Thursday, December 31, 2015

Make It Happen

We're still following the progress of the Apostles as they do "their" thing. We're now in Acts Chapter 10. Subsequent to this time it would appear that Christianity was all about the Jews. The 'mystery of Christ" differed:
Ephesians 3:1 "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; 6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:"
To read more about "the mystery of Christ" refer to my blog topic: The Mystery of Christ.

Salvation was always by grace in all ages, grace is the same then as it was in the apostolic age and salvation was always for all mankind! Furthermore, salvation was always through Christ Jesus who was the promised Messiah. The faith of Abraham in Jesus is what saved Abraham. He enjoyed heaven before Jesus made the sacrifice because his faith in what would happened saved him!

Acts 3:26 says that the Jews were given first chance. Some did accept Jesus, but most rejected. It then became the gentiles who were more accepting.
Matthew 28:18 "And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus was in on "the plan". He revealed the mystery before Paul had his revelation. For alert people there was no mystery of Christ for Christ revealed it! Abraham knew the mystery. Moses did too! The promise of the seed of Abraham included everyone! Abraham, after all, had other sons! Ishmael was a son. His seed was never considered part of the Jews! It was Jacob's line which became Israel.
Ishmael was part of the Abrahamic Covenant and he too was circumcised to seal the deal.

God's Plan A was that those not of the line of Jacob (Israelites) were to be part of the promise.

The Abrahamic Covenant was symbolic of salvation by grace. It was sealed by circumcision. Circumcision in like manner was symbolic of baptism. Both are signatures to the deal. As circumcision gave up "the flesh" (foreskin) for God, baptism gives up the whole flesh (the person) for Jesus!

In Acts prior to Chapter 10 salvation had been all about the Jews! Now look what happened next:
Acts 10:42 "And he (Jesus) commanded us to preach unto the people (Matthew 28:18), and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. 43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. 44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost."
Cornelius was a Roman. As such he was non-Jewish and was a gentile. To the Jews they were unclean because they ate non-kosher food. In Jew-dom they would be second class people from a nation which was considered top class. The bridge between Messianic Christianity (the Jews) and Universal Christianity (all) was Cornelius and his cohorts.  Gentiles and grace were the mystery. Cornelius was the key to the mystery because God put Cornelius and Peter in unison! The gentiles were no longer considered to be unclean by what they eat because the blood of Jesus cleaned all that!

It would appear that Cornelius must have heard Jesus teach and possibly saw his miracles. It may be that his regiment "the Italian band" had been there when Jesus was crucified! However it was done, Cornelius was a believer! Cornelius was "a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.(Acts 10:2) In other words, Cornelius was a believer, had faith in, trusted and obeyed Jesus. He was "saved", but had yet to be filled with the Holy Ghost nor baptized.

As it was revealed to Peter that salvation was for all (through a vision), Peter spoke to both Jews and gentiles. He revealed the mystery of Christ to both. The Jews were astonished and the gentiles received the Holy Ghost! (Acts 10:45). The astonishment of the Jews was that they believed, since they were God's chosen people, that salvation was for the Jews only. They failed to realize that the Abramic Covenant was for everybody! Because Cornelius was already a Christian, he, along with other gentiles, received the Holy Ghost.

After that we read:
Acts 10:47 "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
There is an order, it appears, in grace: 1) salvation, 2) receiving the Holy Ghost and 3) baptism.  Does God always do the same thing for everybody in the same order at different times? All I can say is "take God out of the box in which you endeavor to contain him!" God does what he wants with whomever he wants! However, if one refers to Acts Chapter 8 the Jews had the same sequence of grace. On the other hand, in Acts Chapter 9, Paul was "a chosen vessel". He was a special case. It appears that he was miraculously saved by irresistible grace, was filled with the Holy Ghost and baptized all at the same time. (God out of his box!).

The Word promised that Abraham's seed would be his heirs (Israelites and Ismaelites; Jew and gentile), Jesus commanded that the gospel be preached to ALL nations, the door to salvation for all was opened by Peter and finally, Paul brought the gospel to all peoples. The mystery of Christ was slowly revealed to the Jews who failed to understand, and the gospel given to the gentiles who had previously not understood! Jesus said to make it happen. The apostles made it happen and the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Jesus, was there to run the show!

The Holy Ghost was with King David, he was there with the prophets, he remained silent for 400 years, he was there with Jesus, and after Jesus bodily ascended his "ghost" remained. Jesus is with us today because the Holy Ghost resides in Christians. We are God's temple. Jesus lives within us. The Holy Ghost is Jesus with us. You must understand that Jesus never left us! Matthew 28:20 says "behold, I am with you always"!

A great plan God had. His plan is my hope... and can be yours!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Forgiveness without Love :Oxymoronic

Lie of the day; no lie of a lifetime! Read the quotation by Tony Gaskins (Figure #2: No Love with Forgiveness) and tell me what's wrong with it:

Are there merely two choices for people we know? Is it only love or hate or is their indifference?

Love is from God. "Non-love" is not from God:
1 John 4:8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
This is extremely important for not only Christians, but any person! God is love. He is the author of "the value we place on people and God himself"! By "non-love" we just haven't met God yet, let alone submitted to his will! What is his will? To love him foremost and others just as we love ourselves!" (Matthew 22:36-40).

If there is "indifference" then it's not of God! Those created have value to God and the failure to love what God has created is sinful!

Children will say "I don't hate him; I just don't like him!" or "I like him as a friend, but don't love him!"

"Liking" is indifference in God's eyes. It's Satan's excuse for hating!
1 John 2:9 "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now."
Since God is Light, outside that light is "darkness" and that's Satan's realm!
 John 8:12 "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."
Therefore, hate is darkness and "non-love" is as well. Only love is Light and love is God's will and command for us (John 14:15).  "Love" is not an emotion nor a choice. It's a command of God!

"Indifference" is not love. "Resentment" is not love and "shunning is not love!" How can we love a person that is excluded from fellowship? "I don't hate the guy; I just don't want to be around him!" Does that sound like love? Acts 1 teaches that all were in one accord before the Holy Spirit came. Some didn't love, others merely "tolerate" and others hate. Those at Pentecost were doing what God commanded: loving one another!

Is your church dead or dying? If so it's because of discord! It's people hating and indifference to others. It's because members just tolerate each other.

Why is there lack of love: hate, indifference, and resentment; all "un-love"? It's because Christians are not walking in Light. They are in darkness! If one sin was to exclude, it would be the sin of "non-love"! God says that those who fail to love are in darkness; the kingdom of Satan.

Let's look at what drives people away from love (follow Figure #1; Love and Forgiveness). Before we know people there is a kind of respect for each other. That is because he or she is a fellow human being and one of God's children. However, if one is not born-again as a new person, the inclination is to be at odds with that person. This is first impressions. Non-Christians, or those "in darkness" value superficial things. Christians are to view the person as a spiritual being with value.

So given that, Christians have a sort of love for the person. It would make us sorrowful if calamity happened. That care is love.

The non-Christian can have concern as well. They may value life because of humanitarian reasons, but for the most part, those in darkness don't have a spiritual love for individuals. They value the material, but the spiritual value they are indifferent or oblivious to it's existence. Godly love is valuing others because they are spiritually just as important as we are (love others as ourselves).

Once we know a person, the two different individuals (represented by circles) become closer and overlap. Two people who before were in separate worlds then share some common space between worlds. That common space is love. Because of common things we become attracted to one another. That common area is signified by the heart and is love. It's a mutual thing!

The hatched area common to both circles is friendship. Friendship is the bond between individuals and is the area of mutual love! Christians have a special bond between the two: they are both children of God and they love Jesus, the pattern for their very existence. There are many superficial things which create that bond. It may be common interests, personalities, character, vocations or whatever, but divine love is the common denominator in how Christians are friends.

The Greatest Commandment is a demonstration of that bond. Loving one another is a demonstration of loving God. Not loving God nor others is darkness.

What if one person is not a Christian? Then the other person makes up for it! Person #2 is to love the other without regard to the spiritual condition of Person #1. Why? Because God loves the sinner, then we are to do the same!
Romans 5:8 "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
So here is the gist of faulty thinking: "My lack of love is justified if someone wrongs me or if we are different!" What if Jesus thought that way? He loved us while we were yet sinners! Sinners do mean things, do sinful things and some even despise Jesus. Others rob banks, have orgies and even hate; yet to be like Jesus, we are to still love them!

