A friend told a story this week to our church men’s group which underlines once again the truth of the Bible.
William Ramsay, a brilliant British biblical scholar, set out to prove that Luke’s account of events in the Book of Acts was wrong. He believed it to be full of errors and written in the second century A.D., 100 years afterward.
After years of research in Turkey and Greece, he concluded it was not only accurate, but one of the best cases of historical writing he had seen. In the process, he said he became a believer in Christ – he had been a skeptic before.
Others, too, have approached the Bible as athiests or skeptics. For example, Frank Morison, whose real name was Albert Henry Ross, wrote a book called Who Moved The Stone in 1930 as he investigated the reliability of the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. Starting as a skeptic about the facts, he wound up convinced they were accurate.
As well, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of the accuracy of historical facts about people and places in the Bible from ancient tablets and writings in the Middle East.
People have called into question some facts in the Bible, but they are minor and can be explained on the grounds that the original texts were accurate. As others have said, the Old and New Testaments have stronger support as accurate texts than other ancient documents.
Why is the Bible so often under attack?
I believe it is because God demands a “Yes” or “No” answer to the question: “Do you believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour?”
Skeptics such as Frank Morison were prepared to accept Jesus as an unusually good man. But they could not accept supernatural events such as Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
God is a miracle-working god. His thoughts are greater than any of our thoughts. He knows our thoughts even before we think them. He is everywhere at once.
If you refuse to accept that God is who he says he is, then you must try to destroy the Bible which speaks of God.
It is a battle that will face believers until the end of time.
Yet the Spirit works through the scriptures to change hearts every day around the world.
God’s word is more powerful than those who attack it.
It is easy to feel powerless in the evil world around us.
But one man, one woman, one child can make a difference.
Who would have guessed that a carpenter’s son would turn the world upside down? But Jesus did.
We can dismiss Jesus because he was God as well as man. But Jesus lives within every believer today.
Jesus said he was the light of the world. He used the picture of the light to show its power over darkness. Things that we cannot see suddenly become visible when a shaft of light penetrates the darkness.
Evil hates light. It either runs away from it or tries to suppress it.
So Christians who are true to their faith can expect resistance, even oppression.
Our Wednesday morning men’s group has been studying the Book of Acts for several months. What a story of the power of light, the power of God’s Spirit!
It is a story, too, of commitment to Jesus by his followers. Commitment in the face of death, ridicule, imprisonment.
They poured out the love of God to others even as they were being persecuted. They shared the story of Jesus in the midst of turmoil and trouble.
And what an impact they had! Many thousands were attracted to the light and became children of God.
That story is repeated through the ages – and even today, especially in Africa, Asia and South America where hundreds of millions have given their lives to God in the last 50 years.
Even in North America and Europe, there are pockets of light, blazing in their local areas. But it has been a long time in the West since there has been a sweeping, nationwide revival.
I believe discouragement and a sketchy knowledge and appreciation of Jesus are among the reasons Christians have largely withdrawn to the four walls of their churches in the West.
It is good to see the lights that are ablaze around us – the loving service that some Christians provide and the individual efforts to share the good news. As well, there are some prayer movements dedicated to prayer for revival in Western countries.
But shouldn’t we all be crying out to God to move in power in our society as he did 2000 years ago? Shouldn’t we all become enraptured again with Jesus so we look forward to talking about him with those we know and love?
It’s something that is on my mind now as I examine myself and my very limited spiritual vision. As Bible-translator J.B. Philips said, my God is too small. I expect too little and pray too small.
I remember reading that five people prayed for revival on the Scottish Isle of Lewis for years before revival broke out on the island just after the Second World War.
A few lights can make a difference.
Imagine what many could do.
Sam Storms says the “key to holiness is falling in love . . . with Jesus”.
Storms, author and pastor, suggests that the powerful magnet of sin can only be overcome by loving the Lord more.
His book Pleasures Evermore runs counter to much Christian literature today. He does not propose a five-step program to control feelings and wrestle ourselves into purity.
It’s a view that appeals to me. More and more, I am returning to contemplating Jesus – who he is and what he has done, particularly on the cross.
