Monday, December 29, 2014

Looking Beyond the Stable

 How Americans celebrate Christmas:

Per research and Gallop polls, found that 96% of Americans celebrate Christmas
81% of Non-Christians celebrate Christmas!

88% of American households put up a Christmas tree.
90% buy gifts and gather with friends and family on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or during the season sometime.

54% attend Religious services
65% display decorations with a religious meaning

73% believe in the Virgin Birth

78% of American adults say they take time at Christmas to "reflect" on the Birth of Christ

Christmas offers much to reflect on - virgin birth, birth narratives, prophecies fulfilled in Jesus' birth, magi, .....

Here are 3 reflections that take us a bit further:   It's about much more than just a babe in a manger.

I.  The Incarnation of Christ
II.  The Humiliation of Christ
III.  The Substitution of Christ

I.  The Incarnation of Christ
Latin = "incarnatio" = take on flesh (body)
The word is no in the English New Testament - John 1:1, 14 - God put on flesh
The teaching clearly is. - John 20:28

Question - How? - "the Infinite in an Infant"
Answer = 1 Tim. 3:16

II.  The Humiliation of Christ
this does not mean embarrassment, confusion, shame, disgrace
but means condescension - stepping down, stooping down, lowering 'self
Assuming a position beneath His rightful place/position - He humbled Himself - intentionally, willingly, knowingly
Phil. 2:6-7    John 17:5

This =1) self-humiliation
         2)  Humiliation - with a purpose

III.  This Substitution of Christ - Phil. 2:8 - to what end? purpose?
Answer:  to reconcile us to God - He took our place
1 Pet. 2:24   2 Cor. 5:21   Luke 19:10

Summary of Incarnation and Humiliation and Substitution?
Col. 1:21-22 - Bridge Illustration

Response to these Reflections? 

I.  to Incarnation?  - Awe and Wonder which leads to WORSHIP

II.  to Humiliation? => Imitation - Phil. 2:5-7
                             => Service - John 13:12-16
He did it for the benefit of man.  Calls us to do the same.

III.  to Substitution? => Declaration - "my LORD and my God"
                               =>  Allegiance - Bow the knee - You are LORD
                                                        Live the Life
                                                        Serve the King

Friday, December 19, 2014

The End of Evil and Suffering

Throughout this series, have linked evil and suffering because Evil always results in suffering, and, suffering is always the Result of Evil.  May be small, may be delayed, but will come.

Therefore, to eliminate suffering, we only need to eliminate evil!!
Problem = that isn't gonna happen - in this life, this world.

We are all capable of imagining a better world, better personal life.
AND we are all capable of improving our world, our life.

BUT we are UNABLE to CONSTRUCT (create) the world we desire, or the life we long for.  Can't make it perfect.
Example:  Quote from Henry David Thoreau - "The mass (all) of men (people) lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them."

So, man has always looked for that "Perfect world" in the Next life.  ie:  AFTER LIFE/BETTER LIFE

Views vary:  Vikings had Valhalla; Romans - Elysium, Hindu - Nirvana, Native Americans - Happy Hunting Ground.

BUT, the concept = universal.
"God has set eternity in the hearts of men" - (Eccles. 3:11)

All believe in an afterlife and a better life in the afterlife.

The Christian View?
On one hand = no different -- ie;  believe in After Life/Better Life
However:  Very Different!! in:
1)  what's heaven like?
2)  How do we get there?
3)  Why do we believe this?

I.  What is Heaven like?
     A).  Wonderful beyond description  (example:  language of Revelation)
     B)  partly defined by what's Not there.
          The expulsion of evil - Rev. 20:1-3, 10, 14
          The end of suffering - Rev. 21:3-5
This is what we look forward to.

II.  How do I get there?  (How do I get this?)
     A)  By grace through Faith - Eph. 2:8-9 - (contrast works)
     B)  By Grace through Faith ..... IN CHRIST - John 14:6
     C)  By Grace through Faith .... AT DEATH - with the exception of those who are alive when Christ returns
Therefore:  Psm. 23:4

III.  Why do we believe this?
Answer = Jesus' words - John 14:1-3 - Not our sentiments, desires, traditions, etc., but spoken by Jesus, not just another good person, but the one who resurrected in a glorified body and conquered death once and for all.  We STAND on Jesus' words!!

1)  Come - Rev. 22:17
2)  Believe .. ie.  believe the promise(s) - embrace this HOPE, this form of Heaven
3)  Persevere -  Heb. 10:35-36 - because in this life that perfection will not come.

and also ... to  4)  Evangelize - 2 Cor. 5:11 - there are more people who don't believe this than do believe it.
                      5)  Disciple - Matt. 28:19 - We can't legitimately sidestep this obligation.

What's your HOPE??  ie:  great expectation
Is it Solid?  Secure?  Biblical?  (contrast false/empty)

Are you Peddling it?  Promoting it? 

Scripture says THIS is your only hope!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Character Development through Suffering

Why does God allow evil and suffering? 

A)  Last week:  Because He has granted FREEWILL TO MORAL CREATURES.  Two categories of moral creatures = angels and mankind.
Anytime there is sin, there will be disharmony, pain, suffering, etc. - if not immediately, then down the road.

