Duped and disarmed

Though God the Father ordained the cross to deal with sin… Jesus was also nailed to the cross via the actions of secondary agents —rulers and authorities — such as Pilate, the Sanhedrin, and even Satan.

The “rulers and authorities” of Rome and Israel, as well as their father the Devil, disarmed Jesus, stripped Him naked, held Him up to open shame, and celebrated what they thought was their triumph over Him.

But despite these horrific details of the death that Jesus died, its paradoxical: for on the cross, God was disarming the powers, stripping them naked, triumphing over them, and holding them up to public contempt.

What Satan thought to be the end of his hated enemy once and for all, turned out to be the complete opposite. Death did not have the final say, for God raised His Son from the dead, proving that He is sovereign and evil does not get the last word.

In many parts of the world today, and in nearly all cultures, there are a lot of superstitions, which are conjured up to help protect people from the very real threat of what we know to be demons, even if they go by other names elsewhere.

But, thanks be to God, as Christians, we need never fear this dark demonic domain, for when Christ was crucified and raised from death to life, Satan realized he had been duped and disarmed.

John Calvin says that the demons “are disarmed, so that they cannot bring forward anything against us… our guilt being itself destroyed.” Demonic powers cannot rightly accuse those who are in Christ of guilt, nor can they possess Christians or separate us from God’s love.

So, this Easter, revel in the fact that Satan can no longer hold your guilt against you, he’s been disarmed and put to shame. We are the victors in Christ!

“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” Colossians 2:15

Christmas and shepherds

Unprecedented! How odd! Indisputably, the single most important event in human history, the birth of God in human flesh, took place with no media build up, no marketing campaign, no paparazzi, no press.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There was a brief, yet spectacular announcement given by the angels with a multitude of the heavenly host praising God. But wait, who was in the audience for that miraculous announcement from the sky? Did you say, shepherds? You’re kidding right?

In those days, shepherds occupied the bottom rung of society’s ladder, and the average citizen of Judea wanted little to do with keepers of sheep. No one could have predicted that the first people to hear of Jesus outside of His parents would be a motley crew of shepherds. Nevertheless, an angel of the Lord appeared to these men, who got to watch the greatest sound-and-light show of all time.

In Philip Keller’s book – A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 – He talks about the “cast down sheep,” which is a sheep on its back that cannot get up again under its own strength. Such sheep may bleat a little for help, but usually they just lie there with their legs flailing about, and they die, if they are not rescued.

That’s the best picture, the best metaphor to describe Christmas. For it is the state of all of humanity, stuck in their sin and unable to turn themselves right side up. God comes to the rescue, not as a Knight in shining armor, a lowly shepherd. He came to seek and to save the lost. Having become like us, the Good Shepherd knows the human condition and all its weaknesses. Rejoice, that the mighty King of heaven, is also a tender shepherd who loves each of His lambs deeply.

So this Christmas morning, when most are thinking about opening gifts… “What did I get, what did I get?” Recognize that, in Christ – you’ve already received the greatest gift of all – eternal life.

“Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!”“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” Luke 2:13-14

Merry Christmas

Only one solution

I grew up in church. We lived in the country, not the city. Our social life as a family totally revolved around church. I never missed a Sunday service, not even on vacation. I knew all the Bible stories inside and out.

There were times when I wasn’t really paying that much attention in Sunday school, because I felt like I’d heard the lesson many times before. My friends and I used to joke that if we were ever put on the spot, meaning you were suddenly asked a question that you were not sure of the correct answer, just say, “Jesus”. That way you’d never be wrong because Jesus is the answer to everything.

As silly as that might seem, the longer I live on this earth, the more inclined I am to believe it’s true. Now, with that said, let me state the obvious. The correct answer to “What is 2 + 2?” is not Jesus. But more often than not, when it comes to big life issues – the world’s problems, society’s problems, one’s persona problems – the answer really is Jesus.

No one understood that better than the committed and persistent friends of the paralyzed man of the story told in Mark chapter two.

Hearing that Jesus was coming to Capernaum, people gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door. This presented a real problem for the paralyzed man and his friends. Because they realized this was their one big opportunity, and maybe the only shot they had.

