Why faith matters, and the reason it often doesn’t

From right, Ren Dejun, Liao Qiang, Peng Ran and Ren Ruiting follow a hymnbook during a Sunday church service in Taipei, Taiwan.

That day (when Stephen was martyred) a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria … Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.

Acts 8:1,4

 

A few minutes after I read those words in my morning devotion, I opened the local newspaper I subscribe to. I was stunned to read an article on religious persecution happening as we speak, and another article from this country explaining that most Americans don’t care about faith issues.

“Christian family details crackdown on church in China,” the Page A2 headline read.

Liao Qiang, 49, had to flee China with five family members, including his 23-year-old daughter, Ren Ruiting, after “living under constant surveillance for the past seven months after authorities detained them and dozens of other members of their prominent but not government-sanctioned church in December.”

China’s ruling Communist Party has carried out a widespread crackdown on all religious institutions in recent years – not just Christian churches, but institutions of all faiths. It has bulldozed churches and mosques, the article states, and incarcerated more than 1 million members of Islamic ethnic minorities in what are termed “re-education centers.”

Qiang and his family fled to nearby Taiwan, where they are free to worship as they choose. They attended a public worship service this week for the first time in seven months.

Persecution forces church growth

In the book of Acts and in China, persecution forced the church to scatter.

While the government leaders in both circumstances were trying to suppress faith, and especially Christianity (in Acts), the opposite happened. Faith spread.

Sometimes it takes persecution to grow our faith.

We often ask why bad things happen to good people. We wonder why we struggle in various parts of our lives. We wonder whether God has abandoned us.

Actually, God may be drawing us closer to Him through our struggles. We don’t really know what persecution is in this country – not to the point where believers are martyred or active churches are bulldozed.

Perhaps that day is coming.

Apathy kills the church

The other article I read in the local paper? On Page A5: “Poll: Americans tend to go it alone (Most don’t seek clerical advice)”

That poll blames technology for many Americans’ choice not to seek advice. Since we can Google information on literally any subject, this article says, we don’t see the need to seek advice from clergy (or anyone else, for that matter).

The poll also blames the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church for reducing clergy interaction with that institution.

“At the same time,” the article concludes, “more Americans describe religion as unimportant in their lives, and church membership and service attendance have declined. Gallup polling shows about half of Americans said they attended religious services within the past week in the mid-1950s, while just about a third say they did now.”

Our response

What does faith mean, anyway? Is it worth dying for, as Stephen did? Is it worth being forced from home to parts unknown, as happened to the early New Testament Church and is still happening in China and other parts of the world today?

For U.S. residents, faith in God costs very little. Perhaps that’s the main reason why it doesn’t mean much to most of us.

Every so often I ask myself, “Do I have to hit rock bottom before I can find God?”

I’ve never done drugs or been arrested. I grew up in a stable home. I’ve always had at least a little money in the bank. I’ve always been healthy.

And yet …

When our family made an out-of-state move before my ninth-grade year, I discovered that I was missing something emotionally. I had a low self-esteem and nothing to lean on.

Eventually, I discovered that Jesus Christ could – and did – fill that void in my life.

So, in a sense, yes, I did hit rock bottom. Not outwardly, not materially, but spiritually, I did.

As with the early disciples and the family in China, I was forced to make a decision. My physical life wasn’t at stake, but my spiritual life was.

If something important to you is forcibly taken away, how would you respond?

When a loved one dies or an emergency strikes, how do you respond?

Do you blame God, or do you turn to Him?

That’s not a theoretical question.

Places where faith grows

Perhaps that’s why most people who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior do so as children. Young people – age 15 and younger – are still searching for meaning in life. Their values aren’t set yet. If you grow up in a Christian home you have a better chance to accept that faith yourself. There are exceptions, of course. And if you didn’t grow up in a Christian home, you can find such a faith in other places as well.

Perhaps a catastrophic event will force your hand. Perhaps that’s what it must take.

That’s why Christianity’s growth is explosive in China and Africa, but not the United States.

 

Christianity’s ‘explosive growth’ in China – and the official pushback

https://www.inkstonenews.com/china/christianity-protestant-church/article/2133812

Christianity is not illegal in China, but it has faced a long history of suppression and official distrust ever since missionaries began arriving with European and American merchants hundreds of years ago.

 

Christianity’s future lies in Africa

https://sojo.net/articles/christianitys-future-lies-africa

The continent (Africa) has become the epicenter in the fight against extreme poverty and inequality, housing over half of the world’s people who are living in the quicksand of extreme poverty. Conflict, corruption, illicit financial flows, gender-based violence, exploitation, the impacts of climate change, among other challenges, have long stunted Africa’s growth and suffocated human flourishing …

Less than 20 percent of evangelical pastors have received seminary training, which poses both a challenge and an opportunity … But a revitalized and more vibrant evangelical church that is increasingly committed to both evangelism and holistic transformation will be an essential force in overcoming these and other challenges.

Our impersonal, judgmental lives

Is the United States becoming a Third-World country? Extreme poverty, conflict, corruption, illicit financial flows, gender-based violence, exploitation, climate change … These topics dominate discussion boards today, don’t they?

But how much of these discussions are personal? We talk in the third person all the time. Most of us don’t know what extreme poverty looks like. Corruption: have we experienced it personally? Climate change? Illicit financial flows?

These issues matter, of course, but until they become personal, they remain debate topics and nothing more.

After all, Americans prefer to live alone. We can take care of ourselves, thank you very much.

Just don’t ask me to think deeply about any subject.

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We cannot escape

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain it.

 

Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning

and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light around me become night,”

even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

 

For it was you who formed my inward parts;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

baby-growing

Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.

My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written

all the days that were formed for me,

when none of them as yet existed.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

I try to count them – they are more than the sand;

I come to the end – I am still with you.

 

osr 4

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,

and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me –

those who speak of you maliciously,

and lift themselves up against you for evil!

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?

And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;

I count them my enemies.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

Psalm 139

The good stuff is coming, oh yes

Are there rewards for following Jesus Christ with your whole heart?

Oh, yes.

The Christian life is no picnic on Earth. Great things happen, but suffering does too. We know this.

As Christians, however, we look beyond Earth. We’re here 70 or 80 years, give or take, and then we die. Guaranteed.

What then?

That’s when it gets good.

I’m studying the book of Revelation – the last book of the Bible – with three friends this summer. Near the beginning of the book, Jesus gives seven messages to various churches. Each discourse includes good things the church has done, bad things the church has done, a warning if the church doesn’t get its act together, and a reward if the church does change.

Without getting too theological, those messages apply to Christians today as well. If we “conquer,” as my translation (New Revised Standard) puts it, we will receive some awesome rewards.

Let’s look beyond ourselves, beyond Earth even, to see what’s in store for us.

 

“To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.”

Rev. 2:7

 

This is stunning. We first see the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, along with the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9). After Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:6), God kicked the sinning couple out of the garden. Why? Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” … (Gen. 3:22)

The tree of life would have allowed Adam and Eve to never die. This is the way we were created, to live forever. But because we rebelled against the living God, our lives were shortened.

