Examining the Evidence

I was listening to Chuck Swindoll recently and he gave an account of a conversation he had with an atheist who told him that there simply was not enough evidence to conclude that there was ever a person by the name of Jesus Christ who was the son of God, or that God even exists. He said the evidence was “too insufficient” to be believed.

“So…” Swindoll asked, “…..you’ve examined the evidence in the gospels?”

“Well no, not really.”  the young man admitted. And when he was pressed further, he admitted that he had never actually read the Bible, that all he knew about the Bible was from some stories his mother read to him as a child. But he had never examined the evidence that he claimed was so insufficient. And as Swindoll went on to share in his message that day, he said that by his estimate, the percentage of people who openly reject God (we’re talking about hard core atheists) without ever having read the word of God could be as high as 95%.

When I heard all of that, what immediately came to mind was two lawyers squaring off against each other in a court of law. In court cases, attorneys go through a discovery process whereby each attorney has the right to examine his opponent’s evidence. As any of you in the legal profession can attest to, after you examine that evidence, you’ll have to decide whether to advise your clients to settle or go to trial. Or if it’s a criminal case, you’ll either advise your client to go to a jury trial or take a plea. But you would never make any decision without first examining all the evidence. Yet, according to Swindoll, most people who reject God do so without ever examining the one key piece of evidence that reveals God to the world, the Bible.

Of course there are some atheists who do know the Bible quite well. So it’s hard for me to imagine how anyone can examine the evidence of scripture…….and still deny the existence of God. I say that because I know of dozens of people who accepted Jesus Christ after hearing just one or two verses of Scripture. Some I know personally. They came to believe based on the smallest shred of evidence, and were saved.

In John 14, Jesus said, The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do. So even if people don’t want to believe what’s recorded for us in the Bible, even if they don’t want to believe what the Bible says about Jesus and who He is, they should at least consider how the word of God has transformed people’s lives. That’s what Jesus meant when He said “believe because of the work you have seen me do.”  That “work” He spoke of is the salvation of souls, the transformation of lives. And the work we continue doing today is the work of telling lost people about Jesus Christ.

People can deny the evidence of scripture. They can deny the authenticity of the Bible. They can either refuse to examine the evidence like so many do, or they can choose to reject the evidence altogether. But there’s one thing they cannot deny and that’s power of a changed life. Atheists cannot explain it. It frustrates them to no end because they cannot refute or explain away the evidence. They cannot explain how the alcoholic no longer has the urge to get drunk. They cannot explain how that same alcoholic went through rehab numerous times and fell off the wagon every time, that is, until he (or she) accepted Christ and found the strength and will to beat their addiction in the power of God.

Likewise, they cannot explain away the conversion of people like the owner of a topless club in San Antonio, Texas, who went to a little park near his home one day to see why there was a group of people gathered there. He just went because he was curious. He wanted to see what was going on and what was going on was that a small group of Christians had gathered for an impromptu Bible study and prayer meeting, right there in the park! He listened for just a few minutes, but that was all God needed. He was convicted right there on the spot and when he returned home, he prayed to receive Jesus Christ. Within a week’s time, he came to realize that he could no longer do what he was doing to earn a living, so he closed the topless club he owned and eventually became a leader in his church.

There are countless untold stories just like those, stories of lives changed by the power of God. None of us imagined our transformation when we became Christians. None of us imagined the power that was at work in our lives when we found healing from some pain that had overcome us. In my own case, I found healing through Jesus Christ after the death of my three year old grandson in 2007. It frustrates non-believers to no end because they cannot explain it away or dismiss it as an over-active imagination.

They can deny God and His Holy Word all they want, but they cannot deny the power of a transformed life. And aside from God’s Word, a transformed life is the most powerful evidence there is for the existence of God!

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Lost in the Weeds

There’s a little baseball field across the street from my house where a couple of Little League teams practice from time to time, and it’s also used as an improvised driving range a couple of times a week by some local golfers. I often go walking over there with our granddaughter and it was during one of our walks that I noticed the baseballs and golf balls that were being left behind. They were laying out in the open where the field was mowed and well maintained, so they weren’t hard to spot.