B)  Today:  Because He can make GOOD USE OF BAD THINGS
In this particular dispensation that we are in - between the fall of angels and fall of man AND all the way to His return and total redemption - it is not out of His control, BUT He has the ability to turn bad things into good.
Classic example = the Cross = greatest tragedy man has ever seen when the creation killed the Creator.
Classic verse = Rom. 8:28 - In all things GOD works.

Some of the ways He uses evil and suffering for good............

#1.  Punishment - punishes evil with evil

#2.  Discipline/correction - Heb. 12:7

#3.  Protective suffering - pain as a warning device.  Examples:  touch fire -->feel pain --> remove before destroyed!!
Pain can be a friend.

#4.  Redemptive Suffering  - willingly combat evil and endure suffering for the sake of others!  - AS Christ did, so WE do.
Example:  soldiers who die to free others, etc.

#5.  Suffering for the Manifestation of God - John 11:14-15 - through this suffering God was made known.

These tend to overlap, not always clearly in one category.

#6.  Character Development of His children - God uses suffering (in an attempt) to develop our character.
James 1:2-4,  Rom. 5:1-4

Pain and Suffering may serve to:
I.  Add to your character
II.  Remove from your character
III.  Protect your character
All three are to Improve your character.

I.  Adding to Character - learn, acquire, pick up due to suffering
Deut. 8:2-3, 15-16
Phil. 4:10-13
2 Cor. 1:3-5

II.  Removing from Character - refining, purifying, pruning, clipping
Zech. 13:8-9
Isa. 48:10
Psm. 66:8-12
1 Pet. 1:3-7
Reference:  Hymn #338 - "How Firm a Foundation" - Vs. 3 - 'When through fiery trials my pathway shall lie, My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply; The flame shall not hurt thee;  I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.'

III.  Protecting Character - 2 Cor. 12:7-10 - deprivation, affliction FOR sanctification.

#1.  it's a process - example:  forging tools - A) heat, shape, cool, polish
                                                                    B) re-heat - and temper
#2.  You'll go through it - 1 Pet. 4:12

#3.  He's more interested in your character than in your comfort - this life is the blacksmith shop - there's going to be an eternity for comfort.

#4.  Whether you take temper is largely your choice.  -  Quote from Dr. Paul Bilhiemer - "Don't Waste Your Sorrows" - have to decide whether to accept it or not.

#5.  He promises - it'll all be worth the process. - 2 Cor. 4:16-18

Closing:  Will we submit to "blacksmithing" to become what He wants us to be?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Consequential Suffering

IF God is (all) good - absolute, total.  - (Scripture declares over and over that God IS all powerful and all good)
AND IF God is (all) Powerful,
then why is there (so much0 evil and suffering.

On one hand - many answers.
However, no (1) "satisfying" answer

Question:  Why accept the Christian view if answers are not satisfying?
Remember - 1)  No Worldview has "satisfying" answers!!
2)  the Character of GOD is more than goodness and power.
It includes A)  transcendence - He is INFINITELY beyond us.
Therefore  B) mystery - we cannot totally ever comprehend.  He is infinite - we never will be.

So, the Christian approach to the issue (questions) should be tempered with
A)  concern - the issue is more than intellectual!
but also with B) Faith - in the Character of God, in the Revelation of God. - If don't have that confidence, will fall on this issue.
and C) Humility - He is God, I am not, neither are you!

Remainder of this study =
I.  Why God Permits Evil and Suffering
II.  How God Employs Evil and Suffering - this makes suffering bearable, tolerable, sensical!! - Rom. 8:28

So, why does God permit evil and suffering?
Answer:  Because He has granted FREEWILL TO MORAL CREATURES!! - creatures that recognize right and wrong, and can choose right and wrong!!! - example: angels and man

Formula:  sin => loss => pain => suffering
Sin = disobedience to God
Loss - immediate or later, large or small

The large scale:  Gen. 3:17-19 - when Adam and Eve chose to do wrong, evil entered the picture, and whole creation was cursed.
The personal scale:  Gal. 5:7-9- when sin (by choice of moral creature) enters, it creates evil.

This = Consequential Suffering
On on hand, this doesn't answer all questions to all incidents of suffering.
However, it does = one of the partial answers, and = a part you should be aware of and concerned with.

How it works....
1)  You reap what you sow - example: you sow carrots, you will get carrots, not sweet potatoes
A) this = self-inflicted pain
B) doesn't require God's immediate involvement - example:  gravity - law is already in place

2)  Sometimes you reap what OTHERS have sown.
examples:  robber, drunk driver, rebel teenager, abusive parent, etc.
We live in a fallen world with 7 Billion fallen (selfish) creatures.

3)  Sometimes others reap what YOU have sown.
drunk + drive, text +drive? harsh reply, spouse's inferiority complex

A)  You are more than just a recipient of pain - you are a source of pain.
B)  Part of why God allows Evil and Suffering is that He ALLOWS YOU!!!
C)  If you wish to relieve pain and suffering, begin with own behavior!

From here - How God uses pain for good.

For today, note:
1) I'm part of the problem
2) I need to make corrections
3) correction #1 needs to be submission to/re-submission to this Sovereign God!!

Example:  Promise to Isaiah - amidst great suffering (in exile) - Jer. 29:11