Until the very end of time. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.” (Rev. 22:14)

Once we enter the city of God, we will live forever in paradise.

 

“Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.”

Rev. 2:11

 

All of us will be harmed by the “first death,” which is the death of our physical bodies on this Earth. What is the second death? But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Rev. 21:8)

The second death, then, is separation from God. Permanently. We get to choose which “spiritual death” we will face – living in paradise with God, or separation from Him in the lake of fire.

There’s no third option, by the way.

 

“I will give a white stone, and on the white store is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

Rev. 2:17

 

Whoa. A new name. Given to each of us by the living God. That name will define who we are. We can only guess what this means, however. Gotquestions.org offers this explanation:

The best theory regarding the meaning of the white stone probably has to do with the ancient Roman custom of awarding white stones to the victors of athletic games. The winner of a contest was awarded a white stone with his name inscribed on it. This served as his “ticket” to a special awards banquet. According to this view, Jesus promises the overcomers entrance to the eternal victory celebration in heaven. The “new name” most likely refers to the Holy Spirit’s work of conforming believers to the holiness of Christ (see Romans 8:29; Colossians 3:10).

 

“To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star.”

Rev. 2:26

 

Who or what is the morning star? It’s Jesus Himself. “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Rev. 22:16)

We will live with Jesus Christ, the morning star, forever.

 

“If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels.”

Rev. 3:5

 

What is the book of life? This, along with books that describe our lives on Earth, will be opened on the Judgment Day. What happens if our names are not in the book of life? I saw the dead great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:12, 15)

Instead, Jesus will confess our names before his Father and his angels. Our works aren’t good enough to stand on their own; we need Jesus to advocate for us on our Judgment Day.

He promised that He will do that for us. If we conquer.

 

“If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

Rev. 3:12

 

A pillar in the temple of God could refer to eternal life. The city of God is the “new Jerusalem,” which is described in Rev. 21:9-26. It will be a huge city, and beautiful beyond description. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev. 21:26)

These rewards are all related. And they are only for those of us who conquer.

 

“To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

Rev. 3:21

 

We will enjoy royal status. We will not be subjects, employees, homeless, malnourished or mistreated in any way. We will be forgiven, pure, holy and one with God.

The older I get, the closer I am to this day. When I get discouraged with the way things are going on Earth, all I have to do is look up. A better day is coming.

A day worth waiting for.

A day worth dying for.

A celebration for conquering.

 

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.

Romans 8:18-19

The prominent, the unknowns and the evil ones …

The New Testament begins with, of all things, a genealogy. Matthew, a former tax collector and one of Jesus’ 12 apostles, wrote his Gospel letter to a Jewish audience, to prove that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.

In that vein, he began his genealogy with Abraham – who the Jews considered their father – and included David, since the Messiah was to come through David’s line.

As with any group of people, some of Jesus’ descendants were prominent, such as Isaac, Jacob, Solomon, Jehoshaphat and Josiah. Some are unknowns. (Even among Jesus’ 12 apostles, we know quite a bit about a few of them, and not much about most of them.)

A few in this list were downright evil, including Joram (Jehoram), Ahaz and Amon. Yet they were ancestors of the savior of the world.

Each of these men had a purpose. I used a resource on my bookshelf, “Everyone in the Bible” by William P. Barker, copyright 1966 (history doesn’t change), to bring this genealogical list to life.

 

Abraham: The patriarch who was the father of the people of God … Promised a land and descendants, Abraham lived most of his life without either, having to live on trust. God entered into a covenant with Abraham, assuring him that He kept His word. Finally, in his old age, a son called Isaac was born to Abraham and his wife, Sarah. Abraham’s supreme test of faith came when God … ordered Abraham to sacrifice the boy. Abraham obediently prepared to carry out the orders, but was stayed at the last minute when God intervened … Appropriately, his name in Hebrew means “father of a multitude,” and he is revered as the spiritual ancestor of all Jews and Christians. Genesis 11-25

Isaac: Isaac accepted Rebekah as his wife after a trusted family servant brought her from Abraham’s home country to be his bride, and became the father of the twins, Esau and Jacob … Isaac became wealthy during his sojourn with the Philistines, and they became jealous … Isaac, in his old age, blind and feeble, was tricked by Jacob into bestowing his final blessing on Jacob, the younger son, instead of Esau, the older and Isaac’s favorite. Genesis 17-35

Jacob: Jacob – known later as Israel – was the father of the 12 sons whose families became known as the tribes of Israel. Jacob’s name means “supplanter,” and literally from his birth onward he tried to supplant his older brother, Esau … Esau, of course, was furious at his scheming brother, and Jacob fled for his life. During his flight, at Bethel one night, Jacob experienced the vision of God’s angels descending on steps to him – his first awareness of God’s plans for him … Jacob, with the many members of his family and his large flocks, journeyed toward Palestine. Jacob, however, remembered his past injustices to Esau and worried about the reception Esau would give him. After dividing his following into two forces, so that one at least might escape if Esau attacked, Jacob found himself alone. That night he dreamed that he wrestled with an angel … Shortly after, Jacob met his brother Esau, and was relieved to find that Esau held no grudge. Jacob then settled down to the quiet life of a family patriarch. Genesis 25, 27-37, 42, 45-50

Judah: Jacob’s fourth son, Judah was the progenitor of the tribe known by his name. He was involved with his brothers in selling Joseph into slavery … In Egypt, Judah pleaded that Joseph release their youngest brother, Benjamin, even offering to take Benjamin’s place, when Joseph pretended to frame his brothers with charges of non-payment for grain. Judah later received the privileges of the oldest son after his older brothers, Reuben, Simeon and Levi, disgraced themselves. Genesis 29, 35, 37 38, 43, 44, 46, 49

Perez: Judah’s older twin son through his incestuous relations with Tamar, his daughter-in-law, Perez was an ancient clan chieftain in the powerful tribe of Judah … Nothing of his life, however, is known beyond his parentage. Genesis 38:29, 46:12

Hezron: Hezron was a grandson of Judah and a son of Perez, and, according to the genealogies of both Matthew and Luke, an ancestor of Jesus. Genesis 46:12

Aram (Ram): He is mainly remembered because he was an ancestor of both David and Jesus. Ruth 4:19

Amminadab: A member of the tribe of Levi, Amminadab was the father of Elisheba, Aaron’s wife. Exodus 6:23 Perhaps the same (person, this) Amminadab was an ancestor of David, according to Ruth’s genealogy. Ruth 4:19-20

Nahshon: Aaron’s brother-in-law and a descendant of Judah, Nahshon was a “prince” of Judah who was an ancestor of David and of Jesus. He was also known as Naashon, Naasson and Naason. Exodus 6:23, Numbers 1:7, 2:3, 7:12, 17, 10:14

