Posts Tagged ‘challenge’

The death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus is not something to be taken lightly. It is not in the experience of most people to know of anyone who has died and then been brought back to life. A few of us may know people who have had near death experiences or even know of people whose heart have stopped and then been resuscitated, but not resurrected. So how do we get our minds around such a rare and hard to fathom event?

 

For me if Jesus did not rise from the dead there become a lot of unanswered questions. For me Jesus rising from the dead makes more sense of the situation than him not rising. Here is what I mean…

 

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead then why was his body never found?  The Roman and religious authorities would have done all in their power to find the body. They hated this Christian uprising and to come up with a body would have put an end to it once and for all.

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead did the disciples really steal the body from the tomb and if so how? How did eleven men get past at least 12 highly trained guards, move a two ton stone and remove the body of Jesus? The Roman authorities started a rumour that the disciples stole the body whilst the guards were sleeping. However, how did the guards know this if they were asleep? If this were true surely all the guards would have been killed by the Roman authorities and the disciples hunted down as well?

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead perhaps he was not dead in the first place, revived in the cold tomb and escaped? The soldier guarding the cross pierced the side of Jesus and blood and water flowed out. It was only discovered centuries later that this only occurs after death, so we can be pretty certain that Jesus was dead. However, let’s suppose he did revive in the tomb. How would he have gotten out of His death clothes? How would this man that had just hung on a cross to an apparent death then roll a 2 ton stone away – there would have been no hand holds inside the tomb to aid him? Having miraculously moved the stone how did he then get past all the guards?

If Jesus did not rise from the dead what explains the sudden change in the disciples from cowering wrecks to emboldened preachers of the Gospel? Something happened to effect this change, what else could explain it? The disciples went from denying knowing Christ and hiding away in locked rooms to preaching in the market places and joyfully enduring tortured, imprisonment and being killed for the Gospel. How else would you explain it?

If Jesus did not rise from the dead how do you explain the hundreds of people who saw him alive after His crucifixion? Jesus appeared to His disciples but also to crowds of over 500 men. Was this mass hallucination the likes of which have never been seen before or since?

If Jesus did not rise from the dead why did the disciples (apart from one) all go to their deaths because of their belief that He did? They either saw him alive after the crucifixion or they didn’t. Would they have all been martyred for a lie or for a mistaken belief? All they would have had to do was say that He was never resurrected and all their lives would have been saved.

If Jesus did not rise from the dead would tens of thousands of Christians who would have had firsthand accounts of His resurrection believe in it enough to go to their deaths because of that belief? You’ve got to be pretty certain of your facts if you are willing to lay down your life for them. Do you believe that all these people went to their deaths because they had a vague belief that the resurrection had taken place?  No, they knew for certain!!

 

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead how do you explain the incredible rise of Christianity? Something spectacular must have happened for people to be convinced in such huge numbers.

 

So, the fact of Jesus rising from the dead is difficult to comprehend – it is so far from our experience that it would be strange if we found it easy.  However, what is the alternative? Jesus prophesised that he would rise again. God is all powerful and therefore could do it. Jesus had already brought Lazarus back from the dead.  Is it such a huge jump to believe Jesus came back from the dead? That angels rolled the stone away? If you’re not convinced I’d really love to hear your answers to the above questions.

 

As always if you have any questions please do ask them in a comment below.

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It is very popular to talk about the Love of God, the Grace of God and the Mercy of God but we tend to sweep the Wrath of God under the proverbial carpet.  Is that because it doesn’t exist or we are ashamed of it or is it because it’s unpopular or just that we don’t understand it?  Well, it may well be for a mixture of reasons and although I don’t entirely understand it and will probably make a ham-fisted job of it I’m going to have a look at it now!

 

So, what is wrath?  If you look at a dictionary definition it will say something along the lines of…

strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire.

vengeance or punishment as the consequence of anger.

 

So we can see that God’s wrath is his strong, stern and fierce anger resulting in his vengeance and punishment!  Oh, if only it was as simple as that!!!  However, this is how many people see God!  They see him as this great God sitting in heaven just waiting for us to do something wrong so that he can smite us dead!! Now the problem with this view is that, and let’s be honest about it, none of us would have made it past nursery school!  So why isn’t this the case? Well, for start God cannot always be judged by our standards. It stands to reason that God’s wrath would be different to our wrath just as God’s love and mercy are different to ours.  God’s character is flawless, He does nothing out of selfishness, pride, envy etc. Much of our anger is fuelled by our faults – this is not the case with God. God’s wrath must be seen in relation to His love, mercy and grace.

 

Within the Christian faith, therefore, there is a great tension. We have a God of love, grace and mercy but we also have a God of Wrath. Now, many people are happy to accept the God of Love, Grace and Mercy and forget about the fact that he will also show His wrath. However, can you really have one without the other? Can you really have a God who loves you but doesn’t get angry when things happen that hurt you? Can you have a God of justice who just sweeps under the carpet all wrongdoing? We cry out for justice, we want the guilty punished. Do we really want to believe in a God who is going to let all wrong-doing go un-punished and the guilty set free?  Well, of course we do, when it comes to us at least – but when it comes to others that’s a different story!!

