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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

If There Is A Loving God, Why Do Bad Things Happen?

This is a question that I and other Pastors often are approached with.  After a tragedy people struggle to understand how and all powerful, all knowing and loving God allow such a tragedy to occur.  Why didn't He stop it?

I am going to share some brief thoughts.  This is not a treatise, only a blog, so this will not be an exhaustive discussion of this topic. For a more exhaustive discussion I recommend Randy Alcorn's 2009 book "If God is Good".

God pulls no punches with us He makes clear throughout the bible that life on this earth is limited and that we will face trouble in this lifetime.

One of the most direct references to this is found in John 16:33 where Jesus tells us "I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world".

Basically, what this means is that our life on earth is short, it will not be easy and we will face trouble. The good news is that when we are reunited with God in paradise we will know peace.

One of the best "human" explanations I have heard concerning this comes from former Baltimore Raven's Super Bowl winning Quarterback Trent Dilford.  Trent is a committed Christian who lost his five year old son, Trevor to heart disease .  In an interview for the book "Men of Sunday", Trent discussed  his son's death and offered these words " if the motivation for your faith is what's going on in the...years we have here on this earth, then you are missing the truth of God's promises. What God promises is eternity. This is not our home. When we make our decision to trust in Him and to follow Him, our home is with Him for eternity."
Why do we have to face trouble in this life?  The answer to that question is found in the Book of Genesis Chapter 3.  When God created Adam & Eve he gave them a perfect place to live, no problems, no troubles, but He also gave them free will.  They could eat the fruit of any tree but one.  Adam & Eve exercised their free will and choose to disobey God and eat of the forbidden tree.  God's punishment was that they and mankind to follow would no longer have a perfect place to live. We would be faced with heart ache and trouble.  That sounds cruel, but is it really?  Our life on this earth is limited.

We have the promise of redemption when our life on this earth is over. God sent His Son, Jesus to redeem us and to open the gates of heaven to us. We do not have to do anything. We do not have to earn God's forgiveness and redemption.  All we need to do is be ready to accept His most gracious gift.   Life in heaven is a perfect one, a life in which there is no pain, no suffer and no words that mean good bye.

The bad things we face on this earth are only temporary and the reward in heaven is great.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

By Adoption Armless Man Was Given A Second Chance

This past Sunday was Orphan's Sunday and I attended an event at Grace Community Church in Fulton, Maryland.  The event was sponsored by the Christian Alliance for Orphans (www.cafo).  It was a great program but the worship is what stood out in my mind.  Why?  Because it was conducted by an armless guitar player.  Yes, you read that right, an armless guitar player.  Let me explain.

George Dennehy is 19 years old and was born in Romania.  He was born without arms and placed in an orphanage.  Doctors did not expect him to survive.  When he was adopted by an American family at age 1when he only weighed 9 pounds. 

His family nurtured him with love.   He showed an interest in music and at age 8 his mom enrolled him in cello lessons. Yes, he plays with his feet. 

He later took up the guitar, which has opened up many opportunities.  George has won "Richmond's Got Talent", appeared live with one of his favorite bands, traveled to Europe to be on live T.V. & meet his biological family, he has gone to Nashville to write & record music.  He has also played for the Governor of Virginia, the Christian Alliance for Orphans, and at numerous churches & schools. He is now engaged to be married.

George is a perfect example of how we can overcome the challenges that life puts in our path.  His family is an example of how we can help someone achieve dreams that most would never think possible.

Remember what we are taught in Jeremiah 29:11.  God has a plan for each of us.  While we may not understand it, it is a perfect plan.  George is living out God's plan for him in a big way.  To learn more about George visit his website at 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

For Success Do You Need To Be More Gifted Or Just Able To Leverage The Gifts You Have?

This morning I went to the gym and in a moment of absent mindedness locked my keys in the locker.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am not gifted with great physical strength so when I saw scratches and marks on the wood of surrounding lockers where bolt cutters had been used I expected this was going to be a frustrating and humiliating experience.  To my amazement when I got the bolt cutters and after taking care to leverage myself appropriately the lock broke off without much effort and without the bolt cutters even touching the locker.  I was very proud of myself. 

On the ride home I though about this experience and it occurred to me a lot of things in life are this way.  I have seen the most gifted people fail while seeing those less gifted succeed.  Why is that? Well, I think my little experience answers that question.  It is not the gifts you have but how you leverage or use them that determines your success whether it be cutting a lock off a locker or taking a comprehensive exam or succeeding in sports or business.  Don't ever feel down or defeated if you are not the most gifted competitor use and leverage the gifts God gave you and you may well be the victor. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Answering Questions

I recently received some questions on my Facebook page I cannot properly respond to these questions in a line or two and the answers might be of interest to the community as a whole so I decided to respond via a blog post. I want to thank Tru Saunders for asking these questions and I encourage others to please feel free to do the same.

 Question: Why do the churches have pastor appreciation day, women's day, men's day, etc? Is this biblical and if so then why didn't the apostles have a day? The bible say God will not share his glory with no one and the things that we as believers do it is our reasonable service unto God so why is this so?

