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Archive for August, 2014

Is The Bible Really Needed If God Is In Our Hearts?

It can be presumptuous to assume the Bible is a reliable reference in my writings just because I am a follower of Jesus. A book has to stand the test if it claims to be unique. We can know God without the Bible, but if the Bible is God’s inspired words it can make our relationship even richer. All religions are worthy of consideration and offer Books such as the Quran, Tipitaka, or Book of Mormon.

At times we would be better off without the Bible when used to divide followers into divisive groups (i.e. Denominations). Paul spoke about the harm of divisions among follower (I Cor. 1:12). Jesus came to change disharmony in relationships. Christianity would have more of an impact if our discussions about God were more civil since interpretations are imperfect. Biblical interpretations must be plausible based on what a loving God should be like. God cannot ask us to believe in anything unworthy of human, rational belief as we are made in God’s likeness.

The Bible is unique though because Jesus is the only religious leader who proclaimed He would rise from the grave. The Apostle Paul says Christianity is a joke if Jesus did not resurrect after promising He would (I Cor. 15:14). The Bible proclaims Jesus’ resurrection as fact, so the Bible is not credible if this event did not occur. Jesus was an actual person that lived, unless you question if Julius Caesar existed. An empty tomb is a provable historical fact beyond reasonable doubt as opposed to a story made up by first centuries Christians perpetuated over the next two thousand years. When the disciples spoke of Jesus’ resurrection and people responded with faith, all the authorities had to do was produce the dead body. Other faiths rely on a future promise. Christianity relies on a promise that happened in the past.

The grave was empty! Paul recorded that over 500 witnesses saw Jesus after His death, most of who were living when this fact was recorded (I Cor. 15:3-8). Some may claim Jesus’ body was stolen and that 500 eyewitnesses were recruited to perpetuate this lie. That takes faith! We would have to believe that over the next few decades Jesus’ disciples were willing to be martyrs for what they knew to be a lie. Religious martyrs today are often motivated by something they believe will become true in the future, not an actual historical, miraculous event that happened in the past.  There is sufficient, historical evidence that Jesus resurrected. Christianity is alive today because apparently the tomb was empty. The Bible is not a hoax!

Secondly, the New Testament has no equal with other literatures yet we claim them reliable. Nearly 25,000 manuscripts of the New Testament exist in libraries and universities today. The earliest of these is a fragment of John’s Gospel, which has been dated to within 50 years of the date when the apostle John penned the original. Within 100 years we have books and within 225 years the complete New Testament. We don’t have the original manuscripts written but for over 99 percent of the words of the Bible, we know what the original manuscripts said through textual criticism. We know what the variants are (different words in different ancient copies of the same verse) but none change any doctrines. Our present manuscripts are practically the same as the original manuscripts. To question them is to question all ancient historical documents.

Can it be defended that human beings using their own language wrote the Bible, but that the activity of God in overseeing the writing of Scripture caused it to be also His words? No supposed contradictions have ever been proven in the Bible. The Bible, written over a 1000 years including 66 different books written in three different languages by many different authors,  does have an incredible unity and consistency as though orchestrated by a Higher Power.  God’s actual words are recorded in many instances such as God’s command to Adam (Gen 2:16-17), the Ten Commandments given to Moses (Ex 20:1-3), and God speaking from heaven at Jesus’ baptism (Matt 3:17). The writers are either recording the words of God spoken to them in some fashion or lying and saying God spoke to them when He didn’t.

“Thus says the Lord” appears thousands of time in the OT. The Old Testament’s contention that it actual contains God’s words should be considered innocent until proven guilty. God said He would actually give the prophets His words in their mouth (Jer. 1:9; Deut. 18:18-20). Anyone who claimed to be speaking for the Lord but who had not received a message from Him was punished (Ezek. 13:1-7; Deut. 18:20-22) [Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 49]. Old Testament Scriptures do not indicate dictation from God, but the prophets clearly indicate they knew when the Spirit of God was teaching them.

