In The Search Mode

IN THE SEARCH MODE

MB-2

“How do you answer the classic questions about Christianity?  Here is a response to a letter from a dear friends that may help you in your next conversation.”

Many have been offended by Christians.

Maybe there was a time in your life when you expected to receive an act of kindness from a person who professed to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and didn’t.  Perhaps you needed to hear a word of encouragement and instead received a word of condemnation. Or possibly that person that was in church praising the Lord on Sunday gave you an inflated price on a defective product on Monday.

I apologize for their behavior.

There are people who profess to be followers of Jesus. Then there are those who actually do understand what a personal relationship with God is all about, and try to walk in obedience to His command to “Love God and Love One Another.”

Sometimes there is  an ocean between these two groups.  Even those walking in obedience to the Lord’s great commandments sometimes forget.

Please accept my apology on behalf of all those who have misrepresented the name of Christ, and have offended or disappointed you. 

Please realize that the message of Jesus is more important than the behavior of His followers.

 

In The Search Mode

Are You Wandering Around in the Jungle?

Are You Looking for the Right Path?

“If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

John 8:31-32

Michael Bagby & David Louk

 

At some point in our lives,  we all come to a place where we begin to search for answers to some of the real issues of life.

Often, getting to this point is a

laborious journey.

 

We may travel

through fields of achievement,

across mountains of excitement,  along rivers of materialism,

through caverns of knowledge,

finally looking for the

oasis of spiritual fulfillment.

 

One traveler on this journey is a dear friend from my days in the Navy named Dave.

I met Dave in 1976 at Whidbey Island Washington.  He flew in the EA-6B Prowler, the Navy’s electronic warfare jammer.  I flew the A-6 Intruder, the carrier based all weather attack jet. We journeyed together through our years of flying in the Navy.  In addition to flying, we spent many evenings eating cheeseburgers at Toby’s Tavern, rolling dice, playing pinball, throwing darts, and playing the Crown Avenue Frisbee Golf course.  Rarely did we discuss spiritual matters.  We were having too much fun!

Our paths separated in 1981 when I moved to Maui, where I began to experience the spiritual fulfillment of a true relationship with the Lord. After a few years, I went to Honduras on a two week trip to help Miskito Indian refugees from the war in Nicaragua.  That short trip has turned into a long term engagement– now over 14 years.

Dave continued on in the Navy,  finally retiring.  We re-established contact in 1995, when Dave sailed on a small sailboat from California to Florida via the Panama Canal.  After his journey of many months ended, we made contact through the internet.

What follows is a letter from Dave,

 and my response….

Enjoy!

 

Michael Bagby

Christmas 1998

Ka’a’awa  O’ahu

  

A  Letter  From  Dave

Hi Bags,

      Got your e-mail which you sent early this morning.  Thanks for your concern of my spiritual life.  It is in fair shape.  Is the spiritual life of anyone ever in really good shape?  I’m doing what needs to be done for Dave and the big guy is probably surprised, amused and slightly pleased.

      There are many questions concerning religion that I continue to ask and explore.  Of course I’m Catholic and will always be Catholic, but what about all those other religions?  The Jews, Islams (or would that be Islamics), all of the Eastern religions, and the American Indians.  We all need a vehicle to express our faith, hopes and beliefs, however, is one better than another?

  What does God think?

      Does God intervene in everyday life or does he sit back and let us make our own choices and decisions?   If I accomplish something is it because God helped me or did I have a faith in a concept which saw me through the difficult to success?  Something that always gets me is the athlete that says in an interview that he wants to thank the Lord for allowing him to win, or helping him to win, etc.  Personally I don’t think God gives a hoot who wins a golf match or a football game.

      If someone is a “good” person, but isn’t a Christian, is he going to be denied the joys of heaven?  Yes, I know what the Bible says, but men wrote it for the times.  I find it hard to believe that some American Indian (maybe “He who walks with feathers”) is not going to have eternal salvation because he wasn’t a Christian. 

      My faith in God is strong.  I don’t believe that God is anything like what he is portrayed in any of the concepts we use here on earth.  I think He is probably something we can’t even begin to portray.  We have to give Him human characteristics in order to conceptualize a Supreme Being.

      Religion means so many different things to people.  What is the correct meaning of religion?  Who can say? Well we can all say, but are any of us correct?  Are the Mormons right?  They sure do a lot of good works, but I have a basic problem with them. Can’t figure out that Joe Smith guy.  He would have been a great multi-level marketer in the 1990’s.

