Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Messiah (part one)

Over the course of the next few days, I'm going to post excerpts from a book I'm writing called Messiah. I'm not doing this as a promotion as the book is a long ways from completion, but rather I want to tell the Easter story in a way that perhaps has not been done before: from Jesus' perspective. (Please note, this is only my interpretation of what Jesus might have been thinking and experiencing at the time and should be taken as nothing more than that. I have been as Scripturally accurate as possible, but have had to fill in a few minor details for the sake of narration.) Check back each day for more.


Sudden stillness struck.

I rose to my knees, drenched in sweat and blood from my prayers. The hour had come. It had finally come. The light of the torches could already be seen flickering in and out between the trees in the garden. My soul was sick within me at the horrors I knew were only hours away. This was my last chance to leave before I was found. I could hear the steady thump of the mob's feet, echoing quietly in the darkness. At any time, I could call down legions of angels to sweep away my enemies. I am the Son of the Most High. I do not have to suffer the pain. Is there no other way? But this was love; no, this was my love, and there could be no other way. The Father had determined, and I must obey. I glanced at my disciples, just beginning to wake while the wind carried the sound of whispering voices as it stole through the midnight air. Beloved, Beloved, my heart cried out in tears, I am about to be taken from you.

"Wake up," I called to them softly. "Are you still sleeping? The hour has come and the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Look, here comes my betrayer!"

I stood to my feet and turned to face what was coming. The night stood still and my heart began to pound. A cold chill swept over me. I waited. Love must conquer all.

A shout pierced the darkness, "There he is!"

The mob rushed toward me, their torches bobbing up and down in the night, their weapons clanging against each other. My disciples cried out in alarm behind me, but I did not turn. I could see the faces of the men running towards us, the fierce frenzy illuminated in their eyes. The chief priests and elders had sent a mob, a small army armed with swords and clubs.

As they came closer, I saw that they were guided by a figure in a hooded black robe. He led them up to me and the mob circled around us. I stepped forward to face the noisy crowd, keeping my disciples to my back. The men went suddenly quiet as the hooded figure separated himself from them and walked slowly toward me. There, beneath the light of the flickering torches, he withdrew his cowl. It was Judas.

"Greetings, Rabbi," he said and then he kissed me on my cheek.

My heart sank. I had known from the beginning that it would happen this way, that it must happen this way, but it was such a bitter thing to swallow. Judas had been with me for every step of the last three years, we had shared the same table, drank the same drink, and slept beneath the same stars. I had opened my arms and my heart to him. Now he was completely consumed. No longer did his eyes share the same light as when he had listened to my teachings; they were hollowed out pits, the life snatched away like the wind snuffs out a candle. Judas, dear Judas, Satan has sifted through you and has claimed you as his own.

"Have you betrayed me with a kiss, Judas?" I took his head in both of my hands. "Friend, do what you came here to do."

Judas withdrew back to the mob, replacing his hood as he went. His kiss had been a prearranged signal with the guards, meant to tell them whom it was that they were to arrest. When he had reached the edge of the crowd, several of them started forward.

"Who are you looking for?" My voice rang out like a challenge in the cold night air.

"Jesus of Nazareth," they replied as they kept marching forward.

"I am he," I told them, my voice barely above a whisper.

Instantly, the men were swept back and fell to the ground, as if a giant hand had pushed them away. They lay there for a moment, stunned. They got to their feet, shaking their heads to clear the confusion. Finally, they began heading back toward me.

"Who are you looking for?" I asked again.

They stopped dead in their tracks and looked at each other, fearful that they would be swept away once again. After a long moment, a man named Malchus, a servant of the high priest, stepped forward and said, "We are looking for Jesus of Nazareth."

I stared into his eyes, past his stoic face, and into his heart. Here was a man, I thought, who was trapped by weight of the Law. He longed to be righteous, but his heart was being killed by his inability to do so. I could see the hurt and the pain just below the surface of his carefully maintained bravery.

"I told you before that I am Jesus," I said. "If you are looking for me, then let these other men go free." I knew that I could still call legions of angels to fight at my side, but my concern was for my disciples. No harm was to befall them under my care.

Just then, John called out brashly, "Lord, shall we draw our swords?"

I could hear the tremble in his voice, and so I turned, only to see Peter rush past with his sword drawn.

"Simon!" I called out.

He swung wildly at the nearest member of the crowd, grazing the side of Malchus' face and cutting off his right ear. Peter would have cut off the man's head if Malchus had not ducked. I rushed over to Peter and gripped his sword arm tightly.