It seemed a shame to leave them out there to rot or get run over by a lawn mower, so I started picking them up and taking them home. It became a weekly thing for my granddaughter and me, scavenging for baseballs and golf balls. At first we brought home about two or three baseballs and maybe four or five golf balls every week. One day though, we were walking along the edge of the ballfield and I just happened to look over into an adjacent field that’s part of the same property. It’s just an empty field that’s seldom ever mowed. The grass and weeds are overgrown and are almost knee deep in some places. I looked over there and hidden in the weeds was a baseball that was almost brand new. I’d probably walked by it ten or twelve times but never noticed it. I looked the area over a little closer and found several more. Some had been there a while and had rotted away, but there were others in decent condition. They just needed to be cleaned up. So I looked more closely and sure enough, we started finding golf balls also. Most of them were just laying on top of the ground but they were hidden by the weeds and tall grass. All told we took home about eight baseballs and probably more than a dozen golf balls. From then on, I made it a point to check that field every time we went walking over there and on average, we probably found about six to eight baseballs and a dozen or so golf balls every week.

On the opposite side of the ballfield is a side street and on the other side of that street is another empty field. It’s fenced off, but it hasn’t been maintained in years. It’s more overgrown than the other field. We were walking along the edge of the side street when I spotted a baseball just out of reach on the other side of the fence. So I hopped the fence to go retrieve it. As I waded through the waist high weeds, I looked down and saw golf balls everywhere! I hadn’t seen them from the street because of the weeds. After gathering them up, we took them home and counted them. There were over a hundred!

As I picked up all those golf balls, I said to myself, “God, I don’t know if there’s a lesson in this or not, but if there is, let me know.” Well, God heard that, and here’s the lesson: If you want to find the lost, you have to look in the weeds. That sounds simple but think of it this way. The church is the well maintained field that’s regularly mowed and watered. The world……..well that’s easy; the world is represented by the weeds and unmowed fields. SURE, we can spend all our time hanging out around the church, and lost people will come. There will always be some who find their way to the church, and we certainly need to be there for them when they do. But there are far more lost and hurting people to be found out in the world. In other words, there are times when we need to step away from the well maintained fields and go walk through the weeds looking for the ones that are lost.

Jesus said, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is lost?” The shepherd in that parable wouldn’t be searching for his lost sheep in the barn. He would have to go look out in the wilderness if he had any hope of finding the lost sheep and bringing it home.

And sometimes, it gets messy. That pasture was choked with weeds that produce those little burrs that stick to your socks and shoe strings and my socks and shoes were covered with them. But the the deeper I went into the tall grass and weeds, the more lost balls I found. God was showing me it’s the same when reaching out to the lost people of the world. A small number of them will always find their way to the doorsteps of the church, and it’s vital that we be there to reach out to them and bring them in. But far greater is the number of hurt and lost people to be found out in the weeds of the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mission trip to a downtown gospel mission twenty miles away, or if it’s a mission trip half way around the world. What matters is finding those who are lost and who need the hope that’s found in Jesus Christ!

Badge of Honor

In years past, if someone described you as a Christian gentleman (or a nice Christian lady depending on your gender), it was meant as a compliment. It said something about you and what people thought of you. It meant something and it still does mean something. It means as much as ever for a follower of Jesus Christ to be regarded as a Christian gentleman or Christian lady. That hasn’t changed. But what has changed are peoples’ attitudes towards Christians. And many of the reasons behind society’s changing attitudes toward Christians are beyond our control. But some aren’t. Some of this is our own fault.

Every summer I attend a monthly classic car show that’s organized by a local Christian car club. I was at one of their shows a couple of years ago when I witnessed some not-very-Christian behavior by one of the members who was judging the cars. I won’t go into specifics about what was said and done, except to say that it centered around the way he treated one of the spectators. It was quite ugly and unfortunately, that was not the the first or only time I had seen some of the supposed Christian members of this club treat people that way. Based on some of the behavior I’ve witnessed, I seriously question whether some of the men in that organization are truly saved. And if I can’t see evidence of their faith (after all, the Bible tells us what to look for – Galatians 5 – fruit of the spirit), there’s no way a non-believer can see it.

We need to be conscious of what our behavior says about our relationship with Jesus Christ, both in public and in private. Our faith should be evident in such a way that there’s no question if we’re saved or not. Think of it this way. When a young man or woman enlists in the military, they’re immediately issued a uniform. By that uniform we can tell if they’re in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. The uniform tells us a lot about them. And even before they put it on for the first time, they were instructed on how they had to conduct themselves. They’re expected to adhere to certain standards so as not to disgrace the uniform.

