THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE: THE COST OF FREEDOM

At the end of a seemingly uneventful summer day, Britain’s King George III wrote the day’s activities in his diary: “July 4, 1776. Nothing happened today.” Oh, how mistaken he was! Something did happen that day. Fifty-six brave men pledged their lives to each other and signed their names to the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence is grounded upon the premise that (1) every individual derives their rights from the Great Designer of the universe, and (2) the chief purpose of government is to ensure and protect those rights. No other document ever penned upon paper seeks to wed those two esteemed truths together. Within the 1,321 words of the revered document, God is mentioned four times: twice at the beginning and twice toward the end. Our Forefathers referred to the God of heaven and earth as “Nature’s God,” the “Creator,” “the Supreme Judge,” and “Divine Providence.” The chief presupposition of the Declaration of Independence is: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These men were clothed with principles and truths that were anchored in “Nature’s Laws and Nature’s God.”

Of the fifty-six men who resolutely signed their names on the historical document, twenty-six were lawyers, nine merchants, six farmers, six physicians, two future soldiers, two statesmen, one planter, one surveyor, one shoemaker, one minister and one printer. Eighteen of the signers were under forty years of age, and three were in their twenties. The oldest was Ben Franklin, who was seventy years old. They declared to separate the thirteen colonies from the tyrannical rule and oppression of the King of England. These brave men, on behalf of their respective colonies, declared themselves to be free and independent from the power and authority of any other force than that of Divine Providence, whose protection they evoked. What those men signed was more than a document, but the destiny of a nation.

As soon as these men penned their names on what is now a document that is two-hundred and forty-one years old, they immediately made themselves traitors to England. An agonizingly long, bloody and horrific battle(s) ensued before the fruits of the Declaration of Independence yielded bountiful results. Many lives were lost in the American Revolutionary War, and not one of the 56 men who signed their names escaped the struggle for independence without suffering grievously.

What happened to those 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence? Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and were tortured until they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Most lost their businesses and their livelihoods taken from them. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army. Another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from their wounds or from the hardships of the War. They knew the possible consequences and penalties that awaited, yet they signed anyway, pledging their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.

One truth is certain, freedom was and is not free. For that one prize, freedom, these men signed a declaration and suffered horribly. Two-hundred and forty-one years later we must not forget the price paid for freedom nor forget the spiritual and political heritage of the birth of this nation. To forget our heritage is to head down a road that will eventually lead us away from liberty back unto tyranny. In a day when political correctness sees patriotism as offensive, it is a position that will find liberty being swallowed up in the quicksand of weakness and cowardice that will lead to loss of freedoms.

One can’t help but wonder in the day in which we live where so many want something for nothing; who feel like they are owed something without earning it or sacrificing for it; who don’t believe in personal responsibility; who contend there are no eternal principles on which to base one’s life or govern society; would such individuals pay one-tenth the price those 56 brave men paid for freedom and liberty? The answer is self-evident.

As we pause to celebrate the birthday of this Nation, let us not forget the sacrifice and commitment of those fifty-six stalwart men. While our Forefathers battled the British, we today are waging a battle for the very soul of America. It is a battle of greed versus sacrifice, spiritually versus secularism, God versus godlessness, good versus evil, decency versus indecency, right versus wrong, principles versus political correctness, responsibility versus irresponsibility. To the observing eye, that for which the signers of the Declaration of Independence gave so much, appears to be slowly slipping away from you and me.

The freedoms for which our Forefather fought and sacrificed for demands that we never yield to the tyrants of vice over virtue, for when we do we will discover the brave signers penned their names in vain. May it not be so.

Have Blessed and Safe Fourth of July.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

 

CREATED IN THE IMAGE OF GOD

This past week I have been meditating on Genesis 1:26-27, which states that man was created in the Image of God. Wow! What an awesome truth to consider. What does being created in the Image of God mean? It speaks to the uniqueness of each person. Being created in God’s Image indicates there is that which is in us that is similar to and representative of God and that is reflective of characteristics of God. There is something of the divine stamped upon our souls. The Image of God is not just something we possess, but is what we are. That we are created in God’s image is crucial in our understanding as to what makes us unique as humans.

While we are created in His image, the Bible does not define exactly what that means. However, there are several unique characteristics that distinguish man from animals that help us understand scripturally what it means to be created in His image. The Creator of this vast Universe in His holy-love created man with certain qualities that are intrinsic to His own nature.

(1) We are more than a physical being, but also a spiritual being. Man is not an evolutionary accident, but God breathed into man the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). The spiritual part of us gives us the capacity to fellowship with the Creator (who is spirit- John 4:24) and it is that part of us that will live beyond the grave. One who does not understand this fails to grasp the most important aspect of who we are as humans. 

(2) We are personal beings, who possess personality and self-consciousness. As a being with personality and self-consciousnesses we have the capacity to purpose and choose a path of destiny for our lives.  

(3) We possess a conscience, a moral compass that gives us an inward awareness of the difference between right and wrong. The conscience has been called the “echo of God’s voice” and reveals there is a Universal Lawgiver to whom we are answerable.

(4) We are relational beings. We have the capacity to have a relationship with our Creator and our fellowman. Man was not created to be an island of individualism, but to interact with his Creator and his fellowman.