His friends knew that the only solution to his paralysis, was Jesus! What I love about this story is their persistent faith. Their unyielding commitment to their friend’s deliverance. They simply would not give up, not for a minute. There had to be a way in and they were going to find it, even if it meant – and it did – digging through the roof, and lowering him by rope on top of the crowd.

And make no mistake about it – Everyone was amazed, and Jesus was impressed!

What happens next is epic! The paralytic and his persistent friends came for one solution, and got two. Jesus began his two-part miracle by saving his soul, after all that effects his life forever, even if he would have remained paralyzed for the rest of his life here on earth, he still wins big-time. Because eventually he gets a new body. But because of his faith, because he really believed that Jesus was the only solution to his problem, he got both spiritual and physical healing.

So that leaves just one question. Do you believe that Jesus is the only answer to life’s big problems? Do you believe it enough to be the unyielding and persistent friend who helps someone going to hell, find eternal life?

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” Mark 2:5

How important is the truth?

Today, it’s not so much what people believe, as it is how sincerely they say they believe it. What are facts anyway but just someone else’s opinions?

More and more people today really don’t care about the truth. They’re more concerned with how it all feels. It’s all about the experience.

Sincerity is great, but misguided or misapplied sincerity is worthless. In fact, it’s much more dangerous than that. Imagine a nurse making her daily rounds of giving meds to each patient on her floor. She rolls her cart of prescriptions into a room, pulls up the clipboard hanging at the foot of the bed and reads what medicine is to be injected into the patient. Then she gently and lovingly injects the patient with the medicine prescribed. Almost immediately after she pulls the needle out of his arm, the patient goes into cardiac arrest and dies. She’s horrified – how could this have happened? She finds out that someone had put the wrong chart on that patient’s bed.

It doesn’t matter how passionate or honest a nurse is when treating a patient if she uses the wrong medicine. She can do her job with the utmost sincerity and end up with a patient who is sincerely dead. Practicing good medicine is all about focusing on facts not feelings. If I’m going into surgery and am informed I can make a choice between two physicians — a mediocre surgeon with excellent people skills or an excellent surgeon who is difficult to get along with — I’m choosing the latter! I’ll always take knowledge and skill over bedside manner.

C. S. Lewis said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Jesus said, I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Clearly Seen

Have you ever had anyone say to you, “there is no proof that God exists”? My response to that is always, “nor is there any proof that He doesn’t”. How would anyone go about proving that something does not exist? Proof of a negative statement is difficult to pull off. For example, how would you prove the negative assertion “There is no gold in Alaska”? You would have to determine the limits of Alaska, its borders and depth and height, then dig up every cubic inch of Alaska. If there was one cubic inch you did not dig, there still might be gold there. On the other hand, how would you prove the positive assertion, “There is gold in Alaska”? Easy—you need find only one piece.

Similarly, what would you have to know, in order to know for sure, that there is no God? Well, you’d have to know everything. If there was one thing you did not know, that one thing might be God. We are so far from knowing everything that there is to be known, that the dogmatic assertion “There is no God” is not only not provable, it is ridiculously arrogant.

Jerry Root once asked the famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, “How much of that which there is to be known, do you claim to know, 10%?” She laughed and said, “Okay, 10%.” He asked, “Is it possible that God might exist and be part of that 90% of reality that you admittedly do not know?” She paused and was silent for about a minute, then she said, “A qualified no”, and quickly moved on to another question.

That’s why no atheist or agnostic will be able to persuade God – when they stand before Him someday – that they would certainly have believed, if there was only sufficient proof of His existence.

Romans 1:19 states, “what may be known about God is plain to [all], because God has made it plain… For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that [everyone is] without excuse.

God has given every human being sufficient visual-aids to logically and confidently come to the conclusion that an intelligent, transcendent being created us… and everything we see that is not man-made.

That’s proof enough for me!

“What may be known about God is plain to everyone, because God has made it plain.” Romans 1:19

Current views about the Bible

In a recent study among young adults, conducted in partnership with the American Bible Society and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Barna Group sought to discover how changing ideas about Christianity might be affecting perceptions of the Bible. The study found that non-Christian young adults hold ambivalent and sometimes extremely negative views about the Bible.

