Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Question 5: Is Jesus God?

How Do you answer the Question about Who Jesus is? Is He God? A good man, philosopher, avatar, or legend?
     I grew up in church and a Christian home and didn’t have any doubt that Jesus was God. I didn’t appreciate the complexity of all that until I studied theology and found it’s really pretty intricate, but the basic idea of Christianity is: Jesus is God!
     Years ago I read the biography of one of my favorite Christian song-writers, Keith Green, You may have heard some of his and his wife, Melody's, songs: There is a Redeemer, Oh Lord You’re Beautiful, and Rushing Wind are just a few. As an adult he gave his life to Jesus Christ, was attending church, writing songs, and doing concerts. One day he was visiting with the head of a mission agency, when this man said something about the deity of Christ. Keith's response was like, “The what?” The Deity of Christ, that Christ is God, the man said. Keith Green was amazed. He said something like “Jesus is God? Really?” And for a good while the mission leader explained it all to him.
Now this story always bothered me because I believe the Deity of Christ is crucial to the gospel, and it is! But here’s Keith Green not knowing about it After he was saved! So I figured he must have been saved without that information! He believed what he knew about Jesus, and when he learned about this, he believed it too!
        But anyone who believes the opposite, that Jesus is Not God – is not believing in or talking about the Jesus of the Bible
     How do we answer this question? And how about other questions like, Did Jesus really exist? Does He ever claim to be God? Can a man be a God? (You see there are many potential questions here.) 
    So, Did Jesus Exist?  First let me say, I can’t even prove Abraham Lincoln existed... scientifically! I'm sure you believe he did. We don’t doubt it, right? But if you said to me “Prove it”; how could I? The best I can do is historical evidence!   
   And let me add, historical evidence can be Pretty Convincing! The evidence that Jesus existed is historical writings. We have ancient texts of people, not Christians, who refer to Jesus. They also refer to Christians worshiping Jesus in the 1st Century, soon after Christ's resurrection. Then there are 4 well-known books by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John! There is no reason to believe these are works of fiction. There is good evidence they all knew Jesus, or in Luke’s case, knew people who knew Jesus. So if anybody is seriously questioning whether Jesus existed, they are not dealing in reality.
     But the Question “Is Jesus God” is a little more nuanced.
First we appeal to Historical evidence! Especially the evidence from scripture. We must ask those who ask this question to consider what scripture says about Him, before they make up their minds.
   1.  True, the Bible never records Jesus saying “I Am God.” That’d sure clear it up. But it does record him saying, “I Am.”
Now why is that significant? Listen to Jn 8:58 & 59 Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
Why do you suppose they tried to stone him? Listen to Jn 10:24 the Jews gathered around saying, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you’re the Christ, tell us plainly." 25 Jesus answered, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one." 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, "I’ve shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?" 33 The Jews said, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God."
These aren’t the only times that Jesus told people he was God. But there are other ways He communicated it! Like His Actions!
   2.  Mark 2:5 Remember when some men brought a paralyzed man to see Jesus? "...when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." 6 Now some of the scribes sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 And immediately Jesus, per-ceiving in his spirit that they questioned within themselves, said, "Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say…'Your sins are forgiven,' or, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins —he said to the paralytic—11 "…rise, pick up your bed, and go home." Jesus never disputed that God alone can forgive sins! So what does that say about who He believed He was?
A little farther down in Mark 2 we read, 23 "One Sabbath he was going through the grain fields, and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying, 'Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?' 25 And he said to them, 'Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, … 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?' 27 And he said to them, 'The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.'  Who is Lord over the Sabbath? Well first there is God. And then there is the Son of Man. Who are they to conclude the “Son of Man” is, but another name for someone who is God? Especially since they know the Old Testament and what the prophet Daniel had to say about the “Son of Man.” Dan 7:13 "I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, …And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom …shall not be destroyed."    So, by his claims and by his actions he left no doubt in the minds of the Jews, He claimed equality with God. And not some lesser God, but “One with the Father.”
I could show you more evidence: How Jesus received worship that was due God, how the apostles declared He was God, but…
Secondly there is another evidence besides the "Historical" kind. This is one is very subjective but no less real. It may not convince you, but it matters to each believer. Jesus has given to me, and everyone who has trusted in Christ for Salvation, two things: repentance and faith. He didn’t help us ‘turn over a new leaf’ or ‘give up drinkin’ and cussin’. That’s not Godly repentance, anyone can do those things. Godly repentance is turning from sin but it’s also turning from our own efforts, our own understanding and our own will, to a life focused on Jesus Christ and His Will for us. And, He gives us faith. The very ability to trust in Jesus Christ’s forgiveness for our sins, the work he did on the cross, and the fact that He rose from the dead. This Faith is the Evidence for everyone who believes! (Heb 11:1 Faith is the evidence of things unseen...)