 

Let me explain here that there is a difference between anger and wrath. Anger in many ways is an emotional, human response to a situation. Wrath on the other hand is a well thought out, carefully planned response to the wrong doing that goes on. Love, grace and mercy are part of who God is, wrath is something that is not part of God but only a response to the wrong doings of man.

 

C. S. Lewis summed up this tension we find between a God of love and a God who shows wrath by saying…

God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies

Many people find this idea of God very uncomfortable, but for me it makes much sense. You can’t have a God of love and justice without Him displaying wrath. God’s wrath is not some out of control anger that lashes out. God’s wrath is very controlled, so controlled in fact that it is restrained by His grace and mercy. As we looked at before God is not sitting there with a big grin on his face just waiting to punish any wrongdoing. We read in Ezekiel…

Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?… Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.

God’s wrath had not been revealed yet as he is waiting for all to turn away and turn to Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s love, grace and mercy. Jesus came to take the wrath of God away from all who believe in Him. I guess this is why it is easier for us to focus on the love, grace and mercy of God – we have been shown those attributes in human form.  We have read the prophesies and seen them come true in the person of Jesus.  However, God’s wrath is something that is still to come!

So what might this wrath be like!! The Bible gives us quite a good idea, and it’s not good! Zephaniah tells us that…

The great day of the Lord is near–near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter… That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish

Revelations tells us…

 

Out of his mouth there comes a sharp sword with which to strike the nations… He will tread the winepress of the furious wrath of God the Almighty

John explains that we will all undergo God’s judgement but only those not covered by Jesus’ saving power will experience God’s wrath…

 

Whoever puts his faith in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see that life, for God’s wrath remains on him.

And Nahum adds…

 

The Lord is a jealous God and avenging, the Lord avenges and He is full of wrath; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and reserves wrath for his enemies.

In Romans we also read that…

 

What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory–even us, whom he also called…

And

 

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you…

Just to press home the point in Thessalonians we read …

 

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

So, God’s wrath is something to be feared. It is real and it is coming. However, for those who believe and accept Christ as Lord there is nothing to worry about. God protects those whose heart is set on Him. God keeps His great wrath in check in order to show His glory through His great mercy! To me that is quite amazing!

As far as I know there aren’t too many people that have been hurt by the church worldwide. In fact there aren’t that many people that have been hurt by complete individual churches. However, when most people say that they’ve been hurt by the church they really mean they’ve been hurt by a particular individual or small group of individuals within a church. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t make the hurt any less real or what these individuals did any less wrong. It does, however, help us to try and think about it with a better perspective. Would you blame a billion people for the actions of an individual? Would you miss out on winning the lottery because the newsagent was rude?

Whenever we enter into relationship with others we put ourselves in a place of vulnerability. If we are married it is our spouse that is likely to cause us more pain than anyone else. If we have children they are likely to cause us a different by still real and intense pain. Those we love the most and those that love us the most have the likelihood to cause us the most pain. Churches are meant to be places of security, love, care, intimacy, peace and trust. However, churches are made up of people, albeit Christian people. Now, people think that Christians are meant to be almost perfect. Let’s face it many Christians portray themselves that way. Christians should be better people than non-Christians, there is no question about it. Christians have a purpose, a calling, a God who instructs and a Holy Spirit that guide. Christian have been shown through Jesus and the Bible the way they should live and have been put into churches to help them along. However, Christians are still erring human beings with more faults than you can shake a stick at. Let’s be realistic a compulsive liar who becomes a Christian will still be a compulsive liar from one day to the next. Becoming a Christian doesn’t make to perfect overnight. The compulsive liar may double his efforts not to lie once he has become a Christian but he will still struggle with it for years and may never overcome the temptation to continue lying.

Christians are not perfect. The Bible tells us that if we claim we have no sin the truth is not in us and we deceive ourselves. If you join a church and enter into relationship with people there they will let you down, they will hurt you, they will fall short of your expectations and let’s be really honest you will do the same to them. I guess the reason that many people feel hurt, let down, disappointed by the church is that our expectations of Christians is higher than they should be. We expect Christians to be loving, caring, kind, compassionate, trustworthy, honest, patient and selfless. Not only that but we expect that of them 24 hours a day 7 days a week 52 weeks a year. So when a Christian has an off day and every Christian does it is a big shock to the system. We feel doubly let down. Also there are people in churches who not only are not nice and loving and caring they are downright horrible, spiteful, hurtful and abusive. I’d like to tell you that these people are just wolves in sheep’s clothing, they’re not Christians but just pose as Christians to give Christians a bad name. Unfortunately, I can’t. Although there are people like this who go along to church, say the right things, do the right things and act as if they were Christians but in they’re hearts are far from it, there are also Christians who are far far far from what God would want them to be. Churches, like most big organisations are full of a wide range of people, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Jesus knew that His followers would not be anywhere near perfect. In the account of Jesus’ life that Saint Matthew wrote we read…

