Perfect Love

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.    1 John 4:18

This past weekend I and my family had the pleasure of making some new friends – Jason and Amy Knapp.  How we came to meet is, well, different.

It all began listening to a podcast on The Confessionals, Episode 266.  First, The Confessionals is run by Tony Merkel.  He spent some time in seminary and is extremely Bible-literate, although The Confessionals is more about the many mysterious things that abound in our world.  I appreciate his approach, because I firmly believe that too many Christians believe in Jesus and the Bible, but they are too quick to dismiss the supernatural; near-death experiences and the like.

Jason and Amy fit right into his format, because Jason died for 33 minutes and his brain became oxygen-starved.  His brain waves were non-existent and there were questions as to whether he would ever recover.

He started waking up when his daughter took his hand in the ICU and told him she loved him.  He squeezed her hand and moved his head.  What followed was a very long, painful trek of having to relearn who everyone was, who he was, how to speak, walk, dress, eat…everything!

He was eventually able to tell everyone what was in his head, where he had gone.  First, he went to hell and stood face to face with Satan.  God was there, protecting him from the full force of hell’s pain.  Next, he went to heaven.  Without me going into too much detail, his account of the sights and paralleled another near-death experience by someone I knew at a church back in my home town.  Jason met Jesus, who told him to tell people about hell and that He was coming soon.

This assignment to tell people the horrors of hell is right in line with Bill Weise, author of “23 Minutes in Hell.”  There is a whole community of people who have seen hell and been told by God to make sure people know it’s real and that He wants no one to go there.

From “Heaven is Real”

Jason told us at dinner about meeting Jesus.  He said His power was staggering, but so was His all-consuming love.  He also said Jesus looked just like the painting made by the girl who was the subject of the movie “Heaven is Real.”  Jason and Amy’s discussion of Jesus’ blue eyes fit Scripturally.  It’s fascinating part of the podcast!

My daughter asked him if he was afraid to stand in front of Jesus and feel such power.  His reply was a huge smile as he told her that Jesus’ love was so pure and great, fear never even entered his mind!

It was only later that I remembered the verse from 1 John above and realized that this was something to share with you all!

Here’s the thing about such experiences, especially “23 Minutes in Hell:” They all jibe with Scripture.  For example, in the book Bill describes being cut over and over in torture by a demon, but no blood came out.  This agrees with Scripture that the blood is the life and again with the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus.  The rich man begged for just a drop of water because of the extreme thirst.

The same goes, of course, for Jason’s account of Jesus’ perfect love leaving no room for fear.

If you want to hear about Jason’s experience, just follow the link at the top to hear the podcast!

Jesus – Son of God

Passion of ChristSo, when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”   Matthew 27:54

Last time I shared with you a number of secular sources that corroborate the Biblical account of the existence of a man named Jesus. With more than one primary historical source referencing Jesus, we are willing to believe that He existed.

But we don’t know. Not really. We have these sources that we decide to trust, and we take that leap of faith to accept that Jesus existed. This is no different from any other thing we believe about history. None of us were there to see the chariot races of Rome. None of us were there Vesuvius blew and destroyed Pompeii. We read the accounts, evaluate the sources, and then we decide whether to believe.

Some people don’t believe the pictures taken from orbit or even from the moon and declare that the earth is flat, not spherical.

We need to assess whether we believe this Jesus was more than a man, that He was indeed the Son of God. Our eternal lives depend on it! The centurion and his troop saw what happened when Jesus died, and declared that he was the Son of God. They were there. They were witnesses. We were not.

What do we have?

Let’s try the disciples. All of them, save John, died horrible deaths, because they would not recant their faith. History records how many people died in Roman arenas for their faith. Would people die for something that was not true? I, for one, am not a fan of pain. Just show me the bamboo shoots you plan to shove under my fingernails, and I’ll roll over like a log on a hill!

Unless it’s something that really, really matters.

christians-in-arena-AY5G81I doubt that any of those who died in the arenas were any different from me. They just were regular folk who wanted to live their lives. They didn’t like pain any more than you or I. But there was something that drove them to accept it. Recall that Jesus performed many miracles, not the least of which was appearing to hundreds of people after rising from the dead. I’m sure many of those who died for their faith saw Jesus and at least a miracle or two.

Maybe they knew someone who saw and believed. Maybe they saw the Apostles heal someone. They had enough to give them reason to believe.

