Brave New Worlds?

 

Driving to work early one morning, I approached an intersection. The vehicle facing me in the other lane had stopped at the red light, and its lights were shining in my direction. As I moved toward it, I noticed someone walking in front of the headlights.

Judging by what I saw, it could have been a Hispanic man. He might have weighed between 200 and 225 pounds. He was probably five feet away from the bumper of the car and moving in a westward to eastwardly direction at approximately three miles per hour. His hair may have been black and it could have been parted on the left side. He may have been going to work that morning, and maybe he worked for some oilfield service company.

He could have been wearing a maroon shirt that may have been recently washed with an aromatic detergent. He could have had a pocket knife in his right-hand pocket. He might have spoken English, and might have had a Spanish accent, and he might have been from Mexico. He could have had a tattoo between his shoulder blades which might have been in the shape of an eagle. He also could have had a pierced ear.

You may be asking yourself, “How can you tell all that from a person walking in front of the headlights of a car?” You know there is not enough information to make such determinations simply by passing in front of a light. Did you notice how many times I used the terms could have, might have, and may have? Did you notice that I left a way out each time? I didn’t say that he was Hispanic; I said he could been a Hispanic man. I didn’t say he had black hair parted on the left side. I said he may have had black hair parted on the left side.

Again this week NASA has announced the discovery of seven new exoplanets (http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/science/astronomers-find-7-earth-size-planets-where-life-may-be-possible/ar-AAne8q7), that is, supposedly earthlike planets outside our own solar system. The title of the article states that astronomers have found seven earthlike planets where “life is possible.” How do they know if life is possible? How did they determine that? As you read through the article, and listen to the video narration, you will notice how many times they use the words could, might, and may.

Three of the planets, they say, are within the life zone that may support life. They say that one may have an atmosphere that could contain water vapor that might mean there is water on the surface of the planet. And how did they determine all this? They looked at a star forty light years away and noticed a diminished amount of light coming from the star. That can only mean one thing, a planet passing in front of it. All the rest is speculation, just like my story about the person I saw passing in front of the headlights of a car.

If it is all such speculation, why are scientists so determined to find life on other planets? It is not a scientific question, but a philosophical question. They are so convinced that evolution is true, and therefore, life must have evolved on one of the many “earth-like” planets out there. They believe that finding life on other planets would justify their belief in evolution. However, even finding life on another planet would not prove that evolution is true. Evolution has too many scientific problems to be true, and it is not supported by observable, empirical science. It just “has to be” because the alternative is untenable. They will never be dissuaded despite the lack of evidence to support evolution.

If the planets are forty light years away, it would take that long just to send a signal and another 40 years to receive a response. Traveling at the speed of light, it would take forty years to get there. Even travelling at ten times the speed of light would require four years to travel even if a ship could travel that fast. Stars would never go zipping by in the background as they do in science fiction movies such as Star Wars. All this is designed to tell us that we got here merely by processes that can be explained naturally. Again, these are not scientific issues, but philosophical. It is a reason to explain the existence of everything without believing in a Creator God.

What would scientists expect to find in space? Paul wrote, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 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 people are without excuse.” Finding life on another planet is an excuse to accept evolution and disbelieve God’s Word.

What should we find in the heavens? “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4). Rather than trying to find alien life in the heavens to disprove God, we should look to the heavens and see His glory. There is no excuse not to believe in God. Through Christ, you can have a relationship with the Creator God of this universe. Apart from him, you will only be searching through the darkness.

 

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A Different Gospel

 

Jesus warned us that in the last days false christs and prophets would come and deceive many, even the elect, if possible (Matthew 24:24). Deception has always been Satan’s ruse. Sin entered the world because Satan deceived Eve, and he has never stopped using the same tactic. He still deceives today.

Since Christ said that false Christs and false prophets would arise, it was inevitable that false gospels would arise, too. Satan never creates; he only counterfeits. Counterfeits look like the genuine object or they would never deceive. That is why they are so dangerous.