Then Peter came and said to Him (Jesus), “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

Jesus knew that we would continue to hurt each other. In this passage both seven and seventy are seen as perfect numbers so when Jesus say seven times seventy the implication is that we forgive our brother as many times as is necessary. I’m not trying to use this passage to say, get over it, forgive and bounce back. All I’m trying to show is that Jesus know that his church wouldn’t be this perfect community of believers who did nothing wrong. He knew that we would be needing to continually forgive each other because we would continually hurt each other. When people are in relationship together hurts happen – FACT! This is not an excuse – we should try and live together in unity, causing no hurt and being loving, caring, selfless individuals as much as we possibly can. However, we ALL make mistakes, we ALL have off-days, we ALL have things we struggle with, we are ALL tempted to do wrong, we are ALL human.

Now, here’s the thing… do we let our hurts, grievances, fall-outs and feuds keep us from what God has in store for us? Do we let these things get in the way of seeking the truth? Do we stop believing because we’ve been hurt? Do we give up the riches that God has for us because we’ve had a tiff with someone? Only you can answer these questions. However, I urge you to seriously think about them. Think about them in the light that one person or a small group don’t represent the whole church. Think about them in the light of Jesus being the only perfect person – he will never hurt you or let you down. Think about them remembering that people are flawed, faulty and very imperfect, but also think about them knowing that you are also flawed, faulty and very imperfect – but that God loves you just the way you are.

Truth shall spring out of the earth”

Psalm 85: 11a

Archaeology is another brick in the wall of helping us to validate the claims of the Bible. Archaeology itself is not going to convince us that Jesus died and was resurrected but it goes some way to validating the background information we find in the Bible. Again, unless some archaeologist digs up the actual bones of Jesus Christ and manages somehow to prove that this was the case (not quite sure how this would be done) it is very unlikely that archaeology will disprove the claims of the Bible.

The Bible is not written in isolation. Many places, people, and buildings are mentioned. Now, proving that these places or buildings exist or even that certain people exist doesn’t make the other events written about true. Just as proving that the Louvre and Paris exist proves that Robert Langdon in the Da Vinci Code is a real person. However, the writers of the Bible weren’t setting out to entertain but to teach, inform and to report. Some were writing an historical account of what they saw around them, some were writing letters not thinking they would be published. Archaeological evidence helps to give credence to these writings. As F.F. Bruce, professor of biblical studies, says of Luke’s work: “A writer who thus relates his story to the wider context of world history is courting trouble if he is not careful; he affords his critical readers so many opportunities for testing his accuracy. Luke takes this risk, and stands the test admirably”.

For years critics have used, so called, historical facts to try to disporve the credibility of the Bible. Time after time scholars have had to backtrack from earlier statements as additional archaeological evidence has come to light. An example of this was the Hittites, for a long time known only from the biblical record and denided by many historians as having existed. “Until the discovery of the Hittite empire at the beginning of the last century, the ‘Hittites’ mentioned in Genesis 10:15 as descendants of Canaan were unknown … But in 1906 Hugo Winckler began excavating a site known as ancient Hattusha … in what we today call Turkey. As a result a people whose existence was seriously doubted previously is well documented with literally tens of thousands of clay tablets” (Walter Kaiser, The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant? 2001, p. 102).

Again critics used to argue that Jesus could not have lived in Nazareth as it was not in habited during the times mentioned in the Bible. The conventional understanding is that Nazareth was a fairly small community, of no great historical importance, which is why it is not mentioned outside the New Testament. But there is now plenty of archaeological evidence that Nazareth existed before, during and after the time of Christ. And the latest discoveries may completely overturn the idea that it was small and insignificant. Either way, the idea that it did not exist, and therefore that Jesus could not have existed, is out of date, and not supported by contemporary evidence.

Frank Gaebelein, an eminently qualified author and general editor of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, has remarked that “the attitude of suspended judgment toward Bible difficulties … is constantly being vindicated, as archaeology has solved one Biblical problem after another, and as painstaking re-examination of discrepancies has finally led to answers” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 1979, Vol. 1, p. 31).

As eminent archaeologist Nelson Glueck concluded: “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper valuation of Biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries” (Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev, 1959, p. 31).

Archaeology will never convince you that God exists. It will also not convince you that Jesus was His son and walked this earth. What it may do though is help us to understand that the Bible has more validity than some would have us believe. It has an historically correct context. It fit’s in with historical evidence and repeated new findings. You would have thought that by now if these were made up accounts by lots of different people that evidence would have come to light of mistakes made in their historical context. The more we dig up from the past the more evidence is found to corroborate Biblical events not the other way around.

I leave you with a table taken from the New International Bible of major Biblical events and archaeological evidence that has been found to back them up.

