How often do you read a statement that causes you to pause and do a double-take? You read it again, and it starts burrowing into your soul because the truth is that powerful. The demand for some kind of response stirs deep within. I came across such a phrase today: “…the effectual communication of the gospel, resulting in salvation.” Whoa. To coin a phrase from David—pause and think about that!
Does that mean if we, as obedient Christians, communicate the gospel actively and with energy (the Greek definition of the word effectual), we’ll see people come to a saving knowledge of grace? I think it does.
When Peter spoke of the sincere milk of the Word by which we grow, he was portraying the pure, unadulterated teaching of the Word of God, without foreign mixture; no folds or wrinkles. Interesting word painting. Pure. No add-ins of man’s ideas, nothing dangerous or sneaky hidden in the folds of a covering agenda of our own. Nothing but the effectual communication of the gospel that results in salvation for those who hear us.
The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – so help me, God! The pure, unadulterated teaching of the Word of God. Ours is not an “I-think” religion. We must teach according to the truth found in the Bible, or be wrong no matter how eloquent we are, AW Tozer wrote.
We commit grave error if we proclaim anything less than the true gospel to those who so desperately need to hear of God’s redeeming grace. We worship in vain if we hold forth the doctrine of God while we also hold dangerous philosophies in the folds and wrinkles of our declarations. A bit of truth stirred in with false doctrine is an effective trick of the enemy of human souls.
“Knowledge is essential to belief.” Our effectual communication of the gospel will result in the salvation of the lost. When we know the truth, God can use us to show others the freedom therein. Energized by the power of the Holy Spirit within, and active in obedience to His sending us out, we can be part of a growing kingdom of God. Pause and think of that!
The gifts have been open and the guests have gone home. As the Christmas season winds down and Jesus’ birth is still at the forefront of our minds, let us use this time to look at some of the myths and questions surrounding His first coming. Just like with every other aspect of our faith, it is important that we get the story right, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year whenever the opportunity arises.
We Three Kings?
Many myths have developed concerning the wise men, or Magi, that visited Mary, Joseph and Jesus and then fled, refusing to go back to Herod with their location. Some of these are:
- There were 3 men.
- They were kings.
- They visited the newborn Jesus in the stable.
- Their names were Bithisarea, Melichior, and Gathaspa.
None of these things are true and can make Christianity seem more like a myth than factual history. This is quite a shame, since the real history of the Magi is much more interesting than any of the made up stories.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. (Matthew 2:1-3, NKJV)
Although the gospels record very little in terms of who the Magi were or how many came to visit the Messiah, we can look to history as well as the book of Daniel for more details. The Greek word for “wise men” was magoi, which is transliterated as Magi. The Magi were a Median priesthood, not kings, whose specialty was dream interpretation. They are the very group that Nebuchadnezzar II summoned to interpret his dream in Daniel 2. Under both Nebuchadnezzar and subsequent Persian rule, Daniel was entrusted as “Chief of the Magi.” The most likely scenario is that Daniel imparted Messianic prophecies to the Magi under his charge, which were passed down for generations until the appearing of the star after the birth of the Messiah. The assumption that there were only three Magi is based on nothing more than the number of gifts that were given. Since the Bible does not say, there could have been anywhere from 2 up to a significant number and there is no record of their names. Chuck Missler had this to say in his article, “Who Were The Magi?”
In Jerusalem, the sudden appearance of the Magi, probably traveling in force with every imaginable oriental pomp and accompanied by adequate cavalry escort to insure their safe penetration of Roman territory, certainly alarmed Herod and the populace of Jerusalem. Their request of Herod regarding the one “who has been born King of the Jews” was a calculated insult to him, a non-Jew who had contrived and bribed his way into that office.
When one considers the practices of the ancient world, along with the fact that the coming of the Magi troubled all of Jerusalem, Missler’s description could be closer to the truth than some of the traditional tales.
Finally, we can say with near certainty that the Magi did not visit the family in the stable as most Nativity scenes depict, but rather some time later in a house, as mentioned in Matthew 2:11. For more information and a possible timeline of the Christmas story, including the timing of the visit of the Magi, I recommend an excellent article written by Bodie Hodge and Tim Chaffey and published by Answers in Genesis, entitled, “Christmas Timeline of the Biblical Account.”
The church fathers first proclaimed December 25th to be the birthday of Jesus in AD 440,. The date was chosen because of it’s proximity to Saturnalia (a Roman festival in honor of Saturn) and other pagan holidays. After Constantine’s Edict of Toleration legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire, the church began to replace beloved pagan festivals with Christian holidays. Since the people were used to celebrating at this time, it seemed to make sense to give them a new holiday honoring Jesus instead of the false gods. There is no basis in history or the Bible for the birth of Jesus occurring on December 25th. Many scholars believe the birth of Jesus actually occurred around the end of September. (See here, here and here.)
