Thursday, May 27, 2010

Core beliefs about Jesus Christ

In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes the following concerning Jesus Christ: “I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to” (40-41).

We live in a pluralistic culture. Last week we studied Paul’s encounter with the Athenians who worshipped a plethora of gods (Acts 17). America is our Athens today. We live in a culture that claims that there are multiple ways to heaven. No name is more renowned than Jesus Christ, but no name is diversely debated. Some claim that Jesus is a prophet, a wise man, or spiritual guide. Instead of seeing Jesus as our only Savior of the world, many believe that Jesus is just one of many ways to come to God.

The Bible rubs against the grain of our culture The Bible teaches that Jesus’ identity and ministry is central to all of Christianity. There are several key doctrines that are vital to the believer:

Jesus is fully God (John 1:1; 8:58; 10:30; Titus 2:13; 1 John 5:20).
Jesus is fully man (Matthew 1:18; John 1:14; Hebrews 2:17-18). He possessed human experiences (hunger and thirst Matthew 4:2; John 19:28; fatigue John 4:6; emotion Matthew 9:36; John 11:35).
Jesus was born of the virgin Mary (Isaiah 7:14; Luke 2:26-33).
Jesus was without sin (John 8:46; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).
Death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Isaiah 53:1-5; John 20:24-29; Acts 2:22-36; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Hebrews 10:10-12; 1 Peter 2:21-24).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Theology Proper. Existence of God

In his book, Our God is Awesome, Tony Evans illustrates, “Once upon a time a scorpion needed to cross a pond. Wondering how he would get to the other side, he noticed a frog nearby. ‘Mr. Frog, will you please hop me across this pond?’ The kind, gentle frog said, ‘Certainly, Mr. Scorpion. I will be glad to do so.’

So Mr. Scorpion jumped onto Mr. Frog’s back as Mr. Frog hoped from pod to pod, bringing Mr. Scorpion to the other side of the pond. But just as the frog said, ‘Well, Mr. Scorpion, here we are,’ he felt an excruciating pain in his back. Mr. Scorpion had stung him.

As Mr. Frog lay dying, he looked up at Mr. Scorpion and said, ‘How could you do this? I brought you from one side of the pond to the other and now you sting me so that I die.’

Mr. Scorpion looked at Mr. Frog and said, ‘I can’t help it. It’s my nature’ (37).

The moral of the story is the following: it is important that you know the nature of the one you are dealing with. If you underestimate the nature of the one you are dealing with then you could have dire consequences. That is why it is so important that you do not err in your understanding of the nature and person of God. When you misunderstand the nature of God thus redefining your perspective of who God is, you will run amok in your spiritual life.

What is your image of God? Paul Little gives us a few pictures (Know What You Believe, (25-26) of God in the minds of people: “a pure mathematical mind” from Einstein; “a shadowy superhuman cloud or force”; “a ball of fire ready to consume us”; “sparks of life to which we will be reunited”; “a sentimental grandfather in the sky”; or “a fearful celestial policeman.” To many people God is a vending machine who dispenses whatever we want based upon how good we live or how obedient we are to His commands. Are these correct images of God? Can we shape God into whatever form we choose to meet our needs? Of course not.

A philosopher once said, “God created man in His own image, and man returned the favor.” When we look to ourselves to define who God is we make fools of ourselves and misinterpret God. We fashion Him into some unscriptural superman. Paul explains that the lack of knowledge of who God results in idolatry. “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory if the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Romans 1:22-23). Then Paul uses the refrain “God gave them over” three times to explain the result of men who exchange the true God for a counterfeit one.
Let’s look at a few counterfeit views of God:

1. Atheism. The belief that it is impossible to know that God exists. Another form of atheism is the belief that there is a possibility of God’s existence but He is limited in power and sovereignty (Psalm 14:1).
2. Deism. The belief in an infinite God but chooses not to intervene into His creation.
3. Agnosticism. The belief that it is impossible to really know that God exists because of a lack of empirical proof.
4. Polytheism. The belief that there are many gods.
5. Pantheism. The belief that God exists in everything.

All of these are counterfeit views of God and are not supported by Scripture. Before looking at God’s Word to help us understand who this God is, let’s be up front about one thing: can anyone verify God’s existence? No! There is no way to place God under a scientific microscope and study His existence. However, just because one cannot prove God’s existence does not mean that He does not exist anymore than denying the emotion of love because you can’t see it.

Spurgeon once said, “When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.” One evidence of God’s existence (though I admit it has its weaknesses) is the moral argument. Each person possesses a desire to worship someone/something higher than us. If we are all honest with ourselves, we have to admit that there is something greater than ourselves in this universe. Blasé Pascal once remarked that all of us have a “God-shaped vacuum.” Within us all there is an appeal to some standard of right and wrong. Civilizations have been built upon moral values. Where do they come from? Solomon explains to us that God “has set eternity in their hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). If there is a moral compass within us, does that not point to a moral Lawgiver who has made us in His own image (Genesis 1:26)?