(5) We are rational beings. We were created with the capacity to think, learn and know. Unlike animals, the Supreme Mind behind the Universe has given us minds to enquire, to think and to reason.

(6) We are emotional beings, who can love, hurt and feel inward joy and sorrow. Our various emotions enrich our lives and draws us closer to others and endears them to us and us to them.

(7) We are creative beings, who have an inner sense of responsibility to produce, create, compose, write, build, etc. The amazing creativity of man has given the world many wonderful inventions and innovations that have helped improve the human condition.

While we have been created in the Image of God, sin has marred, distorted, defaced and damaged His image within us. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); therefore, the Image of God has been marred in each of us. What is sin? Sin is rebellion against the Maker of heaven and earth; it is willful munity against the Holy Father; it is desiring to be our own God and not giving the One who created us His rightful place in our lives.

Anthony Hoekama has written, “[Though] the image of God has been marred and corrupted by sin, we must still see fallen man as an image bearer fo God, but as one who by nature…images God in a distorted way” (Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 1986, 31). Because of sin, fellowship with our Creator has been broken, morality has been perverted, personality damaged, relationships broken by selfishness, emotions skewed, creativity twisted, life devalued, and knowledge of the Holy replaced by false philosophies of deluded thinking. 

Thankfully, in Jesus Christ the damaged Image of God within us can be restored. Carl F. Keil and Johana F. Delitzsch write that the “concrete essence of the divine likeness was shattered by sin, and it is only though Christ, the brightness of the glory of God and the expression of His essence, that our nature is transformed into the image of God again”  (Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 1996, 1:39).

In Jesus, we find “the image of the invisible God…For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist…For it pleased the Father that in [Christ] should all fulness dwell” (Colossians 1:15-19). As we bring our marred and damaged image unto the fullness of Jesus, God’s image in us is renewed day by day as we walk with Him in restored fellowship. Augustine expressed it well: “You created us for yourself, O God, and our hearts will not rest until they find their rest in you.” In Christ, we find the relationship that fulfils and transcends all others. It is in Christ we discover the relationship that elevates and redeems human life and restores the marred Image of God in us.

The truth that we are bearers of His Image, even though damaged by sin, will shape our view and behavior toward one another. Since we are all stamped with the Image of God it means every life is sacred, precious and to be valued and respected. We are more than mere animals, but we have the very Image of God stamped on our souls. That being true, may we treat one another with dignity and worth as one who has been created in the Image of God….pointing others to the restoring, transforming and renewing power of Christ.     

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

WORSHIPPING THE SON OF RIGHTEOUSNESS NOT THE SUN

I received a note today from a well-meaning person informing me that by gathering with fellow Christians for a Sunrise Service, I was engaging in ancient paganism. Now, I don’t need a lecture on some pagan deity that surrounded ancient spring “Easter” celebrations, for I know history and the arguments well. While I don’t usually respond to such correspondence, even though I do believe the person is well-intentioned, I feel compelled to offer a reply.

One needs to remember that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was celebrated in the spring-time for centuries in Christendom long before the word “Easter” was ever adopted in the English language as a label attached to the resurrection celebration. It should be pointed out we have many words in the English language that were connected with ancient pagan gods and practices, but we don’t accuse someone of engaging in paganism when they are involved in activities associated with those particular words. For instance, if someone wants to get technical, we should not eat cereal, nor make clothes of cloth, or ever call a religious song a hymn. You see, those three words are connected with pagan deities. For example, the word “cereal” comes from the name of the ancient goddess of agriculture, Ceres. The word “cloth” comes from Clotho, the spinster goddess who was said to spin the thread of life. The word “hymn” is thought to come from the god of marriage, Hymen, and in ancient times meant any song offered in praise or honor of a god or gods. But when we use “hymn” in our church services we mean a song sung in praise to the Christ of the Cross. When we use the word “cereal” or eat corn flakes or cheerios, we are not worshipping an ancient goddess. Cloth is cloth to us, we don’t connect it with a pagan deity. We don’t see anyone wearing clothes made of burlap sacks because they don’t want to be associated with cloth since the word is derived from the pagan deity, Clotho. As well, all the names of the days of the week were named after ancient deities, but no one worships those pagan deities when they use the days of the week when speaking nor does anyone think of worshipping the god the day was named after when a new day arrives.

Without going into a lot of detail, the present Christian celebration of “Easter” has more affinity and connection with the Jewish Passover than with ancient pagan associations. Jesus is the prophetic fulfillment of what the Passover typifies and symbolizes.  Over the years, I have attended a lot of Sunrise Services and not one of them ever had even a hint of paganism attached to them, but centered totally and completely on Jesus Christ. I gathered this morning, as I have in years past, with fellow believers to worship the Christ of the Cross, who conquered the cold, dark grave by rising from the dead. There was not a speck of paganism in our gathering, but the worship of the King of kings and Lord of lords. We didn’t gather to worship the sun, but to worship the Son of Righteousness who arose from the dead with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2). We gathered to lift our voices in praise to the One who took the challenge to wrestle with the enemies of humanity: sin, death and the devil…..and He defeated them all.  