Salmon: A descendant of Caleb … he was the reputed founder of the town of Bethlehem. Although there seems to be some confusion in the accounts between Salmon and Salma, careful study seems to indicate that they were the same person: the husband of Rahab, the father of Boaz who later married Ruth, and the ancestor of both David and Jesus. Ruth 4:20, 21

Boaz: A well-to-do landowner of the tribe of Judah near Bethlehem, Boaz took pity on a young Moabite widow named Ruth who was working in his fields. The tender story of Boaz’s kindness and Ruth’s loyalty is the plot of the Book of Ruth. Ruth

Obed: Ruth’s mother-in-law by her first marriage, Naomi, looked after the young Obed. Obed was fondly remembered as the father of Jesse, David’s father, and an ancestor of Jesus. Ruth 4

books1

Jesse: Jesse is best remembered as the father of the great King David. He was a prominent man, perhaps the leader, at Bethlehem, and the father of eight sons. During David’s outlaw days, Jesse and his wife were sent to relatives at Moab for safety. He was undoubtedly elderly by that time, and probably did not live to see his youngest son crowned as king of the united monarchy. Although in David’s day the term “son of Jesse” was spoken with a sneer, to call attention to David’s humble origins, in time it came to be used as a synonym for the expected Messiah. Ruth 4:17, 22; 1 Samuel 16, 17, 20, 22, 25

David: Israel’s most famous king, David was considered to be the ideal ruler and the prototype for the promised Messiah, in Jewish thinking … Sent to soothe the emotionally ill King Saul with his music, David rapidly advanced in Saul’s court until his popularity made Saul insanely jealous. David fled for his life, and became leader of a band of outlaws. After Saul’s death on Mount Gilboa, David returned home, was made the king of Hebron and waged a long but successful war against the Philistines … David made Jerusalem the religious center of the new nation by bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the capital … He extended the nation’s borders in all directions, and brought prosperity and prominence to his people. His later years were marred by a sordid affair with Bathsheba … Incest, murder, rebellion and plots within David’s own household turned his final days into ones of deep trial … Nevertheless, David’s deep trust in God, his sense of justice, and his personal attractiveness were apparent until nearly the end of his life. The nation fondly remembered his reign as its golden age. 1 and 2 Samuel

 

Solomon: David’s 10th son and his successor to the throne, Solomon came to power principally because of the intrigues of his mother, Bathsheba, during David’s senility … He introduced the system of forced labor gangs to furnish manpower for his ambitious building programs, and broke down the old system of tribal rule with his well-organized administrative districts … The great Temple was but one of his ambitious building projects. To finance all this opulence, Solomon taxed his subjects so oppressively that the nation simmered with revolt during his last days. Although his wisdom and piety were extolled by some Biblical writers, Solomon was a shrewd, overbearing, worldly, comfort-loving dictator. 1 Kings 1-14

Rehoboam: The stubborn, arrogant son of Solomon, Rehoboam succeeded Solomon as king of the nation in 937 B.C. … Rehoboam insisted on continuing Solomon’s policies. The northern tribes, never welded to the united kingdom, promptly seceded. Rehoboam, forced to retire in humiliation to Jerusalem, wanted to march against the 10 rebellious tribes, but was prevented by the prophet Shemaiah’s warnings and by Shishak of Egypt’s invasion. 1 Kings 11-12, 14-15

Abijah: Great-grandson of David, Abijah was the favorite son of Rehoboam. He ruled Judah for about two years at a time when Jeroboam had been king of the northern kingdom, Israel, for about 20 years. The Book of Kings states that Abijah continued all the sins of his ancestors. Chronicles, however, portrays him as a defender of the faith whose moment of glory came when he defeated Jeroboam’s larger army and captured three Israelite cities and great booty. 2 Chronicles 11-14, 1 Kings 14, 15

Asa: The king of Judah from about 918-877 B.C., Asa was one of the few rulers who tried to bring about some social and religious reforms. He was also an energetic builder, astute statesman and competent military leader. During most of his long reign, Judah enjoyed a breathing spell of prosperity, peace and morality. In his old age, however, Asa showed a lack of trust in the Lord by buying protection from the Syrian king, Ben-hadad, when Baasha, king of Israel, mobilized against Judah … Not long after, he contracted a painful foot disease, regarded as punishment for his failure to trust. 1 Kings 15-16, 22:41-46

Jehoshaphat: The king of Judah who was the son and successor of Asa, Jehoshaphat tried to be a model of piety and a guardian of the faith by sending teachers of the Law throughout the kingdom and closing down Baal shrines. Probably his biggest contribution was to stop the long-running feud between Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. However, when Jehoshaphat married his son to Athaliah, daughter of Israel’s notorious Jezebel and Ahab, he unwittingly brought trouble … His 25-year reign was considered a high point in Judah’s history. 2 Chronicles 17-22

Joram (Jehoram): The son and successor of King Jehoshaphat of Judah. To seal an alliance between his father and Ahab, king of Israel, Jehoram was given the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, Athaliah, as his bride. Athaliah dominated her husband, persuading him to reintroduce and encourage Baal worship in Judah. Jehoram even stooped to murdering his six brothers when he was crowned king. During his sorry reign, Libnah and Edom broke away from Judah. He was so loathed by his subjects that when he died they refused him burial in the royal tombs. 2 Chronicles 21:1-16, 22:1-11

Uzziah: Amaziah’s son and successor as king of Judah, Uzziah became king at the age of 16 and ruled 52 years. During his long reign, he successfully defended Judah against the belligerent Ammonites, Philistines and Arabians, developed a strong standing army, and rebuilt the nation’s fortifications … In spite of the continuation of cults, contemporary historians gave Uzziah high marks for his religious devotion. He was so crippled with leprosy toward the end of his reign that he was forced to turn over the government to his son, Jotham. 2 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 26

Jotham: A contemporary of the prophets Hosea, Isaiah and Micah, Jotham ruled as de facto king during the last years of King Uzziah’s life, when Uzziah was ill. After the death of his illustrious father Uzziah, Jotham succeeded to the throne of Judah and proved to be an able administrator. He subdued the Ammonites, built the upper gate of the Temple, and was highly regarded by Hebrew historians. 2 Kings 15

Ahaz: Eleventh king of Judah, Ahaz was Jotham’s son and Hezekiah’s father. His 16-year reign (about 735 B.C. to about 720 B.C.) was the backdrop for the prophet Isaiah’s great career. Ahaz preferred to play international politics rather than heed Isaiah’s sound advice … Inevitably, Ahaz and Judah came out as losers, paying expensive “presents” to larger powers. A superstitious dabbler in idolatrous cults, Ahaz left his country weakened morally and financially. 2 Kings 15-17

Hezekiah: The famous reform-minded king of Judah, Hezekiah … successfully led his country through the frightening days when Assyria was sweeping over the world in the eighth century B.C. … Hezekiah heeded the prophet Isaiah’s advice and stood fast. The Assyrian King Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem suddenly and miraculously ended when a plague decimated the Assyrian army. Even today, visitors to Jerusalem can see Hezekiah’s tunnel, the conduit through rock which brought water into the city during the siege – one of many projects initiated by the energetic king. After the glorious deliverance from the siege, Hezekiah launched a long-needed reform of morals and religion in the nation. 2 Kings 16, 18-21

