Category: Faith

Witness Well

Defining the hatred of God in contrast to his love

The familiar verse of John 3:16 pronounces God’s love for the world and how He exercises his love through His Son for our salvation. God is a God of love. The plan of sending Jesus to die for our sins is also an example of God’s hatred of sin.

“There is no contradiction in these statements [love and hate]. The difficulty arises when we wrongly assume that God hates in the same way men hate. Hatred in human beings is generally thought of in terms of strong emotional distaste or dislike for someone or something. However, in God, hate is a judicial act on the part of the righteous judge who separates the sinner from Himself.”   (Norman Geisler and Thomas Howell) 

The Psalms say that God hates all who do wrong and expresses his wrath every day. God is actively opposed to everything evil. His wrath remains on those who sin (John 3:36), because sin is contrary to and opposes his holy nature and will. For every sin a person commits, they are storing up God’s wrath for themselves that will eventually be revealed on the Day of Judgment [when Christ returns]. Our stubborn hearts are part of our human nature.  Every person is born with a heart and spirit that is anti-God. Every sin we commit separates us further from God, because God demands us to be holy in His presence, because He is holy. This is the only standard and God hates sin because it creates that chasm between Him and those He loves. 

Out of love, God gave us only one solution to escape His wrath and to be holy in His sight. By believing in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, a person receives eternal life and escapes God’s wrath completely. Anyone who does not believe, disobeys God, and will not see life. That person remains under the wrath of God who is perfectly just in every way. The solution: Believe and live.  

Being a first round draft pick by God

The commissioner of the National Football League strides up to the podium with a card in his hand. With great anticipation from the packed ballroom, the commissioner announces, “With the 10th overall selection of the first round, the New Orleans Saints pick….. you.” Surrounded by family and friends in the waiting room, you smile with great delight and relief. You have been selected to play in the NFL. Your greatest dream has been realized. 

Now imagine standing in the center of a cavernous stadium. Thousands – perhaps millions – fill the seats that reach endlessly to the skies. A trumpet sounds and a loud voice echoes across the heavens declaring, “I have chosen you as my beloved child. Welcome to my team!” The grateful and loyal throngs of the heavenly hosts shout their approval. You are on God’s team — the “Saints” in Christ Jesus.  Even though you may stink at soccer, fail in football — or barely catch a ball or carry a tune — God has selected you to be on his team. You have been set apart, made holy and righteous in his eyes by faith in Christ. Your teammates? Paul, Timothy and all the saints like those living in the city of Philippi. 

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Phil. 1:1-2)

All Christians are considered “saints” in the New Testament. Saints is a word that can cause discomfort in describing ourselves. We think of a saint as being someone else. They stand out in a crowd, always doing amazing good works, and their life seems all put together. You may be surprised at how the Bible defines a saint. In the original New Testament language of Greek, the word for saint means “separated ones.” A Christian believer is separated or set apart from the rest of the world. They have been chosen by God to be on his team. Why? Not because of how good or upright they are, but the fact that they are “in Christ Jesus.”   

We are made separate, holy, totally cleansed from sin by what Christ has already done for us on the cross. By faith, Christ is in us and we are in him. God, who has chosen us even before the creation of the world, has made us saints, holy and righteous in His sight (Eph. 1:4). By faith, we belong to the greatest team in the history of the world.

Paul and Timothy, appointed coaches of the Saints in Christ Jesus, have also adopted another name for God’s team here on earth. They belong to the “Servants.” Not exactly a fearsome name, is it? I have not heard of a team called the Chicago Servants or the North High Butlers. Yet, this is what Paul and Timothy consider their identities to be — saints and servants of Christ Jesus.

In some translations of the New Testament (NASB), we see the term, “bond-servant.” This is an important word with great meaning. In the time of Jesus, a bond-servant was a former slave, or perhaps a loyal servant, who has decided to forego their freedom and become a servant for life of a good and kind master. Paul and Timothy are declaring themselves and their identities as bond-servants of Christ. They know that by surrendering their freedom, their will, their very life to Christ. They have gained everything and have lost nothing. They are no longer slaves to sin, but life-long servants to a heavenly King who has saved their life and will provide for all their needs. With this understanding, Paul and Timothy live out their lives in pure thankfulness, appreciation, and sincere commitment to serve the Master who has made their new identity in Christ Jesus possible.

