Christianity Is Unique and Not a Religion

According to Wikipedia, there are an estimated 4,200 different religions and spiritual traditions in the world today. These religions each derive their own set of morality, ethics, and religious laws from their distinct beliefs about the cosmos and human nature. Each one claims to be a superior way of experiencing life, and most maintain that their specific set of values came from a supernatural being, force, or power. Even though, by definition, all these religions contradict one another to a greater or lesser extent, our man-centered culture insists they’re all valid and correct, pointing to the same God. “What is true for you isn’t necessarily true for me” is the slogan for our culture. We’re taught that an extreme tolerance of all these different viewpoints is our only option.

In a sense, tolerance has become the highest of all virtues in the world today. Now, a measure of tolerance is a good thing, in the sense that no one should be oppressed because of race, religion, or cultural differences, especially in daily interactions with people who profess beliefs different from one’s own. 

However, the unfortunate truth is that our culture has taken tolerance to a completely unhealthy place; we no longer must simply tolerate but are forced to accept everyone else’s belief systems, habits, and choices. We must affirm then as good, right, and just as acceptable as our own. In fact, our culture has become so tolerant that we’re completely intolerant of anyone who says that someone or some group is wrong. That’s what leads to ridiculous statements such as “We all worship the same God, just in different ways” or “All religions are the same; they’re all headed to the same destination, just taking different paths.”

However, deep down you know this doesn’t sound right. How can they all be true if they all contradict one another? If one is true, then the others have to be lies, and if they are lies, then they’re not helpful. They are not paths that lead to God but rather paths that lead to the ditches of self-righteousness and/or burnout.

This is where we, as disciples of Jesus, must step in with gentle boldness and faithfully proclaim that not all religions are equally valid or true and that Christianity is the complete opposite of all of them. Right down to its core. 

I am currently doing a small study on the major world religions — Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Confucianism, Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormonism. A summary of my studies and the beliefs of each will be posted in June of this year.

As is readily apparent, even by a quick read through of what each major religion believes, all these religions have plenty of differences in their teachings and in the views of their deity, or lack thereof. However, every religion basically espouses a very similar practice when it comes to the creatures trying to figure out how to please their deity (or deities). Each one boils down to the creatures trying to get their god or gods to like them. 

These religions are all about creation reaching up and trying to attain the state or quality of their ultimate beings and holding on for dear (eternal) life. Possibly, if you reach up high enough, your god will accept you. If your deity accepts and likes you, then surely he will do what you want him to, right? Everything will go your way. 

However, biblical Christianity teaches the exact opposite of all these other major religions. Ultimately, there is nothing we can do — nothing that makes us good enough or nice enough. There are not enough beads in the world to count. There is no amount of money that can purchase God’s favour. There are no chants or prayers loud enough. There is no enlightenment for us apart from Christ because we’re actually born spiritually dead, and no matter what we do or don’t do, this deity will not and cannot accept us in our fallen human nature. “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Ephesians 2:1-2). Dead people have no ability to get God to like them. 

Therefore, unlike all other religions, Christianity teaches that we don’t have to try to reach up to God. We don’t have to work really hard to get God to like us, because our great God already loves us. Instead of reaching up to Him, God Himself reached down to us. He took on the form and nature of His creation in the person of Jesus, without ceasing to be God, and then died a substitutionary, sacrificial death to atone for the sins of His own creation. 

After this sacrificial death, Jesus was raised to life in order to demonstrate that He was God and that His death was sufficient payment for the sin of mankind. 

Jesus doesn’t merely point us to the way of eternal life, but He Himself is the way to eternal life. Faith in Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for sin is the only requirement of Christianity. There is no level of spiritual enlightenment we must attain or number of good works we must perform in order to be accepted by God. He has already done everything necessary for us to be redeemed and offered salvation through faith in Jesus. In other words, mankind can be saved by good works … not just ours. Rather, it is the good work of Jesus on our behalf. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

The Father is very fond of us. That is the exact opposite of every other religion in the world! Besides Christianity, found in the New Testament, no other system of belief teaches how great the Father’s love is for us. It is beautiful. It is perfect. It is life changing. 

Christianity, therefore, is unique. And, it is not a religion, it is a relationship — a personal love relationship with the Living God. 

You Shall Commit Adultery!

The Bible states “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). However, an amazing and true fact is the in the 1631 edition of the King James Version of the Bible, the word not was omitted from the seventh commandment. The omission made the commandment read, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” This edition became known as “the wicked Bible.” Let’s hear it for proofreaders!

Today an appalling number of people – including believers – behave as if this rendering were not a mistake. Dependable statistics on how many married people commit adultery are notoriously elusive, but most surveys show a rate of 30 to 60 percent. Adultery, as defined by the Old Testament, is consensual sexual intercourse between a married woman with a man who is not her husband or a married man with a woman who is not his wife. It is therefore a crime against marriage.

Jesus, however, makes a sobering extension to this commandment. In the New Testament he teaches that lust is adultery of the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). As with the preceding commandment about murder, where we can ‘murder’ someone in our heart, we are put on notice that the commandment is being redefined by the Lord and includes much more than the physical act. It’s more difficult to avoid guilt than we thought.

The Bible makes a point of distinguishing between sexual desire and lust. The first is no sin at all, but part of God’s plan for humanity; lust, on the other hand, is twisted and misplaced desire. It exists because of human depravity. The seventh commandment recognizes that lust and adultery destroy people, their relationship with one another, and their fellowship with God.