When we became followers of Christ, we also put on a uniform and like men and women who serve in the military, there are standards we must adhere to. The Apostle Paul addressed this matter in two of his epistles:

Galatians 3

 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Romans 13

 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

We wear the uniform of Jesus Christ, and it must be worn with honor. We are His servants and soldiers. While we cannot control the attitudes of a world that is becoming increasingly hostile and indifferent toward Christianity, we can, with God’s help, control our own conduct. As Paul said in that passage in Romans, we are to “behave decently”, and if we commit ourselves to wearing the uniform of Christ with honor, we can influence the perception of Christianity in the minds of the people around us. No one should question our faith.

When a soldier puts on the uniform, it usually brings about a change on the inside as well. Paul pointed to this in the fourth chapter of Ephesians:

 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

So when someone describes us as Christian gentlemen; when our wives, mothers, sisters, or daughters are described as nice Christian ladies, that distinction should be worn like a badge of honor, one that is righteous and holy, because HE is righteous and holy!

We Were Made to be Seekers

Several years ago, the quarterback of a winning Super Bowl team was being interviewed a few weeks after the championship game, and he described how a kind of depression had set in as the excitement of winning the Super Bowl wore off. Now it’s normal for anyone to experience a little letdown after experiencing an emotional high like that. But he said he was seriously contemplating retirement because – as he put it – there was still something missing and he wasn’t sure what it was.

This is not unusual. Athletes in other sports have reported the same experience. After years of hard work and training, they finally reach their goal of winning a championship, but once the excitement wears off, they begin to feel a letdown accompanied by the feeling of being incomplete.

I recently heard the story of a project manager of a large corporation who spent years working on a major project for his company and when it was finally done, he said that even though he did feel some sense of satisfaction, he also said  there was a part of him that asked “Is this it? Is this all there is?”

We’ve all heard of stories of wealthy people who spent years accumulating their fortunes only to end up feeling lonely, depressed, miserable, and empty on the inside in spite of having all the money and material possessions they could ever want. Many of them ask the same question: “Is this it? Is this all there is?”

People in the entertainment industry are prime examples of this. It seems that not a year goes by that we don’t hear of an actor or musician or other celebrity who has had to go into rehab for a drug or alcohol problem. Or worse, we learn of the death of an entertainer that was attributed to a drug overdose, or the news breaks that someone famous committed suicide. And it always leaves their fans and the media asking the same question, “He had everything. She had it all. How could something like that happen?”  Just like athletes after winning a championship, it’s not unusual for celebrities to disclose that they feel like something’s missing, even after achieving all the fame and recognition they could ever desire.

All of them have one thing in common: They are (or were) seeking something. Whether it was fame, fortune, a successful movie career or success on the ball field, they were looking for something in this life to satisfy a desire, to fulfill an ambition, or maybe even to fill a void. They were seeking things that they thought would bring ultimate happiness, joy, and/or fulfillment to their lives. And maybe it does……….for a while.

Now, just so there’s no misunderstanding, I’m not saying it’s wrong to seek fame, fortune, or success. I’m not trying to cast anyone in an unfavorable light because really, we’re all the same in this regard. In fact, we’re all very much alike because God made all of us that way, to be seekers. We live in a country founded by people who were seeking something. For some, it was religious freedom. Others sought freedom from oppressive governments. Still others came seeking economic opportunity. So in that regard, we’re no different. And at some point in our pasts, we’ve all felt like something was missing even when it seemed everything was going our way.

However, when God instilled in us that innate instinct to be seekers, His intent was for us to seek Him first above all else. I said it’s not necessarily wrong to seek fame and fortune, unless fame and fortune become our idols. And that’s exactly what happens when we fail to put God first. Jesus made it very clear that we’re to seek God first when He spoke of human desire for wealth and material goods. In Matthew 6, Jesus said, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Just so we’re clear, Jesus never intended for contemporary prosperity gospel preachers to abuse that passage the way they do.)  So when people achieve great success in life and then say “There’s still something missing.”they’re exactly right. What’s missing from their lives is God because they sought fame and fortune first. But what if they don’t know that?