 First, I am certain that many congregations and churches mean well having a Pastor Appreciation Day wanting to thank their Pastor for all his efforts. I can only speak for myself but I can tell you I would be embarrassed if anyone had such a day to honor me. What I accomplish is accomplished only because of God's grace and His blessing. All the honor and glory belong to Him.

 As far as a women's day or a men's day for me it would depend on the purpose of the day. If the day is used to reinforce God's teachings as to how women and men should live their lives on this earth then I believe such a day could be a good idea. If you celebrate groups of people who do a reasonably good job at living their lives that can be acceptable if the motives are correct. Correct motives would be to celebrate what God has done in their lives and to use their actions as an example. If the purpose is to honor and glorify the individual instead of God then the church might want to do some self examination.

 Now to the question is it biblical. I don't recall any instance in the bible where humans were celebrated. However there are many occasions when God's work is celebrated. So if we use these occasions to honor and glorify God and not the individual I believe it is biblical. The key here is we need to examine our motives very closely. We should all humbly go about our work in a manner that honors and glorifies God and not seek the glory for ourselves. I agree all honor and glory belongs to God.

Question: Also the bible say that adultery is a sin so tell me this, why are there men in the pulpit professing to be Pastors and Prophets that have divorced there wives for other reasons then defiling the bed and Jesus said that is not lawful as well as some even divorcing their wives to remarry but yet professing to be shepherds to Gods people and mouth pieces of the TRUE LIVING GOD! Why is this being allowed and why are the true leaders not speaking up? Did not Jesus say to stand up for holiness and righteousness?

 This questions hits home and is one I have given much thought to. I have been ordained since 2001 but I was divorced in 1994. I feel in certain respects this has helped me in my ministry because I have seen in a very personal way how a divorce harms the entire family including the extended family. It is a part of my life I regret and wish I could turn back the clock but I can't. Often people ask me if I will ever remarry. I respond that I have another marriage left in me but not another divorce. If I do remarry it will be with God at the center of the marriage and there will be a life long commitment.

 We also must remember that we are all sinners including every Pastor. The only sinless person was also divine and that person was the Son of God, Jesus Christ. If a church is looking for a sinless Pastor they are not going to find one. If a Pastor claims to be sinless, the very statement makes him a sinner because he is lying to you.

 When we examine the bible we find that God has used sinners to accomplish some of His greatest works. Moses was a fugitive when God called him. He had committed murder but God chose him and He accomplished much. King David committed both adultery and murder. God did punish him by taking the son conceived as a result of the adultery away from him but God did continue to use him. Matthew aka Levi was a tax collector and a cheat when God chose him. Paul aka Saul murdered Christians before God called him. Paul went on to be arguably the most successful missionary who ever lived and wrote two-thirds of the New Testament.

 I think when looking at a Pastor we need to examine not his past sins but rather how and if he rebounded from that sin. How he is living his life now? Is he using his past errors to help others? Is his current work glorifying God? No Pastor will ever be perfect or sinless but a Pastor should try to live a Godly life, be willing and able to stand up and admit his faults and to be accountable. Pastors must do their best to honor and glorify God in how they carry out their current ministry.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Battling the Blues

Battling the Blues

In the Gospel of John, Jesus reminds us that in our life on earth we will have trouble.  The one thing I have learned is Jesus keeps His promises and He has certainly kept this one. In accordance with this promise we all have those bad days where it appears that nothing is going right.  I recently had a week of those days and it prompted me to write this article. 

First, let me share a little about myself and make a disclaimer or two. 

Despite my ever present smile and gregarious nature I have battled the blues. I am a recovering alcoholic and have struggled with major depression.  Through the grace of God, fellowship with others, the twelve steps and some great health care professionals I have not had a drink in over twenty one years and have been in remission from major depression for over three years.  

Now for the disclaimers. I am not a medical professional.  I am a Pastor. I am writing this article from a Christian  prospective not a medical one. Because the article is short it is not an exhaustive analysis or study of anything. It is just what I have learned from my personal experience. 

Christian  and medical resources working together have been valuable in my recovery. If you are battling the blues or face any mental health challenges I encourage you to seek out both medical and Christian resources. 

I know when I start to feel the blues my initial inclination is to have a pity party and feel sorry for myself.  The last thing I want to do is pray or read the bible.  How do I overcome that?  Well, I am fortunate in that God has blessed me with a super best friend who is also a Christian and is really understanding.  I did not always have her but I am glad she is here now. So before I start my pity party I just tell her I am grumpy or feeling blue. We do not get into a long discussion, I simply let her know how I am feeling and she says something encouraging. It is usually a quick conversation but I get my feelings out in the open and acknowledged.  I then begin to pray. It is not always easy and might take some warming up. I always begin with the short format of the serenity prayer. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change. The courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. "

Normally, at this point I still need a little more warm up before I have that personal conversation with God.  To warm up  I begin with some of the traditional prayers I learned growing up such as the Lord's Prayer and the Glory Be. I may repeat them a few times before I begin my conversation with God. 

