Friday, February 17, 2017

The Eternal City: A Real Place? What will it be like?

Via Wikimedia Commons cc 2.0
Is there really life after death?  Or is this life all there is?  It's a question that we ignore, we toss aside, and eventually ponder.  It's a question that draws out fear and emotional outrage.  It's a question that affects how we live and what we live for.  

Could there really be an eternal city, coming out of heaven, where humanity will live in the next life?  I believe that there is just such a place.  

Our universe is a very interesting place.  Have you ever breezed through photos taken by the Hubble telescope?  Or looked at photos taken by molecular biologists of cells in the human body?  Have you looked up at the stars and the moon and wondered at the harmonious complexity of our world?  I know I have done those things.  

Have you watched the hummingbird meander effortlessly through the air buzzing at breakneck speeds from flower to flower injecting it's beak into the nectar simultaneously feeding itself and cross-pollinating plants?   

Have you contemplated the breadth of time from eternity to eternity?  Have you considered the factors necessary for the survival of a species?  Indeed, these things are spell-binding.  They cry out for an intelligence beyond our frame of physical reference with the ability to care for our souls past death.

The eternal city is indeed a real place.  And there are requirements we must meet to enter that place.  These requirements are most certainly moral in nature.  After all we as humans think and live in moral terms.  We look for justice, mercy, love, forgiveness, and judgment.  We know intuitively that abstract ideas, like good and evil, are rooted in fixed reality.  We know that good and evil are real.

All of these things led to my realization that God is in fact real.  And that there is an eternal city beyond our existence on Earth.  The very last book of the book tells us about it.  It's a book titled "Revelation."  Revelation means, "the revealing."  It is truly, a fascinating read.

This eternal city, which is the future of the human race, is discussed in good detail in Revelation.  And if in fact this city is a future reality, then the implications are indeed far-reaching.  It changes everything about everything, as far as considering the meaning of life.  If this eternal city is indeed an eternal city, in which humanity will reside not for a mere 75 to 100 years, but for millions of years, and billions of years, and trillions of years, then this life is nothing but a dim window, a mere 1% of the 99% reality that awaits us in the future.  

For the God who names himself in the scriptures as "I am who I am" such a future is not too hard.  What in fact would be too hard for a God with no beginning or end?  I AM WHO I AM is a statement of God's otherness in fact.  God is not like us in most respects.  He is beyond our full comprehension.  This is a terribly difficult thing to accept.  But as Da Vinci said, only a fool would not be willing to admit that there are some realities beyond his comprehension.  That is why the fallacy of "Who created God?" is so amusing.  By definition, if God could be created, then He wouldn't be God.  He'd be man.  We think in these finite terms: Who created God?  God answers this question in his title: I am who I am.  I am not like you.  I am beyond the past, and beyond the future.  In fact, God created time itself.  We must allow for our finite ability to comprehend eternity.  Given that, we can however still consider many aspects of this reality of the eternal city. 

Revelation chapter twenty, from the most hated book in history, banned in approximately 60 countries, the Bible, which simple means "The Book" we get a glimpse of our future as a species.  The mind repels against it, preferring a future of human glory, yet something within us tells us it's true.

"I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years." (Revelation 20:1-6)

At a future date in time, that which we are unaware of, things will get very troubled on Earth.  They are in fact rather troubled right now, but nothing compared to what it will be in the end.  At the consummation of these dark events, evil will be defeated, and Jesus Christ will reign on Earth for 1,000 years. And so will his people. 

Fascinating stuff.  We don't really know what will occur during this 1,000 year period, but it's clear that the eternal city hasn't been established yet.  The new heavens and the new Earth haven't come yet.  There seems to be a period of Christ reigning on Earth with his tribulation saints, and at the end of the 1,000 years there is a final rebellion against Christ and his people when Satan is released a second time.  During this engagement, armies surround the holy city, which is most likely referring to Jerusalem in present day Israel.  And the city is surrounded by enemy armies, probably involving nations deceived by the return of Satan.  The enemy army is destroyed by God, and Christ's final victory is completed.

Then we have an event called the great white throne judgment.  This is where God's people are crowned with glory and given their inheritance, and also, where God's enemies are judged according to how they lived, and sentenced to disconnection from God for eternity.  