Jesus said: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. But again, what if they don’t know that God is the “something” that’s missing from their lives? The Apostle Paul asked and answered this very question in Romans chapter 10 when he wrote:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

No amount of money, fame, or achievement in life can fill the void of a life without God. God made us to be seekers so we would seek Him and come to know Him so that we may exalt the name of Jesus Christ, and give Him the praise and glory and honor He deserves. We’re to seek His blessing, His will, and His plan for our lives, a plan that very likely won’t include fame, fortune, or great success for the majority of us, at least not by worldly standards. But His plan does call for us to be ready to introduce God to those who ask, “Is this it? Is this all there is?”  When you hear someone ask that question, when they ask “What’s missing?”, tell them it’s not what, but who, and then tell them who it is. Tell them about Jesus Christ.

The Inerrant Word

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me shall not perish but will have eternal life.” (from John 3:16)

What exactly does it mean when we say we believe in Jesus? Very simply, it means we trust the Bible and what it has to say about who Jesus Christ is. We call it faith and that kind of faith requires complete trust on the part of a professing Christian. And in turn, it also means that we believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. What does inerrant mean? It means that the Bible contains no errors, no inconsistencies, and that it does not contradict itself, ever! There can be no middle ground there.

As we all know, the world is full of people who don’t believe in God the Father or God the Son Jesus Christ. They dismiss the Bible as a work of fiction, which is to be expected from unbelievers. All we can do for them is pray for them and continue sharing the gospel with them with the hope that it will eventually lead to their salvation.

Then there are those who believe that God is real, that He does exist, yet they choose to live apart from God. They have no desire to follow Christ, preferring instead to live for themselves and to live as the world around them lives. While they acknowledge that there is a God in a place called heaven, many people in this group still have a hard time accepting that the Bible is inerrant. And perhaps that’s why they remain unsaved in spite of their belief in the living God of heaven.

There’s another group of people who claim that the Bible contains errors and contradictions and inconsistencies, and this will probably come as a surprise when I tellyou who they are: They’re Christians; they’re fellow believers. While they profess their faith in Jesus Christ, somewhere along the way they came to believe that the Bible does contain errors. There’s a huge problem with that kind of thinking. If only part of the Bible is true, then you would have to question the accuracy and validity of every single passage of scripture. First of all, how would we know what parts of the Bible are true and what parts aren’t? And second, who gets to say which passages contain errors and which ones don’t? Who gets to make that call?

A mature Christian will ask how it is that someone can profess to be a follower of Christ while insisting that the Bible contains errors. I think it happens very easily when mature Christians fail to properly disciple young people and new believers. As a result, younger Christians become susceptible to the world’s arguments against Bible inerrancy. One of the arguments we hear all the time is that, even though the Bible is the inspired word of God, it contains errors because of the human scribes who put pen to parchment. The human authors had to have made mistakes, so the arguments go. Really? Let’s take a look at that argument through the filter of scripture and what we know about God.

First, let’s look to Hebrews chapter 6, verses 17 and 18: So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.

God created the heavens and the earth, and everything in them. How is it then, that a God who’s so powerful that He simply willed the universe into existence is not able to overcome the error of a simple human scribe who made a mistake while copying scripture? Actually, that was no problem for God at all. If a scribe made an error while copying a manuscript, God saw to it that there were thousands and thousands of other manuscripts to compare it to so that the error could be revealed. How do we know this? When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, they pre-dated all other existing manuscripts by a thousand years, yet they matched those other manuscripts………word for word. To say that God is unable or unwilling to give us His word free of errors and contradictions is to say that God is willing to tolerate error and contradictions, that He’s okay with inaccurate information and teachings in His Bible. In effect, that would make Him out to be a liar. But as we see in Scripture, it is impossible for God to lie. So that’s one way we know that scripture is inerrant. It was given to us by a Holy God who by His very nature cannot lie. He could never allow His word to contain errors.

Also, we can be assured of the inerrancy of scripture because of when it was written. In Psalm 119, verse 89, the Bible says:

Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.

That passage could also be translated from the original Hebrew to read: Forever, O LORD, Your word is fixed in Heaven….or….Your word is established in Heaven. As W.A. Criswell once explained: “What the divine, inspired psalmist is saying, that before the Word was delivered inerrant, the Word existed in heaven; and that (our Bibles) are but a copy of what God has written in heaven.” God’s word existed BEFORE creation, otherwise the psalmist could not have said it is “forever established in Heaven”. Here’s another point to consider: Since we know it’s God’s desire that no one should be lost, why then would He allow His word, His saving word that’s written perfectly somewhere in Heaven, to be recorded here on earth with errors and contradictions? How could that even be possible?