A couple of years ago, I read a Facebook post decrying the “bad theology” of the song, “Mary, Did You Know,” based on the belief that Mary did not need to be delivered (“…this child that you’ve delivered will soon deliver you…”). While Mary was a godly woman, who was shown favor from God, she was just a person. She was not divine, not the mother of God and not born free from original sin. Romans 5:12 tells us that, “…through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…” and Roman 3:23 says, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” All means all. There is no exception given anywhere in Scripture for Mary because she was shown favor to be the human mother of the Messiah.
Why Didn’t Mary Name Him Immanuel?
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14, NKJV)
In light of this prophecy, some wonder why Mary named the baby Jesus (actually Yeshua) instead of Immanuel. Matthew sheds some light on the subject.
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Mt. 1:22-23, NKJV)
As Matthew indicates here, Immanuel was a description or title given to Jesus, meaning that God came down to dwell with humanity. Similarly in Isaiah 9, “…His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” All of these are descriptions or titles and would not be expected to be literal names given to the Messiah when He was born to Mary.
Does the Virgin Birth Matter?
This is an issue that has stirred much controversy in recent years, with some Bible teachers proclaiming that the virgin birth just doesn’t matter. While insisting later that he does believe in the virgin birth, Pastor Andy Stanley introduced a Christmas message this way…
It’s interesting because Matthew gives us a version of the birth of Christ, Luke does, but Mark and John, they don’t even mention it and a lot has been made of that. So before we jump in I just want to say one thing about that whole thing . . . if somebody could predict their own death and their own resurrection, I’m not all that concerned about how they got into the world because the whole resurrection thing is so amazing and . . . Christianity doesn’t hinge on the truth or even the stories around the birth of Jesus. It really hinges on the Resurrection of Jesus.
Other pastors have gone even further.
What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus has a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births?
Rob Bell from his book, “Velvet Elvis”
According to Scotland’s Herald, Rev. Andrew Frater wants Christians to “move on from the ‘fanciful, fairy tale’ Nativity story and ‘disentangle the truth from the tinsel.’” The report said Frater believes telling the traditional story of the birth of Jesus “had the effect of keeping people with doubts about their faith away from the church, as the Nativity was too easily dismissed.” He wrote in the newspaper: “This year I’m promising myself to be more theologically honest. No more going home with fanciful, fairy tale assumptions destined to make Good News seem incredible.” He said Christians should “look for the symbolism in the Nativity. Focus on “missiles and housing and unemployment” instead, he advised. The virgin birth, he said, leaves people “hung up.”… “Too much serious stuff is going on in the world for folk in my position to even risk the possibility of sounding remote, irrelevant or both,” he said. “For me, it’s time to travel beyond the literalists’ landscape; time to acknowledge that Luke and Matthew were not newspaper reporters. Although facts were for them significant, they were also secondary.”
From the article, “’Fairy Tale’: Many Pastors Don’t Believe Jesus Born Of Virgin,” wnd.com, 12/23/15
Does the virgin birth matter? Yes! Could we cease that one teaching today and continue with Christianity fully intact? The answer is a resounding NO! The truth is, Christianity does indeed hinge on the virgin birth, because without it, Jesus is just another person born into sin and, therefore, unfit to die as the sacrificial lamb in our place. Without the virgin birth, Jesus is neither holy nor divine. Without the virgin birth, everything else in the Bible comes into question, because if the very first chapter of the New Testament gets it wrong, then how can we assume that anything else within it’s pages is true? If, as the Scottish pastor claims, Luke and Matthew were not newspaper reporters and facts were merely secondary to them, then the implications to the entire gospel message are devastating. Our faith is not based on solving the serious problems of the world, but rather on trusting in the Son of God to save our souls from eternity without him, which leads me to my next point…
Did Jesus Come to Change the World?
During the month of December, it is all too common to hear conversations, songs or sermons about how Jesus came to change the world. This is perhaps a minor issue when compared to the others that I have addressed so far, but it is, nonetheless, important enough to get right. While Jesus did change the world in some very profound ways (for examples see, “What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?”), that is not why He came. The current state of the world with so much evil, pain and suffering, is a frequent talking point among those who have rejected Christianity and if His purpose were simply to change the world, then I would contend that those naysayers make a good point. However, when we preach the true gospel message, which is that Jesus came to save an inherently sinful people from eternal damnation and to bring reconciliation between God and man (the gospel of peace), then we have a better starting point in explaining why all of those bad things exist.
So, as you sit beside your Christmas tree a few more times, don’t let the New Year go by without pondering these questions. The coming of God to dwell among men and to die as one of us, a perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world, is one of the biggest miracles to ever grace this planet and it should not be taken lightly nor should it be relegated to just one month of the year. Happy New Year and may God’s blessings be upon you and your family in the 2018.
Our culture has changed drastically recently, with many traditionally held beliefs now being questioned and overturned, even to the point where those who still hold true to those beliefs are seen as morally wrong. The most obvious area where this has occurred is in the realm of sexuality, beginning with the sexual revolution years ago and leading to the influential LGBTQ movement today. There has been progression from sex being seen by our culture as a sacred act reserved for a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage, to teens being mocked if they haven’t had sex by the time they graduate high school, or earlier. Not only did the normalization of sexual relationships outside of marriage take hold in our society, but the created order of sex being between a man and woman is now rejected. Actually, the very lines and definitions that divide men and women are now questioned, but that’s another blog for another time.