Now, if anyone gathers at a Sunrise Service to worship the sun and creation, then they gather for the wrong reason and, yes, they are embracing pantheism and an ancient pagan deity. However, if one gathers at a Sunrise Service, along with millions of other Christians, to worship the victorious, resurrected Christ, the Creator Himself, then one gathers for the right reason. I would much rather see Christians gather to worship Jesus and gain a better understanding of the meaning and practicality of his resurrection for our lives.

After all, should not Jesus’ resurrection be a cause of rejoicing and celebration for the Christian? And the truth be known, when I awake in the morning and watch the sunrise, I will celebrate the resurrection of Christ again. As matter of fact, I celebrate His resurrection everyday…. for I serve a risen Savior.

He is Risen…celebrate the wonderful truth daily that the Son of Righteousness is forever alive!

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

 

IT IS FINISHED!

In John 19:30 one finds arguably the most important word that Jesus ever uttered. In the last minutes of his tortuous six hours hanging on the cross, shortly before He committed His spirit to the Father, He cried out through parched, cracked  and bleeding lips the word, “Tetelestai.”  While in the Greek it is one word, it took three English words to express its meaning, “It is finished.” O, what an utterance by the Christ of the Cross!

Never has one word been spoken which contains so much meaning. Charles Surgeon has eloquently written, “What an ocean of meaning in a drop of language, a mere drop. It would need all the other words that ever were spoken, or ever can be spoken, to explain this one word. It is altogether immeasurable. It is high; I cannot attain to it. It is deep; I cannot fathom it. IT IS FINISHED is the most charming note in all of Calvary’s music. The fire has passed upon the Lamb. He has borne the whole of the wrath that was due to His people. This is the royal dish of the feast of love.”

The word translated “It is finished” contains a wealth of meaning. Observing how the word “tetelestai” was commonly used in the ancient world serves as a doorway to understanding what Jesus accomplished on the Cross for us when he proclaimed, “It is finished.”

First, JOHN used the word when writing about Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies. John 19:28 records that in Christ all things were “accomplished” regarding His fulfillment of the Scriptures. The word John uses is “tetelestai”…..all has been completed, has been fulfilled, and has been accomplished. Of the over 300 prophecies surrounding the promised Messiah, Christ fulfilled every one of the them to the letter. Scripture’s fulfillment is finished, it has all been accomplished and completed in Jesus Christ. After His resurrection, Jesus explained to the two travelers on the road to Emmaus that He was the complete and perfect fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies found in the Law, prophets, and the psalms (Luke 24:36-45). We need not look for another Savior…He has come, all is complete and finished in Jesus.

Second, SERVANTS used the word when having obediently completed a task for their master. With the job being faithfully finished the servant would proclaim, “tetelestai”…it is finished. As Jesus uttered “It is finished” He was proclaiming that he had obediently completed the task of obeying the Law of God perfectly which the Father had sent Him to do. As the faithful Servant of God, as the Representative of humanity, Christ lived the perfect life the holiness of God demands, providing for us His perfect righteousness that enables us stand before the Lord uncondemned. “For there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Third, PRIESTS used the word when examining before offering an animal sacrifice for someone, and upon finding the lamb acceptable would say, “Tetelestai.” When Jesus cried, “It is finished” He was proclaiming as our High Priest that His Sacrifice was acceptable to the Holy Father. God’s Holiness demands justice against sin’s violation of defying His holy standards. But not only did Christ, as our High Priest, offer the Sacrifice, He was the Sacrifice. “He was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Offering Himself as the sacrificial Lamb, He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (II Corinthians 5:21). Christ’s resurrection is God’s “Amen” that His Sacrifice was acceptable and the need to offer anymore sacrifices for sins is forever finished!  

Fourth, MERCHANTS used the word when a note or bill was paid, writing “tetelestai” across the note/bill signifying that it had been paid in full. Because of Christ’s perfect life and substitutionary death, the sin debt we could never pay was PAID IN FULL. Christ paid a debt He didn’t owe to pay a debt we could never pay. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (II Corinthians 8:9).

Fifth, PRISONERS, guilty of a crime, were put in prison a “certificate of debt” listing the crimes and the penalty incurred was nailed to their cell door. When the prisoner had paid his debt to society, authorities would sign the “certificate of debt” with the word “tetelestai”….the debt has been paid. All humanity is guilty of rebelliously not complying with the holiness of God’s righteous Law, and we are imprisoned by our guilt and sin. Erwin Lutzer has written, “We can stand with confidence despite the thunder of the law and the lightening flash of justice, for we are safe beneath the cross. He paid the very last cent of the wages of our sins.”

Sixth, ARTISTS used the word when they made the last brushstroke on a painting, exclaiming, “Tetelestai” ….it is finished, it is done, it is complete. All of the Old Treatment promised pictures of the Messiah were fulfilled in Christ. Some examples: In Genesis, the Messiah is painted as the Seed of the Woman, in Jesus the portrait is finished. In Exodus, the Messiah is painted as the Passover Lamb, in Jesus the portrait is finished.  In Leviticus, the Messiah is painted as our High Priest, in Jesus the portrait is finished. In Deuteronomy, the Messiah is painted as the Great Prophet, in Jesus the portrait is finished. In Isaiah, the Messiah is painted as the Suffering Servant, the Heir to David’s throne and the One born of a virgin, in Jesus the portrait is finished. In Malachi, the Messiah is painted as the Son of Righteousness, in Jesus the portrait is finished. In every painting of Christ found in the 66 OT books, in Jesus every portrait is finished, completed, and hung as a Masterpiece.