Once I am ready to have that personal conversation I usually pray something like "God open my mind, soften my heart and settle me so that I am open to Your message ".  I then ask for the Holy Spirit to descend upon me to help me understand God's will for me.  Then I talk to God as I would a friend. I share my feelings and frustrations. I sometimes share my anger and doubt.  I have never heard God respond in a thundering voice from above or seen a burning bush but God has always responded. Sometimes through another person, often through a bible verse and sometimes by just laying the answer in my mind and on my heart.  There are times I do not recognize that He answered me until well after the fact. After a few events have played out it occurs to me that God did respond, I just did not understand it right away.  I also realize I may never understand why God responded the way He did but I know I must accept it.

I have found that while God tests me He never leaves me.  During the most trying tests I turn to the Book of Job.  I then realize that God knows more than I do and He has a plan a perfect plan and I do not need to understand it. I just need to be open to it.  In the twelve steps fellowships there is a simple saying "Let go and let God".  That is what I try to do everyday. I don't always do it perfectly as I sometimes still think I am in control. When that happens the blues are not far away.

One final reminder God has gifted health care professionals with the skill, talents and knowledge to treat mental health issues from a medical perspective.  If you are suffering from any mental health issue it is important to seek help from all the resources God has provided which includes Christian resources and the medical community. Make no mistake mental health issues are life threatening and need to be treated as such.

This has been my simple story I hope you get something out of it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Three Most Important Words: "I Love You"

When I was just a young boy I asked my Grandma Ryan how her marriage lasted so long.  She told me that it amounted to three words "I love you".  She said each night whether it was the best night in their marriage where they loved each other like newlyweds or it was one of those days where nothing went right, they had been fighting all day and at bed time they kind of still loved each other but really didn't like each other they made sure to always say "I love you".  She said there were 2 reasons for that.  First, if the good Lord called one of them home that night the other would find comfort in knowing that their last words on this earth were "I love you".  But she said the second was the more practical and more common.  If they had been fighting the night before very often when they woke up in the morning they often did not remember what they were arguing about because the disagreement paled in comparison to their love for each other.  If they did remember what the disagreement was about they were able to resolve it at the breakfast table over a cup of coffee.  Never go to bed without saying I love you.  If you are separated by distance please use the phone and convey those three most important words to one another.  I once spoke to an Army officer who had been  deployed and on deployment did not always have access to a phone. He said each night he would find a star and whisper the words "I love you" knowing the star would make its way back to his wife and she would know that he sent it to her with his love.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?

 Where Where You When The World Stopped Turning?


September 11, 2001, a day that is embedded in my memory for eternity.  I was in the United States District Court House in Baltimore with a client for a hearing. The Judge was called from the bench, when he returned he announced all cases would be continued and told us to leave the courthouse with no further explanation .

As we left the courthouse we saw armed U.S. Marshals surrounding the building.  It was then I heard of the attack on the World Trade Center's Twin Towers.  My first thoughts went to my brother who is a firefighter on Long Island.  I tried to reach him on my cell phone and all lines were busy.  I kept trying while I walked back to my office.  When I arrived my secretary informed me the Pentagon had been hit.  I responded with a very solemn "we're at war" and walked quietly to my office.  I closed my doors and prayed the most sincere prayer of my life to let me get through and speak to my brother. I picked up my phone and tried one more time.  Miraculously he picked up on the first ring.  He was on an Engine responding to Ground Zero. He wound up working with a rescue and recovery team.  He was one of the lucky ones, he survived without physical injury.  I remember speaking with a friend through out who had a brother who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald.  She was not so lucky, she was one of many who lost a loved one that day.

I remember leaving my office going to be with my daughter and former wife, whose husband worked for the airlines and was flying that day.  He was safe.  I remember speaking to my son who was in college.  All of a sudden I realized how important family was.  How blessed my family was and how thankful I was that God answered my prayer and let me speak to my brother while he was responding to this tragedy.  What were you doing that day?  I will never forget, will you?  God Bless America !!! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

John 14: Jesus' Three Promise & Our Eternal Reward

This is a message Pastor Bob delivered at Journey Church of Columbia on Sunday July 28, 2013

John 14:  Jesus’ Three Promises and Our Eternal Reward

Good Morning Church!!!  For the past 5 weeks or so Mark has been teaching us about the crucifixion and the significance this great gift has on our Christian faith.  This morning we will be traveling back in time to right before the crucifixion, specifically, the Last Supper and discuss what Jesus said during that meal. Then we will make a quick imaginary journey to Heaven to see what God has in store for us if we choose to accept His gracious gift of forgiveness.

Before we begin our journey I will ask that we take a moment , bow our heads and turn our thoughts to the Lord:

God our Heavenly Father, we come before and ask that you allow the Holy Spirit to descend upon us as we begin to study your word.  We ask that You open our minds and soften our hearts as we hear Your word and the message that You want us to hear. We also want to thank You for the most gracious gift that You gave us when You sent Your Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price for our sins. All of Jesus’ people say Amen.

Randy Alcorn in his book “Heaven” observed that “the sense that we will live forever somewhere has shaped every civilization in human history”.  Some pictured Heaven as a distant island, others believe they went to the sun or the moon, Native Americans believed that their afterlife spirits would hunt the spirits of buffalo.  Fortunately as Christians we do not have to wonder about the afterlife we have a book, the Bible that tells us what awaits us in eternity. 