Recreational, impulsive sex is considered the norm in our troubled culture. Defending the seventh commandment against the modern world singles one out as a pious puritan stuck in a lost century. However, when we strip sexuality of the restraints God gave it, we create chaos that tears at the very fabric of society. And we place an obstacle that blocks the fellowship God wants to have with us.

God gives us this commandment from love. He is saying, “My child, sexuality is My gift to you. I want you to know that when it’s rightly used, it can bring you joy and intimacy with the spouse I gave you, and it can create a legacy of children to replenish the earth.

“But when it’s wrongly used, it can create absolute havoc. It will destroy you from the inside out, and it will injure people who love you. I love your children, and I don’t want them to suffer because you marriage has failed. I don’t want you to spend the balance of your life in deep regret over the damage and heartbreak that was your return for the impulse of a moment.

“I love you, and I know what will make you happy. Sexual ‘liberation’ is really one more brand of enslavement. It advertises thrills and delivers grief. A long and faithful marriage to your spouse will bring you peace and delight that are beyond price — and you and I will be drawn closer.”

Keeping the Sabbath?

In the midst of ten life rules – we call them the Ten Commandments – we read about “keeping the sabbath.” Let’s read it…

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Many have made this commandment into a legalistic nightmare. When I was growing up in a traditional, non-born again, church family we had separate rules for Sunday. Special clothes we wore to church. Special and fancy lunch in the dining room (only time we ate there), and no friends over to play and definitely no cards. 

A bit legalistic? Perhaps, but you should have known the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They actually crunched the numbers on legalism, and came up with 1,521 things you couldn’t do on the Sabbath Day. That sounds like the title of a book no one would want to read.

Among the 1,521: no rescuing of drowning people; no wearing of false teeth (reinserting them, should they slip, would be work); no looking in the mirror (plucking a white hair, also work). If your friend grew ill, you could do certain things to forestall the illness, but actually trying to cure him — too much like work. At the beginning of a famous revolt, many Jews stood and let themselves be killed rather than risking work by defending themselves (1 Maccabees 2:29-38).

Men made a bureaucratic nightmare out of Sabbath-keeping, but it wasn’t what God wanted. This commandment shows a deep affection for us. The word sabbath means “rest.” God knows we grow weary in the cycle of work, so He established a day for us to regularly disengage from toil and refresh ourselves. God cares about both our labour and our leisure.

The Sabbath was also to be a day to turn from the material to the spiritual, to connect in a deeper way with God. Before Christ, people worked toward the Sabbath, resting on the last day of the week (Saturday). Since the Resurrection, we work from the Sabbath (Sunday), living in the power of the risen Christ. 

The early Christians began to worship on the first day of the week because that was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead (Mark 16:9). By the time we get to Act 20:7, we see the disciples coming together on “the first day of the week” to pray, break bread, and listen to the teaching of the Word of God. By the beginning of the second century, Christians universally understood that the Lord’s Day was to be on Sunday, the day after the Jewish Sabbath. And in AD 321, the Roman emperor Constantine, by royal edict, proclaimed Sunday a special day of worship throughout the entire Roman world. It is remarkable to realize that every Sunday from the day of Christ’s resurrection until today, somewhere in the world the church of Jesus Christ has come together to worship.

When I was growing up, Sunday was a special day. And, back then, even those who chose not to attend church still reserved a certain respect for Sunday and how the day should be treated.

We need to accept the wonderful gift of God’s day. We can do this by recognizing its special purpose: to honour Him by resting and reflecting on His goodness. As we do that, we’ll want to find ways to return the gift to Him with gratitude — through ministry, through worship, and through avoiding anything that makes Sunday just another day.

The two command here are to remember it and to keep it holy.

The story goes that when Africa was first being explored, native guides were taking their visitors through the region. After six days of pushing through the jungle, the natives refused to walk. They explained, “We need a day to let our souls catch up with our bodies.”

God has given you a gift to get your soul back in alignment. Will you accept it?

Consumed By Heaven 

Have you noticed that Christians do not talk about heaven anymore? We used to preach about it and sing about it in our churches. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I spoke about heaven. I do remember the last time I was asked a question about what heaven is going to be like and it was almost a decade ago.

Perhaps today we focus more on the present life because we are self-indulgent and lack vision. Just a thought. Or perhaps we are self-indulgent and lack vision because we don’t focus enough on heaven. Either way there’s a reason the Scriptures instruct, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). Our citizenship is in heaven, and our hearts should yearn for our true homeland. 

Some people don’t talk about heaven because they don’t like to think about death.Philosopher and theologian Dallas Willard tells the story of a woman who refused to take about life beyond death because she didn’t want her children to be disappointed if it turned out no afterlife existed. As Willard points out, if no afterlife exists, no one will have any consciousness with which to feel disappointment! On the other hand, if there is an afterlife, whoever enters that life unprepared may experience far worse than mere disappointment.

In an article in the Lakeland Ledger, Cary McMullen mulls over the abandonment of heaven by the contemporary pulpit: “Among mainline Protestants,” McMullen writes, “it was thought that speculation about the nature of a personal afterlife was anti-intellectual and belonged to the realm of red-faced, sawdust-floor evangelists. And too much talk of the next world might distract from efforts to relieve suffering in the present.” And it’s not only mainline Protestants; we hear little of heaven from Roman Catholics or evangelical preachers. Interestingly enough, the subject is more popular than ever with novelists and filmmakers. 

