Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Eternal God

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The ancient Romans had a god for nearly everything. They even borrowed gods from other cultures and invented new ones to add to their ever-expanding pantheon. Janus, the two-faced god of gates and doorways, beginnings and endings, was just one of many idols the Romans paid homage to. In antiquity, it was common for a bust of Janus to be perched over doorways with one face looking forwards, while the other face looked backwards. Of course, his most prominent contributions to modern culture are his namesakes: the month of January, which begins the New Year, and the janitor, who is a caretaker of doors and halls.

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As we look back on the past year and forward to what lies ahead in 2017 it is comforting to know that we have a mighty God who is much more real and personal than the mythological Janus. The God of the Bible sees infinitely through time in both directions. Christ is the Divine Timekeeper who made time and is outside time the way an author is both the writer of the narrative and transcendent to the book, or the way a painter is unique from his painting.

Moses wrote of God’s eternality in Psalm 90:2, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Everything that has a beginning has a cause, but God never began to exist, thus He needs no cause. As Aristotle would say, God is the “Unmoved Mover” the “uncaused cause of all things.”  

John spoke of the pre-existent Christ in the prologue of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1, 3). Trying to imagine a time when Jesus was not is like trying to picture a one-ended stick or a squared circle. He made all things including this mysterious forth-dimension of reality—time.

Finally, God spoke to the prophet Isaiah, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please (Is. 46:10).” Since God is not restricted by our time domain that means He can make accurate pronouncements about the future, which is why fulfilled prophecy one of the validating credentials of the Bible.     

Before Genesis 1:1, there was no time to speak of, only eternal God.  Before there was a Big Bang and before there was time, God existed independently as an uncreated, uncaused being.  At the end of all things, when the final verses of Revelation have been fulfilled and the new heavens and the new earth created, time will come to end, yet God will still be there. 

Eternality not only means that God is a timeless being, but that God sees all events from the past and future with equal clarity. Perhaps an illustration is in order to help us grasp on to this loft doctrine. C.S. Lewis likened God’s eternality to a sheet of paper that extended infinitely in both directions. He suggested that we take a pencil and draw on that paper a short line segment representing time, for just as that line begins and ends on that infinite piece of paper, so time finds its beginning and end in God. He’s already lived all of our tomorrows, just as He’s lived all of our yesterdays, for He has no past or future. Instead, He lives in an everlasting now.[1]

God is the great keeper of time and eternity. Not only does He know the beginning from the end, but everything in between moves in accordance with His sovereign will.  It’s comforting to know that even though we don't know what the future holds we know the One who holds the future.  As you begin this new year make a commitment to trust God with the unknown road ahead.  As King George VI of England once said “Put your hand in the hand of God and it shall be better than the light and safer than the known.” Happy New Year!  –DM

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 2001), 168.  

Monday, December 19, 2016

I'll Be Home for Christmas

During the dark days of World War II American G.I.s were serving their country on foreign battlefields all around the globe.  In 1943, the outcome of the war was far from certain. D-Day was months away and Hitler still had a strangle-hold on Europe. Likewise, in the Pacific Gen. Douglas MacArthur had been driven from the Philippines and many soldiers became POWs. 

But in 1943 singer Bing Crosby released a song, written from the perspective of a soldier far away from home at Christmas. The dreamy tune and homespun lyrics shot up the music charts and has remained a Christmas classic ever since: 

I’ll be home for Christmas, you can plan on me. 
Please have snow and mistletoe and presents on the tree. 
Christmas Eve will find me where the love light gleams. 
I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

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In 1965 during the Gemini 7 mission astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell had spent 14 days in space orbiting the Earth some 206 times. With Christmas soon approaching the NASA mission control asked the crew if they would like for them broadcast a song to their spacecraft. The astronauts fittingly requested, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”[1]  

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A few Christmases ago my father was doing some digging in a closet, when he came across a forgotten treasure. Buried behind coats and boxes was an LP record of Bing Crosby’s most beloved Christmas hits. This was the album he nearly wore out as a kid. Upon playing the LP you could tell it had been well loved because it was full of hisses and pops (as you audiophiles know it’s that vintage sound that you can’t get from an iPod). As I listened to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” a sudden revelation came over me.    