Moving down the graphic (Figure #1) I demonstrate moving away from God's will. Remember that "our other god" is our "self", Satan's will is that friendships be broken. Why? Because love is the bond of which friendships are formed! By breaking the love bond, and severing friendships, Satan has by his wiles, demeaned and stolen from God. His child or children fail to love and are consumed by darkness. Light is not in them!

Figure #1: Love & Forgiveness
Friendships are a tight bond if they are glued with God's love. Satan wants to break that bond, but it's tight! He needs a tool to force the separation. Satan uses people to do his work for him. He doesn't have to drive the wedge. He merely creates the stump into which the wedge is driven. Looking again at Figure #1 the middle graphic, there is a wedge between the two persons. Rather than the bond of love, there is shown a lightning bolt. That's "friction".

"Friction" is two worlds colliding! The first graphic shows two worlds as well, but with a bond of love. Satan tempts (the stump into which the wedge is driven) and because there are two worlds, one or both persons hit the wedge often repeatedly! Wedges may be gossip, jealously, lust, theft, lies, or even physical wrongs. Wedges hurt people Either one or both gets hurt and the wedge is driven. Love no longer bonds and rather than friendship, individual person-hood results, each little god looking out for the "self". 

Satan wants us to be merely persons, not friends, He wants love dissolved from the bond and he gives the wedge for us to use on ourselves! When the unity of friendship is broken, the one become two. Love is gone. Sure indifference, even fake love (cordiality) remains, but love is gone and the person who drives the wedge is in darkness!

Sometimes Person #1 drives the wedge, but is sorrowful for driving it. God wants us to make things right again. Not just to get along, but to restore love and friendship.
Matthew 5:23 "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
It doesn't matter who was wrong. The brother in Light reconciles with his brother. Sometimes we must admit wrong to be reconciled because the other person perceives wrong! That's humbling ourselves, or dismissing the pride which is kneeling to the altar of the god, the "self".

Associated with reconciliation is mutual forgiveness: for perceived wrong and actual wrong. Basically, for being Satan's tool in tempting a wedge to be driven.
Ephesians 4:32 "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
Satan will ALWAYS be there to tempt. Wedges will always be driven. People ALWAYS somehow wrong us or we will have perceived wrongs. That's Satan "putting asunder what God has created"! He not only created marriage, but the institutions of love and friendship are his as well. The destruction of friendships is the divorce of love for one another in actuality. Just as marital divorce is Satan's working, the dissolution of friendships makes Satan smile at his own works! As long as God IS, friendships are salvageable. God WILL BE always and reconciliation is always possible... and God's will; nay his command!

In Figure #1 (lower graphic) what is it that breaks friendships and separates friends (see the ruler)? It's the ugly demon of "Hate"! "But", you say, "I don't hate him; I just don't love him!" We have already established that in God's eyes "lack of love" is akin to hate because we must love one another. The scale (ruler) between two people is actually a measurement of how far out of God's will the people are. It may be one or the other or both which creates the distance, but with separation, who is to gain? Satan! Person #1, Person #2 and God lose!

What can rid the graphic of distance between the two? Forgiveness and reconciliation. That's what God wants because to "love" there must be friendship, and as we have seen, love is the glue which bonds friendship. Saying "love thy neighbor" is the same as saying "befriend your neighbor". But God has one more requirement "love even your enemy".
Luke 6:35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
 That's to be friends in spite of differences. The Civil War is an example of many people loving even their enemy. On slow days they would commune in friendship across enemy lines. Enemies can befriend enemies, but what's wrong when Christians can't be friends with Christians?

That wedge still separates. The scale holds them apart. The scale is lack of love and to love means to restore friendships.

Now look at what Tom Gaskins says in Figure #2:

Figure #2: No Love with Forgiveness
He forgave, but he failed to love! "Not hating" is "failure to love". Sure our emotions justify hating, but love is more than an emotion. It's a command of Jesus! Why should we feel righteous when we just fail to hate somebody? We should be ashamed because we're to love everybody, even our enemies, and merely being cordial is not the purveyance of love!

"I'll never get close enough for you to hurt me again" is trading the love of others to preserve your own god! You don't want your god hurt so you even disobey God's command to "love one another". Strangely, God knows how much you love your "self" and demands that you love others, even your enemies, as much as you do your "self"; your own "other god".

What is "forgiveness"? It's to cancel hard feelings. It's the removal of hate and the return of love! In Figure #1 it's yanking that scale which separates and allowing the two worlds to merge again. It's the restoration of love and it's that love which defines friendship!

Merely "forgiving" is as filthy rags in God's sight. Forgiving must be accompanied by love! John 3:16 speaks of God so loving the world. We are to love as well. God loved us even though we're sinners:
Romans 5:8 "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
Jesus loves us even as we sin against him! He's our friend. He's there whenever anyone turns to him, yet Christians can't truly forgive. What if Jesus forgave us our sins, but failed to love us? That would be a farce! Forgiveness without love is dead works. Mr. Gaskins is spreading false doctrine!  God is angered when we Christians fail to do the one thing he asks of us; to love one another!

Do you have resentment, lack of true forgiveness and hate (even apathy) on your heart right now? If so, you walk in darkness and you need a little Jesus in you! That's opening yourself back up to allow love to return. For the Holy Spirit to fill you, love must welcome him. All us Christians must be in one accord for the Holy Spirit to work within us. Just be friends! So easy, yet so hard because disdain is a tool of Satan, but love conquers all! Defeat Satan! Be joyful again to you who do not love and harbor ill-feelings in your heart.

Jesus forgives us just as if the sin never happened. His love is not taken away and returned because of our wrongs. His is steadfast love! Love isn't withheld based of damage to our little god, but in spite of how hurt our "self" becomes. It's God we are to worship. We are to sacrifice the "self". Forgiveness is the sacrifice we are to make in the spirit of love! Jesus is our friend because he loves us. Friends love one another! Hate is of the devil and so is "non-love".

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Signs of the Times

Acts 9:39 "Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. 42 And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord."
The Book of Acts of the Apostle's has some of the most spiritual "acts" found anywhere in the Bible!  Why is it that most churches skip over such a wonderful book? They fear that preaching on this book makes them a Pentecostal. Face it, disciples at that time did speak in tongues! People were filled with the Holy Ghost. Some were resurrected. Paul was bitten by a deadly snake and didn't die! Acts did happen. The Holy Ghost has power. It's necessary for him to comfort Christians!

Look at the scenario. Jesus had just been killed and ascended. He was no longer with them, so they thought!  He was no longer there to rally them. The people hated Christians then as they do now. There were false teachers and preachers then as there are now. The Christians needed someone to comfort them! They needed convincing! For that reason God came back, so to speak. Actually, the Holy Ghost  never left. He just had remained silent for a time.

Even Baptists don't preach much from Acts. They fear that they will be accused of being a Pentecostal. However, this book is full of comfort. Because a person believes in the Holy Ghost doesn't make them a Pentecostal! Some even have a problem with "ghost", changing it to "Holy Spirit". They are one and the same! Check the definition.pneuma is "Jesus' own spirit". He's gone in body. It's his "ghost" which remains!

One of the mysteries of Christ is that he has always been and always will be. He was with us on Day One and will be on Day Last. It was Jesus who spoke to Abraham, it was Jesus speaking on the Mount and it's Jesus' who spoke to the disciples on the day of Pentecost! All scripture is all about Jesus!

However, because the new church did things, does not make that the norm. Be assured that people who handle snakes may be faithful, but many of them have died! No one in post-apostolic times have raised people from the dead as Peter did as proof that God exists, and no one spoke in tongues after Christianity was firmly planted until modern times! (This is a 20th Century Phenomena).

It's clear that in the early church many things were done to convince people that Jesus wasn't dead. In this case when Peter raised Dorcus " many believed in the Lord" (verse 42).  Who are the :many people? It's the Jews!

Throughout the Bible time after time the Jews required miracles to believe. Moses did many miracles to convince the Jews with hardened hearts that God is their Lord. Paul said this about miracles:
1 Corinthians 1:22 "For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom..."
God has two different ministries for two different peoples. Jews don't believe unless they see the power of God in action. Acts is "action".  The Acts of the Apostles were to give the Jews the first chance! They needed to see evidence of the Spirit (Jesus) to believe that he was still alive. They needed to see the power of God at work in resurrection because many didn't believe that it could happen. Those with Paul needed to see that he was poisoned by the viper, but lived.