But there is another Question that should be asked along with “Is Jesus Really God?” And that is – Why Does it Matter?
Why Does it Matter that Jesus was God?
Mainly because no mere man could die for our sins! Why?
Because no mere man could live a life without sin! Why?
Because All Have Sinned and our hearts are deceitfully wicked!
So only the God-man, Jesus Christ could do this.
And don’t think that Jesus is Half-man and half God- that’s not Jesus at all! Jesus is Fully God and Fully man! He isn’t partially God – Rom 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; Col 2:9 For in him [Jesus] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
     There are people who call themselves Christians today who do not believe in the Deity of Jesus Christ. But it is His True Godhood that explains all of these things: 
His sinless life, 
His receiving of worship, 
His claims to equality with God, 
His forgiving sins, 
His proclaiming himself as Son of Man And Son of God, 
His ability to heal the blind and raise the dead, 
His use of the Divine name “I AM” and 
His resurrection from the dead.
If you are going to accept the Bible record of Jesus then you can only conclude Three Things: 
Either He was a liar and wasn’t God. He was Lunatic who Thought He was God. Or He Is Lord.
If he lied about who he was, he is worse than the devil himself! WHo says they are the God who saves, if they are not? Only a very evil person.
If he is a lunatic, C.S. Lewis said, then he is on the same level "with the man who says he is a poached egg.”
But if He is who He says He is, He is Lord!
Liar, Lunatic or Lord!
Now you might say it’s none of the above and reject the gospel story of Jesus and reject the scriptures. You might say Jesus is just a Legend. But then you might want to explain why so many 1st century followers of "A Legend" would die horrible deaths for a legend. And that brings you back to the evidence of Faith. 
These 1st century martyrs had Faith in the Man they knew to be the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! Have you trusted in the Son of God – Jesus?

Can you give an answer to anyone who asks for the hope and faith you have in you

Monday, October 5, 2015

Question 4: Is Christianity Too Narrow?

It can be Good to be Too Narrow for the World!

Is Christianity too narrow? I wonder why this is even a question? I think it is because people don’t understand Christianity. When I was a kid Christianity was too narrow because “people said” we didn’t believe in drinking, dancing and dipping. I was a bit confused because there were folks in my church who drank, danced and dipped! But I got the point. “Good Christians” weren’t supposed to do those things. I don’t hear those things anymore. Now days the church is narrow because it doesn’t support gay marriage and doesn’t think Islam or Hinduism or some other ism is another way to God. Basically the church is Narrow because it is not Tolerant!

     Now, Are their intolerant people in the church? You betcha! Is some of our intolerance a problem? Yes it is! When we are intolerant of people in a “personal” way because of their race, creed or color- that’s a problem. When I say we shouldn’t be intolerant I mean of their existence, their personal value, their freedom and their functioning in society.
     But, Is there a time to be intolerant? Absolutely! When somebody starts shooting at people, don’t tolerate it. If somebody commits a violent crime, lock them away.  Is that what Society means by ‘intolerant’? Well, not always. Sometimes they tell us that being intolerant is simply “disagreeing” with them.
     How many of you were intolerant with your children when they were growing up? How many of you think I was? If you ask did I lock them up? Well, I may have grounded them a time or two. But I didn’t lock them up. But If you ask, did I disagree with their ideas, choices and lifestyle? You Bet I did! Narrow-minded! Absolutely!
If one of my children got the idea that back-talking their mother was an acceptable practice they learned the full strength of my intolerance! I might have even made them fearful for their safety a time or two. If my children got the idea that running across the street without looking both ways was a good idea, they would learn quickly that I did not tolerate that behavior? Does that make me narrow-minded and intolerant? No doubt about it!
     Now I’m sure many people will agree and say, “Absolutely, when raising children we should teach them rules of safety and respect and hygiene and how to read and write etc. etc. But that’s not the same as being tolerant with your neighbor!” And they have a valid point. My neighbor is not my child! But it is still evidence that there is a place for narrow-mindedness in life as in raising kids. I’m also narrow-minded about folks who drink and drive!
     So, what about training society? Do we do that? Yes, we do. We have trained society not to judge people on the basis of color. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen! But as a society we have taught each other it is not acceptable. But that's narrow minded thinking! It is saying that thinking outside the box of anti-racism, you’re wrong. And That is “Good” narrow-mindedness!