Most preachers have been approached by members of their church who questioned the point of focusing on heaven in this life. “We’ll have all of eternity to think about that,” they say. “Shouldn’t our focus be on making this life better?” And we have all heard people say, “If you’re too heavenly minded, you’re of no earthly good.” They figure that you can be so consumed with heaven’s golden streets that you neglect to fix the potholes on Main Street.

A. W. Tozer would beg to differ. He wrote that Christians of the mid-twentieth century had become so comfortable, so well-situated, that heaven held little appeal for them. Why live in hope of eternity, when you’ve got everything just the way you want it now?

In his book The Wonder of It All, seminary president and author Bryan Chapell tells the story of a young African seminary student who preached a sermon in a preaching class. His subject was the joy Christians will experience when Christ returns and ushers them into heaven. He, too, wondered if prosperity has caused us to neglect the reality of heaven:

“I have been in the United States for several months now. I have seen the great wealth that is here — the fine homes and cars and clothes. I have listened to many sermons in churches here, too. But I have yet to hear one sermon about heaven. Because everyone has so much in this country, no one preaches about heaven. People here do not seem to need it. In my country most people have very little, so we preach on heaven all the time. We know how much we need it.”

It seems that the more consumed we are with the love of the world, the less we will be consumed with the love of God represented by heaven. In his classic Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explained: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next … It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

God’s love stirs my heart to care deeply about heaven — and yes, the thought of heaven energizes me to live in the current moment with deeper joy, as someone for whom the best is yet to come. The bottom line is this: God love you, and He wants to share all eternity with you. Christ has gone to prepare a special and lovely place where you can come and live with Him forever. It’s called heaven and we need to know as much about our future home so we can make our present home here on earth better than it is. 

People Are Watching

People are watching, and they watch more closely when they know we are people of faith. It has been said that we are the only Bible some people will ever study. They have the right to expect our walk to reasonably match our talk even though consistent love and compassion don’t come easily.

Dionysius, a second-century bishop in the city of Corinth, wrote letters describing how Christians behaved in the grip of a rampant plague:

Most of our brethren showed love and loyalty in not sparing themselves while helping one another, tending to the sick with no thought of danger and gladly departing this life with them after becoming infected with their disease. Many who nursed others to health died themselves, thus transferring their death to themselves … The heathen were the exact opposite. They pushed away those with the first signs of the disease and fled from the dearest. They even threw them half dead into the roads and treated unburied corpses like refuse in hopes of avoiding the plague of death, which, for all their efforts, was difficult to escape.

The world is watching how we treat each other. Will they see a difference?

The biblical standard for love is simply to love one another. But now we come to the difficult part. If we stayed with the basic standard to love each other, our faith would be little different than any belief system in this world. But there is a higher standard of love, and Jesus came to give us the definitive expression through His life and teachings. In the words of Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, He said, “If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody, can do that” (Matthew 5:46 MSG). Paul builds on this and tells us we are to love everyone when he uses the phrase “one another” and the the higher standard when he adds, “and to all.”

1 Thessalonians 3:12 “and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all”

Loving loved ones is a good start. If we can’t do that, we definitely have a problem. The higher standard, on the other hand, sends a strong, clear message that we, the people of Christ, are not your average, everyday human beings. Those who are watching us don’t weigh the size of the Bibles we carry. They don’t keep a calendar for totalling the number of Bible study meetings we attend, nor do they give us a test on mastery of biblical trivia. But they watch with intense interest to see how we treat others; first, those close to us and then – the championship round – everyone else. Paul writes “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and to all” (1 Thessalonians 3:12). Those final three words are the tricky part.

For the Thessalonians, ALL was a difficult word. ALL constituted certain people who were abusing and persecuting them. “As you abound and increase in love,” Paul is saying, “Don’t forget these!” We don’t like that at first because we know we can’r individually get it done. Just as Jesus said, we can love our families, our buddies, and our friendlier neighbours all by ourselves. So can those who don’t know God. But if we are going to love beyond those comfortable boundaries, if we’re going to advance this love into hostile territory — well, we’re going to need to rely on a greater source. We’re going to need the power of the Holy Spirit. And of course, once we realize that, He has us right where He wants us. We need to call upon the love that He deposited in us (Romans 5:5) when we were first born again. We need to love others like He loved us – unconditionally. And, we can, with His help and His love.

C.S. Lewis helps us with this in one of his writings. He says that an unbeliever makes his choice as to whom he will show kindness, but a Christian has a different secret. He writes that we shouldn’t waste our time worrying about whether we love our neighbour — just act as if we did. The difference between worldly people and Christians is that the worldly treat people kindly when they like them; Christians try treating everyone kindly and thus find themselves liking more people — including some they’d never have expected to like!”

Christians, in other words, let their actions lead and their feelings follow. Human nature feels its way into acting (which can be a long wait). Christ-centered faith acts its way into feeling (which is quick, powerful, and liberating). To put it simply, we followers of Christ are realists. We understand that, naturally speaking, we are never going to like certain people. We know we’re not prone to doing the right thing when left to our own devices. But for the sake of Christ, we’re going to walk in the Spirit and treat others well because it’s the very nature of who Jesus is. Therefore (if we’re living as we ought to), we treat our enemies as benevolently as our friends and soon enough discover we have no enemies anymore. 

 

Just Do Something!