How Apostle Paul’s letter to Philippi still resonates today

The city of Phillipi was located on the far northeast corner of present day Greece. Founded by Philip, father of Alexander the Great in 358 B.C., the city became a very prominent and strategic location due to its road system and nearby coast. Around 30-35 B.C. the expanding Roman empire conquered the city led by the future Augustus Caesar. Veteran Roman soldiers and their families slowly flooded into the area. Phillipi was not only an important and strategic location politically, but a perfect location to expand God’s kingdom into Europe.

Twenty five years have passed since the Apostle Paul encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. The Lord has used him to plant churches throughout Macedonia and Asia. Thousands came to faith by his preaching of the gospel. But now he was in Rome under house arrest for a crime he did not commit. A riot in Jerusalem incited by Jewish leaders caused the Roman authorities to arrest Paul for his own protection and the preservation of order. Exercising his Roman citizenship, Paul appeals his case to the emperor. It is widely believed that Paul wrote this letter to the Philippian church under house arrest while awaiting his trial in Rome.   

While the Apostle Paul sat in chains, the images of events and people precious to him in Philippi must have captured his attention while dictating his letter. A brief record of Paul’s time in Philippi is recorded for us in Acts 16:11-40. We are introduced to Lydia, the prominent businesswoman of purple cloth, who was one of the first to be baptized and played a key role in establishing the church. We see Paul and Silas thrown into prison and the miraculous event of his release. He pictures the baptism of the jailer and his entire household who were led to faith in the risen Christ. Now, Epaphroditus from Phillipi sits across from him bringing gifts from the church. With a heart overflowing with love and concern for his people, the Holy Spirit ignites a desire to share words of thanksgiving and encouragement.

Paul could have complained in his letter about his circumstances. He could of bemoaned the unlikelihood of a fair trial. Instead, the tone of Paul’s letter is one of joy and peace. We see confidence and contentment that his circumstances were all part of God’s plan. Suffering is a part of being God’s servant and he was being blessed as a result. Paul was convinced that nothing, not even the discouragement of being held captive, would be able to rob him of the faith and hope he had in Christ. Ever the missionary, he stresses the congregation to stand firm together and be wary of any person who attempts to convince them to follow rules in order to be right with God. The same words that uplifted and inspired the early Christian church to be courageous and rejoice in our circumstances still finds new meaning and significance for our own lives today.

The mystery in Christmas

The prophet Isaiah made an astounding prophecy. He states, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him…” From the family line of David, a young shoot, a child, will come up from a stump—the remnant of a dynasty lost long ago. From this young shoot, a Branch, Jesus Christ, will come and be that perfect ruler.   

A miracle. It was, indeed, a miracle even from the beginning. An angel comes before a young Mary and shares with her a message too difficult to believe. One of the first things the angel says is “the Lord is with you!” The angel continues to say, “God has found favor with You. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and you will give birth to a Son who will be called the Son of God.  For nothing is impossible with God.”

The Holy Spirit is with Mary and she conceives and gives birth to Jesus. The Spirit of the Lord rests on Jesus and he is given everything he needs. He is given wisdom and understanding, counsel and power as foretold by Isaiah to carry out the plan God has devised for His people.

By the power of the Spirit resting on Christ, he carried out God’s will by living the perfect life in order to be that perfect substitute for us on the cross. He willingly made that sacrifice to remove our sins, to be redeemed, so that we may be holy and righteous before our Heavenly Father, fully forgiven and acceptable. As a result of Christ’s substitute for us, His life becomes our life.  His history now becomes our history. We are perfect, we are forgiven, we will conquer death, we are a child of God.

The inner workings of this amazing Christmas story is a mystery. A virgin with child. A baby born in a manger. Prophecy fulfilled perfectly hundreds of years later. Immanuel—God with us. I can appreciate Mary pondering the words and events surrounding her—especially the mystery of the Holy Spirit. 