What’s interesting is that 62 percent of the non-Christian young adults surveyed, had never even read the Bible. Wow!

The most common words they use to describe the Bible are “story,” “mythology,” “symbolic,” and “fairy tale.” 30 percent of young adults believe it’s a useful book of moral teachings, but nearly as many—27 percent—agree that the Bible is (quote) “a dangerous book of religious dogma used for centuries to oppress people.”

Almost one in five say the Bible is “an outdated book with no relevance for today.” How very sad!

Because of this anti Bible sentiment, the Barna study goes on to say that by far, the best way to positively influence a non-Christian young adult toward God and the Bible is through “personal interactions” with people who have benefited from the Bible. This bears the most fruit.

Because today’s young adults value relationships, the best demonstration of the Gospel is living out your Christian worldview boldly, and consistently.

This actually fits with what the Apostle Paul said in Corinthians 4; “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

So this week, concentrate on positively influencing the non-Christian young adults around you toward God and the Bible, by first developing a relationship with them, letting them see your light shine. That is, the glory of Christ in you.

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

The Morality Pill

“I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

I know that today it seems like there’s a pill that will fix most anything, but I must admit, I didn’t see this one coming. Molly Crockett, a neuroscientist at Oxford University, is proposing a series of drugs that could become what journalists are calling a “morality pill.”

Crockett says, “Recent studies have shown that by shifting people’s brain chemistry you can change people’s personalities.” One of the chemical candidates for the “morality pill”, that Crockett suggests is a hormone that actually increases a person’s levels of trust, empathy, and cooperation. However, other research suggests the hormone also boosts envy and gloating. Oooops! Almost perfect, I hate those pesky side effects. They can just put that in the reeeeally small print that nobody reads!

All this sounds eerily close to the mind-numbing drug “soma” in Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Soma made everyone relaxed and happy, whether they wanted to be or not. Huxley said soma provided “All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; [and] none of their defects.”

Well there you go. Who knew? We can solve the problems of selfishness, sin, and sanctification all with a pill. And, you don’t even have to believe in Jesus. What could possibly go wrong?

Four decades ago C.S. Lewis addressed this issue; “Free will,” Lewis said, “though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” Lewis goes on: “A world… of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight… compared with which… the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water.”

What Crockett and other behaviorists offer is a false morality, a robot-like love that is worthless. Pills cannot fix the human condition. We need transformed hearts that will lead us to transformed lives.

Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.”

God did it

There’s a meme I saw on Facebook last week that caught my attention. Here it is…

Atheism is the belief there was once absolutely nothing. And nothing happened to the nothing until the nothing magically exploded (for no reason), creating everything and everywhere. Then a bunch of the exploded everything magically rearranged itself (for no reason whatsoever), into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs. And they mock my beliefs!

I like it because it mocks the beliefs of the so called anti-believers, but does so by using what is at the very core of what an atheist actually has to believe, in order to not believe in God.

Some Christians shy away from any serious discussion over the proof or lack of proof that God exists, usually because they’re intimidated by what they perceive to be the inarguable logic and proved science of evolution. If you’re one of those stay-away-from-the-argument Christians, let me assure you that the winnable side of that argument now belongs to you, not the atheist. And, the irony is, it’s science that actually proves you right. I don’t know about you, but that’s exciting!

The problem is that it’s the Emperor with no clothes. You remember, the short tale by Hans Christian Andersen about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dares to say that they don’t see any suit of clothes until a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

Academia, from preschool through university, the media, and especially Hollywood, puffs its chest out with insufferable arrogance and condescension, ruthlessly mocking anyone who would still believe that there is a creator God. But in reality, they stand on their silly soapbox without any cloths, naked of any plausible facts to back their beliefs.

The tables have totally turned. We are the ones with the upper hand in this argument. And its high time we got involved. Not with arrogance, but with passion and confidence, and with the goal of bringing people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

After all, it was God who declared that through His creation all humanity recognizes His existence, power, glory, and wisdom. So, get caught up with the cutting edge science that proves God right. Then, the next time someone tries to act like you’re still living in the “dark ages” by mocking your beliefs, challenge them to do their homework and catch up with the science they claim proves them right.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalms 19:1

For God’s Glory

As we approach this year’s Academy Awards let’s remember one of the great Oscar winners, Chariots of Fire. It’s a must see. The movie tells the story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four, including Best Picture.