Did you know that showing compassion has measurable therapeutic value for our lives? Doing good for others does good for us. One of the benefits of showing compassion to others is that it reverses the destructive process of self-absorption, moves us into the healthy arena of seeing the need of others, and ultimately opens us up to the reality of God and His destiny for us.

William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was passionate about showing compassion, especially for the downtrodden of the London slums. One day his son Bramwell entered the room early and found his father furiously brushing his hair, brushes in both hands, as he frantically finished dressing for the day. No time for “Good Morning”; Booth looked at his son and cried, “Bramwell! Did you know there are men sleeping outdoors all night under the bridges?” He’d been in London late the preceding night, and this had been a shocking sight on his way home.

“Well, yes,” said Bramwell. “A lot of poor fellows, I suppose.”

“Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself for having known it and done nothing for them,” answered William Booth,

Bramwell began constructing elaborate excuses. He could never add such a complex project to all the things he had going on in his life, which he now began to name. His plate was full.

His father simply barked, “Go and do something!”

That moment of resolve and compassion was the beginning of the Salvation Army Shelters, a special ministry that changed the lives of hundreds of homeless men during the early days of the Salvation Army work in London.

Have you ever had a Booth moment, when suddenly you saw some person or situation through God’s eyes and developed a fiery determination to see it change?

That is almost always the start of an amazing adventure with the Lord as you move forward out of self-centredness and begin to respond with compassion and meet the needs of others. Reminds me of an old saying I heard when first saved: “Find a need and meet it!” 

So many believers sit and wonder what the Lord has called them to do. They want to know what their ministry is. It’s simple: “Find a need and meet it.” In doing so the Lord can then direct you and reveal to you your unique calling and personal ministry. Just sitting and waiting for a revelation does not work. It is much easier to steer a moving car than a car that is parked. So, “find a need and meet it” will get you moving and then God will steer and reveal. 

Good advice: “Go and do something!”

Before You Were Born – God loved you! (Part Two)

Being somewhat up in age (nice way to say I am getting old) it is interesting to look back and see the subtle but definite changes that have taken place over the past two or three decades bringing us to the place where we live in a day of cheap life and disposable pregnancies. A day when abortions are simply taken for granted as a woman’s right over her own body and a means of birth control. I am not trying to be offensive – just wanting to note the somewhat slow but definite change that has taken place in society in general. 

A generation ago, everyone referred to an unborn child as a baby. And pregnant women had no doubt that what they were carrying was a baby — a human person. It is hard for anyone to think positively about killing a baby. So to get around the distastefulness of the idea, the word baby has been replaced by terms such as “fetus,” “embryo,” or even a “clump of tissue.” These are impersonal, clinical terms easily associated with tumors or growths. These words, completely devoid of the tender emotions associated with baby, have allowed people to treat pregnancy as something like an unwanted disease instead of the exalted privilege it is — the privilege of creating beloved beings with eternal, God-given possibilities.

A side note: It is important to note that Psalm 139:16 contains the only use of the Hebrew word for embryo found in Scripture — translated as “my substance, being yet unformed” referencing a human life being watched over by God because He loves even the unborn and even yet to be formed ‘life’ that has been conceived.

To make matters worse, a new term emerged almost a decade ago in this battle for human life: “after-birth abortion.” Previously known as infanticide, after-birth abortion allows babies to be killed after they are born. According to a World article by Marvin Olasky, “The core of the argument isn’t new at universities like Princeton, where ethicist Peter Singer has long approved killing one-year-olds with physical or mental disabilities. But authors Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva push the argument further by defending the killing of any humans incapable of “attributing any value to their own existence … Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.”

The possibility that this attitude could become accepted presents a peril of almost unmatched significance. One writer explains: “The so-called ‘quality of life ethic’ is deep down more dangerous than nuclear war, for it destroys the very soul of our civilization, not just bodies. It says a human person’s value is not infinite and calculable, that it varies with health, intelligence, and social utility. That is exactly what Hitler believed.”

In my studies in the past few days here is what I have discovered:

    • God loved you before you were born (Job 10:10-12 MSG)
    • Before you were born, God knew your identity (Psalm 139:15-16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your complexity ((Psalm 139:13-14)
    • Before you were born, God knew your individuality ( Psalm 139:16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your dignity (Colossians 1:16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your destiny (Jeremiah 1:5)
    • Before you were born, God knew your possibility (Genesis 1:26-27)
    • Before you were born, God knew your legacy (Jeremiah 29:11)

Wow! God knew and loved you as a fully human person before He even made you. Before conception. He loved you as He prepared you for this world in the beauty of human pregnancy. And all along, He had a life, a purpose, and a legacy planned for you, suited to your unique individuality and personality. ALL life has dignity and value in God’s sight. We need to remember that all things were created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16) so Christ is the source of all life in creation. And, all life came into existence through Jesus Christ and for Jesus Christ. This means every child (baby) conceived is highly valuable to Him and should be to us as well. 

Just part of my journey these past few days. Thanks for listening. 

Before You Were Born – God loved you! (Part One)

I have been reading up on how God loves us even before we are born. And that God has a plan and a purpose that is unique for each one of us, again, planned out before we were even conceived in our mother’s womb. It has led to some fantastic reading in the Bible (like Jeremiah, chapter one) and even some scientific and medical understanding of life, conception, and babies which then led me into rereading some material on abortion. Let me share a true story I reread today sitting outside a medical clinic waiting for someone….