I suspect that we might have one or two Baltimore Raven’s fans with us today.  Those of us who have been fans since the Raven’s arrival in Baltimore know that the Raven’s won a Super Bowl before the one they won this year.  They were lead to that victory by a Quarterback named Trent Dilfer.  Some may wonder what I am doing talking about the Baltimore Raven’s and one of their Quarterbacks.   What you may not know is that Trent Dilfer is a committed Christian and that son died at the age of five.  I would like to start off this message by sharing some words that Trent Dilfer spoke when asked about his son’s death.   “If the motivation for your faith is what's going on in the...years we have here on this earth, then you are missing the truth of God's promises. What God promises is eternity. This is not our home. When we make our decision to trust in Him and to follow Him, our home is with Him for eternity.”
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, the Apostle Paul reminds us of the importance of understanding what awaits us with the words “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope.”   A great place to begin our journey of hope is in the Gospel of John, Chapter 14.
For those of you who have Bibles with you, let’s turn to the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, verses 1 – 6.  This is where we learn what Jesus said to His own friends shortly before His own earthly death.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.  Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?’  Jesus answered ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
In those few words Jesus made three very significant promises.  First, He promises that there is more than enough room in our Father’s house for each and every one of us; Second, that He is preparing a place for us and finally that when it comes time for God to call our name, Jesus will take us there Himself.  I would like to take a few minutes and unpack these promises.
In His first promise Jesus assures us that there will be room for each of us in Heaven.  This means we never have to worry about being greeted by a “No Vacancy” sign.  Our reservation was made when Jesus died on the cross and all have to do is be willing to accept this most gracious gift.  When I think of this promise I am reminded of the old Motel Six commercial where Tom Bodett promises to leave a light on for us. I believe that there is a light that awaits us at Heaven’s gate.  This analogy has a biblical basis. In Chapter 21 of the Book of Revelations, John describes eternity to us with the following words “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it for the glory of God gives it light and the Lamb is its lamp.  I truly believe that when God calls each of our names, if we have accepted His wonderful gift, we will be greeted by the light from the glory of God as we entered the gates of heaven.   
In the second promise we are told that Jesus is preparing a place for us.  I am not sure about you but I have never had a place prepared especially for me.  I remember buying our first house, it was nice house in Ellicott City but other than getting to decide if we wanted crown molding and a fireplace the house was pretty much like the other houses in the neighborhood. It was not prepared especially for my family.  Now we have the Son of God, who in his earthly life was a carpenter by trade, promising to prepare a special place just for us.  In my career as a Pastor I have been called upon to officiate many funeral services.  Early in my pastoral career I use to try to create a picture for the family of what their loved ones Heavenly home is like.  Then I realized that I was doing a great injustice to God and to Heaven.  My earthly words are limited.  Our earthly imaginations are limited.  I cannot possibility describe and you cannot possibly imagine how wonderful Heaven is.   In a few minutes we will unpack a little more about what the Bible tells us about Heaven but for now I will just say that heaven is a special place. A place of love, a place where there is no suffering, no pain and there are no words that mean good bye. 
The final and in my opinion the most comforting promise is that when God calls our name that Jesus will come and take us there Himself. I have had the honor to be with people during their final hours and it is not unusual for them to say “it is time” or “they are here”.  In John Ramsey’s  book “The Other Side of Suffering” he writes of the death of his wife Patsy.  She was in a coma, she opened her eyes and had a wondrous expression on her face as if she was seeing something magnificent.  She then closed her eyes and died. I believe she opened her eyes to see our Savior.   This story and my experiences is proof to me that Jesus keeps this promise.  We can find comfort in knowing we will not be alone when we died but that we will be in the comforting and loving arms of Jesus.  I believe as we enter Heaven’s gates we will be greeted by a welcoming committee which will be made up of our family and friends that went before us.  While our family and friends are grieving over our death here on earth, there will be a celebration going on in Heaven. 
Celebrations in Heaven?  Really?  Many people think Heaven is boring and imagine us spending eternity as angles flying around Heaven strumming on a harp.  It is not unusual to hear someone say “I want to go to Hell because that is where all my friends are going and where all the fun will be”.  When we make comments like that or worse yet believe them, we are doing what Satan, identified as the beast of the sea in Revelations 13 did.  The beast opened his mouth to blaspheme God, to slander His name and His dwelling place and those who live in Heaven.
These ideas could not be further from the truth.  Hell is a place of isolation. Friendship and good times simply do not exist.  Heaven is really the place to be.  God is not a kill joy!  He created us to enjoy life both on earth and even more so in eternity.  In Psalm 16:11 King David wrote “You have made known to me the path of life, You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.”
Let me clear up a common misunderstanding and one I often hear spoken by well meaning people at funerals.  We do not become angels when we die. Angels are special beings created by God to serve us.   They serve us now by protecting us and they will serve us in Heaven.  They are very special beings but they are not what we become when we die.  It is my belief in the afterlife that we will meet our angels. We develop relationships with them and maybe we will even hear stories of how they saved us from near misses and maybe even explain to us why certain things happened to us in our earthly lives.  I tell you this because I believe it is very important for us to have a proper understanding of Heaven and what awaits us in eternity.
The next step that is important to a complete understanding eternal life is to understand that for those of us who are called home before the end times there will be two eternal homes.  The first is what I will call the present or pre resurrection Heaven and if we have accepted God’s gift of forgiveness that is where we will go immediately after we end our earthly life.  Then at the coming of the Lord we will again live on earth which is referred to in scripture as the New Earth.  Paul talks about this in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18  where we are taught “for since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring Him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the Word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord Himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage one another with these words.”