One of the great ironies of the first Christmas was that almost everyone involved wasn’t home for the momentous occasion. The angels left heaven to announce to the shepherds where to find the Christ child. Joseph and Mary left their home in Nazareth and journeyed to Bethlehem to be counted for the census. A difficult trek was no doubt made more strenuous by Mary advanced stages in pregnancy. The Magi who traveled to see the infant king were hundreds of miles away from their home in the East, presumably Babylon. 

Most importantly, Jesus was far, far from his Heavenly home that first Christmas. Just how far, no astronomer has the tools measure the light-years of distance. But the apostle John in the prologue to His Gospel indicates that Jesus journeyed from His cosmic precipice outside our time-space continuum to this tiny, blue orb and inserted himself into the human story:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made . . . 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

NASA tells that the Hubble Space Telescope can peer into the deep reaches of space, some 15 billion light-years away. Its lenses have brought into focus billions of stars and galaxies that we didn’t even know existed. Yet, John tells that Jesus came from far beyond the edge of the observable universe, from a place where time and space are irrelevant. A place called eternity.

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The only way the infinite distance between heaven and earth could be spanned is if God took the initiative and spanned the gap. Jesus came to be the bridge from earth to heaven. He didn’t come to be a way to heaven, but to be the way to heaven. Because He was 100% deity, Christ could take hold of God the Father and by being 100% man he reached down to man and brought these two estranged parties together. Christmas is about heaven meeting earth.    

Later Jesus said in John 14, “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:2-3).” 

The Christmas story was the beginning of our journey home. Christ was born in a borrowed manger so that you can I could have permanent mansion. He came unto His own and was not received so that we could be accepted by God. He left His heavenly home, to invite us to join Him there. Once we’ve beheld the Christ child, and we bowed at the blood-splattered cross of Calvary, and then worshipped at the empty tomb we find the road that leads home. 

[1] David Jeremiah, “Be Home for Christmas,” Turning Points Magazine & Devotional, December 2012, p. 11-12. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Giving Is God-like

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Open the pages of the Bible to study the birth of Christ and you’ll notice that they rustle with one simple overriding theme—the privilege of giving surpasses the pleasure of getting. Just look at our familiar cast of characters in Bethlehem and what are they doing? Why, giving of course.

Mary gave her womb and the next several years of her life to nurture the Christ-child (Luke 1:35-38). Joseph gave up his reputation and plans to take care of Mary and Jesus (Matt. 1:18-25). Imagine the scandal that dogged his life for this decision. The wise men gave up nearly a year of their life trekking across the desert to find the newborn King, then when the star led them to Bethlehem they offered him extravagant gifts (Matt. 2:11). Even the angels get in on the giving-fest as they offered the Messiah in the manger their praise and worship (Luke 2:8-14).

Then there is God, the ultimate giver. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” Christmas is all about the story of a Father who willingly released a Son. A prophecy written by Isaiah about Jesus’ birth some 700 years beforehand states, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The most well-known verse in the Bible rings with the Christmas spirit of giving, “For God so loved the world He gave His only Son…” John 3:16 reminds us. In 2 Cor. 9:15, we read, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”

Moreover, think of all that Jesus gave in His rescue mission. He gave up the right to live like God, to look like God, to be treated like God, even to act like God. What a descent. If it’s true that humility is shown by the distance a person of status will travel in meeting with one of little or no status, think of the humility shown by our Lord in leaving the glories of heaven. The Son willingly released His powerful position. The Prince of Heaven became a pauper on earth.      

