Sunday, 28 February 2016
During a very tumultuous time in Israel’s history, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah:
“For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NASB.)
At the time Israel was a divided kingdom, and the Babylonians were about to take the rest of the Jews into captivity. Yet God, who knows everything about everything, promised hope for His people.
It was not an empty promise. Roughly 70 years later, the Jews were able to return to their own land, to rebuild the temple that Christ was to visit during His earthly ministry.
God never changes. He still offers hope for a hopeless world. True peace and real hope can only be found in Jesus Christ, who is the only real Saviour.
Wednesday, 24 February 2016
Many non-Christian religions are stories of man’s search for God. Christianity (and Judaism, to some extent), differs from them, because it is the account of God’s search for man.
When Adam and Eve lost their way due to their own choice, God came to the garden to seek them and bring them back.
Since then, God has time and again stepped into history to point us the way back to Him.
At the appointed time, the Jesus left His heavenly dwelling and lived among His creations for a short while:
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
He came, because without Him, mankind was lost, without any hope whatsoever.
The New Testament shows us what Jesus is like. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). He was even ready to leave 99 sheep and go to search for the one that was lost.
He is the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep.
And that means us: “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:25).
If you are still lost, now is the time to let the Good Shepherd find you.
Scripture verses from the Berean Study Bible
Tuesday, 23 February 2016
Image courtesy of Hans Olav Lien, Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).
Charles Templeton (1915 –2001) was once a very famous evangelist who preached to tens of thousands. But he lost his faith while studying at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he learnt about evolution and millions of years.
Before his death he wrote a book entitled Farewell to God: my reasons for rejecting the Christian faith (1995).
Some Christians believe that a genuine believer can never lose his faith. A few Scripture passages seem to support this view, for instance these:
“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10: 27–28).
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38 – 39)
While it is true that no one can snatch us from God’s hand, He has given us free will. We can walk away from Him, as the following verses show:
“Now the Spirit expressly states that in later times some will abandon the faith to follow deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1).
We cannot abandon something we don’t have.
“Holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and thereby shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 1:19 – 20).
Time and again the New Testament exhorts us to cling on to the Lord, to fight the good fight so that we might overcome and inherit God’s eternal Kingdom.
Even to the faithful Philadelphian church He said:
“I am coming soon. Hold fast to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” (Revelation 3:11).
Scripture verses from the Berean Study Bible
Wednesday, 17 February 2016
How could God best show us what He is really like?
He has done that in two ways: 1) By giving us His Word, the Bible, and 2) by coming to live among us for a short while. The apostle Paul called Jesus “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
During His earthly ministry, Jesus “went about doing good and healing all those being oppressed by the devil, because God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38).
To identify with humanity, Jesus used the title Son of Man (Greek: ὁ υἱὸς τοὺ ἀνθρώπου), a sign of humility.
Writing to the Philippians, Paul exhorts us to imitate Christ:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus Who subsisting in the form of God, did not consider to be equal with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, having taken the form of a servant, having been made in the likeness of men. And having been found in appearance as a man He humbled Himself, having become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (2:5–8).
Whereas His disciples wanted to be great, Jesus was willing to wash their feet.
This humility eventually led to exaltation:
“Therefore God also highly exalted Him, and granted to Him the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in the heavens and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (2:9–11).
Even today, there is power in the name that is above every other name. In Jesus' name, sinners receive salvation and the sick are healed.
Scripture quotations from the Berean Literal Bible
Friday, 12 February 2016
How long has it been since you heard a sermon on repentance?
Repentance is not a very popular concept nowadays. It is probably one of the tree words many preachers tend to avoid. The other two are sin and hell, which obviously are not politically correct terms either.
When Jesus began His earthly ministry He preached on the necessity of repentance: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel,” Mark 1:15 records Him preaching.
And when He was about to leave this world, He instructed the disciples: “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24: 46–47).
This is exactly what the early disciples did. Peter and John proclaimed: “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19), and Paul had a similar message. On trial before King Agrippa, he said: “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance" (Acts 26:19–20).
What, actually, is repentance? The Greek word metanoia refers to a change of mind and sorrow for one’s sin. It is not primarily an emotional reaction, although emotions may be involved, but a decision of the will. One makes a decision to discard that which one knows is wrong and then discards it. Or if one finds one is going in the wrong direction, one turns round and chooses the right way.
I would suggest that there are two reasons why preaching on the necessity of repentance is not popular in our day. The first one is Darwinian evolution that basically rejects a literal Fall and the second is humanistic psychology that draws on Darwinism and rejects original sin. These two ideologies permeate every level in society and their impact is also felt in the church, even though Christians might not always realise it.
However, the Bible tells us that God has not changed, and history tells us that man has not changed, so there should be no valid reasons for avoiding one of the most essential concepts of Christian preaching.