      Take care and stay in touch.

 Dave

 

 A   Response

Dear Dave

 Thanks for the letter.   What a great place to be in your life- asking very appropriate questions . . .   Relevant questions . . .   Questions that address many of the real issues.

 I can say that asking is the beginning to receiving.   When we do, the Big Guy makes us a promise:

     “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach,and it will be given to him.”                   James 1:5

 

As far as what is the reaction of God to your search, I doubt that you or I can do anything that will surprise Him.  He sits above the lineal time line that we live on and sees what happened those years we spent on Whidbey Island throwing frisbee and playing pinball. He also sees what will happen tomorrow.  I think with God there is no present, past and future. He doesn’t wear a watch. He sees it all at the same time.

He has been watching over your life since before you arrived on the planet. I can say that just like an old friend who finally got a telephone call, letter, or e-mail from you after years of silence, He is pleased to be communicating with you on a personal basis.   I know that I am.

“God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.”

                                                        1 John 3:20

Dave, you said that you

are a Catholic and will always be a Catholic.”

Dave, the issue is not if you are a Catholic, or a Baptist, or a Methodist, but rather if you are a “Christian.”

It was in 1984 that I first went to Honduras to work with the Miskito refugees from the war in Nicaragua. It was rather cool to see all the Catholics, Moravians, Baptists, and other denominations meeting under the same leaf roof.  The persecution of the Sandinistas (who were basically Marxist atheists) came because they were “Christians”, not because they were Catholics, Baptists, or Church of God.  (Persecution does wonders for Christian unity!)

To me Dave, Christians are people who have a personal faith in and commitment to Christ.  There are many different “congregations” (sometimes called denominations) where Christians gather, but we are all members of the same body of Christ.

Christians all believe the same “cardinal” or primary doctrines, which were first defined in the Apostles Creed,and later at the Council of Nicea in 325. I used to live close to Nicea when I was 12 and my dad was stationed at an Air Force base in Turkey.  It’s called Iznik now, and the lake there has huge catfish (over 5 feet long!).  Basically Dave, all Christians believe in:

¨       The Deity of Jesus Christ;

¨       The sinful nature of man, and his need for a savior;

¨       The forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ death on the cross (it‘s this only, and not “Jesus plus something else“!);

¨       The membership of all believers in the family of God;

¨       The future of all believers spending eternity with God;

¨       The Bible as the inspired Word of God;

Where different congregations of the church diverge is in the secondary doctrines such as baptism (immersion or sprinkling), Christ’s second coming (before or after the tribulation), spiritual gifts (should you speak in tongues?) and other issues that I believe really don’t affect your standing with God.  Unfortunately many Christians down through the years have chosen to divide themselves over these minor issues.  Paul gives us good guidelines for dealing with these secondary issues in 1 Corinthians chapters 8-11.

 What about all the differing church traditions and rituals?

 Obviously many groups of Christians have different ways of worshipping and serving God. Many churches have traditions which I have found sometimes to be personally very meaningful and others which are sometimes irrelevant to life today.  I know that when many of those traditions were instituted, they carried much meaning to the societies then, so I accept but not necessarily embrace many of the various traditions in practice today.  To me, as long as a tradition is Biblically based and culturally relevant, it is worth keeping around.  This is the key Dave.

If not, then it could come in the way of someone entering into a personal relationship with the Lord.  “Traditions” can easily become “laws”. “Theories” can easily become “doctrines.” Traditions and doctrines which are not Biblically based often are barriers for someone who is searching for the truth. Some churches make you jump through so many hoops with their “rules” (like Can’t smoke, Can’t chew, Can’t go with girls that do!”) that most seekers cannot make it into the front door.

Let’s face it: “Religion” is a turn off to most people.  Having to do stuff which has little meaning will soon kill any desire to find the essence of God. This is what man-made laws and theories-turned-into-doctrine will do to even the most earnest seekers.

What is required for salvation is very simple:  In the letter to the church at Rome, Paul writes

For 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.  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.    Romans 10:9-10

 Paul wrote in a letter to the church at Ephesus:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.           Ephesians 2:8-9

 

Grace is “unmerited favor”.  Paul declared there are no “works” that can save us— it’s only our faith in Jesus. When we  begin adding other requirements (good works, baptism, communion, confession, dietary laws, etc) then we start to get “religious”, and away from God’s intent.

