Thursday, March 26, 2015

The American Dilemma

1 Peter 5:5: "God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble." This verse is very direct, and we as believers should take it seriously. The fact that God literally "opposes" those who are prideful should cause us to examine our own lives. Let's each consider: "Is there any pride within myself?" To a certain extent, there  probably is at least a little. We were born with a sinful and selfish nature. No one ever had to teach me to be selfish. No one ever had to train me to live for myself. This is something we inherit as humans, and even after we are born-again we are still ridding ourselves of the residue of our old life. We are prideful beings at birth, especially as Americans.  With the American dream within our grasp we are taught at a young age that we can do anything we set our minds to. We can be successful if we work hard and are determined. While this may be true, it causes a major dilemma. It places such a large focus on ourselves, that pride consumes us. It does it to the point to which we think we can do anything and everything on our own. This brings about "The American Dilemma," which is: we do not need Jesus.

This is a problem. Now obviously as believers we see the desperate and real need for Jesus in our lives. Or do we? The truth is, many church-goers today may claim that we need Jesus, but we don't really believe it deep inside. Many of us realize that it is easy to go through life without Jesus. You can study hard at school, get into a good college, get a degree, go into a well-paying career, buy a fancy car, get a big house, get married, start a family, coast through life, eventually retire, and one day die. This "American Dream" can be achieved. This version of "success" can be reached. This is done by all sorts of people, many of which give no credit to Jesus, but all to themselves and their hard work.

Pride is more than just an arrogance or over-confidence. It's a mindset that it's all about me. It's living completely selfishly. Many times people who struggle with a low self-esteem, are depressed, or deal with suicidal thoughts are prideful. While humility is often equated with a low self-esteem, and pride at the opposite end of the spectrum, many who deal with poor self-image deal with pride. Pride is a focus on the self. If we spend all our time focusing on ourselves we will either come to love ourselves or hate ourselves. One result will be an arrogance, and the other a low self-image. But, both can be a product of pride.

Jesus commands us to be people of humility. Not to think of ourselves, but to think of others. To put the needs of others before our own. To put the desires of others before our own. Jesus was the ultimate example of what this looks like. We read in Philippians 2:3-8:

     "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in HUMILITY value others above
     yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your
     relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

    Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used
     to his oven advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant
     being made in human likeness. And being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled
     himself by becoming obedient to death--even death on a cross!"

Jesus has set the precedent for us to follow. Jesus is the eternal God. Yet, he chose to humble himself and become a man. Jesus took everything he was, and everything he had, and put it aside. He did this for us. Those who are prideful will take what they have (time, money, talents, etc.) and who they are, and use it for their own gain. The humble will take what they have (time, money, talents, etc.) and who they are, and use it to glorify Jesus, to expand His Kingdom, and to touch lives.

Jesus commands us to live as He did, and to live lives of humility. Today will we accept this challenge from Jesus? Will we choose to put our needs and desires aside, so that we can reach others with the love of Jesus? Will we put aside our selfishness, so that we can build up, encourage, comfort, and strengthen our brothers and sisters in Christ? Will we lay our lives down for the sake of Jesus? If we are unwilling to do this, then we should not bother calling ourselves Christians.

If we are going to live lives of humility we must acknowledge and fully believe that we NEED Jesus. This is where it all starts. We must come before Jesus and declare that we are helpless without Him. For, "when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10)"

Lord, I need you. I declare that today. Give me strength to live for you. May I not live for myself, which is what my flesh desires. Help me to put others before myself. Empower me to live for  you and your Kingdom, and may everything I do be for the glory of King Jesus. Amen.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Presence of the Holy Spirit

Most Christians can probably point to a time (or many times) in their life where they experienced the presence of God. Whether that be at a Sunday morning worship service, a conference, or on their own. It is amazing to experience the presence of the living God. However, there is something that we must understand as Christians. The presence of God is not merely at church services or conferences. The Bible makes it clear that the presence of the Holy Spirit is within believers. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says that a believer's body is "the temple of the Holy Spirit." Let's take a moment and realize what this truly means...

In the Old Testament God commanded Moses in Exodus 25:8: "Have the people build a holy sanctuary so I can live among them." The God of the universe wanted to live among his people. He asked Moses to have the Tabernacle made. Moses went ahead and made it. The Tabernacle was continually torn down and built back up, as Israel traveled through the wilderness on their way to the promised land. After Israel was established in the land God had given them, they built the Temple, which was a permanent version of the Tabernacle. It was within the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) that the presence of God dwelt.  