There is a woman named Norma McCorvey. Norma was twenty-one years old in 1969, unmarried, and the mother of two children — one in the custody of the child’s grandmother and one given up for adoption. While working at whatever jobs she could find — including being a barker for a travelling carnival — she discovered she was pregnant for the third time. When she sought an abortion, she found they were illegal in Texas except in cases of rape or incest. So she lied and claimed rape, but the claim was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Two attorneys used Norma’s desire to have an abortion as a reason to file suit against the state of Texas. To protect Norma’s privacy, they gave her the fictitious name of “Jane Roe,” a name immortalized in the now famous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case (“Wade” was the local district attorney in Dallas County, Texas). In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in Norma McCorvey’s favour, and abortions on demand have been legal in America ever since. (Norma’s third child was born before the case was decided.)

But Norma McCorvey had a change of heart. In the early 1990’s, she professed faith in Christ and has written two books affirming her pro-life, anti-abortion position. In her second book, Won By Love (1998), she described her sudden awareness that the life in the mother’s womb is a baby, a child whom God loves:

“When my conversion [to Christ] became public knowledge, I spoke openly to reporters about still supporting legalized abortion in the first trimester. The media was quick to use this to downplay the seriousness of my conversion, saying I typified the “general ambivalence” of our culture over abortion. But a few weeks after my conversion, I was sitting in [Operation Rescue’s] offices when I noticed a fetal development poster. The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them.

I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me, “Norma,” I said to myself, “they’re right.” I had worked with pregnant women for years. I had been through three pregnancies and deliveries myself. I should have known. Yet something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, that’s a baby! It’s as if the blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth – that’s a baby!”

As I kept researching for a good part of a day I found that modern technology now allows us to see the astonishing complexity of a developing child (baby – not ‘fetus,’ ‘embryo,’ ‘clump of tissue’ … see Part Two of my processing) with our own eyes. In a 2010 TED presentation titled Conception to Birth — Visualized, Alexander Tsiaras, mathematician and chief of Scientific Visualization at Yale University, presented a series of incredible images of a child’s development in the womb. In his production you can see never-before-viewed videos and photos of the very first cell division, the development of the heart at only 25 days, the development of the arms and hands at only 32 days, and the development of the retinas, nose and eyes at 52 days.

Clearly astonished by what he witnessed in his own images, Tsiaras concluded his talk with these words: “The complexity of the things, the mathematical model of how these things are indeed done, [is] beyond human comprehension. Even though I am a mathematician I look at this with the marvel of, ‘How did these instruction sets build that which is us?’ It’s a mystery, it’s magic, it’s divinity.”

“For You formed my inward parts;

You covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 

Marvellous are Your works;

And that my soul knows very well. (Psalm 139:13-14)

 

Oh, that marvel of conception…

What a miracle of skin and bone, muscle and brain.

You gave me life itself, and incredible love.

You watched and guarded every breath I took.

(Job 10:10-12 The Message version)

More next time…

Do You Really Believe God Loves You?

In his book With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, Skye Jethani tells of his meetings with college students from the House of Despair, an “underground safehouse” for those struggling with the difficult issues of life and faith.
 
Around their Christian campus, these students were known for numbing their pain with alcohol, drugs, sex, and, most curiously, raw conversation. When they met with Jethani, he insisted that they recognize only three rules: be honest, be gracious, and be present. Their range of subjects had no limits. One week it might be the doctrine of hell; the next about the pressure to find a spouse.
 
One night the subject was destructive habits. One student told his story, which turned out to be typical of many: “My parents were students at a Christian college in the early 90’s when a revival broke out … A bunch of grads that year became missionaries and pastors. They were on fire for God. And here I am consumed by sin day after day. I don’t feel like I’m suppose to be here. I know I’m not who God wants me to be.” Other students shared similar stories, often through tears, about how disappointed God must be with them.
 
After listening to these stories, Jethani asked, “How many of you were raised in a Christian home?
 
They all raised their hands.
 
“How many of you grew up in a Bible-centered church?”
 
All hands stayed up.
 
“This in incredible!” Jethani said, shaking his head in disbelief. “You’ve all spent eighteen or twenty years in the church. You’ve been taught the Bible from the time you could crawl … but not one of you … said that in the midst of your sin God still loves you.”
 
Jethani concluded: “I did not blame the students for this failure. Somewhere in their spiritual formation they were taught, either explicitly or implicitly, that what mattered was not God’s love for them, but how much they could accomplish for Him. That night I finally understood why they called it the House of Despair.”
 
The real issue for you today: How deeply do you believe that God loves you? And that is love for you is unconditional – not dependent on what you have done, are doing, or who you have become at this point in your life?

Sometimes I Am Not Positive

I am working at being much more positive

My personality is not naturally positive … But I am working to change my approach to life and daily circumstances

After all, with God nothing is impossible

I read the other day:

“A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort”    Herm Albright

So, I am working at ‘being a warrior and not a worrier’

‘A fountain not a drain’

A VPP and not a VDP … Very Positive Person / Very Draining Person

I have discovered that it takes a positive attitude to move forward

And, I don’t mean all the self-help, positive-thinking teachings that are out there

Most of the ‘Have a positive attitude’ self-help  preaching and teaching is not biblical

Conceive it, believe it, achieve it

Health and wealth

Name it and claim it

Blab it and grab it

Lots of motivational speakers and self-help preachers make lots of promises without preaching the whole gospel — or any of the true gospel

The self-improvement industry has become a kind of religion that says, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me”

We should guard ourselves against any self-help ideology that pushes God to the sidelines, magnifies human abilities, and doesn’t tell the whole truth

But there is a positive, hopeful, joyful, optimism that is totally biblical in its essence and comes from Christ alone

You can be a Christian and an optimist at the same time — and you should be

Faith adds a positive power to your life

Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

That sounds pretty positive, doesn’t it?