Remember that Jesus had many conflicts with the “religious” men of his time.  He got along great with the drunks and the prostitutes, but the scribes and Pharisees were another story.  They took their traditions and made them into God’s law, and yet in many cases their rules and traditions actually went against what God was commanding.

For example, God told Moses “Don’t work on the Sabbath.”  Did you know Dave that you had to be careful how you spit on the Sabbath?  What does spitting have to do with work? According to the Jewish laws, if you spit so that your saliva landed on a rock or pavement, that was ok.  But if your spit hit the dirt, that was forbidden, because that constituted “digging” (because some of the dirt was displaced) which was “work”, and forbidden on the Sabbath.  You also could not drag a chair across the dirt, because that to would “dig” a rut into the dirt.  Carrying a chair was also considered by some as work.

Now the spirit of the fourth commandment (don’t work on the Sabbath) was to provide a day of rest for God’s people.  Saying that you couldn’t spit in the dirt or drag a chair went, in Jesus’ mind, too far. These and other Sabbath laws (no cooking, no carrying water, no walking more than 400 yards from your home, etc) took a day of intended rest and relaxation and turned it into a day of ritual and restriction.

Jesus ignored these man-made laws and instead focused on the spiritual intent behind the laws that God gave to His people. This infuriated many of the religious leaders of His time. It’s often easier to obey a “rule” rather than earnestly pursue a relationship.  Eventually they crucified Him for ignoring their laws.

Thankfully, Jesus gave us specific instructions on what really matters:

“Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven.  On judgment day many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’  But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized.’

Matthew 7:21-23

 How do we know if we are in line with God’s will (obeying Him) as far as our traditions, doctrines, and rituals are concerned?  I have one rule that always works:

 If it is found in the Bible, accept it. If it is not, look for any evidence that the early church leaders accepted it, and then proceed with caution!

  

You asked

What does God say about other religions?

In my travels, I have had exposure to other religions. Growing up in Turkey and having a wife who was raised a Buddhist has been very enlightening when it comes to understanding other systems of belief.

 I’ve noticed one big difference between Christianity and other beliefs. All other religions have a code of ethics and behavior designed to gain favor with God (i.e. if you chant more, do more good works, pray more, give more, treat others with greater respect, etc.).  Christianity begins by declaring that no one through their own acts can be righteous and get close to God. It offers relationship with and righteousness before God as a free gift, a starting point, without you doing anything more than believing in Jesus as your Lord, accepting what He did for you on the cross, and obeying Him (He is Lord, right?).

 Notice the difference.

  What all other religions strive for,

Christianity offers free at the beginning. 

 

This is very significant!

 This is not a program of working your way to God,

it is a matter of a personal relationship with Him.

Listen to what Jesus Himself had to say on this matter:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life;no one comes to the Father but through Me.                                                            John 14:6

 Key word here is “no one“.  There are not “many different roads to the top of the mountain” as some say.  There is just one road- Jesus.  Does this seem too “narrow”? Too exclusive?  Too insensitive to other cultures and religions?

 Dave, this is not me speaking. This is what Jesus said.  Anybody who walked around Jerusalem three days after his crucifixion has some credibility when it comes to issues like these.  Who else do you know who arose and walked away from his tomb?   Buddha didn’t, Confucius didn’t, Mohammed didn’t either. None of these even proclaimed that they would!

Which brings us to another point:

 Can we accept the Bible as the Word of God?

Can we be sure that this is what Jesus said?

*         Can we have confidence that what David, Solomon, Moses, Nehemiah, Ezra, John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, James, Peter, and 27 others wrote between 3000 and 1900 years ago is what we hold in our hands today?

*         Do we know for sure that is was the Holy Spirit speaking and writing through men that resulted in the 66 books of the Bible that we read today?

Good Questions!!!

I addressed this issue of the Bible’s credibility during my first years on Maui.  I used to think that the Bible was nothing more than Jewish mythology and some men’s opinions.  But once I got turned on to the Lord, I began making some serious inquiries into the validity of the book.  After all, it is the all time best seller.  If you took all the Bibles that have been printed and stacked them on top of each other end to end, the pile would go past the Moon! (3.5 billion!)