Within the Temple there was a place called the Holy Place. Various sacrifices were offered here on a daily basis. Beyond the Holy Place was a curtain. Past this curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place--also known as the Holy of Holies. It is here that the Ark of the Covenant stood. This is where the presence of God is said to have been. This Most Holy Place was a sacred place. Unlike the Holy Place, the Most Holy Place was only to be entered once a year on the Day of Atonement, by the High Priest (Leviticus 16). Each year the High Priest would offer a sacrifice to the Lord to atone for the sins of himself, and the sins of Israel. This was the only time that a person would be permitted to enter into the presence of the Lord.

Fast forward now to the death of Jesus. When Jesus died something very interesting happened. After Jesus died in Matthew 27, it says in verse 51: "the curtain in the sanctuary of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom." This was the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. It is what represented the Presence of God. When Jesus died the Old Covenant was fulfilled, and the age of the New Covenant had begun. No longer would God dwell within the temple. No longer would the presence of God be unavailable for the people of God. Instead, the people of God (believers) would be the temple of God, like it says in 1 Corinthians 6. Now believers all have access to the presence of God every day, instead of the High Priest once a year. 

This is an amazing privilege and something that we need to recognize! God the Holy Spirit lives within us! This should change the way we live, think, and do everything. This should encourage us, for not only is God for us, he is within us! He is transforming us to become more like Jesus! He is using us to accomplish His will, which is greater and more important than ours! We can experience God's presence every day, because his presence is within us! 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Transforming Power of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the eternal God. Last week we discussed how God the Holy Spirit comes alongside believers to encourage, comfort, and strengthen them. Today's topic is the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

In Galatians 5 we have two different lists. The first list gives the results of the human nature. It is what naturally comes about through humans. Galatians 5:19-21 says that when we follow our human, sinful, and selfish nature, we will find these things in our lives: " idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these." Paul (the author of Galatians) goes on to say that people who do these things will NOT inherit the Kingdom of God; in other words: will not go to heaven. 

So, if by nature we as humans do these things, and these things send us to hell, how can we be saved? Is it by trying really hard to abstain from doing wrong? Is it to try really hard to do good? No, and no. In Titus 3:4-5 we read: "But—When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit."

On our own we will only produce evil. But, when we put our faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes in and transforms us into a new person. The Holy Spirit gives us "new birth." We are born-again, just as Jesus said we must be (John 3:3). When the Holy Spirit transforms us, we begin to produce new fruit. This is what we read about in the second list in Galatians 5, in verses 22-23: "But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!" When we are born-again (of the Spirit), we begin to produce new fruit. Our lives look different. The way we think is no longer the same. Our attitude is different. Everything about is is new! This is the work that God does in us at salvation. 

However, the point in which we are born-again (or "saved") is only the beginning the Holy Spirit's transforming work in our lives. For even though we are given a new nature at conversion, we still live in our fleshly bodies and live in this fallen world. Because of this, our sinful nature will always attempt to spring back to life.

Therefore, if we lack patience, self-control, or any of the other "fruit of the Spirit," we must ask the Holy Spirit to produce them within us. For, it is only Him who can do so. And, when we see things like selfishness, lustful thinking, or fits of rage in our lives, we must go to the Lord and ask him to change us. If we live our lives in this way, and continually seek Him, we will see the transformation of the Holy Spirit within us. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Identity of the Holy Spirit

This our first part in a series at Encounter Student Ministries concerning the Holy Spirit. Before we dig into the numerous topics concerning the Holy Spirit (baptism in the Holy Spirit, indwelling of the Holy Spirit, fruit of the Spirit, gifts of the Spirit, etc.), we need to understand what God's Word tells us about the identity of the Holy Spirit. 

So, let's start with the question: did the Holy Spirit have a beginning point? Was the Holy Spirit created? In Genesis 1:2, right after God created "the heavens and the earth," we read: "The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters." The Holy Spirit (or here called the "Spirit of God") was there at creation! The Holy Spirit is eternal, without beginning and end. 

Is the Holy Spirit similar to "the force" in Star Wars? Is it some sort of energy field, or mystical power? The answer is found in Scripture. While there may be some similarities between "the force" and the Holy Spirit, the force is a very poor analogy. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit can grieve, counsel, comfort, testify, and intercede. Can some mystical force or energy field do those things? No. But, a person can. 