Israel

Herod’s temple Jerusalem Lk 1:9
Herod’s winter palace Jericho Mt 2:4
The Herodium
(possible site of Herod’s tomb)
Near Bethlehem Mt 2:19
Masada Southwest of Dead Sea cf. Lk 21:20
Early synagogue Capernaum Mk 1:21
Pool of Siloam Jerusalem Jn 9:7
Pool of Bethesda Jerusalem Jn 5:2
Pilate inscription Caesarea Lk 3:1
Inscription:
Gentile entrance of temple sanctuary
Jerusalem Ac 21:27-29
Skeletal remains of crucified man Jerusalem Lk 23:33
Peter’s house Capernaum Mt 8:14
Jacob’s well Nablus Jn 4:5-6

Asia Minor

Derbe inscription Kerti Huyuk Ac 14:20
Sergius Paulus inscription Antioch in Pisidia Ac 13:6-7
Zeus altar (Satan’s throne?) Pergamum Rev 2:13
Fourth century BC walls Assos Ac 20:13-14
Artemis temple and altar Ephesus Ac 19:27-28
Ephesian theatre Ephesus Ac 19:29
Silversmith shops Ephesus Ac 19:24
Artemis statues Ephesus Ac 19:35

Greece

Erastus inscription Corinth Ro 16:23
Synagogue inscription Corinth Ac 18:4
Meat market inscription Corinth 1 Co 10:25
Cult dining rooms
(in Asklepius and Demeter temples)
Corinth 1 Co 8:10
Court (bema) Corinth Ac 18:12
Marketplace (bema) Philippi Ac 16:19
Starting gate for races Isthmia 1 Co 9:24, 26
Gallio inscription Delphi Ac 18:12
Egnatian Way Kavalla (Neapolis), Philippi, Apollonia, Thessalonica Cf Ac 16:11-12,17:1
Politarch inscription Thessalonica Ac 17:6

Italy

Tomb of Augustus Rome Lk 2:1
Mamertime Prison Rome 2 Ti 1:16-17, 2:9,4:6-8
Appian Way Puteoli to Rome Ac 28:13-16
Golden House of Nero Rome Cf Ac 25:10; 1 Pe 2:13
Arch of Titus Rome Cf Lk 19:43-44,21:6, 20

So let’s start at the very beginning and clarify what we are talking about in terms of Prophecy. The Cambridge dictionary tells us that Prophecy “is a statement that says what is going to happen in the future, especially one which is based on what you believe about a particular matter rather than existing facts”. So for me to say that tomorrow the sun will rise is not prophecy but for me to say that the world will end tomorrow would be prophecy (unfulfilled prophecy but you get the gist). In a Christian sense it is a prophet (someone used by God as a channel for others) passing on from God something about the future (or sometimes the present or past) that they couldn’t humanly know.

Old Testament Prophecies fulfilled in the person of Jesus.

There are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament which were fulfilled by Jesus. These prophecies were written at the very latest 425 years before Jesus was born. Below I will list just a fraction of the prophecies recorded about Jesus in the Old Testament and their fulfilment as recorded in the New Testament.

Prophecy

Isaiah 7: 14

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give     birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel

Fulfilment

Luke 1: 26-35

God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

Prophecy

Micah 5: 2

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Fulfilment

Mathew 2: 1-2

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Prophecy

Zechariah 9: 9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Fulfilment

Luke 19: 29-38

As he (Jesus) approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Prophecy

Isaiah 50: 6

I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.

Fulfilment

Matthew 24:67-68

Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”

OK, so there are 4 – only 300 or so to go!! I’m sure if you “Google” Biblical Prophecy or Fulfilled Biblical Prophecy you will find web-sites that will list all of the Prophecies or at least the major ones. Hopefully this gives you a taster to show that the Old Testament is filled with signs pointing to the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ. These weren’t just written a few years before the events took place but mainly between 4 and 7 centuries before the actual events. You may argue that these were self fulfilling prophesies. That Jesus was a deluded man and set out to fulfil the prophesies that he had read about in Scripture. It is true, some could be explained away by saying that Jesus knew the Scriptures, after all Jesus did know the Scriptures extremely well, but all of them?

Could he have gotten himself…

Born in Bethlehem (Prophesied Micah 5: 2 Fulfilled Matthew 2: 1-6)

Born of a virgin (Prophesied Isaiah 7: 14 Fulfilled Mathew 1: 18-25)

Born of line of King David (Prophesied Jeremiah 23: 5 Fulfilled Luke 3: 31)

Born of Tribe of Judah (Prophesied Genesis 49: 10 Fulfilled Revelations 5: 5)

Preceded by a messenger (Prophesied Isaiah 40: 3 Fulfilled Matthew 3: 1-3)

Betrayed by a friend (Prophesied Psalm 40:9 Fulfilled John 13: 18-27)

Sold for 30 pieces of silver (Prophesied Zechariah 11:12 Fulfilled Matthew 26: 14-15)

Forsaken by his disciples (Prophesied Zechariah 13: 7 Fulfilled Mark 14:50)

Crucified with thieves (Prophesied Isaiah 53:12 Fulfilled Matthew 27:38)

Bones not broken (Prophesied Psalm 34: 20 Fulfilled John 19:32-36)

Buried in rich man’s tomb (Prophesied Isaiah 53: 9 Fulfilled Matthew 27:57-60)

Again these are but a handful among a whole host of prophesies that Jesus could not have brought about by himself. Many of them he couldn’t have orchestrated even with a whole band of willing volunteers. This really is the sort of stuff that just couldn’t be made up. This is evidence that demands to be taken seriously. Not only were these hundreds of prophecies written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ they were also written over a period of several hundreds of years by many different people.