Revelation 21 and 22 is what we want to focus on today.  That's where we see the creation of the new heavens and the new Earth.  

A lot of people are deathly afraid of touching this part of the Bible.  And I think it's because there are so many wacko birds out there.  They go absolutely nutty about the end times, and scare people out of their minds with dates, times, predictions, locations, and of course the ever-increasing list of those who must be "the anti-christ."  Who have made that list?  Names like Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and of course the last few Popes. I recall one pastor indicated in one of his sermons that he'd met 39 people who had claimed to be one of the "two witnesses" in Revelation chapter 11.  (On a side note some have suggested that the two witnesses could be Moses and Elijah.  It's a fair speculation, has some evidence to back it up, but it's just theory.)

Many church organizations and leaders, like the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah Witnesses have claimed to "know the date" of when Christ will return, and time and again, they were proven wrong.  That really has to be an awkward day after, don't you think?  Well, we've got the date, here it comes... oh.  Well, anyway...  I guess we miscalculated there. Awkward! 

But I think if we set aside all the wacky predictions and money-making "end times" extravaganzas and just look at what the text says, we can find a true blessing from God in the last few chapters of Revelation.  It is a book of the Bible, so we shouldn't avoid it, we should study it, and accept it as true events.  But as always, I will add that you should check the word for yourself, if anything I write does not jive with the word of God, then you should disregard what I've said, and trust the word of God.  It has been preserved through history, and will not lead you astray.

"Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”"
-Revelation 21:1-5 

If I may translate for you, I believe what it's saying here is that the old universe, the universe we exist in right now, the milky way, and all the surrounding galaxies will be removed by God, and remade into a perfected form.  Remember the universe we exist in right now is in a "fallen" state.  It's messed up by sin, fragmented and unsustainable.  What this new universe will be like?  It's hard to say.  I doubt we could fully comprehend it.  But I'm sure it will be beautiful, and awe inspiring.  I've studied numerous artistic depictions of what the new heavens and new earth might be like, they all utterly fail to project anything near what it will actually be like.  And I understand why.  It's just so far beyond us to consider a perfect reality.  Perfection is so far removed from what we see around us and within ourselves, don't you think?  

Within this new universe, there will also be a new Earth.  That's right, a physical Earth.  We will not be floating like spirits in the cloud of heaven.  We are not destined to live in heaven.  We are destined to live on the new Earth, specifically in a city called the New Jerusalem.  So remember that, no clouds, no harps, no halos, that doesn't sound particularly appealing or logical after all, clouds can't be stood upon.  So no, the Bible says a city called the New Jerusalem.

Now allow me to blow your mind completely regarding this city.  Remember the Bible says this, so we must believe it.  I've told people and they say "well I don't know, I've been taught other things."  Well, I'm just telling you what the Bible says, and I'm gonna stick with the word.  You do what you like.  Anyway.

The New Jerusalem, is a giant city in the same shape as the OT tabernacle from the time of Moses.  The city is in fact in the shape of a giant cube (Revelation 21:16-17.) Just like the Borg from Star Trek.  Just kidding.  Honestly though, why did I have to discover this for myself in the text?  It's right there in Revelation 21.  Yet I had never heard this before, until I actually read it myself.  It just goes to show you folks, read the word for yourself, but don't just read it, study it slowly verse by verse and don't rely on what you've been told, rely on what's actually in there.  

Absolutely fascinating stuff!  It says the city shines with the glory of God.  I don't know exactly what that means, but from time to time I've had tiny glimpses of the glory of God in my own life, and let me tell you, I wish I could live in those moments.  They are just wonderful.  They come too abruptly and end too quickly. 

The massiveness of this city in quite revealing.  It's about 1,400 miles.  About the distance from Seattle, WA to Minneapolis, MI.  The New Jerusalem is that wide AND long in a square shape.  So about the size of 3/4 of the United States just as the base.  But remember it's also 1,400 miles tall.  Absolutely amazing.  