Not only does God never lie, He is also unchanging. The Bible assures of this truth in that very familiar passage in Hebrews 13: Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Since God is unchanging, His word is also unchanged. It is without error in Heaven, and it is without error here on earth. Not only did He give ancient scribes thousands of manuscripts for comparison so they could get it right, God also gave us more than adequate linguistic skills so we could make accurate translations. And if a debate does arise over the translation of a particular word or phrase, linguists only need to go to the original Greek and Hebrew languages for clarification. When the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost, people were able to hear the Gospel in their own languages, effectively undoing the confusion of languages that had come about because of the Tower of Babel. God made certain His word would be understood no matter what language it’s preached or written in.

God is also eternal. To the best of our understanding, that means He is immortal. He has always existed, and so too has His word.

1 Peter 1

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because

“All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the Lord endures forever.”

Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.

Peter quoted Isaiah 40 verse 8, a passage that was written more than 700 years before Jesus was born. Forever not only extends forward to the future, it also extends backwards to the past. God’s word has always endured, and it always will.

Here’s another question: Who would be foolish enough to follow the instructions in a poorly written manual full of mistakes? Whether assembling a bicycle or working on a complex piece of machinery, you need well written, accurate, and reliable instructions if you want the job done right. Paul wrote in his second letter to the young pastor Timothy: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” As Dr. Criswell once noted, God does not have bad breath! If the Bible contained errors, there’s no way Paul’s statement to Timothy could be true. The two key words in that passage are “All Scripture…”; not some of it, not part of it. Whether God gave His word directly and told the human author “Write these words down.” (as He did to men like Moses), or whether it’s inspired like most of the New Testament, ALL MEANS ALL!!!!

I will simply say this in closing: No body of work, even our own Bible, could ever endure if it contained errors. Sooner or later, the errors would be exposed, the inconsistencies and contradictions would cause the entire body of work to unravel, and it would be completely discredited. Yet, this Book, God’s Holy Bible, has stood the test of time. And it still stands today as the authoritative Word of God!

The Great Physician

Nowhere in any of the Bible translations I researched is Jesus actually referred to as “The Great Physician”. Jesus compares the spiritual illness of sin to physical illness in the gospels of Matthew and Mark where He says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to callthe righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

In Luke’s gospel, after Jesus finished reading the words of Isaiah to the people in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’”  He indirectly referred to Himself as a physician in that particular passage, but Jesus never came right out and said of Himself, “I am the Great Physician”. There was an old gospel hymn that used to be sung in churches many years ago called, “The Great Physician”, and that I believe is where we got the term from and why we still use it today. The fact is, there’s only one recorded instance in all the Bible where God said, “I am the Lord, your healer.” That was in Exodus chapter 15.

It would have been uncharacteristic of Jesus to call attention to Himself in that way, to call Himself  “The Great Physician”. Jesus was far too humble to do that.  It was always His desire to bring glory to the Father, never to Himself. He often told people after He healed them not to tell anyone. But let there be no doubt in anyone’s mind; Jesus was – and is – our Great Physician. During His time on earth, he healed people of everything from blindness to leprosy. A woman touched the hem of His robe and was healed. He drove demons out of people and restored their sanity. He raised the dead. In our time, physical ailments are still healed miraculously through the power of prayer when it’s God’s will to do so. But Jesus heals more than physical ailments. Jesus is the healer of our souls and that’s far more important than physical healing. I know this from my own experience eight years ago.

We experience many kinds of pain. There’s manageable physical pain, like a headache or muscle strain. We take aspirin or ibuprofen and go about our business. There’s pain that requires us to seek medical attention, and with the right type of treatment, our bodies eventually heal.

But then there are those hurts that are not physical. They are deep spiritual pains that can only be healed by God. That experience I mentioned from eight years ago was the pain that my family and I went through when we lost our grandson. As I look back on that time, I can clearly see that healing could have only come from Jesus Christ. Not only was it deep spiritual pain, it was the worst pain a parent or grandparent can go through. There is no other possible way my family or I could have ever healed without the Lord by our side.