“For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:14-15).

Another evidence of God’s existence is the teleological argument. Some of you have heard of the illustration of Mount Rushmore.

In an article on intelligent design, William Dembski writes, “To see what’s at stake, consider Mount Rushmore. The evidence for Mount Rushmore’s design is direct—eyewitnesses saw the sculptor Gutzon Borglum spend the better part of his life designing and building this structure. But what if there were no direct evidence for Mount Rushmore’s design? What if humans went extinct and aliens, visiting the earth, discovered Mount Rushmore in substantially the same condition as it is now? In that case, what about this rock formation would provide convincing circumstantial evidence that it was due to a designing intelligence and not merely to wind and erosion? Designed objects like Mount Rushmore exhibit characteristic features or patterns that point to an intelligence. Such features or patterns constitute signs of intelligence.”

The universe has design. It is not chaotic, but possesses order. If there is an arranged blueprint set in place for this universe, does this not point to the possibility of a Designer who has established and ordained this universe? (Isaiah 45:18).

A third evidence for the existence of God is the cosmological argument. Derived from the word cosmos, the argument presupposes that there is a cause for every effect. When you look around in our world (cosmos), one must ask, “What is the origin of these things?” Is it reasonable that our universe came into being through chance or by accident? What are the possibilities that our universe came into existence through a primordial “big-bang”? Some are questioning this argument today. In a recent movie, What the Bleep Do We Know, 14 scientists and mystics attempt to explain the meaning of our existence. They argue that this world is its own first cause coming in and out of existence on its own. Yet, their arguments (effect) come from their philosophies (cause).

A fourth evidence of God’s existence is the ontological argument. The word ontology is from the Greek word meaning “being.” Even though a weak argument, some suggest that God must exist if He can be conceived in within the mind. If one can conceive of a greater Being than ourselves, does it point to the existence of a God? Many Christians are hesitant to promote this argument for various reasons. Not only is there is a lack of objective support but also simply saying that something exists because one conceives it is liking stating “flying pink elephants exist because one thinks of them.”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hammer, File, and Furnace

It was the enraptured Rutherford who could shout in the midst of serious and painful trials, "Praise God for the hammer, the file and the furnace."
The hammer is a useful tool, but the nail, if it had feeling and intelligence, could present another side of the story. For the nail knows the hammer only as an opponent, a brutal, merciless enemy who lives to pound it into submission, to beat it down out of sight and clinch it into place. That is the nail's view of the hammer, and it is accurate except for one thing: The nail forgets that both it and the hammer are servants of the same workman. Let the nail but remember that the hammer is held by the workman and all resentment toward it will disappear. The carpenter decides whose head will be beaten next and what hammer shall be used in the beating. That is his sovereign right. When the nail has surrendered to the will of the workman and has gotten a little glimpse of his benign plans for its future it will yield to the hammer without complaint.

The file is more painful still, for its business is to bite into the soft metal, scraping and eating away the edges till it has shaped the metal to its will. Yet the file has, in truth, no real will in the matter, but serves another master as the metal also does. It is the master and not the file that decides how much shall be eaten away, what shape the metal shall take, and how long the painful filing shall continue. Let the metal accept the will of the master and it will not try to dictate when or how it shall be filed.

As for the furnace, it is the worst of all. Ruthless and savage, it leaps at every combustible thing that enters it and never relaxes its fury till it has reduced it all to shapeless ashes. All that refuses to burn is melted to a mass of helpless matter, without will or purpose of its own. When everything is melted that will melt and all is burned that will burn, then and not till then the furnace calms down and rests from its destructive fury.

With all this known to him, how could Rutherford find it in his heart to praise God for the hammer, the file and the furnace? The answer is simply that he loved the Master of the hammer, he adored the Workman who wielded the file, he worshiped the Lord who heated the furnace for the everlasting blessing of His children. He had felt the hammer till its rough beatings no longer hurt; he had endured the file till he had come actually to enjoy its bitings; he had walked with God in the furnace so long that it had become as his natural habitat. That does not overstate the facts. His letters reveal as much.

Such doctrine as this does not find much sympathy among Christians in these soft and carnal days. We tend to think of Christianity as a painless system by which we can escape the penalty of past sins and attain to heaven at last. The flaming desire to be rid of every unholy thing and to put on the likeness of Christ at any cost is not often found among us. We expect to enter the everlasting kingdom of our Father and to sit down around the table with sages, saints and martyrs; and through the grace of God, maybe we shall; yes, maybe we shall. But for the most of us it could prove at first an embarrassing experience. Ours might be the silence of the untried soldier in the presence of the battle-hardened heroes who have fought the fight and won the victory and who have scars to prove that they were present when the battle was joined.