The Holy Spirit is never referred to as an "it," but always a "he." In John 14:15-17 Jesus said: "If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. HE is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive HIM, because it isn’t looking for HIM and doesn’t recognize HIM. But you know HIM, because HE lives with you now and later will be in you." The Holy Spirit is a person! And no ordinary person, but as we discovered earlier, the Holy Spirit is an eternal person!

But, we still have yet to get to his true identity. Who is this eternal person? Logic of course points that the Holy Spirit is God, considering the fact that God is the only eternal entity. Scripture also teaches us the same thing, that the Holy Spirit is God. In 1 Corinthians 2:10-12, Paul is telling the Corinthians how no one knows a person's thoughts except that person (specifically that person's spirit). He goes on to say that no one knows the deep thoughts and secrets of God, except the Holy Spirit. This is because the Holy Spirit is God. To ride on our last two points, the Holy Spirit is the eternal person of God!

I would like to go back to John 15, and close with what the Holy Spirit does for us. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would be our "advocate." Other translations say encourager, comforter, or counselor. The original Greek word there is "paraclete." This word meant to "come alongside of." This is what God the Holy Spirit does for believers. He comes alongside believers. This is truly amazing. The God of the universe loves us and cares for us enough to come alongside each of us. He comes alongside us and comforts us when we need comfort, encourages us when we are discouraged, strengthens us when we are tempted, and convicts us of our sin when we straying from Him.  This truly is amazing. We need to realize this, and bring everything to Him, for the Holy Spirit is the eternal person of God who comes alongside us. If we truly believe this, the way we live should be different than the world! We need to hold on to this amazing truth. Our God is with us always!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christianity: The greatest hoax of all time?

Many religions have started from an individual claiming that they gained some sort of new knowledge or understanding from a god, an angel, or through some other mystical way. Islam started when Muhammad was meditating in caves, and a spiritual being (later identified as Gabriel) spoke and wrote through him the Qur'an. It was spiritual experience that only Mohammad went through. When a young teenage boy named Joseph Smith went into the woods to pray, he asked God which of the Christian denominations was the correct one. God the Father, and Jesus had appeared to Joseph Smith, and they told him that none of the Christian sects were right, and that all of their creeds and doctrine were "an abomination in his sight (Pearl of Great Price)." Based off of this experience that Joseph Smith "claimed" he had, the Mormon church was created.

When we look at the Christian religion, we find something interesting. It is not based off of something that one individual saw or experienced. It is based off of what Jesus did for everyone to see. As Peter was addressing the crowd of thousands in Acts 2:22, he tells of the wonders and miracles of Jesus, and he caps it off by saying: "just as you yourselves know." In Acts 26:26 Paul tells Festus in court that the miraculous acts of Jesus "were not done in a corner!" The things that Jesus did were for everyone to see!

The works of Jesus, the life he lived and the death he died were so visible to society, that the New Testament is not the only ancient book that tells about the life of Christ. Josephus, Tactius, and Pliny the Younger are all historians of Jesus's time who wrote about, or at least mentioned the life of Jesus. Based on non-biblical works, we are able to know a lot about Jesus's life. Without even looking at the New Testament, we know that Jesus did in fact exist, that he was a Jewish teacher, that many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms, that he was rejected by Jewish leaders, that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Teberius, and that his followers claimed that Jesus rose from the dead, and spread Christianity all the way to Rome by 64 AD, and eventually all over the world.

While we know that many things about Jesus are true, there is one particular event that is of great importance. This is the resurrection. If Jesus truly rose from the grave, every living and breathing person needs to pay attention to this. However, if Jesus did not raise from the dead, then we as Christians have been living our lives in vain. Even the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14: "..if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless." Everything hinges on the resurrection.

So, this bring us to the question: did the resurrection really happen? Was it an actual historical event? If it did not happen, this would mean that the apostles, and many other disciples who saw the risen Jesus lied about it. Let's just focus on the original eleven disciples of Jesus. They all claimed that they saw the risen Jesus. They then went on to proclaim it all over the known world. Because of this outlandish claim that Jesus was still alive, they faced terrible persecution. They were imprisoned, tortured, and killed for their faith. Let's look at of few of their deaths: James was killed with the sword. Peter was crucified upside down. Andrew and Phillip were crucified. Thomas ("Doubting Thomas") was thrust through with spears, burned with red-hot plates, and burned to death. Matthew was beheaded. Nathaniel (or Bartholomew) had his skin torn off, and then was crucified. Judas Thaddeus (not Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus) was beaten to death with sticks.