Our lives and the workings of the Holy Spirit in us is still a mystery. 1 Timothy calls it the “mystery of godliness.” Christ dwells in us. The same power. The same counsel. The same understanding. Its not based on us trying so hard to obtain this gift, but bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us. As a result of God in us, we can proclaim like the angels the good news. We can rejoice like the angels rejoiced. Jesus Christ is born and he is here today. 

The glow of Christmas can reverberate in our lives as we carry out each day God ordained for us to glorify him. With boldness and great confidence, we declare that God is with us, He is for us, and He is in us, today and forever.  God has chosen us to share this message of hope and peace.

Resolving the different gospel accounts of Christ’s resurrection

Throughout the centuries, there has been an ongoing debate regarding the authenticity of Jesus’ resurrection as recorded in the Bible. Skeptics see serious irreconcilable differences and some Biblical scholars deny the actuality of the resurrection. The scholars state that Christ’s resurrection account must have been the “easter faith” of the disciples, but not a historical fact. For Christians who believe the whole Bible to be true, how do they respond to the historical reliability of the New Testament due to the apparent conflict between the resurrection accounts between the four gospels?

In the Bible, there are six eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21, Acts 1:1-11 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11). Each one agrees that there was an empty tomb and that a significant number of people saw the risen Christ. However, upon reading the accounts, you are left with some questions. For instance, was there one angel or two? Or, did Christ first appear to the women or to the Apostle Peter?

I have read two books that go into this question in great detail. One man, John Wenham, wrote a book entitled “The Easter Enigma.”  Here, he did some extensive research and even visited the Holy Land. He came up with a very impressive and detailed account of the resurrection story and some very plausible reasons to the apparent conflicts.

There was also a very interesting step-by-step attempt to harmonize the resurrection account in the classic book, “The Gospels: Synopsis and Harmony” by Johs. Ylvisaker. The book was written in the early 20th century. Again, his reasoning regarding the resurrection accounts are very plausible. 

Those who express disbelief regarding the resurrection accounts in Scripture is nothing new to Christianity. In fact, during the second century, a man by the name of Tatian attempted to write a substitute to the gospels by harmonizing all of them into one story. His attempt was rejected, because the church fathers knew the gospels were inspired by God.

The fact that Jesus died and rose again from the grave is the essence of Christianity and based on the truth that Jesus visited so many people. The resurrection appearances of Jesus are clearly at the heart of early Christian belief. From the disciples in the room, to the two men on the road to Emmaus, and to the 500 people referred to in the Bible, a person can confidently believe that the resurrected Christ was indeed, a true event.

The Gospels were written by honest men whom the Lord inspired to record the truth. Any differences on the details of the eyewitness accounts do not bother me, because it doesn’t take from the central truth that there was a Jesus who died and rose again to save all mankind from their sins.

The hidden strength of a Christian

We have a tendency to think of the Christian life as being enduring, suffering or exerting great effort. Even though this can be a part of a believer’s life in a sinful world, the Apostle Paul gives us insight on a hidden strength of one who has trusted in the promises of Christ.

Paul fully recognizes that his efforts in serving Christ did not depend on his own efforts, but on God’s inward working. His weakness was his greatest strength, because it forced Him to depend fully on God and trust that He was working in Him.   

Picture an old-fashioned wristwatch. In order for the watch to work, it requires an unseen, inward working mechanism that needs to be consistently wound. All we see is the end product — a face with hands telling us the correct time.

The design of a wristwatch can also explain how God works in us. Like a watch, we are also designed to work well for a specific purpose. The Apostle Paul writes, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The hidden strength of a Christian is based on the inward workings of our soul. Our face and our hands, the works that people see, is a product that is solely based on the power and strength that is working with a Christian believer.

How a Christian believer responds to people, especially when we are tired, frustrated, hurt or disappointed, can be dependent on Christ dwelling within us. What is most pleasing to God are those times when the Holy Spirit expresses through us the love of Jesus Christ. With us, that is impossible. But with Christ in us, all things are possible. That is God’s design.