Paul warned the Corinthians about receiving a different Christ and a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). Someone may say that anyone who loves and follows Christ is a Christian. Well, which Christ? Not all are the same. To some he is just a man. To others he is one of many great prophets. To still others, he is one of many of God’s sons and the brother of Satan. How would you recognize the true Christ?

Then there are the false gospels. Some gospels say that salvation is by your works. Your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds so you go to heaven. There is the gospel that says that you have to add to Christ’s work on the cross by adding ceremonies, rituals and sacraments. Finally, there is the watered-down gospel that says all you have to do is pray a simple prayer like, “God I believe that you love me and want to save me. I ask you to forgive me and come into my heart.” Then you will receive God’s favor and blessing that will lead to health and material prosperity.

But Christ’s true gospel demands more. Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily  and follow Me” (9:23). He also said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). That gospel is tough to swallow. Many people are not willing to take up their cross because that means they may have to suffer for the cause of Christ. That gospel does not attract large crowds. Jesus even said that few would enter the narrow way that leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:14).

People will put up with a gospel that promises wealth and ease, but balk at the gospel that demands death to self and service to others. It is not popular, and it does not fill pews and offering plates.

The oft – quoted “sinner’s prayer” found in the back of many gospel tracts and booklets does not exist. The sinner’s prayer in the Bible is found in Luke 18:13. A poor tax collector could not even look up to heaven, but he cried out, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” He did not try to justify or excuse his sin. He did not try to compare himself to others as the Pharisee in the story did. He simply admitted his need by crying out to God. Jesus said that man went home justified, not the other, the religious man.

Sit down and count the cost of believing the true gospel (Luke 14:28). In the same way counterfeit money will be of no service at a bank, a counterfeit gospel will not get you into heaven. Have you accepted another gospel? The true gospel is simple, but it is not easy. It is not popular. It is not politically correct. It is not all-inclusive. It is not tolerant of sin, but it is the only gospel that leads to salvation. What will it cost you to follow Christ?

 

Years in the Making

 

Bad habits can develop slowly over long periods of time. Small effects accumulate, and a picture that we do not like begins to develop. Suddenly we decide we need to do something about it, and we want immediate results.

One example is weight gain. Here we are one month into the new year and some people have already given up on their resolution to lose weight and get in shape. Perhaps years of bad eating habits, eating junk food, or simply overeating even good food, has led to being overweight. After several years in the making, suddenly we want an instant fix. We go on starvation diets trying to lose weight quickly.

While success may come quickly, it seldom lasts. After a period of strict dieting, we often bounce back into the old habits that led to the weight gain in the first place. A permanent habit change must take place if we are to lose the weight and keep it off. Being overweight is a health issue we need to deal with realistically.

Smoking is another health issue. Whatever reason a person gives for smoking is not valid. There is simply no good, logical reason to smoke cigars, pipes or cigarettes. Now before you come down harshly on me and say that I should be more empathetic because I do not know what smoking is like, I must confess that I did try smoking for a while in the summer of 1972 right before I began high school. I wanted to be cool and accepted, so I listened to my friends’ advice. I tried cigarettes and even those little cigars, but all I got out of it was sick. I could not breathe well, and it affected my ability to swim (I wanted to be like Mark Spitz). So, I quit. I did not care what my friends thought of me. I thought they were foolish for smoking.

After years of smoking, people develop various forms of breathing ailments or even cancer. Suddenly they want prayer for a miracle to overcome lung cancer. They want an instant solution to their problem that has been years in the making. It is not that easy.

As a pastor, I have often dealt with people who bring personal problems to me to solve for them. About twenty years ago, I spent several hours talking to a man who came to me with a marital problem. If I remember correctly, they were not actually married. The main issue was that he had been living with a woman without the formality of marriage. They had a child together out of wedlock. At the time he was talking to me, the girl was about twelve years old. His common-law wife had left him to move in with a deputy sheriff and took the little girl with her. This man came to me wanting me to tell him how to solve his problem so he could get his daughter back.

I asked him if he was a Christian. He said yes. “So, you realize,” I asked him, “that your actions were sinful?” “Yes,” he replied, “But…” He continued to explain to me how the situation had developed, how his wife had left him for another man, and he wanted me to help him find the daughter and get her back.