Many in the LGBTQ movement claimed gay marriage wouldn’t lead to any other traditionally cultural taboo being embraced. They claimed there would be no slippery slope when the definition of marriage was opened and changed to include same sex marriage – but they were wrong. At this rate, the movement will not stop with the legalization of same sex marriage, but will continue to overthrow traditional, biblical standards and embrace relationships which are sinful and contrary to God’s plan. The arguments used to justify gay marriage – the often repeated “love is love” – can be used to justify other sinful relationships, too. If the definition of marriage, given by God, is removed as authoritative, why stop with gay marriage? If our argument is simply “love is love”, why is love limited to two people? Actually, many people have been asking this question for years, and have been pushing for legalization of non-monogamous marriages. Muslims in Italy right now are pushing for polygamy, men being allowed to marry multiple women (which many Muslims believe the Qur’an allows), and their legal argument is if homosexuality can be legal based on “love is love”, why can’t polygamy?
When God and objective moral standards are removed from the equation, why stop with homosexuality? Why not allow all types of “love”? In the past years, the American acceptance of polygamy has doubled, which can (in part) be attributed to the normalization of polygamous relationships in the media. Shows such as “Sister Wives” sparked the interest of millions of Americans, some of which asked the simple question, “Why can’t we marry more than one person?” The question is a valid one if our laws are simply based on our feelings. If “love is love” and objective standards are removed, polygamy would be a natural progression. Actually, why stop with one man and three women? Why not one man married to two women and two men, and why can’t these men also be married to other women? If absolute authorities are removed as the standard, such as the Word of God and morality as defined by God, why not? Love is love.
Actually, if love is love, why can’t someone marry him or herself? After all, our culture is obsessed with loving ourselves and being selfish and “me” focused, so why not allow people to marry themselves? Sologamy is the name given to self-marriage, and several people around the world have already taken part in these wedding ceremonies. Why not make it legal in America and give those people tax benefits? Why two? Why not one person married to him or herself, or five people together? Why is two the magic number?
The question is easily answered when God’s plan and purpose in creation and His Word are taken into account. However, when God and absolute authorities are thrown out the window, then who cares, love is love, isn’t it? Be prepared, just as the sexual revolution didn’t end with the normalization of casual, pre-marital sex, it won’t end with the legalization of gay marriage either.
Do you celebrate Halloween? If you answered, “yes,” then you agree with the majority of Christians in America. A 2015 Lifeway Research survey found that 54% of Christians believe that Halloween is “all in good fun,” and another 18% celebrate while avoiding the pagan elements. Only 23% of Christians avoid the holiday completely.
The majority opinion does not necessarily equate to truth, however, and the question that is too seldom pondered is, “Should Christians celebrate Halloween?” In preparing for this post, I spent time reading articles and listening to messages on both sides of this issue, including one writer who claimed that Halloween was, “more Christian than pagan,” and a pastor who argued that pagan roots cannot produce anything but pagan fruits. Let’s explore some of the facts surrounding this holiday.
Christian or Pagan Roots?
While there are Christian practices in the history of Halloween, it’s earliest roots can be traced back to Samhain (pronounced SAH-win). Samhain was a pagan festival that marked the final harvest and the end of summer for the ancient Celts, who lived a little over two millennia ago. It was held on the last night of the year and into the next day (October 31-November 1). October 31st was believed to be the one night of the year that the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds was thinned as Samhain, the god of the dead, allowed the spirits of those who died that year to return to visit their friends and family once more before being reincarnated (the good into humans and the bad into animals). The people would light up the hilltops with bonfires where they would offer sacrifices (both human and animal) to appease Samhain, the god of the dead, and don masks and costumes in order to ward off the evil spirits. (The word bonfire is believed to come from bone-fire because the Celts used bones to fuel their fires.) They would also put out banquet tables full of delicious food to welcome the wandering spirits of their loved ones.
After Rome conquered Celtic lands, (appx. 43 a.d.) they combined two of their festivals, Feralia (another festival of the dead) and Pomona (named after the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, whose symbol was the apple) with Samhain, co-mingling traditions from all three.
It wasn’t until the eighth century A.D. that the Christian, or to be more accurate – Catholic – aspects of Halloween came into the picture. It was during that time that Pope Gregory III expanded All Martyrs Day (a holiday that was established to coincide with the pagan Lemuria Festival) to All Saints Day or All Hallows Day and moved the celebration from May 13th to November 1st, in an attempt to Christianize the festival of Samhain. Thus, the preceding night became All Hallows Eve and eventually Halloween. In 1000 A.D., the church added All Soul’s Day on November 2nd and the trio of “Christian” holidays was celebrated much the same way as Samhain with bonfires and costumes.
Halloween was not commonly celebrated in America until the late 19th century after more than 650,000 Irish immigrants came here seeking relief from the potato famine. As they settled into this great “melting pot,” they introduced many of their cultural traditions to their new land, including Halloween. Although Halloween is celebrated in other countries, it is still most popular in America and Ireland. Following are some of the Halloween traditions and their origins.