The man who wrote those words was an optimist with a capital O

Read his story in the book of Acts and study his thirteen letters

 

They are packed with optimism

His words reveal to us his powerful secrets for resilience, optimism, and positive thinking and belief

By stepping into his story at critical moments, we can understand how he lived a life of positive accomplishment despite hardships and adverse life circumstances

1> Be Positive in Your Convictions

Paul’s optimism started with his positive convictions

He lived with “conviction”

A CONVICTION is a fixed belief

A deeply held set of certainties that lodges and lives in the center of your mind and heart

It is critical that your convictions be sound and true – in other words, biblical

Pauls’ certainly were!

He wrote his convictions down and his letters are a journal of his life and his belief system – his convictions

Paul’s core convictions were the foundation of his incredible life and ministry and the basis of his positive attitude 

Paul had two very positive core convictions that motivated him and provided directions for his life

A> Be Positive About God’s Love For You

The most basic conviction in life is rooted in understanding the nature of God

Because, without a good, powerful, loving creative, eternal God, there is no basis for optimism 

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Great reasons to be optimistic and positive in your life

Not only is God real but He loves us

Not only does God love us, but nothing we might experience in life can separate us from His love

The ten things Paul lists in these verses could each be a potential barrier between you and God

But Paul says, with absolute assurance, that none of them can separate you from God’s love

The loss of hope around us today is rampant – especially as we enter the second year of fighting the Covid pandemic

And lack of hope is lethal to a joy-filled, positive life

Added to the pandemic – hope has disappeared in many aspects of life because of a growing ignorance and even rejection of God’s love

Without an understanding of God’s love

Without an experience of God’s love 

Without an encounter with God’s love

There is little to be positive about in every day life

These powerful words in Romans 8 about God’s love are reinforced by a blessing Paul offered toward the end of the same letter

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13)

You can make that a personal prayer by switching a word or two…

“Now may the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that I may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

That prayer, prayed often, can adjust your mindset in any given season of life

Deepen your core convictions

Strengthen your belief

Allow you to be much more positive regardless of what is happening in your life

God loves you and wants you to overflow with hope and optimism!

Never forget that

Let that conviction dwell in the very core of your being

In his book The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning tells the story of Edward Farrell, a man who decided to travel from his hometown of Detroit to visit Ireland, where he would celebrate his uncle’s eightieth birthday.

Early on the morning of his uncle’s birthday, they went for a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney. As the sun rose, his uncle turned and stared straight into the breaking light. For twenty minutes they stood there in silence, and then his elderly uncle began to skip along the shoreline, a radiant smile on his face.

After catching up with him, Edward asked, “Uncle Seamus, you look very happy. Do you want to tell me why?”

“Yes, lad,” the old man said, tears washing down his face. “You see, the Father is very fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very fond of me.”

In that moment Uncle Seamus experienced how much he was loved by his Father in heaven, an overwhelming sense of joy flooded his heart, and he began to dance along the shoreline.

Have you ever had a moment like that?

Have you ever awakened and said, “He really does love me”? 

 

Do you know what it means ti overflow with hope and optimism?

Hope, optimism, and joy – a positive outlook on life – can become a habitual attitude if we remember that God loves us 

A conviction: Be positive about God’s love for you

B> Be Positive About God’s Plan For You

The second core conviction or people who view life and live life positively — they are optimistic about their exciting future

They embrace tomorrow with enthusiasm and anticipation!

That is only possible if you know your future is guaranteed to be exciting, eternal, meaningful, and useful

Only one Person can assure you of that — the Lord Himself

And only one Book can provide the sure and certain details — the Bible 

The apostle Paul constantly referred to the future

He put the past behind him and strained toward what was ahead

(See teaching: Sometimes I Lose My Focus)

Even when he was near death, Paul was excited about tomorrow

Think about it! While waiting on death row for his martyrdom, Paul was eager for tomorrow

The last known letter Paul wrote was to his friend Timothy, and it was written from a Roman prison as he awaited a certain death

Listen to what he said in the final chapter to his final letter (book):

2 Timothy 4:6-8 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

Paul had an incredible perspective on dying

Years before, he told the Philippians, 

Philippians 1:21-24 NLT “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.”

Perhaps Paul’s remarkable perspective flowed from the time he was caught up to heaven and glimpsed the glories that await us there (see: 2 Corinthians 12:4)

But we have a blessing Paul didn’t have: We have the Book of Revelation

Written after Paul’s death

The final two chapters describe our heavenly home in great detail for us

(See: Revelation, Chapters 21 and 22)

The more we study those chapters, the more excited we should become about tomorrow

How long has it been since you were really excited about the future?

When you went to bed last night, were you excited to see what today would bring?

          • Remember when you were a kid counting the days until your birthday?
          • Or a graduate looking forward to your next step in life?
          • Or engaged to be married and eager for your wedding day?
          • An expectant parent waiting for the baby to arrive?