The gospel has to do with changing lives. As Paul put it in Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.”
Even today, preachers should proclaim “the whole counsel of God” since it is the only formula for changing lives.
Scripture verses from the New King James Version (NkJV)
Wednesday, 10 February 2016
Luke’s Gospel records the account of an event that occurred when Jesus was twelve and He went to Jerusalem with Joseph and Mary. Returning from the Festival of the Passover, they noticed that Jesus was not with them.
Everything that is written in Scripture serves a purpose. This account is no exception. We ought to search ourselves and our ways every now and then to see whether Jesus is really with us, or whether we have gone on without Him.
The Old Testament judge Samson provides a warning example for us. He assumed that God was still with him even though he had disclosed the secret of his strength to Delilah.
But he was wrong; his strength was gone.
We might face trouble if we do not watch and pray but instead merely assume that the Lord is with us.
Tuesday, 9 February 2016
The New Testament exhorts us to be followers and true disciples of Jesus. To do so, we need to focus on Him. The Letter to the Hebrews (12: 2–3) says:
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
How can we do this, as He is no longer physically present in our world?
The Apostle Paul explains:
“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3: 16 –17).
We can keep our eyes on Jesus when we read His Word, the Bible, and let it dwell in us and change us into His likeness.
He promises a great reward for those who do so consistently:
“If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, proving yourselves to be My disciples.” (John 15: 7–8).
Jesus described His Word as food. According to a much-used quotation attributed to the evangelist Dwight L. Moody, “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”
The choice is ours.
Scripture verses from the Berean Study Bible
Monday, 8 February 2016
“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.” (Mark 11:23).
Faith is one of the key words of the Gospels. It can achieve incredible things. Time and again, Jesus taught about the significance of believing, of having faith.
"Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted,” (Matthew 15:28), He told a Canaanite woman who believed He could and was willing to heal her very sick daughter.
Jesus also praised the great faith of a Roman centurion (Matthew 8:10), who saw Him as the One who had authority over sickness, even at a distance.
In contrast, Jesus often rebuked those who failed to believe. “Men of little faith,” He would say to the disciples once and again when they doubted Him.
It was not just any kind of faith that Jesus meant, but faith in Him. The Letter to the Hebrews gives us a brief definition of faith:
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1, NIV).
Faith is essential:
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
Faith in the Bible as God’s self-revelation made modern science possible. The pioneers of science, for instance Robert Hooke, Sir Isaac Newton and Louis Pasteur, believed that a rational Creator had created a rational universe that obeys natural laws that could be studied.
Some Christians have succeeded in exercising the kind of faith that is not deferred by seemingly impossible hurdles. British evangelist Smith Wigglesworth (1859–1947), who is known as the Apostle of Faith, fits nicely into this category. God used him to touch and heal countless lives all over the world.
Sunday, 7 February 2016
Christians are by definition followers of Christ. Or at least we should be. In practice, we tend to form small cliques and often think we have all the answers while the other groups are still groping around if not in the dark, then at least in semi-darkness.
We might distinguish between three major groups in evangelical Christianity: (1) heresy hunters, (2) sign seekers and (3) rational readers. It seems that the borders of these groups do not necessarily follow denominational boundaries.
Heresy hunters strongly believe that they are living in the end times and that the Anti-Christ might appear at any moment. Historically, the earliest members of this group were teachers of the Jewish law who claimed Jesus was possessed by Beelzebub, the prince of demons.
It is certainly true that some preachers have marketed highly questionable doctrines, such as the “Jesus died spiritually” teaching that has no biblical basis whatsoever. The late Kenneth Hagin and his followers also taught that we are little gods. Moreover, some weird manifestations at the fringes of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement might suggest that the heresy hunters are definitely needed.
However, here we need discernment. Otherwise we might see heresy where there isn’t any. For instance, some say that speaking in tongues definitely ended in the first century A.D. when the New Testament canon became complete. The argument is based on a single verse in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
Did you notice the time element? I didn’t.
I would say that the same applies to divine healing.
“Slain in the Spirit” or falling down in response to prayer or the laying on of hands is a controversial phenomenon. It occurred in some early revivals but it is also manifested in Hinduism, so we cannot really pass the final judgement in this issue.
Sign seekers are those who believe in a powerful end time revival. They firmly believe that every supernatural thing, no matter how weird it might sound, comes from God. The problem is that uncontrollable laughter, jerking and twitching also occur in Hinduism and new age settings.
Now, heresy hunters will claim that all bizarre manifestations are sure signs that they are of demoniac origin. Another possible explanation would be that they are psychological reactions to expectations in a highly emotional setting.
David Wilkerson, for instance, has said that he does not believe that weird “Toronto Blessing” type noises are manifestations sent by God’s Holy Spirit.