Costumes are one of the most anticipated parts of Halloween for children and adults alike. As mentioned previously, this part of Halloween originates from the costumes that the ancient Celts donned in order to confuse and ward off evil spirits on Samhain.
Every October, throngs of children visit pumpkin patches, most in order to select the best pumpkin for carving their perfect jack-o-lantern. There are a couple of theories as to the origin of this practice. The first is the legend of stingy Jack, a man who made a deal with the devil in order to stay out of Hell when he died. Nevertheless, when his time came, he was rejected from Heaven because of his stingy life. When he ventured down to Hell, he was not welcomed there either, as the devil had a promise to keep. So, as he left to wander the earth, the devil threw a burning coal at him, which he placed inside a turnip to use as a lantern – hence the modern jack-o-lantern. Despite the dreadfully erroneous theology at the basis of this story, it is a reasonable explanation. The second theory is that the Jack-O-Lantern originated with the witches’ use of skulls with candles inside to light the path to their coven meetings.
One belief concerning the origin of trick-or-treating was that ancient witches stole the supplies needed for their festivals. Another connection is to the Druids (Celtic priests), who would go door to door begging for materials for their Samhain bonfires. Later, after the institution of All Soul’s Day by the Catholic church, the people began making and eating Soul Cakes for the dead. They believed that the more Soul Cakes they ate, the more souls they could save from Purgatory. The poor would go around their neighborhoods begging for soul cakes because they couldn’t afford them. (Interestingly, the concept of Purgatory developed not from the Bible, but from the Celtic belief that gifts and sacrifices offered to Samhain could help to lighten their punishment.) The “trick” aspect of trick-or-treating can be traced back to the belief that spirits would play tricks or make mischief if they weren’t provided with treats on Samhain.
Bobbing for Apples
This tradition was added to the Samhain festival by the Romans, who used bobbing for apples as a way to divine (foretell) who their future spouse would be. Apple divination was a common practice in Scotland and other cultures as well. For both the Celts and the ancient Romans, Samhain was a special night of divination. Celtic divination mostly revolved around human sacrifice, which was ended by the Romans.
Although the majority of people who celebrate Halloween consider it a secular holiday, Samhain is still practiced by Wiccans and neo-pagans and the church of satan describes Halloween this way, (note: this is a link to a Christian website. Please don’t carelessly visit the website of the church of satan or others like it. It is spiritually dangerous to dabble with things like that unless you are well grounded spiritually and have a specific, God-given reason to do so.)
Satanists embrace what this holiday has become, and do not feel the need to be tied to ancient practices. This night, we smile at the amateur explorers of their own inner darkness, for we know that they enjoy their brief dip into the pool of the “shadow world.” We encourage their tenebrous fantasies, the candied indulgence, and the wide-ranging evocation of our aesthetics (while tolerating some of the chintzy versions), even if it is but once a year. For the rest of the time, when those not of our meta-tribe shake their heads in wonder at us, we can point out that they may find some understanding by examining their own All Hallows Eve doings, but we generally find it simpler to just say: “Think of the Addams Family and you’ll begin to see what we’re about.” (emphasis mine)
Is the Bible Silent?
Often, Christians will excuse certain activities because, they say, the Bible is silent on the issue. There are indeed many things that the Bible does not directly address. In reality, the only way that the Bible could possibly address every issue that has arisen throughout 6,000+ years of human history would be to continue it’s writing indefinitely. However, the Bible does lay out principles that can guide us through every situation in life and Halloween is no exception. Let’s look at a few scriptures.
9 “When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you. (Deuteronomy 18:9-14, NKJV)
According to scripture, Samhain was and is an abomination to God and not only does virtually every aspect of Halloween have it’s roots in that pagan festival, but Samhain is still celebrated today by Wiccans, Neo-Pagans and others worldwide (appx. 3 million Wiccans and 1 million Neo-Pagans in America alone). This commandment still applies to us today. We are to be separate, in the world but not of it, and we should not adopt the wicked customs of our culture just because everyone else is doing it.
14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.” 17 Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.” 18 “I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18, NKJV)
Halloween is a dark day – I don’t think anyone would disagree with that – and New Testament scriptures instruct us to have nothing to do with darkness. Ephesians 5:11 tells us to, “… have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”
God takes spiritual darkness very seriously. The punishment for things like witchcraft and sorcery in the Old Testament was death. Why? Because our loving Father knows that those things will destroy us and He didn’t want them to have any part in the congregation of His people. So, why do so many believe that taking part in a holiday that glorifies darkness is okay? Romans 16:19 implores Christ followers to be innocent of evil and 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
My family celebrated Halloween until I was 10 or 11 years old, when my parents felt that God was leading them to stop participating. Since Matt made a personal decision in high school to stop celebrating, it was a given that we would not celebrate the holiday with our own children. In the early 2000’s, our church decided to directly confront Halloween in an attempt to reach out to our neighborhood. For several years, we held an annual “Dragon Slayer Party” with the theme of slaying the dragon (satan) as followers of Christ in order to bring souls into God’s kingdom. As with Harvest Parties, we invited the community to come in their costumes and join us for a meal, games and candy and during the night they would hear a short, casually presented Gospel message. Later, we held Harvest Parties at our house for our extended family. Our children and their cousins dressed in costumes, we had hay rides, bounce houses and candy. We tried to keep the party at least a couple of weeks before October 31st, but since half of the family celebrated Halloween, our younger children became confused and believed that we were celebrating Halloween just like everyone else. As we attempted to explain, they didn’t understand why Halloween was bad and what the difference was between Halloween and our Harvest Parties, so we stopped holding or attending Harvest Parties altogether.