"NO! No more of this! Put your sword away!" I whispered quietly in his ear. "Don't you believe that I can call upon my Father and He will send even more than twelve legions of angels to rescue me? I must drink this cup, Peter. There is no other way for the Scriptures to be fulfilled. Put your sword away."

I could feel Simon Peter shaking with fear and anger, but after a moment he dropped the sword on the ground and stood with James and John. I bent down beside Malchus, who was lying on the ground, clutching his wound. I did not say anything to him, but I gently removed his hand from the side of his head and healed his ear.

I stood up and addressed the crowd. "Why have you come with swords and clubs? Am I leading a rebellion? Every day I have sat in the temple courts. Every day you have seen me teaching the people, but you made no move to arrest me. All that has taken place has been to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. But this, this is your hour, the hour when darkness reigns."

The temple guard that had accompanied the mob rushed in when I had finished speaking. They grabbed my arms and bound them behind my back. The ties from the rope bit into my arms, but watching my disciples flee into the darkness tore at my heart.

I was marched to the house of Ciaphas, the high priest that year. The chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders had all gathered around a fire in the courtyard, waiting for the mob to deliver me into their hands. I was made to sit before all of them as they began discussing what to do with me, while I remained bound like a common criminal.

I looked around the courtyard and watched as the leaders of the people argued over me. Some wanted to put me to death, others wanted to listen to what I had to say, and a very few wanted to set me free. All were afraid of the Romans, however, and so they quickly agreed that they needed evidence against me in order to justify their actions. Soon they began to let their accusations fly, but no one accusation matched another; each was a lie and the alleged witnesses were unable to agree.

I said nothing while they argued over me. There was nothing that I could have said, for the lies were easily exposed and even those that wished to condemn me knew that they would need greater reasons than those already offered. And so silent I remained. I began to prepare myself for what I knew was to come, praying for strength and courage. I knew that I could not bear the weight alone, and so I felt the Spirit settle within me, giving me peace in the midst of the gathering storm.

After a little while, I saw John enter the courtyard, for he was known to the high priest. He soon let Peter in, who sat with the servants around the fire, while John sat at the edge of the gathering. Both had followed me to the house of Ciaphas, but at a distance so that the mob would not see them.

Dawn was still several hours away and it was the darkest time of the night. A chill hung in the air, a chill that even the fire lit in the courtyard could not drive away. The light from the flames flickered, casting shadows everywhere and causing the courtyard to look like the depths of Hades itself. One by one, the chief priests and the elders stood up to accuse me, but one by one, they all sat down because their testimonies carried no truth. They were becoming frustrated and desperate, shouting at each other all the more as morning drew near.

Finally, one man stood up and cried, "I heard this fellow say that he would destroy the Temple and then he promised that he would raise another temple up in its place in only three days, a temple not made by human hands."

"Yes, yes," shouted another. "I heard it too!"

"Tell me the details," Ciaphas shouted, "What are the details?"

The man gave his account, but he could not make his testimony match that of the other man. Frustrated, Ciaphas turned to me.

"These men are all accusing you, and yet you have nothing to say? At least speak something in your defense!"

I remained silent and waited, looking up at the high priest and watching him grow angrier as the moments slipped by and no resolution could be reached. Everyone gathered was arguing over how to accuse me, but their noisy din mattered little to Ciaphas. When he saw that I was not going to give an answer, Ciaphas threw his hands up in the air in exasperation and began walking away, his stride shaking with palpable rage. He turned around and started pacing back and forth, desperate to find someway to accuse me. He did not want to release me back to the people, for he was afraid that I would lead a revolt against him. How little he knew of the Scriptures and how they must be fulfilled.

Suddenly, Ciaphas stopped pacing and as he walked over to me, the crowd grew silent. He put his hands on the arms of my chair and leaned in so that his face was almost touching mine.

"I place you under oath," he spat, "I charge you by the name of the Living God. Are you the Christ, the Blessed One of God? Tell us, for we wish to know."

I stared into Ciaphas' eyes for a long moment. This moment, more than any other, would begin my journey of pain and suffering if I claimed to be the Christ. I could feel the Spirit welling up within me. It was the moment of truth.

Without letting my gaze waver, I said to him, "It is as you say, I AM the Christ. But listen as I say to each one of you, the day will come when you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Father, the Mighty One, coming on the clouds of heaven itself."

The entire courtyard was silent for a moment as my words went to each man gathered. Then Ciaphas stood up.