A psychologist wrote:

“Although we often think the past dictates our behaviour, the future is what really motives most of our actions”

As a follower of Christ, I’m ready to die and willing to live

And in either case I can’t wait to see what God will do next

I live constantly curious about what God will do tomorrow …

Romans 5:2 TLB “For because of our faith, he has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be.”

So, to be positive and excited about life:

1> Be positive in your convictions

A> Be positive about God’s love for you

B> Be positive about God’s plan for you

2> Be Positive in Your Conversations

If you are positive in your core convictions — you will become more positive in your daily conversations

In the book of Ruth, when the landowner Boaz went out each morning to check on the harvesters, he greeted them by shouting, “The Lord be with you!” 

And they answered him, “The Lord bless you!” (Ruth 2:4)

What a positive way to start the day!

Sometimes we have no one to encourage us at the break of day, so we have to speak to ourselves, saying something like: “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24)

Try saying that aloud with enthusiasm when getting up each morning

It will make a difference

Outside of praying, your most important words are the ones you say to yourself

These words are silent but significant

Self-help advocates call this ‘self-talk’ but I want to skip the psycho-babble and go straight to Paul’s words in Scripture

Did Paul ever talk to himself?

He said, he strove to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV)

He said, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law” (Romans 7:22 NIV)

He said, “I am not ashamed for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12)

And, as we have learned, he also said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13)

Paul is saying…. When it comes to negative thoughts:

      • Don’t curse them
      • Don’t nurse them
      • Don’t rehearse them
      • Disperse them

Push out your negative thoughts – worry, anxiety, fear, pessimism

Push out the self-talk tapes from your past – you dad, your family, a friend

A doctor a Christian – who has run double triathlons (two triathlons back-to-back with only a twenty-four hour break) six times … the last time when he was 59 years old

When asked how he did it, he said, “I have learned to talk to myself instead of listening to myself. If I listen to myself, I hear all the reasons why I should give up. I hear that I’m too tired, too old, too weak to make it. But if I talk to myself, I can give myself the encouragement and words I need to hear to keep running and finish the race.”

In Psalm 42 the palmist said to himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (Psalm 42:11)

We don’t know the author of Psalm 42, but it might have been King David, because he knew how to preach to himself when needed

As a young man, a series of disastrous problems had befallen David in a town called Ziklag

His family and the families of his men had been kidnapped, and even his own men were turning on him and talking about stoning him to death

What did David do? 

He preached to himself — He “strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6)

And, in that strength he rose up to tackle his problems with a positive spirit that came from his belief in God’s watchful care for his life

Jeremiah did the same

After watching his city go up in flames and his nation go down in defeat, he said:

“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-22)

This is what we must do

If we listen to the negative tapes looping around in our thoughts, we will sink into the pessimism of the devil  (depression)

We will hear ourselves saying:

          • How could I have been so stupid?
          • What is wrong with me?
          • Everything is falling apart!
          • This is a disaster
          • Why is this happening to me?

Stop the tape!

Here’s a better one:

“I know in Whom I believe, and I am persuaded He is able to keep what I have entrusted to Him. Why are you cast down? Hope in God. I’ll soon be praising Him again, for He is the health of my countenance. I’m going to recall something and keep it in mind — the Lord is merciful, and His compassions won’t fail me. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Dr. H. Norman Wright … a great believer wrote:

“Depending on how active your mind is, you may produce more than 45,000 thoughts a day. Whew! It might be compared to a flock of birds flying in and out of your mind.”

To complicate our minds more, noted Dr. Wright, not all these are conscious thoughts, and sometimes they pass so fleetingly we barely notice them

But listen to what Dr. Wright says next:

“Every time you have a thought, it triggers an electrochemical reaction in your body … Each thought sets off a biological process — about 400 billion at once. Because of that thought, chemicals surge through the body, producing electromagnetic waves. Those setoff emotions, which affect how we behave … Science simply confirms what Scripture has been saying all along: We are shaped, in large part, by our thoughts.”

2B> Speak Positively to Others 

Learn to talk to yourself instead of listening to yourself

Learn to encourage yourself in the Lord

It will change the way you speak to others

Your mood and message will be different, even in the midst of difficulties

This was another of Paul’s secrets

Once he was caught in a vicious storm with a terrified crew on a sinking ship

The typhoon threatened to rip the ship into  matchsticks — and even the captain gave up hope of survival

But Paul rallied their spirits, saying, “Keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God” (Acts 27:25 NIV)

Nevertheless the storm grew worse

It was the deadliest storm the sailors had ever seen, and there were 276 souls on board

 

Two weeks of unbearable strain drained the crew of their last drops of hope, and none of them could eat or rest through the wild hours of the worst night

Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. (Acts 27:33-36 NIV).

Do you know someone struggling to keep their head above water?

Think of the power of saying to them — in the right way at the right time — “Kep uo your courage! I have faith in God. Take care of yourself. You’ll get through this storm. Believe God and His Word.”

There is power in an attitude that is positively biblical — and biblically positive

As London recovered from World War II, a prominent minister, Leslie Weatherhead, wrote a book to help his British congregation recover from the emotional trauma of the conflict.

He warned his people to avoid talking all the time about what was wrong with them

We all need a very few close friends, of course, to whom we can unburden our hearts and share our troubles, he said. But telling everyone we meet about our troubles gives our woes “persisting power.”