As our children get older, our story may change, but we are committed to avoiding all appearance of evil in the form of Halloween and anything else that God convicts us of. Harvest Parties can be a great outreach, but we should always be careful to obey God’s command to, “come out and be separate,” which is what holiness is. One pastor that I listened to explained his belief that we should attract people to Christ, not through entertaining them but by just being different so that our friends and neighbors will realize that we have something they don’t and come to us for answers on Halloween and every other day of the year and I think that is the best that we can strive for.
When it comes to Christian apologetics, my logical side can really take over. The sheer number of facts supporting the Bible is so astounding to me that sometimes I neglect to impart the other side of the coin – experience. Revelation 12:11 tells us that the end times saints (followers of Christ) will overcome the enemy, the accuser of the brethren, “…by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” Very often, it is our testimonies of God’s faithfulness, of His working in our lives, answering our prayers, protecting us through trials and performing miracles on our behalf that can take someone from teetering on the edge of faith in Christ and propel them into His arms. I was recently reminded of this during a Sunday morning church service.
A couple of nights before, I was laying in bed struggling with some fear and anxiety that was preventing me from falling asleep. I prayed for deliverance, for God to help me to fully trust Him and prayed some scriptures over myself and my family. Eventually I fell asleep, but it was a restless night and I found myself awakened a couple of hours later. My husband woke up and we talked and prayed together and I felt quite a bit better the next day. Then, on Sunday morning, after praise and worship, our pastor came up to pray and started praying against fear and speaking one of the scriptures that I had prayed over myself that night. It may not sound like a lot, but it was so stunning to me that I had to check with my husband to make sure he hadn’t spoken with anyone from the church or asked for prayer for me. He had not. I sat there in church just so in awe of how much our Heavenly Father cares for each of us – how much He cared for me – that He would take the time to answer my specific prayers and comfort me in that way. Even the message that day, delivered by a guest speaker, spoke directly to my situation. God brought such peace to me that day that I am still amazed by it.
Over the last several weeks, I have been meditating on the many things God has done in my life that have shown me that He is who He says He is. While I have had what I feel is far more than my share of trials, I have also seen God work in some pretty amazing ways, some of which I would like to share with you.
One day in the first grade, I passed out in class. I can still remember coming back to consciousness and being very confused about what had happened. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there and I passed out many more times over the next couple of years. My parents tried many things, from following the advice of a Christian chiropractor who suggested getting me off of sugar to checking me into the hospital for testing. The EEG as a little girl was a little scary, but the cards and gifts I got from friends and family made up for it. They were never (to my knowledge) able to figure out what was going on. Over the next couple of years, I had frequent dizzy spells and passed out a couple of more times. Then, my dad gave me a notepad that his Christian boss had given him with Philippians 4:13 printed at the bottom of each page. He told me to pray that scripture – I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength – whenever I started feeling like I might pass out. I began to do that and God completely healed me.
When my husband (Matt) and I were dating in high school, I had gone up to Colorado Springs with him for a track meet. He was taking me home and we were using the time to study for a Bible college class we were taking together. We were traveling down a dirt road and hit some loose gravel on a curve and rolled his old 1980’s Plymouth. This was before everyone had cell phones and we were miles away from anything, but apart from being pretty shaken up, a scratch on his nose and some soreness in my wrist from bracing myself, we were perfectly fine. There is no doubt in my mind that He performed a miracle for us that day and that what the enemy meant for harm, God turned into a testimony. He certainly had His hand on us that day!
Years later, I was 6 months pregnant and involved in another car accident. Matt and I were youth pastors at my dad’s church at the time. I was at the church with our 2 year old (our oldest was playing at my parents’ house) preparing for youth group while Matt was still at work. As I was getting ready to head out to Pueblo West to pick up my little brother and his friend, my 2 brothers-in-law noticed something about my car that they thought they should look at. They suggested that I take my sister’s little Toyota Echo and leave my car there with them. I agreed and loaded Bethany’s car seat into my sister’s car and drove away. Fifteen minutes later, while waiting to turn left onto my parents’ street, I was rear-ended by a truck going 45-55 mph who didn’t see me before he reached down to pick something up off the floor. As you can imagine, the car was completely smashed, with the trunk pushed up to the front seat. It was nothing short of a miracle that both of my daughters (our unborn child as well as my 2 year old in the back seat) and I all came out unscathed. I had pain in my neck and back for awhile, but even that was healed after a local pastor at a multi-church event prayed for me.