Now, to finish and for those of you who like numbers and probabilities Peter Stoner in Science Speaks (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963) determines the probability of one man fulfilling just eight of the prophecies found in the Old Testament concerning the Messiah to be 1 chance in 10 to the 17th power or 1 chance in 100,000,000,000,000,000. Peter Stoner then works out the probability of one person fulfilling 48 of the prophecies by chance. Here the odds jump to 1 chance in 10 to the 157th power. That number would look like this:

1 chance out of

100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

I hope this begins to show that the Bible is not a book full of mythical, made-up stories that can be discounted. It is indeed a valid historical document that contains wisdom, power and authority.

I don’t know about you but life seems to be flying by! You spend your childhood wanting to be a teenager and your teenage years wanting to be an adult. When you reach adulthood you long to be a teenager again and soon after that you’re on the home stretch. Life really isn’t that long. Before we know it it will have passed us by and we’ll be left wondering where it all went to.

 

Some of you will have started this New Year with some resolutions. A few of you will have broken them already!! I watched a Facebook thread unfold yesterday about New Year resolutions. People were going to lose weight, sort out their finances, be happier, spend more time with family, get fitter and work less. These are all admirable things and I could probably benefit from perusing all of them. However it got me thinking about all the things we really should do but put off year in and year out. I’m not talking here about the back bedroom that really could do with a lick of paint but no-one really sees it or the book that Auntie Maud gave you that you ought to read but “Using Quantum Physics in Everyday Cooking” doesn’t really strike you as that interesting a read! I’m talking here about things we put off without necessarily knowing it.

 

Most of us are really good at putting things off. We put off getting life insurance until we get really sick. We put off visiting old relative until their funeral. We put off buying a new car until we’re broken down miles from anywhere with the tow truck on its way. However there are some things we really should not put off any longer, because who knows when it may be suddenly too late. I have a friend whose philosophy is “do it now for tomorrow you may be hit by a bus”. It sounds a bit grim but it means she lives for the moment and never regrets not doing things because she’s already done them. Another grim but true story that I love is that of a gunman who goes into a church during a service. He marches to the front and puts the gun to the Pastor’s head and tells the Pastor that he is going to kill him. The Pastor replies “By all means pull the trigger for I know exactly where I’m going, Do you?” The gunman had never thought about it but the Pastor, as he stared death in the face, had thought through the greatest issues of life (and indeed death) and had come to strong hope filled conclusions.

 

My New Year challenge to you it not to put off the bigger things in life any more!! And our commitment to you this year is to help you think through some of those bigger things. This year at What If…? we will be tackling some of those big things that we tend to put off thinking about. Such issues as…

 

  • What happens when we die?

  • Is there more to life than what we can see?

  • Is there a heaven and a hell?

  • Do all religions lead to God?

  • If there is a God why does he let people suffer?

  • Can a God of Love send people to hell?

  • Am I too bad to be saved?

  • Is it really worth looking into the claims of Christianity?

  • Is there truth in the Bible?

  • Does science hold all the answers?

  • Was Jesus who he said he was?

  • Isn’t Christianity past its sell-by-date?

We’d love for you to explore with us these and many other questions of life and faith. We want to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree with us we’d love to dialogue with you. We hope and pray that you have a wonderful new Year and that you grapple with some of life’s biggest questions with us and not put them off!

 

From Belief to Faith

Posted: September 29, 2010 by Nathan in What Next...
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Romans 10:9

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

All of us are at completely different stages in our life of faith. At one end of the spectrum there are some of you who have faith that there is no God and at the other end some people who have total faith that there is one. I guess that most of us sit somewhere in between. I just wanted to address the issue that some of you may have that you have a belief that God exists but want to translate that belief into something more. I would call it moving from a position of belief to a position of faith, or trust.

The Chair

When it comes to belief and faith I like to use the analogy of a chair. It’s perhaps because I’m quite a big guy so it is more relevant to me that others, but I hope you’ll understand the gist if it.