Seventh, MATHEMATICANS used the word when after completing a complicated math problem, exclaimed, “Tetelistai”…..it is finished, it is done, it is complete. The spiritual math of humanity is incorrect in its thinking, believing that we can  “add” to our ledger enough good works that will add up to us obtaining salvation by our own efforts. The Bible is clear that by the works of the Law no one can be saved (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16). No one can ever do enough good works that will add up to self-justifying salvation.  Salvation, plus nothing and minus nothing, is found only in the Christ of the Cross. Our works “add-up” to nothing, but Christ’s Sacrifice on the cross is sufficient to save all who knell before Him in acceptance of his finished work.    

Eighth, CONQUERING WARRIORS used the word when victorious in battle, “tetelistai”…..it is finished, the victory is complete and victory has been accomplished. When Christ cried out, “It is finished” it was not a word of one who was defeated, but of a Conquering Savior who was victorious over sin, satan, death and the grave. As Jesus hung on the cross, the world said, “Aha” but three days later arising from the dead the world said, “Huh?” Our Champion accepted the challenge to do battle for our soul’s redemption against every evil foe… and He was victorious! He was victorious, and all those who place their trust in Him share in His victory. Halleluiah!

It is finished! What a grand utterance. We bow in awe before such majestic words. Thankfully, the redemptive work of Christ has been fully, finally and forever been accomplished.

It is finished!

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

 

 

 

A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO SUICIDE

(I recently conducted the funeral of a Christian who in the darkness of deep depression took their life. What to say at such times is never easy. The remarks that follow are for the most part what I said at the funeral. I have had so many people tell me that they were greatly helped by the message, that I asked permission of the family if I could share the remarks. With consent of the family I send these words forth in hopes they may be used of the Lord as He sees fit. The tenth leading cause of death in the USA is suicide and amid our questions we must approach the subject with the utmost Christian compassion and sympathy.)

The tragic loss of a loved one brings us together today. Death makes all brothers and sisters. The love we have shared with those who have passed on never wanes. Solomon reassures us that many waters cannot quench love (Song of Solomon 8:7). As we gather today there stands at the end of our tears a rainbow of hope and that hope is found in Jesus Christ who said, “I am the resurrection and the life He who believes in me though he were dead yet shall he live. He thatfacingdifficult1 believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25).

We grapple for words to express our grief today. We grasp for answers in the midst of our questions. We seek understanding in the midst of our confusion. We seek peace in the midst of unspeakable sorrow and hurt. We seek to awake from what surely we hope is a bad dream. I am at a loss for words myself as we grapple for answers for that which is unexplainable. We seek firm footing for feet that are shaken.

The hymnist William Cowper wrote these words in 1773:

God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the seas, and rides upon the storm.  Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;  behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face. You fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds you so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head. His purpose will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower. Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his word in vain; God is his own interpreter and He will someday make it plain.

Cowper, who was a Christian, wrote many Christian hymns, but he was a man given to bouts of deep depression who on many occasions attempted to take his own life. He died in 1800 in a mental hospital after suffering years of mental torment from the dreadful throes of depression. Cowper knew firsthand the words to the song that has these lines, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I Love.”

We must all confess we feel like that at times. You may feel like that this afternoon. In this hour of sorrow and uncertainty we look to the Scriptures to give us a measure of reassurance. Isaiah 54:8-10 reads, “With everlasting kindness I will have mercy on thee, says the LORD the Redeemer.…For though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, say the LORD that has mercy on thee.”

This afternoon you may feel like the very foundation of your soul has been shaken. There is often time an enormous strangeness and total mystery in life beyond our finite understanding. We look for some insights that will help guide us through these troubled times and we seek these insights through prayer and the Word of God. Let me share some insights gleaned from the Word of God and prayer that hopefully will give us some comfort in our hour of deep sorrow.

 First, the most important question we can ask today is not Why? But Who?  We all in our finite minds want to ask why. But we are asking a question to which we will not on this earth ever be able to answer. And if we did know the reason to “why?” it would not change anything, it would not lessen our hurt and grief, and it would not stop our flow of tears.

Job asked for answers to the question of why? in the loss of his children, health, and possessions, but he never received any answers from the Lord. But he did say, “Though God slay me yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15). John the Baptist had questions as he found himself in prison (Matthew 11), but he never received any answers either. However, in the midst of his “whys?”  he took his questions to Jesus.

We must do the same as Job and John the Baptist. We learn from Job and John the Baptist that the question we need to ask is not “why” but it is Who?. Who are we going to turn to in our times of questions, in our grief, in our sorrow, in our hurts? Who are we going to turn to sustain us? We turn to Jesus who wept through human eyes (John 11:35), who weeps with us and hurts with us. He is the one who gives us strength when we are weak. He is the one we turn to when we have no answers. He is the one we turn to for comfort when we are hurting beyond measure. He is the one we cry out to when we have not the words to speak. He is the one we turn to when tears flood our eyes

Who this afternoon are we going to trust? We trust the Lord who made heaven and earth and who made us. Jesus said, “In this world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It is Christ alone who gives us peace in the midst of dark storms of life when answers to our questions are not forthcoming.