Manasseh: The son and successor of King Hezekiah of Judah, Manasseh became king at age 12, upon his father’s death. An anti-reform group used the boy to stop the reforms in worship and morals begun by Hezekiah. For many years, Manasseh outdid himself to accommodate cults and please their adherents. He even practiced human sacrifice, using his own son. The prophets attributed the fall of Jerusalem to the cruelty and superstition that was allowed to flourish during most of Manasseh’s 55-year reign … According to the Chronicler, Manasseh was taken prisoner briefly by the Assyrians in his later years, finally realized his disobedience to God, and was allowed by God to return to Jerusalem, where he mended his ways before he died. 2 Kings 20, 21, 23, 24, 2 Chronicles 33:1-23

Amon: The king of Judah who succeeded Manasseh, Amon reigned two years in a dreary repeat of his father Manasseh’s immorality, luxury and corruption. He was assassinated in a palace intrigue (639 B.C.), and died unmourned. 2 Kings 21

Josiah: The king of Judah whose reform staved off the collapse of the kingdom for a few years, Josiah was the son and successor of the notorious King Amon. He was crowned when he was only 8, after his father’s assassination, and began his active rule when he was 18. At the suggestion of the high priest Hilkiah, Josiah ordered the Temple repaired. During the repairs, a lost book of the Law was discovered (what we call Deuteronomy). When this was read to the King, he ordered its requirements observed, and took active steps to clean up the mess in Judah. Josiah effectively closed down the dozens of local shrines … and centralized all worship in Jerusalem … He died as boldly as he lived: When Neco, the Egyptian pharaoh, invaded northern Palestine, Josiah recklessly jumped into battle and lost his life at Megiddo. 2 Kings 16-34

Jechoniah (Jehoiachin): The son of King Jehoiakim of Judah, Jehoiachin was the last king of Judah before Nebuchadnezzar snuffed out the valiant but faithless little nation. Succeeding a father who left the kingdom in a hopeless condition, 18-year-old Jehoiachin ruled only three months … (He) was imprisoned during Nebuchadnezzar’s entire reign. He was finally released when Evil-Merodach replaced Nebuchadnezzar, and was kept under house arrest in Babylon for the rest of his life. 2 Kings 24:6-15, Jeremiah 22, 24, 28.

Salathiel (Sheatiel): A descendant of David and a son of King Jeconiah, Shealtiel was best remembered as the father of Zerubbabel. Ezra 3:2, 8.

Zerubbabel: The man who led the first group of dispirited exiles back to Jerusalem from Babylon, Zerubbabel was the governor of Jerusalem in the dismal days at the close of the Exile. Zerubbabel directed the resumption of worship, the rebuilding of the altar, and the foundation construction for the new Temple. A descendant of David, he was a member of the royal family. 1 Chronicles 3:19, Ezra 2:2, 3:2, 8, 4:2, 3, 5:2, Nehemiah 7:7, 12:1, 47.

Abiud: Mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus (and not elsewhere) as the son of Zerubbabel. https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/abiud/

Eliakim: An ancestor of Jesus, Eliakim is included in Jesus’ family tree by both Matthew and Luke. Matthew 1:13, Luke 3:30

Azor: One of Jesus’ ancestors, Azor was listed in Matthew’s genealogy as a grandson of Zerubbabel. Matthew 1:13-14

Zadok: An important “chief of the people” after the Exile, this Zadok was one of the leaders in Jerusalem who joined Nehemiah in signing the covenant promising to keep the Law. Nehemiah 10:21

Achim: One of Joseph’s distant ancestors, Achim is mentioned only by Matthew in his genealogical table. Matthew 1:14

Eliud: One of Jesus’ ancestors, Eliud is listed in the genealogy of Joseph by Matthew. Matthew 1:14-15

Eleazar: He was listed in Jesus’ family tree by Matthew as a son of Eliud, and Joseph’s great-grandfather. Matthew 1:15

Matthan: One of Jesus’ ancestors, according to Matthew’s list, Matthan is listed as Joseph’s grandfather. He is undoubtedly the same man as “Matthat,” whom Luke names as Joseph’s grandfather. Matthew 1:15

Jacob (Heli): The father of Joseph, who was the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus, Heli was also believed to be an uncle of Mary. Luke 3:23

Joseph: The kindly carpenter of Nazareth who agreed to go ahead with wedding plans although he knew his betrothed, Mary, was to have a baby, this Joseph was Jesus’ earthly father. He was a conscientious Jew who adhered faithfully to the Law, but was considerate enough to plan to spare Mary the indignities required by the Law. When he learned the Divine origin of her unborn Child, he immediately trusted God’s promise and married Mary. After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and the harrowing flight to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of male babies, Joseph resettled his family at Nazareth and lived the quiet life of a village builder-repairman. He was the father of several other children, but apparently died before Jesus began His active ministry. Matthew 1:16-24, Luke 2:4-43

Jesus: Born at Bethlehem during the last years of Herod the Great, Jesus, at His birth, was acclaimed God’s Chosen One by shepherds … Luke 2:8-20

 

Repentance is a practice, and other truths

 

Nuggets of truth I learned in a year-long study through several Old Testament books:

 

