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Archive for January, 2016

We live in an age of inquiry when science and secularism are challenging the authority of God’s Word. It is an era when not everyone is convinced by assertions like: “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!” Those who are well-educated and skeptical often ask why and how certain miracles happened. Simple statements of faith do not satisfy them.

Devoted Christians need to understand what underlies their skepticism. We must go beyond telling others what we believe and why we believe it. We must demonstrate by the way we live that the truths found in God’s Word have the power to transform the lives of all who believe.

Christians believe that the Bible is a trustworthy, authoritative guide for life. Yet, when one explores it, he finds himself in what for many people is an unbelievable world. God is pictured as making woman from a rib. A serpent talks to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Miracles are recorded in both Testaments, an axe head floats on water, the sun stands still, human bodies are lifted into the sky, and hopelessly ill persons are cured miraculously and instantaneously. The Bible teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin maiden, was raised from the dead, walked through closed doors to be with His disciples, and later ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives.

Can informed Christians stand on the platform of the Scriptures – trusting the God of the Bible and the meaning of the events described therein? One of the wisest ways to answer honest questions about the Bible is to consider its true nature and relevance for today.

First of all, it is a needed book. There is a gnawing hunger in the human heart for an authentic word from God. This is evidenced in many ways, one of which is the sales volume of the popular translations of the Scriptures. The Bible finds us where we live and speaks to our need.

Second, it is a revealing book. The Bible is necessary because of God’s desire to communicate with mankind. The Scriptures assume God’s self-revelation by reporting His mighty acts of creation and redemption. This is revelation, not discovery. Notice what the Bible says about itself: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, and through whom He also created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

John Baillie, in The Idea of Revelation in Recent Thought, wrote, “God does not give us information by communication; He gives us Himself in communion.” Thus, the Bible is far more than a historic narrative or compilation of pithy sayings. It is the story of One who became like us, offered Himself for all mankind upon a Roman cross, and draws us to Himself by the power of His redeeming love. Both Testaments bear witness to God’s action in salvation history.

Third, it is a divine-human book. God’s actions in both creation and redemption are placed in the context of history. If the estimates of geologists are accurate, the earth is millions of years old. Hundreds of individuals responded to God’s Spirit, from the beginnings recorded in Genesis to John’s vision on the Isle of Patmos recorded in the book of Revelation. The Bible’s story deals with the whole human race, yet initially through a covenant people.

Fourth, it is a religious message. It is God’s love letter to mankind. Thus, it is a religious document, not a laboratory manual. Science can inquire into God’s creation, clarify its nature, classify its species, rearrange its order, and capture its power and glory. Yet, science can only obey God’s command to “multiply and subdue the earth.” God Himself is its central character.

Fifth, it is a reliable guide. The Bible does not tell us everything we want or wish to know, but it does communicate clearly all that we need to know of life now and in the beyond. It leaves room for reverent wonder, patient research, as well as commitment to God.

Sixth, it is a relevant witness. I never pick up the Bible that I do not discover something new that I need to hear. As I read of Adam, Cain, Abel, the generation of Noah, the nation of Israel dancing around a calf of gold, King David’s misdeeds, Peter’s cursing and denial, Martha’s tears at her brother’s death, it describes me by finding me where I am. It also has the power to do the same for you.

The most desirable time to read the Bible is as often as possible. Keep it open, accept and believe its message, and you will never find the door of heaven shut.

 

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Multitudes of people in the twenty-first century are allergic to the word “faith.” Because of advancements in the fields of science, information, and technology they feel self-sufficient. They have convinced themselves they are more informed than were their ancestors because they have read books, heard lectures, and participated in discussions. They boast that they live by facts and logic and not by faith. They think faith contains neither facts nor logic.

This explains why the anchor lines of faith and morality have so often been cast aside in today’s world. It has become easy in this kind of world to believe that religious faith is infantile thinking, belief based on fallacy, superstition in the age of science. Modern man, therefore, feels no need of saving grace.

These observations lead me to point out that without faith there would be no progress, no brilliant discoveries, no achievements, no high attainment in any area of our lives or field of endeavor. All seeking for truth, be it scientific or religious, theistic or secular, is an act of faith. There is no significant conflict, when properly understood, between science and religion. Like science, those who believe in God begin with what we know, ask questions regarding what may be known, and then venture forth toward that which has not yet been discovered.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews was both Christian and scientific when he said , “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3 NIV). That is true of chemistry, physics, and Christianity. Without faith there is no progress, for only by faith do we move from what currently exists to what may become possible.