Can these things still happen? Most assuredly. God does not live in our little box. He does what he needs to do to suit his purpose. What was his purpose in giving Peter the power over death? It was to make believers of the Jews!

With Paul the ministry was different. He minimized miracles and taught truth. This is what he meant when he said "the Greeks seek after wisdom". Those Greeks are us gentiles. We don't need miracles do believe, we need convincing! Reason, Paul realized, is the nature of the Greeks. Do modern Christians need miracles to believe. No! We believe by faith. We believe because of the witnesses who left a deposition to the reality and works of Jesus. I didn't need snake handling to believe, I didn't need a resurrection to believe and I didn't need speaking in tongues to believe! I believe because the evidence builds a strong case for Jesus!

My faith isn't based on emotion. No where does scripture say that I must have an electrical trickle running down my spine, tears of ecstasy or shouting nor being astounded at things that I can't explain! It does say that as a result "many believed in the Lord" (verse 42)!

What causes you to "believe"? That's to have confidence in the truth or in the existence of something. In this case it's confidence that Jesus (God) spoke truth and that God truly exists. Not only God the Father, but God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Jews needed "signs" to build their confidence. As the magicians with Pharaoh, signs can be faked. That doesn't help me. I need something which makes sense. It's knowledge reasoned out called "wisdom" as to why I believe!

Wisdom would dictate that there must be something more to life than death. As such I want eternal life! How do I get eternal life. Jesus says that he is the Way and only way. It makes sense for me to want eternal life and to get it from the "gettin' place". I believe in Jesus because he told me that eternal life is through him alone!

Now, doesn't it make more sense to believe what Jesus said in plain old Aramaic than what some say in Yiddish?  I'm not denigrating that Jews needed signs to believe, but wise people don't. I believe in Jesus although my preacher doesn't raise people from the dead nor even do faith healing. It's my faith in Jesus which heals me. I'm made "whole" through belief as the woman with a blood disease was made whole. Likewise, I'm made spiritually whole as the same woman was by mere belief. She was healed before the miracle because of her faith in Jesus. It wasn't the miracle that saved her, but belief!

Most of us are Greeks. We believe without signs. Some are still Jews and need signs. God will use whatever it takes to convince doubting people. It seems that most believe without miracles. For others it may take miracles. My position is that I won't put God in a box, manufactured by me, how he must do things. He did quite well with his creation without man's input and he can save souls without me insisting that he do it my way!

Doctors now revive those who are technically dead. Does that convince me to believe in Jesus? No. It's science which does that. God allows it, and it may make some believe. They aren't resuurected, but their functions once idle, now restored. But, that's not the norm. Most people go ahead and die!

Do people still speak in tongues? Only God knows the authenticity of it. That's between them and God. I'm not going to grieve God with my pride.  If that's what it takes, God may do that with some, but it's not the norm! Mankind didn't need it for two thousand years, but now maybe they do! That's not for me to say. Why do I not speak in tongues. Why doesn't my preacher resurrect the dead? Because I don't need that evidence. I believe Jesus just because he spoke truth!

Excuse me for a second. A snake is trying to bite me and I don't need that! (smile).

Monday, December 28, 2015

Fear and Comfort

Acts 9:31 "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied."
Paul had his own thorn. (See Paul's Thorn in the Flesh). However, Paul had been the church's thorn! Now Jesus saved Paul and he became a great spokesman for Christ, whom he once persecuted. He went about obeying Jesus whom he had seen on the way to Damascus. At first the other apostle's didn't accept him, but thanks to the testimony of Barnabas things changed! They became of one accord!

Imagine, if you will, the change, not that Saul made, but all the apostles! This evil man Saul had the audacity to speak about Jesus whom they believed Saul had never met! "How dare him; this killer, speak on behalf of Jesus after he was the main one who persecuted him!  Jesus asked Saul "Why do you kick against the pricks?" (Acts 9:5; i.e, it's useless to continue to hurt yourself for things you can't change!). Saul changed! Now he was Paul. Now he was one of them!

Verse 31 above indicates after the dissension was dealt with they then were "walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost"

Why were they "walking in fear of the Lord"? I checked;"phobos" (Greek) does mean "fear" in English. It can't be misconstrued. The apostle's walked in fear of Jesus!

We find in Paul's First Epistle to Peter that we are the fear the Lord more than those who persecute because the Lord has more power (1 Peter 3:15). Why fear the Lord? He has a power which no other has!
Revelation 15:4 "Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest."
The Lord has sole authority to do something which nobody else can do! You will be judged and it is the Lord who will judge you!
Romans 14:11 "For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God."
We all will stand before God and be judged ("The Great White Throne Judgment").  All sinners will kneel before God and give an account of their lives. Because we fear this day we follow the Lord.

Now on a personal level: "Why did I (or must I) get salvation?" It is out of fear of the Lord! Even those who are Christians must still fear the Lord. We're never to deny him in the face of persecution (and we can do that), but magnify his name always. We seek salvation because we don't want to burn in hell. This is where we topple our own god and come to depend on God! We can't save ourselves, we know that our god is too weak; but all who care about their eternal destiny and are wise, must turn to Jesus Christ to take our lousy god out of  reprobation (not in a Calvinistic sense) and deliver it to salvation!

We fear God because he WILL judge us all!

However, judgement is twofold: innocent and guilty. None of us are innocent, but if we are born again of the Spirit, then God conveniently (for us) forgets our sin!
Isaiah 43:25 "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins."
For doing one thing believers get to be judged innocent! That one thing is to believe (trust) in Jesus to do what he alone has the power to do: save you in the end!

Christians fear God because they believe in his power. They know that God will never leave them, but they don't want to disappoint the Father for whom they have reverence! Christians know that if we sin, there are consequences. God may allow Satan to test us. (read Job 1). Then if we fail, in the end, we will stand before Jesus with shame! That's where he will say "I forgot that sin because you have already been forgiven!"

On the other hand, sinners who failed to submit to Jesus will be on bent knee as well. They will beg to no avail because grace is given only to the living. Prayer to those who are dead is futile! They must have made their own decision to follow Christ.  We are all to fear God!

The very idea that there is a connection between love and fear is ancient:
Deuteronomy 10:12  "And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,"
What did the apostle's do when they became in one accord? (Read this last  passage again and see the similarities!) They had a desire to walk with him, love him and to serve him. They put their "all" into serving the Lord! Part of the "fear of the Lord" is serving him because that's expected of us to show our love! Love and fear are twins because his power to save us or damn us is what drives us to love him. It's because he has the grace to save us and our obligation is to return that love by loving!

Now while the apostles were "walking in the fear of the Lord" (Acts 9:31 again), the Holy Spirit comforted them. That's his job! In the face of persecution they feared God, and trusted in him. The fear of God was more powerful than the fear of being persecuted because they knew God personally. The Holy Spirit (God) comforted them with spiritual help.  Not only does the Comforter comfort, but there is power in the Holy Spirit or else how could he comfort those in the face of persecution?
Acts 1:8 "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
The apostle's feared the persecutors, but they revered God more. That reverence (fear) was honored by the comfort of the Holy Ghost. Through him God gave them the might and fortitude to face those who condemned them! Bravery in the truth of God is a sign that a Christian has the Holy Spirit! If a person fears ridicule, condemnation or even pain and fail to speak out, their faith is limited. With Jesus all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)!

The Holy Spirit dwells in Christians. However, it seems, that he chooses to remain dormant in the times of dissension. Here (Acts 9), he doesn't jump in with his power until the apostle's and Paul are of one accord!  Before that, the apostle's had a critical nature. They questioned Paul's legitimacy. They failed to understand and accept that Jesus had the power to change Saul. Barnabas vouched for his conversion. When they all came together, here came the power of the Holy Ghost!

Have you ever noticed that at times your church is dead and at others there is a lively spirit? It's when dissension exists that the Holy Spirit seems to hide out. He's there all the time urging each individual to reconcile, is active in that, but we know that his power is magnified when each person is in harmony with others. When a Christian hates a brother, the Holy Spirit works with each, but he doesn't amplify his power because there is disunity. When unity finally comes, he's there and ready in full force!