  • God’s definition of success is to be faithful, and we do that by meditating on His word.
  • We are on God’s team. He is not on our team.
  • Sometimes, we don’t understand God’s directions. But He sees the big picture.
  • The Christian life is a marathon. Jesus has already finished the race, and returned to help us through it.
  • What are my gods? Where do I spend my time? What do I think about during the day, and at night? What do I worry about?
  • God sometimes empties us before He can fill us.
  • Kindness leads people to repentance.
  • Christ redeems us, even if we are foreigners (as Boaz did for Ruth).
  • What do we do with our idols when they don’t work? We often prop them up, and keep using them – to our destruction.
  • Repentance: Turn away from sin, turn to God.
  • We have to ask for deliverance continually. This is sanctification.
  • I need to lead with confidence where God has given me influence.
  • The Psalms are like a waterfall. Singular verses are good, but they aren’t a waterfall.
  • The Psalms have the power to realign our hearts to God. They are cracking the vault of my buried emotions.
  • God used both success and trouble to shape David’s life.
  • Do I want to let God write my story, or do I want to write it for Him?
  • Hopelessness is pervasive today. We look in all the wrong places for hope.
  • Am I looking for relief, or relationship?
  • David inquired of the Lord …
  • I don’t know God’s timing.
  • We are living our lives in the middle of God’s throne room. We get to join God in what He is doing.
  • Win or lose, I should worship God.
  • Do I reflect on how merciful God is in my life? What do I dream about? Probably about me, not God. He rested on the seventh day to reflect on what He’d created.
  • Israel is a great nation because it has a great God.
  • Am I willing to trade my plan for His, even if I don’t see it fulfilled?
  • Many of our battles are internal – lust, greed, pride, self-centeredness. But the victory has already been won.
  • Repentance is a practice. I have to get rid of sin. Otherwise, the pain stays.
  • Obedience brings blessing. Disobedience brings judgment.
  • Church attendance isn’t enough. A personal encounter with God changes lives.
  • Israel trusted in the ark of God, instead of the God of the ark.
  • God will not be mocked. He expects His people to live differently than everyone else does.
  • God intends us to build each other up, even if others hurt us – the way David respected Saul.
  • God rested on the seventh day – not just to rest, but to reflect on what He’d done.
  • When a prophet shows up, usually there’s a reason and it doesn’t go well.
  • We can choose to sin, but we cannot choose the consequences. Stop before it starts. The longer we wait, the harder it gets.
  • God is just. We blow off sin. God does not. (For example, when David took a census of Israel toward the end of his life, he wanted to celebrate Israel’s size, not God’s power. God’s judgment for that cost 70,000 people their lives.)
  • God limited places of worship to keep pagan practices out, but Solomon worshiped at high places of pagan gods.
  • The focus is not what I need, but who I need.
  • God’s gifts do not ensure that we use them wisely.
  • We do not create wisdom. We discover it.
  • Learn from the mistakes of others. We don’t have to experience everything to learn lessons.
  • Even when we are distant from God, we can call out to Him for forgiveness.
  • The central Temple building is no longer needed. Our bodies are God’s temple.
  • Solomon fulfilled the Temple obligation; that was not devotion.
  • Leaders are to execute justice and righteousness.
  • Each day presents new opportunities to trust God or go our own way.
  • Not all adversity is because of sin, but if we face adversity, a heart check is a good idea.
  • Pleasure is only for a moment. God is forever.

 

 

 

Perfect justice will come

Justice and wisdom. They go together.

I found the best explanation of justice in a book on hope by Max Lucado. The best description of wisdom resides in another book, this one a novel.

Let me set the stage with this:

 

For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Corinthians 5:10

 

Justice

Lucado published a book last year (2018) called “Unshakable Hope: building our lives on the promises of God”. One of those promises is titled, “Justice Will Prevail.”

Lucado explains how that 2 Corinthians judgment will work. It makes a whole lot of sense.

You and I, along with each person who ever lived, is living or will live, one day will stand before God’s judgment seat.

Heaven requires that sins be paid. All of them. There will be no sin in heaven.

hope

How will God remove all sin from Heaven? One at a time. As long as it takes.

Here’s the picture Lucado paints of what judgment will look like.

Each of us individually will stand in a courtroom, God’s courtroom, and face our Maker. “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:12)

In those books are all of our works, good and evil. Every single one.

In an American courtroom, every defendant is allowed an advocate, someone to defend him or her. It’s not mandatory; we can reject assistance and stand before the judge on our own if we so desire.

On God’s judgment day, those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior will have an advocate as God reads off our sins. For example:

  • Bill made a comment behind someone’s back. Jesus: I died for that.
  • Bill ignored a person he could have helped. Jesus: I know. I have forgiven him.
  • Bill cussed under his breath, but a few people heard him. Jesus: I took care of that.

And on and on. Every single sin I have ever committed, and will commit, in my entire life. God will read them off.

Jesus will accept the punishment for each one of them.

There will be no secrets in Heaven, no wondering, “What did he/she do down there on Earth?” We will be free, completely free, from all sin – and able to worship God and live for Him with our whole hearts.

When the list is ended, anything good I’ve done will also get read aloud by the living God, according to the verse I quoted in 2 Corinthians. God will celebrate all the good that happened (and is happening and will happen) down here on Earth.

This is the judgment of each one whom Jesus knows intimately.

But some people on Earth reject God.

God will honor that. And He will judge accordingly.

These folks will face the same judgment. They will stand before God, and He will read off their sins, one by one, just as He did mine.

But they will have no advocate standing next to them, offering to pay for their sins.

God, therefore, will declare them guilty – the only sentence He can pronounce.

Justice will prevail. For each and every one of us.

Wisdom

Justice plays out in a similar fashion in one of my favorite novels – “The Shack,” by William Paul Young. In a chapter titled “Here Come Da Judge,” we see two main characters: Mack, who is bitter over the kidnapping and death of his young daughter, and the judge, later identified as Sophia, the personification of God’s wisdom.

shack

Mack also has a wife and four living children. In this chapter, we learn that Mack, like many of us, is quick to judge just about everyone he meets – and he blames God for allowing his daughter to die.

How accurate are our judgments? God writes down all of our deeds, good and evil, in books that will be opened one day. But how much do you and I truly know about each other?

Since Mack was quick to condemn the killer of his daughter and God for allowing that scenario to play out, Sophia did something unusual. She got up from her judge’s chair and invited Mack to sit there. Judgment Day had arrived, and he was the judge.

Mack was unnerved. He felt unqualified.

But he judged people all the time, so he had lots of experience at it. He was qualified then, right?

Judge Sophia gave him a challenge: Only two of your five children can go to heaven. You must send the other three to hell. Which of your children would you sentence to hell?

When you put it that way, Judge …

But that’s what we do every day, don’t we?

Mack said he couldn’t do it. No way. Sophia said you must. You want to judge, you think God judges like this, then render your verdict.

Mack pleaded for his children, all of them. He said he’d take the punishment for their sins – send him to hell, let all of his children go to heaven.

Mack finally understood wisdom. Because that’s exactly what Jesus Christ did for His children.

There’s so much more to “The Shack” than this one scene. It’s a great book, and it came out as a movie two years ago.

The advocate

I’m glad I’m not the ultimate judge of anyone, even though I try sometimes. I don’t know your motives, why you do what you do. You don’t know my motives. Shakespeare said all the world’s a stage, and he was right. We’re all actors, and when we play a role, we can hide our true selves.

But we can’t hide from the living God.

That’s why His justice is perfect.

Each of us will get what we deserve.

The question is: Will you have an advocate with you on the Judgment Day? Only one advocate will be allowed in that courtroom, and he paid a very heavy price to claim that role.

A price that no one else can come close to paying.

That day will come. It’s been promised.

Will you be ready?

History unfolds before our eyes

Is the Earth billions of years old, as many people believe, or is it just a few thousand years old, as some creationists claim?

We received a good clue to this question 39 years ago, when on May 18, 1980, a relatively small volcano, Mount St. Helens in Washington state, erupted – causing more damage than any volcano in U.S. history, before or since.

Lessons learned

Because of the Mount St. Helens eruption, scientists know that sedimentary rock layers can form in only hours, rather than requiring millions of years.

Rapid outflow from the volcano caused massive amounts of sediment to fill in the entire valley adjacent to the mountain. And a 1982 dam breach of the snow-melt lake that had formed in the mountain’s crater caused a catastrophic flood that gashed those fresh deposits from two years earlier. To this day, the resulting steep-sided canyon walls can be seen, showing that horizontal sediment layers hundreds of feet thick were formed within hours during the eruption.