As a history major in college, I had some training in college on the evaluation of works of ancient literature. The three tests that historians use to judge the accuracy of ancients works of literature are (bear with me for a moment Dave!):

 

1)  Manuscripts:  How many manuscripts of the document do we have, and what is the length of time between the oldest one that we have and the original writing?  Remember before the Guttenburg press, all the copies were done by hand. —The more time, the more margin for error.   As far as the New Testament, we have over 25,000 manuscripts, and the closest one is the Ryland manuscript of the book of John that dates from about 125 AD, which is about 35 years after John died.  Compared to other ancient works (like Homer—634 copies & 500 years), the manuscript evidence for the Bible is exceedingly good.

2) Internal evidence: Are all the facts and themes consistent with the work?   The Bible was written by at least 39 different guys, and the correlation between their thought is amazing; the historical facts presented are consistent.   Apparent contradictions disappear when you understand the historical and cultural context, and the literary styles of the time.

 

Yes, Internal Evidence is exceptionally good.

 

3) External evidence: Is what was written consistent with other records from that same period?  According to other contemporary authors (Livey, Josephus, etc.) and the data on tombs, columns, staella, and other archeological sources, there has been no archeological discovery that has contradicted anything in the Bible.  Some major archeologists have set out to prove the Bible is inaccurate, only to find that it is indeed an excellent history book, and source book for their digs.

 Indeed, the External Evidence is extremely good.

The bottom line is that the Bible

is a valuable history book.

  The amazing thing about the Bible is that it is a book that is not only historically accurate, but has dynamic power.  As you read it, words jump off the page, and speak directly to you.  I believe that it is indeed “God Breathed” as the original Greek text says, and we can accept it for what it says about itself:

 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right.                                                                                    2 Timothy 3:16

 Dave, you asked:

Does God intervene in everyday life?

If you have read our book about the project with the Miskito Indians, Just Another Lump of Clay, you know that I have seen God intervene in very specific ways.   There have been too many coincidences that have happened to me these past years to accept the “Watchmaker’s Universe” theory, which was popular in the 18th century.  This theory said that God created the Earth, “wound it up” and is now letting it run on its own.

 Nothing could be further from the truth!

 God definitely intervenes in our lives, especially when we ask Him to.  In this respect, the Bible declares:

“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them.”                    Psalm 34:7

 

Does God intervene in our lives? He did:

*         With Moses at the Red Sea— He parted it! (Exodus 14)

*         With Joshua when he crossed the Jordan River— He dried it up! (Joshua 3)

*         With Daniel in the lion’s den— He closed their mouths! (Daniel 6)

*         With Peter in jail— He set him free! (Acts 12)

 God definitely wants to be a part of our lives, if we will let Him.  Paul explains about this interaction between Man and God:

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”                                                                     Phil 4:12-13

 This passage from Philippians is a great one, because it talks about how salvation is just the beginning of your experience with God, and that there is a partnership between God and us for the events that happen in our lives.

 A better translation of this passage may be:  “Carry to its perfect conclusion the work of your salvation, for it is God who, that He may carry out His own good pleasure, brings to effect in you both the initial willing and the effective action.”

 It is God, Dave, who has given you this desire to ask these questions and seek the answers.  He is intervening in your life at this very moment.  It is He who has given you the desire to make some changes in your life.  And the best thing is that if we let Him, He will be the one to make those changes in us.  All we have to do is be willing, recognize the process as it happens, and let Him.  The choice is ours.  God wants to be a big part of our lives.

 It’s like this:

 God has given us the free will to choose when and if we will relate to Him.  I think He wants family members who want to be in the family. 

 Does that make sense?

Dave, you asked:

If someone is a good person but not a Christian, will he be denied the pleasures of heaven?

What do you mean by “good person” Dave?  Is that a relative term?  Were we “good” when we were throwing dice, drinking shots of Jose, and carrying on as we did?

 Regarding being “good”, Jesus gives a good perspective:

 Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good things must I do to have eternal life?”

“Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “Only God is good.”             Matthew 19:16-17

 

Because of the rebellion against God that happened in the Garden of Eden, man has been `infected” with a sin nature.  It’s a part of man that naturally goes against the things of God.  The Bible says that no one, when compared to God’s standard of “goodness’, measures up:

As the Scriptures say, “No one is good– not even one. No one has real understanding; no one is seeking God.  All have turned away from God; all have gone wrong. No one does good, not even one.”                   Romans 2:10-12

 

What are the consequences of this sin?  The Bible says:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

But the good news is that God paid the penalty for our sins Himself!

