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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Part Three: Exploring Our Faith: Why We Believe.

Well this is the final part of my three part series of "Exploring Our Faith" and in this post I will discuss some of the basic reasons that we as Christians believe what we believe.  Once again this is a topic that could take volumes. I am sure even after reading this many of you will have a lot of questions.  I would like to recommend some additional resources.  

The first is "Cold Case Christianity" by J. Warner Wallace.   The author is a former atheist and Cold Case Detective for the Los Angeles Police Department.  In this interesting and informative book he applies the same techniques to the study of Christianity that he does to investigating a cold case in his job as a Detective.  

There two others.  They are "The Case for Christ" and "The Case for Faith" both written by Lee Strobel.  Like Wallace, Strobel was an atheist.  He was a legal affairs reporter for the Chicago Tribune when he began his investigation of Christianity.  His goal as he began was to prove Christianity wrong.  However after his exhaustive investigation he came to a surprising verdict, Christianity is true.  Strobel is now a Pastor of a California mega church and respected Christian apologist.

Now for my post where to begin?  Well, why not begin at the beginning?  

Non believers often argue that the earth was created by a Big Bang and humans were created as the result of evolution.  In that a blog post is limited in length let me for the sake of discussion accepted these premises.  Now does that mean I am abandoning the idea that God exists and created the world?  No, I am not !!! 

For the Big Bang to have occurred there must have existed matter and energy to cause a Big Bang.  

For evolution to exist there had to have been at least some simple one cell living creature in order for it to evolve into humans.  

Where did the matter, energy and simple single cell creature come from?  Logic would dictate that they did not come from nothing, they had to come from something.  There had to be some intelligent designer to get all the wheels in motion in order for life to exist as we know it today.  That intelligent designer was and is God.

Ok, so now we have an explanation as to why we should believe in God.  But how can we jump from the belief of an intelligent design, God, to the concept that He is three in one?  

Most Christians believe in the concept of the trinity.  This is by and far the hardest concept that Christians are asked to accept.  That there is one God but three parts: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.  Saint Patrick while teaching the Irish this concept used a three leaf clover as an illustration.   The clover is one leaf with three parts.

But wait, you say the concept of the Trinity was not mentioned in the Old Testament.  It did not exist until Jesus came along "claiming" to be the second person of the Trinity, the Son.

Well that is not the case at all.  In Genesis, the very first book of the Old Testament, God refers to Himself in the plural.  If we look at Genesis 1:26 we learn that God said "Let Us make them in Our image".   The term us is used in three other Old Testament verses referring to God.  In Genesis 3:22 God says ""Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil".  In Genesis 11:7 God commands "Come, let Us go down there and confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech." .   Finally in Issiah 6:8, the voice of the Lord said "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?  "

Well even if we accept that the Trinity is valid how do we know that Jesus is the Messiah?  Well if we take a look at the Old Testament prophesies we will see that Jesus fulfilled many of them. Because of space limitations, I will refer you to my earlier blog post "Old Testament Prophecies Fulfilled." which outlines sixty one (61) Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Jesus Christ.  It would be mathematically impossible for one person to fulfill so many prophecies if He was not the Messiah. 

Additionally, would Christianity survived two thousand years and become the largest faith in the world if it was not true?  

Anecdotally,  I encourage you to click here and watch a short two minute video of my testimony at my Believer's Baptism.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Part Two: Exploring Our Faith: Why Bad Things Happen

This blog post is the second of a three part series on the subject of exploring our faith.  This topic could be a a multi volume work therefore this post will only be a brief survey on this powerful topic. 

For a more complete analysis and discussion I recommend reading Randy Alcorn's book "If God Is Good - Why Do We Hurt"

Once God created the earth Genesis 1:31 teaches us that when He saw all He had created He said it was very good.  The world was perfect and without sin.

If God is all powerful and all knowing why did He allow sin and evil to be introduce into this world?

Most Christian scholars believe that when God created each of us he gave us the gift of intelligence and a consequence is that we have free will.  This way we could be made in His image.

If it were not for the gift of "free will" we would be nothing more than marionette with God acting as the puppeteer controlling our every action.  If this was the case we would not have need for the gift of intelligence and we would not have been made in God's image. The natural flowing consequence of "free will" is the ability to reject God and follow satan. 

Because each of us were given  "free will" it did not take long for satan to introduce evil and sin into the world.  

In Genesis 3:6 we learn that Eve after being tempted by satan ate the forbidden fruit.  Once Eve committed this act, sin and evil entered the world and things were no longer perfect. In Genesis 4:8 we are introduced to more evil when Adam and Eve's son Cain killed his brother Abel. 

I could go through both the Old and New Testament and identify time after time that people used free will to make poor choices.  There are consequences for all of our choices good and bad.  The consequences effect us and others.

In John 16:33 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.”  In this verse Jesus confirms that because of the fall of Adam and Eve that our life on this earth will not be perfect.  There will be sin and pain. But, He also gives us hope.  That hope is in our eternal life.  If we accept Jesus' gracious gift our sins will be forgiven by the Father and we will spend eternity with Him in  a perfect place.  A place where there is no suffering, no pain and no words that mean good bye.