I say “returning” because I am often diverted to other things – particularly, concrete ministries or actions that I hope will please God and others. There is nothing wrong with these things – just my motivation.
It is interesting that when Peter and Jesus had a conversation after the Lord’s resurrection, Jesus did not spend time going over Peter’s denial of him just before he was crucified. Instead, he asked his disciple: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:15-19)
The Great Commandment says that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind. (Matthew 22:37)
So, the question I ask myself is: Do I truly love Jesus?
Fundamentally, I do. I cannot imagine living without Jesus in my life.
But I have to admit that Jesus does not occupy my thoughts and my passions the way he did when I first put my faith in him.
My faith is more mature than it was more than 57 years ago when I became a believer. I know much more about God than I did then. I read the Bible and pray regularly.
Some might say that this is normal for Christians. But is it right?
It strikes me that the early Christians had a much different faith than mine. They couldn’t stop talking about Jesus and the crucifixion. They were enamoured of Christ.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:2 that he resolved “to know nothing while I was with you but Jesus Christ and him crucified”. This fascination with Jesus and the crucifixion was what drove Paul’s ministry.
Storms says that we will only overcome temptation if we are more enamoured with Jesus than we are with the illicit things that promise instant pleasure.
He recommends such activities as fasting; reading and meditating upon scripture passages that speak about God; contemplating God’s works in nature; and feasting on the Lord through worship.
These mean I must consciously invest my time and thought in the Lord. The payoff is hunger for more of God and joy in his presence.
As I look at the early Christians, I see people who almost spontaneously spread the good news of Jesus because they were so excited about him.
That is the road I want to walk.
Many Christians – myself included – would love to see Jesus right now among us.
One reason is that, consciously or unconsciously, we believe Jesus’ physical presence would resolve all our faith questions. It would strengthen our faith.
Or would it?
Jesus lived on earth in human form for 33 years. But few people believed he was the Messiah while he was here.
The fact is that God looks for something in me that is beyond concrete evidence. He is looking for faith.
I think there is a lot of Jesus’ disciple Thomas in me.
As you recall, Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he had put his hands on the mark of the nails on his body and his hand into the hole where the Roman spear had pierced it (John 20:25).
When Jesus appeared to Thomas, he told him to look at his nail-pierced hands and touch the hole in his side. And the disciple declared: “My Lord and my God.”
Then, Jesus made his great statement: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
I believe in Jesus. I believe he died to save me from the just penalty of my sins. I believe he rose from the dead. I believe I will be with him forever.
My faith in him and what he has done is unshakeable.
But I am also filled with a lot of Thomas in everyday life.
Part of the reason is that like many Western Christians, I am infected by our modern scientific and technological mindset. That philosophy argues that if you can’t see it and touch it, it must not be real.
But I know from God’s word that that view is wrong.
The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that there is an unseen reality much more powerful than what we see on earth. There is a spiritual war going on that we don’t see.
As a child of God, I can do nothing on my own in this cosmic struggle. I must rely totally on God. I must rely on the Holy Spirit within me to show me what to do in this unseen struggle.
Jesus promised me and all his followers that he would be with us always. He is not visible to my human eyes – but he is present.
I believe that with all my heart.
And I am thankful that Jesus forgave Thomas for his doubts.
Thomas later took the gospel to India.
Like Thomas, Jesus is asking me to step out in faith – and my faith will grow.
“You must be perfect,” Jesus said, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Wow! For me, that statement by Jesus in Matthew 5:48 is an impossibility.
Yet, unconsciously, I try to achieve that goal – and constantly fail. And I find my efforts discouraging.
So, why did Jesus make that statement in his great “Sermon on the Mount”?
I think he was telling the religious teachers of the time – and believers today – that self-effort will never get us anywhere. Only God can be perfect and only He can help us.
The people Jesus was addressing were trying to live up to a religious legal system that was launched centuries earlier under the great Israelite leader and prophet Moses. It had been modified with other laws in the intervening years.
As with me, people tried to invent ways of excusing their failures to live up to the legal requirements of their faith.
But Jesus told the people that their efforts to get around the Jewish law were fruitless. Indeed, nothing short of perfection was acceptable to God.