For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us.                   Romans 3:25

 

Somehow, the issue of sin must be dealt with Dave.  We need to be saved from the penalties of sin that justice demands. How does that happen to those who haven‘t had the opportunity to hear about Jesus? Although we cannot come up with definite answers, I think we can get some general principles from Scripture.

 

First, we must realize that we don’t have the complete picture:

“There are secret things that belong to the LORD our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our descendants forever, so that we may obey these words of the law.                                     Deut. 29:29

 

Second, remember that God is just:

Your throne is founded on two strong pillars—righteousness and justice. Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants.                 Psalm 89:14

 

For the LORD is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with justice, and the nations with fairness.             Psalm 98:9

 

Also remember that the foremost characteristic of God is Love:

But anyone who does not love does not know God—for God is love.                             1 John 4:8

He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.              2 Pet 3:9b

 

Throughout history, God has made Himself known to all men:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Romans 1:18-20

God says:

If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me.                        Jeremiah 29:13

 

And Paul declared:

“From one man He created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand which should rise and fall, and He determined their boundaries. His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.”                   Acts 17:26-27

 

John saw in the book of Revelation:

And I saw another angel flying through the heavens, carrying the everlasting Good News to preach to the people who belong to this world—to every nation, tribe, language, and people.                                            Rev 14:6

 

Obviously God desires all of His creation to know Him personally.  So much so that He took on human form, and gave us the specific directionshow we can have a personal relationship with Him.

In a conversation with Nicodemus, a famous Jewish teacher of the law, Jesus said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”            John 3:3

 

Actually the Greek text literally reads “born from above.” Nicodemus was confused.  He asked:

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”                                    John 3:4

 

Jesus explained:

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God..”                                        John 3:5

 How does this spiritual birth take place?  Jesus goes on:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.                   John 3:16-18

 Spiritual birth takes place when you realize your need for a savior and accept Jesus as your Lord.  When that happens, the sin issue is resolved. There is peace between you and God. Then, the Holy Spirit comes and takes up residence in your body.  That part of your spirit that has been dormant all those years suddenly comes to life.  You are spiritually alive.

 We don’t have definite answers about the pigmies in Africa or the indigenous people of the American continent.  We have to trust a fair and just God on that.

 But we do have a specific answer for you and me Dave: His name is Jesus.

 For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, `The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else! There is no other name in all of heaven for people to call on to save them.”                   Acts 4:11-12

 

This brings us to another question

that you are addressing……

 You said  “I don’t believe that God is anything like what he is portrayed in any of the concepts we use here on earth.  I think He is probably something we can’t even begin to portray.  We have to give Him human characteristics in order to conceptualize a Supreme Being.”

 Someone once said that

    “If God didn’t exist, then man would have to invent him.”

This is a fundamental problem…….

 What is God really like?  Can we know for certain?

I believe that the answer is a Big YES.   Here’s why:

 In Genesis chapter 1 verse 26-27 it says:

“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

 

Interesting…..God made us in His image.

 Now where did Moses get his information about creation?  I’m not sure, but probably when he spent a few days sitting face to face with God on Mt. Sinai.

 God knew that man would probably begin inventing things about Him, (we have!) and that’s why I believe He went into such detail to tell Moses and His people about Himself, especially through the laws that He gave them- 612 laws that covered all areas of their lives.  After reading these, you come up with a very definite picture of who this God is.  In addition, God made other statements about what He is like.

One example of God’s personality is given in Exodus 22:27:

“ I am very merciful. . .”

 Dave, based on our former lifestyles, isn’t that a good thing to know about God?!?!

  Telling the Israelites about Himself was just the first step. He had formulated a plan to make sure that His people would be able not only toknow about Him, but also be able to personally relate to Him. Through the prophet Isaiah, He spoke:

 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.                 Isaiah 7:14

 What does Immanuel mean?  God with us.    Amazing!

 Then through the prophets, God told us to expect someone special, who was called the “Messiah” or “Christ.”  These Old Testament messengers told us where the Christ would be born (Micah 5:2), how he would live  (Isaiah 53), on exactly what day he would enter Jerusalem (Daniel 9:25), how he would enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Zechariah 9:9), and how he would die on the cross (Psalm 22).  There are many (over 60) specific prophecies given about the Messiah.

 Amazingly, Jesus fulfilled them all.

Calculate the probabilities for that!

 Actually, the chance that one man would fulfill only eight of the prophecies is 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000!