We have been on a campaign for many years against Drinking and driving. We have toughened up our laws, we have organisations like MADD! We say “Drunk driving is bad!” For the person who likes to drive with a buzz that’s pretty narrow thinking! But we consider it a Good kind of narrow-mindedness! Here’s the bottom line. The reason people don’t like narrow-mindedness is when you make a truth claim that they do not agree with.
The civil rights movement helped people get on board with saying racism is bad. Some people disagreed and pushed back. But they have not been tolerated! They are looked down on, openly criticized! So Now, saying we should treat all people as equal doesn’t threaten most people. We still have a long way to go but we have come a long way, too!
But start talking about the claims of Jesus you get Push Back! Not when Jesus says love each other, they’re good with that. And they Really like Jesus calling religious people hypocrites, which he did! But Jesus also said John 14:6, …I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me.
Jesus also said marriage was between male & female. (Mt 19:4-5)
Jesus also said repentance from Sin is required for salvation! (Mt 4:17, Lu13:3) And on top of all that, it’s not just the Red-letter words of Jesus in the gospels that guide us! Since Jesus is God in the flesh, the Whole Word of God is the Word of Christ!
But MOST of the truths fron the Bible, and the truths Christians proclaim from God’s Word, are not accepted by the culture around us! So they call US intolerant! They won’t tolerate us!
(If it turns out to be true that this shooting in Oregon had something to do with killing Christians, it might just be the beginning of More of this kind of treatment in the US. I’m just waiting for a news person to say, “Well after all, it’s Christians who are the least tolerant of other folks.”)
     The fact is there are some narrow minded Christians -  and I mean that in the bad sense of the word. They don’t like foreigners, gays, liberals, or anti-gun advocates and they think we ought to run them off! But they aren’t the only ones! There are Muslims who are intolerant of everyone who is A) Not a Muslim or B) not part of their sect of Islam, or C) not as Muslim as they ought to be! I don’t know much about Buddhists (although there are buudhist monks in Burma protesting equal rights for all religions),  but there are Secular Humanists who think ANYONE who believes in God is unsafe and ought to be locked up. So if Somebody makes a truth claim Somebody Else doesn’t agree with in our society, then “Intolerance” is pretty much Status Quo! 

Because, more important than being “tolerant” in our society, is not allowing anyone to step on what You believe is truth! (think about that)
    There are 4 basic views of truth in society today.
1st -the only thing that’s true is that which you can prove scientifically, beyond any significant doubt.    
2nd -truth is whatever you or society makes it. Whats true in your life or culture isn’t necessarily true in another culture. Killing people is wrong here, but maybe not in another culture.     
3rd Truth is whatever works. it’s a pragmatic view of truth. If it works it works! Don’t worry about it!     
4th truth is just a way to control people. When people make truth claims they are trying to control you! It’s a Power Play!
Some people hold all of these at the same time! If it is convenient to accept scientific truth, great. 
If something else achieves what you want, great, whatever works! 
If someone makes a truth claim that cramps your style, reject it. Hey, Its YOUR truth!
Works pretty good right? Except for one thing: 
What if there is objective truth, beyond science, beyond culture, and is true for everyone, everywhere, always? That is what the Bible teaches!
Listen to these verses:

   There are many reasons the Church is too narrow! We get many things wrong. 
The reason Christianity is Narrow, the reason Jesus Christ is narrow is because He is The Truth. And if something disagrees with Truth- Logically- it HAS to be False.
So, The 1st Reason it’s Good to be Narrow: God’s Word is Truth!  We may not like the truth but we need to be saved! Lies don’t save. Saying Evil is good and good is evil is not going to help! “…know the truth and the truth shall set you free!” (Jn 8:32) We are sanctified – set apart for God – By Truth!
The 2nd Reason it is Good to be Narrow: Truth is A Person! Jesus is the Truth! When we introduce people to Jesus, it needs to be the Jesus of the Bible! He’s not the Jeannie in a Bottle Jesus who gives you whatever you want to make life easy.  He’s not the Santa Claus Jesus who only brings presents and never makes any demands. He’s not the Rainbow Jesus who accepts everything you have ever done as just Fine as long as you love people. He’s not the Republican Jesus. He’s not the Democrat Jesus. He’s Lord of the Universe, King of Kings and He is coming again! He will tell some people to enter in to His Father’s Kingdom but say to the majority, Depart from me, I never knew you!
     When Jesus stood before Pilate in Jn 18 Pilate asked Jesus if he was a King; He said,  “Thou sayest I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth hears my voice. (and) Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this..."  At This point I wish it said, "And when he had said this he stared searchingly into the eyes of Jesus, truly desiring to know the answer to his question." But, alas, that's not what it says.
 "And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews…".
     The Truth was Standing right in front of him. 
         But he didn’t even wait around for an answer. 
Do you want to know the Truth? Jesus is the Truth and His word is Truth!
 And the Truth WILL set you free!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Question 3: Why Does God Allow Evil and Suffering

Did you know there is a Bible approach to suffering and pain?
You can trust an All-knowing, Loving, Powerful God!