These men died not for what they simply believed, but for what they claimed they saw. Every religion has martyrs, but not every religion has martyrs who died for what they saw with their own eyes.

If the eleven disciples of Jesus really did make up the resurrection, and if they were lying, wouldn't you think that somewhere along the line one of them would have cracked? That while they were spending their lives in prison, and being tortured, that at least one of them would have had a weak moment and told them that it was all a lie? Yet not one of them did. Every one of Jesus' eleven disciples died for what they believed in (with the exception of John, who still went through his fair share of hardship).

Christianity is either the greatest hoax of all time, or it is the truth. It's one of the two. I will wrap this up with something that Chuck Colson said. Colson was an aid of President Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Listen to what he says:

"Watergate involved a conspiracy to cover up, perpetuated by the closest aides to the President of the United States...who were intensely loyal to their president. But one of them, John Dean...testified against Nixon, as he put it, "to save his own skin"--and he did so only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on--two weeks! The real cover up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks, and then everybody else jumped ship in order to save themselves. Now, the fact is that all those around the president were facing embarrassment, maybe prison. Nobody's life was at stake. But what about the disciples? Twelve powerless men, peasants really, were facing not just embarrassment or political disgrace, but beatings, stonings, and execution. Every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead. Don't you think that one of those apostles would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned?...None did." (I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, pages 292-293)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Is the Bible really the Word of God? Part II: Authenticity

Going forward in examining whether or not the Bible truly is the Word of God (thus, confirming the validity of the Christian faith), it is important for us to look at a claim that some people make. This is the claim that the Bible has been changed over time. This idea supposes that the 66 books that we have in our Bible today are not the same as when they were written down thousands of years ago. While we know the historical accounts in the Bible are true, some argue that certain things about Jesus, and what he preached, and who he claimed to be, has been tampered with in the New Testament. If this is true, and the primary teachings from the Bible have been changed over time, we have a serious problem. If the Bible's main teachings and claims have not changed over thousands of years, then we see evidence that our God has protected his Word. If the Bible really is the Word of God, the evidence should reveal that the Bible is authentic, and has not changed over time.

We can easily see if a text has changed over time by comparing it to the autograph, or the original text. For example, we can know that the Declaration of Independence that we read online is the same as the original by comparing it to the actual Declaration of Independence from 1776. However, when we don't have the original of a text, more work must be done to verify its authenticity. Unfortunately, we do not have the originals of the Bible. However, this is not a serious problem. We do not have any originals of ancient works. So, how can we know that the Bible is authentic? Let's look at some facts.

When examining the authenticity of ancient works, we need to do a couple things. First we need to find out how many years went by between the date the text was originally written, and the earliest copy of that text that we have. Secondly, we need to see how many copies of the text have been discovered. The results are quite interesting. Let's take a look at a couple examples before we see how the Bible does (the New Testament specifically). 

Thucydides and Herodotus were both great historians, whose works are widely accepted by scholars. They both lived around 400 BC. However, the earliest copies of their texts date back to 900 AD. This is 1,300 years apart from when the texts were originally written, to the earliest copy we have. And, we have 8 copies of each text (McDowell, More Than a Carpenter, page 71). Only 8! Looking at that, a the highly regarded scholar F.F. Bruce said the following: "No classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest manuscripts of their works which are of use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable)." 

Let's look at some more examples (McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict):

Aristotle (any one work): 7 copies found, with 1,400 years between original and earliest copy.
Plato Tetralogies: 49 copies found, with 1,300 years between original and earliest copy.
Homer's Illiad: 643 copies found, with 500 years between original and earliest copy.
Josephus's The Jewish War: 9 copies found, with 900 years between original and earliest copy.

Now let's take a look at the New Testament. Over 5,000 copies of the New Testament in the original language (Greek) have been discovered. Over 5,000! This is an amazing number, especially when we compare it to other ancient texts. This number does not include the thousands of Latin manuscripts, which would bring the number over 25,000! And, this number continues to grow as discoveries are made! What is the span of years between the original and the earliest manuscript of the New Testament? 50 years max. Simply amazing. Because of the many copies of the New Testament, we are able to compare them, and find out with great accuracy the authenticity of the New Testament that we have today. We can find out whether our New Testament is the same as when it was written 2,000 years ago. 