“You have spent at least thirteen years creating this mess,” I said, “and now after one meeting with me, you want me to tell you how to solve it?” Problems that are years in the making often cannot be solved overnight. The way to solve these problems is to prevent them in the first place. Had this person followed biblical principles, those problems would not have arisen. He would not have been sitting there with me, his life in a shambles, seeking answers as to how to fix it.

Sadly, I never saw that man again. I never did find out how the issue was resolved, if ever. Life holds enough heartache for us even when we live by God’s principles. How much worse things go when we deliberately forsake God’s ways, develop problems, then go seek a pastor or a counselor to tell us how to get a quick fix.

In the devotional magazine, Open Windows, Tan Flippin wrote, “When you choose to travel down the pathway of wisdom instead of taking other routes, life just seems to go more smoothly and you save yourself a lot of headaches and heartaches…we can base our decisions on greed, selfishness, and without forethought and prayer” (LifeWay, 01/20/17). Choose wisely the way in which you will walk, because small decisions made today can affect the very outcome of your life tomorrow. Those problems may be years in the making.

 

 

Living the Christian Life

 

One of the misconceptions about eternal life and going to heaven is the belief that somehow, when a person is judged, their good deeds will outweigh their bad deeds. Many believe that one day God will open the books and look at all the things we have done. He will place all the bad deeds on one side of a balance and all our good deeds on the other side. If the good outweighs the bad, we feel as though we deserve to go to heaven.

When I have talked to people about their need to repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ, I often get the response, “I will just try to live the Christian life to make up for it.”

Dennis Rader was an active member and the president of the church council in a local church of his city, and was a Boy Scout Troop leader upon his arrest in February, 2005. Church members were shocked to discover that this man they had known for years was also known as the BTK killer. Between 1974 and 1991, Rader bound, tortured, and killed ten victims, some multiple members of a family. No one knows why he ended his murderous spree in 1991.

In the years following his crimes, he became an active church member and leader. He began to live the Christian life. For fourteen years, he became a Christian example. Surely during those fourteen years after the murders, he did many good deeds.

On June 27, 2005, he pled guilty to all the charges. During the trial he gave many horrifying details about the crimes he had committed. Today he is serving 10 life sentences in a Kansas prison. What if the judge treated his case the way many people feel that God, the most Righteous Judge, will treat their cases? What if Rader had told the judge, “Your Honor, I know that the jury has found me guilty of torturing and killing all those innocent people, but look at all the years I didn’t kill. Look at all the good work I did as a Scout leader. Look at the way I have lived a committed Christian life and served at church”? Then, what if the judge said, “You’re right. I can see how you performed more good deeds than the ten murders you committed, so I am going to pardon you”? We would think that is a miscarriage of justice. We would be outraged.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I am not that bad. I have never murdered anyone.” Haven’t you? First John 3:15 says, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” Have you ever hated a brother or a sister? Then you have committed murder. What about adultery? Have you ever lusted for someone? Then you have committed adultery. The truth is that we have committed more sins than we probably even realize.

So why didn’t the judge let the BTK killer go after living the Christian life for fourteen years after the murders? Think of all the boys’ lives he had affected as a Scout leader. Think of all the people whom he didn’t murder by serving as president of the church council. Living the Christian life does not atone for the sins already committed. No matter how you live after sin, it does not make up for the sin you committed.

If a police officer catches you running a stop sign and you ask, “What if I promise never to do it again? What if I stop ten more times to make up for the time I didn’t stop?” Will that get you out of the ticket? No, you have broken the law and you must pay the penalty. When it comes to sin, we have all broken the law, and not just one or two of them. James 2:10 says, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” We are guilty of breaking all of God’s laws, even murder. God is just and must punish sin. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. God doesn’t simply forgive our sins because he loves us. That would be unjust. Someone has to pay for our sin. Either we pay the penalty ourselves, for the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), or we accept Christ’s atoning death in our place. There is no other way to satisfy both the love and righteousness of God. Your living the Christian life won’t do it.