There are three gates on each side of the city, with a total of twelve gates.  Each gate entrance is carved out of one massive pearl.  There are twelve foundations to the city, each made of a different kind of rare jewel.  (Revelation 21:19-21.)   God is an artist.  An artist not only of the materials provided, but of the materials themselves.  Remember he designed each of these jewels from scratch.  Or as the story is told, an atheist came to God and said,"Making things isn't so hard. I bet I could take dirt and make life."  And God replied,"Well alright, go ahead and try."  So the atheist went down into the sand and began to fuddle around.  And God quickly replied,"Hold on now, get your own sand."

Running through the center of the city is a "great street" made of transparent gold (v.21) There is no temple in the city, no tabernacle, in fact from the shape of the city we can see that the city itself is the tabernacle; in other words, the very throne of God is the city itself (v.22)  The 'holy of holies' where the true presence of God resides is the city itself.  

"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever." -Revelation 22:1-5

So from the throne of God which must reside within the city flows this river of the water life down the middle of the streets of the city.  So we see a great street of gold, it must be a very wide street, and down the middle of the street is this river of the water of life.  This giant tree, the tree of life is at the end of the street apparently, or perhaps at the center, bearing twelve crops of fruit.  Fascinating.  There is a lot of metaphor here.  Christ is the river that leads us to the holy city.  Christ, given by God, leads us to the tree of life, where we eat of the gift of eternal life, that which Adam lost for us in the garden long ago.  This is done a great deal in the scriptures.  Real events, and real places carry additional meaning.  It's quite an elegant way for God to describe reality.  He uses real events to depict things, and through these real events he also describes spiritual truths.  

"Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.” -Revelation 22:10-11

God instructed John not to hide what was written in Revelation, and in the same way today I believe we are called to share with others the words of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.  I truly believe and know that these events will come to pass.  All of this will happen just as God has described it.

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life."
-Revelation 22:12-17 

It's a lot to take in.  It really is.  But it's an amazing look at a beautiful future.  The implications are far reaching.  I think the most practical application of these truths is this: How we live today matters.  It matters in light of eternity.  It matters in light of the future destiny of the human race.  Blessed are those who wash their robes.  How does one wash their robe? By coming to Jesus Christ, the one whom God has given to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Christ gives us the right to the eternal life found at the tree of life, the holy grail of life everlasting.  Christ is the cure to death itself.  So like the Spirit, Christ, and the bride say, I also say to you: Come!  Let the one who is thirsty come.  I am so thirsty. I'm so thirsty for righteousness in those broken world, I'm so thirsty for justice in this troubled world, and I'm so thirsty for peace in my own troubled soul.  If your like me, thirsty like me, I am telling you the truth, you are thirsty for Jesus Christ.  I am thirsty for this great, glorious future where all things are made new, including me. Are you thirsty?

Close up of Nebula Via Wikimedia Commons cc 2.0
God's Glory of Creation Via Wikimedia Commons cc 2.0
Additional Articles:
  1. The Return of Jesus Christ & the New Jerusalem
  2. What will the New Universe be like?
  3. Origin, Meaning, Morality, & Destiny: An atheist and a Christian on discuss Worldview
  4. Seven Objections to the Bible and Seven Reasonable Responses
  5. Quick Fact Sheet: Four Points to Consider
  6. 10 Answers to Common Questions Raised by Skeptics
  7. Believing in the Miraculous: The Work of Jesus Christ on the Cross
  8. Can you see through the illusion?
  9. Philosophy, Science, Logic, and History: Presentations on the Truth of Christianity from Multiple Disciplines
  10. No Evidence for God?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Philosophical Transformation Series: God's Overarching History: The Big Picture

Photo from "The Fountain"
Accompanying Video: "The Spread of the Gospel"

Message Audio:

How do you see history? How does your mind frame the world around you? Are you seeing it from a Godly perspective, or from a secular perspective? Today we’re going to talk about God’s Overarching History: The Big Picture. Today we’re going to go from Genesis to John to Revelation and frame within our minds how God accurately portrays history.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth. Amazing. Over 6 days God makes the universe, Earth, nature, animals, and humanity. It was perfect, from the beginning. God is this self existent being, existing forever, in a timeless state, and he chooses to create a universe, laws, physics, and he creates life. You’re here right now because God decided to sovereignly create a human species. He wanted there to be us.