A big problem with the sign seeker approach is that it emphasises glory without the cross. At worst, it results in a bloodless gospel with positive thinking and self-improvement replacing the need for repentance.
We should also remember that Jesus warned of running after signs: “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign!” He told the Pharisees and teachers of the law and then promised them just one sign – His resurrection.
However, on at least three occasions Jesus instructed the disciples to heal the sick and the early church followed this commission literally, with amazing results for the spread of the gospel.
The members of the third group, rational readers, focus on the intellectual aspect of the Bible. They are the Sadducees of our time. The Sadducees did not believe in the supernatural. Unlike the German scholars of the 18th and 19th centuries, the rational readers do profess to believe in the supernatural, but in their quest for harmony between modern science and the Bible they often use naturalistic explanations in their interpretation of the Old Testament. Bernard Ramm was an early advocate of this tendency. Noah’s Flood, he said, was local, and Joshua’s long day was not so long after all.
A major problem with rational readers is that they tend to overestimate the explanatory power of modern science and underestimate the power of the great Creator God, who in the New Testament turned water into wine in an instant and restored Lazarus to life in no time at all.
Another problem is that Christianity loses its life-changing dynamic aspect when its inherent power is explained away. We should, after all, be doers of the Word.
Is there a solution to the problems the Church is facing? I believe there is: a return a Christianity that focuses on and lifts up Jesus Christ and gives Him all the glory for His work as Creator and Redeemer and uses discernment to keep the faith pure from intrusions, regardless of whether they come from western rationalism or eastern mysticism.
Is the Bible still relevant for us who are living in the Internet age? Some would claim that the Book is merely a collection of stories made up by uneducated members of a Near East nomadic tribe, and that it thus cannot be reliable.
However, many archaeological discoveries show clearly that the Bible is about real people who lived at a real time in real history in a real geographical setting.
Many other things show us that Scripture is reliable.
One of the important teachings of the Bible is that God’s Word never changes. Jesus Himself says,
“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18, NIV).
Jesus, whom the apostle John introduces as the Logos (λόγος) who created everything, is the Living Word. Scripture says unequivocally that like the eternal Word, even He never changes:
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”(Hebrews 13:8).
So, what does that mean for you and me?
Luke begins the Acts of the Apostles with the words, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven” (1:1–2).
The rest of Acts shows what Jesus did through the apostles’ ministry.
Yes, but that was 2,000 years ago, you might say.
While some Christians think that the age of miracles ended when the New Testament canon was completed, there is scant evidence for this view in Scripture.
Many present-day healings suggest strongly that God still heals people.
Let me tell you of three healing miracles that I either saw or experienced. Several decades ago I prayed with some young people for a girl who was suffering from a bad migraine. She was healed instantly. Then we prayed for an elderly man suffering from the same condition. He, too, was healed on the spot.
In 2007 I hurt my knee. At times the pain was excruciating. I had to wear an elastic bandage all the time, and even then life was difficult. I could hardly walk. But then, on a short trip to the Greek island of Lesbos, God suddenly touched my knee. I noticed I no longer needed the bandage and I could actually walk very fast and soon even jog!
I have not needed the bandage since then. Now, almost nine years later the healthy knee still reminds me of the heavenly Miracle Maker, who is the same as in Bible times.
Saturday, 6 February 2016
While on a short vacation on the Greek Ionian island of Kephalonia a few years ago, my wife and I often took long walks in the evenings. It usually was much more comfortable to walk when the hot Mediterranean sun was not overhead, scorching us.
We wanted to see some rare historical sights. One evening, as it was getting dark, we had to turn back before reaching the ruins of an ancient temple. Little did we know that our destination was under half a mile away.
A few days later we walked up a steep hill in the opposite direction to see some other ruins. The road had more U-turns than anything else. Once again, we had to turn back before reaching our destination. And this time it was just around the corner.
We were eventually able to see both sights.
Back in Finland, we continued our walks. One evening we decided to find out where a narrow winding road led. However, as it was getting dark, we had to turn back.
A few weeks later we set out earlier. This time we were able to make it. We discovered that on the previous try we had turned back under half a mile from our destination.
So, the same thing happened thrice: three times on three different occasions we had turned back just before reaching our destination.
I believe that God used this experience to teach us something about perseverance, a topic that the Bible has much to say about. Jesus spoke of the need to persevere in prayer – not to give up but to keep on asking and praying until we get an answer.