The devil, things and people being what they are, it is necessary for God to use the hammer, the file and the furnace in His holy work of preparing a saint for true sainthood. It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.

Without doubt we of this generation have become too soft to scale great spiritual heights. Salvation has come to mean deliverance from unpleasant things. Our hymns and sermons create for us a religion of consolation and pleasantness. We overlook the pace of the thorns, the cross and the blood. We ignore the function of the hammer and the file.

Strange as it may sound, it is yet true that much of the suffering we are called upon to endure on the highway of holiness is an inward suffering for which scarcely an external cause can be found. For our journey is an inward journey, and our real foes are invisible to the eyes of men. Attacks of darkness, of despondency, of acute self-depreciation may be endured without any change in our outward circumstances. Only the enemy and God and the hard-pressed Christian know what has taken place. The inward suffering has been great and a mighty work of purification has been accomplished, but the heart [knows] its own sorrow and no one else can share it. God has cleansed His child in the only way He can, circumstance being what they are. Thank God for the furnace.

Excerpt from A. W. Tozer

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Your identity: Buried and Risen with Christ

Understanding who you are in Christ is vital to your walk with God. At the core of the Christian’s message is the belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible states that Christ’s death is a picture of our death to sin. And when He rose again, we, too, have been raised to a new life under His headship.

Before your identity in Christ, your life was controlled and dominated by the things of this world. You lived and behaved according the world’s standards. You looked to the philosophies of this world for answers. However, when the gospel was revealed in your heart, you were transformed in your thinking. God removed you out of the darkness and placed into the light. You were placed Christ and given the Holy Spirit who guides you into living out this new life with holy living and godliness.

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:5-11

Coming under the headship of Christ means that you are a new person. Your desires, ambitions, and goals will change. You will possess a higher calling to be more like Christ. There is a change in your life to pursue Christ more fervently.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Identity in Christ: Your new position

At the moment of your salvation, many things occurred that were unseen. The Bible says that prior to your salvation, you were an enemy of God (Romans 5:6-10; James 4:4). However, after you trust in Jesus alone for your salvation, the Bible states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). You have a new spiritual position in Christ and now God sees you differently.

You have a new relationship with God. Here are some passages that explain your new position in Christ Jesus:

You are a child of God - He is your Father – John 1:12; 1 John 3:1,2
You are a branch of the true Vine – John 15:1
You are a saint – Ephesians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:1
You are no longer a servant but a friend of Christ – John 15:15
You are a fellow heir with Christ – Romans 8:17
You are a fellow citizen in God's kingdom – Ephesians 2:19
You are born of God – 1 John 4:7
You are no longer a slave but a child and heir – Galatians 4:7
You are God’s workmanship to produce good works for Him – Ephesians 2:10
You are a member of Christ’s body – Ephesians 3:6; 5:30; 1 Corinthians 12
You are a light of the world – Ephesians 5:8
You are a letter of Christ – 2 Corinthians 3:2-3
You are a citizen of heaven – Philippians 3:20

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Identity in Christ

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” Galatians 2:20.

Knowing your identity in Christ makes all the difference in your life. Don’t be deceived by the enemy. Your identity is not defined by your wealth or possessions. Your identity is not defined by your popularity, your education, or your circumstances. These things may have shaped you but they do not define you. Your identity is defined in the person of Jesus Christ.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:1-11

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Supplication, Part 2

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:7-8

A tool to help you to pray (A.C.T.S.)

A (adoration):
C (confession):
T (thanksgiving):
S (supplication or intercession):
Intercessory prayer is standing between God and His people. It is an incredible responsibility to stand before God in behalf of others.
The Bible gives many cases of people who intercede for others in prayer. When God desired to blot out the people of Israel, Moses interceded for the people and asked God for mercy (Dt 9:13-14, 25-29).
Paul desired to be cursed in behalf of his people (Rom 9:3). There are contemporary examples of intercessory prayers like George Mueller who asked God to provide finances and resources for the orphanages he served.
God calls each of us to be intercessors. It is God’s desire that every believer be active in intercessory prayer. What a wonderful and exalted privilege we have in being able to come boldly before the throne of Almighty God with our prayers and requests!
The following is only a partial list of those for whom we are to offer intercessory prayers: all in authority (1 Timothy 2:2); ministers (Philippians 1:19); the church (Psalm 122:6); friends (Job 42:8); fellow countrymen (Romans 10:1); the sick (James 5:14); enemies (Jeremiah 29:7); those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44); those who forsake us (2 Timothy 4:16); and all men (1 Timothy 2:1).