What is it which Christians are to do? Love each other! That means get along.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Short, but not so sweet!

Jesus is all about love! Right? "For God so loved the world..." (John 3:16). Even as men are deep in sin and hate God (Jesus), God still loves them. There are no requirements for being loved! For that reason, if an evil person comes to Jesus, it's that divine unconditional love which Jesus has which is sufficient to accept sinners. That''s grace!

Now pay attention! I said "accept sinners". God is NEVER "accepting of sin" because to do so is against who he is! Therefore, the Bible is all "about loving the sinner, but hating the sin!" That's the plot to the story of God. It's the love of God in which mankind dwells. However, because he loved us, he must give us a reason to follow him!

People believe in and accept Jesus for one reason: to be saved! Saved from what" An eternally burning hell! If you don't believe in hell, then what is it you're saved from?

Jesus is all about punishment too! Christians ignore this and sinners hate this:
2 Corinthians 5:10 "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."
Jesus is the judge!  The "thing" he will judge the harshest is the condition of our hearts!
 James 5:9 "Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door."
If we treat our Christian brothers badly, Jesus will judge you the same way! That's another way of saying "The Golden Rule": "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!"
1 John 4:20 "If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen."
Churches are full of liars! Churches are full of Christians (sic) who don't love God. Jesus may cut you a little slack if you despise your enemy (non-Christians), but "brothers" are those who are bound together under Christ's name.

As I sit here, I think of all the wars between Christians in church, even local congregations, and the hate which fills the pews. The Holy Spirit stays away from gatherings seeded with discord. Why isn't your church blossoming, growing and spreading? It's because some of you are the seeds of discord! Hearts need to get right because Satan may be sitting now on some pews in the church.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

What to Give at Christmastime

I struggle with the entire concept of Christmas. It's a trying time for me. There is just too much stress associated with it. I WANT to be involved with the "Christmas spirit", but it's just not there for me! Why so? Because something in the Christmas spirit is missing; at least from my standpoint. The Spirit is missing in Christmas!

However, there are parts I do enjoy: my family, my friends, good food, decorations, lighting, singing Christmas songs, greetings even from strangers, and so forth. Therein lies the problem! It seems that what I enjoy is all about me! It seems that what others enjoy is at least mostly about them! One thing NOT about me, though, is that I do not like receiving things. I'm just not comfortable with that; not because I'm humble, but that's not the way I was brought up. I get no credit for that!

Most people do enjoy receiving. That in moderation is just fine. For others Christmas is about "What's in it for me?" Even when I take on the air of a scrooge and remove myself from the "Christmas spirit"; it's still about me. I'm doing what I want to do! I don't want to be part of all this stress so I make others uncomfortable because they do want to be part of the spirit. Let's change that from "Christmas spirit" to "Holiday Spirit" because, face it, for society it really has little to do with Christ, even for Christians. We have fallen into the secular trap!

Before I continue with my "solution", let me mention the concept of receiving. I know of no instance in the Bible where it is good to EXPECT to receive anything other than salvation. That is a gift from God which we can't get from others and we don't deserve it!  That means that we don't DESERVE any gift. On the other hand, charity is taught throughout scripture. If it's good to"give" why then is it not good to receive?

It has to do with expectations. For those who expect things, that's sinful. Who gets the charity? It's those who are needy, specifically mentioned are the older widows and orphans. Not even the younger women are to EXPECT getting things!

In the Christmas Story who got the gifts? It wasn't Mary and Joseph! It was Jesus! Why were they given? Because a new King was born. Royal gifts were given, not as charity, but out of reverence to Jesus who DESERVES all that we have to give. His gifts were meant for pleasure, but for honor. (For more on the meaning of the gifts see my commentary Gold, Frankensense and Myrrh).

So I don't have the "Holiday Spirit". Oh, what do I do? I meditated on it and the solution came to mind: I can give to Jesus and at the same time make a partial living sacrifice at the same time. It's not to impress Jesus with gifts, but it is to show Jesus that I do appreciate the hope he gives to me every day. The solution: "fasting". It's from the Old English word faestan and means "to fast". It's a religious duty to abstain from food, but more importantly to "hold fast" from eating. It's being firm in completing the sacrifice and not giving up when hunger sets in.

If one was to merely "fast" until hunger makes it uncomfortable, then it's not holding firm. Since a person who fasts is holding firm from eating, it's symbolic of sacrificing pleasure out of thankfulness for Jesus. We know from scripture that there is power which comes from fasting because some types of sin requires prayer and fasting to be successful:
Mark 9:29 "And he said unto them, This kind (foul spirit) can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting."
What is "the foul spirit" which I want to cast out? It's the "Holiday spirit". I want it to truly be the "Christmas Spirit"!  The solution is not entirely "fasting". Anyone can abstain from food for many reasons. Therefore, fasting must be for the right reasons. It''s in reverence to Jesus! How better to devote your sacrifice to Jesus than to commune with him!

We think of "communion of eating the bread and wine "in rembrance of me" (Luke 33:19). Fasting is done to "glorify God" (2 Corinthians 10:31).  Jesus felt your pain when he allowed Satan to tempt him. At the same time he was tempted, Jesus fasted:
Matthew 4:2 "And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred."
It took power (and focus) to overcome temptation. Jesus fasted. There is power in fasting! It says after forty days that Jesus was hungry. I bet that Jesus was hungry for the full forty days. He felt what we feel when we do without food. Food is a necessity. It's a basic need and occupies the lower plateau on Maslow's "Need" pyramid. Without food our bodies will give out. We will actually be devoured by our own bodies, striving to scavenge every bit of nourishment which we have stored.

The average person can, with steadfast faith, make it around twenty days without eating, although in extreme cases with no activity that can be stretched upwards to 50 days or so ("Who, What, Why: How long can someone survive without food?"; 20 February 2012; Magazine). Jesus surpassed doubly by what the average man could survive; and he WAS hungry just as we would be! Is it much of a sacrifice, then, to go one day without eating for Jesus?

Now, I have an admission: I messed up! It's out of carelessness because I knew better. I had totally forgotten one aspect of "fasting". It's to be done in secret:
Matthew 6:18 "That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly."
As I said "Holiday spirit is all about me!" It's hard to take the "me" out of Christmas. As I was studying, I remembered that fasting is a secret thing. As such I lose my reward for fasting. However, because I made the commitment to fast, fast I will do! Therefore, I do this without an expectation of a reward. With that said, I suppose this is a "gift" and those who receive gifts don't have to repay with reciprocation. I don't expect God to give me anything in return. I will have peace of mind and a reduction in stress are side effects.

I find it amusing in the difference between the words "feast" and "fast". Take out the "e" from "feast" and "fast" remains. What does "e" stand for" "Eating"!

Fasting is giving of yourself. The regular reader surely knows by now that I believe "other gods" are individual "selfs". How better to honor God than to sacrifice even a little of the "self". People who fast do get hungry. They experience knots in the stomach and some degree of weakness. We need sugar to keep from being light headed.  However, there is another strong urge to eat. It's to provide pleasure to our self. We like to eat. The taste for good food even overpowers the memories of being stuffed to the gills. People eat until they hurt and then continue because of one thing: they like the taste of what they eat!

Satisfying the desires of the taste buds are pleasuring our god. Our god wants good things and we give him or her what is wanted! Our god is appeased by good food and plenty of it! That's why gluttony is a serious sin. It's bowing to other gods, those being our self's.

We eat because our systems detect a shortage of sustenance, because it sooths, because we hunger, out of routine, because we enjoy it and because we have become addicted to good tasting stuff in our mouths! Eating is okay. Anything done in moderation is acceptable as long as it doesn't conflict with God's will. Eating good food is not sinful; overeating is, using food for stress relief is, and being addicted to food is wrong. For one day our body has enough nutrients to sustain us, but we will get out of routine,  and we will hunger. Also, we'll miss the pleasure associated with good food. All those things are the sacrifice in fasting.

Fasting needs to be done in secret as I said. However, prayer does not have to be! Today I'm praying for my children, for the church, for friends and even for enemies. I'm praying for the nation and our leaders. I'm praying for the sick, the lost, the infirm and those living in sin. I'm going to pray for my marriage. I'm going to pray for whatever and whomever God lays on my heart. I guess those will be my best gifts which I give today. Please accept my prayers!