What do we find when we compare the ancient manuscripts? Bart Ehrman published a book nearly a decade ago on this subject called Misquoting Jesus. In this work, Ehrman discusses how there are many variances within the New Testament manuscripts. He estimates that there are between 300,000 to 400,000 variants within the manuscripts. At first glance, this is a serious problem! However, it should not be a big surprise that there are variances within New Testament manuscripts. The New Testament was copied by scribes, word for word, for many years! Another thing to consider is the large amount of manuscripts that have been found. With the thousands of copies, along with humans--who are prone to mistakes--copying them, of course there are going to be errors. 

However, we need to look at what these variances are. If they are minor, and nothing of doctrinal importance is violated, then we know God has protected his Word. If different manuscripts are teaching different things about who Jesus was, or what he did, then we have a problem. 

What we now know is that 75% of these variances are spelling errors (Komoszewski, Reinventing Jesus). Many of these were differences in spelling names. Even today the same names are spelled differently. This does not change the meaning of the text whatsoever. 

Another large chunk of these variances is the use of synonyms. Once again, these do not affect the meaning of the text whatsoever. 

The amount of variances which affect the meaning of the text are less than one percent. And, even these are all footnoted in our Bibles. And to be honest, none of these affect any doctrine of importance. Look for yourself in you Bible if you don't believe me.

So, what is the conclusion we have come to today? The Bible we have today is authentic. We know that the Bible has not changed over time. While there are slight variances that have been found, God has protected his Word. The main message of the Bible, and the main teachings of Jesus and the Apostles has not been tampered or changed in any ways. We can read our Bibles with confidence, knowing that God has protected his Word, and we are reading the same message Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the rest of the disciples preached. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Is the Bible really the Word of God? Part I: Historical Accuracy

Is the Bible really the Word of God? Is it inherent? Infallible? Completely without errors? If the Bible truly is the inspired Word of God, we must realize what this means. This would mean that Jesus really is the ONLY path that leads to salvation (all other religions would then be obsolete), that Jesus is God who came in flesh, and that we as people need to repent of our wickedness. These are just a few of the bold claims that the Bible makes. 

Therefore, before we get into whether or not the Bible is the Word of God (which we will explore in future posts), let us first ask: is the Bible historically accurate? 

The short answer is: yes, very accurate. Both the Old and New Testaments have been proven historically accurate through both archaeology and from what we know from other texts or inscriptions that date back to Biblical times. 

For example: the Old Testament talks about several ancient cities and nations, and sometimes gives names of the leaders of those cities and nations. We can match what archaeologists have found with what we read in our Bible. What do we find when we do this? That the Old and New Testaments are incredibly reliable, historically speaking. I will give you a couple specific examples as to the historical accuracy of the Bible.

Sir William Ramsay was a very well known archaeologist. He doubted the historical accuracy of the Bible. However, he thought that he would test what the New Testament said, specifically the book of Acts, which tells the history of the early church. After he came to a conclusion, he said this: "I began with a mind unfavorable to it...but more recently I found myself brought into contact with the Book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth (St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, p. 189)." He later said this: "Luke [the author of Acts] is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy...this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians (The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, p. 222)." Ramsay discovered that Acts was extremely accurate, and without error, historically speaking. He was so convinced that he was actually converted to Christianity!

Another example of Biblical accuracy is not only historical, but also implies proof of divine intervention. We all remember the story in Sunday school of God parting the Red Sea for the Israelites, and how He closed the parted sea on top of the Egyptians, killing every one of them. In the 1990's an interesting discovery was made in the Gulf of Aqaba, which is part of the Red Sea. Chariot wheels and axles covered in coral were discovered, along with a gold plated chariot wheel which matches what historians and archaeologists know chariot wheels of the Pharaoh looked like during the time of the exodus. The bottom of the sea looks like an ancient battlefield, with various coral growing on objects all over. This shows that the event we read in Exodus really did take place.This also implies that a "divine being" intervened, leaving the Egyptian army to rest at the bottom of the sea.

I could go on and on about the historical accuracy of the Bible. There have been thousands of discoveries that verify the Bible as historically accurate. However, many claim that while the Bible is in fact historically true, it is wrong in what it teaches about God and Jesus. Many even claim that over time the Old and New Testaments were changed, and what we have today is very much different than what was originally written down. If the Bible truly is the Word of God, would our omnipotent God not protect it? Of course he would. We will dive into this topic next week, to discover whether or not the text of the Bible has been altered over time. But for now, we can know that the historical component of the Bible is reliable and accurate.