What this means is that all of us, those who live until the coming of the Lord and those who have been called by God before then, will all see the true eternal home at the same time.  We will all experience the excitement of exploring the New Earth together. 

When we think of the New Earth we have to remember that before Adam & Eve sinned the earth was a perfect place.  When it comes time for the coming of the Lord, Earth will be restored to the perfect state that only two people have ever experienced.  We can expect that we will recognize each other like Adam & Eve did.  We can expect that we will have a very personal relationship with God.  We can expect that we will eat and share the New Earth with animals.  We can expect that we will work but in a way that is rewarding and satisfying rather than as toil and laborious.  Many of us might work in similar professions as we did on this earth but be more skilled and find it more enjoyable.  Because there will be no sin, no illness and no death on the New Earth there will be no need for some of our professions. There will be no crime so we will not need police, judges or lawyers.  There will be no illness so we will not need doctors, nurses, or other health care professionals.  There will be no death so we will not need funeral directors or grave diggers.  We can assume those who toil in those occupations might make a current hobby their profession on the New Earth.
Our bodies and senses will be perfect as they were before the curse. Therefore, our experiences will be enhanced and more enjoyable. We will not be limited.  There will be no wheel chairs, canes or other aids.

We can expect our existence with animals to be peaceful and loving.  We will pet lions, run with tigers and maybe even swim with fish.  There will no longer be suffering and death.  Because there will no longer be death we will be restored to our original vegetarian diet.  Originally, we did not eat animals.  It was not until after the flood that God told Noah in Genesis 9:3 “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” 

Now for meat lover like me remember God is all powerful.  I am certain that God will not take away something we enjoy without replacing it with something we enjoy even more.  I cannot wait to try everything God has to offer to us on the New Earth.  Not only will it be better but our taste buds and all our senses will be enhanced.  Everything we experience will be more enjoyable than it is now under the curse.

Because there will be no illness our diets will not be limited.  No diabetics, so everyone will be able enjoy sugar.  No Alcoholism, so we all can enjoy wine. 

Because earth will be restored to its pre curse state we know we will eat because Adam & Eve ate before the curse.  If we have any doubt we should remember that the resurrected Jesus ate and more importantly Jesus told us we will eat on the New Earth.  In Luke 14:15 Jesus said “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God”.  So it is appears that resurrected bodies will be capable of eating.

A Friday night on the New Earth might consist of us going to as Pastor Mark refers to them “ a menu venue” and enjoying a great meal, listen to Pastor Mark play the guitar and sing at a level he cannot even imagine, we can all enjoy dessert without fear of obesity or diabetes, we can all enjoy a glass of the most spectacular wine without fear of addiction or abuse.

Once as I was walking out of a funeral service I heard a woman say “Pastor, I have a question for you?”  A bit unusual but I stopped and said ok what is the question?  She asked if they had cigarettes and beer in Heaven.  I told her I was not too sure about cigarettes but I am certain they have alcohol in Heaven.  This is something that might shock some Christians because they associate alcohol with sin but it is biblical.  In the Gospel of John we learn that Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding reception.  At the Last Supper Jesus referred to the wine in the cup as His blood.   In Luke 22:18 we are taught that Jesus even told His friends that we will enjoy wine on the New Earth with the words “I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes”.

I could go on and on describing the New Earth and how eternal life can be for us if we accept God’s gift of forgiveness.  There are many books written on this subject and I could talk for days.  This morning’s message is not intended to be an exhaustive discussion but simply meant to peak your interest to learn more.  This week we discussed the hope of heaven.  Next Sunday we will be discussing Doubting Thomas, the Apostle who questioned the Resurrection and we will explore the doubts we all have and why the Bible is reliable.  Next week will be the week for you to bring your friends who have questions and are seeking answers.  Feel safe. There will be no pressure just good solid information will be shared in a loving and friendly manner.  Your friends will be comfortable and I am sure will enjoy the message.  May God bless each of you.

Let us close by praying in the words that Jesus taught us.

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Please go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

A Seeker's Message: Examining The Evidence Supporting Christianity

This is a message that was delivered by Pastor Bob Tousey at Journey Church of Columbia on Sunday August 4, 2013.

This morning we are going to put on our detective’s hat and pull out the magnifying glass as we begin to examine the evidence surrounding Christianity. 

We often hear there are two things never to be discussed religion and politics.  Interesting topics not to discuss because political decisions often affect our everyday lives and our decision concerning faith not only affects our everyday lives here on earth but also our eternal life.  Why are these topics to be avoided?  Simple, they are controversial. Controversy require us to think and generates difficult discussion.  Controversy is also uncomfortable and because of that something many of us choose to avoid.  But when our eternal life is at stake should anything be too uncomfortable or too hard to discuss?

I am going to challenge everyone here to leave their comfort zones and invest some time and effort over the next eight weeks to really understand the evidence supporting Christianity.  Today, I will begin with a message that discusses common doubts and scratches the surface on some of the evidence.  Then I will be at Wegmans in Columbia 7:00 every Tuesday night (this message was delivered in 2013 and discussion group is over)  ready to discuss the evidence supporting Christianity and we will begin with J. Warner Wallace’s book “Cold Case Christianity”.  