During Christmas I’m reminded afresh how good it feels to give. I love watching the kids’ faces light up when they rip open a neatly wrapped package. At that age they love getting. But as an adult I am realizing the great secret to continual joy is in giving. I don’t know why giving is so gratifying, but it is. Perhaps, it’s because giving is God-like. We are never more like God than when we give. As His image-bearers we are called to copy His giving, to be mini-models of His infinitely large heart. The larger our hearts and the wider our hands, the larger the picture we paint of God’s character. In some mysterious way, giving deepens our capacity for joy.

A few Christmas ago, there was a story that came out of Des Moines, Iowa about this very principle.
            “It was a frigid Christmas Eve in Des Moines, Iowa when Jonnie Wright stood on the corner of the street, freezing and anticipating the kindness of strangers. Many cars drove by ignoring him and the cardboard sign he held as he stood shivering in the wet snow. Yet, there were a few compassionate souls who were compelled to stop and share what they could. When they did, the homeless man smiled and returned their gift with a sealed envelope and thanked them.
            The Des Moines news reported that one of those who stopped to help Jonnie was a single mother, who asked to remain anonymous. This desperate Jane Doe had only $16 to her name and had no idea how she was going to buy her kids Christmas presents, but she gave anyway. As she handed over her last few dollars to Jonnie, she smiled and replied, “Merry Christmas. God loves you,” as he handed her a sealed envelope in return.
Later that day, Jane Doe opened the envelop and found the following letter:

“Merry Christmas and thank you for your very kind and thoughtful donation. I live in Des Moines, but am not homeless or destitute or without a job. My name is Jonnie and I am a successful business owner. Instead I am here to give thanks to God for the many blessings in my life by paying it forward and honoring those who give”
As the letter unfolded out came a $100 bill. The directions were simple, “Take this gift. Keep it, spend it, pay it forward. Whatever your heart tells you to do.” 

At the end of the day, Wright gave away 50 letters worth $1000. Some envelopes had $10 bills while others had $100. The money he collected from the kindness of strangers went to the Bethel Mission, a local emergency shelter in Des Moines. Jane Doe who received the $100 said, “For my family, it reminded everyone what the meaning of Christmas is truly about.”[i]

[i] Laura Terrell, “Man Poses As Homeless to Give Back,” KCCI News, 31 December 2013

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Vital Truth of the Virgin Birth

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For many years there was no bigger name in journalism than Larry King. His talk show was a mainstay of CNN for over twenty-five years. But before the end of his illustrious career he was put in the hot seat for once and was interviewed about his time as media mogul.

The reporter interviewing Larry King asked him, “If you could interview anyone in history, who would it be and what would you ask them?” And with no hesitation, Larry King, this man who had interviewed nearly every noteworthy person of the late twentieth century, looked into the camera and said, “I would interview Jesus Christ and I would ask him if he was indeed born of a virgin because the answer to that question would define all of history.”[1]

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I think Mr. King has made an astute observation, because the virgin birth of Christ is essential not only to the Christian faith as presented in the Bible, but it is the line of demarcation by which we record history—B.C and A.D. If the Virgin Birth is true then our timeline is accurately divided by the entrance of the Son of God into humanity from eternity. And if Jesus is virgin born then that makes Him unique among all self-proclaimed prophets and religious leaders.  

The doctrines of Christianity are interconnected, like a line of dominoes, if one falls then so do the others. The Virgin Birth is one of those non-negotiable doctrines of the faith, for if we try to remove it, then the rest of doctrinal dominoes will begin tumbling down as well. Without the virgin birth then much of what we celebrate during the Christmas season would be lost.

Yet, this great doctrine has been attacked and maligned in recent times. First, skeptics deny it. Perhaps one of the first American’s to deny the virgin birth was our third president, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in 1823 to John Adams, “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus in the womb of the virgin, will be classed with the fables of Greek mythology."[2]

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In December 2004, both Newsweek and Time magazines featured the birth of Jesus on their covers. Newsweek’s cover story was entitled: “The Birth of Jesus – Faith and History: How the Story of Christmas Came to Be.” While Time’s cover proclaimed to unveil the “Secrets of the Nativity.” Both articles argued that much, if not all of the story, of the birth of Jesus was an invention of the early Church rather than an accurate chronicle of what really happened.

