Why I’m glad Christianity is falsifiable

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1 Cor 15: 17-19  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

 

What if they found the body of Jesus, how would that affect your faith?” I heard this question the other day.  The man queried knew his Bible and went immediately to Paul’s gospel explanation.  The short of it is that without a risen Christ, Christianity doesn’t exist.

Reflecting on the essence of Christianity made me wonder if the Jews at the time of Jesus really understood the concept of ‘eternal life’ with God and the need to be ‘saved’ from the wrath of God in order to have a forever LOVING relationship with God.

When I sample the many texts in the OT that talk about salvation, I am left with the impression that Jews under the Old Covenant were really talking about being saved or rescued from difficult or perilous circumstances (oppression, danger, illness or poverty).  Yes, there was a moral law (the ten basic Mosaic Laws handed down TWICE by God).  Yes, real guilt or ‘asham’ in Hebrew was acknowledged (hence the Temple guilt offering). Yes, David acknowledged that when he killed Uriah he sinned against God. But many infractions were more community-based. Some were the result of inadvertently hurting a neighbor or his property.  Other deficits came about in day-to-day life, such as  giving birth, completing one’s monthly cycle, or even due to work commitments (such as burial or mold detail).

Hebrew people seem to have judged sin to be serious mainly because it separated them from the community.  OT texts talk about being unclean and thus alienated from fellowship.  Uncleanness didn’t necessarily mean breaking a moral law.  But ritualistic purification/ cleansing sacrificial acts were called for, in order to sanction a return to full communion with the group.

My premise is that 1st century Jews hearing about the New News of God had to be indoctrinated and explicitly taught this new doctrine. To fully understand the seriousness of being under God’s wrath, one needed teaching different from that of the Pharisees and Scribes.

What an extravagant and marvelous solution to the problem of God’s wrath!  We’ve lost our amazement and awe in face of not only a restoration of fellowship with God, but the whole adoption process. The gift of a loving and eventual face-to-face union with a triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) that will last forever?  How is that possible?

The author of Hebrews succinctly articulates this new Covenant in chapter 9, verse 15:  “Christ, the Messiah is the author of an entirely new and different covenant, so that all those who are called and offered it, may received the promised eternal inheritance. For a death has taken place; Jesus has died as a ransom to save us from sins committed under the first or old covenant….”

All the above would have stayed the fantastical imaginings of wistful dreamers had there had been a body.  But thanks be to God!  Jesus’ resurrection is vindication of the false charge of blasphemy.  Technically He was put to death for claiming that He was one and the same as God.  The fact that He didn’t stay dead, that He actually supernaturally rose and appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time as well as to the major apostles is proof positive that He is God, just as He claimed.

Had there been a body, Judaism would have remained the only player.  People would have continued to do bad stuff both morally against God and His creation and technically against the community.  Animals would have continued to die to temporarily fix the problem. Precious little talk of eternal face-to-face fellowship with God as Father would have occurred.

Okay…I know, you’re thinking of how Psalm 16 ends…” in your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures evermore”.  I agree:  if you look for them, there are OT references to eternal life with God.  But I don’t think that doctrine was a clear and present hope.  From everything we read in gospels, temple worship was big business, all about power and money.  The only mystery was the High Priest’s once-a-year high-profile, but hidden, almost Wizard of Oz-like performance behind the veil.

This, dear friends, is what we would be left with IF the dead body of Jesus had been produced. We would be gentile worshippers of Yahweh at best, just as lost as non-worshippers, but perhaps comforted by the ritual.  After all, man is a religious animal.

So the next time you think about what it would take for you to lose your faith, be glad that Christianity is falsifiable in such a clear way.  And then rejoice that Christianity is TRUE.  Jesus, the God-man who walked on earth 2100 years ago, was for real.  He is just as real today.  And we must study our doctrine to know the glorious riches of this mystery: “Christ in you, the assurance of glory

 

When God says ‘No!’

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God just closed a door.  The job at Scott AFB (near St Louis) to which Mike had applied posted a change in status on Friday – the job itself has been withdrawn.  (Perhaps funding to fill it was pulled??)  Mike’s West Point classmate was in charge and had actually asked Mike to apply.  Mike had made the first cut and was told that he was in the top 5-6 being considered for interviews.  The activity at Scott was his old agency that had moved from Newport News to Illinois four years ago. Not only was he very familiar with the work and the people, but he was qualified for the job.  We had not moved with his former agency when it was ‘BRAC’ed because at the time, my dying father was still living in Williamsburg.  It was at that point that Mike was hired to work at JFCOM, all so we could stay in the area for my Dad.

