Saturday, May 7, 2011

A believing God update

A week ago I wrote about a recent experience - a necessary experiment of faith that I've been doing.

When the experiment began, I was crawling along under a burden of many very negative attitudes and feelings. Try as I might, I could not find the power to overcome them on my own.

But then the words from an old Amy Grant song from the 1980s popped into my head, and I started to see a light at the end of that proverbial tunnel.

"Lord, help me raise my hands so You can lift me up!"

I remembered that trying hard (even trying really hard) to overcome evil (even evil inside my own head) will not always work. Sometimes I need help to overcome it. (And sometimes I need help to even ask for help!)

So I prayed those words. 
And the experiment began.

Soon after that prayer, the Lord gave me a little exercise - a statement of faith with which to come against the negatives.

As I reported in the last post, that statement went "Lord, I choose to believe that..."

I am very happy to report that recently I've been enabled to modify my statement a bit. Instead of "I choose to believe that" I find "I believe that" to be much more natural and true.

Only one word was removed, but the difference is huge.

By God's grace, my moment-by-moment faith has begun to experience a resurrection of sorts, and it feels good to believe without having to try so hard.

But being human in a sinful world I know that sometime probably soon I'll have to go back to choosing.

But that's okay, because now I understand more than ever that sometimes faith is an act of will and nothing more.

And that's okay too. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Abraham and Tim believed God

I got to re-learn an important lesson this week.

Faith is often less a feeling than a decision. And sometimes it’s simply an act of the will and nothing more.

I’m aware that saying it like this makes faith sound so sterile and empty. And at times it may be, but it’s never ever meaningless.

Sometimes you don’t feel like exercising, but because you know that’s what’s best for you, you do it any way. Sterile and empty - but it still builds muscle.

And sometimes I don’t feel like being kind to a mean person. But because that’s what God commands me to do, I smile with my lips while I growl in my heart.

But is it a worthless act just because my emotions don’t back it? Absolutely not!

On the contrary, I say my forced act of kindness is much more meaningful for exactly that reason.

I do it because it’s right - not because I want to.
And that means something in the Kingdom of God.

(Obviously, I hope that one day I’ll bel mature enough that my emotions match up with God’s will, but I won’t wait until they do to obey Him.)

But back to my lesson.

I've made this faith-by-volition live again in my moment-to-moment life this week by consciously contradicting what I would otherwise see as reality. When I start to think or feel what I know to be contrary to God’s will, I come against it with a simple phrase:

I choose to believe that God can/will ______ (whatever I need at that point in time).

A couple examples:
  • Lord, I choose to believe that You will give me strength to stand against this temptation.
  • Father, I choose to believe that You can heal that knee.
  • Holy Spirit, I choose to believe You will make it very clear to me what You want me to do about this.
Really, it's amazing how much difference this little exercise has made - how uplifting, refreshing, and empowering it is - and how many wonderful truths I've re-introduced Into my life through it.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter - not just good news but good proof!

I’ve been reading the Gospels recently, and it keeps occurring to me how odd it is that, for the most part, the Jewish people completely missed their Messiah. It’s especially strange because God had been telling them for centuries that a savior was coming. And to make sure they didn’t miss Him, God taught them hundreds of details about His life and person.

But still they missed Him.

So, I began to wonder, how are we Gentiles supposed to recognize Him as the Savior promised for so long?

As far as I can tell, there are only two sermons in the New Testament specifically addressed to Gentiles who knew nothing about the Jewish messianic hope.

The first is in Acts chapter 10 (34~43). The second is in Acts chapter 17 (22~31). Here’s the text of the second.

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you ... The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Both sermons have two elements in common:

1 - The proclamation that the LORD (the God of the Jews) is really the God of the whole earth, and He has appointed a savior for all people.

2 - Even if the Jews missed, and the Gentiles didn’t know, the other signs, just one really really big sign was more than enough. Jesus Christ was proved to be who He said He was (the Son of God and Savior) by the His resurrection from the dead.

Paul repeats this last fact in his letter to the Romans when he says that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.

So, the Resurrection - the event that Christians all over the world celebrate tomorrow - is the key. To put it simply, if Easter is true, Christianity is true. If Easter is false, Christianity is worthless, pathetic, and empty.

The question is, other than unreliable feelings, is there any way to know it’s true?

Logically speaking, the answer is yes.