First, repent of your sin. The only hope is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:14). After you have done that, you begin to live the Christian life because you are Christian. Living the Christian life will never save you. You can only live the Christian life once you are saved.

 

Living the Married Life

 

January first is the day that many people make New Year’s resolutions. This is the day we decide to make changes to help improve our lives. Some may decide to diet. Some may decide to begin an exercise program. Others may decide to stop smoking. Some may want to “turn over a new leaf” and may begin being more religious.

You may have considered the benefits of being religious and want to achieve them for yourself. That may mean praying more or attending church more often than just Christmas and Easter. That may also mean reading the Bible more, helping others, and doing good works. Will those efforts make a lasting difference, or will they be like others that fade within a few weeks of regular church attendance?

Consider the case of a single young man who sees how happy his married friends are. He asks them the source of their happiness. They tell him that they are happy because they are living the married life. He begins to consider the benefits of living the married life himself, so he decides to give it a try. He notices that since married people wear wedding bands, he decides to buy himself a wedding band. He also notices that they own homes, so he buys himself a nice house. Married couples often also drive two cars, so he buys another car. He also buys a queen-sized bed. He works hard, comes home after work, and saves money for a rainy day. In fact, he emulates everything his married friends do.

However, he discovers that he is not as happy as his married friends seem to be. Finally, he decides to talk to them. One of his married friends asks, “How does your wife feel about things?” “Wife?” he responds. “I have the ring, the mortgage, the two cars, a good job with a retirement plan. What more am I missing?” he asks. “A relationship,” his friend says.

Obviously, no one would believe they could enjoy the happiness of marriage without a relationship to a spouse, yet many try to find happiness as a Christian without a relationship to Christ. People hear testimonies of successful, happy Christians. They hear preachers extolling the benefits of being a follower of Christ. Many give it a try. They want Christianity without Christ, because he might make demands of them. So, they imitate what they see their Christian friends doing. They try to attend church regularly. They try to pray, but stop after a few minutes. They try to read the Bible but find it incomprehensible, confusing, and boring. They try to give some spare change in the offering once in a while, yet they never find the happiness they see in others.

The Bible calls the Church the “Bride of Christ” (See Revelation 21:9; 22:17). A married person is not the one who simply goes through the motions of being married. A married person is one who enters a lifelong relationship with another and makes changes that go along with that commitment. A Christian is not a person who merely goes through the rituals and ceremonies of the Christian religion, but someone who enters a life-changing relationship with Christ as Savior and Lord the same as entering a relationship with a spouse. The changes come about as a result of that relationship. They do not cause the relationship.

So, this New Year, as you contemplate making changes, consider what will truly make the greatest change in your life. Paul wrote in Romans 13:14, “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh (NIV). Christianity is not about simply living the Christian life, it is Christ covering you completely with his righteousness. How does that happen? It happens as people confess their sin to Christ, repent of it and trust in his work on the cross for them. (See Mark 1:15). If you want to experience the Christian life, you need a relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

The Word Made Flesh

 

All religions are about people searching for God. Some do it through rituals and ceremonies, and others through sacrifices. Some use meditation and contemplation, and others seek enlightenment. Some use vision quests. Religion is about what people can do to reach out to God or gods and get the gods to perform for you.

They may be seeking a god or gods who can provide blessings, abundance, power, success or eternal life, however, Romans 3:11 says that they are not seeking the God of the Bible. The root of the word religion is the same root as in the word obligation. “Lig” means “to bind.” As in a ligament that binds bone to bone, or a ligature that binds a reed to the mouthpiece of a clarinet. Religion, for some, is a bargaining chip to obligate their god to do something for them. They say, “God, if you do this, I’ll do that.” Whatever that is. We bargain with God by saying, “I will go to church on Sunday; I will give money; I will do good deeds, if you will do…fill in the blank.”

Christianity differs, however, in that in Christ, God was seeking mankind. The account in John’s Gospel begins in verse one saying that the Word was God. Verse three states that nothing that exists came into being without the Word creating it. Verse 14 goes on to say that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

The phrase “dwelt among us” literally translates a verb that means to pitch a tent. That word signifies that the eternal Word of verse one took on a temporary dwelling place to live among mankind. At Christmas, we celebrate this event as the eternal God becoming flesh. We call that the Incarnation. This is not mankind reaching out to God. It is God reaching down to mankind.

