving the inside dirty. He said, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?” (Luke 11:39,40, NIV). Jesus knew that a person can change his image without changing his act (Matthew 23:1-3). He knew that religious credentials and ceremony cannot change the heart. He told one of the most religious men of His day that unless a person is “born again” by the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Yet from that day until now, many of the most religious people in the world continue to forget that while religion can give attention to outward appearance, only Christ can change the heart.  

Religion Makes Much of Little. Jesus spoke to religionists who had a passion for detail when He said, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone” (Luke 11:42). Jesus saw our tendency to make rules and to focus on “morally correct” behavior instead of keeping our eyes on the bigger issue of why we are trying to be so right. While the Pharisees were big on knowledge carried out to its logical conclusions, they forgot that God doesn’t care how much we know until He knows how much we care. It was this greater “why” that the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal…If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1,3, NIV).  

Religion Offers the Approval of Men Rather Than God. Jesus reserved His strongest criticism for religious people who used their spiritual reputation to get social attention and honors. To such religionists Jesus said, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces” (Luke 11:43). Then, speaking to His disciples, He said of the Pharisees, “Everything they do is done for men to see” (Matthew 23:5). Jesus saw clearly into the practice of religion, which holds the opinions and attention of man to be more important and desirable than the approval of God.  

Religion Makes Hypocrites of Us. Jesus said, “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it” (Luke 11:44). What looks better than being dressed right, attending religious services and doing things that mark us as decent, God-fearing people? Yet how many religious scholars, ministers and faithful followers withhold honor and encouragement from their wives, attention from their children and love from their doctrinal enemies? Jesus knew what we often forget: What looks good may have a heart of evil.  

Religion Makes a Hard Life Harder. Because religion cannot change a heart, it tries to control people with laws and expectations that are not even kept by the religionists who interpret and apply the rules. With this “burden factor” in mind, Jesus said, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46). Religion is good at describing high standards of right behavior and relationships, but poor at giving real and merciful help to those who realize they have not lived up to those expectations.

Religion Makes It Easy to Deceive Ourselves. It’s been jokingly said, “I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand.” The Pharisees acted out a similar idea, but it wasn’t funny. According to Jesus, the Pharisees prided themselves in honoring and building memorials to the prophets. The irony is that when they met a real prophet they wanted to kill Him. Barclay says, “The only prophets they admired were dead prophets; when they met a living one, they tried to kill Him. They honored the dead prophets with tombs and memorials, but they dishonored the living ones with persecution and death.” This is the point Jesus made in Luke 11:47-51 and in a parallel passage in Matthew 23:29-32. The Pharisees had fooled themselves. They didn’t think of themselves as prophet-killers. Religionists don’t see themselves as the God-rejecting people they are.  

Religion Hides the Key of Knowledge. One of the greatest dangers of religion is that it causes us to be a danger not only to ourselves but also to others. To the religious biblical experts of His day Jesus said, “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52). Religionists take away “the key of knowledge” by distracting people from the Word of God and from a “right attention of heart” by the unnecessary additions of denominationally correct traditions and expectations. Rather than leading people to God, religionists shift the focus to themselves and their own rules. Religionists are those who trust the beliefs and actions of their religion to do what only Christ can do.  

Religion Leads Its Converts Astray. In Matthew 23:15 Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” Converts of religion are in double jeopardy. They bring a double enthusiasm to their new way of life, and with zeal they blindly defend their blind teachers. They put themselves in the trust of people who have exchanged a system of rules and traditions for the life, forgiveness and relationship of an infinite Savior.

Religion is important in its place (James 1:26-27), but only when it points us to the Christ who died for our sins and who now offers to live His life through those who trust Him (Galatians 2:20; Titus 3:5). You’re not alone if you are unconvinced that Christ is all He claimed to be. But keep in mind that He promised God’s help to those who have good reasons for their questions. He said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).

Here Jesus reminds us that we see things not only as they are, but as we are. If you do see the reasonableness of faith in Christ, keep in mind that the Bible says to the family of God, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works [religious efforts and accomplishments], so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The salvation Christ offers is not a reward for religious effort but a gift to all who put their trust in Him.

 

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2019 in Jesus Christ

 

10 Reasons to Believe in Life After Death


Resurrection

What happens when we die? Down through the millennia, the pious and the pagan have believed that death is but a doorway to a new journey.

The Injustices of Life.

It would be difficult to believe that life is good if we knew there was nothing beyond the grave to compensate for problems of inequality and unfairness. While some people seem destined for happiness, others are born into terrible relationships and circumstances. If we could be sure there was nothing to offset unequal distribution of suffering, many would have reason to curse the day of their birth for the way life has treated them (Job 3:1-3). We could agree with King Solomon who at a low point in his life said, 

I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter. And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3, NIV).