Jesus was preparing the way for his sacrifice for the sins of his listeners – and for all people, me included. He was the perfect man who paid the price for my sins and failures.
But, despite Christ’s sacrifice, I am still not perfect. I still do many of the wrong things I used to do.
So, what changed when I put my faith in Jesus and what he did for me on the cross?
Well, I am learning that I am weak and virtually helpless. That’s a positive step.
And I am learning the lesson that the apostle Paul taught throughout his letters to young Christians – I have to die to myself and let Christ live through me.
That’s a really hard lesson to learn.
Everything in me rises up in opposition to this truth. I want my opinions, my comforts, my wants to come first in my life.
It’s a challenging goal, but it is achievable. The apostle and countless believers over the centuries have shown the tremendous power of living a life given over to Christ.
Paul put this principle clearly and simply in these words in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
When I put my faith in Jesus, I died to my previous life and rose with him to a new life empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is a matter of faith, recognizing that Christ’s power to live a life for God is now within me.
Yet, as long as I live on earth, I will never be free of temptation – the attempts by Satan and my natural longings to draw me away from God.
So, I am called to see myself in a new light – a beloved child of God completely dependent on him and his great power.
The Bible talks about fixing our eyes on Jesus as we run the race of life.
That is what God is asking of me – turning my eyes away from myself and towards him.
Does God heal supernaturally?
I believe he does. In my view, there is incontrovertible evidence from scripture and our own day, showing that God can – and often does – act miraculously.
But what about the times when people cry out to God for healing and nothing happens?
That’s the case with Joni Eareckson Tada who sought divine healing after becoming a quadriplegic decades ago following a diving accident at the age of 16.
Tada is convinced that God heals today as he did when Jesus lived on earth 2000 years ago. But she also believes that God does not always heal everyone in this life.
In her book A Place of Healing, Tada describes her own understanding of divine healing after unsuccessfully seeking God’s healing over many years.
She notes that she has attended healing crusades where leaders of healing ministries have insisted that if people have enough faith, they will certainly be healed.
Clearly, faith is a major factor in people being healed. In a number of instances, Jesus said that faith was the reason the people he touched were healed.
But, is that faith in healing or faith in God, the healer? Tada believes it is the latter. So do I.
Tada takes this a step further. Do we have faith that God has our best interests at heart? Do we believe that God has a plan to bring glory to his kingdom and that it involves us?
For her, the real question is not whether he heals. She is certain he does. But the issue is “whether or not God wills to heal all those who come to him in faith”.
“Is it a sure thing, a slam-dunk that miraculous healing is always his first and best option?”
Her response – her view – is that “God reserves the right to heal or not . . . as he sees fit”.
She has reached this conclusion after years of reflection and counselling people who are desperately ill and have been told that they are not being healed because of sin or lack of faith.
She points out that the apostle Peter told Christians that they are to follow the example of Christ who suffered for them (1 Peter 2:21).
“Christ and the manner in which he approached suffering is to be our focus, especially when the weight of the cross seems overwhelming.”
She refers to scripture passages where people were not healed – the apostle Paul’s friend Timothy, among others.
But a key for her is Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart.”
The desires of her heart have changed as she has learned to delight herself in the Lord. His wishes are increasingly becoming her wishes.
“As many have said so eloquently, sometimes he delivers us from the storm, and at other times, he delivers us through the storm.”
In her case, she no longer thinks of physical healing in the way she did years ago. Instead, she looks forward to be with God, free of pain and “racing with the angels”.
While Tada did not say this, God has used her greatly as a testimony of faith, endurance, hope and love to the world.
She has brought hope to people like her around the world. Her foundation has provided wheel chairs to multitudes.
And her story has inspired millions.
If ever I suffer terribly, I hope I will emulate Joni Eareckson Tada in her devotion to God.
I have admired Tada ever since reading her first book Joni about her diving accident at the age of 16 which left her a quadriplegic for life. That book is a testament of faith in God that has touched millions around the world and given hope to multitudes of disabled people.
I admire Tada even more now as I read her book A Place of Healing which, paradoxically, is about a new bed of suffering thrust upon her in recent years.