God created Adam and Eve to live in fellowship with him. He walked with them in the garden of Eden until sin entered the relationship. God could no longer dwell with mankind, so he initiated a new plan. He spoke of the seed of the woman who would crush the tempter’s head (Genesis 3:15). That seed was Jesus Christ born of the virgin. He was the seed of the woman.

In Christ God became man. Once again, he dwelt among people in a temporary dwelling that the Bible calls a tent or tabernacle. In the flesh, Christ taught people how to live, how to die to self, and how to be born again, but he did not come just to establish a new religion or another system to obligate God to fulfill people’s desires. The final step in his mission was to give his life as a sacrifice for sin. His body was laid in the tomb, and three days later, he took up that body again. It was transformed into its eternal glory, never to die again.

At the end of the ages, God will dwell again with mankind. Revelation 21:3 says that the tabernacle or dwelling place of God will be with mankind in a new heavens and new earth. He will actually dwell with his people on that new earth. By that time, Satan will have been vanquished and evil will have been destroyed. The final enemy, death, will have been eliminated. Those who were born again will live forever in God’s presence in a newly created universe.

The present of Christmas is not something that we give to each other. This present is what God gave to us. He gave us his best, his only Son. To as many as receive this gift, God gives the right to become his children (John 1:12). The gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23). He who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son does not have life (First John 5:12).

If you have not received God’s gift, I hope that this year, you will receive Christ as your Savior and Lord. The way you show appreciation for the gift that God is given you is by living in a way that honors Christ. Your life becomes a “Thank You” note to God.

 

The Class that Social Media Built

In a desire to reach the non-English speaking people in our community, we decided to offer a basic conversational English course at our church. It was to be held on Thursday evenings from 6:30 – 8:00. I had trained two other people to help me teach the classes. Not wanting to be overwhelmed, I limited the publicity to a few flyers prominently placed throughout the neighborhood stores and at my workplace.

When the first night rolled around, rather than being overwhelmed with students, we were totally underwhelmed. No one came. The teachers gathered early, got the classrooms ready and waited. Not to be discouraged, we reminded ourselves that sometimes people tend to show up late. We decided to use the time constructively to tidy up the church building. At 8:00 we finally decided that no one was coming.

The next day, feelings of depression flowed over me. I feared that we would be overwhelmed, but instead, we had no response. I felt that surely a few would come, so we could build from that.

At work the next day, a co-worker who had wanted to come but could not, told me that I should try posting a notice on Facebook. She told me of a page that worked like a flea market for the community. I composed an ad and gave it to her to review before posting. Then I had to request membership in the on-line flea market community.

The next class was to begin on Thursday, and my membership request still needed approval. On Wednesday morning I finally received the approval. My supervisor sent me out to the field early that morning, but before I left, I wanted to make sure that I got my ad posted to the website. Even though the class was free, I put it on the flea market page. I uploaded it and left for the field by 6:30 am.

It was not long before I started receiving “like” notices on my Facebook page. By the end of the day, I had over fifty hits. Some asked about joining and requested more information.  Some texted me at the number on the post.Others actually called me.

The next day, the day of the class, the responses continued the same. I answered questions. I encouraged them to come. Finally the time came. Just before  6:30, the first student arrived. When we got started just a  little late, we had fifteen students enrolled with two children in the day care area.

The first class was all about getting to know one another. Apart from my co-worker and her husband, I did not know any of the other people personally. Some had called me on the phone. Others had texted. Some of them were married and some knew each other. By the end of the evening, twenty of us had become new friends.

Before leaving for the evening, I asked how they had found out about the class. Only one said that he had heard an announcement on the radio. Other than that, all the rest had heard about it social media. In just two full days on Facebook, we had a perfect beginning to an English class. Now we will rely on word of mouth to carry it from there. Soon we will hopefully double in size.

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