He creates the first two human beings, and designs a garden for them to live in on the surface of the pre-historic earth. God lives in direct contact with his creation, genesis 3:8 says that God himself walked in the garden. 

The Garden of Eden, via Wikimedia Commons
 It’s assumed that previously, before God made man, he had also made the angels, these spiritual beings who serve him. One of these beings named Lucifer, the most beautiful of all the angels, by some act of the will, manifests pride in his own heart. Isaiah 14:13 says “You said in your heart,‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high.” And perhaps it had something to do with God’s creation of man.

So Lucifer, also known as Satan, goes to the first two humans, and tempts them. God has created a perfect reality for his people to live in, but he also offers one option, one tree that they must not eat from, to allow for a sacred choice: to obey or disobey. It’s much easier to obey in this world, because there is only one tree that must be avoided. Yet as we know, scandalously, amazingly, shockingly, the first humans accepted the temptation, and decided to play god for themselves. They disobeyed god, and opened up a nightmare that would unfold throughout human history.

The perfect universe, and the perfect earth became fallen. This one decision changed everything, opening a door for Lucifer to become Satan, the fallen one. By successfully tempting Adam and Eve, Satan gained control over them, the earth, and everything on it. Humanity had given up their dominion over the earth, and ceded it to Satan. As 1st John 5:19 says “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

Yet God promised, though man had fallen and would now face mortal death, through the human race would come one who would defeat Satan, and restore humanity to it’s place of fellowship with God.

Isaiah 46 verse 9 says “Remember the things I have done in the past.”

History is so very important. What do they say about history? Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. So we must remember what God has done and what he will do.

Historical revisionism is a very real threat. In fact the truth is, many of us probably don’t know much about Christian history. I didn’t know anything about Christian history until I attended a Christian college. You see in public education, any mention of Christianity is edited out. Did you know that the first settlers coming to America did so for quote “the glory of God and advancements of the Christian faith?” Unfortunately that part of the mayflower compact is often edited out. I had never heard of the great awakenings in the United States, or how Christians founded the first universities, orphanages, and hospitals. They didn’t change anything, they just kind of didn’t mention it.

History is so vital. So we must be certain as Christians that we are seeing history as it truly is, and not as the world has taught us it is. The modern view is fairly simple: Everything is getting better all the time. Humanity is “evolving” and doesn’t need that drab old religious stuff anymore. Through science and technology man will ascend the heights! In fact if you were to watch television, or television programs for many hours you would probably never hear mention of Christianity, churches or faith. It’s excluded. They edit it out of our daily lives.

We must fight the false narrative, to claim a Christian concept of history. So let’s continue. As we discussed, humanity fell away from God, and were expelled from the garden in an event we call the fall of man.

Soon the world has become so corrupted, that there is only one man and his family who must safeguard the future. At one point in human history the entire hope of the planet, the species, and the various animals of the earth resided on an ark, while the entire surface of the earth was covered in flood waters.

Screenshot from the Noah movie (2014)
Absolutely astonishing!

As we all know, God eventually raised up a nation called Israel to be a beacon to the nations. God planned to bring about a great revolution upon the Earth by raising up this nation. He gave Israel the law, which became a covenant, an agreement between God and the Israelites. If they would follow his laws, and live by faith, upholding justice and mercy, then He would be their God and they would be his people. Many of the greats we know of today all lived under this “old covenant” people like Moses, Aaron, Joseph, Isaac, Daniel, and others.

But ultimately all of these events were leading up to a moment when God himself would enter human history as a man, to save his people personally. This we know of today as the coming of Jesus Christ. All of the books of the Old Testament, hundreds of prophecies all pointed to the future hope of the coming of Christ.

Jesus Christ came, the God man, and lived a sinless life. He perfectly obeyed the old testament laws, all of them. Having lived a sinless life, he fulfilled the old testament laws, and established the new covenant through his crucifixion. This is why we call the last 27 books of the the Bible the “new testament.” It’s a new deal, a new arrangement. 

Ancient depiction of crucifixion
So you have human history coming to this point of culmination, to the point that the calendar was formed around this crucifixion of Christ, B.C. and A.D. Though recently they changed it to B.C.E. and C.E. Big shocker there, that they don’t want history to revolve around Christ, right? Revisionist history. They change history to suite their narrative, the secular one. The evolution narrative, the goo man, rising up, improving himself through self effort to bring about a bright future of human triumph. That’s the man-made narrative, but it isn’t Gods. And it isn’t the truth.