 Beauty and Balance.
There is much about life that doesn’t seem to correspond with personal problems of unfairness and hardship. But for all that is hurtful and unequal, there is beauty and balance. For moments of horror and violence, there are times of harmony and peace. As age-worn bodies succumb to pain and weakness, children and young animals play with carefree joy. Human art, in all of its glory, corresponds to birds in playful flight and morning song. Each sunset and dawn provides an answer to nature’s need for rest and renewal. Dark nights and cold winters come with the awareness that “this too shall pass.” If there is nothing beyond the grave, the pattern of nature is stunningly incomplete.

 Near-Death Experiences.
The clinical evidence for life after death is subjective and arguable. It’s often hard to assess the significance of “out of body experiences,” encounters with bright lights, long tunnels or angelic guides. It’s difficult to know how to respond to those who speak of temporary near-death visions into heaven or hell. What we do know is that there are enough of these kinds of experiences to create a sizable library on the subject. Taken as a whole, this body of evidence shows that as people approach death, many sense they are coming not to the end of existence but to the beginning of another journey.

 A Place in the Heart.
The human heart hungers for more than this life offers. Each of us experiences what King Solomon called “eternity in [our] hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). While it is difficult to know what Solomon meant, it is apparent that he was referring to an inescapable longing for something this world cannot satisfy. It was an emptiness of soul that Solomon could not escape. For a while, he tried to fill this inner void with work, alcohol and laughter. He tried to satisfy his longings with philosophy, music and sexual relationships. But his disillusionment grew. Only when he returned to his confidence in a final judgment and afterlife could he find something large enough to satisfy his longing for significance (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

 Universal Beliefs.
While some believe it’s impossible to know whether there is life after death, belief in immortality is a timeless phenomenon. From the pyramids of the Egyptians to the reincarnation of New Age thinking, people of all times and places in history have believed that the human soul survives death. If there is no consciousness or laughter or regret beyond the grave, then life has fooled almost everyone from the Pharaohs of Egypt to Jesus of Nazareth.

 An Eternal God.
The Bible names God as the source of immortality. It describes His nature as eternal. The same Scriptures tell us that God created us in His likeness, and that His plan is to welcome His children eventually into His eternal home. The Scriptures also teach that God introduced death into human experience when our first ancestors trespassed into the darkness of forbidden territory (Genesis 3:1-19). The implication is that if God allowed the human race to live forever in a rebellious condition, we would have unending opportunity to develop into proud, self-centered creatures. Instead, God began to unfold a plan that would ultimately result in the eternal homecoming of all who chose to be at peace with Him (Psalm 90:1; John 14:1-3).

 Old Testament Predictions.
Some have argued that immortality is a New Testament idea. But the Old Testament prophet Daniel spoke of a day when those who sleep in the dust of the earth will be resurrected, some to life and some to everlasting shame (Daniel 12:1-3). An author of the Psalms also spoke of the afterlife. In Psalm 73 a man named Asaph described how he almost lost his faith in God when he considered how evil people prospered and the godly suffered. But then he said he went into the sanctuary of God. From the perspective of worship, he suddenly saw evil men standing on the slippery ground of their mortality. With new insight he confessed, “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:24-26).

 Quotes of Christ.
Few would accuse Jesus of being an evil man or a false teacher. Even atheists and people belonging to non-Christian religions usually refer to Jesus with deference and respect. But Jesus wasn’t vague or indefinite about the reality of a continuing personal existence after death. He said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Jesus promised Paradise to the repentant thief who was dying at His side, but He also used the Valley of Hinnom-a foul garbage dump outside of Jerusalem—as a symbol of what awaits those who insist on risking the judgment of God. According to Jesus, facing the reality of life after death is the most significant issue of life. He said, for example, that if an eye keeps you from God, you have reason to get rid of that eye. “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell” (Mark 9:47).

 The Resurrection of Christ.
There is no greater evidence for the existence of life after death than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament predicted a Messiah who would overcome sin and death for His people (Isaiah 53; Daniel 9:26). The testimony of Jesus’ followers is that He did just that. He voluntarily died at the hands of executioners, was buried in a borrowed tomb and then three days later left that tomb empty. Witnesses said that they had seen not only an empty tomb but a resurrected Christ who appeared to hundreds of people over a period of 40 days before ascending to heaven (Acts 1:1-11; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

Practical Effects.
Belief in life after death is a source of personal security, optimism and spiritual betterment (1 John 3:2). Nothing offers more courage than the confidence that there is a better life for those who use the present to prepare for eternity. Belief in the unlimited opportunities of eternity has enabled many to make the ultimate sacrifice of their own life in behalf of those they love. It was His belief in life after death that enabled Jesus to say, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). It is the same truth that prompted Christian martyr Jim Elliot, who was killed in 1956 by the Auca Indians, to say, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

You’re not alone if you find yourself honestly unconvinced about life after death. But keep in mind that Jesus promised to give divine help to those who want to know the truth so as to surrender to it. He said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).

If you see the evidence for life after death, remember that the Bible says Christ died to pay the price for our sins, and that all who believe in Him will receive the gifts of forgiveness and everlasting life. The salvation Christ offers is not a reward for effort but a gift to all who in light of the evidence put their trust in Him.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2019 in Doctrine, Evidence

 
 
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