J. Warner Wallace is a cold case Detective with the Los Angeles police department and was a self described angry atheist who came to faith after applying his investigative skills to determine if Christianity was the truth or a farce.  There are many others who have done this most notably Lee Strobel, a former Legal Affairs Editor for the Chicago Tribune and the author of  the New York Times Best Seller “The Case for Christ”.

Throughout time people have had a hard time wrapping their heads around God and how He is all powerful.  As we study the bible we learn many people of deep faith and love of God have at times questioned His power.  Let’s begin by examining four  biblical stories where God's people doubted Him and His power.  

The first story is found in Genesis.  It is the story of Abraham and Sarah.  Abraham was married to Sarah, who while very beautiful was unable to have children.  When Abraham and Sarah were both of advanced age, God told Abraham that Sarah would bear him a son.  Because of their age and Sarah’s inability to conceive Abraham was incredulous.  

Imagine being incredulous to a promise God is making to you. 
Well it does not end there.  Three angels in disguise eventually appeared to Abraham and repeated God’s promise.  Sarah overheard them and laughed scornfully to herself.  Now we have a woman chosen by God to be the mother of a very special child laughing at God’s promise.  

It gets worse.  Sarah had such little faith that she encouraged Abraham to have relations with her slave Hagar so that he would have the son God promised him. 

Can you believe Sarah actually thought that God needed human help to keep a promise?   Before I go on to the next story of disbelief let me share with you God’s sense of humor.  When He did deliver on His promise and Abraham had a son by Sarah the boy’s name was to be Isaac, which means “he laughed” in Hebrew.

After this miracle you would think God’s people would have learned that God can make the impossible happen.  But no there is a second story, a mere 1,600 – 1,800 years later Zechariah and Elizabeth also scoffed at God’s promise to give them a son.

Zechariah was a Priest and his wife Elizabeth a relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  They too were of advanced years when the archangel Gabriel appeared to him and announced that Elizabeth would have a son and his name would be John.  Zechariah doubted Gabriel and was struck silent until his son, John the Baptist was born.

In the Gospel of Matthew 14: 25-31 we learn the third story of doubt I am going to share with you.  This one involves Peter.  Remember, Peter the rock upon which Jesus will build His church.  The rock had his doubts too.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.  But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”  “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

It is important to understand that even those closest to God, the people that God chose to take His message to the world have doubts.  So when you doubt it is not a bad thing it is a normal thing.  

These stories are just three of many about doubters that we will find in the bible.  We will examine one more and this is the one you have probably been waiting for.  It is the story of Doubting Thomas the Apostle.  I featured Thomas in my preview of coming attraction because of one very important fact, he doubted the resurrection.

For five weeks Pastor Mark has talked about the significance of the cross.  Last week I talked about the 3 promises that Jesus made at the Last Super and gave you a sneak peek into Heaven.  This week we will discuss the evidence that the resurrection of Jesus did in fact happen.  The resurrection is without a doubt the most important event in Christianity.  

There is much to doubt about the resurrection.  A man coming back to life after being dead and buried is to say the least very difficult to believe.  But we as Christians must believe.  This is a black and white issue.  There is no middle ground.  If the resurrection is true than what Christ said is true and He was the Son of God and did die for our sins on the cross.  If the resurrection did not occur we have been hood winked and sold a bill of goods and Christianity is a farce.  

Quite frequently you will hear people say they do not believe that Jesus really rose from the dead or that He was the Son of God but try to soften the blow by saying He was a good man and great moral teacher.

C.S. Lewis, a one-time atheist turned Christian defender, discussed this idea in his book “Mere Christianity”. Lewis observed “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg--or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.”

I agree.  This is black and white.  This is why this study is such an important one for everyone on a Journey of Faith.  

We should not be robots and say we are Christians because it is our family tradition and therefore we will follow tradition and do what Christians are suppose to do.  We need to be educated in what we believe in and understand why we are Christians.

 Thomas wanted to understand everything and wanted proof before he was going to believe.  He was not one to just go along with the crowd.
We really do not know a lot about Thomas.  He was mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke when they listed the Apostles and was mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as being present when they selected Mathis to succeed Judas Iscariot .  The only real information we have about Thomas is in the Gospel of John, where he is referred to as the twin.  What we learn about Thomas from the Gospel of John is that he was loyal, practical, down to earth and a seeing is believing type of guy.

In John there are four accounts in which Thomas plays a major role.  Let’s take a look at them.

The first is in John 11:16 when Jesus was going to Bethany where His friend Lazarus had died.  Bethany was not a friendly area and the disciples were trying to convince Jesus not to go.  Thomas was convinced Jesus would be killed but demonstrated his loyalty to his friend by saying to the others “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

Last Sunday we studied John 14 and you might remember Thomas from that lesson.  In the fifth verse of John 14,  Thomas responded to Jesus’ remark that “You know the way to the place where I am going.” by saying “Lord, we don’t know where you are going; how can we know the way.”  In this exchange we see that Thomas was not afraid to let Jesus know when he did not understand what Jesus meant.  The questioning of Jesus in this exchange also served a far greater purpose that Thomas was probably not aware of at the time, but by challenging Jesus he gave Jesus the opportunity to provide a response that is very important to Christians even today.  Jesus responded with the words “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”  This is one of the points in the Gospels where Jesus actually says he is divine.  He does so with the words “From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.”