Whenever I tell young people about the thing Eric Liddell is most remembered for, refusing to run his race – the 100-meter dash – in the Olympics, because it was run on a Sunday, they invariably laugh and say something like, “Why would he do that, that’s just stupid!”

Eric refused to run the 100-metres race, his best event, because it was held on Sunday. He also declined to run in the 4 x 100 meter relays, races that he had qualified for, because their heats also where run on Sunday. Because he was such a popular athlete, the British Olympic Committee asked if he would train to run in the 400 meters. He went on to win the 400 meters and set a world record in the process. Think what you want about his decisions, but Eric Liddell was a man who stood on his principles, whether others thought them stupid or not. And he always came out on top.

In the movie, after the British Olympic authority’s unsuccessful attempt at changing Eric’s mind, one of the men comments, “The lad…is a true man of principle and a true athlete. His speed is a mere extension of his life – its force. We sought to sever his running from himself.” Though the writer labels God as a generic “force,” the statement is true. The Christian life cannot be lived apart from God. To do so is to compromise our very being.

For Eric, his running was simply an extension of his life, and his life was in Christ. Therefore, every time he ran a race, he did so for the glory of God. Eric Liddell proved that when you do everything in life for God’s glory, you can win without compromising. For that’s where the power of integrity begins.

Some of Eric’s Christian friends questioned why he continued to run races when clearly God was calling him to be a missionary. I absolutely love his response – it’s my favorite quote from the movie. Eric said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

Living your life to the glory of God does not mean that you abandon doing what he has gifted you to do. No, it simply means that you perfect that talent for His glory, and not your own.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

No Fool

Friday of last week, January 8th, marks the 60th anniversary of the tragic death of Jim Elliot in Ecuador. Five Auca Indians killed Jim and his four missionary companions as they were trying to bring the gospel to the Auca tribe of sixty people.

Six days earlier the 29-year-old Jim Elliot jumped out of bed, dressed as quickly as he could, and got ready for the short flight over the thick Ecuador jungle. This was a day he had been waiting for most of his life. Almost three years of jungle ministry and many hours of planning and praying had led to this day. Within hours, he and the four other missionaries would be setting up camp in the territory of a dangerous and uncivilized Indian tribe known then as the Aucas (Ow-cuz), known now as the Waodani (Wah-o-dah-nee). The Aucas had killed all outsiders ever caught in their area. Even though it was dangerous, Jim Elliot had no doubt God wanted him to tell the Aucas about Jesus. In fact, he believed that the only way to stop the Aucas from killing was to tell them about Jesus.

Months earlier, Nate Saint, a missionary supply pilot, came up with a way to lower a bucket filled with supplies to people on the ground while flying above them. He thought this would be a perfect way to win the trust of the Aucas without putting anyone in danger. They began dropping gifts to the Aucas. They also used an amplifier to speak out friendly Auca phrases. Eventually, the Aucas even sent a gift back up in the bucket to the plane. Jim and the other missionaries felt the time had come to meet the Aucas face-to-face.

But on that fateful day the Aucas did not bring gifts. Their expected greating turned out to be a group of Auca warriors with their spears raised, ready to throw. Jim Elliot reached for the gun in his pocket. He had to decide instantly if he should use it. But he knew he couldn’t. Each of the missionaries had promised they would not kill an Auca who did not know Jesus to save himself from being killed. Within seconds, the Auca warriors threw their spears, killing all the missionaries.

His journal entry seven years earlier expressed his belief that work dedicated to Jesus was more important than his life. Also written in that entry was Jims now famous quote,

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

In less than two years after Jim’s death, his wife Elisabeth, along with her daughter Valerie, and Rachel Saint (Nate’s sister) were able to move to the Auca village. Many Aucas became Christians. They are now a friendly tribe. Missionaries, including Nate Saint’s son and his family, still live among the Aucas today.

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” Luke 9:24