In excess of five thousand times they say, “Thus says the Lord.” By so saying, they distinguish thoughts and words they receive from God himself from their own. For example the prophet Nathan illustrates this distinction. The prophet gave his personal approval for David to go ahead and build a temple similar to the cedar palace he had just completed for himself in 2 Samuel 7:3. That very night, however, the Lord appears to Nathan and nixed the whole idea, instructing him to give God’s own words about such a contemplated project rather than his own opinion. Accordingly, not everything a prophet said was inspired: only when the prophet spoke as the oracle of God – and almost universally introduced that word with the introductory formula: “Thus says the Lord.” At other times the prophet spoke as much “off the cuff” as any of us do on any other topic. (Walter Kaiser, The Old Testament Documents, 20)

We might ask if the Books we have are the ones intended by God to convey His thoughts. There is no record of any dispute between Jesus and Jews over the extent of the 66 books of the Canon as we know it. Jesus and New Testament authors quote various parts of the Old Testament Scriptures as divinely authoritative hundreds of time. Statements from the Apocrypha or any others writing are not cited with the lone exception in Jude 6 from I Enoch 1:9.

We cannot touch our Creator but we know God is present and involved in our lives. Also, the Scriptures are reliable historical documents conveying God’s very thoughts. All you have to do to discredit the Bible is to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the resurrection recorded as a fact was a hoax. It is true my writings often rely on my understanding of God according to Scriptures, but I believe the Bible is one way God speaks to us. Reading the Bible from beginning to end is not always ideal as the Bible is not a Book but a collection of writings. God, the Creator, was different from the other gods. God did not demand power for the mere sake of being in power. God believed in freedom and even joined in suffering resulting from freedom by allowing His Son to suffer a horrible crucifixion.

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What Really Is The Simple But Elegant Gospel?

Some imply the gospel is more about God’s wrath than love as if God has to get over His anger before He can love us.  Preachers suggest a relationship with God begins by praying: “Dear God, I am a sinner that deserves death. I now believe Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins and I accept Jesus into my heart.” It is implied this prayer keeps one from going to Hell. A closer reading of any of the  Gospels in one sitting reveals this was not Jesus’ style of evangelism.

Even human parents don’t threaten their children with punishment in hopes of gaining a friendship. We warn them of evil for their own good in hopes to steer them from destruction.  God’s love, not His wrath, was center stage in Scriptures (I John 4:8). God’s wrath is simply another side of God’s love to guide one for their and society’s own good. God doesn’t hate the evildoer but what evil does to us. The fear of punishment is meant to deter but doesn’t lead to life transformations or prevent one from finding ways to hide their actions. Has gloomy uncertainty as to God’s favor conquered battles against self-centeredness or long-standing habitual sins in your life?

God isn’t concerned about His ego! A legalistic view of the Cross undermines the beauty of God’s unconditional love. God was not more concerned with our guilt and restoring His honor than desiring a personal relationship. God did not need to be appeased by human sacrifice as the other Old Testament gods. The Cross was not necessary as if God couldn’t love us until death accounted for our sins. Even human parents don’t stop loving their children because they sin. The Cross was meant to change our view of God, not God’s view of us.  God was willing to do anything to persuade us to trust in His love for us than our own wisdom.

What if I told you the Gospel is: “God loves you unconditionally and the Creator wants to have a relationship with you so to influence you for the world’s and your own good.  Isn’t that every parent’s desire for their child. Are we better lovers than God? Parents ultimately want their children to understand their unconditional love for them so they might follow in their parents’ footsteps for their own good and make this world a better place. Human parents don’t know better than God how to change the world. When one seeks a better life in this world and the world to come, Jesus simply said love God or follow Me.

It is true spiritual apathy is rampant.  It is discouraging that more are not interested in spiritual matters. I have this great relationship with my Creator that helps me to understand the world, cope better with stress, and to look forward to eternal life with fewer regrets, but many are not interested in hearing my story. The resurrection of Jesus can be defended based on reliable historical evidence, but amazingly not everyone cares to investigate further the implications of this miraculous event. But, this may be more reason to make sure we speak about the simplicity and elegance of the gospel when we have opportunities.

We don’t have to threaten people but invite others to consider that their Creator desires a relationship with them when ready. Allow God to be the persuader once people are open to taking steps in such a relationship. Salvation is not being saved from Hell or only about entering heaven sometime in the future after death. Salvation is healing, deliverance, or rescue on earth from a life of self-centeredness. To those who express a need, let’s share our own journey in getting to know Jesus and what He has done for us. God desires to begin a relationship with us so that we can begin the journey of becoming the person we deep down desire to be. We can simply encourage others to get to know and follow Jesus.

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