The next time we hear about Thomas is after the resurrection.  For some unknown reason Thomas was not in the room the first time Jesus appeared to the Apostles.  Thomas’ conversation with the other Apostles after hearing of Jesus resurrection is recorded in John 20:25.  Thomas said “Unless I see His hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails and place my hand in His side, I will not believe.”  If there is anything that we know about Jesus it is that He is always willing to help someone out. About a week later He gives Thomas the opportunity he asked for and this is recorded in John 20:27 “Put your fingers here, and see My hands and place it in my side; do not be faithless but believing.”

Most of us will not have the opportunity Thomas had.  It is unlikely that Jesus will appear to us and invite us put our finger where the nails once were in his hand or to put our hand in his side which was opened by a centurion’s spear.  But there is a lot of evidence that is available to us to prove that the accounts of Jesus’ life and more importantly His resurrection are true.  Now is the time to get up and stretch, get yourself a cup of coffee if you need caffeine to wake you up because this is the part of the message you need to hear.  You now become the jury and it will be your job to reach a verdict on the issue of whether the resurrection truly took place or have we been mislead.  The message today is but an opening statement.  The detailed evidence will be unpacked for you over the next eight weeks when you attend the Tuesday discussion group.  There is a resource sheet in the back that I encourage everyone to take before they leave today(for those reading this on my blog the resource sheet is posted on this blog).  A comprehensive study of this topic would take a lifetime.  Today is not even a tip of the iceberg.  The intention is just to peak your interest.  I hope I will accomplish that.
One cry you often hear from critics is that the New Testament was written hundreds of years after the life of Christ by people who were not alive when the events occurred.

This is simply not true.  First, because the Gospels are the historical records so let’s take look at who authored them and what their relationship was with Jesus.

Matthew: Also known as Levi the Tax Collector was an original Apostle who was with Christ as he carried out His ministry.
Mark: Also, known as John Mark was a companion of Peter, one of the original Apostles, who also was one of Jesus’ closes companions.  Jesus told Peter that he will be the rock upon which Jesus would build His church.
Luke: was a Physician and Missionary and a companion of Paul.
John: was also an original Apostle and one of Jesus’ closest companions.

As you can see each of these writers had reliable knowledge of Jesus and His ministry.

The first New Testament book written is believed to be an Epistles the Book of James may have been written as early as 45 AD. The Gospels came later but were still written within decades of Jesus’ ministry and not hundreds of years as critics argue.

Mark’s Gospel was most likely the first Gospel written.  The New International Version reports this Gospel to have been written between the mid 50’s AD and the late 60’s.  This is within 20 to 30 years of Jesus’ ministry.
Matthew’s Gospel was likely written between AD 50 – 70, within 20 to 40 years of Jesus’ ministry.

Luke between early 60’s and 80 AD, 30 to 50 years after Jesus’ ministry and the latest one was John which was most likely written AD 85 a little over 50 years after Jesus’ death.

What was the author’s purpose in writing the Gospel.  It appears that Matthew, Mark and Luke were writing primarily for historical purposes.  In fact Luke actually states that in the introduction to his Gospel.  He writes:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
It should be noted that numerous archeological discoveries have shown Luke to be an accurate historian.  In fact, one archaeologist examined Luke’s references to 32 countries, 54 cities and 9 islands and did not find a single mistake. Archaeologists have also made discoveries supporting the other Gospel accounts.

John’s Gospel on the other hand was written to convince the reader to believe in Jesus Christ.  John himself states that in John 20:23 “But these are written that you may believe  that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”

Now because these authors were so close to Jesus and committed to Christianity wouldn’t they have been motivated to lie?  Well, let’s look at the times in which they lived.  Jesus was not all that popular with authorities and had been put to death in a most painful and gruesome way.  The same fate awaited His followers.  In fact, 10 of the remaining 11 original Apostles faced martyrdom.  Here are some examples of how they died Peter was crucified upside down, Matthew was slain by a sword, Barnabas stoned and our friend Thomas had a lance run through his body. These fates certainly demonstrate that these men had every reason to renounce Christ and Christianity rather than preach it.  All they had to gain by preaching Christ’s word is persecution and a gruesome death.

The next argument you will hear critics make is that there are no originals manuscript of the New Testament.