"Blasphemy!" he roared. "You have all heard it. This man has spoken blasphemy! What do you think, do we need any more witnesses?"

The courtyard erupted. "He is worthy of death," they shouted back, "We need no more witnesses!"

And Ciaphas tore his robe to show his disdain for my words. I was bound again, and they also blindfolded me. They began pummeling me with their fists, hitting me in the stomach, in the face; they left no part of my body untouched.

I could hear the glee in their voices as they mocked me, "Prophesy, who hit you? If you are the Christ, surely you can tell who it is that is hitting you."

They removed the blindfold and spat in my face. They slapped me so hard that I tumbled to the ground, still bound to the chair. They began kicking me and I almost lost consciousness several times when they kicked me in the head. I could feel the bruises begin to form and my face was broken open in several places, but I did not say a word.

Streaks of light were finally making their way across the dark sky when the mob of chief priests and teachers were interrupted by a man yelling near the fire. It was Peter. He was shouting at a man standing next to him.

"I tell you, I don't know this man you are talking about, and I am not one of his disciples!" Peter began calling down curses upon himself and all those gathered there. When he finally realized that everyone in the courtyard was looking at him, including Ciaphas, he hung his head and started muttering to himself angrily.

I could feel my heart begin to ache. It was the third time that Peter had denied me that night, just as I had prophesied. He looked up again, just for an instant, to see me lying on the ground, bound to a chair and bleeding from the beating I had just received. There were tears in my eyes as I caught his gaze from across the courtyard. At that exact moment, a rooster crowed.

Peter's face fell, all his anger fled as he realized what he had done. His mouth began moving, but no sounds could come out. I saw his shoulders deflate and he covered his face with his hands before he ran out of the courtyard, weeping bitterly.

Ciaphas looked at me, pointing to the retreating form of Peter. "Was that man one of your disciples?" he demanded. "Tell us who follows you and what you have taught!"

"I have said nothing in secret," I replied. "Have I not always taught openly in the Temple and in the synagogues? Why do you not ask those who have listened to tell you what I said? Why ask me?"

One of the guards struck me in the face. "Is that the way you answer the high priest?"

I turned my head to look at him. "If I said something wrong, tell me what it was that was wrong. If I said nothing wrong, why did you hit me?"

Ciaphas saw that there was nothing more to be gained by questioning me, so he called for the council to reach a decision. They quickly agreed on what to do, and so in the early morning hours, I was led away, still bound, to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

(check back tomorrow for more)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?

Q.Why does god allow in this world of ours, for people in other countries to starve to death, why does god allow abortion, allow a baby to be ruthlessly ripped from its womb to die-for no reason. why does god allow people to get raped, mass murderers to walk, innocent people to die, to suffer?

A. Let me condense this down to the question, Why does God allow bad things to happen?

This is a very valid question that many people ask. Because bad things do happen, it makes people question whether God is good or if He also enjoys handing out punishment and making people suffer. When people see things happen that seem to deny the existence of a good, merciful or loving God, they often abandon the idea of God. And why shouldn't they? Who wants to serve a sadistic and hateful God?

The Bible says, however, that God is love in I John 4:7-12, so let's take a closer look at our possibilities.

Some seemingly bad things happen because God is trying to teach a lesson that will save us from even greater hurt later on. C.S. Lewis called our question the problem of pain. Here is what he said in a letter:

"That suffering is not always sent as a punishment is clearly established for believers by the book of Job and John 9:1-4. That it sometimes is, is suggested by parts of the Old Testament and Revelation. It would certainly be most dangerous to assume that any given pain was penal. I believe that all pain is contrary to God's will, absolutely but not relatively. When I am taking a thorn out of my own finger (or a childs finger) the pain is absolutely contrary to my will; i.e. if I could have chosen a situation without pain I would have done so. But I do will what caused the pain, relatively to the given situation; i.e. granted the thorn I prefer the pain to leaving the thorn where it is. A mother spanking a child would be in the same position; she would rather cause it his pain than let it go on pulling the cats tail, but she would like it better if no situation which demands a smack had arisen." -Letters of C.S. Lewis (31 January, 1952), para. 1, pp. 237-238

Does this mean that things like murder, rape, theft, war, disease, etc. are all because God wants to teach us a lesson? Perhaps they could be at times, but they don't have to be. There are other players besides God involved.