One of the reasons why skeptics deny the Virgin Birth is because they have anti-supernatural bias. In other words, their worldview of naturalism is allergic to the idea of miracles. However, if God exists then miracles are not only possible, but actual. If an all-powerful God does exist, Who spoke all creation into existence, then a virgin birth would be mere doodling.

In his book, Miracles, C.S. Lewis diffused the objection that is commonly raised by skeptics who say that the virgin birth might have been believable back then, but not today:
            “Thus you will hear people say, ‘The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.’ Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be foolish, with the story of the virgin birth as a particularly striking example. When Joseph discovered that his fiancĂ©e was going to have a baby, he first decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men.
No doubt the modern knows several things about birth and begetting which Joseph did not know. But those things do not concern the main point—that a virgin birth is contrary to the course of nature. And Joseph obviously knew that . . . Belief in miracles, far from depending on ignorance of the laws of nature, is only possible insofar as they are known.”[3]  

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Lewis is stating that it’s wrong to say that miracles like the virgin birth made sense to ancient people because they didn’t have all the medical and scientific knowledge we have today. A miracle in the 1st century was just as awe-inspiring and perplexing as it is in the 21st century. 

Can you disbelieve in the virgin birth and be a Christian? Well, you cannot fully understand the virgin birth and still be a Christian, but you cannot deny the virgin birth and still be Christian. 

Second, liberals discredit it. One of the most popular objections today concerning to the virgin birth is that Christianity actually borrowed the idea from pagan religions and Greek mythology.

This was a major theme in Dan Brown’s wildly successful The Da Vinci Code which claimed that, “Nothing in Christianity is original, everything of importance in Christianity from communion, to Jesus’ birthday, to the deity of Christ and the virgin birth, to Sunday worship was taken directly from earlier pagan mystery religions.”[4]

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In other words, Matthew and Luke plagiarized the idea of the virgin birth from the ancient stories of Zeus and Hercules, massaged the details here and there and passed it off as a Christian counterfeit. For example, there was a myth told about Alexander the Great that he was supernaturally conceived when Zeus took on the form of a serpent and then seduced his mother, Olympia, resulting in a world-conquering son of the gods.

Lee Strobel thoroughly demolished this poppycock in his book The Case for the Real Jesus:
            “Some of the supposed parallels break down upon close examination. Greek mythologies are full of anthropomorphic gods who lust after human women, which is decidedly different from Jesus’ story. The mythological offspring are half gods and half men and their lives begin at conception, as opposed to Jesus, who is fully God and fully man and who is eternal but came into this world through the incarnation. Also the Gospels put Jesus in a historical context unlike many of the mythological gods. The argument of pagan derivation assumes too much in the way of parallelism and overlooks the radical differences.”[5]

Thirdly, cultists distort it. The truth is that Mormonism will never be Christianity, because, among other things, it denies the virgin birth of Christ. Mormons believe Mary and God the Father were united sexually and that Mary was married both to God, the Heavenly Father, and Joseph.

Ezra Benson, a former president of the Mormon Church wrote, “The body in which Jesus performed his mission in the flesh was sired by the union of Mary and the same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father.” Moreover, Brigham Young stated, “The man Joseph, the husband of Mary, did not have more than one wife, but Mary the wife of Joseph had another husband: God.”[6] 

The Virgin Birth According to the LDS Church 

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The idea that Jesus was conceived as a result of God and Mary having a one-night-stand is not only repugnant, but it makes Mary out to be polygamist (which apparently the Mormons don’t mind) and it contradicts the Biblical teaching that it was the Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary and created a human nature for the eternal Son of God (Luke 1:34-35).  

I hope you can understand the seriousness of these attacks. Sowing doubts about the reliability of God’s Word is one of Satan’s favorite pastimes. His typical strategy is to try to make some foundational element of a great truth appear insignificant, then ridicule it and call it into question. If he can get people to doubt or deny doctrine, then he can eventually destroy their faith and make them captives to lies. Here are 3 reasons for the centrality of the virgin birth.  