The eruption also showed that radiometric dating is not necessarily accurate and that God gave animals and plants the ability to rapidly re-colonize barren land, according to the Institute for Creation Research. A new rock cap atop the mountain that formed after the 1980 eruption should have shown it to be on the order of tens of years. But standard analysis gave the totally incorrect date of 350,000 years.

https://www.icr.org/article/a-30-years-later-lessons-mount-st-helens

25-foot layers formed in hours

Ken Ham, founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis – and the visionary behind the Creation Museum and nearby Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky, near Cincinnati – offered this commentary on Mount St. Helens in May 2000 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the eruption:

The events associated with the volcano’s explosion accomplished in seconds, hours or just a few days geologic work that normally would be interpreted as having taken hundreds or even millions of years. One particular canyon was formed, which has since been named the “Little Grand Canyon.” About 100 feet deep and somewhat wider, it is about 1/40th the scale of the mighty Grand Canyon. This canyon was formed in one day from a mudflow. A newly formed river then flowed through the Canyon formed by the mudflow.

I remember being taught in school that when you saw a canyon with a river running through it, you assumed that the river took a long time to erode the canyon. My teachers — not having known what happened at Mount St. Helens — would have concluded the same thing about the small river cutting through the Little Grand.

The erosion of this canyon enables scientists to see some of the layers that were laid down. What astonished them were features such as the 25-feet-thick deposit that consisted of thousands of thin layers. In school, I was taught that you assume layers like this were laid down at the rate of perhaps one or two a year. Then you could estimate how long it took for such a deposit to form, perhaps even millions of years.

However, this 25-feet-thick series of layers was formed in less than one day — perhaps even just three hours.

People around the world are indoctrinated by evolutionists who believe that layers like those we see at the Grand Canyon took millions of years to be laid down. That belief of “billions of years” is foundational to evolutionary thinking. What happened at Mount St. Helens is a powerful challenge to this belief.

The evidence here shows that one can logically accept that the Flood of Noah’s day — and its after-effects — could have accomplished extraordinary geologic work, carving out canyons and the laying down of sediments in massive quantities all across the globe — just as we see today.

Increasingly, most geologists — evolutionist or creationist — who have been to the Grand Canyon will now acknowledge that the Canyon was carved by a lot of water over a little period of time, not over millions of years.

https://answersingenesis.org/geology/mount-st-helens/mount-st-helens-evidence-for-genesis/

The canyon caused the creek

Ham isn’t the only one to reach those conclusions. Tas Walker of Creation Ministries International offers this commentary from July 2017:

The eruption demonstrated that geologic catastrophe can produce in hours and days geologic features previously believed to have taken millions of years. When we see what the volcano did in such a short time, we can better appreciate how the catastrophe of Noah’s Flood formed the much larger geological features on planet Earth.

For many years, geologist Steven Austin researched the geological effects of the Mount St. Helens’ eruption and its aftermath. He published extensively on how that catastrophe sheds light on the global catastrophe of Noah’s Flood, which is a key to confirming the Bible’s truth.

MOUNT ST HELENS

One of the many surprising results was a 25-foot-thick sedimentary deposit exposed in a cliff alongside the North Fork Toutle River. It is composed of finely-layered sediment. From eyewitness reports, photographs and monitoring equipment, it is known that this whole deposit formed in just three hours, from 9 p.m. to midnight on June 12, 1980.

It was deposited from black clouds of fine, hot ash mixed with gas, blasting at high speed from the volcano. Ash-laden and heavier than air, the flow surged down the side of the volcano and along the river valley at more than 100 mph, hugging the ground and depositing ash.

The big surprise was that the sediment deposited in fine layers called laminae. You would expect a catastrophic, high-speed ash flow to churn the fine particles and form a uniform, well-mixed deposit. Thus, it had been conventionally thought that fine layers had to accumulate very slowly one upon the other over hundreds of years. But Mount St Helens showed that the coarse and fine material automatically separated into thin, distinct bands, demonstrating that such deposits can form very quickly from fast-flowing fluids (liquids and gases).

Since then, laboratory experiments have shown that fine laminae also form quickly from flowing water. This shows how finely-layered sandstone deposits in other situations, such as some of the lower layers in the Grand Canyon, likely formed rapidly, which could have happened within the time-scale of Noah’s Flood.

The Mount St Helens eruption also demonstrated how canyons can be formed much faster and in a different manner than conventionally thought. Ongoing eruptions eroded the thick sediment dumped at the base of the volcano, producing multiple channels and canyons. One such channel was dubbed ‘Little Grand Canyon’, being about 1/40th the size of Grand Canyon … Someone coming across that canyon could easily conclude that it was eroded slowly and gradually by the small creek now running through it, over many hundreds or thousands of years.

However, this canyon was carved by a mudflow caused after a small eruption of Mount St. Helens melted snow within the crater on March 19, 1982. The mud built up behind debris, burst through it, and cut the canyon in a single day.

So, the creek did not cause the canyon. The canyon caused the creek.

Yet, by volcanic standards, even in historic times, the Mount St. Helens blast was relatively small, ejecting some 0.2 cubic miles of ash. The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD was three times larger, Krakatoa in 1883 was 18 times bigger, and Tambora in 1815 was 80 times larger. The volume of lava in the Deccan Traps in India is some 5 million times more. These indicate that volcanic eruptions during Noah’s Flood were millions of times larger.

When we consider the true immensity of the biblical cataclysm, and how it impacted the whole Earth, Mount St. Helens helps us envisage how Noah’s Flood explains the geology of the world, and how it happened so quickly.

https://creation.com/lessons-from-mount-st-helens

Fast destruction

Lifescience.com, a science news website (and not a creationist organization), corroborates details about the eruption:

Mount St. Helens was once a beautiful, symmetrical example of a stratovolcano in the Cascades mountain range in southwestern Washington, rising to 9,600 feet above sea level. Then, on May 18, 1980, the once-quiet volcano erupted and blasted off the upper 1,000 feet of the summit. A horseshoe-shaped crater and a barren wasteland were all that remained.

Since then, the land has healed and recovered much of its natural beauty, but it’s likely Mount St. Helens won’t stay quiet forever …

On the morning of May 18, Keith and Dorothy Stoffel were making an aerial survey of the volcano when they noticed a landslide on the lip of the summit’s crater. Within seconds, the whole north face of the mountain was on the move. Just as they passed around to the east side of the mountain, the north face collapsed, releasing superheated gases and trapped magma in a massive lateral explosion. Keith put the plane into a steep dive to gain the speed to outrun the cloud of incandescent gas; Dorothy continued to photograph the eruption through the rear windows of the plane as they made their escape.