Since applying for this other position 9 weeks ago, we had been patiently living in limbo.  At least now, we know that we aren’t moving.  This job was his last iron in the fire. Other jobs he had applied for (Ft Monroe, Charlottesville, and Huntsville) have all come back as NOs.

Mike and I are trusting that God will give him energy to continue on in the dysfunctional remnant of JFCOM for the next two years until he can retire from the government and seek something else.  The expectation for the same amount of work and projects continues but the command has been stripped of contractors.  So whereas Mike was division chief with people who supported him, now he is on his own, but expected to do the same work.

We will continue to look to Him who richly provides.  Circumstances have no power over us, only God.  I had asked God to help me encourage and support Mike if and when the door shut.  And God is faithfully meeting that need.

At least it looks like I will still be at Summit Christian Academy, teaching French 1-4 and Logic to 8th graders next year.  There are other good reasons to stay. Our church is a blessing.  I have signed up to be trained this summer to teach ESL, a new ministry at Calvary.  Mike continues to teach Sunday School.  And we have many friends here – it would have been hard to leave.

I am praying that God would provide hope to Mike.  He does have hope for life eternal with Jesus, but would like something tangible and earthly to enjoy, to look forward to.  Work does not provide this kind of satisfaction.  Yes, I know, men are meant to toil. And because of the Fall, work is more frustrating since Adam.  But I would really love for him to know that he makes a difference each day and receive that kind of satisfaction.  Nothing is too small to ask God about.  Jesus explicitly taught us to pray expectantly, boldly, with intensity and fervor as a little child bugging her daddy.  Think about the widow who kept at the unjust judge or the man who woke up his neighbor to outrageously ask for food in the middle of the night.

So please join with me in praying for a man who wants to make a difference in his work.  I admire him.  He has integrity.  He is a man who daily seeks to provide value to his bosses and peers and subordinates.

Let’s see what God will do, with us living expectantly, our eyes on Him.  Just a few minutes ago as we were processing this news, he shared one of the ‘take-aways’ he has gotten from BSF and the study of Isaiah – that God is a god who acts.

May the God who does creatively more than we can ask or envision receive much glory in this situation.  And may we learn and display the truth that Jesus is SO gratifying, that despite a trying job, Jesus is enough.  Oh Lord, help us to be the kind of sons and daughters who make you proud.

What if we were enemies of God?

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“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who, according to his great mercy, has caused us to be born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  1 Pet 1:3

Being a Christian is not just about having eternal life. I don’t mean to minimize that inexpressible gift, but I want to highlight how belonging to the family of God makes a difference while we are in this earthly, natural body.

Imagine for a moment what it would mean in your life and mine if our relationship with God were different.  You do realize that everyone has a relationship with God.  You are either an enemy of God or a friend of God.  This is no ‘either-or fallacy’.  Those truly are the only two choices. Friends of God enjoy significant benefits during their 80 + years.

Once God has reconciled us to Him through faith (that is: knowing, believing and relying on His work at the cross), the benefits kick in. To appreciate what they are, let’s look at the life of someone who does not belong to God, someone who has not been born into a living hope.

  • He has no over-arching purpose in life that is bigger than him.  Life is just what he makes it.  He creates his own meaning.  But this imaginary meaning is meaningless because it is not anchored in any reality.  It cannot be anything other than wishful thinking.
  • When troubles, violence, pain come, he has no way of making any sense of them.  He is at the mercy of all that may upset his fragile life and harm those whom he loves.
  • By the time he has launched his family and is on the other side of the career curve, he begins to ask himself, “is this it? …so now I just look forward to retirement and then death?”
  • The above point applies only to those who are honest.  Most people push those hard questions away and fill their lives with  ‘stuff’ or ‘experiences’ or a new relationship, trying to generate some ‘joie de vivre’
  • He has nothing and nobody but himself to rely on in the final analysis.  An honest enemy of God lives with existential loneliness.
  • He has no access to any supernatural power.  He is left to battle sin in his own flesh.  Psalm 16: 3-4 quotes God as saying,

“As for the godly (the saints) who are in the land, they are the excellent, the noble, and the glorious, in whom is all my delight.  Their sorrows shall be multiplied who choose another god; their drink offerings of blood will I not offer or take their names upon my lips.”

I can’t imagine anything worse than to have God deliberately choose to remove himself from my life.