The fact that people of the time were willing to die instead of just renouncing their faith should tell us something! Even if they believed, they could lie and get out of it! But Jesus said that if we deny Him before men, He will deny us before God. They knew that, and acted on it.

What else? Well, we’re still talking about Jesus 2000 years after He ascended into heaven. What other religious figure can we say that about? One of the Sanhedrin argued in favor of letting Jesus go, because, if He was just another cult leader, the whole thing would blow over. But if He was God’s Son, they don’t want to find themselves opposing God!

Religious leaders come and go, but Jesus has staying power over the millennia! No one else can claim that!

I understand that none of these arguments are proof of Jesus’ divinity. In the same way, the Roman guards at Jesus’ crucifixion saw the earthquakes and other signs that happened and believed. Those things could have been written off as coincidences but weren’t.

It’s about having faith! God will never give us proof, because He wants us to have a relationship with Him. He wants a relationship built on trust, on faith! He will give us every indication, every reason to believe, but we all must take the leap of faith and relate to God.

Just as children don’t know that their parents will catch them and when they jump, we must leap into the arms of God. Children believe that their parents will care for them and protect them. All they have is the evidence that indicates they will. We too have every indication that Jesus’ is the Son of God.

God simply asks us to leap – in faith – into His waiting arms.

Jesus is Documented in Secular Histories

Jesus SmilingI’ve read accounts in Josephus’ history about Jesus, specifically His crucifixion. I’ve also read references to other secular histories that mention Jesus. I did a Google search in an effort to find as many as possible and found a great article by Lawrence Mykytiuk, Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible. I recommend giving it a read, but I will try to summarize briefly here.

Cornelius TacitusCornelius Tacitus was a Roman Senator and lived in the latter half of the 1st Century AD. Ironically, he hated Christians, and his entries regarding Nero making them scapegoats for the fires in Rome make him a fine confirmation of Christ’s existence. Tacitus was arguably the best of the Roman historians, which helps with the veracity of his account.

Nero was under suspicion for having started the fires. To squelch that rumor, he offered up the Christians. Tacitus writes:

Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts … whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ [Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate … Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular.

Tacitus uses the correct name for Him, credits Him for “founding” the religion, states the He was executed by the Roman governor of Judea, and accurately dates Christ as dying during the reign of Tiberius.

JosephusJosephus was a Jewish priest who was part of the Jewish revolt against Rome from 66-70 AD, serving as a commander in Galilee. He eventually became a prisoner of war under Vespasian. While imprisoned, Josephus prophesied that Vespasian would become emperor. When that came true, Vespasian released him, and Josephus lived in Roma thereafter, assuming Flavius as his first name. Despised as a traitor by the Jews, he nevertheless was in a fine position as both Jew and Roman to write the history of the Jews as well as Rome. He is still considered the gold standard for historians of the period, in large part because his histories reach farther back in time than others. He references primary sources, which we no longer have access to, making his works invaluable.

Josephus makes a short reference to James as Jesus’ brother:

Ananus…called a meeting [literally, “sanhedrin”] of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah … James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.

Jesus gets longer mention in his Antiquities.

Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who did surprising deeds, and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place came to love him did not give up their affection for him, for on the third day, he appeared to them restored to life. The prophets of God had prophesied this and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, have still to this day not died out.

While this reads as a ringing endorsement of Jesus as the Christ, there are arguments that this passage is not wholly written by Josephus. The conclusion is that Josephus did write this entry in general and that added verbiage testifying to Jesus as the Messiah were added by believers later. Mykytiuk provides a nice discussion on why this is so, which I will leave to you to read in his full article.

Between Tacitus and Josephus, we can see confirmation of what we are told in the Gospels:

Jesus existed as a man.

His name was indeed Jesus.

He was called Christos in Greek.

He had a brother, James.

He had a following of Jews and Greeks.

Jewish leaders at the time were not in favor of His ministry.

Pilate rendered the decision to crucify Him.

His execution was by crucifixion.

He was executed during Pilate’s governorship over Judea.

Lucian of Samosata was a Greek satirist. He never mentioned Jesus by name, but he clearly referred to Him:

They revered him as a god, used him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector—to be sure, after that other whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.

Here is a brief listing of other ancients who mentioned Jesus existence:

Celcus was a Platonic Philosopher who thought Jesus was simply a magician.

Pliny the Younger wrote of the Christians who saw Jesus as a God.