Second, we must refrain from passing judgment, but be quick to claim God’s mercy. We are not in the position to make hasty judgments on someone who takes their life, because ones physiological condition is too hidden from us by the person themselves. Unless we have walked in their path which has descended into  the dark valley of severe depression we are not in the position to pass judgment. We do not know what is going on in the psyche of a person who makes such a decision. It is impossible for us to know the kind of darkness a person in the grips of deep depression is suffering that result in such a decision.  It can be burdens and struggles about which we had no knowledge or overwhelming anxiety which we never suspected, a sense of past failures, a sense desperate loneliness, or relentless attacks from our adversary the devil. It can be a chemical imbalance that resulted in one losing sound judgment. We must not be judgmental, but be compassionate in our grief knowing if whatever factors were present that resulted in them taking their life, if those factors were not present our loved one would not have taken their life. We must realize that we are all so much more fragile and weak than we know because what we feel and do can hardly be understood apart from factors we often keep hidden from others. We must all keep in mind, “If not for the grace of God, there go I.” Let us not be hasty to judge, but be quick to claim God’s abundant mercy even amidst our questions and grief over this distressing and complex heartache. His grace and mercy is sufficient to sustain us in our weakness. For Christ is our strength in our time of weakness.

 Third, we must not point fingers in blame, but realize death occurred because of the sometimes fatal and horrible illness of depression. When someone takes their life we are quick to point fingers of blame even at ourselves. We ask, “What could I have done different?” Such a question is only normal. There are two options that confront us: we either have to accept that we will never have any real answers to our question or we can encompass ourselves with blame and harbor guilt of what we think we could have done different or someone else could have done. May I lovingly say, death has not occurred because anyone here failed, your loved one died because of the awful and terrible sometimes fatal illness called depression that on this occasion took them further than they had ever been before.  They did not die because anyone present today failed, they died because of the horrible darkness the illness of depression took them. There are times when the sometimes fatal illness of depression changes how a person thinks and turns rational logic into an irrational decision. Blaming isn’t fair to us or to others. He didn’t die because anyone here didn’t do enough, but because depression and dark demons of torment did their worst. While this sometimes fatal illness of depression leaves us with more questions than answers, when we begin to blame ourselves or others it changes nothing and will eventually either immobilize us or make us bitter. We need to remember that depression at its worst can sometimes be fatal for those who suffer with it. Those who have never experienced the depths of depressions dark valley don’t fully understand. The task of those left behind is to love, encourage, strengthen one another and help one another and be there for one another.

 Fourth, the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God cover all our sins. A question that has been asked down through the ages is, “When a Christian takes their life have they forfeited their place in heaven?” Would we ask that question if one died of a heart attack? Would we ask that question if one died of cancer, or drowned, or perished in a car wreck? NO, we would not.

Then why do we ask such a question when one whose mind has been ravaged by the illness of the darkness of severe depression? The mind can become ill just as the body can. One who is a Christian is not exempt from the possibility of the mind become ill as well as the body.   When the mind becomes ill there are times it results in one doing what they would otherwise never have done. And when one who has placed their trust in Jesus Christ there is no single sin, not even the taking of one’s life as the result of illness of the mind, forfeits a person from the Savior’s arms in heaven. The Bible says in Romans 9 that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. All our sins are covered by the precious and powerful blood of Christ. Our eternal destiny is based on our decision for Jesus Christ who died for our sins. And while a person or sin can destroy the body when in the throes of deep depression or disease, it cannot destroy the spirit which goes to be with their Lord. One truth is certain, if God is anything He is a forgiving God. Grace is greater than all our sins. The Gospel if anything tells us that it is powerful and  sufficient to cover all our sins and failures. As we gather today it is an opportunity to demonstrate how the gospel is an anchor for us in the worst storms of life.

I opened with the words of William Cowper and I want to close with those same words:

God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the seas, and rides upon the storm.  Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;  behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face. You fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds you so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head. His purpose will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower. Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his word in vain; God is his own interpreter and He will someday make it plain.

Paul even makes it even clearer to us  in Romans 8:35-39:

“35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Let us bow in prayer and seek the Lord’s comfort and strength, knowing that the sun shall shine again.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

 

 

THERE IS A DIFFERENCE

religion-vs-christianitySomeone asked me recently in a sarcastic tone, “Well, just what is the difference between Christianity and other religions; what differentiates Christianity from other religions?” Their insinuation was  Christianity and other religions are all the same. Is there a difference?

The answer is not complex: Christianity is God coming down to man in Jesus Christ to atone for the sins of humanity; while in other religions the focus is upon man’s vain attempt to lift himself up to God by his own bootstraps.

In Christianity our transcendent God came down to man and enters our souls to regenerate, remake and remodel us; religion is man seeking to lift himself up to God and is so doing remake himself.

Christianity is God taking the initiative to redeem man; religion is man‘s initiative to in some way to redeem himself.

Christianity is the Holy coming to walk amongst the unholy; religion is the unholy seeking to come into the presence of He who is Holy.