We’ve all heard of the Problem of Evil and Suffering. It boils down to this: 
If God is All-knowing, All-powerful and Good why does He allow Evil and Suffering in the world? Something about this doesn’t make sense. And while it may just be an academic question to debate in a philosophy class, when YOU are hurting and suffering it takes on a whole different flavor. Unless, you can find some sort of answer to the question!
Here’s the argument: 
If I am hurting, maybe God can’t do anything about it! But we remember, God is all powerful, Nothing is too hard for the Lord! 
Well maybe he doesn’t Know – That could explain it! But the Bible says God knows everything! Maybe – we hate to even think it – God isn’t really good, or doesn’t love me. But we remember the Bible says God Is love! Maybe He loves some more than me but He’s love personified! So He must love me! 
For some the only way to reconcile this is: there is no god!
Many have gone down that path, winding up at that conclusion. Some I have known and love. It's painful to watch others in pain!
But: There’s a better answer than that? Suppose with me for a minute, there IS a good, powerful God. How do we answer the question about WHY there is evil and pain? 
There are lots of ways to suffer, right? It’s not all physical.
WHAT IS SUFFERING? How’s this? Suffering is experiencing some kind of pain that we consider to be not normal. Our bodies shouldn't hurt! Surely that’s not what God intended! How about the pain of loss? We think, It is not right that someone I love is gone. This hurts and I am suffering. How about the pain of rejection? Is it normal that everyone we love should love us back? How about abuse and subterfuge and criticism? How about poverty, illness and our own destructive behaviors?
(Do you see a little problem with how we define pain and suffering sometimes?)
  Then there is natural pain and moral pain
Natural pain is when we get sick or struck by lightning or slip and fall on an icy side-walk. 
Moral pain is when someone attacks us, inflicts undeserved pain upon us. 
But I can complicate that even more! What if your pain was caused by you? What if you drink your way to cirrhosis of the liver? What if you were running on the ice you slipped on? What I am saying is, sometimes there IS an answer to the Question “Why am I Suffering?” It could be “I did this to myself.” OR, “That person did this to me.” Or “I guess I shouldn’t have been running on the ice – in slick shoes – for no reason.”
     But if we filter out those times when we can answer the “why,” there are still times we don’t know Why we suffer! And if there is a Good, Omnipotent, Omniscient God, Why doesn’t He stop this?
  Defending God: 
There is a fancy word: Theodicy. It comes from two words for God and justice or trial. Theodicy is the defense of God’s Justice in light of evil and pain.
 Now there are religions where this isn’t as big an issue. Some religions explain it as good spirits and evil spirits, and if we keep the good spirits happy they’ll take care of us. When something bad happens that means you did something wrong! Come to think of it, many Christians live that way too
Now this can get complicated real fast but here are a couple ideas to guide your thinking:
First, Did God make everything good at creation? Yes! (Gen 1:31) God made the best world! And in that world he gave men choices. And man chose poorly! From then on, humanity has been under a curse. We have wicked hearts. We rebel against God. The earth is under God’s curse so we have to work the ground for food. Even the animals are at odds with us! SO -  I said all that to say, Evil came into the World as a Result of the Fall or Sin of Adam!
Second, Life is not a circle, it’s a line. Ever heard “what goes around comes around”? It can sure seem that way? But that’s not a biblical view. 
 Imagine you’re on a merry-go-round or Carousel. You’re on you horsey going up and down, round and round and you see someone nearby and as you go by you reach out and slap them upside the head! Now this is the Merry-go-round of life, so while that person is recovering you’re going around and you die and are reincarnated as someone else. So now you are approaching the guy your former self hit. But there you are, not knowing what you did in the previous life, minding your own business, up and down on your horsey when some yahoo punches you right in the nose! And you cry out, “Why does God all such pain and suffering?”
That’s NOT how it works! There is no reincarnation and there is no merry-go-round, and there is no endless karma where what goes around comes around. Yes, the Bible says we reap what we sow! But sin, evil and pain have a beginning and an end
It’s a Line, not a circle! God made all things good, and the day is coming when he will restore His people to perfect Goodness! Better than Adam and Eve enjoyed at the first! “God [Himself] shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
Thirdly, there is one other idea very important to this whole idea of defending God’s justice.
But before I do I want to clarify the Questions we have been adressing.. I’ve been addressing two questions that are really different. One Question is “Why is there Pain and suffering in the World.” And the other question is “Why Am I hurting and suffering? What did I do? And Why isn’t God fixing it?”
This Third idea includes the idea that God understands that suffering is very important to us. The Bible is filled with words of anguish. There’s a whole book of "Lamentations" and the Book of Job. And the Book of Psalms shares in our grief! 
Psa 6:6 I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. 
13:1-3 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? 
42:3 My tears have been my food day and night, people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?
     There’s a story of a man who lost his son. Two men came to visit. The first man said God would give him strength, that in God’s wisdom there is a reason for this, and that he should cry out to God. The second man didn’t say a thing. He mourned with him, listened to him a lot, cried with him and prayed with him. The man who lost the sons knew that both men cared about him and had good intentions. But he couldn’t wait for the first man to leave, and he hated to see the second man go.
I have been that first man at times. Trying to help, I didn’t always help. 
But I can tell you that God will be that 2nd man. The One who comes and bears your pain with you! If you belong to Him! And if you trust in Jesus Christ He promises to Never leave you or forsake you! 
But will that really help you? 
When we are hurting it’s hard to be aware of anything else. 
It’s hard to pray, hard to hope, hard to trust God!  
     Sin brought pain and suffering into the world! Not necessarily your sin! Even if you are not totally innocent, you may be suffering innocently! We live in a fallen world! Not the perfect One God created. And bad things happen to good people – because of Sin! 
So God brought the remedy
He didn’t just declare “There shall be no more sin!” No! God Suffered! He sent His Son. He came in the Form of a living, breathing, suffering Man. He was a "Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." He experienced excruciating physical pain. (Excruciating actually means, pain from the "Cross"). He experienced rejection and hatred. He experienced His Father’s Wrath being poured out on Him! God paid the price for Sin and Suffering! We have Not Yet experienced total deliverance from it. But the day will come, when All God’s People will come to Him, and He will bring Pain to an end!
If you are hurting today, can I tell you, God Knows Your Pain! And while He may not stop it now, He will be with you in it AND it will end!
Let me tell you something - I am not brave in the face of pain! I don’t like it. I have been mad at God. I have cried out to God for Him to stop the pain and yet it continued on. But I know that my redeemer lives, and on the earth again shall stand. And nothing shall separate us from the Love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.       
  Rom 9:14 What should we say then? Is there injustice with God? Not at all!  He tells Moses: I will show mercy to whom I show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. …For the Scripture tells Pharaoh: I raised you up for this, that I may display My power in you and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth. So then, He shows mercy to those He wants, and hardens those He wants to harden. …But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it “Why did you make me like this?”  has the potter no right over the clay, to make from one lump a vessel for honor and another for dishonor? And what if God, desiring to display His wrath and make His power known, endured with patience objects of wrath ready for destruction?… to make known the riches of His glory, on objects of mercy, He prepared beforehand for glory— on us, the ones He also called, not only from Jews but also from the Gentiles?

            Will you trust the Potter? We are just clay.
                             We need to trust Him. He is Strong, He is Powerful. He is Wise.

[1] “Revelation 21:4”