The Bible describes another being whose intent is to harm and destroy what God has created. Many people call this being the devil, Satan, or Lucifer. Here is what the Bible has to say about him:

"He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." -John 8:44b

"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." -I Peter 5:8

"He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work." -I John 3:8

"Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." -Revelation 2:10

"Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short." -Revelation 12:12

According to these verses, the devil is very actively trying to cause pain and suffering. He doesn't discriminate and if there is any way that he can convince someone to walk away from God when bad things happen, he will do it and continue doing it. So if something bad happens, don't automatically assume that God did it. The devil is active now, but a time will come when God says that his time is up and then God give Satan what he deserves.

There is yet another player in the problem of pain: mankind. God laid out rules for our benefit and protection, but He also didn't want a race of robots enslaved to His will, so he gave mankind the ability to choose. Though it would be nice if everyone treated each other with love and kindness, some choose not to do so. Many of the bad things that we see are the result of the sinful actions of mankind, not necessarily because God is punishing us, but because every action has a consequence. If you point a loaded gun at someones head and pull the trigger, the consequence is usually death for the person shot and prison or death for the person shooting. It doesn't mean the victim deserved what happened, only that the shooter had free will and chose to misuse it by killing another.

There are consequences for our actions and God calls us to live holy and pure according to His Word. Deuteronomy 30:19 says, "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live."

Don't give up hope, even if bad things do happen. Though we may not always understand God's plan or His purpose for what things happen, He does have our best interests in mind and He will take care of us. Consider also the following verses:

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." -Romans 8:28

"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." -John 16:33

What is the Meaning of Life?

"What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"

-Mark 8:36-37 (NIV)

What is life? Truly, what is a life well lived? What satisfies the innermost parts of man? Does not all humanity search for answers? And yet life ends with only more questions. What is the sense in that? What kind of justice is that? Life is filled with inconceivable paradoxes. We search, but we do not know what we look for. We feel that there must be an answer, yet we are unsure of the questions. Our souls long for something to fill the aching within us, and yet nothing seems to satisfy. Can there truly be meaning?

There are various ways that most of us go about filling the void within us. Some succeed in all they do, hoping that their next achievement will somehow give them what they truly desire. But alas, it only serves to deepen the thirst, driving us on toward greater achievements but the thirst itself is never to be satisfied. Some turn to religion, only to find that there is nothing to be found in legalism; there is no power in the strict adherence to hard if not obscure laws. Some turn to addictions and in the end are controlled by them. Others try to find themselves in relationships, only to be hurt time and again by the ones they opened up to and loved. Still others simply give up and retreat within themselves, as if to wait out the sentence of life for the blessed rest of oblivion. If we dig deeper and are honest with ourselves, we are faced with the ultimate question: What is life? The next question that follows is: Why?

It seems as if humankind is on an endless quest for meaning. It drives us onward, ever searching, ever pressing, ever pleading for the answer. We hunt, we conquer, we kill, we play, we create, we sing, we wail and cry out in everything we do, always searching for the answer. And yet we do not find it. Our souls moan in agony of what we long and hope for and yet it escapes us; ethereal, it always slips just beyond our grasp like water between the fingers.

If we are honest and look into the depths of who we are, we find staring us in our faces all of our futility, our inadequacies, our desperation, and our sin. Some deny that we are spiritual creatures, saying instead that we are merely matter, driven by the chemical impulses that occur in the synapses of our brain. How can those chemicals make us weep at the loss of a loved one, smile at a newborn child, and feel hopelessness and despair? Those who deny their own spirituality deny a part of themselves and die a death unimaginable. If there is not something larger than us, if there is no purpose to life, if we are the product of chance, what is the point in living? There is no hope for those who abandon their very self.

What then is there for the rest of us, those who do not deny their spirituality, but cannot find a way to fulfill it? Is there hope? There must be, but where is it and upon what is it based? Many believe that the answers lie within us, that somehow the human potential that is within each of us can be unlocked. But how are we to unlock our inner potential? Where is the key? We strain and we struggle against something that we dont quite understand, something that cant quite be defined. We long to be free from the shackles that bind us but we cannot free ourselves; we dont know how. Our yearning is to become what we feel that we were meant to be, something greater and more glorious than the ever-present now.

If we cannot free ourselves, we next turn to others. Answer the cries of our hearts, we plead, fulfill our innermost beings. However, this path ends in futility as well. If others cannot set themselves free, how will they liberate us?

Most of us are appalled at the final option, instead choosing to go back to the endless and unfulfilling search. We would choose to live in denial rather than face the idea of a supreme being, a deity. The reasons for this are as varied and as numerous as the pebbles on a beach.