·         The doctrine is central to the Scripture’s authority
The virgin birth was foretold in the Old Testament (Is. 7:14) and fulfilled in the New Testament (Matt. 1:23). This is very important because, God predicted hundreds of years in advance that a Savior was coming and He gave His own people all the distinguishing features of Christ’s coming so they would not miss Him. God validated His word by sending His Son to earth exactly as He said He would by miraculously creating life in Mary’s womb. Fulfilled prophecy is an undeniable supernatural sign that the Bible is uniquely inspired by God and 100% trustworthy.  

·         The doctrine is central to the supernatural identity of Christ
Two essential components that were needed to ensure that Jesus was a qualified savior was that he had to be fully human and fully divine. There was only one way God could have met all of those requirements and that was thru the virgin birth. Consider the possibilities:   

If Jesus would have been born of an earthly father and mother then He would have been merely a man and the result would have been a fully human child that inherited the sin nature of his parents. Another sinner helps no one! In order be rescued you need a Savior who is not also in need of a rescue! The drowning don’t need doggy-paddlers, they need the Coast Guard! 

On the other hand, if Jesus would have descended from heaven bathed in ethereal light then He would have been God, but not man.  If Jesus would have come directly from heaven then he would have lacked a complete register of human emotions, human experiences, human pain, human joy, human suffering.  We would have been given a savior that we could not relate to. 

But God in his divine omniscience knew how to meet all the necessary conditions.  Because Jesus was not the flesh-and-blood  son of Joseph, Christ was able to preserve his full deity.  And the fact that Jesus was born of woman ensured that Jesus would obtain a full human nature.  Through the virgin birth we have Savior that can reach out and span the infinite gap between God and man.

·         The doctrine is central to the sinless purity of Christ
The Virgin Birth was God’s way of circumventing the sinful problem of humanity. How was God going to preserve the sinless nature of Jesus during that nine month incubation process while Mary was carrying the fetus of Jesus in her womb? Listen carefully, the following are the comments of Dr. M.R. DeHann a medical doctor turned Bible preacher from the 1950s.  In his book Chemistry of the Blood he explains:
“It is unnecessary that a single drop of blood be given to the developing embryo in the womb of the mother. Such is the case according to scientists.  The mother provides the fetus (the unborn developing infant) with the nutritive elements for the building of that little body in the secret of her womb, but all the blood which forms in it is formed inside the embryo itself.
From the time of conception to the time of the birth of the infant not one single drop of blood ever passes from mother to child. The placenta that mass of temporary tissue, better known as ‘afterbirth’, forming the link between mother and child is so constructed that although the soluble nutritive elements such as proteins, fats, carbohydrates, salts, minerals and even antibodies pass freely from mother to child and the waste products of the child’s metabolism are passed back into the mother’s circulation. No actual interchange of a single drop of blood ever occurs normally.  All the blood which is in that child is produced in that child itself.  The mother contributes nothing.”[7]

How wonderfully God prepared for the Virgin Birth long ago when he designed the process of pregnancy at creation.  The foresight was there all along from the days of Eve. God provided a way whereby Jesus, would retain his deity, obtain a body human body and still be sinless, so that when Christ’s blood was shed on the cross redemption and payment for sin was made.           

[1] Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God (Nashville, TN: W Publishing, 1994), xviii. 
[2] Mark Beliles and Jerry Newcombe, Doubting Thomas: The Religious Life and Legacy of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Morgan James Publishing, 2015), 341. 
[3] C.S. Lewis, Miracles (San Francisco: Harper One, 1947), 73-75.
[4] Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (New York: Double Day, 2003), 232.
[5] Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 179.
[6] John Ankerberg and John Weldon, What Do Mormon’s Really Believe (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2002), 81.
[7] M.R. DeHann, The Chemistry of the Blood (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1943), 31. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Christmas Prophecies