Here’s why.

The Resurrection as the Ultimate Miracle

The resurrection of Jesus acquires such decisive meaning, not merely because someone or anyone has been raised from the dead, but because it is Jesus of Nazareth, whose execution was instigated by the Jews because he had blasphemed against God. If this man was raised from the dead, then that plainly means that the God whom he had supposedly blasphemed has committed himself to him. . . . The resurrection can only be understood as the divine vindication of the man whom the Jews had rejected as a blasphemer. (Woflhart Pannenberg)

There are three main branches of evidence supporting the actual historical truth of the Resurrection of Christ.

Branch #1 – The account

The Gospel accounts are accurate descriptions of what actually happened - not what the writers wished had happened.

There are a multitude of reasons to accept the Gospels as accurate historical accounts, but for today I’ll focus on just one: Unless the Gospels tell the real story, the writers were fools.

In a contrived story the empty tomb would definitely not have been discovered by women. In ancient Israel, women were not considered credible witnesses, and the fact that no men were around when the empty tomb was found made the story immediately suspect.

Branch #2 – The empty tomb

The fact that the tomb was empty proves the Resurrection happened. Why?

1. There was definitely no body in the place where Jesus had been laid.

Remember, the story of the empty tomb was first told in Jerusalem very soon after the Crucifixion.

How could the story of Resurrection have been told in that place at that time if the tomb had not actually been empty? The location of the tomb was known to all (it belonged to a member of the “Senate”) and any enemy of Christianity would have simply gone and looked. Any body in there would have proven the lie, and it would have ended there.

But, there are no records that anyone ever contested the fact.

So, the tomb must have been empty.

2. How did it get empty? (This is the key!)

Only 5 alternate explanations are possible:
  1. The Conspiracy Hypothesis (aka, Theft Theory) says that someone (i.e., the Disciples) stole the body. But, think about it. A theft would have been meaningless. Most people would die for their sincere beliefs, but who would die for something they knew was a lie (and almost all of those early disciples were murdered claiming the Resurrection was true)? Also, if the Jewish leaders really believed they stole the body, why weren’t the disciples arrested? Add to this the fact that the tomb was guarded by 10~30 highly-trained soldiers (who knew they would die if they failed in their charge), and this theory falls apart.
  1. The Wrong Tomb Hypothesis says the women (remember - females were pretty ditzy back then!) simply went to the wrong tomb (which was empty) and everyone was too excited to notice. But wouldn’t someone have gone back later once they realized it? And if they did, wouldn’t they have found the body? To believe this you must believe it’s possible that no one ever realized the mistake.
  1. The Displaced Body Hypothesis says that after the crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in his own tomb, but this was only a temporary setup. The body was then moved to the criminal cemetery as soon as the Sabbath was over. (In other words, they lost track of it.) But, the criminal graveyard was only 50~600 yards from the Crucifixion site, so why would Joseph defile his own family’s tomb with a criminal just to move it one day later?
  1. The Hallucination Theory speaks for itself. Simple, pathetic self-delusion caused it all. But so many people? And, again, why wasn’t it disputed and proved false?
  1. The Apparent Death Hypothesis (aka, Swoon Theory) suggests that Jesus didn’t really die. The gist of this theory is that Jesus just lost consciousness. Later, when He recovered, He simply got up and walked out of the tomb.
But there are a lot of reasons to mark this idea as impossible:
  • He hung on the cross from 9:00 to just before sunset - and that’s not something you recover from in a few hours
  • He could not possibly have survived the extremely heavy blood loss from the flogging, the crown of thorns, and nails pounded through His hands & feet
  • A flow of blood & water from one’s side (after being stabbed with a spear) is a certain sign of death
  • Experienced Roman guards examined him and were confident to testify to Pilate that He was definitely dead before they removed Him from the Cross. A mistake like that would have meant the guard’s death
  • Jesus was immediately wrapped in a hundred pounds of linen and spices - foot-wide linen bandages from armpits to ankles with gummy spice paste between the layers that acted as a glue. In such a state He certainly could not have unbound himself, moved the heavy stone from the tomb mouth, overcome all the guards and traveled on pierced feet through the city. Nor would a person in such a state have gone very far without being noticed by anyone.
It’s also important to note that the Resurrection is attested to by multiple very early independent sources, and even the enemies of Christianity acknowledged the resurrection occurred.