Do you see how we can fail to perceive history accurately? The world can really influence us to assume that we’re here to live a prosperous American life, and it affects our priorities. It affects how we live. It affects how we view ourselves and the people around us.

I want to see the world through God’s eyes. I want to see the world as a culmination of God’s history, not the triumph of man. There is no such thing, only to God be the glory.

So Jesus Christ, God with us, is crucified offering himself as a replacement for us. He takes our punishment for sin upon himself. Not only that, but Christ resurrects from the dead, and shows himself to hundreds of witnesses over a 40 day period. And Christ ascends to heaven, promising to return at the end of the age.

So from about 30 A.D. to 2017 A.D. we see a period of the rapid expansion of the church on Earth. It begins with a smattering of a few hundred followers, the twelve apostles, and Paul. From that little group, flying into the Roman empire after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem… Christianity today is the single largest faith on Earth with approximately 2.1 billion people indicating they are followers of Christ.

As we saw in the video, Christianity grew rapidly, and has been confronted by various contrary worldviews, first the paganism of the roman empire, then the barbarian tribes, then Islam, later on communism, and today the primary foe of Christianity must certainly be secularism, and naturalism, which began in 1859, when Darwin’s origin of species was first published.

We are part of this period in human history, when the Holy Spirit lives on Earth with us, and He is at work building the church on Earth, fulfilling Christ’s great command to go to all the nations and baptize them in the name of the father, and the son, and the holy spirit. The Salvation Army is part of the mission, founded in 1865, and enduring today along with many other fine traditions spreading the gospel far and wide.

So rejoice. You are part of a proud line of missionaries and evangelists who have fought under the banner of Christ, as his hands and feet, delivering the gospel to the world.

God asks us to remember. He says to us, Isaiah 46:11b “I have said what I would do, and I will do it.” And verse 10b “Everything I plan will come to pass, for I will do all that I please.”

God in the shadows, is the orchestrator of this grand theatrical sequence, one moment to the next, allowing for the free choices of man on a continuum of time and space, as His plan unfolds before our eyes. We see it in everything, even when we don’t realize it, his saga plays out before our very eyes.

Now this may be the point when many a skeptic would say “Why? Why should I believe God’s story? Because the Bible says so? Why should I believe that the Bible is God’s word?“

Well that’s talk about the Bible and History for a moment. Did you know the Bible is historically reliable? It’s true. Biblical data can in fact be tested, tested against history. If the Bible says that Jesus was crucified under a Roman governor named Pontius Pilate, we can look into history and see that there was indeed an ancient Roman empire, and it did control Israel at that time in history. Archaeology also shows that the Bible is historically accurate.

As an academic matter, we generally look into the past, and are able to understand ancient documents and respect them as authentic history by how many ancient copies of the document exist and how well they match one another. 

Via the Truth Project
Additionally, historians respect manuscripts based on how recently they are dated from the original events they depict. 

via The Truth Project
So it’s very interesting that so many people question the reliability of the Bible, when as far as historical tests, it passes with flying colors, not only passes, but is the single most incredible document ever to grace recorded history. Could the skepticism be rooted in emotion and resistance to the fact of a God who asks us to account for our actions? Very interesting.

Finally, one of several ways to indicate that the Bible is not only history, but also the word of God, are the over 300 prophecies predicting the coming of Christ and all he would do, that were all fulfilled by Jesus Christ when he came. A document can be considered to be the word of God in that it predicts accurately future events. Given the cumulative evidence, it becomes increasingly reasonable to conclude that the Bible is in fact God’s word.

God is sovereign over all this history, and the development of his creation, his people, and the spread of the church. Ultimately all of these events are culminating to a point when dark times will come, the church will undergo times of great persecution, the enemy’s kingdom will fully come about on Earth, all concluding with the return of Jesus Christ. He will rule and reign on Earth, establishing his millennial kingdom. And finally at the conclusion of all things in the old world, the final defeat of evil will occur, and the new heavens and the new Earth will be created. And the old will pass away.