When it comes to the question of belief in God billions of people around the world would say they believed in Him. Yet for only a much smaller percentage of the world’s population does that belief have any real meaning. Billions of people believe in God but far fewer have faith or trust in Him. Here is where the chair comes in. When it comes to a chair or a stool or anything you can sit on, when considering sitting on it we have to believe that it will take our weight. We don’t want to end up in a pile on the floor along with the remains of a chair that didn’t quite do the job. As a bigger than average chap I have to consider this more than most, especially when it comes to camping chairs or chairs that like less than robust. I can pick a chair up, examine it from every angle, pull it about, check the joints and even read the label for it’s weight limit. I can come to a stage where I can look at the chair and wholeheartedly believe that it will hold my weight. It is not, however, until I sit in the chair that I can be said to have moved from that belief in the strength of the chair to having faith that it will hold my weight. So it is with many people’s belief in God. They believe in His existence but have not yet moved to faith in Him. It is one thing to believe in God but another thing to put that belief into action by having faith in Him.

So what does having faith in God look like?

The list below is by no means exhaustive but should give a good idea of the main elements that make up a faith in God.

  1. Believing that not only does God exists but wants a relationship with you.
  2. Being willing to enter into that relationship.
  3. Believing that the Bible is a major way that God has communicated with us and continues to do so.
  4. Putting in to practise the beliefs found in the Bible as best you can.
  5. Believing that God created us and all things.
  6. Believing that we have become separated from God through our wrongdoings.
  7. Believing that God sent His only son to die for us to bring us back into a relationship with Him by paying the price for our wrongdoings.
  8. Believing that God has sent His Holy Spirit to be our guide, counsellor and help.
  9. Trying to put God first in everything that we do.
  10. Believing that God wants the best for you and knows what is best for you.

Making the transition from belief to faith is a big step and not something to be taken lightly, but also not something to get hung up about. Some people make a huge “leap of faith” and go from believing to trusting in one quick step. Others make lots of little steps and get to faith that way. There are no set rules of how to come to faith but at some point you need to make the decision for yourself and pray a prayer similar to the one found right at the bottom of the page. Some of you may find that you’re not there yet and might like to try praying the prayer below asking God to help you in your search for Him.

When it comes to moving from belief to faith the Bible is very clear, all you need to do is “…confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” God has made it simple – after all there is nothing He want more that for you to make that step. Come on, what are you waiting for?

If you do make a decision to move from belief to faith please do let us know. We’d love to pray for you!! Also if you have any questions you want to ask before making that step let us know and we’ll do our very best to help. Just click on the contact button above.

Prayers that you may find useful

A Prayer for Help

God

I really don’t know if you are there or not.

I don’t know if you can hear me or I’m just talking out into space.

But I do want to believe in you.

If you are there please help me to believe.

Please reveal yourself to me in some way.

Please strengthen my faith

and help me in my times of unbelief.

Amen


A prayer of Salvation

God,

I recognise that I have been on a journey towards you. I thank you that you are real and love me unconditionally.

You say in the Bible that if I confess my sins and ask forgiveness, You are faithful and will forgive my sins and remember them no more. You will not hold them against me and You will give me everlasting life.

Father, I confess that I have done many things wrong in my life. I have not followed Your ways and have hurt you and others along the way. I am truly sorry for the hurt I have cause to those around me and to you. I repent of my wrong doings and ask for Your forgiveness.

Father, I believe that Jesus Christ, Your only Son, came to Earth and was born, that He lived among us, and that He was crucified to pay for our wrongdoings and for my wrongdoings. I believe that You raised Him from the dead and gave Him power over all creation.

God, I accept Your Son, Jesus, as my Saviour and I commit to follow Him from this day forward. Send your Holy Spirit to guide me, protect me, lead me and counsel me. Help me grow in wisdom, knowledge and love for You and Your ways. Give me the strength and courage to change my ways and resist evil and wrongdoings in the future.

God, I thank You for sending Your only Son to die so that I can live.

Jesus, I thank You in that You died for me while I was still doing many wrong things and had not yet accepted You. I thank You for forgiving my wrongdoings and for bringing me to a saving knowledge of You.

God I know this is the beginning of a new journey with you, a new chapter of my life. I ask that you would teach me to pray. Guide me. Increase my faith in you, and make me sure in the knowledge that I can rely on You, no matter what may come. Lead me to a good Christians and the right church where I can learn Your word and your will for me and where I can grow in my knowledge of You.

I ask these things in Your name, and I thank You for making me a Christian.

Amen!

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Are you up to the challenge!?!

Posted: September 8, 2010 by Haelie in What Next...
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So, tell me…how’s that challenge going for you? (You know, the one I dared you with back on the What if I don’t know what I believe? -Part 2” post…go check it out if you are just now reading about it for the first time…but you others have no excuse…you know the challenge I’m talking about!)  No, seriously, I do want to know how you’re doing with it.  In case you’re wondering…I learned so much when I dove into the Book of John last year!  I do hope you will give it a chance, if you haven’t already.

Well, there are only a few options of answers for “How’s the challenge going?”