Faith is a part of all basic human relationships. Christopher Columbus sailed for the New World because certain people had faith in him. The people who sailed with him had faith in him. His theories about navigation and geography were probably not understood by those who trusted him, yet they sailed with him. They had faith in him.

The couples who stand at God’s altar to be married have faith in each other. There are many things that no bride and groom know about each other. Neither do they know what the future holds of wonder or surprise, but they are willing to trust the unknown because they have faith in each other.

All business is conducted on the basis of faith. Banks, investment houses, commercial concerns, and industry, all operate on the basis of faith. Without faith there could be no contracts, no agreements, no commitments, and no courts. All that is good between people, all that we say and all that we do is evidence of our faith in one another. Without faith we can do nothing. When faith is lost, homes are broken, partnerships are dissolved, businesses are ruined, churches are divided, and nations go to war with each other.

Finally, it should be said that faith in God undergirds every other relationship in life. Who but God placed our earth near enough to the sun to be warmed and healed, yet far enough away to prevent our being reduced to ashes? Who placed the moon where it would give us reflected glory, and raise and lower the seas, without destroying the earth?

Faith unequivocally and unashamedly says, “God did!” It would take a great deal more faith to believe that our almost limitless universe – with both its complexity and unity – just happened without there being a creative mind behind it all. That is why the kind of faith that people need most, and which pays the greatest long-term dividends, is to believe in God.

Lillian Smith, in The Journey, said, “To believe in something not yet proved and to underwrite it with our lives: it is the only way to keep the future open. Man, surrounded by facts, permitting himself no surprise, no intuitive flash, no great hypothesis, no risk, is in a locked cell. Ignorance cannot seal the mind and imagination more securely.”

 

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One of my biology professors at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia in the early 1950’s was an amateur herpetologist – he liked snakes. He would pick up a rattlesnake from a cage and hold it in front of my classmates and me. He seemed to enjoy scaring students. If so, he achieved his mission in spades. I think he had cotton candy between his ears where brains were supposed to be located.

Anyone brave enough (or crazy enough) to pick up a rattlesnake had better know how to do it in a way that the business end, the one that has fangs, is under total control. Otherwise, the experience can quickly become a tragedy. The trouble with picking up snakes is that you can become careless and let your guard down. That is what happened to the professor, for a few years after I graduated I heard that he had been bitten by a rattlesnake and almost died.

There is a lesson in this true story that Christians should learn. Tolerating sin in your life can be compared to handling a rattlesnake. It is easy to say during the times when you are faced with temptation, “I’m strong. I know what I’m doing. I’ll never become a victim, for I can handle the big things.” Perhaps so, but can you handle the little things? It is often the little things that get us down. They don’t seem very dangerous, and we let our guard down.

I’m reminded of a fictitious story of a hunter who went deep into the woods to search for a bear. His goal was to shoot the bear and skin it for its coat. After a long wait, the hunter finally had a huge brown bear in his sight. He wrapped his finger slowly around the trigger of his rifle, held the barrel steady, and aimed for the center of the bear’s head.

Just as he was about to squeeze the trigger the bear turned around and, catching the hunter by surprise, said in a soft voice, “Wait! Let’s talk this thing over! Isn’t it better to talk than to shoot? What do you really want? Why don’t we negotiate?”

Lowering his rifle, the hunter replied, “Well, actually all I want is a fur coat!”

At this point the bear admitted, “And all I want is a meal!”

As the two sat down to negotiate, the hunter dropped his guard and set the gun down on a big rock. While his attention was distracted the bear made his move, had his meal, and walked out of the forest alone. Apparently the negotiations were successful. The bear had a full stomach and, in a manner of speaking, the hunter had his fur coat.

My professor who handled a rattlesnake was as careless as the hunter in the fictitious story that negotiated with a hungry bear. Christians are more careless than both of them when they fail to take sin seriously. Sin is a very insidious thing. At first glance it seems so harmless – then its bite proves fatal. The danger happens when we rationalize – saying things like “Nobody will know,” or “Everybody is doing it.”

Sin always costs dearly. For example, the majority of the Israelites who left Egyptian bondage under the leadership of Moses were not able to enter the Promised Land. Joshua and Caleb were able to enter because they remained faithful to God. Those who were disobedient never completed the journey.