Suetonius was a Roman writer who mentioned Christians in writing about the riots0f 49 AD.

There are others whose writings may or may not be references specifically to Christ and Christians, but the main thrust of this whole discussion is that Jesus existed, sure enough. While none of these sources prove Jesus was the Son of God, they do provide accounts that agree with the Gospels.

Please use the link, Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible to find the original piece summarized here.

Jesus and His Star

Created CosmosInasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us,  just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word,  it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely[a] for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed. Luke 1:

He is what the New Testament is about. The Gospels tell us about Him; His life, His teachings, and the great sacrifice He made for us.

The rest are the letters written to the various churches that were planted by the Apostles to encourage and correct their actions after the apostle who started them left. The letters confront the same issues we often face today, and they provide excellent instruction for us.

Jesus was surrounded by miracles. Miracles announced His birth. He performed countless miracles during His brief preaching years. Some are recorded in detail while others are simply lumped together at times when Jesus healed many people who came to Him. John wrote that “…there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

The first thing people try to do is to explain away miracles or at least provide a worldly explanation as to how it happened. Did God use natural phenomena in the course of presenting His miracles? Perhaps. But why is our first reaction to diminish what God does? God can certainly do anything He wishes.

Bethlehem StarThat includes the Star of Bethlehem. Danny Falkner relates in his book, The Created Cosmos, several possible explanations for that star. Johannes Kepler observed a rare triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. He computed that they happened regularly and that such a conjunction happened in 7 BC, making that rare occurrence his candidate for the miracle.

Suns gone nova are another suggested source, and I don’t discount that God could have made one happen at just the right time. Recall, however, that the star reappeared as the Magi left Jerusalem for Bethlehem. Any natural conjunctions of planets or other astronomical events last only briefly.

God could have created one really bright star for that one special occasion and poofed it away when finished. Why not? He is God, after all!

Faulkner wisely summarizes the whole debate by pointing at the, in the end, it doesn’t matter how it happened. That it happened is what is important! While some people may find comfort in seeing how miracles might be confirmed by science, proving the Bible’s truth. But that can work in the opposite direction too. Naturalistic explanations for the miracles of the Bible simply confirm to skeptics that the Bible is a collection of simple tales, with no God causing anything.

Miracles are just that – miracles! There are historical events corroborated by other sources that confirm the Bible’s historical accuracy if nothing else. The argument can be made that, if the Bible is correct in things that are earthly, doesn’t that at the very least indicate it is accurate in things spiritual.

Let’s continue talking about Jesus in the days ahead, looking at history while allowing His miracles remain just that.

 

The Gates of Hades

My friends, I decided to repost an article I posted just last December, because it is simply so appropriate for today. Yesterday was the day Jesus died on the cross. Tomorrow He rises from the dead.

But what did He do today?

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And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this Rock (referring to Himself) I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.   Matthew 16:18

I had an epiphany last Sunday during Bible class. Pastor was explaining how gates are strictly defensive structures. God’s Word is what’s in motion. It’s what is on the offense, what is meant to be on the offense. The ideas being discussed were all about attacking hell from the outside to break down those gates.

A comment was made that flipped this idea completely over for me. I realized we were getting it all wrong. God’s Word doesn’t break down the gates from the outside. We don’t use it as a weapon to attack Satan’s citadel. What would be the point? Why would we want to get in?!?

Do you remember my article Zombie Land? Here’s an excerpt from that article:

…we’re in Zombie Land. The world is Satan’s playground for a limited time, and we are vulnerable to his predation.  I believe Americans have had a false sense of security for far too long.  We’ve never had a war on the continent save The War for Independence and Civil War.  We’ve relaxed too much over the years and become complacent in our lives and our faith.  There’s a war going on all around us.  We can’t see the angels and demons engaged, but they are here.  With you and me.  Right now.

They battle over our protection, our lives, and our souls. Why does God talk about giving His angels charge over us?  Well, He does!  All of us.  That just doesn’t mean we’re automatically safe.  No, the devil prowls like a roaring looking for those he can devour.

Recall in Daniel how the angel from God was delayed by Satan’s “Prince of Persia.” Satan’s minions have the earth divided up into individual areas of responsibility, and they aren’t weaklings. Not by any measure.