Christianity is Christ enduring the whole penalty of man’s guilt and sin; religion is man attempting do something himself to eradicate the sin and guilt that haunts him.

Christianity is an Infinite Being taking upon Himself the likeness of the finite; religion is finite beings trying to achieve the likeness of the Infinite.

Christianity is God seeking man; religion is man seeking God.

Christianity is Christ who was rich becoming poor that we who are spiritually poor might become spiritually rich; religion is man who is spiritually poor seeking to be spiritually rich out of the depths of his own spiritual poverty.

Christianity is a relationship with a Resurrected Savior; religion is adherence to the dusty dogma of a deceased personage.

Christianity is heaven proclaiming salvation is finished and complete in Christ; religion is man asking what he must do to earn salvation.

Christianity finds the ladder to heaven’s gate in Jesus Christ; religion finds man constructing his own ladder.

Christianity says redemption is done, religion says for redemption you must do.

Christianity is the self-sacrificing holy-love of God in Christ providing man with the perfect righteousness needed to stand before a Holy God; religion contends man has the ability within himself to provide the righteousness needed to stand before a Holy God.

Christianity declares I have favor with God by faith in Christ; religion seeks favor with God by human works.

And the Good News is, it is through faith in the Christ of the Cross, the Living Redeemer, the self-sacrificing Savior, the victorious Liberator, He becomes ours!!!

Yes, there is a big difference between Christianity and other religions

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

THE GOODNESS OF GOD, THE ETHIC OF LOVE, AND THE EXISTENCE OF EVIL

A question I was recently asked and have been asked many times over the years is, “How can evil exist in a world created by an all-knowing, all-powerful and benevolent Creator?” All of us have probably mulled over the question, “Howgodevil can God’s divine goodness co-exist with evil that plagues all humanity?” Trying to satisfactorily address such a weighty subject in a short blog is impossible, but from years of studying Scripture, reading men more brilliant than myself, philosophical observations, and living in a world where evil and good, love and hate are diametrically opposed, I will attempt to tackle the question hoping to shed some light.

The Bible teaches that the supreme ethic that God has given us is love: love for Him and love for our fellowman. Jesus was once conversing with the Pharisees and the Sadducees when He was asked what the greatest commandment of all was. Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40). Jesus taught that we cannot truly love our fellowman until our love is first anchored in the One who lived the supreme ethic and demonstrated such love in His life. Jesus taught that our love for our fellowman must first flow from our love for God, whose nature of holy-love is moral not amoral.

Now even those who deny God’s existence will embrace Jesus’ words that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. In doing so even the atheist is contending that the ultimate ethic is love. The late atheist Christopher Hitchens stated that man has an innate awareness that we are to love one another, but he had no idea where that innate realization came from. Well, it stands to reason this innate awareness of love as the supreme ethic points to the existence of a Divine Lover who created man and planted it in his heart. So for one to say there is evil in the world is acknowledging that evil is known and measured against a standard or ethic of love. And it is love which places worth on other persons as being of value and something which must be valued and treasured.

Love for our fellowman, which flows from a love for God, is the pinnacle of all spiritual, intellectual and emotional attainment in the honoring of human worth and dignity. However, it is not really love where it is not freely given. That which is compelled is not love, for love must be freely expressed by choice. There can be no true love without an inherent weaving into the fabric of ones being the freedom to willingly give and receive love. You cannot have love without the freedom of the will. If we are forced to love it is not love but a mechanical compliance. If one was made to comply with the ethic of love then one would never be able to willingly express or experience the emotion of love by free choice. If we are forced to love then we would never choose willingly the supreme ethic. Our response would be robotic not free.

The story is told of Alexander the Great once commanding one of his generals to love him. The general replied, “I honor you, I respect you, I fear you, I will follow you into battle, but you cannot command me to love you.” Love must be freely given, it must be a choice for it to be love or otherwise it would be emotionless conformity. Love is not real unless we have the ability to not love.

Now the choice not to love also allows for the potential for evil to occur. So if love is the supreme ethic and freewill is indispensible to loving God and man, and God’s goal is for His creatures to freely love Him and our neighbor, then if God intervened to suspend the possibility of evil He would be violating our freewill which is a necessary component for love to truly exist and be experienced. Yet if we ask God to suspend that which we see as evil then the Lord must violate and suspend the one necessary element which is essential for love to be expressed willingly – freewill. Otherwise, it would not be love but force. In essence we are asking the Lord to suspend the one fundamental intrinsic dynamic that allows us to love – freewill. When love for God and one’s fellowman is embraced as the supreme ethic and free will to choose or reject that ethic then that helps shed light on why contrary consequences result when making the choice to reject love, which, again, includes the possibility of evil. But love cannot reign supreme if it cannot be chosen.

When one chooses to love the Lord and their fellowman in spite of witnessing evil consequences that can occur when one rejects the ethic of love, it is then one truly appreciates and experiences the emotions and sentiments that are enjoyed when one willingly embraces such an ethic. When we ask God to suspend the potential of evil we are asking Him to deny our free will, to deny our ability to choose love for the sake of love. Again, to force us to love is not love but compliance to that which is of a mechanical and robotic nature. It is during times of the rejection of love that we see the horridness of evil, but in contrast the magnificent overcoming power of love. It is in our capacity of the freedom to choose that the contrast between the two is clearly distinguishable.