The abrupt release of pressure over the magma chamber created a “nuée ardente,” a glowing cloud of superheated gas and rock debris blown out of the mountain face moving at nearly supersonic speeds. Everything within eight miles of the blast was wiped out almost instantly, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The shockwave rolled over the forest for another 19 miles, leveling century-old trees; all the trunks neatly aligned to the north. Beyond this “tree down zone” the forest remained standing but was seared lifeless. The area devastated by the direct blast force covered an area of nearly 230 square miles.

Shortly after the lateral blast, a second, vertical explosion occurred at the summit of the volcano, sending a mushroom cloud of ash and gases more than 12 miles into the air. Over the next few days, an estimated 540 million tons of ash drifted up to 2,200 square miles, settling over seven states.

The heat of the initial eruption melted and eroded glacial ice and snow around the remaining part of the volcano. The water mixed with dirt and debris to create lahars, or volcanic mudflows. According to U.S.G.S., the lahars reached speeds of 90 mph and demolished everything in their path.

The 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption was the most destructive in U.S. history. Fifty-seven people died and thousands of animals were killed, according to U.S.G.S. More than 200 homes were destroyed, and more than 185 miles of roads and 15 miles of railways were damaged. Ash clogged sewage systems, damaged cars and buildings, and temporarily shut down air traffic over the Northwest. The International Trade Commission estimated damages to timber, civil works and agriculture to be $1.1 billion.

https://www.livescience.com/27553-mount-st-helens-eruption.html

A new view of history

The eruption of Mount St. Helens provides a unique look into the history of Earth. We saw rock formations develop before our eyes – formations that scientists previously thought took thousands or millions of years to grow.

The same science applies to the Grand Canyon, which proves that Noah’s Flood covered the Earth – and quickly.

Is Earth only a few thousand years old? I can’t say, of course. I wasn’t around when Earth was created. But the evidence suggests that it’s not as old as many people think it is.

We have the eruption of Mount St. Helens to thank for a lot of that.

True love changes us

Love people just as they are.

Yes and no.

Yes, all people are created in the image of God and have specific gifts, talents and abilities. Even more than that, each of us has a purpose here on Earth.

I accepted Christ as my savior as a teenager mainly because counselors and other campers at a church camp I attended accepted me for who I was, even though I did nothing to earn their love. I wanted what they had, and it was Jesus.

Love people just as they are.

No. God loves us too much to leave us there. Accepting Jesus as my savior was the starting point, not the final destination. The road of life needs to be re-paved; the old one eventually will wear out.

If we claim to follow Jesus, we must grapple with this:

 

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? On what will they give in return for their life?”

Matthew 16: 24-26

 

And this:

 

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Mark 1:14-15

 

Deny themselves? Take up their cross? Repent?

No wonder Jesus said the way of life is narrow and few will find it (Matthew 7:14).

Deny themselves

I’ve written about this several times recently, and gotten some push-back from it – not surprisingly. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. The world doesn’t revolve around me. Or you.

The church I attend has a term for this: Live surrendered.

It’s not easy, certainly.

I do not have this life (or the next life, for that matter) all figured out. There’s plenty I don’t know. Am I willing to learn?

We all know how difficult justice is to find in our court systems. Lawyers gather as much evidence as they can, for and against, and the jury weighs the evidence and makes a decision. That’s the best we can do.

Yet sometimes innocent people are convicted, and occasionally guilty people go free. It happens. We know this.

Is there a better way? Is there such a thing as true justice?

Yes, there is. But we might not get it until the next life.

At that point, when we see what justice really looks like, we might wish we didn’t have to face it. Because all of us will have to face it.

That’s a column for another day.

The point is: I don’t have all the answers. I know someone who does. That someone is the One who created me. Sometimes God will tell me what the answers to my questions are, sometimes He will not. I follow Him anyway. This is called trust.

I trust that God’s way is better than my way. (Sorry, Frank Sinatra.) That’s what denying ourselves means.

Take up their cross

Yikes. The cross is an instrument of death. We wear it around our necks as jewelry, build them alongside highways and hang beautiful ones inside our churches.

Crucifixion is one of the most horrific forms of death man has ever devised. The purpose – the only purpose – of a cross is to kill someone.

Jesus had a cross. We know that. But he said that followers should take up their cross. Do we have to die too?

In a sense, yes, we do. For the wages of sin is death … (Romans 6:23)

We earn wages. Sin has a price. It’s death.

What is sin? Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4)

So, sin is breaking God’s laws.

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (James 2:10)

If we think this through, we know this is true. If I’m guilty of theft, I’m not necessarily guilty of murder, but I’m still guilty of breaking the law and I have to serve a sentence for the theft I committed. Right?

So, sin is breaking God’s laws.

What are God’s laws?

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

How do we do that?

On one level those words are easy to understand. But it takes a lifetime to fully know how to love God and love people. (Quick note: Do we love God with ALL our heart, soul and mind – or just with the parts of our heart, soul and mind we want to give to God? We aren’t allowed to interpret the Bible the way we’d like. We either follow it, or we don’t.)

Repent

Gotquestions.org has a good explanation of repentance:

In the Bible, the word repent means “to change one’s mind.” The Bible also tells us that true repentance will result in a change of actions (Luke 3:8-14, Acts 3:19). In summarizing his ministry, Paul declares, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20). The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action.

Love them as they are? Yes. But that’s only the starting point.

Why change?

“No slave can serve two masters … You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13)

“They (my followers) do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” (Jesus, in John 17:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Denying oneself. Taking up our cross. Repenting. And following Jesus.

This is what true love is.

An unexpected blessing

You have a story. So do I.

Our pastor began his Easter Sunday sermon by saying that.

Jesus has a story, he said. The apostle Peter also has a story.

I won’t re-tell his sermon. It’s excellent. You can listen to it here, if you’d like:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLHjQKzbevhK_vJCFUmIKGdsdIoyrmQ2b3&v=-hH6-6wxwWM

 

Our youth pastor recently began an after-school basketball ministry on Thursday afternoons, and I’ve been helping him with that. Not that I’m any great shakes at basketball – I’ve never played in any kind of organized league – but it’s fun.

After playing for a bit and working up a sweat, our youth pastor, Joe, stops the games for a breather and a devotion. He asked me to lead the devotion last week.

Rather than give a Bible lesson or (even worse) a sermon to a group of teens and early 20s ballplayers, I decided to tell a story. Because we all have stories.

My wife and I had just joined a church in Saginaw, Mich., and when I discovered they had a slow-pitch softball team, I decided to sign up. Baseball is my favorite sport, so I thought I’d give softball a shot.

My very first game turned out memorable. As the new guy who few people knew, I played right field. Our church fielded two teams that year, and the first game was against our church’s other team. So just about everybody knew each other.

Early in the game, a batter on the other team hit a short fly ball to right-center field. I can catch this, I thought, so I went running in towards the ball.

Slow-pitch teams field four outfielders. Our fourth outfielder was a high school tennis player, a good athlete with a strong body. He was playing behind second base a little toward left field. He raced after the ball too.

Not knowing each other’s skills, we didn’t account for each other. Both of us ran as fast as we could toward the fly ball. Joel caught it. I crashed into his body, hard, and crumpled to the ground. I didn’t get up.