 

As adopted children of God, however, we are blessed more than we realize.  Here are a few privileges of belonging to God’s family:

  • We have access to EVERY spiritual blessing in Christ  (Eph 1:3)
  • We have been given fullness in Christ  ( we don’t lack anything)  (Col 2: 19)
  • All the promises of God are a resounding “Yes!” in Christ (they are available to us)  (2 Cor 1:20)
  • We can ask for wisdom when we need it (James 1:5)
  • We have already been given GRACE, PEACE with God and everything we need for life and for godliness (2 Pet 1: 2, 3)

The list could go on and on.  But what I treasure is an understanding of the purpose of life, how to make sense of life.  Life delivers hard, painful blows (Jesus even promises this) but we know that nothing happens without God allowing it.  His Word tells us that He uses all our experiences, bringing out of them good for us (and others) and glory for Himself.  I can trust God.  I don’t have to understand why things happen, but I know WHO is in charge and that He is trustworthy.

Furthermore, the fact that average earthly life of 3 score and 10 years of is just a blip compared with the REST of unending life with God in a different dimension  both anchors me and fills me with joyful anticipation.  The best is yet to be.

Reflections on the state of Dad’s soul

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Philippians 1:6 – being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus

We’re back from the funeral for Mike’s dad who died after a yearlong journey with cancer.  He was a retired Episcopal bishop living in Seattle, an Episcopalian all his life.  We, too, were brought up in the Episcopal Church.  But once my husband, I and our two sons started to grow in the knowledge of the Word about 10 years ago, (being transformed by the renewing of our minds à la Romans 12:2), we left the Episcopal church at different rates. Graham (age 27) & Wes (age 22) exited with no regrets once they moved on to college. Mike and I took a slower route, transferring first to a more orthodox-believing Episcopal Church and then finally altogether out of TEC (the Episcopal Church) in April 2009.  We now worship with all our minds and hearts, at home in a Reformed PCA community (Presbyterian Church of America). Our boys are not affiliated with any denomination, their only criterion being – does the church preach the Bible?

When Dad died we all hoped he was a believer.  He was the kind of man who didn’t seem to want to talk about his faith beyond the superficial.  Knowing that he was dying, I flew out in April during my spring break.  I prayed that I would have an opportunity to share about the Hope that awaits us.  He had to go the hospital during my 4–day visit, so we didn’t get to talk much.  I did ask my mother-in-law if she and Dad shared much about heaven.  Sadly to me, she said that they had talked only about funeral details and that she wasn’t going to bring up weightier issues if he didn’t.

When I left Dad in the hospital, parting for what I knew would be the last time on this earth, he seemed sweetly serious.  I told him I would see him again, either here in Seattle or in heaven.  He understood and affirmed the same.

Graham and his family were the next to fly out to Seattle. I thought, if ANYone can share the Gospel and be sure they were saved or at least sure that they heard the Word of God in all its fullness, then Graham could.  He is a worship leader with a student ministry down at the University of South Florida in Tampa.  But he, too, encountered pushback from his grandparents, the reaction of a couple who didn’t want to engage in something out of their comfort zone.

Then Mike flew out the first week of May to visit his dad, arriving about 10 hours before Dad actually died.  Mike took his Bible and read a few chapters out loud from Romans and from the Gospel of Mark.  Dad was mostly in and out of consciousness, but Mike’s mom was beside his bed and alertly engaged in a discussion about the Gospel.  She apparently doesn’t believe in a God of wrath – only the God of love in the New Testament.  At least we know where she stands.

The funeral was delayed 3 weeks to give us time to celebrate with Wes the end of his four years at West Point.  Mike, Wes, Graham & I flew back out to Seattle over Memorial Day weekend.  We had a lot of time to pray and to seek closure about where Dad actually is – in the presence of God or not.

The service, in its typical Episcopal liturgical style, was full of words that were very biblically sounding.  Unfortunately, many Episcopalians are ignorant of their original meaning due to the pernicious liberal movement in church scholarship, dating back to the end of the 19th century.  The church is focused NOT on the good news of God’s provision for our most serious problem- that we are saved from His justifiable wrath by Jesus dying for our sins.  Instead today’s Episcopal Church preaches the gospel of social justice. Furthermore, political peace and environmentalism are seen as pressing problems for the Church to address.

Yet, I came away from the funeral with hope for the man who had been my father-in-law for 30 years. Although we never had a serious discussion about the Bible or about God, I do think he was a believer.  But the state of his eternal soul was NOT helped by a church which continually re-interpreted its own doctrine, a set of beliefs that he had pledged to support first as a young deacon in 1951, then as a fully-ordained  priest,  and finally as a consecrated bishop in 1976.  Yet almost despite the Episcopal Church, he had sucked out basic truths from the Bible.  I saw this in the detailed instructions he left for his funeral, setting the tone with a theme that was centered on the Resurrection.  The scripture readings in particular were chosen to point all of us to the truth of life with Jesus after death.