(Because fasting must be done in secret, this won't be posted until tomorrow. So, if you're reading this, it's already tomorrow.)

- - - - - - - - -

Tomorrow Has Come and Gone:

It's now 8:30 am the day after Christmas. Before I break my fast (with breakfast) I want to write with a clear head. I don't want food to impede my thoughts. I started the fast at 10:30 p.m. Christmas Eve and have not yet finished it. I suppose it will last another hour when everyone gets up. Therefore, the duration of fasting will be 35 hours.

What do I feel right this instant before I end the fast?  It's a feeling of accomplishment because the very purpose of the fast was to be successful! "Fast" is holding fast until the goal is met. My goal was to fast for 24 hours on Christmas day as my "food" sacrifice in honor of my savior. The intent was for there to be nothing in it for me. I was wrong; there was much in it for me!

The Fast:

My last meal was 10:30 p.m. Christmas Eve. At that time I had a bowl of Special-K with a banana. My intent was to get a little potassium and some oats for sustenance. At dinner before I had had roast beef, carrots and  potatoes, but no bread. My taste buds demanded some cookies although I was full. It's important that when fasting, more than hunger, it's a desire to satisfy pleasure which is more powerful, at least for a time, than hunger. In fact, as I sit here, it is not hunger which draws me to eat, but the thought of satisfying my taste. Pleasure is who must be defeated because that's how we appease our god of self!

Before the fast started, I had to define the boundaries. I would allow myself beverages. However, it was flavored beverages only and water. I would not even dream of disappointing Jesus with milkshakes nor even chocolate milk. Orange juice, cappuccino and soft drinks were to be allowed.There would be no solid food at all including candies, even hard candies, nor even fruit. The intent is to make a sacrifice and it's my prerogative to establish what I felt would satisfy God. It's my contract with him to do without things I desire to please him. Fasting does please God. Any sacrifice to God is pleasing to him as long as there are not selfish motives behind it.

My motives were clear:
  • Celebrate Christmas in the spirit of Christ. To not get caught up in commercialism.
  • To give a true gift to Jesus. Myself so to speak.
  • To have a harmonious day with all to whom I came in contact. To be in one accord because if the Holy Spirit is to be there, there must be harmony.
  • To allow me to be at peace with God rather than stressed out because of others.
  • To demonstrate a desire to be reconciled with others.
  • To humble myself to God. To do this for God, but not for show.
  • To pray for others. I made a prayer list and checked each person off as I went.
  • To fulfill the contract which I made to God to be firm (or fast) in my promise to abstain from food. With that said, I knew I would be tempted and I prepared my heart to overcome temptation.
What hindered me:
  • Temptation to eat. The good food was there all day long.
  • Stomach knots resulting from hunger.
  • The lie that Jesus would be satisfied with less that what I promised.
  • That others knew I was fasting because fasting should be in secret. Secrecy takes the focus off the "self" and allows it to be on God.
  • Routines.
  • Satisfying my taste buds.
  • The thought that I was wasting my time; that this is merely a small dent which would make little difference.
  • That others would think that I was being antisocial or a curmudgeon.
The hardest part of fasting is the "self" part. Rather than to make this "all about me" to make it fully of God. Satan throughout the day kept saying "Larry, this is all about you!" There is some truth to that and Jesus understands that. He is human as well as God! Jesus knows that taking the self out of anything we do is paramount, but the most difficult, and even impossible.

I thought about that dilemma. Jesus to empathize with me, fasted forty days to feel what we humans feel. When he fasted he had numerous temptations. Jesus could have succumbed.  He didn't. Jesus felt hunger pains, weakness and the desire for pleasure. He also had desires for power when it was offered. However, he overcame them for forty days! Therefore, my one day sacrifice is trivial compared to what he did for ME and YOU!

The easy part of fasting is the sleeping part. However, because I had my mind on things and people, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. on Christmas Day. My routine is cappuccino as I read my Bible chapter and write my Herrin Daily Thoughts. This as usual, takes about two hours. So far, nothing sacrificial.

This was to be a day of prayer and fasting.  That was one of my goals since some evil takes prayer and fasting to overcome, according to Jesus. I made a prayer list for the day. It was for specific people and for specific things. I knew that since I would be busy with the rituals of Christmas that I would need to pray as the day went by whenever I could take a few minutes to do so. Therefore, throughout the day I prayed with my eyes closed (some surely thought I was napping). I checked off each person as I prayed for the next.

Because much of the day was spent driving, I spent time praying as I drove. I got behind. Because I had failed to pray through for those on my list, I woke up about 4:00 a.m. this morning and continued to pray for those I'd missed. I did get most of those and added others. You see, my fast was more than a promise not to eat, but a promise to pray with a clear mind!

That brings me to the physical part of fasting. Between 4:00 and 8:00 a.m. I did get hungry. Real hungry. Usually by this time I had only been awake two hours. Now it was four. Breakfast time was what would usually be lunch time. My stomach knotted for about two hours or so. To aid this, I merely drank more liquids. That's a good thing because I usually don't. Liquids help flush the system. Fasting is healthy. We should do more of it for our health!

After a period of knotted stomach, that resided. I'm a little hungry this instant, but for the remainder of the fast, hunger really wasn't an issue. I got over it! I got over part of me!

In college, because I had no money, I ate absolutely nothing for eight full days; not even a slice of bread. I smoked then and didn't even have cigarette money, an even more powerful drive than hunger. After one day, hunger wasn't an issue and after a few days, because food wasn't there, I quit thinking about me and eating. My mind cleared up and I did better with study.

The normal "feasting" process is this:

  • I'm hungry. I need food!
  • We prepare food and eat. Usually most people overeat every meal. It doesn't take what we consume to nourish us. The balance is for pleasure. It's how we appease our god!
  • After eating, most people feel too full and "rest" it off. They are too full to exercise.
  • Then people deal with the digestive processes. Sometimes gas and cramps make it painful However, digestive pain is a small sacrifice for our "god".
  • After we agonize for hours with "feeders digest", then we feel the pain and agony associated with the need to excrete. Most people even put that off and endure congestive agony for hours.
  • Then with congestion, people struggle with the elimination process. Some get "rhoids" from straining. Rhoids must be God's way of punishing our god for over indulgence!
  • During this process, since food is mostly water, we must find a restroom somewhere to urinate frequently. Sometimes we wait too long. Pain ensues.
  • Before the next meal people get hungry (sic) again. That's really their taste buds demanding attention. Weak people submit to their idol. "Master Bud" (our taste buds) is satisfied with cookies or ice cream and demands more!
  • Weak people give their idol more treats. Your idol is just like your dog's awaiting Bacon Bits. Your idol mentally jumps up and down bounding in anticipation. You give your feisty Buds even more treats!
  • Then you go through the peeing and pooping process all over again. 
  • Before the time arrives, you get hungry (sic) again. Your body lies to you! (You're not truly hungry. Master Bud merely wants more treats!). You submit.
  • Then dinner comes. It sure is good! Your idol is tough to appease. It wants more satisfaction. You overeat and give him even more good stuff.
  • After over stuffing with starches and meats, Master Bud demands a sweet treat. Your idol always has room for jello; or chocolate brownie, or ice cream or whatever!
  • Then the process repeats until bedtime. Some even get up at night and treat Master Bud.
  • When times are slow, people contemplate. "I was weak. I overate. I feel bad about it. I shouldn't have done that. I'm going to get fat. I'm ruining my health." And on and on. Satan says "Hogwash... worry about that later!". Then we do. Much later. Never!
What do all these factors have in common? It's all about ME. It's all about YOU. These are the "other gods". Rather than please God, our day is pleasing our self!

You see, this is what fasting is all about. It let's you put aside your other god for awhile and focus on God! When you don't eat, the aspects written above aren't there. Sure we still have to drink and pee, but the stomach goes idle, the taste buds lose their memory and Mr. John is not needed as often. In other words, it ceases to be about ME and YOU and becomes more about God!

As the fast goes on, it gets easier and easier! As I sit here right now, my promised fast has been over for eight hours and forty minutes. That's because eating is not so important right now. I have my mind on God. Likewise, because I'm not eating, thinking of eating, pooping, and hurting; my mind isn't so much on me! I can pray because my idol is ignored and I can think about others more. The result is that I can earnestly pray for them!