For several years now, she has been struggling with excruciating pain from a fracture in her sacrum, a large triangular bone at the base of her spine.
Amazingly, pain shoots through limbs which have been without feeling for decades from her swimming accident. It is unrelenting pain – night and day.
Tada has been unable to care for herself without help since the fateful day she dove into Chesapeake Bay as a teenager. She depends entirely on her husband Ken and a group of dedicated friends and fellow workers at the foundation she has founded to help the disabled.
Now, she fears she is wearing them out with her new affliction.
“Some days I do attempt to sit up for as long as I am able, trying to complete as much work as I possibly can before pain drives me back to bed,” she writes.
She asks herself – very honestly: “Is my life beginning to unravel? Have I reached a limit in what I can endure?”
But she is a determined woman – tried through trials.
Like the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6, she believes that her greatest enemy is Satan who tries to distract her from following Christ.
“I believe he (Satan) views disabilities as his last great stronghold to defame the good character of God.”
So, she is turning to Jesus – the warrior Jesus – to fight her battle for her. She is not looking for the children’s picture book Jesus, surrounded by fluffy sheep.
“You want mighty,” she says of people struggling like her. “You want the strong arm and unshakable grip of God who will not let you go – no matter what.”
To build her spiritual strength, she considers the resurrection of Jesus, the greatest triumph over evil in history.
She tells of a gathering of Christian friends, including her pastor and elders, who came to anoint her with oil and pray over her. Her darkness of spirit lifted as her pastor read Psalm 57:2-3 which declares that God “sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me”.
Tada declares: “I know that it (her pain) drives me to a nearer more intimate place of fellowship with Jesus, and so I take pain as though I were taking the left hand of God.”
“Yes, I pray that my pain might be removed, that it might cease,” she says. “But more so, I pray for the strength to bear it, the grace to benefit from it, and the devotion to offer it up to God as a sacrifice of praise.”
Yes, Joni is praising the Lord in the midst of her pain.
Timothy Keller has some advice for Christians: “Forget yourself!”
Keller, author of The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, says that many Christians are putting too much emphasis on self-esteem. Basically, we are often guilty of replacing God with self-esteem or pride.
That is the root of a great deal of harm in the world, in the church, and in our lives.
Keller, founder and senior leader of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, writes that the apostle Paul himself argued against this self-pride in 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7.
The apostle noted that men were boasting about their personal relationships with different Christian leaders – so much so, that there was conflict among believers. Pride was involved.
Paul was saying that believers already have everything in Christ. They don’t need to assert themselves over others by claiming allegiance to Paul, or other leaders such as Apollos or Cephas.
He goes on to say that he is not perfect, but he doesn’t worry about the judgement of men: “It is the Lord who judges me.”
Keller points out that there is a widespread view today that “people misbehave today for lack of self-esteem and because they have too low a view of themselves”. But he says psychologist Lauren Slater declares that “there is no evidence that low self-esteem is a big problem in society”.
Basically, the word Paul is using for “pride” means to be overinflated, swollen, distended beyond its proper size, says Keller. That is the natural human ego.
In other words, our egos are “empty, painful, busy and fragile”, Keller writes. Our spiritual pride tells us that we are competent to run our own lives and “find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God”.
But, we are easily hurt and upset if we don’t get the recognition we feel we deserve. “It is very hard to get through a whole day without feeling snubbed or ignored or feeling stupid or getting down on ourselves.”
“The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself; it is thinking of myself less.”
People feel themselves to be in a courtroom daily, worrying about how others judge them – and how they judge themselves.
But Paul says he is out of the courtroom “because the ultimate verdict is in”, writes Keller. It is only God’s judgement that matters.
As believers, Christians have received “the verdict before the performance”. The moment we believe, God says we are his sons and daughters because Christ has died for us.
As Paul says in Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
“Because he loves me and accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my resume,” says Keller. “I can do things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people – not so I can feel better about myself.”
What a concept!
Who are you? For Christians, that’s a big question.
It’s more than your role in your family, workplace, school, or leisure activities.
It’s about your relationship to God.