When I was baptized in August of 2008, our pastor at that time said something I remember very well. He said that when people experience the sort of hurt that my family and I went through, they will choose one of two paths. They’ll either seek God or turn away from God. I know that’s all too true. All too often, people do turn away from God. They shake their fist at Him. They burn with anger toward God. They ask how God could dare do such a thing to them!

I know the path I chose. I chose to put my trust in Jesus Christ. Anything else only masks the pain for a while. It’s like taking Tylenol for a headache when you actually have a brain tumor that needs to be cut out. If you knew something was seriously wrong with your body, you’d seek medical help. It wouldn’t make any sense for you to try to treat yourself. You might mask the pain for a while, but eventually, the problem will only get worse.

But that’s exactly what people do to their souls. They try to heal themselves without God when they are in deep spiritual pain. They’ll often turn to drugs or alcohol, or some other form of self medication. They become angry, hateful, bitter. As a result, marriages fall apart. Families come unglued. And even if they manage to hold it all together somehow without God, their healing is never complete. I worked with a guy at Delta Airlines who had lost an infant daughter years before I met him, and there was still lingering bitterness. Even though he and his wife did manage to stay together and eventually had another child, he was still resentful toward God over the loss of that first child. I pray that God will let our paths cross once again so I can show him how Jesus Christ healed my hurt and restored joy and laughter in my own heart and in the hearts of my family! And I ask all of you to pray that as well.

There is pain and hurt in this life, but none of that can compare to the hurt of being eternally separated from God. Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians: That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

The pain in this world is only temporary, but the healing that comes from the Great Physician will carry us for eternity!

The Law and Grace

From John chapter 5:

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades.  In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed (some manuscripts say) waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Not all manuscripts include the fourth verse of that passage about the angel of the Lord stirring the water. This is another of those instances where certain translations of the Bible came about before earlier manuscripts were discovered. And for that reason, some theologians believe that the the stirring of the water by the angel may have been more of a local legend than fact. Whether an angel stirred the water or not, the people laying around that pool believed the water had healing power whenever it had been stirred. According to the tradition, the first person in the pool after the water was stirred was healed. Basically, they were operating under the Law. According to Hebrew beliefs in Old Testament times, God’s mercy either had to be earned by works or by performing some sort of tradition or ritual. In this account, God’s mercy was earned by being first in the pool.

The question however is this: How many died while waiting for the water to stir? The scripture doesn’t say, but I suspect many died while waiting.

Therein was the problem with the Law and its traditions and rituals: What if, for some reason, you’re unable fulfill the requirements of the Law? What if there is something that prevents from fulfilling its requirements, like a physical handicap of some sort? What then?

In the case of the invalid, he was physically unable to drag himself into the pool. Had Jesus not intervened, he would have surely died without ever having been healed. He was healed therefore, not by keeping a tradition or by performing a deed, but by Grace.

That’s the difference between the Law and Grace. The Law brings death, but Grace gives life. On our own, we can never do enough to earn mercy and forgiveness. Even if we’re in top physical condition, we’re no better off than the invalid. Even when done with the best intentions, rituals and good deeds cannot take the place of the Grace of Jesus Christ.

People really haven’t changed that much in 2000 years.  Some think they can tip the scale in their favor by doing good deeds and good works  with the hope that the good will outweigh the bad.

Take church attendance for instance. There are many good people who attend church faithfully every Sunday. But it’s still more of a ritual to them than anything else. In their minds they must earn Grace by showing up for church week in and week out. But people with that sort of mindset really don’t have their hearts set on the things of God. Their hearts don’t belong to God. This isn’t just true for individual Christians. There are entire church bodies that think that way. They’re caught up in legalistic thinking. They follow a doctrine of Christ plus works. They believe they must continually earn God’s favor even after professing Christ as their savior.

Don’t get me wrong. Going to church is good. We’re supposed to assemble regularly with other believers. Reading the Bible is good. Serving in the church is good. Teaching a Bible class is good. Putting our offering in the collection plate is good. Giving to charity is good. Helping someone in need is good. Volunteering your time at a children’s hospital is good. All these things are good. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do them. But in and of themselves, they’re not good enough without a personal relationship with Christ. None of those things can save the eternal soul, even if you do them every day. It takes a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the good news is, that’s all it takes. Works and rituals cannot save us, and they’re not necessary.

Without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we’re as helpless as the invalid at the pool. We cannot be healed, or cleansed, or forgiven of our sins on our own. We cannot be saved by our own strength or merit, but only by the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!