Pride holds some people back, a defiance and a tenacity to do things on their own. The illusion of being self-made offers a pretty picture for some, but all too often the costs are much greater than expected. He who dies with the most toys, the saying goes, wins. Do they really? What good is it to gain the whole world and yet forfeit your soul, having never experienced love? Where is the joy in having material possessions or in becoming the most successful person on earth? How empty a life that is without something greater to live for than oneself! Pride is to curse God and then to die. It is merely temporary satisfaction, much like treating the symptoms and ignoring the disease.

For many, their view of God is shaped by their life experiences, carved out by their trials and tribulations. He is not a good god, but one that delights in the suffering of the peoples of the earth. Why should our hope and even our trust be placed in a god like that? Why indeed, if that is your view of God? He might be able to set us free from the very things that bind us, but to what end? To death? To hell? To a different kind of slavery? If that is what God is really like, it is better to not believe in Him. Perhaps He will ignore or forget about mankind and simply go away.

Others have a small view of God, someone who created the earth and then left to do something else. From time to time, He looks in on things and might change something, but for the most part leaves things the way they are. Why even bother with Him? This type of god simply doesnt care, hes apathetic toward the human race. Many people would make Him out to be impersonal and aloof, perhaps because they are the same way. They have been deadened by the harsher realities of life and have ceased to see the beauties of it. They simply dont care about anything and they dont want God to care either.

The underlying theme of all of life can be encapsulated into one question: Is God trustworthy? Most, if they are honest with themselves, believe that God exists, but they dont completely trust Him. They have been tainted by bitter experiences or perhaps everyday life. In their eyes, the very nature of God has been diluted and twisted. Only by looking at the past can we truly see the story behind history, glimpsing at the true character of God. When we see that God is a god of love, then we will be able to see the threads of story that our lives play in the grandest drama of all time. Then we will understand and perhaps will begin to be able to truly live.

Before all of time and history, before the created existed, God lived and movedand loved. The very essence of His heart and soul and being was love. In His love and out of it He created, not first the earth and man, but the heavenly beings. They reflected in many ways the very being of God, luminous and diverse, ethereal and beautiful to behold, individual beings of a free will. In the midst of their created splendor and magnificence, tragedy struck.

The most beautiful and powerful of the heavenly beings, Lucifer, the son of the morning, betrayed the Most High. He was determined to become God, and in his pride and deceit, he convinced a third of the heavenly beings to share in his folly. There was a great war and he was cast out of the heavenlies, along with all his followers. He had betrayed the very One who had created him.

God, out of His love, then created the earth and mankind in hope that they, of their own free will, would love and trust Him. He created man and woman to rule the earth and to subdue it. Everything that we see around us today had its potential lying there at creation, waiting only to be unlocked by one of the caretakers. God set before mankind an absolute paradise, the likes of which we could never even imagine.

Oh, but we fell, we fell from that heavenly paradise, dragged down by our pride, by Satans promise that we could be like God. Sin became our stumbling block and separated us from our Creator, the very One who cared for us. Even though He loves us deeply, God could not tolerate the unholy and impure, and so we were banished from paradise and were condemned to die because of our sins.

God could not bear leaving us to die, eternally damned to the fires of hell. He knew that there was nothing mankind could do on its own to regain its righteousness, its paradise lost. He called from among the nations, one nation, Israel, to be pure and holy and set apart for Him, an example for all mankind. He gave Israel the Law as a guideline for holiness, even though there was no one who could fulfill all the requirements that it contained. Man needed to see for himself that there was nothing he could do to achieve purity and righteousness. Israel, Gods chosen nation, failed again and again, turning to false gods and turning against God. Their wickedness and betrayal led them into destruction and captivity, exiled first among the Babylonians, then the Persians, the Greeks, and finally the Romans.

God was not done with Israel or the human race, however; no matter how sinful we had become, He still loved us. He knew that ours was an innocence lost, and that we could never be made pure on our own again. We needed help, and we needed it desperately. Fear not, God said, Your Deliverer is coming.

One quiet night, in the small city of Bethlehem, a savior, the Son of God, was born. He was born to poor parents, but He had heavenly riches. He was born a King, and yet He did not come to rule. Jesus came to set us free from our sins so that we could enter the presence of God once again.

Jesus began His ministry at the age of thirty and for three years He moved among the people of Israel, teaching them, curing sicknesses and diseases, healing the blind and lame, and raising the dead to life. He was love come to life for He ministered to those who were poor and without hope, desperate and longing for a helping hand. He met them at their needs, giving them both physical and spiritual healing.