What does that number mean?

 If you filled the state of Texas (almost 1000 miles across) with silver dollars three feet deep, marking only one with an “X”, and then flew over the state in an airplane and randomly parachuted out, and landed, then reached down and picked up a silver dollar, the chances of picking up that coin with the “X”the first time are the same as Jesus fulfilling eight specific prophecies.  It is amazing!

 After giving us these “previews” in the Old Testament, God arrived on the planet inside the flesh of a baby.  He grew up in a poor family. He worked a manual labor job for at least 12 years of His adult life– sweat, dirt, tired muscles. . .something we can relate with. Then He began telling people about the Kingdom. He demonstrated beyond any doubt who He was through His teaching and miracles. Then paid the price for man’s sin through His death on the cross.

 

His friend John described it well:

In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God. . .   So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father.                 John 1:1 & 14

 

 Paul commented:

Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form.  And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross.    Phil 2:6-8

 

Some may say that Jesus really didn’t declare that He was God. But most first century Jews understood this claim:

 He was at the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jewish leaders surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is what I do in the name of my Father. But you don’t believe me because you are not part of my flock. My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. So no one can take them from me.

The Father and I are one.”

Once again the Jewish leaders picked up stones to kill him.

Jesus said, “At my Father’s direction I have done many things to help the people. For which one of these good deeds are you killing me?”

They replied, “Not for any good work, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, have made yourself God.”

John 10:30-33

 

Now Dave, think a moment. If God did put on a suit of flesh and lived amongst us, what sort of life would you expect him to lead?

 What sort of things would you expect him to say?

What sort of powers would you expect him to demonstrate?

What sort of death (if any) would you expect him to die?

 Jesus lived a life without sin.  Imagine that!

He made all the right choices.

 “Which of you can truthfully accuse me of sin? And since I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me?                               John 8:46

He spoke profound things:

 ” The result was that when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”     Matthew 7:28-29

 He did some pretty incredible things……..

And being aroused, He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.”

And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.  And He said to them, “Why are you so timid? How is it that you have no faith?”

And they became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”                Mark 4:39-41

 

His death was very short lived!

Jesus told his disciples:

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.”   Matthew 20:18-19

Then Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified, just as He had predicted. When John and Peter went to His tomb on the Sunday after his death, they found it empty.  Jesus appeared to them later that day. Still, one of His disciples doubted:

“But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.  The other disciples therefore were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, “Peace be with you.”

Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.”

Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed.   Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”                                    John 20:24-29

 Notice Thomas’ reaction: “My Lord and my God!”

 

 Dave, my conclusion is that we don’t have to imagine what God is like. 

 We saw what He is like.

 He lived here among us for over 30 years, and we have many eyewitness reports attesting to His life style, His words, His miracles, His death on the cross, and His resurrection.  These is not scientific facts that can be reproduced in a laboratory, but rather legal-historical evidence that will stand in any courtroom.

 

God made sure that we would not have to imagine what He is like, or “invent” Him.  He came to Earth as a human, lived a hard life, died a horrible death, and walked away from His tomb.  He is someone that has experienced life as we have.

He is totally relate-able!  And very “user friendly” !

 Dave, you mentioned that  your faith in God is strong.

I think having the proper concept of God helps strengthen even more the faith that we have in Him.  Indeed, if God is God, then that in itself defines our relationship with Him.   It requires a response on our part, if indeed He is who He says He is, and we are who He says we are (i.e. one of His creations).

Think it through.

 James addressed this issue very well:

 “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.  But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?”                                   James 2:19-20

 

Solomon said:

 “The fear (or utmost respect) of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;”               Proverbs 1:7

  Solomon, the wisest and richest man of his era, also said:

 “Here is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is the duty of every person.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13

 

So what does the Creator have to say to His creation?

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;”

Jeremiah 1:5

 

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

 He knew us before He created us.  His ways are much more advanced than our ways.  The conclusion is simple:

 God is God, and worthy of all that we can give Him.

What does He ask us to give Him?

 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law  of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’

Matt 22:36-37

 

Love is what He wants us to give Him.  Love with our emotions, love with our obedience, love with keeping Him number one in our life.

God’s message to us is really very simple, and

yet truly extraordinary.  Here it is:

 

Love

 is the essence

 of the relationship

 between God and Man.

 

Paul wrote about this love in the book of Ephesians:

 And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his lovereally is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.          Ephesians 3:17-19

 

His Love is so great that He gives us

an invitation to join His family.