It’s tempting to share our difficulties, because we crave sympathy

“But we must realize that every recital of our woes and every brooding hour etches on our minds the picture of the weaker, not the stronger, self.”

The more we talk about our troubles, the more we rehearse and reinforce them, and the more we spread the pessimism that’s endemic to our culture

Instead, focus on others.

Spread optimism 

Help those around you to take courage

Help them to believe

“Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)

Our world is wrecked, and as we work to accomplish what God wants us to do — the last thing we need are endless critics

Instead, we need to camaraderie of Christ-centered people who say what is good and helpful so our words will be an encouragement to many

We need people who believe and who inspire belief. 

3> Be Positive in Your Crisis

Only after you have learned to be positive in your CONVICTIONS and in your CONVERSATION can you learn to persevere with a hopeful attitude through CHALLENGES that will inevitably come

During times of conflict and crisis, you can be optimistic and positive — this was true of Paul the apostle

In fact, he was very positive and thus resilient — always getting up after hitting a crisis or a tough circumstance in his journey with Jesus

He said in Romans 8:35-37: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

The apostle lists seven persecutions he had constantly endured

It felt like “being killed all day long”

But, he said he was “more than a conqueror”

The phrase more than conquerors is a translation of a Greek word: hypernikomen. 

Notice the letters “nik” are in the middle of the word — hypernikomen

‘Nike’ is the Greek word for victory, which is why a great company chose it for its name

It means “overcomer”

And look at the first part of the term — hypernikomen

You know the term ‘hyper.’

It means extra, obsessive, over and above, over the top

So the phrase more than conquerors is a super-term

It means super-overcomer

Paul isn’t just overcoming his difficulties

He kept overcoming them again and again through the power of Him who loved him — the Lord Jesus Christ

We can’t control everything that happens to us

We have little say in the affairs of the world

But we can choose our response to what happens

We can mope, cope, or hope

I’m here to tell you that biblical hope is the greatest source of optimism in the world

It is relentless, rewarding, and bring new life to our heart and soul

At this point I want to shout:

On the authority of Scripture and because of the love of Jesus Christ, be an over-the-top overcomer

Believe! Trust Him!

And, be positive in your CONVICTIONS, your CONVERSATIONS, your CRISIS, and #4 – in  your COUNTENANCE

4> Be Positive in Your Countenance

Your mood is always reflected in your countenance

When optimism is in your heart, a joyful countenance is on your face

Someone said, “What’s down in the well comes up in the pail.”

The Bible states:

“Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (Psalm 42:11)

Unfortunately, we don’t have a photograph of the apostle Paul, so I can’t prove his face was radiant

But it would be hard to doubt it

His positive attitude infiltrated all of his writings

For example, he told the Corinthians, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV)

People see your face before they know your heart

Psalm 34:5 “They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faced were not ashamed”

“A person’s wisdom brightens their face and changes its hard appearance” (Ecclesiastes 8:1 NIV)

That inner wisdom comes from believing

It’s not believing in positive thinking or the power of a positive attitude

It isn’t even believing in ourselves

True optimism comes from deep biblical convictions about the nature of God

Knowing He loves you and has an exciting plan that is uniquely yours

It comes from reminding yourself and others of His goodness and of the incredible future He has for those who trust Him

A firm belief in the God of Scripture will bear you through the crises of life and put joy on your face

Your faith will make you radiant.

Some wise advice as we conclude …

A smile is an asset; a frown is a liability

Some people grin and bear it; others smile and change it

Being happy and enthusiastic in life is always a choice

Both enthusiasm and pessimism are contagious

How much of each do you spread?

Story to end the teaching…

In November 2007, a tough old Alaska fisherman named Alan Ryden took a month-long trip at sea in his forty-two-foot boat

The trip became a nightmare when the boat capsized in a terrible storm

Ryden managed to get into a raft wearing his survival suit and fleece jacket, and he got off a Mayday signal to the Coast Guard. But the weather was wicked, and the little raft tossed around like a cork.

Shivering in the buffeted raft, Alan felt himself losing hope. His mind panicked and quickly sunk into deep discouragement and hopelessness. He began wondering if his life insurance would provide for his family. 

Suddenly, Alan realized his own thoughts were pulling him under more than the seas, and he made one of the toughest decisions of his life. He determined to cast out negative thoughts and to toss them out of the raft like weights.

He began quoting Scriptures to himself, speaking God’s Word aloud. He started thanking God for any good thing that came to mind. He said to himself, “Well, at least I am in a survival suit. My suit does have a top-of-the-line strobe light attached … At least I am in some kind of raft, and at least I got that fleece jacket on … I am strong, a good swimmer, and have no fear of the water.”

Ryden’s mental struggle deepened as the darkness set in, but he remained committed to hanging on with all his strength to the anchor of hope. He later said, “There was definitely a grace from God … I had to fight for every inch in my thoughts.”

Ten hours later, Ryden was rescued. Tracie Miles, who wrote about his story in her book Unsinkable Faith, said the real rescue was inward. It had been achieved during the storm when, by grace, Ryden had “anchored himself in God and embraced positive thoughts, which helped him stay buoyant.”

She’s right

Believing and learning to be optimistic requires us to stay positive in our convictions, even in the middle of a crisis

It’s an essential skill you must develop if you want to move forward in life

So, anchor yourself in the hope of Jesus Christ

Cling to the promises of the Bible

Determine by God’s grace to keep your mind buoyant and your soul unsinkable even in the storms — Be positive!