That is our future destiny. Thousands of years ago God created man, and man chose to disobey God. The law came into effect, and Israel was formed. Then God came into human history, as Jesus Christ the son of God, to personally atone for the sins of the people. His church grows today. And Christ is coming again to establish his kingdom, and eventually create the news heavens and the new Earth.

Via The Truth Project
Our destiny as a species, as a people, is to live in the direct presence of God almighty, to worship him, to love him and be loved by him. To experience for eternity, millions and billions of years and more, the mysteries of his kingdom, and the work he has for us to do there. There will be great adventures, great joy, and wonder in this new kingdom he will establish. There will be no, no death, no curse, and no tears. It will not be boring. But every day will be an amazing, awe inspiring adventure, a constant experience of what we were always meant to be as people. What we are now is not what we were originally designed for. Our original design, which has been re-established in Christ is to be constantly in the presence and love of God, to enjoy Him forever, and to experience the wonders and mysteries of life in communion with him and with all other humans in a perfect state of existence. That is what we have to look forward to.

Today in your life, God is sovereign. When you live in the world out there, don’t forget who you are. You a prince, a princess, a king and queen, under Christ, destined to reign with Christ, destined to live in harmony with Him. This fallen world is a struggle. But we look forward to a great inheritance.

History is God’s story. And the world’s narrative fails to stand up to scrutiny. So believe the Bible. And Believe in Christ. Our faith in Him will yield a vast ocean of abundance and glory in eternal life, which is our destiny.

A Philosophical Transformation Series
3. God's Overarching History: The Big Picture
(Coming up...)
4: Theology: Understanding God
5: Anthropology: Who are we? Human Origins (The Fall)
6: Sociology: The Divine Image, the Family & The Social Order
7: Redemption of Man: The Cross (Paradise Regained)
8: Morality: How should we live?
9: Working to God’s Glory: Created to Create, Community & Charity, Giving & Building
10: Government & Law: The Unique American Experiment 
11:  The Future Destiny of Man: The New Heavens & New Earth
12: Everything is about Jesus: Closeness with Christ & Living Missionally

Friday, February 10, 2017

20 Quotations for Your Pondering

Here are some quotations from great thinkers. Enjoy.

"Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness."
- Martin Luther King Jr.

"The most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men." -Gilbert K. Chesterton

“Truth is so obscured nowadays and lies [are] so well established that unless we love the truth we shall never recognize it.” 
-Blaise Pascal

"I am sure there never was a people, who had more reason to acknowledge a divine interposition in their affairs, than those of the United States; and I should be pained to believe, that they have forgotten that agency, which was so often manifested during our revolution, or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God, who is alone able to protect them."
-George Washington, Letter to John Armstrong, 11 March 1782, in Ford's Writings of George Washington (1891), vol. XII, p. 111.

“The Bible- banned, burned, beloved. More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history. Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it; dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it. Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it is more powerful than their weapons. Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentle saints. Pieced together scraps of Scripture have converted whole whole villages of pagan Indians.” -Charles W. Colson

“The unexamined life is not worth living by insisting that the unexamined faith is not worth believing.”
-Norman L. Geisler 

“Christians believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. Materialists believe in the virgin birth of the cosmos. Choose your miracle.” –Glen Scrivener

“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say that there is no God.”
-Abraham Lincoln

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

“For many in our high-paced world, despair is not a moment; it is a way of life.”
― Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God

"Relativism poses as freedom but it is just another form of tyranny: You must believe that all religions are equal because we say they are. You must agree with us that everything is relative, or we will punish you." –Jeffrey Burton Russell, Exposing Myths About Christianity, 144.

"Donald Page of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Science calculated the odds against our universe randomly taking a form suitable for life as one in: 10,000,000,000124. One in ten billion to the 124th power! This is a number so large, it is safe to say that the universe did not come together randomly. It was created by an incredibly intelligent and powerful designer." –Charlie H. Campbell

"The world of temptation is around you, to trip you up. It'll assault your imagination in every possible way until half of your life you will be spending in a rescue operation trying to salvage what it is you've lost. And so I say to you: Draw the lines in the right places soon and don't cross them. As tough as it is, pleasure always comes at a cost." -Ravi Zacharias, "Unlimited? The Challenge of Human Freedom", Georgia Tech, June 2015

"Science in the modern world has many uses; its chief use, however, is to provide long words to cover the errors of the rich." -Gilbert K. Chesterton

“I believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful rebels to the end; that the doors of Hell are locked on the inside.” –C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 27.