I thank the Lord for His assurance that my father-in-law is in heaven.  Since our God is one who does more than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20) I am praying that not only does my mother-in-law come to a saving faith, but my brother-in-law too and many who were in that gathering of 500 in Seattle.  The words my brother-in-law delivered in the eulogy were Gospel truth.  He labored over them as an act of love, a gift to his father.  Since God’s word is alive and full of power, I am hopeful that these words of truth will not return void to the Lord, but will actually convert Steve.  After all, faith comes from hearing the word of Christ.  I’ve read of an English preacher who became converted while delivering one of his own sermons he was preaching.  I am counting on God to do the same for Steve.  May many others present in that service also come to a saving faith in the Lord.

Hope that comes from being grafted into Christ

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“…If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  Old things have passed away, all things have become new.” 2 Cor 5:17    “ ….it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” Gal 2:20  “…if a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit..” John 14:5b    “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ, in God.” Col 3:2  “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”Romans 8:11

So what is it?

  • Am I in Christ?
  • Is Christ in me?
  • Am I in God?
  • Is the Spirit in me, or along side of me?

I’ve always been confused about the Trinity and my relation to the three-in-one.  Now I realize that once transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, I am thoroughly mixed in, combined with, part and parcel with all three persons of the God-head.  This is why Paul can say with certainty that if someone is a Christian, he is a new creation with a changed essence.

What are the implications for this change?  As a born-again believer, I now have all the resurrection power necessary to do what God commands me to do.  I can even resist temptation.

This battle with temptation took on new significance the other day.  I had succumbed to overeating while up in NYC and was frustrated with my same old patterns.  A verse from Isaiah kept going through my head, only God had substituted some of the words to make the verse personal to me – Is 58:4b – You cannot fast (overeat) as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high (and expect to be thin).

Then when I was wallowing in discouragement and despairing of ever changing my behavior, I was struck by the reality and fact of the new me.  I CAN battle sin and gain victory through the power of God’s spirit IN me. I am no longer the former Maria, I am in Christ, in God, with the Spirit’s power, too.  Then an idea grew –a way to deal with my besetting battle with food, a plan to change just ONE behavior and to practice that change for 21 days.  My overeating had been primarily in indulging in dessert after the 3 dinners.  So the behavior change to practice was to stop with coffee after dinner and say ‘no’ to any more food in the evening.  I thought, “If I do this for 21 days, it will become a habit”.

Day one was just a matter of setting my mind. Day two I had to deal with what looked like sabotage from a caring hostess who was anxious to feed me mid-evening when I arrived.  I was beginning to think I had to succumb when all of a sudden; she acquiesced and accepted that I ‘wasn’t hungry’.  I was overwhelmed with the realization that God had indeed provided a way out of temptation.  Day three I felt stronger to say ‘no’ graciously to this hostess and stick with my resolve.

Victory, hour by hour, comes from a combination of right thinking and right walking: that is knowing  who God is and who I am in Christ and then walking in a posture of what I have  dubbed ‘TRC’ (my acronym for Trust in, Rely on and be Confident in the Lord and His promises).

Of course, this is just one teeny example of how trustworthy God is even in life’s practical issues.  But if I am a child of God through faith in the power of God, then nothing is outside of his purview or beyond his care.  And when I start to wobble, reminding myself that I am a new creation, totally entwined with the God-head is a good place to go back to!

Well at least I’m thin!

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….Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Pet 1:13

What do I set my hope, my happiness on?  Twice a week I go to the gym.  Depending on how I’ve eaten during the week, I am either looking forward to or dreading getting on the scales to verify my weight.  Donning the same workout outfit each time guarantees that the number will be accurate.  I’m extremely happy when the scale registers 131 or less.  Recently it has hovered at 133.  Attributing that 2 pound discrepancy to cold weather increasing my appetite or the start of the holiday season, I have decided that at 133, I am relatively happy.  Higher than that, I would be depressed.

Reading Peter’s admonishment to Christians to base their hope (and therefore, their joy) on something so dependable as God’s promise made me reflect how tenuous is the source of my happiness.  Doesn’t the status of my body fall into the category of ‘here today and gone tomorrow’ in Matthew 6?  Yet I allow my well-being to hinge on the status of something very temporary!  Jesus goes on to admonish his audience NOT to care so much about food and clothes, things the body needs, for even the Pagans run after those things.

So when I allow my whole mental attitude for the day to be based on how thin I feel, I am doing just what the world does.  How does that glorify God or even point to God?  It’s all about me feeling good about myself based on what I have done.

Lord, help me to wake up tomorrow morning and choose a different way to evaluate my mental status.  In that fog of checking to see if there are any real anxieties facing me, remind me of the grace you have given me.  Only then can I hope to rejoice in something far ‘weightier’ and more permanent (and absolutely guaranteed) than the pounds I carry.

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