And one truth that remains and reigns supreme, “We love Him because He first loved us…and He demonstrated His love for us that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (I Jh 4:19; Romans 5:8).  It is from that truth the ultimate ethic of love must first flow.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

 

 

 

 

OPEN AND CLOSED DOORS IN THE NEW YEAR

dooropenOne truth I have learned over the years is that the Lord opens doors of opportunities, service and blessings for us to walk through. But He also closes doors…and if He closes one door He will eventually open another one. As 2016 comes to a close and 2017 looms upon the horizon, no doubt many doors have been swung open throughout the year as well as doors having been closed. While waiting for a new door to open we must be patient when one shuts to not try and pry it open again while we wait for the new one to open. As a New Year approaches let us pray for the wisdom to know the difference.

Whether it be a door of opportunity, a door of service, a door of relationship, a door of fruitfulness, a door of usefulness, a door of friendship, a door of faith, or a door of a new beginning we need to pray that the Lord will give us the wisdom to know when to go through a door and the wisdom to know when He has closed a door. And when He shuts a door may we submit to His will until He opens a new one. The Good Lord opens doors for a reason and He, as well, shuts a door for a reason. Some doors are not meant to stay open forever, but only for a season.

As a New Year rises like the sun on a new morning, may the Lord give each of us new open doors to walk through which will bring our way new and fresh blessings, new beginnings, and new opportunities to be an effective servant for Christ.  And if the Lord closes a certain door let us not be disheartened, just start patiently looking for the door that He has planned to open for us.  Now we can push and shove as hard as we can against a door the Lord has closed hoping it will open again for us, and in the process miss the new open  door that awaits us. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, once stated, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”door-open-closed

If we do experience closed doors in our journey of faith the Book of  Hosea encourages us, “And I will give her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor (lit. trouble or turmoil)  for a door of hope” (Hosea 2:15).  The verse speaks of the Lord opening a door of fruitfulness and hope in the midst of the valley of despair, disappointment, and discouragement that often occurs when we confront closed doors. May the Lord give us patience and open our eyes to see the new one He places before us.

If we are truly trusting the Lord He will in His timing open the doors which need to be opened and close the ones that need to be closed. Again, let us pray for wisdom to know the difference. So let us as we face the New Year trust the Lord to open the right doors and close the doors that would be for our determent realizing He closed it for our protection and good, and He opens new doors for His service and our blessing.

Revelation 3:8 reads, “I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.” My prayer is that we will walk close to the Lord so our spiritual eyes will recognize such doors and the courage to walk through them.

Blessings in the New Year,

Dr. Dan

WAS THE ANGEL GABRIEL RIGHT?

The angel Gabriel appeared unto an unsuspecting teenager named Marangelmaryy. He informed her she would be the vessel through whom God would fulfill His long-expected promise of bringing a Savior into the world. Stunned at heaven’s message to her, she was filled with bewilderment and trembling-wonder how this can be seeing she had never known a man. Yet she yields herself as a willing vessel, being told that the child being formed in her womb shall be called Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” Was Mary delusional or was the angel right? Time would tell.

Not long after Jesus’ birth Herod is found giving the command to have all male children two years of age and under slaughtered to make sure he eliminates this one who some were calling the King of the Jews. Mary and Joseph have to flee to Egypt for safety. If this Child is to be “God with us,” why such a travesty following His birth? Was the angel wrong?

This Child that was to be “God with us” is found rebuking Mary when she seeks for Him to display who the angel promised Him to be. In public and in a tone that probably tore at her heart, He tells her at a wedding, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” (John 2) and in Matthew 12 when she seeks to talk with Him Jesus responds, “Who is my mother or brother but those who do the will of God.” No doubt Mary thought, “If Jesus is ‘God with us’ why does He seem so distant? Why does He even seem harsh to me at times? Could the angel have been wrong?”

Throughout His ministry Mary witnesses, in spite of Jesus’ miraculous deeds, the many hurtful remarks made about Him and hears of the many plots to kill the One to whom she gave birth. If He is “God with us” why is He not being accepted? And horror of horrors, she finally stands at the foot of a cruel cross and watches in agony as her son is crucified like a common criminal. He heart is broken and torn, as only a mother can fully feel and understand, tearfully watching her Son die. Whatever happened to the promise of the angel that He would be Emmanuel, “God with us?”

Could the angel have been wrong? Mary got her answer to that question three days later as an angel announced at the open tomb, “He is not here. He is risen.” Excited women and startled disciples were running around echoing the angel’s message, “He is risen.” The angel Gabriel had not been wrong, Mary had only misunderstood. The resurrection of her Son made it possible for Him to fulfill what the angel had originally promised Mary, “He shall be God with us.” His resurrection proved Christ was who the angel had promised; now alive for evermore it is possible for His presence to be with us in every situation and circumstance of our lives.