Branch #3 – The post resurrection appearances

Over 500 people claim to have seen Jesus alive after the Resurrection on at least 12 different occasions. To give you some courtroom drama-style context, this means that it would take over 129 hours to hear just 15 minutes of testimony from each person who saw Jesus after He was raised.

That volume of testimony is hard to simply disregard. And just in case some were inclined to try, the Apostle Paul encouraged anyone who doubted to go talk to those witnesses.

Happy Easter Eve, everyone.
May we all be blessed with newness of life!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Just a thought - 6

Question:  Why do we say that Jesus rose on the third day?  If you do the math, it really doesn’t make any sense.  He was killed on a Friday and rose Sunday morning.  So, he was in the grave for only 1 day, no?

Answer:  In ancient Israel the day began at sunset, and any part of a day counted as a full day.

So, Friday = Day 1
Saturday = Day 2
Sunday = Day 3

He died, was buried, and was raised up on the third day.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A long look back

As WIP approaches its first birthday, I thought it might be nice to look back at what I feel are the highlights to date. And so, today’s blod is my own little “Greatest Hits” mix tape - my personal “Best of WIP” compilation.

I hope you enjoy it.

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I believe that God is creator, savior & king. He made us, he saves us, and everything that happens to us is under His control. Everything? Right. He is all-knowing, all-loving & all-powerful. You do the math.

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Where do Christians get off claiming that, not only is their way the only way, but that everyone else is just plain wrong? It is obnoxious and narrow-minded. And it’s just about the most exclusive claim a person could make. It is not, however, arrogant . . . if it is true.

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Where in the world did we ever get this idea that you have to be good to go to Heaven - or that if you are good you will go to Heaven (and nothing else is required)? The more I think about it the more baffled I get, because it's definitely not in the Bible.

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What exactly is the “right” thing? This is where followers of Christ and the secular majority part ways. The unbeliever or nominal believer usually says it depends on laws, cultural norms, and (most often in our society) whatever you want to do as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else. In a word, it’s relative. The Christian, though, says civil laws are irrelevant, culture is increasingly warped, and merely avoiding harm to others is a pathetic substitute for doing things God’s way. In short, the Christian would tell you that none of those things matter – it’s God who decides, period. That is, it’s absolute.

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Based on a presupposition that the Bible is not true, skeptics go on to deny that it could be true. Yes, I typed that right. The argument is essentially, it can’t be true so we know it’s not true. The trouble is, that argument is no different than my wife's famous "Stinky Pillow" logic which ran thus:
Her: Your pillow stinks.
Me: How do you know it's my pillow that stinks? (Our pillows were identical.)
Her: Because your pillow is the stinky one.

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When we do exegesis the most important question we have to answer is this:  "What did the author intend his original readers to understand?”
Before we can figure out what a text means for us today, we must understand what it meant for the original audience.

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For the longest time, I thought that holiness was the same thing as righteousness. But it's not. Holiness means separation, submission, a dedication of all the heart, mind, soul and body to God. It will necessary include right living, but holiness itself is about consciously removing yourself from the world, wresting control of yourself from your self, and living fully conscious that you belong to God.

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I've come to understand that without exception, what I think about is what I become.

The real test of how you're doing in this is what you think about when you're free to think about whatever you want. That is, where does your mind go when it isn't constrained (by work) or distracted (by TV)? You'll know you're winning the battle when you find it naturally returning to its "true north".

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As a Christian I am personally called to be a Sanctuary of God and a sanctuary for others. If the people around me who don't know Jesus can't see Him in me, where can they see Him? If they can't come to me for the kind of peace, comfort and refuge that doesn't exist in this world, where can they get it? If God's people walk through each day emanating no more light than anyone else, how will others be drawn to His glory?

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Every god ever created has stood for something, explained something, demanded something, promised something. That's what gods do.

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One of the easiest and most effective ways to combat false gods and their doctrines is to ask yourself (or someone else) this question of something you assume or believe to be true: Where in the Bible did you learn it? If you have no answer for that question, you'd be wise to reconsider how true it is in light of God's Word.

Remember, the goal of idols/gods/false philosophies is to define us in their terms. They exist to tell us who we are, where we came from, and what we need to do. As Christians, we must not allow them to succeed. The only one who has a right to define us is the One who made us and saved us.