Well this is true and this is not unusual for ancient documents. What they over look is the fact that we have an unprecedented number of copies the earliest of which dates back to AD 100-150, in other words years or at most decades after the original work was published.   How many copies have been found and how does that compare to other ancient documents?
Ok folks ready for this?  Hold on to your seats because this is going to blow you away.  There are between 21 and 24,000 ancient copies of the New Testament. These include 5,664 Greek manuscripts, 8 to 10,000 Latin Vulgate manuscripts and approximately 8,000 Ethiopic, Slavic and Armenian manuscripts.  Compare this to other ancient works.  The Annals of Imperial Rome 1 manuscript that appeared to be produced over 800 years after the original work.  Josephus work “The Jewish War” 11 manuscripts produced approximately 2 to 400 years after the original works and finally Homer’s Iilad 650 manuscripts produced approximately 1,100 years after the original.
A third argument made by critics is that there are over 200,000 variations or errors in the copies of the New Testament.  Well first, let’s consider two points as we evaluate this argument.  Printing presses did not exist 2,000 years ago so scribes handwrote every copy and the way variations or errors were counted was such that if one word was misspelled in 2,000 manuscripts that would count as 2,000 variations.  What is of the most significance is that none of these variations are serious enough to place any Christian doctrine in jeopardy.

 Some critics will argue that Jesus is never mentioned in the Old Testament.  We folks we don’t need to go any further than Genesis to see our first references.  In Genesis, God uses plurals when He talks about man being made in God’s image.  He uses the words us and we.  I truly believe this is His first reference to the trinity in the scripture.  There are also approximately 61 Old Testament prophesies which Christ fulfilled in His life time.  Because time is limited I have prepared a list of them for you otherwise we could be here until tomorrow morning.  Discussing how Jesus fulfilled these prophesies. ( those reading this on my blog the list is also posted on this blog)
But I will briefly mention that the 29 prophesies were fulfilled in the day leading up to His death.

We said that the Resurrection was all important.  Let’s spend a few moments discussing why the Resurrection, probably the most unbelievable part of Jesus’ story is believable.  Let’s evaluate the Apostles motivations and behavior after the resurrection as well as non apostolic eyewitnesses. 

Did they gain financially?  This is a clear NO.  The left their careers to follow Christ and now that He was executed they could have renounced Him and went back to a more or less normal life but they did not.  They continued being homeless itinerant messengers who had to rely on the generosity of others to survive or work another profession while carrying the word.  These men gave up their lives, their material possessions and families to carry the message.

It is equally unreasonable to suggest that the Apostles were motivated by lust or relationships.  As we just discussed these men were separated from their families for long periods of time and there is no evidence of any of them had relations outside of marriage.

They were not driven by pursuit of power.  At this time church leadership had way more liabilities than perks.  Those who openly admitted their allegiance to Jesus were the first to die.  As discussed earlier persecution was the uniform experience of the Apostles.  These men had just seen their friend killed in a most painful and undignified way.

Let’s also take a look at some of the other evidence that points toward the truth of the resurrection.  First, let’s examine the changed attitude of the Apostles.  After the crucifixion, Jesus' apostles hid behind locked doors, terrified they would be executed next. But something changed them from cowards to bold preachers. Anyone who understands human character knows people do not change that much without some major influence. That influence was seeing their Master, bodily risen from the dead. Christ appeared to them in the locked room, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and on the Mount of Olives. After seeing Jesus alive, Peter and the others left the locked room and preached the risen Christ, unafraid of what would happen to them. They quit hiding because they knew the truth. They finally understood that Jesus is God incarnate, who saves people from sin.

Changed lives are yet another proof of the resurrection. James, the brother of Jesus, was openly skeptical that Jesus was the Messiah. Later James became a courageous leader of the Jerusalem church, even being stoned to death for his faith. Why? The Bible says the risen Christ appeared to him. What a shock to see your own brother, alive again, after you knew he was dead. James and the apostles were effective missionaries because people could tell these men had touched and seen the risen Christ. With such zealous eyewitnesses, the early church exploded in growth, spreading west from Jerusalem to Rome and beyond. For 2,000 years, encounters with the resurrected Jesus have changed lives.

A large crowd of more than 500 eyewitnesses saw the risen Jesus Christ at the same time. The Apostle Paul records this event in 1 Corinthians 15:6. He states that most of these men and women were still alive when he wrote this letter, about 55 A.D. Undoubtedly they told others about this miracle. Today, psychologists say it would be impossible for a large crowd of people to have had the same hallucination at once. Smaller groups also saw the risen Christ, such as the apostles, and Cleopas and his companion. They all saw the same thing, and in the case of the apostles, they touched Jesus and watched him eat food. The hallucination theory is further debunked because after the ascension of Jesus into heaven, sightings of him stopped.
Today we were only able to scratch the surface.  I ask that you not stop with today’s message.  Join our Seeker’s Discussion which will be held every Tuesday night for the next eight weeks at 7 p.m.  If you can’t make our discussion group, Grace Community Church has been kind enough to invite us to participate in their small group program.  I have some material in the back.  If you wish to do that please fill out the card and return it to me next Sunday and we will get you registered.  Also, Family Christian Stores provided us with some coupons that will be good at the end of the month for some great discounts on books and other materials.  I challenge you to examine the evidence and then reach a verdict.  I believe you will reach the same one I did, a verdict in favor of Christianity.

Our church offers communion every Sunday.  What we do is Pastor Mark comes up and plays some music and during that time you can reflect and go to the back and receive communion when you are ready.  Some may feel that you are not worthy but that is not the case.  There is a prayer I was taught to say to get ready for communion and let me share it with you.
God, I am not worthy to receive but only say the word and I shall be healed.
If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior I encourage you to receive.   

Pastor Mark will close us in prayer after communion.  God bless each and every one of you.