Once, when Jesus was teaching about prayer,
“He said to them, ‘Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. ” (Luke 11: 5-8)
On another occasion the Lord tested the faith of a Gentile lady whose daughter was seriously sick:
“From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden. For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. But Jesus said to her, ‘Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.’ And she answered and said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.’ Then He said to her, ‘For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.’ And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed.” (Mark 7:24-30)
I believe that sometimes the Lord challenges us to walk another half a mile until we reach our destination, get what we ask, putting our trust entirely in Him. We should not forget that He is more than willing to help us.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Friday, 5 February 2016
We seem to have a universal need for searching for answers to life’s ultimate questions.
Christianity gives us answers to the big issues humanity is facing, such as why there is so much suffering in the world and what is man’s ultimate destiny.
It shows why we differ from all other living beings. Created in God’s image, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as Psalm 139:14 puts it. Our bodies are full of amazing molecular machines that display our Creator’s handiwork and cannot be explained away by evolution.
Other religions and humanistic ideologies fail to give us satisfactory answers.
Christianity also differs from all other religions that we know of in another very pertinent way.
Non-Christian religions focus on what we should do to please God. This often involves various kinds of rituals, such as sacrifices, observing holy days and perhaps fasting.
In contrast, Christianity has to do with trust. We trust that God has already done everything that is necessary for our salvation.
Salvation is necessary because we are all tainted with the sin nature that we inherited from our earliest ancestors. Their disobedience brought death and suffering into the world.
This shows why there is so much bloodshed and suffering in the world. Only the Judeo-Christian worldview can explain why things all too often go awry.
All we need to do is to believe that Jesus Christ came to earth to atone for our sins. He was willing to die on a wooden cross for our sake.
After seeing what God had done, the jailer at Philippi asked the apostles Paul and Silas what he should do. They replied: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
But God has more in store for us. We are not meant to be armchair believers but true disciples who want to share the good news of salvation to a world that desperately needs hope.
Scripture quotations from the New King James Version (NKJV).
Wednesday, 3 February 2016
The tomb is still empty. Image courtesy of Phillip Benshmuel, Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Conspiracy theories attract a lot of attention. Many people are suspicious of the official version of what is happening in our time, and they might believe that they are not being told the whole truth.
This might not be a big surprise, as the 20th century saw a huge rise in the use of Orwellian language. For instance, we learnt of many self-styled people's democracies that were anything but democracies and certainly not governed by the people but were in effect Marxist-Leninist oligarchies that used words in a sense that was diametrically opposite of what we might have expected.
And politics is not the only sphere in which words don’t always mean what we would assume.
But conspiracy theories are not recent inventions. The earliest theories saw daylight at least two thousand years ago, if not earlier. The first Christians already had to grapple with views that sought to undermine their faith in their Redeemer.
The following five conspiracy theories are basically very old but we still encounter them, especially on Internet forums:
#1 Christ did not rise from the dead
Almost from the beginning of His ministry, detractors claimed that Jesus was not what He claimed to be. They questioned His credentials and refused to believe in Him. This culminated in His death and resurrection that they doubted, claiming instead that His disciples had stolen the body.
This rumour probably had a long life, as the Apostle Paul had to address it in his first letter to the Corinthians that he penned some two decades after the resurrection, pointing out that many eyewitnesses to the risen Christ were still alive.
#2 Jesus predicted the coming of the Islamic prophet Muhammed
Teaching His disciples in John 14 and 16, Jesus prophesied the coming of the Counsellor, by which He meant the Holy Spirit. The Greek word is paracleitos, but some Muslim scholars suggest it is a corruption of periplutos, or ‘the one worthy of praise,’ whom they assume to be the prophet Muhammed.
We should keep in mind that the earliest New Testament manuscripts are over 500 years older than the Qur’an and without exception all of them use the word paracleitos. There is no way this could be understood as referring to Muhammed.
#3 Christianity borrowed major concepts such as the Trinity from other religions
This is a favourite of Bible-sceptics, but it is based on a lack of knowledge. While the Bible clearly says that God is one, it also says that He sent His Son to redeem mankind from its sin. Moreover, the New Testament calls Jesus Lord (Kyrios), the word only used of God in early Christianity, and even God (in John 20:28, for instance).
The Holy Spirit is presented as a person, not an impersonal force, as some groups might believe.
#4 The Emperor Constantine put the New Testament together
There is no truth behind this claim. The early church leaders had very strict criteria for choosing books into the New Testament. For instance, they had to be written by the apostles or by people close to them and be factually correct and theologically sound. The church councils merely confirmed the books that already bore the hallmarks of Scripture.
#5 Jesus was not born of a virgin
Some sceptics would once again see the influence of Middle Eastern religions in the concept of the virgin birth, but the idea can already be found in the Protevangelium in Genesis 3:15, which names the seed of the woman (and not of a man, as we might have thought). Isaiah 7:14, written 700 years before Christ, mentions that a virgin shall give birth to a son. While the Hebrew word almah can also refer to a young woman, it does not nullify the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ virgin birth.