My teammates quickly gathered around me and realized I needed to visit the emergency room. I was loaded into the van of one of the players on the other team (who remains a good friend to this day), and John transported me to the ER.

I had a broken wrist and a fractured cheekbone.

Nurses placed me on a hard table in the emergency room. Since it was after hours, they had to call an orthopedic surgeon from home to treat me.

It took some time for the surgeon to arrive. My pregnant wife was handling the paperwork for my unexpected visit. For a few minutes, I was left alone on the table, in more pain than I’d ever felt before.

At that moment I felt an unnatural calm come over me. I knew other people were praying for me but I didn’t know who they were. I knew that I would be all right.

I discovered later that at that moment, one of my teammates had put me on our church’s prayer chain. That’s a group of people, mostly elderly ladies, whose primary mission is to pray for people who have an immediate need. Even though I was new to the church and most of them didn’t know who I was, they prayed for me anyway.

I felt their prayers. For real, I did.

God works like this. In my most painful moment, God showed up, because people on Earth asked God to show up.

The surgeon arrived and after a few painful X-rays, he put my wrist in a cast and scheduled an appointment at his office in 10 days to check on progress. Thankfully no bones were displaced in my face, so he just authorized some pain medication and let my cheekbone heal on its own. I had quite the black eye and the pain in my face lasted a couple of weeks before it healed.

My wrist didn’t heal quite so smoothly. I eventually had surgery on it.

Needless to say, these injuries put me on the disabled list for the rest of the summer. I still attended as many games as I could. I went out for the team the next year – indeed, I played for about 25 years, and have many wonderful memories of the people I played with.

My only concession? I shy away from contact to this day, especially around my head. One injury like that was enough for me.

But even in that unexpected, painful moment, God showed up and did something special, something that I still remember and will continue to remember for the rest of my life.

When those ladies prayed for me, God could have healed me miraculously, but He didn’t. Instead, God gave me the strength to get through the pain – and the healing process, including the boring rehab.

God frequently doesn’t take away our pain, suffering or sorrow. Instead, He gives us the strength and whatever else we need to endure it.

This builds our character – and gives us stories we can share with others who might be enduring a similar struggle.

When we are in our darkest moments – when the storms of life are coming on strong – that just might be when the living God shows up. When I was hurting the most in the emergency room, that’s when God gave me assurance that I would be all right.

As long as the living God is my guide and I follow His direction, I’ll be fine. There may be more pain and heartaches along the way – I’ve attended several funerals already this spring, for example – but God will give me what I need to get through it.

As He will you.

Science proves Jesus’ authority

“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Matthew 7:21

 

We have a pretty good understanding of half of Jesus. Here in the United States, we understand His humanity fairly well.

The human Jesus

When Jesus says things like feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit those in prison, we can wrap our minds around that. A fair number of us do some of those things.

Jesus said, love your neighbor as yourself. Do to others as you would have them do to you. We quote these every so often (more so to get others to do to us, rather than us loving them, actually).

We compare ourselves with the Jesus who walked the Earth. He became one of us. We love the warm fuzzy Christmas story when Jesus was born.

Do we ever let Jesus grow up? We prefer Him as a baby, where we can hold Him in our hands, and tell Him what to do.

The other half of Jesus, however …

The divine Jesus

If you read the Bible at all – Old Testament as well as New Testament – you’ll discover rather quickly that Jesus also is divine. Jesus is God Himself.

This part of Jesus we have a hard time understanding.

I’ll give you just one proof of Jesus’ divinity. There are many others, I’m sure.

Before Jesus met the general public, He spent 40 days in the wilderness. This was an intense period with His Father, fasting and praying, learning and receiving the tools He would need to connect humans on Earth with God in heaven.

At the end of this period, Satan came to Jesus and tempted Him to sin three times. The third temptation went like this:

 

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,

and serve only him’.”

Matthew 4:8-10

 

I used to picture Jesus getting angry with Satan here, sending him to time-out like an unruly child.

I don’t think that’s the way it happened, though.

I think Jesus was laughing at Satan. Really.

Jesus the Creator

To put the temptation in perspective, listen to this 12-minute video from Louie Giglio, a pastor in Atlanta, Ga., who compared the earth, the sun and several stars to the size of a golf ball.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D37UtbViKRw

 

Jesus created those stars. The Bible makes that clear.

 

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in OUR image, according to OUR likeness …”

Genesis 1:26, emphasis added

 

God is one God, but He is plural. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three parts, one God. This is the divine side of Jesus. He is our Creator.

The apostle John understood this.

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and WITHOUT HIM NOT ONE THING CAME INTO BEING … And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory … full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-3, 14, emphasis added

 

Jesus, then, while born as a human baby on Earth, also was around before time began. He created all things.

Fully human, fully God.

Jesus created not only everything on Earth, He created our sun. He created our solar system. The Milky Way. Our galaxy. All the stars. All the galaxies, trillions of light years away and beyond.

God blows our minds

As Giglio describes very well, the vastness of God is beyond our comprehension.

If the Earth was a golf ball, he said in the video, the sun would be 15 feet in diameter. You could fit 960,000 golf balls inside the sun.

After describing several other stars, Giglio brought up Canis Majoris, the largest known star. If the Earth was a golf ball, he said, this star is the height of Mount Everest – almost six miles high. You could fit enough golf balls inside that star to cover the state of Texas – 22 inches deep.

Wrap your mind around that.

Watch the video. It’s awesome.

The tiny little powerless devil

Now, picture Jesus on top of a very high mountain with Satan, where Satan is offering “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if only Jesus would worship him. That’s impressive, right?

Not to Jesus.

All Satan could offer Jesus was a golf ball – and even that only because Jesus gave it to him.

This is how much power God has.

Satan is barely a speck in the circle of life compared to the vastness of the universe that the living God made.

That’s why Jesus flicked Satan away like a fly on the wall. “Get away from me. You got nothing.”

I can picture Jesus saying that.

Jesus knows us intimately

And yet, this Jesus, who created the golf-ball-size Earth as well as the sun, stars, galaxies and all the vast universe, wants to have a relationship with you and I. We are just specks on that golf ball, and yet He cares about us.

If you let Giglio’s video run, he’ll take you to another part of the same talk, where he explains how small and detailed God is – down to the tiniest atom in our bodies, and parts of atoms that God (Jesus) also created.

It’s mind-blowing.

The God of vastness, the God of minute detail – this is who we worship.

What better time to discover this than Passion Week? That’s Christian jargon for the week Jesus was crucified and resurrected.

Jesus didn’t have to do that. He flicked Satan away, yet He didn’t kill him. He let Satan rule the golf ball. Then gave us humans a way out.

Satan still rules Earth, but only because God lets him. Satan’s time is short, and he knows it.

Attend church this weekend. Discover for yourself who the true God is.

Not the god of Earth. All he can offer you is a golf ball.

Worship the God of heaven. He offers you life.