Whose fault was it that that many of the Israelites died in the desert? It is clear that their failure to reach the Promised Land was not due to the lack of God’s provision. God had not failed them. They were determined to do things their own way, not God’s way. As the evangelist Billy Sunday wisely observed, “One reason sin flourishes in our lives is that we treat it like a cream-puff instead of a rattlesnake.”

Consider some of the Bible’s greatest personalities. Moses was known as the meekest man on the face of the earth, yet pride and presumption dealt him a fatal blow. Samson, a man of supernatural strength, became the victim to his natural desires. Elijah, who was known for his bravery, became the victim to fear. David, whom the Bible describes as “a man after God’s own heart,” became the victim of lust and committed adultery and murder, and then tried to conceal what he had done. Simon Peter discovered that the area of his life where he thought himself to be the strongest was actually weak.

God’s Word makes it clear that yielding to sin is like playing with a rattlesnake: “Each person is tempted when, by his own desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived!” (James 1:14-16a).

 

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The father of a young man I personally know, in the course of a fight with another man several years ago, picked him up, threw him down to the sidewalk. The man’s skull was seriously fractured, whereupon he was carried to the hospital, and later died.

The young man said to me, “My father was tried for involuntary manslaughter, found guilty, and sentenced to serve time in prison. I prayed over and over that God would not let him go to prison.” He then concluded disappointedly . . . but God did not answer my prayers!”

Was the young man right? Did God turn a deaf ear to his prayers? He thought God did not answer his prayers because his father had to serve time in prison. What he did not realize is that God was getting ready to answer his prayers in a far greater way than he thought would happen, and I will explain why.

Several years later I had the opportunity to be the guest preacher in a series of revival services in the young man’s church. Only one person that entire week came to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and it was that young man’s father. He had served his sentence, was out of prison, and was in attendance during that week. His life was totally transformed. A few years later he died.

I believe God answers every prayer. Jesus clearly said, “Ask and you shall receive” (Matthew 21:22). Even God cannot answer a prayer that has not been prayed. He answers in one of three ways: “Yes” . . . . “No” . . . . or . . . “Not Now!” When He says “No!” to our prayers, it is for one or more of the following reasons:

  • We do not pray in Jesus’ name. Jesus said to His disciples: “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14). He is God’s uniquely born Son. God always hears and honors prayers that are offered in His Son’s name.
  • We do not ask according to God’s will. God’s will is clearly stated in the Bible. His will is consistent with His Word. Prayers that are prayed for selfish reasons clearly do not coincide with God’s will (see James 4:3). Because God loves us, He will not give us what we request if it is not what is best for us.
  • We do not really believe God will answer. Though the analogy is not fully adequate, going to God without faith is like going to a shopping mall without money. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith does not give God a shopping list with the expectation that He will give us precisely that for which we have prayed, and at the precise time that we want it delivered. It does not demand miracles. It does, however, create the kind of environment where miracles are possible.
  • We do not pray specifically. Be specific in your prayer request. A lady who was going to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore several years ago to have some surgery said to me, “When you pray for me, mention my name, and give God my street address.” It was a tongue in cheek statement on her part, but she was also serious. She knew the value of being specific when we pray.
  • We have unconfessed sins our lives. King David wrote in Psalm 66:18, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” Since God is a holy God we have no legitimate or moral right to enter His presence with known sin present in our lives, of which we have not repented, and for which we have not sought and found God’s forgiveness.
  • We are unwilling to forgive others. In what is called the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches us to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive out debtors” (Matthew 5:12). Are there others whom you have not forgiven? If so, why would you ask God to forgive you, if you are unwilling to forgive others? Forgive them, then God can and will forgive you.

Roy M. Pearson, in United Church Herald, says of sincere prayer: “It is not a lazy substitute for work. It is not a short cut to skill or knowledge. And sometimes God delays the answer to our prayer in final form until we have time to build up the strength, accumulate the knowledge, or fashion the character that would make it possible for Him to say “yes” to what we ask.”

Robert J. McCracken, in What Happens When We Pray for Others, reminds us why it is so important to pray for others: “Prayer is love raised to its highest power; and the prayer of intercession is the noblest and most Christian kind of prayer – because in it love and imagination reach their highest and noblest range.”

 

 

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