Encouragement from a weathered man

We live in the age of instant messages. Little bites of information and glib remarks are texted to friends and family. Thirty seconds is the par to capture the attention of consumers. Soundbites on the evening news is all the free attention a political candidate receives to convince us of our vote. It’s difficult to bring depth into a message so short. A lengthy hand-written letter is a rare find in our mailbox these days. Once received, we grasp a hold of the warm embrace of encouraging words from a loved one who offers updates and occasional wisdom. A hand-written or typed letter is a rare treasure to be saved and read over and over again.

In the New Testament of the Bible, the book of Philippians is that kind of letter written by the Apostle Paul. But it is not just any letter. Touched by the hand of God and inspired by the Holy Spirit, its words of love and encouragement rattle the souls of expectant believers. The challenging words of “working out,” “pressing on,” and “I can do all things” bellows the embers of a zealous faith. These are fiery action words of mountain-moving hopes and dreams. While trickling through the letter like a cool mountain stream, we find soothing words of grace that reminds us that only through Christ who gives us strength can we do anything worthwhile.

Towards the end of the movie, “Chronicles of Narnia,” four children unexpectantly stumble out of the wardrobe closet concluding their stay in the land of Narnia. Standing next to the closet was the old professor. The bewildered Peter looks up to him and says, “You wouldn’t believe what happened to us, even if I told you.” With a bemused and knowing glint in his eye, the old professor replies, “Try me!” 

Seasons have come and gone and I find myself looking in the mirror at a middle-aged man. Wiser, perhaps. A remnant of days gone by like holding on to an old favored shirt. Comfortable. Stained and a bit faded. Yet, I can still recognize the young man with the unbridled enthusiasm and adventurous spirit. The hopes and dreams. The confidence of believing I had all the answers and wanted to test the world with them. The same young man who eagerly grasped onto the words of Philippians to begin his faith journey in Christ.

It’s funny how the seasons of life can weather a man. The reflection I see peering back at myself is a story in itself. Disappointment can fold dreams and neatly tuck them into a breast pocket called reality. Under the guise of protection from future disappointment, the words of weathered men like myself can seem stifling to those in the throngs of youth. With that said, may I invite you to “try me.” Let’s spend some time walking through God’s letter written especially for you and for me. Through the lens of God’s Word, we can safely embark together on this “greatest adventure” we call life on earth. 

Living out the message of the cross

How a person responds to hurt, disappointment and frustration in their lives is probably a Christian’s most powerful witness. It is truly during these times when we have the opportunity to expose or introduce Christ living in us.

So often, the need to be right dominates our life. We have an inherited the need to pursue being right and even demanding rights from others. If our pursuit is left unaltered, we inadvertently soil our opportunity to share and display the fruits of Christ living in us. 

The pursuit of being right is really placing our self above all others. For this very reason, our faith journey with Christ must require a sacrifice. It requires embracing the principle message behind the cross. Jesus Christ bore the cross for us. It was a willing sacrifice for the sake of all people. The principle message behind the cross means the sacrificial death of our self. Did not Christ die for us, though we were so undeserving? In the same way, are we willing to sacrifice ourselves for other, even if it means the risk of being hurt, disappointed or surrendering our right?

The message of the cross guides us on how to respond to people and how we conduct ourselves, especially during the difficult circumstances in life. It is the sacrifice of rights and our personal battle to defend them at all costs. For Christ did not die on the cross to defend our rights. He died so we can be right with God.

The message of the cross is based on the perfection of our Heavenly Father. The Bible says, “You shall be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” By walking by faith in Christ, by receiving Christ in us, we are perfect. We are declared as God’s dearly loved children even thought we sometimes fail. Like children, we grow and mature in our faith and confidence. The message of the cross reminds us to imitate God and live a life a love because God first loved us. And during those times when we demand to be right, or the expectation in being  treated right by others, we can offer a willing sacrifice of our self that is pleasing to God. 

For isn’t that what Christ did for us?