These are 3 of the most significant events in my life where I saw God’s hand, but there have been many more, some just as miraculous, but too personal to write about here. This world is fallen and, until Jesus returns, will be a tumultuous place where we will face trials and heartache. However, when we belong to God, we will also see Him intervene mightily on our behalf throughout our lives.
God made us all different and while some, like me, will lean more on the evidence when telling people about Christ, others will lean more on their experience. The reality, however, is that we need both. With only our experiences, some will respond with doubts based on what they view as a lack of evidence and chalk our experience up to mere coincidence. However, if we rely on just the evidence, others will not see the real and present and loving Father that we know our God to be. Evidence combined with experience is the most powerful way that we can overcome the enemy and bring souls into God’s Kingdom. So, don’t neglect your story – it is God’s gift to you and He can use it to make a difference in the lives of others.
Our local newspaper recently announced that they would no longer allow religious letters to the editor. The managing editor is a professing Christian who says that his faith is critical to his life. However, in explaining his decision, he made some statements that are troubling.
“… no one knows for certain what the Bible says or means… The Bible has been translated so many times from so many different languages that no one knows if the original messages are intact. Yes, I know the argument that God guided the hands of all of those poor monks who translated and penned the Bibles, but we don’t know that.” (Read more)
While you would expect this opinion from those outside of the faith in an attempt to discredit the Bible, it is surprising how often it comes up in conversations with other Christians. This modern spin on Christianity, sometimes labeled as “Progressive Christianity,” takes some of the teachings of Jesus, combines them with New Age relativism and produces a new kind of faith that rejects God’s righteousness, man’s need for redemption and a single path to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In order to accomplish this, large sections of the Bible must be discarded, which is why the contention that the Bible is flawed and unreliable is the most common starting point. This perspective, however, lacks credibility when you examine the facts. Mr. Henson made two claims in his brief editorial and both are demonstrably false.
False Claim #1 – The Bible has been translated many times from many different languages.
The idea here is that the Bible was translated from one language to another until it eventually ended up in English and that, because it is so far removed from the original, we cannot trust it’s authenticity.
Truth – The truth is that the Bible has been translated into many different languages, but from only 3 original languages – Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Today, we have more than 5800 New Testament manuscripts that date as far back as 130 AD, which is within 50 years of the original writings. The Old Testament was validated by the Dead Sea Scrolls that were discovered from 1947 to 1956 and date back to 250 B.C. The Dead Sea scrolls verified the accuracy of the Masoretic text to within 1%. These manuscripts and scrolls are used in translating the Bible.
False Claim #2 – “No one knows for certain what the Bible really says or means.”
Truth – The number of manuscripts available to us implies just the opposite. We do know with extreme accuracy what the Bible really says and means. In addition to the 5800 manuscripts, we have more than 25,000 partial or complete early copies of the New Testament and over 36,000 quotations of New Testament writings from other works during the first few centuries of Christianity. Because of the number of manuscripts, there are, in fact, a large number of variants between them. Many use this as a criticism of the Bible in an attempt to prove that it is unreliable. However, only .5 – 1% of the variants are meaningful and none of these contradict essential doctrines of Christianity. (For some examples, read here and here.)
There is much more that could be and has been said on this subject but the fact remains that, when compared with other works of antiquity, the Bible is far and away the most reliable and documented ancient text in existence. Yet, it is the only work that is continuously attacked by critics who expect that most people will not look into the facts for themselves. Winston Churchill said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Many lies about God and His Word are spread by media, universities and other means, but the truth is out there if you are willing to take the time to find it, and in so many ways, it is indeed truth that will set you free.
Have you ever been in such a press of people as you were simply swept along with the crowd? It’s a scary place to find yourself. At a Carman concert many years ago, we were at the front of the crowd when the doors of the venue were opened. The surge from behind us propelled us forward with such force as I was immediately concerned with keeping my footing. A dangerous situation during which keeping up with the crowd sweeping us along was the safest response. When we had to choose an aisle to continue forward, the pressure from those behind us lessened as everyone spread out, and we were able to change our direction without the previous concern of fighting to remain upright.
There is a path in life where the crowd is thick and rushing forward, pushing and shoving, without hesitation, toward a destination generally given little thought. Their hurry is announced by their harried faces and hectic pace. They struggle to keep their footing as the pressure from the surging crowd behind sweeps them along.
Alongside this place is another entrance through which the population is purposefully progressing, with a lower count of people, and at a steadier gait. These have a determined forward stride, yet are marked with a peaceful countenance. Their path is actually narrower than the first way, and the walkway is difficult. But the travelers here encourage each other and cheerfully make their way toward the destination as a flint-faced team.
You and I stand at the entrance to the broad gate. It is labeled Heaven, just as the narrow gate is. The devil has no intention of allowing those on this broad way to be awakened to their fate if he can do anything to keep them blind and being pushed forward at a hectic, mindless pace. But we are responsible to warn them of their future if they continue on the way they’re taking.