Many of my prayers haven't been answered yet, but several have been:
  • Two of my dear close family members reconciled on Christmas.
  • I made amends to one I loved yesterday and the reconciliation was mutual after three years!
  • I was able to handle the stress of Christmas without stress. I was able to tolerate being shut in with dogs for a long period (yes, I have an aversion to that and have had all my life).
  • I had an enjoyable day on a day that I normally don't enjoy!
  • I had peace about some who overdo Christmas with what I believe to be over-giving.
  • My fast was a demonstration to others that Jesus is magnified in this manner.
  • I felt accomplished that I fulfilled my promise to God.
  • I have hope that I may be reconciled with some others as a result of praying and fasting for them.
  • I actually did not intentionally sin for this period and reduced the cases of mental sin. My mind wasn't on me as much.  It was on God.
My fasting was a gift to Jesus on his birthday. As I stated, I didn't expect anything in return! However, look at the list. Look at the number of "I's"! I benefited, and others did too, even though I fasted as a gift to Jesus. Although it wasn't done in secret (that would have been difficult), he still honored me! God doesn't mind ME being satisfied, but the "thank you" must be to him, not to self!

Thank you God for a great Christmas! Thank you for accepting my humble gift... my appetite. I wish it could be more, but that's a start! Hopefully, those around me had more "peace on earth and good will toward me" than they usually do in my presence!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Gold, Frankensense and Myrrh: Gifts with Meaning!

Christmastime was at one time the best of times! I remember my childhood Christmas's with nostalgia because it was a time to love and be together. However, it was little different than any other day in our home because love and togetherness was an everyday event! What was different was the candy, fruits, and underwear which we needed; and dad feeling bad because we had so little, but I'm so thankful that we had Jesus!

There was no need for dad to feel bad. We didn't! Rather than missing what I didn't get, I was thankful for what I already had. What did I have? Food, a home and some clothing; but best of all, my parents truly loved me and my siblings. We knew that! Presents weren't necessary to demonstrate their love because it was from the heart! That was my present. I was happy!

Did I want toys? No - that's what wealthy kids had. I made my toys. My imagination turned car tires and a stick into the best of games. I raided the junk yard at the edge of town and made push-mobiles.  Any junk lumber laying around was used for ladders to a tree house which I made myself without parental help! You see, poverty is good. Oh, it's no fun to go hungry or hurt with pain, but what a kid doesn't "have" kids "create". Creation was my gift and that gift came from poverty.

I earned money as early as six-years old. I picked 50 hampers (3/4 bushel) of tomatoes at six years old each day. I earned $5 a day. I bought my school clothes with the money, not even looking at the toys. Toys were for rich kids and I wasn't rich. Therefore, the thoughts of toys were not even entertained.

My earliest memories are of toothaches, beginning in the second grade. I pulled weeds for the neighbors and made  25 cents an hour. I didn't buy toys. I bought toothache medicine and carried it with me at all times! Toothache pain was what I had and it's what I expected to have many days. Toys weren't important if only the toothache would quit!  "Go to the dentist you say!" Poor kids knew little of dentists and going to the dentist would be an extravagance beyond reality. I would have traded the most grand toy in exchange for alleviation of my toothache pain.

It can readily be seen that toys weren't important to me. They still aren't!

After Christmas break from school we often had to write an essay on what we had gotten for Christmas. Mine was easy. I never got anything in the way of toys, but sometimes did get socks or underwear (my outer clothes were from my older brothers). It took me an hour to "imagine" what toys I got for Christmas. If I had gotten presents what would they have been? My essay was generally on new clothes which I wished I had gotten. They were the ones I lied about getting! I loved Christmas, but I hated the tradition of "receiving". When I thought of my hard-working parents doing without to buy things not needed, toys were just not important. "Giving" would have only been a dream, but :"receiving" was what the other kids did.

To this day I hate "receiving". I'm just uncomfortable with others spending money they need for other things on my frivolities. I would rather them get a head start in life and forgo all the commercialization. Gifts don't translate into love! They become an "obligation". For me the best gift ever is when people love me and show it by affection. That's the gift I grew up with and that's the gift I like! Getting a gift from someone who loves me is redundant and getting gifts from those who don't love me is meaningless!

Friends and relatives: Don't make me feel bad for not liking Christmas holidays. It's a bad time for me because of the nostalgia of what was. It's knowing that it can never be again. It's wishing that those who are celebrating Christmas would take the "Me" out of it, and put the "Him" back into it. Giving gifts to mimic Jesus is not the way to remember. Jesus had no use for material things. The importance of the gifts given to Jesus was not the outward value, but the intrinsic. It was the adoration of him for being who he is!

I remember so well my own children growing up. As parents we had divergent views on healthy giving. Their mother endeavored to buy their love by an over abundance of gifts. The quantity each child received was amazing! With so many toys I looked at confused young faces. They had no idea which toy to play with first, wondering aimlessly from toy to toy. One Christmas, after repeated failure to put their toys away, and at the end of the day, I scooped a bag full up and took them to Goodwill. The kids did't even miss them and never cared! It was more fun for them when we did things together and playing games. My son's best toys were wood, nails and a real adult hammer and saw. I bought those when he was about six. He made it. He never hurt himself seriously. I gave him the "gift of responsibility" that year and to this day both of my boys can do about anything mechanically and electrically. I'm proud of their abilities!

It's a cliche, but "Christmas is about giving... not receiving." Why, then, are so many focused on what THEY are getting? I'm talking about adults, not children. Children have come to expect toys because that's what they've been taught and know. That follows them to adulthood and that's why many adults "expect things" at Christmastime. It's inbred.

For a child if they don't "get"  they will be sad. However their "getting" must be sensible and if one must give, let it be to the kids, albeit reasonable giving.  Giving to kids is a tradition, not mine, but I accept that. I can't change it, but adults are as serious about getting as are the kids.

Christmastime has erroneously become all about giving and receiving, but the optimum gifts are two: 1) giving to God ourselves as a living sacrifice, and 2) giving to others to show our love. It's not the gift, but the intent. "Sacrifice" as a gift to God would be doing without things. Then the focus is on God and that's the love he wants. Associated with sacrifice is remembering those in need. That's the gift of loving others. What should the gift be? Something which helps them with their NEEDS and it should be meaningful! The magi from the east brought meaningful gifts to Jesus. There were no rattles, baby dolls, stuffed animals, whistles nor even new clothes. Let's look at the gifts the magi brought:
Matthew 2:11 "And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh."
The first gift goes unnoticed! It is their faith. They traveled hundreds of miles because they had a vision of a savior. They knew who Jesus was and that he came to save mankind from eternal wrath! How do I know that? By the other gifts they brought! The magi believed in Jesus and came to adore him. What wonderful gifts. They really not need to do any further giving, but remember, this is the King who was born. It is believed that with the riches brought that the magi were in fact kings themselves, perhaps tribal kings.


Gold is mentioned as the first gift. First off, there were three gifts, not three wise men. There were at least two and maybe several. I would believe that a large group came to worship the new born savior and that their coming was an announcement to the world that Jesus had come. That may be because it took little time for King Herod to take notice of the pretender to his throne!

In Latin the word for "gold" is aurum. It means "to glow" and is associated with purity. These two adjectives are symbolic of what Jesus is. He is the light of the world and entirely without sin, being purer than even gold.

Gold has always had value and has been used as currency for ages. However, God could have given Jesus all the riches in the world if he so desired, but that's not the case. Satan even tempted Jesus at the start of his ministry with riches. The "gold" wasn't for wealth, but to symbolize the kingship of Jesus. It would appear that the quantity of the gold wasn't significant, because Jesus grew up a humble carpenter.

Throughout the ages there are those who believed that gold was for healing. Some today still use gold as an alternate to traditional healing. Gold was symbolic of Jesus. He came to heal the world, but not with health, but eternal life! Jesus had the miracle of healing for health, but spiritual healing was his destiny"
"Acts 10:38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him."
Sin is a spiritual disease. It's Satan's device to undermine God. Jesus came to heal the nations who were inflicted with a disease with one cure. They lived, but yet they were dead in sin. Jesus healed "all that were oppressed of the devil". His gift to mankind was salvation. "Gold" represented "healing" and that was what Jesus was born to do!