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In his book, The Case for Christ, former Chicago Tribune journalist Lee Strobel presents the compelling evidence which caused him to abandon his long-held atheism for Christianity. One of the major arguments which convinced Mr. Strobel of the deity of Christ was His fulfillment of Messianic prophecy. He writes:
            “In many criminal cases, fingerprint identification is the pivotal evidence. I remember covering a trial in which a single thumbprint found on the cellophane wrapper of a cigarette package was the determining factor in convicting a twenty-year-old burglar of murdering a college coed. That’s how conclusive fingerprint evidence can be.
            In the Old Testament, there are several dozen major prophecies about the coming of the Messiah, who would be sent by God to redeem His people. In effect, these predictions form a figurative fingerprint that only the Anointed One would be able to match. This way, the Israelites could rule out any impostors and validate the credentials of the authentic Messiah.
            Against astronomical odds—one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion—Jesus, and only Jesus throughout history matched this prophetic fingerprint. This confirms Jesus’ identity to an incredible degree of certainty.”[1]

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As you study the birth narrative of Christ, the Gospel writers make it abundantly clear that the Christ-child possesses the Messianic fingerprint that the Old Testament prophets foretold centuries in advance. Scholars have noted that there are over 300 prophecies concerning the first advent of Christ, all of which were fulfilled precisely. Consider just a few which pertain to Christmas:

·         Genesis 3:15, the first prophecy in the Bible, predicted that the Redeemer would be born of a woman. The text even hints at a virgin birth because it refers to the Redeemer as “the seed of the woman,” a curious phrase since the Hebrew mind regarded the “seed” of life to belong to the man. Somehow, this Redeemer would be conceived without the help of a man. This prophecy was fulfilled in Luke 2:7 and Galatians 4:4.   

·         Genesis 12:1-3 predicted that Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham. The fulfillment of this is found in Jesus’ genealogy recorded in Matthew 1:1.

·         Genesis 21:12 showed that the Messiah could trace his lineage through Abraham’s son, Isaac and then Numbers 24:17 added Jacob as well to the family tree. These are both fulfilled in Matthew 1:2.

·         Genesis 49:10 narrows the focus of the Messiah’s ancestry even more by predicting that He will come from the tribe of Judah, one of Jacob’s 12 sons. The fulfillment of this is made clear once again in Matt. 1:2-3.

·         Two prophecies show that the Messiah would have a legal claim to royalty as he would be a descendant of Jesse, the father of David—Israel’s first king (Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6). The fulfillment of these specifications are found in Luke’s genealogy of Jesus (3:31-32) and in the angel’s announcement to Mary (Luke 1:32-33).

·         Daniel gave the exact timetable for the Messiah’s appearance (Dan. 9:25). According to this stunning prophecy the time for Messiah’s presentation to the nation would come 173,880 days from the day the decree was given for the Jewish people to return from captivity to rebuild their temple, which occurred on March 5, 444 BC. Moreover, Luke 2:1-2 sets the historical cross-hairs for the time of Jesus’ birth during the rule of Caesar Augustus.

·         Isaiah 7:14 predicted that the Messiah would be born of virgin. This was confirmed in the angelic announcement to Mary (Luke 1:26-27, 30-31).

·         Micah 5:2 foretold that the Christ would be born in the little town of Bethlehem. Caesar didn’t know it, but his decree for all subjects in the Roman Empire to return to their hometown to be counted for the census got Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem so this prophecy could be fulfilled in Luke 2:4-5, 7.

·         Psalm 2:7 said that Messiah’s identity as the “Son of God” would be announced at His birth. This is exactly the announcement made by the angels to Mary (Luke 1:32) and the shepherds (Luke 2:11).  

·         Jeremiah predicted a time when, because of Christ’s birth, many children would be slaughtered (Jer. 31:15). We see this transpire when King Herod, “The Butcher of Bethlehem,” killed the Jewish boys for fear of the newborn king (Matt. 2:16-18).

·         Hosea revealed many centuries in advance that Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have to flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod (Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:14-15).    