Just as the Titanic was warned, just as the warning of “bridge out ahead” must be signaled to those racing toward danger, we must swing the light of the gospel that those on the wrong road may turn and take the right way, the only way, into the kingdom of God. We must hold forth the truth of the two paths that travelers may come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ and change direction toward safety. Carried along, pressed forward on the dangerous path, you and I may be their only hope. We must be prepared to share our hope – Christ within us, the hope of eternal security. The fate of those herded along the broad way toward eternal danger is at stake.
As late as 2014, 70% of Americans were still professing Christians.
In 2009, a Barna Research Study found that just 0.5% of American adults between the ages of 18 and 23 held to a biblical worldview. Some of the results of that study included:
- Just 28% of adults (and 47% of born again Christians – less than half) believe that it is impossible for someone to earn their way into Heaven through good behavior.
- 27% of all adults (40% of born again Christian adults) believe that Satan is a real force.
- 34% of adults (46% of born again Christian adults) believe in absolute moral truth.
In an article just released on May 9, 2017, Barna wrote:
- Only 17% of Christians who consider their faith important and attend church regularly actually have a biblical worldview.
- 61% of practicing Christians embrace at least one of the following ideas rooted in New Spirituality…
All people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being.
Meaning and purpose come from becoming one with all that is.
Karma – i.e. if you do good, you will receive good, and if you do bad, you will receive bad.
- 54% resonate with postmodernist views such as…
No one can know for certain what meaning and purpose there is to life.
What is morally right or wrong depends on what an individual believes.
If your beliefs offend someone or hurt their feelings, they are wrong.
- 36% accept ideas associated with Marxism.
- 29% believe ideas based on secularism.
Based on all of the above information, it is reasonable to conclude that our culture is at the peak of a post-Christian Era.
Why the disconnect? I believe that the answer lies in generations of Americans failing to impart their faith to their children and the next generation via apologetics and intentional discipleship. This may be the result of simply taking our faith for granted, assuming that our children will follow in our footsteps.
More often than not, though, I believe it is something far more serious.
- We don’t know what we believe.
- We have a general idea of what we believe, but we don’t know why and cannot defend it.
- We don’t fully believe – i.e. we have doubts that we have done nothing to resolve, scriptures that we don’t agree with, and/or doctrines that we believe are outdated.
This is where apologetics comes in. If you are new to apologetics, it comes from the Greek word, “apologia” which means, “to give a defense” as used in 1 Peter 3:15,
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear…” (NKJV)
In other words, we are commanded to be prepared to give a defense of our faith to all who ask. I don’t know if you have ever noticed, as I have, how much more prepared are people of other faiths in this respect than are we who serve the one true God and the Savior of the world. Muslims, Jews, Jehovah Witnesses, and others – especially atheists (yes, I consider atheism a faith) – can shut most Christians down very quickly in a religious discussion. To combat this and bring glory to God and people into His kingdom, we must study the scriptures daily and become skilled in apologetics. Read articles and watch videos produced by apologetics ministries, enroll in some online apologetics courses if you can afford it, but more than that, heed Luke’s words in Acts 17:11…
“These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (NKJV)
Luke commended the Bereans because, after listening to Paul and Silas, they would go home and study the scriptures diligently for themselves, which is how many of them came to faith in Jesus. The best way that I have found to do this is to download both a Bible app (I love You Version) as well as an app with a Bible Concordance (Blue Letter Bible is a great one that is available on both Android and iPhone – ask someone for help if you’re not sure how to use it) and read and study daily.
When I am reading, if I come across a verse that I don’t understand, I will look it up on my concordance app and look at each significant word in the original language, examine other scriptures that contain the word and try to get an understanding for myself of the verse (I learned this method from Chuck Missler). If I am still confused, I will do a Google search on the topic or verse and read articles and commentaries from trusted sites. If, after that, I still don’t understand, I will make a note in my Bible app (you could do the same in a prayer or devotional journal) and ask God to help me understand. It may take some time, but you can depend on God’s faithfulness to illuminate your understanding of His Word – after all, that is why the Holy Spirit came. This process will help you to become more solid in your faith with every passing day and enable you to defend your faith instead of wavering every time a challenge is raised.
Second, we cannot be afraid to ask questions. Some are raised to believe that questioning makes us “bad Christians,” but ignoring our questions can take us down a road toward rejecting Christianity altogether. God is not afraid of our questions, but tells us time and again to ask (Mt. 7:7; 1 Pet. 5:7; Phil. 4:6-7; Jer. 33:3). The error comes when we question with the wrong motivation – out of skepticism and doubt, in an attempt to rationalize our disbelief rather than in a quest for truth. The Pharisees were somewhat infamous for this kind of questioning, but one of them broke the mold.
John 3 records a late night conversation between a man named Nicodemus and Jesus of Nazareth. Nicodemus believed that Jesus came from God because of the signs that He performed, but was still unconvinced concerning Jesus’ identity. As Jesus expounded on why He came, Nicodemus asked many questions. Jesus did not rebuke Nicodemus as He did so many others, but patiently answered every question because He knew what was in his heart. It is believed by most scholars that Nicodemus became a disciple of Jesus, most likely as a result of this discussion (John 7:45-53; 19:38-42).