 The Latin word "aurora" has the same root as "aurum" (gold). It means "dawn". Thus the full  meaning of "gold" is "shining dawn". Dawn brings on the new day. It's the first light of the morning.
John 8:12 "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."
The birth of Jesus was "the dawning light" that began with his birth to shine on us. The gold represented Jesus' purpose. It was to provide spiritual light to this dark world! It didn't take much gold to do this, but a small amount sent the message. Gold has always been used in Old Testament times as a means of glorifying God. At his birth gold did just that!

Gold is found as microscopic particles in rocks. Rocks are then the source of gold. Jesus is the "rock" of our salvation. He is the cornerstone of the Church. Gold comes from rock and to The Rock it was returned. Gold represented Jesus as the rock on which salvation lies!

Gold is also associated with "perfect" or "divine" notions, such as the "golden rule". To do unto others what's right is the primary principle Jesus came to teach. His divine principle was that we are to love others and to love God(him) with all our heart, mind and soul! That's perfect love!

Gold is further associated with the wisdom. Need I say anything of the truth spoken by Jesus. His entire ministry was  spoken truth and was God's word.

Although gold represents divinity, it can also represent evil, such as the golden calf. Gold given to Jesus is symbolic of his coming to defeat sin and Satan.

Think more deeply than "gold". Everything in scripture has a divine purpose. Ask yourself when reading: "Why did God do this? What's this got to do with Jesus?" Finding answers to these questions is discernment!  The gift of gold was meaningless unless it had hidden meaning. Gold was a fitting gift for Jesus, but is it given today with the same intent?


The second gift was frankincense. Surely it too had significance. After all, why would a baby NEED incense? However, even from Old Testament times we can see that frankincense was used in worshiping God:
"Exodus 30:34-38; 37:29 "And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto yourself sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight: And you shall make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy: And you shall beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with you: it shall be unto you most holy. And as for the perfume which you shall make, you shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto you holy for the LORD. Whosoever shall make like unto it, to enjoy the smell thereof, shall even be cut off from his people."
Like gold, frankincense is symbolic of purity. It was burned as a pleasing fragrance to God during sacrifice. Here, again we have "sacrifice" associated with gifts to Jesus. Frankincense was to recognize God for his purity and holiness. It was God who became flesh. Jesus desired the sweet smelling aroma of worship himself. However, frankincense made for worship was never to be used by others. Those who misuse this gift by giving it to themselves, steals the glory of God.

It should be clear here, that Christmas isn't for us to honor ourselves and others, but to glorify God! If a parent wants to see the joy in the eyes of their child, let it be another day, but reserve this day for putting a gleam in God's eyes!

The smoke of the incense signifies offered prayer.
Hebrews 9:3  "And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; 4a Which had the golden censer..."
The golden censer was used for burning incense. It was burned as the priest prayed for the sins of the people and made sin offerings to God.  Whereas the priests of old made periodic sacrifices to God for himself and the Hebrews as the incense burned, the prayer offered in the presence of Jesus is this:
Hebrew 9:12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
The frankincense burned is a prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus who "by his own blood" came to redeem us from eternal death. The magi knew why Jesus came and they came to celebrate, not only his birth, but his death. Jesus was born to die, and to die in our place! John in his Revelation saw that incense:
Revelation 8:4 "And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand."
The burning of frankincense offers a sweet aroma as God hears the prayers of those who love him. Incense is a method of demonstrating our love of God. Maybe Christians should still do this today!


Myrrh is arabic meaning "bitter". It was always known to be an analgesic. It was the aspirin of the time and was known for it's healing powers. We've already discussed Jesus as healer and this too symbolizes Jesus ability to take the pain out of living. For me, myrrh is "hope". That's what Jesus provides! Eternal life without pain is why I was saved. Jesus came to save and myrrh was there to symbolize who Jesus was!

The collection of myrrh is symbolic of Jesus as well. When it's collected the sapwood is wounded. It is at the wound that the tree bleeds resin. From that bleeding comes healing from the gum of that tree. There is not just one wound on the sapwood tree, but repeatedly it is wounded for it to bleed. Mankind uses the "blood" of that tree for life. Like Jesus, the "Tree of Life", who was wounded repeatedly, myrrh represents Jesus' blood as the propitiation for the sins of mankind. It's the "gum" called redemption. Jesus redeemed us and myrrh was given as symbolic of that!

Myrrh was even used by the ancient Egyptians for the embalming of mummies. Myrrh attempted to prolong life after death and that's what the myrrh of the "Tree of Life" does for those who partake of it!

Myrrh is also listed as an ingredient in the holy anointing oil used to anoint the Tabernacle, high priests and kings. Jesus was rightfully anointed by the gift of myrrh as King.
John 1:41  "He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ."
"The Messiah" or "Christ" are descriptions of "The Anointed One". How much clearer can myrrh be? It signified that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. He IS Christ born!

The three gifts to Jesus, four counting faith, meant something and were symbolic of who Jesus was and what he came for! The gifts were to glorify Jesus who was God with us! It wasn't meant to be a precedent for us receiving, but to honor God by loving his son Jesus. Just as God doesn't need idols or icons to be worshiped, neither does he need tradition to glorify him.

I'm not a curmudgeon because I hate the Christmas season. I merely am uncomfortable with what it has become. Few glorify Jesus that day and even the pagans expect gifts. That's not what Christmas is about! When I endeavor to offer a short discourse on the meaning of Christmas, those around me seem to have a "hurry up and get that over" attitude so that the receiving can begin. I stand back discouraged, not for me, but for what Christmas has become. The traditions of Christmas are steeped in the pagan gods of Rome and the Druids of Britain, not in the teachings of scripture. What God wants for Christmas is for us to honor his  Lordship and purpose and to love him

With the giving of the three gifts, the magi never asked "What's in it for me?" They knew what was! Their reward was to be eternal. The valuable gifts they gave were sacrificial, meaning that they expected nothing in return.

Christmas! What IS in it for you? You indeed get a gift with the birth of Jesus, but it can't be played with nor taken for granted. The birth of Jesus gave us the gift of "hope". However, as with any gift, hope must be accepted by those to whom it's given. I see few who accept that gift. I worry about that on Christmas. I think of those that I love, not having hope. I do thank God on his birthday celebration for my gift of hope, but feel despair that some I love haven't accepted the same gift. It's a sweet/sour experience for me. Bear with me on that day!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Thomas can touch Jesus; Mary Can't?

After the tomb was found empty by some of the apostle's, Mary Magdalene remained to cry. Jesus appeared to her:
John 20:14 "And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus."
When he was resurrected Jesus changed! Perhaps "glorification" is a process! Just what is "glorification"? Let's take a look:
 Romans 8:30 "Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified."
Preparing for eternal life is a process! Just think about it: even Christians still sin, but nothing sinful can be in the face of God.
 Habakkuk 1:13a "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity..."
Yes, God sees evil, but it's out of his will to behold (ra'ah  in the Hebrew) it!  It's more than see. Perhaps tacit approval if he was to condone it! As an example, a person may be a drunk. His own father knows it, but the drunk doesn't flaunt it in the face of his dad because he knows his dad will turn his back on it. That's over simplification, but hopefully you get the idea.

Therefore, from Romans 8:30 we see that God calls sinners to repentance, and if they respond then by faith they are saved, but because they still sin, the last step before facing eternity is to be glorified. Before we stand in the face of God, he makes us "pure" just as he is (Habakkuk 1:13a).

Get used to it! You will change! Before you enter Paradise, God changes what sin remains in the Christian and makes you as pure similar to him! The presence of God is his "glory". It's the substance of him; the makeup of his divine existence. It's his truth, love and majesty. Words can't describe it sufficiently. We'll just have to be there to understand it!

Think about Moses. He couldn't look on God because of his glory. Think of divine Light as a solar eclipse. We can turn our back to the light to sense it (as God turned his back to Moses), we can feel it's heat and know that it represents life itself, but we can't look at the eclipse or we'll be blinded! In the case of God, it's more than blinded; it will be death!

At the transfiguration Jesus was anointed by God. No one understands what this was all about, but it would appear that Moses was a picture on Mt. Moriah of Jesus on Mt. Tabor. Moses could not look on God's glory and live, but Jesus looked on God's glory and had life. Somehow Jesus received more of God's Holy Spirit!