Still, in the midst of all the healing, our sins needed to be accounted for, a price needed to be paid. Only a sacrifice that was pure and holy could cover over our iniquities. Jesus became that sacrifice by dying on the cross, He died so that we might live. He shed His blood instead of spilling ours, all because He loved us so. He was laid in a tomb and buried. But death could not hold Him, the grave could not conquer the Son of God. Three days later He rose again.

It is in the resurrection of Jesus that we find our hope. It is in His death that we find life. For now we know that, even if we die, we can rise again. We know that even though we have sinned, Jesus sacrifice has paid the way to righteousness and life. We can be transformed, crossing over from death to life, a new creation, a child of God. Jesus Christ became the bridge from God to man. But how does this happen?

There exists in the heart of every man and every woman a God-shaped hole. If left unfilled, this hole will ache, it will gnaw at the spirit, it will tug at the soul. Many try to fill it with earthly things, but to no avail. Such things can satisfy only temporarily and will never last. But Jesus satisfies, Jesus fills that hole and He takes your heart and holds it gently in the palm of His hand. He is seeking you out, longing to comfort you. Behold, He says, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20) He is calling out to all those who will listen, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

God is trustworthy. He can be trusted with our hearts, our hopes and our fears. He loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us. He gives life to all who seek Him, He saves all who call on His name.

So what is the meaning of life? Simply this: We were created for paradise and the presence of God, but we have fallen, never to regain what we lost because of our sins. But God loved us so much that He could not bear to leave us fallen; He sent His one and only Son pay the price for our sins by dying on a cross. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, we can regain paradise, we can reenter the presence of God. Through Jesus, we can have eternal and everlasting life.

What is Sin?

What Is Sin?

How does God decide what the difference is between moral and immoral? I also don't understand why God would try and teach us "lessons" unless he himself had to face these problems, but he never did have these problems.

I'm going to reword your first question slightly to, "What is sin?" because immorality and sinfulness have similar meanings.

The dictionary definition of sin is as follows:

sin: 1. A transgression of a religious or moral law, especially when deliberate. 2. a. Deliberate disobedience to the known will of God. b. A condition of estrangement from God resulting from such disobedience. 3. Something regarded as being shameful, deplorable, or utterly wrong.

The Biblical definition is similar to that of the dictionary. Mankind first sinned when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by directly disobeying His commandment in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3). And when Moses was given the Law, the God specified even further what was considered as a sin. Does this mean that a sin is only what has been written down as law in the Bible? It isn't that easy, because God also gave each one of us a conscience. Romans 2:15 talks about how Gods law is written on our hearts, as well as being written in the law.

So, if sin is something contrary to the will of God, how does God decide what His will is? Does He throw darts at a dartboard? Does He roll dice? Does He just do whatever He feels like at the time?

God cannot go against His own nature, and I think that is the most important thing to remember when asking how He decides something. Consider the following verses:

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." -Hebrews 13:8

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." -James 1:17

God cannot be or act other than He is. While He certainly has other qualities, He is a God of holiness. Sin is anything in direct opposition, whether by action, intent, or being, to the unchanging and holy nature of God. The definition of sin isn't something that God necessarily decides; rather it simply is.

To make an imperfect analogy, how can you describe the concept of coldness? Any definition that you put forth would be useless without understanding the nature of heat. Absolute zero is a temperature wherein no elements of heat can be detected. Likewise, something hot (like the fire of our sun, for example) does not contain elements of coldness. God's holy nature is like heat and sin is like coldness. They are opposites and cannot coexist.

Because His very essence is holiness, God cannot sin and neither can He tolerate sin in His presence. Romans 3:23 says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Because we have sinned, we can no longer remain in Gods presence and we are to suffer the consequences of sin. Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." That gift is what is important, because there is nothing that we could do on our own, once we have sinned, to regain holiness. With Christ Jesus, God warms our cold hearts and sets us ablaze with His Spirit.

In answering the second question, "Why God teach lessons to people when He hasnt gone through a situation Himself?" allow me to make another analogy. You are driving down the freeway and there is traffic jam up ahead that will delay you for hours, although you don't know it. Someone in a helicopter overhead calls you on your cell phone and tells you to turn down a busy street on your right because there is a large traffic jam on the road on which you are driving. You can only see clear road ahead, but you turn on the busy street anyway and go through some stop-and-go traffic for twenty minutes. You never see the traffic jam, but you still arrive at home in one piece.