Sin and evil cause bad things to happen.  However our life on this earth is fleeting and we have the opportunity to choose to accept God's gift of forgiveness and spend eternity in a place with no sin and no evil.

NFL Quarterback Trent Dilfer, a devote Christian, who lost a five year old son to heart disease reminds us 

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.”

As we face hard times it is important to remember that God is a forgiving God and He wants each one of His children to be with Him in paradise. Not all will be wise enough to accept His gracious gift of forgiveness but for those who do we can overcome the sin and evil of this life when we enter our eternal home.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Part One: Exploring Our Faith: Forgiveness and Redemption

As I was attending the Easter morning service with my Long Island church family at Beacon Church in East Williston, NY, (I am visiting my brother) I was inspired to write this three part series.  It may seem that I am doing this in reverse order, as I am discussing forgiveness & redemption first, then I will discuss why bad things happen and finally some apologetics in the final part on the topic of why we believe.

God works in mysterious ways sometimes and over the past several weeks He has been sending me reminders of how satan enters all of our lives.  When satan enters our lives his goal is to have us dishonor God and we do so when we fall for satan's temptations. 

However, we must remember that other than Jesus who is divine, the people of the bible, who God chose for very important work all fell at some point.  Some fell to lust, others to money and others to power among other things.  So when we fall remember that in the Gospel of John, Jesus teaches us that trouble will come to us in this lifetime but that He has overcome this world.  When we fall we are  in very good company.  Some of the key biblical figures who notably fell to temptation include Adam & Eve, Moses, Noah, King David, Peter (Simon), Matthew (Levi) and Paul (Saul).  The important thing to remember is that God was able to use them for great good.

Recently, I have witnessed more than a couple of my friends who are very Godly Christians fall to temptation.  In my life I have fell on more than one occasion.  But there is hope.  When Jesus died a painful death on the cross.  It was to pay a debt He never owed and one that was too great for anyone of us to pay.  But once that debt was paid, it was paid.  All we need to do is accept this most gracious and selfless of all gifts.  Nothing more and nothing less.  This Good Friday, Mitchel Lee, a Pastor at Grace Community Church in Fulton, Maryland and a friend, reminded us that there "is no double jeopardy in the Kingdom of God".  Once the debt was paid and we accept the gift we can not and will not be asked to pay it again.

So when we fall we must remember that our sin was forgiven, then we simply need to pray and seek discernment as to what is our next step.  It does not mean the end of God's calling, it simply means we need to take a break and after thoughtful pray and reflection ask God to let the Holy Spirit descend upon us and show us how He wants us to use the bad for good.  Remember, He has a miraculous way of doing that.  Just ask Chuck Colson, whose sins lead him to begin one of the, if not the largest, Christian jail ministry that has led many to Christ.

Like Chuck Colson, forgiveness does not mean escaping the earthly consequences of our sin but it does mean that God forgives us and will use us and our experiences for a greater purpose if we are open to hearing His direction and calling.

Let's use this Easter season to remind us of God's great gift, His great love and to remember there is hope even on our darkest day.  May God bless you and may you be open to hearing His call to you.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Movie Review: Heaven is for Real

Yesterday, April 16, 2014 marked the premier of another Christian movie.  While I never set out to be a movie reviewer, the recent crop of Christian movies has certainly provided me much to write about.

As a Pastor who frequently serves in the funeral ministry I have often recommended Todd Burpo's book "Heaven is for Real", "Heaven is for Real for Kids" and "Heaven is for Real for Little Ones".  Each of these books based on his then 4 year old son's near death experience during emergency surgery for a burst appendix. The movie is based on the books.

The first half hour of the movie provides a very real life introduction to the life of a bi vocational Pastor of a small rural church.  Todd is an unassuming but very caring Pastor, husband and father who works not only as a Pastor but as a garage door installer, wrestling coach and serves the community as a volunteer firefighter.  Colton, his four year old son is his pride and joy and often accompanies his Dad on hospital visits and to funerals. The family scenes through out the movie are very true to life.  They show struggles, disagreements, love and concern.

After a family vacation Colton and his sister, Cassie become sick.  Cassie recovers quickly but Colton remains sick and it turns out he is suffering from a burst appendix which requires emergency surgery.  It appears that all went well and as expected, until Colton begins to share experiences he had in heaven.  At first his dad is skeptical but when Colton begins to discuss relatives that he never met Todd's skepticism turns to belief.  This belief is not shared by the church board which is concerned about the church being turned into a side show.  The story transforms after a chance meeting between Todd and the most outspoken board member. The story does have a happy ending.  I will limit details so I do not ruin the movie for you.

The movie is not hard hitting and non believers are able to enjoy it just as much as devote Christians. The story certainly can provide an opening for discussion with seekers.  I highly recommend the movie to those who wonder about heaven.  I would strongly recommend reading the book as well.  This is an excellent resource for church groups.  The movie might not maintain the interest of young children but it certainly could capture the interest of pre teens and teens who have an interest and/or questions about eternal life.

This movie is very professionally done.  If you are looking for a movie that will keep you on the edge of your seat or one that is hard hitting this is not your movie but if you are looking for a compelling story consistent with Christian beliefs this movie is for you.