  • “I’ve started, but I haven’t gotten all the way through yet.”
    • Well, I must say, very good! Seriously, I know you may be beating yourself up over it a little (or a lot), but I promise, sometimes you just have to do things at your own pace.  And, believe it or not, that is exactly the pace at which you should be doing it.
    • The main thing is…just don’t quit!  Don’t give up! Keep reading and considering all that is there and you will be so glad you did!
      • Are you hung up on something?
      • Do you have questions that have surfaced?
        • Ask. We may not know the answer, but we can sure try to help you find out.
          • By the way, for any of you at whatever stage in this, one thing I have learned very well lately is to not wait until you (or I) have all of the answers and get it all figured out (we never will…no one can).
          • Take Him as you know Him right now, the way He has revealed Himself to you up to this point in your life, especially through the book of John as you are working your way through this challenge.  He will progressively answer more of your questions and show you more of Himself in your life as you are honest about what you do know (little or much) and act on the knowledge you do have.
  • “I’ve already finished.”
    • Awesome!!! Now, did you really consider it as you were reading it?
      • If so, what kind of thoughts did you have?
      • What different things did you learn (or are you still learning, rather)?
        • Please share.
      • Do you remember the part about Him feeding the extremely large crowd of people?  Did you catch a couple of the lessons in that?
        • Like for instance, sometimes in order to realize that God is at work we have to realize how humanly impossible the situation is.
        • Also, when we are dealing with something that is so impossible, are you one who takes whatever you have (strength, hope, energy, belief, money, etc. – even as little as it may be) and brings it to Him knowing He can take it and multiply it like He did the food that day and do something you could have never dreamed possible!?!
        • Here’s an awesome quote for you from the study of John which I went through last year (called BSF International, in case you want to know more about it).  It’s related to a lesson to be learned from the boy who gave his small lunch to be used that day, not knowing if he would even get to eat any of his own lunch, but just thinking that he might could be of some help…
          • “You must risk in faith before you know by experience.” (Will you take that risk!?!)
  • “I haven’t started at all…” (followed by one of the following:)
    • “…but I do plan to, just haven’t done it yet.”
      • Again, I’m very glad you plan to (of course, it doesn’t matter whether I’m glad or not…you don’t have to please me…you don’t owe anything to me…this is all for YOU…for YOUR benefit, not mine.).
      • Do start as soon as you get a chance, and I will say the same to you as I did above in the first response at the beginning of this post.  Go back up there and read that again.
    • “…and I don’t plan to at all.” (To which I will then ask “Why Not?” and your response may be very close to one of the following:)
      • “I already know what it says, because I’ve read all or most of John as well as the rest of the Bible so many times over the years…not to mention all of the sermons I’ve heard on it (or even preached on it). So, really, what’s the point?  I already know all there is to know.”
        • Really?  You do? I do understand what you are saying, as I have thought and told myself the very same thing several times, for many years of time as a matter of fact.
        • Is it really that you think that there is no way you could see/read/learn anything new by reading John again…or could there be more to it?
        • Let’s think about this.  Time to really get honest.  I dare you!
          • Could it be that you have been rationalizing your life and way of thinking for so long that you don’t even realize that – even though you say you are happy with your life and the way you are living it and are furthermore not doing anything wrong?
          • Could it be that you are actually refusing to “come to the light lest your deeds be exposed” and you have to face and admit the fact that you have been wrong after all?  (quoting from BSF and John 3:18-21, not to mention my own experience)
            • I know it’s terribly difficult and even humiliating to consider that you might have to hear “I told you so.”,  even if it is your own self saying it!
              • (And, honestly, you are probably the only one who will say that to you…so many people in your life will be so overjoyed and refreshed to see the change in you and the obvious joy in your life that they won’t even think twice to welcome you home with loving, forgiving, caring arms.)
            • No one can judge you, because no one on this earth is above sinking to the lowest depths imaginable…and each of us truly knows that about ourselves.
      • “I don’t believe in God, so there is no point in reading the Bible.  It’s no more real than the mythological writings.”
        • Do you believe everything else that you read? Fiction?  Mythology?  Folklore?
        • If you read other things KNOWING they are not true nor real, then what will it hurt to read this one book of the Bible, John?  Besides, it’s nowhere near the length/size of many highly read literary works (the likes of which you may enjoy reading as well).
        • Why not just take this intellectual challenge and read it once through?
        • I’m not asking you to believe it.  As a matter of fact, you can even leave out the prayer part of the challenge if that’s just way too “out there” for you.  No big deal.  Give it a shot.
        • Again, as I said when I first issued the challenge…I dare you!  I’ll even up the ante now…I DOUBLE DOG dare you!

We will be looking forward to hearing from you in response to how your “What If…” Journey / Challenge is going.  Share your thoughts…honest…good, bad, or indifferent.

How do you stand for what you believe if you don’t truly KNOW what you believe!?!

Sure we all think we know what we believe for the majority of our lives. We are raised a certain way and “just believe” what we always have because we always have. (I know, that’s a little deep, but bear with me!) True belief in something, however, requires some true soul searching. First, you have to figure out WHAT you (think you) believe as well as WHY you do.