Consistent with the title, Satan is referred to as “The Prince of This World” and “Prince of the Air.” His army of princes have their areas of responsibility, but he is in charge of the whole thing, the entire earth! Indeed, St. Paul warns the church of Galatia and us by extension that we are in enemy territory and that this is real war:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.   Ephesians 6:12 [Full Chapter]

We are at least partly inside the gates of Hades! Those gates cannot prevail against the Word of God to hold us in! We stand one foot in Hades and one foot in heaven. We are not completely cut off from God, not completely dead…yet! We are not fully in His presence either. The gates are not completely closed and locked. There’s still an opening, which Jesus, through His atoning Sacrifice, will bust open for us. But time grows short. The only way we make it through those gates is through the one and only Way – Jesus. The only way we exit Hades once we’ve died is if we accept Jesus’ offer to hold the gate open for us.

This all makes sense when we correctly interpret “Hades” as the realm of the dead, NOT hell. Hades/Sheol are translated in the Greek and Hebrew as being the god of and/or the realm of the dead. This is different from hell, which is the place of punishment, of complete separation from God. That translation lends even more credence to my interpretation that the attack by the Word on the gates of Hades is from within, not without!

Going even further, Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:19 that Jesus “…went and preached to the spirits in prison.” In other words, Jesus did NOT go to Hell to preach to the spirits and demons there. What would have been the point? No, He went to Hades/Sheol to give the dead there the Good News that He had won and that they will be set free; “…the gates of Hades shall not prevail against (Me)!”

Quote for 12/11/2017

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.    Isaiah 7:14 NKJV

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This Bible verse is part of my earliest memories.  I knew the words before I knew what they meant!  What six-year-old understands virginity?

Has this verse been part of your Christmas for so long that you pass right by it’s incredible message?

First, this was Isaiah talking centuries before Christ was born.  Who in his right mind would come up with the idea of a virgin having a baby?  Anyone who heard this from Isaiah himself must have thought the old boy had finally had one too many visions.

Then it actually happened generations later!

Joseph knew it wasn’t him, so he was going to divorce Mary.  Mary knew it wasn’t him too.  The angel told her.  And then the angel let Joseph in on it too.

How do we know it’s true?  There’s only one book in the history of the world that is flawless; the Book that contains the very Word of God.  The Bible.  Every time someone tries to disprove it, science and archeology confirm it.

Countless people have died over the last 2000 years, because they knew this to be true; the virgin birth and Jesus’ Resurrection.  The Apostles died horrific deaths rather than recant the truth of the one, true God.  Them and their contemporaries.

The Lord Himself did indeed give us all a sign; a virgin did indeed conceive a Son and called His Name Immanuel!

Quote for 12/10/2017

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear,     Deuteronomy 18:15 NKJV

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Jesus is that Prophet.  And so very much more.

Jesus foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  Jesus told His disciples and us the signs to watch for the end times, most notably in Matthew 24.

His greatest prophecy is how those who believe in Him and are baptized will be saved!  He foretold how, when we help those in need, He will remember those things done, because we love Him.  He will welcome us into His glory and fellowship forever!

Quote for 12/9/2017

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.    John 15:5,8 NKJV

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Tiffany Branch

Oh, wow!  A Tiffany Branch!         (Who Woulda Thunk??)

If Tiffany Lamps had existed in Jesus’ day, I think this passage might read differently.  You work with what you’ve got.  I’m thinking for today it might look like –

 

“I am the Light Bulb, you are the Tiffany lamp.  He who installs me and I am in him, gives much beauty in life; for without Me your colors cannot shine.  By this my Father is glorified, that your colors shine; so you will be my disciples.”

Caralyn of BeautyBeyondBones is a prime example of a branch bearing much fruit, of a Tiffany lamp whose colors were wasted until she let Jesus into her heart, until He lit her up and made her shine.

We are all Tiffany Lamps, all created with beauty built in.  We, as a race, put the light out when Adam and Eve chose self and Satan over God.  But what God created is still there.  The colors of a beautiful life are still in our being.  They just need the Source, the Bulb, the Vine to be restored to their intended glory!

If you already believe in Jesus as your Saviour, how much light are you giving off?  Are you bearing “much fruit?”

If you are alone in spirit, if you are not attached to that Vine of life, if your soul is dark, call out to Jesus.  Right now!  Ask Him to graft you, a withering branch, into Himself.  Ask Jesus to –

Light You Up!