Most believers would say that they have put their faith in Christ and know that, someday, they will be with God in heaven. But, like me for many decades, they would believe they must live perfect lives to please God.
Although most would deny this, it’s almost as if we have to earn our way into heaven even though the scriptures say the only requirement for becoming a child of God is believing that Jesus paid for our sins and mistakes on the cross.
For most of us, this belief that, somehow, we have to work our way into God’s good graces can be discouraging and negatively affect our daily lives as followers of Jesus.
A friend in our church touched on this in a sermon last Sunday as he talked about our “identity in Christ”. He painted a much more positive picture of our relationship with God, noting that we are already “saints” in the eyes of the Lord.
His sermon happened to come at a time when I was renewing my resolve to regularly go over Neil Anderson’s list of scriptures under the title “Who I Am In Christ” in his book Victory Over The Darkness (pp. 38-39).
Anderson has used these scriptures in his years as a Christian counsellor, dealing with people who have fears or struggles with sin. And his clients have found them freeing and motivating to become more like Jesus.
“As believers, we are not trying to become saints,” says Anderson. “We are saints who are becoming like Christ.”
That does not deny that Christians sin. But it does change how we view God and the resources he has given us to live for him.
My natural tendency is to focus on what I have done wrong. I am easily tempted to feel God is especially displeased with me.
Anderson’s list brings my focus back to God and his great love for me. It makes me glad and inspires me to worship him.
His list is too long to go through in a blog post. So, I will simply share a few, listing Anderson’s brief summary “Who I Am In Christ” with the scripture in brackets:
- “I am God’s child” (John 1:12);
- “I am united with the Lord and I am one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:7);
- “I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins” (Colossians 1:14)
- “I have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18)
- “I am free from condemnation” (Romans 8:1,2)
- “I am assured that all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28)
- “I am confident that the good work that God has begun in me will be perfected” (Philippians 1:6)
- “I am a citizen of heaven” (Philippians 3:20)
- “I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7)
- “I am the salt and the light of the earth” (Matthew 5:13-14)
- “I am a branch of the true vine, a channel of his life” (John 15:1,5)
- “I am God’s co-worker” (2 Corinthians 6:1)
The apostle Paul calls us to meditate on what is good, lovely and true (Philippians 4:8).
I can think of no better way to meditate than on what God has given us through Jesus.
I have a growing appreciation of the apostle Paul: He set a goal and went all-out to achieve it.
Our Wednesday morning men’s group has been going through the Book of Acts for some months. It’s helped us get to know Paul better – his undying commitment to Christ and his willingness to risk his life just to tell others about how wonderful Jesus is.
Our group agrees that, as a person, Paul must have been a bit intimidating. He was somewhat “in-your-face”.
But flocks of people became believers because of his passion for the Lord. And those close to him gave up everything to accompany him on his travels.
He loved Jesus with all his heart and his letters drip with love for those who gave their lives to Christ.
In his second letter to his young helper Timothy, Paul writes: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
He could say that truthfully – not everyone can.
What race was Paul running? He was running to please Jesus and ultimately to receive his reward in heaven.
But he knew he would not succeed in running that race without self-discipline as he says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. We are to “run to win”, Paul says, and then he adds:
“All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.”
He goes on to say that he runs “with purpose in every step”, disciplining himself as he goes.
This may seem discouraging for us as believers. How could anyone be so single-minded?
Like most people, I am easily distracted by things going on around me and the many technical toys available to me. So, how should I get on the right track? How can I run the race that Christ has set before me?
I need to remember that the process of becoming like Christ doesn’t happen overnight. The apostles Peter and Paul talk about growing in Christ – it’s a step-by-step process as we rely more and more on the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.
But I do need to constantly keep the goal of pleasing Jesus and becoming more like him in view. If I am not aiming for this goal, I will stumble.
A conference speaker I heard a couple of years ago said something helpful. He advised against trying wholesale change all at once. Instead, he suggested establishing one goal and working toward that until it is a habit and a natural part of my life before moving on to something else.
I need to remember that I am helpless without Jesus. I can’t do it on my own.
But with him, I can run with purpose – just like Paul.