Third, we have to know what we believe. As evidenced by the statistics at the beginning of this article, it is far too common for Americans to call themselves Christian while rejecting many of the core tenets of the faith and accepting worldly teachings. Often, we don’t even realize that we are doing it. We see this as aspects of Eastern religions have infiltrated the church and the majority of Christians embrace Darwinian Evolution and other philosophies that stand in direct opposition to the Word of God. Some argue that things like this don’t matter, but these are the very things that have led many astray. Once we accept one concept or practice that goes against the Word of God, whether it be the age of the Earth, the method of God’s creation or anything else, it becomes easier to accept more and more until we are far away from God and don’t know how we got there. This is what Peter was talking about in 1 Peter 3:15. Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. “Sanctify” means to separate from profane things and make holy or to revere. Because God made Himself so accessible to us through the cross and the resurrection, it can be easy to forget about His holiness. Peter did not forget. Earlier in chapter 1, verses 13-16, he writes…
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
The Israelites of the Old Testament were chastised for adopting the practices of the foreign people that lived near and among them. This was not about race or ethnicity, but about the gods they worshiped and the pagan practices they engaged in. Throughout the Bible, especially the New Testament, we are called to sanctify ourselves, to behave as pilgrims and sojourners in this world, to be in the world but not of it, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, etc. Separation from the world is something that God has always called His people to and it cannot be accomplished apart from knowing what the Word of God teaches and making every word a part of our belief system. Apologetics and discipleship are an integral, but too often cast aside, part of our faith. It is not enough to go to church on Sundays. If we want to please God and to develop an unshakable faith that will sustain us through any trial or challenge, we must become engaged with His Word, find out what it says and learn how to defend it. Can you imagine having a relationship with another person who refused to listen to you, who dismissed half of the things you said as nonsense, or who allowed other people to slander you without ever raising their voice in your defense? It would be impossible and so it is with God.
Finally, and most importantly, we have to find a way to impart our faith to our children and the next generation. Deuteronomy 6:5-9 says,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (NKJV)
This verse is echoed verbatim in Deuteronomy 11:18-20 and in similar verses across all of Scripture (click here for more). Herein lies the solution to breaking through all of the competing voices that our children have to deal with on a daily basis. First, we are to love God with all of our being, with everything we have. Our children (and others that we influence) will see that and for better or worse, they have a tendency to imitate our behavior. We will never be perfect, but if they see us repent when we mess up and do what we can to correct it, then they will not see us as hypocrites but as fallen people who love God and are doing our best to serve Him.
Then, everything that we learn from God and about God, we are commanded to teach to our children continually – when we are sitting in our homes, driving to the store, out fishing or on a family vacation, before we go to bed each night and when we get up in the morning. This means placing God at the center of our lives and using every possible opportunity to talk about Him and His Word – not in a self-righteous manner as the Pharisees did, but with humility, reverence and love.
When we put all of this together – apologetics and intentional discipleship – it will give us and future generations our best shot at reclaiming our culture for God and becoming the people that He has called us to be.
“People will only see Jesus in us if they hear about him from us. There is no gospel without words.” John Piper
Yes, as believers in Jesus Christ we are born again. We have been redeemed. Our debt to God for our sin has been paid through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Being redeemed brings freedom that is glorious beyond words. Salvation is a free gift, a treasure discovered, the most important thing that happens in a believer’s life. As a receiver of this precious gift there should also be a longing and desire to share what we have. Unfortunately sharing faith is not a common practice of many Christians. According to the Barna Research Group, only 55 percent of born again Christians believe it is their responsibility to even share their faith at all. According to Dr. Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, only 2 percent of Christians share their faith on a regular basis.
What does it say when we have the cure to the biggest problem and cause of death, which is sin, and keep it to ourselves? Knowing the fate of those around us, how can we not share the salvation offered? A deep conviction should pierce every believer’s soul when scales are removed and spiritual eyes see a dying world. Paul was so concerned for his fellow man that if he could, he would gladly take their place.
We must remember our own salvation and that we are beggars showing other beggars where to find bread. Urgency should be stirred in us when we understand the person in front of us will face God on judgment day he needs to be warned of the wrath to come. Alerting them is our job and God draws them in unto salvation.
The more we mature and grow in Christ through prayer, His Word, and fellowship with believers, we will see that sharing our faith is not an option. We cannot stay inside of the church and keep what we know from others. “How then shall they call on Him of whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). Evangelism should be at the forefront of our minds as we interact in the world, looking for opportunities in our jobs and with our neighbors, opportunities when out in the community and with our family. Looking with spiritual eyes we will see opportunities daily.
Jesus said, “Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). This is a command, not an option, for the Christian. Understanding that “The harvest truly is plentiful but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37) should ignite our hearts to take time to talk to the person in front of us in line at the grocery store, or the stressed mother who is in need of encouragement and the gospel, or the unbelieving co-worker who lost a family member. This should move us also as fellow believers to go out into our community and talk with people together. We have a worldview that is different then the world’s. Our perspective is one that needs to be shared. Understanding that the Word will change others, our job is to preach it and it will do its job.
“The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose and the lion will defend its self.”