Quote for 12/8/2017

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.    John 14:6 NKJV

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This is where people of other faiths or no faith often get their hackles up.  They want to know who we Christians think we are that we think we are the only ones who are right!  We are accused of looking down our noses at all the world from a place of self-righteousness.

And they are partly right!

There are Christians who can be very judgmental of others, and I won’t go into reasons why here.  I do want to dissect this verse and situation, and I’ll be brief.

Christians aren’t saying Jesus is the only Way.  JESUS is saying He’s the only Way.  This doesn’t come from self-righteousness.  It comes from having earned the right to say it!  He was flogged till one could see bone.  He was crucified, which is the most grisly, slow, tortuous death someone could have.

And He was innocent!  He went through all of that and more just because He loves us and wanted to pay the price of death for us.  He wasn’t the only Way until He lived our life, endured our temptations, and died our death.

He couldn’t have been until He earned it.  For us!

Christmas Light

Candle SingleThen Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”   John 8:12

I have struggled with Christmas in some years. I just didn’t feel that Christmas spirit. I wondered what went wrong. Misgivings have made this struggle more difficult in recent years. However, several things have coalesced in my mind that have given what, for me, is a sensible conclusion. I’m going to come at this from a few very different places, so try to bear with me.

I once read an article about how Christians can be deceived by wolves in sheep’s clothing. We can start doing ridiculous things just because “the church” has led us to them. Two big examples given were Christmas and Easter. The author wrote that Satan must be having a great laugh over how he’s managed to fool Christians into worshipping God on Satanic feast days.

That’s a concept I struggled with for years. What are we doing celebrating the birth of our Saviour on the feast day of that which He came to defeat?!? The same goes for Easter.

I struggled for years with loving the memories of the lights, the lightness of a true Christmas. My best friend and I from high school days would spend Christmas Eves going to church services around Toledo, hitting everything we could starting in the late afternoon and on to the midnight festival worship at my home church.

Christmas-Tree-Light in Darkness

Light in the Darkness

That last was spectacular. Precisely at midnight, as communion was being celebrated, the bell choir would ring everything they could get their hands on. It was an avalanche of bells falling from the loft, and the entire congregation would leap to their feet! The bells became the opening of “Joy to the World” and it was monumental! It felt like a beacon of sound and light in the dead of night.

 

Fast forward to today and another piece I very recently ran into regarding CERN and dark matter. And I promise I’ll make this as non-technical as I can. Here goes…

First, CERN runs a hadron supercollider for research into theoretical physics. They conduct what even Steve Hawking thinks are very dubious and dangerous experiments regarding anti-matter and the so-called God particle. If you want a bit more information, try my articles Weirdness at CERN and You Can’t Make This Up.

The difference between matter and anti-matter can be stated succinctly like this: matter does not easily ignite. Setting wood on fire requires building a certain configuration of kindling to get it going. A nuclear bomb requires several pounds to obtain the critical mass and exceptionally precise conditions are needed for an explosion.

Anti-matter, on the other hand, takes a great deal of effort and cost to contain and prevent it from exploding. Further, any explosion or combustion really is chaos writ large and complete.

A person has both dark and light energies in them. We can’t live in a material world without anti-matter/dark energy. A person is connected to both realms at the same time on the energy level. A person’s thoughts and feelings determines which energy they draw from.

Dark SpiritCERN has found out WHY paranormal activity exists. It’s a function of anti-matter/dark energy. Dark matter/energy affect our emotional state. It causes violent thoughts and behavior. It increases paranormal activity wherever it is accumulated. In fact, it is said they have even quantified how much dark matter/energy will cause someone to go berserk. Dark matter/energy attracts demonic entities.

Christmas Tree GoldenWhat all of this led me to think is that celebrating Christmas during the former feast times of the winter solstice is like planting a “Light Bomb” right on the enemy’s doorstep. Remember my description above of the midnight festival service at my home church. It was full of light, joyous sound, singing, and praise as we commemorated Jesus’ birth! It was a beacon of light amidst the darkest times of the year, a sure defense from the forces of darkness.

I invite you to discover Christmas anew this year, this first Wednesday of the Advent season. Don’t do it with toys. Don’t do it with spending money on things soon forgotten or broken.

Spend the next few weeks building your Christmas Light in your heart. Build it until you can join with others on Christmas Eve and set off another Light Bomb to drive darkness out of our lives with the joy only Jesus gives.

christmaseveservice