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I kept trying to get her to understand that how I felt about the Truth really didn't make much difference. If the doctrine she'd asked about that day was in fact true, my opinion of it was irrelevant. I could accept it or reject it. But that's it. Nothing I could do would affect the reality of it in the least.

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Have you ever thought about what a huge advantage falsehood has over Truth? Truth is incredibly limited. It exists within iron-clad boundaries and has no wiggle room at all. Truth is a tiny sliver of reality in a universe of infinite possibilities. Untruth, though, can be anything at all. Untruth can (and does) transform itself into whatever shape, flavor or texture will best endear it to the desires, preferences and needs of its intended victim.

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God told Abraham he was going to have a son.

This was hard for Abraham to believe. In fact, he struggled with it for quite a while. Abraham was no dummy.

The promise was completely illogical, biologically impossible, and if God was going to do it, why in the world wasn't it done already!

But there came a point when somehow Abraham got beyond all that. There came a moment when he must have sighed and bowed his head and said: "Okay. I believe You."
And God replied: "That's all I ask."
Scripture tells us that at that moment, Abraham was justified. That is, whatever his "real" situation, Abraham had become completely righteous in God's eyes.

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Living by faith means that in every moment of life we consciously decide to trust God's promises - even when everything and everyone around us tell us they are illogical, impossible and simply not going to happen.

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Sometimes, when we sincerely struggle with doubt and fear and then take it to God for answers, we come away with a greatly intensified understanding of the grace, wisdom, power and goodness of the Lord of the universe. This kind of doubt (I'll call it "good-doubt") is necessarily founded on faith. In fact, without a strong pre-existing faith it cannot exist, because good-doubt compares the world to the promises of God and says, "Something's wrong here." It sees the problem clearly, but it is so full of faith that it goes directly to the Lord and confronts Him. It points out the problem and demands the explanation it knows exists.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Now that you’re here, stop for a moment and take a few deep breaths.

Turn off the TV.
Ask the dog to stop barking.
Quiet your mind a little.

. . .

. . .

. . .

. . .

Now, hear this truth.

It’s all over the New Testament.
It’s beyond-description incredible.
It will take your breath away when you see it clearly.

God lives in you.

Say it to yourself.
God lives in me.

If you are forgiven in Christ and born again, this is true of you, because the Spirit of God dwells inside of you.

It’s not optional, temporary, or only for the especially dedicated followers of Jesus. Every single person who has Christ has the Holy Spirit.

And while the pantheistic mantra, “God is in all of us” is a lie, the biblical statement that “God is in every believer” is entirely true.

I remember getting a very distorted but clear vision of what this means one day in college. As a Religious Studies major, I was in a class on shamanism - a type of religion centered around unique individuals who control spirits by being possessed and empowered by them.

We were watching video of a Korean shaman going through the ordeal. It was shocking. The quiet, soft-spoken little woman immediately took on all the characteristics (voice, accent, attitude, posture) of the possessing spirit.

She had become the voluntary but entirely impotent vehicle through which that spirit was physically present in the world - speaking, commanding, moving, advising, rebuking.

I remember how vividly it occurred to me in a flash that I was watching a disturbing caricature of the Christian life.

She was filled and overpowered by the spirit which had entered her. She’d allowed it. But once possessed, she was no longer herself. The spirit did what it wanted, and left only when it was ready.

The similarities are striking, as are the differences.

As Christians, we also open ourselves up to the Spirit of God and ask/allow Him to “possess” us. The Spirit acts through us, speaks through us, and lives in this world through us.

However, unlike the shaman, we will never be overwhelmed by or powerless in the hands of our Lord. God Almighty will never override or overpower our own will. The Bible assures us that we always have complete dominion over ourselves.

This is obviously a great privilege.
And a great responsibility.

Because He will never force anything, we must allow Him to live, speak, and operate through us.

If we do not, He will not.

I’ve always liked the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) question as a guide to what we ourselves should strive to do.

But this week it occurred to me that an even more relevant question for followers of Christ would be WWGMD (What Would God-in-Me Do?).

That is where the Christian life is truly lived.
It’s not about trying really hard (although the will is involved).
Instead, it’s about releasing ourselves to and cooperating fully with God-in-Us.

When we are entirely ourselves yet perfectly supple in the hands of the Holy Spirit the world around us will change.