God is like our friend in the helicopter. He doesn't have to be in the car to see what road we are on and what is up ahead. And even though we sometimes go through traffic in life, it is often to save us the greater pain of the hours-long traffic jam. He always has our best interests at heart, even though He doesn't always tell us about the traffic jam. Jeremiah 29:11 says this, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"


While I was in church yesterday, a very strong mental image kept coming to my mind during worship and it wouldn't go away. I'm going to share with you what I saw:


I saw a young woman was walking down a road in the twilight hours. She was joined by a young man and I felt as if they were married. As the young couple traveled together, they were suddenly surrounded by enemies. The enemies were carrying swords, spears, and shields- they looked like vicious barbarians and had names like Depression, Sadness, Strife, and Envy. They formed a complete circle around the young couple.

The young couple stood back to back, turning in a circle as if they were going to fight off every foe. As I saw them turning, I also saw flashes of them kneeling on the ground, as if they were praying.

While I was watching this happen from within the circle, there was a commotion at the back of the ranks of the enemy. I saw the barbarians being flung up in the air. Helmets and weapons flew and the ruckus neared the inner edge of the circle. Another couple broke through the enemy ranks and stood with first couple, all standing back to back, facing the enemy in between being on their knees.

The battle wasn't just being waged by those two couples. I saw more and more couples running to join the fight on other fronts. There were individuals there as well, though the bulk of the army was composed of couples. Some were bleeding, others had torn clothing, but they still fought with courage and without stopping. They worked together as a unit, defending each other and steadily advancing against the enemy.

The last scene I saw was a gap in the line of the couples. The enemy was gathering just beyond, about to pour through the breach, as if it would be a killing blow to the couples and all who fought alongside them. People began running to fill in the break in the line and I heard a shout go out, "STAND IN THE GAP!"


Now I won't claim that this was anything more than a strong mental picture, but I believe that there is a message in it.

Church, we need to stand in the gap for each other. We have spent far too much time fighting each other and far too little time fighting the enemy. What I saw was the church fearlessly defending one another, husbands and wives praying together to overcome their opposition, an army functioning as a unit rather than individuals.

I want to make this very clear: our enemies are not the people around us. Arabs, atheists, the rich, the gays and lesbians, those of a different political party, race, or nationality- none of these are the enemy. Our enemies are not flesh and blood. Rather, they are poverty, disease, broken-heartedness, depression, hopelessness, and countless others.

We are supposed to be fighting a war, in the physical world by helping and loving those around us and in the spiritual realms by strengthening our faith through worship and prayer.

Ephesians 6:10-20 says this:

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

"Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."

Church, we have been in discord and disarray long enough. Now is the time to stop gossiping, stop quarrelling, and stop with our hypocrisy. Now is the time to lift each other up in prayer and with encouragement. Now is the time to reach out to those around us. Feed the hungry, heal the sick, drive out the demons that keep people under spiritual and physical bondage. Set the captives free, save those who are perishing from the fire. NOW is the time to wage war with worship and with prayer.

RUN to fill in the gaping breach in our lines.



Q. what makes "curse words" so bad/wrong?
i understand that hell is bad because it is satan's domain and that damn is bad because you get damned to hell. but most of the other christians i know condemn people that use the other curse words saying that they are sinning by doing so. so is this a sin or are they really just words? and if its a sin what makes it so?

A. Let's take a moment to look at the Bible says and then I will try to answer your question.

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." - Ephesians 4:29-32

"My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you." -James 1:19-21

"If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." - James 1:26-27

"We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be." -James 3:2-10

"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name." -Exodus 20:7

"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." - Matthew 5:33-37

"Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks." - Luke 6:44-45

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirableif anything is excellent or praiseworthythink about such things." -Philippians 4:8

There are several different types of swearing.

There is swearing as in making an oath, which Jesus told us to avoid doing. Simply say 'yes' or 'no' and don't make exaggerated promises. Yes or no is far easier to keep.

We are told not to misuse God's name in the Second Commandment. Many people use God's name as an expletive, perhaps not even realizing what they are saying. God realizes, however, and it grieves His heart. I'd like to point out here that misusing God's name isn't limited only to what we say, but it also includes what we do. People often judge others by their actions, so if you claim to have Christ in you, how will people view Him through your actions? History is filled with evil deeds done in the name of God. The misuse of God's name is not in word only.