As you can see many of these prophecies would be impossible to fulfill by human manipulation or even blind chance. How could one cause himself to be virgin born? How could someone plan to be born in Bethlehem even though the family they chose lived in Galilee? How could anyone engineer their birth so that it would occur in a specific time and with a specific ancestry?  

So staggering are these fulfilled prophecies that one mathematician, Peter Stoner, calculated the chances of just eight of these being fulfilled by chance as one in 1017 (10 to the 17th power). That is one in 100,000,000,000,000,000. To help us comprehend this mind-boggling probability, Stoner illustrates with this analogy.

Imagine filling the state of Texas knee deep in silver dollars. Include in this huge number one silver dollar with a red “X” mark on it. Then, turn a blindfolded person loose in this sea of silver dollars. The odds that the first coin he would pick up would be the one with the red "X" are the same as eight prophecies being fulfilled accidentally in the life of Jesus.[2]       

Considering those amazing, but true facts, you would be a fool to conclude anything else than Bethlehem’s babe as the baffling intersection of deity with humanity.

[1] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 172, 262
[2] Peter W. Stoner, Science Speaks (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1963), 107. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

God's Grace and Our Gratitude

Not long ago I came across an incredible story about a Colorado boy, Robby Smith. On March 3, 2009 Robby was just a toddler when he fell into a creek near his house. It just so happened that when the emergency call was placed that that a fire engine was passing right by the creek where Robby was drowning. When rescuers arrived, Robby was unconscious and hypothermic. His life was hanging by a thread. Amazingly, first responders were able to resuscitate Robby with CPR and rescuers got him to the hospital where he fully recovered.  

Now, several years later as an eight-year old, Robby told his mother that he wanted search for the brave men and women who saved his life that day. Robby was reunited with the team who pulled him from the creek and standing before them with tear-filled eyes the boy said, “I just wanted to say thank you, because of you I am alive today.” One of the firemen who was interviewed commented that this was the first instance he could personally recall of a rescue victim coming back just to say, “Thanks.”[1]

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                     Robby and team who rescued him.

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                               A future firefighter?

Robby didn’t have to work himself into a thanksgiving mode, because he understood what it was like to be saved from death. How much more should this kind of gratitude apply to us, as those who have been saved from sin and Satan by our Lord Jesus. Gratitude is the firstborn child of grace. When was the last time you knelt before your Lord and said, “Jesus, I don’t want to ask you for anything today, I just want to thank you for saving a sinner like me.”

In Colossians 1:12-14 Paul makes the connection between our experience of grace and our expression of gratitude, “Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (emphasis mine)

What could be better than to be plucked from the fire, born-again, forgiven from sin and heaven-bound? Too many times we forget that as God’s blood-bought church we are wealthier than the Wall Street fat cats. Spiritually, we are co-heirs with Christ and recipients of a heavenly inheritance that cannot be taken away by disaster, depression, disease or even death.

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When you received Christ, you became a stockholder in the riches of heaven and the benefits are out of this world! In an instant, you received a redeemer in heaven and the promise of a residence in heaven, a resurrection body in heaven and one day, a glad reunion in heaven.     

Donald Whitney wrote in his book Spiritual Disciplines: “God has never done anything greater for anyone, nor could He do anything greater for you, than bring you to Himself. Suppose He put ten million dollars into your bank account every morning for the rest of your life, but He didn’t save you? Suppose He gave you the most beautiful body and face of anyone who ever lived, a body that never aged for a thousand years, but then at death He shut you out of Heaven and into hell for eternity? What has God ever given anyone that could compare with the salvation He has given to you as a believer? Do you see that there is nothing God could ever do for you or give to you greater than the gift of Himself? If we cannot be thankful to Him who is everything and in whom we have everything, what will make us grateful?”[2]

[1] NICOLE PELLETIERE, “Boy Seeks First Responders Who Saved His Life as a Toddler to Thank Them,” ABC NEWS, 23 February 2016 <http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/boy-seeks-responders-saved-life-toddler/story?id=37117751>
[2] Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 146. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Practical Atheism and Thanksgiving

Let me ask you an odd question, “What does an atheist do on Thanksgiving?” I know it sounds like the beginning to a bad joke, but I’m being serious. The atheist believes that we are alive on planet earth because of a cosmic accident. They assert that we owe everything to time + matter + chance and that through the process of evolution we went from goo to you via the zoo. 