Maybe you are on that journey right now…deliberately rejecting some things you’ve always been taught and lived by, because, after all, what if they are not true? “What if my whole life up to this point has been a farce?” “Why do I believe the way my parents do…what if they’ve got it all wrong? They’re just humans like me, too.” Or, “why did I raise my kids to believe this way? What if I’ve misguided them? After all, my life hasn’t been going so well lately, so maybe I’ve been wrong all this time.”

All of these are legitimate, honest, real questions that we must admit we all have asked in one way or another at some time in our lives. Are you a bad person for thinking that way or questioning those long-held values? No, you are real.

So then, what do we do now?

Glad you asked!  (You did, didn’t you!?!)  Well, for one, we must accept that we will never know all of the answers nor were we ever intended to figure it all out. Some things are just too big to wrap our little finite heads around…and that’s okay! I personally don’t want any more responsiblity and expectation on me than I already have. How about you? Just let go of that control thing and accept that everything just will not fit into our nice little boxes.

Yeah, so, I got that…now what?

Once again, glad you asked! Now go on a truth-seeking journey.

A what!?!

Yeah, a truth-seeking journey. Since you always thought you knew what you believed but now you’ve figured out that you’re just not quite sure about that…now you’ve gotta find some truth to stand on, or trust me…you will fall…and it’s not fun! (True, often the lesson is in the fall, but try to avoid it if you can.)

So, for the first part of the search thing, what do I do? Well, once again, bear with me and listen (or read, rather) with an open mind…you do esteem that value in yourself, after all, don’t you!?! With an open mind, I dare you to take this challenge…no matter where you are in your journey of life. (We could all use a little refresher, huh?)

I challenge you to start this truth-seeking thing out by *hold on* praying. Yes, I said it…PRAYING.

Okay, if you don’t like the way that sounds and it’s just a little too out there for you (yeah, you with the “open mind”) then I’ll put it another way. Talk to God…yes, God…you know that whole belief that you are questioning right now…yes, Him! Okay, so how and why would you “talk to God” if you’re questioning His very existence in the first place? (Admit it, I’m not just talking to the un-churched crowd here, am I!?! You know who you are and, once again, that’s okay. Just be honest about it and come on this journey, too. What could it hurt?)

Well, to answer my question I asked before the little “aside”, the “How” is very easy…just open your mouth (or speak with your heart if you’re still uncomfortable speaking out loud to someone who is not physically sitting there with you). At this point, you don’t have to believe He is there with you listening to you, just trust me on this one and do it. Just tell Him, “God, if you’re out there…and I really feel kinda strange even talking like this, since I really don’t think you are right now, or I’m just not sure…but anyway, if you’re out there, then I ask you to show me.”

Come on, you can do it! Oh, and no, most likely you will not see fire come down from the sky right then and there, nor will you hear some booming voice audibly speak back to you (not that those things couldn’t happen, but they most likely won’t).

So now then, “Why”…especially if those cool, show-stopping things aren’t going to happen? Did you ever hear your mama say “Because”? Well, because…because that’s where it all starts. (Well, it really started way before that, but you’ll figure that out soon enough.) Another reason is because in order to take the next step on this journey, it will greatly behoove you to have started with that crazy prayer thing.

Should I keep going, or should I just save the next step for the next post? Okay, okay, okay…next post it is!

Okay, so, you’ve followed me through Part 1 of this…if not Click HERE to go back and read it…so now what do you do!?!

Well, this part will be a bit shorter than Part 1 (at least in writing), but trust me…it is a very essential and life-changing part.

Now, you’ve laid aside your pride and preconceptions and you’ve said that prayer thing (or talked to God…or whatever you would prefer to call it). Now what? Once again, I have another challenge for you…I know you’re up to it! Especially if you’ve come this far.

I challenge you to read something that is not for the faint at heart (actually, it is…it is really for everyone of us). Not just anything, but I specifically am saying you should now find a * Bible * (yes, I said another one of those words) you could even go online to BibleGateway.com or some other Bible website to read online.

Hold on! I am not challenging you to read the whole Bible (though that’s not a bad idea over time)…you need to specifically read the book of (gospel of) John. (You know…Matthew, Mark, Luke, JOHN)

Whether you are able to read it in one sitting or it takes you a couple of sittings, please don’t forget that first step EACH TIME before you read it (pray that He will show Himself to you). You may even need to stop along the way and pray that again (and again).

Remember as you read it that this is not a fairy tale. (I know, you’re possibly questioning that, too, but trust me…or Him, rather…this is Truth…He is Truth, the ultimate one and only Truth.) The events you read about really did take place. You don’t believe it? Well, how do you know that George Washington lived, or the Civil War happened, or Julius Caesar existed…and I could go on and on…but I think you get the point.

Now, this is, of course nowhere near the final step of the journey…but the first steps are always the hardest. Take this challenge, no matter what age you are, no matter how long you’ve gone to church – or not – , no matter how many times you’ve read the Bible…doesn’t matter…take the challenge! I am, and believe me, you will see things you’ve never seen before.

These are the first steps of discovering and defining what you believe, because, after all…To Not Decide Is To Decide!