Cursing and foul language are also mentioned as things we should avoid. If we go to church on Sunday and praise God, how can we swear or talk about dirty things during the rest of the week? Do we think God won't notice? As James 3 says, "This should not be!" God must be God of our lives every moment or not at all. We need to seek purity and righteousness in our lives even if it means abandoning friends, habits, or mindsets.

Instead of swearing, cursing, or coarse talk, we should instead speak words of encouragement to build each other up. The more that you study and meditate on the Word of God, the easier it will be to remain pure and to speak with kind and encouraging words to others. The movies you see, the books you read, the songs you listen to, and the friends you have all have an incredible influence on your heart. And whatever you have stored up in your heart is what will come out of your mouth.

The power of words is amazing. Have you ever experienced a moment in your life where someone cut you down, yelled at you, or belittled you in some way? Even if they didn't mean it or if you tried to ignore it, their words still had an impact, they still carried a message. Now contrast that to a time when someone encouraged you, said something nice about you, or built you up. Those words also have an impact. Which would you rather have said to you or about you? Which do you think you should use when talking to others?

The negatives far outweigh the positives when it comes to words. Wounds from hurtful things said can last a lifetime and can affect people in ways that we cant even imagine. I've even heard it said that it takes eight good comments to counter the hurt from one bad comment. Keep that in mind when you talk to others.

Concerning cursing and foul language, I would also ask you to consider this: What good does it do? What does it gain you? Saying crass things or using bad language doesnt impress anyone and they certainly dont make the speaker appear any more intelligent. In fact, cursing often gives people a negative impression. You are far better off learning to listen and taking the time to think before you speak. You will find that others respond better and when you have something important to say, they will listen.

Please feel free to continue the discussion with comments below. Ask for clarification, give comments, and ask related questions. As always, thank you for your time and God bless.

Pure Religion

What does it mean to be a Christian?

We often have an idea that being a Christian means that we go to church wearing a tie, praying to God, reading our Bibles, and evangelizing to people in the streets. But is that really what Christianity is all about?

Does that ever feel a little empty?

2 Timothy 3:1-5 says, "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them."

The above verses can speak to us in a lot of different ways on many subjects, but I want to point out how far many of us, myself included, have drifted from what Christianity is supposed to be about. Those verses could probably describe most Christians in North America. We go to church and have a form of godliness, but we are denying its power. Our faith and our spiritual lives are flat and lack substance.

Isaiah 58:1-14 talks about empty religion, saying, ""Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. 'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?'

"Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD ?

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

"Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

"If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob." The mouth of the LORD has spoken."

Read that passage again, slowly. Look at what God instructs us to do and the promises He gives for those who obey. We are to take care of the needy, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless. Then, it says, we will call upon God and He will hear us. He says to stop pointing fingers, stop talking maliciously, and help people.

James 1:22-27 says, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-he will be blessed in what he does.

"If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

We may not all have orphans and widows in our lives, but there are certainly those in need. It doesn't matter if we don't have a lot of money, we can give with our time or with our friendship and support. There are all sorts of needs that people need met, physical and emotional, and but why do we always focus solely on the spiritual?

We can be as spiritual as we like, and it is good to be spiritual and to become intimate with God, but there also needs to be fruit in the natural world. By fruit, I mean that our spirituality needs to have substance, it needs to actually mean something in the real world or it is useless. James 2:14-17 says, " What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

Jesus said the same thing, this time with a warning, in Matthew 25:31-46:

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

It is good to read your Bible and to pray. It is good to go to church. It is good to spread the Gospel. But what is the Gospel? The word 'gospel' means good news. The Gospel that Jesus brought wasn't only a spiritual good news, He also met the physical needs of the people.

Reread Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and look at what Jesus spent the most time doing. Nearly every single one of Jesus' miracles focused on helping people in the real world. He fed people. He gave them wine to drink. He healed the sick. He had compassion on the outcast. Why aren't we doing the same things?

Jesus first met the physical needs of the people, then He addressed their spiritual needs. Ask yourself this question honestly: Why did the crowds gather around Jesus- because He met their physical needs or because He talked about the kingdom of heaven?

I believe that by meeting the people's physical needs, they were more open to pay attention to the spiritual. So how does that apply to your life?

Jesus said in John 13:34-35, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

When we begin to love others by helping them, it will draw us closer to God. Then our prayers will be heard, then we will have the full power of godliness. We must treat others the way Jesus treated the people around Him, with compassion and mercy.

Where did we ever get the idea that Christianity was only supposed to happen in a church?