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The reason I bring this up is because of a perplexing quote that I came across in Bart Eharman’s book God’s Problem. In it Ehrman explains that one reason why he no longer believes in God is because he could not reconcile the concept of an all-loving and omnipotent God with a world of evil and suffering. However, ousting God from his heart created a gaping hole in his life.  

Ehrman admits that his atheism presents a dilemma of who to thank: “The problem is this: I have such a fantastic life that I feel such an overwhelming sense of gratitude for it. I am fortunate beyond words. But I don’t have anyone to express my gratitude to. This is a void inside me, a void of wanting someone to thank, and I don’t see any plausible way of filling it.”[1]

                          Image result for ehrman god's problem       Image result for ehrman god's problem

Can it get any more depressing than that? All those degrees, book deals and academic prestige, yet empty inside as a soap bubble. In short, you might say that the unbeliever has much to be thankful for, but no one, or no God to be thankful to. It was G.K. Chesterton who cleverly remarked, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he feels a profound sense of gratitude and has no one to thank.” Interesting—the skeptic recognizes that life is an incredible gift, yet His worldview denies a Giver. He feels the need to express gratitude but why?  

The Apostle Paul makes an insightful comment in Romans 1:21 that at the heart of unbelief and rebellion is a spirit of ingratitude: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” The humanist thumps his chest thinking that he is the measure of all things.   

Yet, even the ingrate should follow the advice of a church sign I saw once around the Thanksgiving season which read, “Be thankful you don’t get what you deserve.”

While no man or woman of faith would intellectually deny God, we do practically. Practical atheists don’t necessarily deny God’s existence; they just live as though there is no God.

R.C. Sproul gives this definition, “Practical atheism appears when we live as if there were no God. The externals continue, but man becomes the central thrust of devotion as the attention of religious concern shifts away from man’s devotion to God to man’s devotion to man, bypassing God.”[2]

When Abraham Lincoln first proposed Thanksgiving as a national holiday way-back in 1863, he too noticed that often people are guilty of practicing practical atheism:

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”[3] [emphasis mine]

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Are you guilty of grumbling? I am. Have you forgotten God’s common grace which showers you daily? I have. Do you find yourself uncontended and wanting more? Me too.

I am reminded of a story about a vendor who sold bagels for 50 cents each at a street corner food stand. A jogger ran past and threw a couple of quarters into the bucket but didn’t take a bagel. He did the same thing every day for months. One day, as the jogger was passing by, the vendor stopped him. The jogger asked, “You probably want to know why I always put money in but never take a bagel, don’t you?” “No,” said the vendor. “I just wanted to tell you that the bagels have gone up to 60 cents.”

Too often, as believers, we treat God with that same kind of attitude. Not only are we ungrateful for what He’s given us—but we want more. Somehow we feel that God owes us good health, a comfortable life, material blessings. Of course, God doesn’t owe us anything, yet He gives us everything including His Son, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

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Thanksgiving is a sure-fire antidote to practical atheism, because it properly turns the focus off us and puts it on God. Thanksgiving minimizes those thoughts about what we don’t have, by maximizing our thoughts on what we do have. Like the old song says, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”[4]  -DM

[1] Bart Ehrman, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question (New York: Harper One, 2008), 128. 
[2] R.C. Sproul, “What Is Practical Atheism?” Ligonier Ministries. 12 Jan. 2015 <http://www.ligonier.org/blog/
[3] Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation 97 – Appointing a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer,” 30 March 1863, The American Presidency Project <http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=69891>
[4] Johnson Oatman, Jr. “Count Your Blessings,” 1897.