 

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God,                  John 1:12

 Think about the implications of that Dave!

 

You asked also

What is the correct meaning of “religion?

Personally I am not a “religious” guy, in the normal sense.  I don’t think that Jesus was either.   Religion to me can be a dead thing- if it is a system of beliefs designed to get you somewhere, or gain you favor with somebody. Somehow I don’t think that God is someone who can be manipulated!

However I am into relationship with the Almighty.  And because I honor, respect, and love Him, I am motivated to do certain things that are pleasing to Him.

 

I guess the key question is “what is motivating you?”   A desire to gain something, or a desire to give?

 The truth of it is that man in general is very self centered.  On the other hand, God is very “others centered”.

  Jesus said simply and clearly:

 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

 John 14:15

 

Because I love Him, especially for what He’s done for me, I try to obey Him, and try do things that please Him (and are good for me as well!). Obedience is a big issue with God, but notice that our obedience is related to the love relationship. It’s not the obedience of a slave to his master, but rather that of a son to his loving, wise, father.  There is a big difference.

Did you catch the that difference?  The relationship totally changes things.

 

The Bible does define “religion” in this sense. Once in the Old Testament;

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness,And to walk humbly with your God?          Micah 6:8

 

and once in the New Testament:

This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.                           James 1:27

 

God is obviously more concerned about doing things that help others, than doing things to please Him, because giving to others is what really pleases Him!

That’s what love is all about.

 

 Christianity is all about giving,

because God is all about giving.

  

Dave, these are just a few thoughts that I hope may be helpful in your search for answers.  The best method I have found to get answers is to taketime each day to open God’s Word and read what He has to say. Take amoment and ask the Holy Spirit to fill your mind, and teach you as you read the Word.

     Now I know that you said to me

 

We Catholics pay a priest to read the Bible for us!

I know that you were probably joking when you told me that on the phone, but let me let you in on a little secret Dave— the Bible is an extraordinary book to read.  It is the all time best seller— over 3.5 billions copies have been printed.  It contains material on every aspect of your life- how to run your business, how to raise your kids, civic morality, physical love, how to relate to your neighbors, who your God is, who you are, and much more.

 

If there is any book worth reading, it is the Bible!  Ask God to teach you as you read.   Start off by reading one of the Gospels- like Mark or John. They do a great job of explaining who Jesus is, and what He taught. It’s great stuff. . .Exciting. . .Action packed.  The best philosophy that you will ever read.  The best love story too! What a hero story!  The Life of Christ is so compelling!

 

After you read it for a while, you will realize that you being part of God’s family means that you can be part of an operation that makes businesses like Microsoft and Citibank look like the hotdog stand on the corner.  This “kingdom” as the Bible calls it, is the best “corporation” that you could possibly work with Dave, for three main reasons.

 

First, the management (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has been around forever and holds all the wisdom.  Believe me, they know what they are doing! You can trust them!   They love you, and will do anything for you– even die for you.

 

Second, they give you everything you need to do the job that you have been assigned to do here.  Our experience working in Central America has been one case after another of resources coming from literally “out of the blue.”

 

Thirdly, this corporation has a retirement plan that is literally out of this world.  Got a good mutual fund?  A loaded IRA?  Some good blue chip stocks?  All that stays here Dave.  Jesus said to “store up your treasures in Heaven”.  I think that we can take that literally.  You have heard the phrase “You can’t take it with you.”  Well, we Christians can send it ahead!

 

 

The reality is that God is inviting you Dave to be a member of His family, a part of His Team.  If you realized the implications of that offer, you would be jumping for joy

 

 

God offers us the opportunity of a lifetime– to be part of His adventure here on this planet.  And believe me, it is an adventure!  Being in a position where you can see God move will change forever the way you think and live.

 

Dave, remember those night catapult shots off the aircraft carrier?  I know that there are a few that we don’t want to remember. Talk about adventure! What about flying across the desert at 100 feet and 600 mph?  That was excitement! But these things are nothing compared to what God has in store for those who follow Him.  I can testify to that reality Dave.

 

 

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the wonderful future he has promised to those he called. I want you to realize what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people.

Ephesians 1:18

 

I hope that all this helps. I am praying for you.  Keep asking those questions to the “Big Guy” and I’m sure that He will give you the answers.  Perhaps He has given you some today.  I look forward to talking to you soon.

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