Like Mary, we may ask, “If Jesus is ‘God with us’ why does He seem distant at times? Why does life seem at times harsh? Why does my heart still become broken by sorrow and heartache?” No, the angel was not wrong, but, like Mary, we have a misunderstanding about the message of Christmas.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean there will be no more trials or problems, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” we have a new way to approach them.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean we don’t still fail and sin, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” we can find in Him forgiveness for all our sins.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean all our burdens are taken away, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” we are given an enabling strength to carry on.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean we will not have sorrow, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” He is there to comfort us and see us through to brighter days.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean loneliness will not sometimes visit us, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” we have the promise that He is always with us by our sides never leaving us alone.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean the world has changed, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” we have changed.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean our dreams and plans are not sometimes shattered, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” He gives us give new dreams, hopes and purposes that have eternal value.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean that sickness, disease and death will not eventually come to us, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” we find He is the resurrection and the life and those who believe in Him shall inherit eternal life.

The angel was right after all. The Christmas story means God in Christ is with us at all times. The Christmas story means it is possible to have a relationship with the promised Christ that is not subject to time, place or circumstances. Christmas means that we can say, “God with us” has birthed His presence into whatever circumstances and situations we go through.

The angel was right, Emmanuel is with us. That being true, the Christmas story can be experienced every day, all the year through.

Merry Christmas,

Dr. Dan

 

 

 

 

 

 

IT IS NOT ABOUT WHEN CHRIST WAS BORN BUT THAT HE WAS

the-birth-of-jesus-christJesus Christ was born. Now that is worth celebrating!! There are some, though,  within Christendom who oppose celebrating Christmas because as they contend, “Jesus was not actually born on December 25 and the early Christmas celebrations coincided with the pagan winter solstice feast in honor of Mithra, the unconquered sun-god.” The “first” celebration of Christmas (meaning “coming of Christ”) was observed in 336 AD, some twenty-four years after  Constantine, the Roman Emperor, declared Christianity the religion of the empire. Pope Julius I sought to replace the pagan feast with a new feast honoring and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the “Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2). In the years that followed the Christmas celebration slowly spread throughout Christendom.

I would not spend a minute arguing with someone who wants to object to celebrating Christmas because of its early origin. I personally don’t know anyone who seeks to celebrate the sun-god Mithra, but there are millions and millions of people at Christmastime who exalt Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Savior. If one fails to celebrate the birth of Christ who is the foundational reason behind Christmas then one truly misses out on experiencing the most wonderful time of the year. It is not important when Jesus was born, but that He was born…and that is worth celebrating whenever we choose to celebrate!

Now the question that I have had asked me many times over the years is, “If Jesus was not born on December 25, when was He born?” Without being dogmatic, let us see if we can deduce an approximate time of Christ’s birth by examining the Biblical record.

If it can be ascertained when Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist, then we can arrive at an estimated calculation for Christ’s birth. The Bible records that Zacharias, Elizabeth’s husband, was informed by the angel Gabriel that his wife would give birth to a child who would be the forerunner of the Messiah. Zacharias, a priest, was ministering in the Temple when the angel visited him (Luke 1:8, 24-26). Luke 1:5 tells us that Zacharias was a priest of the division of Abijah. It is discovered from First Chronicles 24,  the Talmud, Mishnah, and other Jewish sources that the division of Abijah served the second half of the fourth month of the Jewish religious calendar, which began in March with the Passover. This then would have been in mid to late June when Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist.

Luke goes on to record that it was six months after Elizabeth became pregnant with John the Baptist (June) that Mary was informed by the angel Gabriel that she had been chosen to give birth to the Christ Child (Luke 1:31, 36-39). So six months later would have been near the end of December when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary and when she visited the home of Elizabeth to inform her that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:36).

So  fifteen (15) months after the conception of John the Baptist, Jesus would have been born. That would have been in the seventh month of the Jewish religious calendar, which would have been in late September. Such a time for the arrival of Christ would have been perfect timing with the most joyous of Jewish feasts, as the end of September was the beginning of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. It would only be appropriate that Christ be born at a time that would coincide with such a feast of thanksgiving and joyous reliance upon God’s grace and watchcare. Did John give us a hint of the time of Christ’s birth?  John 1:14 tells us that the Word (Christ) was made flesh and “dwelt” among us. The Greek word translated “dwelt” literally means He “tabernacled” or “pitched his tent” among us. Jesus came to tabernacle with man. So did Christ’s birth coincide with the Feast of Tabernacles? If so, it would have been a most fitting time. While this timeline some would consider speculation it seems to fit with the biblical record.

Again, the exact time when Christ was born is not important, what is important is that He was born. And in the birth of Jesus Christ the Creator took upon Himself the form of a servant and clothed Himself in human flesh to “tabernacle” among us. His destiny went beyond a wooden manger filled with straw, but a rough wooden cross where He as humanity’s Substitute was nailed… it was there He paid a sin debt that He did not owe but that you and I could never pay.

To the heart that has by grace been awakened to the amazing and marvelous truth of Christ’s finished work on the cross, the joy of Christmas dwells in one’s soul every day. While there was no room in the inn for Christ on the night of His birth, those who have experienced His birth in the inn of their heart can celebrate Christmas daily. While there are those who like to wrangle over the exact time when Christ was born, this I know…He was born and to those who know Him as Savior the joy of the Christmas season can dwell in one’s heart 365 days out of the year!!!

Blessings,

Dr. Dan