“God maintains a delicate balance between keeping his existence sufficiently evident so people will know he's there and yet hiding his presence enough so that people who want to choose to ignore him can do it. This way, their choice of destiny is really free.” –J.P. Moreland

"We do not want merely to see beauty . . . We want something else which can hardly be put into words - to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it." -C.S. Lewis
Source:“Transposition and Other Addresses” (1949) 

"Some things in this universe are absolute. The God of the universe has made it so. And so long as we adopt this relative attitude toward right and wrong, we’re revolting against the very laws of God himself." -Martin Luther King Jr. 28 Feb 1954, Rediscovering Lost Values

“If there is a God who can act, then there can be acts of God. The only way to show that miracles are impossible is to disprove the existence of God.” –Norman Geisler

"The future of this nation depends on the Christian training of our youth." –George Washington, Quoted by Alison Thomas in Ravi Zacharias, Gen. Ed, Beyond Opinion, p. 58

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

False Christianity vs. Biblical Christianity

“This life's dim windows of the soul, Distorts the heavens from pole to pole, And leads you to believe a lie When you see with, not through, the eye.”
William Blake

Do you remember the puzzle books titled Where's Waldo?  I enjoyed them a great deal as a kid.  I remember there was one board that was particularly difficult.  The pages consisted of hundreds of individuals dressed up just like waldo, but with minuet differences.  This made it almost impossible to find our dear Waldo.  But eventually we would spot him, through some difficulty and confusion.

In the same way, as one looks around the Christian world it can be hard to distinguish that which is true Christianity from that which is something altogether different.  This is one of the many reasons that people, especially the young often outright reject the Christian faith.  I'd like to offer my assistance in this struggle.  Because it is particularly difficult.  

I recall an instance in which I was watching television, this was several years before I became a Christian.  I don't recall exactly what I was watching, it was probably on one of the Christian channels.  But there was this religious fellow, and he gave the most rousing message I had ever heard.  I was truly enthralled with what he was saying about God, and life, and truth and all these things. I was amazed, and dumbfounded by the message I heard.  In fact I found myself in quite a stir internally.  But  a slinking feeling slipped into my gut as I realized something, as the phone number formed on the bottom of the screen, he redirected all the religious fervor and insisted that if we were touched by all these things we must buy his product, buy his book, and send in our money as soon as possible!  I was flabbergasted.  I felt tricked and betrayed.  I was thoroughly disgusted.  And I switched off the channel immediately, back to Comedy Central or whatever I had been watching prior.  

This is the story for many, many people like you and me.  They see Westboro baptist church, a sum total of about 10 people picketing another soldier's funeral.  The media loves to cover Westboro baptist church, but one has to literally twist their arm to get them to cover a pro-life march (and they'll always call it an "anti-abortion" march).  CNN will interview militant Christian dot com, but getting them to interview William Lane Craig or Ravi Zacharias, quite impossible.  They'll characterize science vs. religion until the cows come home, but they dare not present the evidence for intelligent design.  And god forbid if young people turn to one of the church channels on Cable.  Might one look at the gen exer plastic flowers and cheesy sets set them running?  If not, one look at Tiny Fae's hair will most certainly do the trick.

There is so much out there friends masquerading as Christianity.  And we shouldn't be surprised at this, we really shouldn't.  Entrepreneurs will discover that they can make great profits by pretending religion, right?  They see that it is a fundamental hunger of the human soul.  So there will be many false Christs, and there will be many money-makers out there.  And there will be militants and there will be folks who picket funerals and hold up signs that say "God hates fags."  Rest assured, God loves the least of these and wants all to come to Christ and change their ways.  Don't let the dummies dissuade you from the true message, hidden beyond all the headlines, news articles, broadcasts, and secular internet trolls.  

Even if all the money-makers weren't enough or the radical militants, you also have the Christians who get it wrong.  Many of the mega-church pastors won't address certainly controversial issues like marriage, abortion, and other issues in fear of losing church members.  Thus they fail to remain relevant, and address important issues.  Many churches and church movements will put so much pressure on pastors to perform and bring in new church members that pastors burn out and leave the ministry.  This is certainly a poor witness.  In addition, many struggle with preaching a balanced message from the pulpit.  I often think as I browse sermons, when I go to many Armenians the message is so much of: "The church sucks, the church is failing, the church is terrible, your never doing enough, your not doing it right, your not doing enough, your lazy, your not evangelizing enough, your not reaching people where they are, your not holy enough, your not sexually pure enough, your not ever enough!"  And many Calvinist messages: "You can't do anything, ever. You have no choices.  You can't do it. You can't ever lose your salvation. No matter how much you sin, your fine.  Buy our book, go to our conference, don't evangelize, no big deal, your saved through faith alone so don't do anything, all things are approved, your not under law, etc etc etc!"

If you look at many of these charismatic movements, you see people vibrating on the floor, shaking, throwing themselves all over the place, screaming, babbling, laughing, and going generally insane.  There are documentaries on this phenomenon, rest assured it is not Christian! You'll see Benny Hinn on tv slapping people with his jacket as they fall over and vibrate and scream and babble.  There are so many bizarre affairs in this small subgroup.  Yet of course it gets so much attention, because it's bizarre and interesting, I suppose. 

In addition, there is something called progressive christianity.  And essentially this is a view that tends to strip Jesus of his divinity.  In many cases it's almost a completely secular form of Christianity.  They often will reject most, if not all the bible as "culturally bound" or outright false or inaccurate.  In other cases it just changes certain core truths of the faith, like that marriage is between man and woman, and changes the view regarding the sanctity of life (pro-abortion).  This progressive view is often behind many of the people who slam believers with "don't judge me" whenever they bring up Bible verses that state some truth they disagree with like natural marriage, or two genders, or not bringing in millions of refugees from terrorist nations.  

I'd like to assure you that the true biblical Christian message has always resided with a small minority of people, generally not in the limelight, who serve week in and week out, quietly, doing their duty, serving the lost, carrying the gospel, and loving the least of these.  They are out there right now.  They don't get covered on CNN, or in the New York Times.  They don't end up on 60 minutes.  They don't get brought up by Bill Maher, or the Amazing Atheist or Secular Talk or the Young Turks.  They don't get covered in media. They are just out there day in and day out, unnoticed by society, unremembered by history, loving people, in small towns across the United States, and indeed across the whole world.  Think of the dozens of small churches even in your own community.  Think of the various ministries that they must provide to the community.  They rarely get recognized, yet they serve. They do their duty.

I try to remember that, whenever I see something bizarre in the media regarding supposed Christians and the nonsense they are engaged in.  Remember that truth is often surrounded by a body-guard of lies.  I know if I was the evil one I would make sure there were so many caricatures and false messages out there that young people would throw up their arms in disgust and refuse any mention of Jesus.  We are after all called to follow Jesus, not other Christians.  If I look the books of the Bible, I find the true message.  If I make it my highest goal to obey what the Bible says, to live the way Jesus taught me to live, and seek to know the actual truth above all else, then I won't have a problem amidst all the chaos of the world.

But I want to encourage you, when you see all those poor examples and poor witnesses for Christ out there just remind yourself that Jesus said it would be like this.  

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them." -Matthew 7:15-16a 

What did Jesus mean when he said, 'By their fruit you'll recognize them?'  Essentially he means that we'll be able to tell what someone is really about by what their actions are, and what their words and actions result in.  Does their message result in biblical Christians who follow Jesus?  If so, then they are producing good fruit.  If their message results in lots of money, and people shaking on the floor, well, that isn't good fruit is it?  Indeed it is not.  

The big message I'm trying to get across to you is this:  Don't expect Christianity in the world to be perfect.  It isn't.  It isn't ever going to be, until the world is remade.  The world is a messy place as it is now. The church is a messy, often annoying place.  So what!  We shouldn't expect a bed of roses in this life.  It's going to be tough.  But if we focus on Jesus and not the world, then we can't go wrong on this journey.  God be with you.  Look to Christ, not the church.  

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