"What?" you say! "More of God's Spirit!" I don't want to imply that the Holy Spirit is a variable which could be measured, but it would appear that different people have different degrees of the Holy Spirit. Some who are saved may have little, but those living for Christ have much. Since Jesus is Christ, he has much! There was no evil within him, but somehow the power the Man Jesus had was variable based on his miracles!
Mark 5:30 "And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes?"
Virtue (Greek dunamis) is "miraculous power". Jesus could sense the miracle working power leaving his body!

Jesus had degrees of glory at different times. He lost some here and when he was transfigured, he was somehow immersed in God's Holy Spirit! I don't claim to understand the Holy Spirit and neither do others. I can merely add 2 + 2 and come up with 5! It's an imperfect math and not meant to be comprehended, or we would be as gods!

However, before we can go to heaven, we will be changed. We will share a portion of God's glory. We won't get his majesty or the full measure of his love, but the remnants of original sin will be removed. We will become beyond temptation because Satan knows that we have already been glorified and out of his reach. The "hope of salvation" will become realized when we're glorified!

Note that the woman who touched Jesus was "made whole".
Mark 5:34 "And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague."
The woman was made "whole" in two ways. The second was whole (Greek hugies). Her health was restored. However, in the first instance she was made whole (Greek sozo) or "spiritual safety". Jesus' power had not yet "saved" her, but her soul was brought to "safety" until she is saved at the time she is glorified! She obtained the "hope of salvation", but she was not truly "saved" until she dies and is glorified, providing eternal safety from Satan. Glorification culminates in salvation! It took power from Jesus to provide wholeness for this one woman! Just think of the power it took at his death to take on the sins of the world all at one time! His death for us drained him somehow. Much virtue surely left Jesus to provide safety to all mankind!

When Jesus asked the Father on the cross "Why did you forsake me?" Jesus was surely feeling the loss of this virtue as he felt with the woman who touched his robe! With her he sensed the loss; on the cross the lost virtue or power was so extensive that he felt abandoned!

I somehow believe that the transfiguration may have been the taking on of God's virtue (almighty power) which Jesus would need to make us all "whole"!

It is in this state, with the loss of magnitudes of virtue, suffering death for mankind, that Jesus emerged from the tomb!

Jesus was different when he was resurrected. We know that others also failed to recognize him (Emmaus walk). We know that things material could not contain him because he just appeared in locked rooms.

Look at this passage:
John 20:19 "Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you."
(It would appear that Jesus was free to be here, there and anywhere after he was resurrected, but somehow he had not, as part of the plan, been glorified).

Yes, Jesus was changed, but between resurrection and the ascension, his transformation was not yet complete!

Jesus told Mary Magdalene "touch me not" .
John 20:17 "Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."
Mary Magdalene was instructed not to touch Jesus! Why? "I am not yet ascended to my Father". In effect, Jesus had not yet been glorified. This happens to us as we die, or even perhaps, as we're resurrected, but Jesus had forty days between his resurrection and ascension. Since his glorification did not occur until after he joined his Father in heaven, perhaps that will also be when we are fully glorified. (There us a hole in our knowledge. Jesus was to be with the thief in Paradise the day of his crucifixion, but yet he had not yet ascended.

Some would say "But Thomas touched him before he was glorified!" I beg your pardon. Reread this passage:
John 20:26 "And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. "
Thomas was invited by Jesus to touch him (with his foreknowledge, Jesus knew that it wouldn't come to that). However, Thomas never touched Jesus. If he had, it would have said so! Jesus acknowledged  "because thou hast seen me", not "because thou hast touched me"! As far as I can tell from scripture, Jesus was not touched by anyone before he ascended!

Now why would Jesus desire that no one touch him? Possibly because of the uncleaness of the world and sinners within it. Knowing that he would be fully glorified, it may have been his desire to come before God without any contamination from those who still sin!

In all honesty, no one knows why Mary Magdalene wasn't allowed to touch Jesus, but it's for sure that Thomas didn't. We can only speculate the "why", but yours and my speculation is as good as others as long as it's based on scripture.

I do want to note: the apostles received the Holy Ghost before Pentecost. The Holy Ghost came on them while the resurrected Jesus was still here in the world.
John 20:21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
God just can't be put in our small box. He is not a mathematical equation or a spell. He does what he wants when he wants and our desire to know why for everything is still mankind's same old problem!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Taking God Out of the Box

Acts 9:3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.
9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
10 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
11 And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,
12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.
13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.
17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
19 And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
20 And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God."
Saul was a powerful (verse 14). He had authority to persecute the Christians (verse 13).  Saw was a Roman citizen being natural born in Tarsus. He was also very Jewish, being a Pharisee. It's strange indeed that the Pharisees were proponents of the doctrine of "free will" in regard to religious matters, whereas the Essenes believed in predestination. Even more ironic is that my personal belief is as the Pharisees, but admit that Paul's salvation was predestined! Paul was part of God's Plan from the beginning. In this regard the Pharisees and the Sadducees both believe in "free will", but the Pharisees acknowledge God's foreknowledge!

With that said, Jesus' words are "he is a chosen vessel unto me". Saul's salvation was different than all the others! Jesus chose him specifically for a purpose. He was the "vessel" to do what? "To bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel" (both from verse 15).

Your salvation and mine are totally different and so was Saul's. Because Saul was zealous for persecution, God with his foreknowledge knew that Saul would be zealous for Christianity! Jesus was entirely correct as always! Would we expect everyone to be saved as Saul was:
  • Have a light from heaven physically shine on an individual.
  • A person be knocked to the ground.
  • That we would hear a voice from heaven.
  • Jesus and Saul had a conversation. Jesus spoke audibly to Saul.
  • He was blinded.
  • Saul's "flesh" so to speak was sacrificed for a three day period. His body didn't need nourishment because he was fed spiritual meat.
  • Saul "saw the light" spiritually as well. He prayed. It is implied that it is to Jesus he prayed! That would mean that Saul was born again and his life thereafter demonstrated that he was a new person (Paul).
  • For Saul, God sent a vision to Ananias, another disciple. Jesus coordinated the actions of two people for his purpose.
  • Jesus sent a vision of Ananias to Saul.
  • Saul was to take Jesus to foreigners, kings and his own people. He was chosen for a specific purpose as part of God's plan for the world to learn about Jesus.
  • Saul knew in advance of his persecution.
  • Saul was filled with the Holy Ghost.
  • Saul was healed of his blindness by miracle of Jesus through Ananias.
  • Saul immediately was baptized.
  • God strengthened Paul.
  • Paul spread the gospel and became a preacher without seminary or further education about Jesus. He was ordained by none other than Jesus and Saul changed. Paul emerged from the water because the idol Saul was toppled to the ground by the blinding Light of God!
Do all these things describe your own born-again experience. I think not! So get God out of your box which you have put him in. God does things as he wants to serve his purpose. He doesn't use a Calvinistic or Armenian process to change people. It's different strokes for different folks! God isn't a mathematical formula like Simon the Magician wanted. He has personality and he interacts with people who have their own personality. Either way Christians become "peculiar people" in that we change! 

We are not Saul! We should never expect to be born-again in the same fashion which Saul was! Back to how ironic his salvation was: Saul believed in "free will", but it appears that he was in fact predestined to serve Jesus in a special way! In this case God's grace was irresistible. Whereas Jonah resisted God for a spell, he  on his own free will, after submitting to God, obeyed! Saul has little choice in the matter. God wanted to use him and he did just that!

We must never put God in a box! Any discerning person can see from scripture, that "believing" is a prerequisite for salvation. Believing is an individual's prerogative, meaning it's a cognitive decision, and is an exercise in reason, resulting in "free will". We make a decision to accept Jesus. Saul never made a decision. He was inducted into Jesus' hall of fame! Jesus drew his number to draft him for war against the world. 

I am free to be a Christian today by choice because Saul had no choice! Thank you Saul for being drafted in my place. We all owe you greatly!

So You Believe in God?

For years I have waited to have the conversation which I had last night! I am delighted that it finally struck home. An important person in my life was enlightened. I believe it suddenly occurred to her "what it is all about"! I mean "being a Christian". Before a person can truly be born again they must understand. No, I'm not a gnostic; there is no "secret knowledge" for salvation has been proclaimed to the world!
Mark 16:15 "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."
Before us creatures can be enlightened we must hear the gospel. Some fail to even know what "the gospel" is! It's the truth about the life, ministry, death, resurrection and purpose of Jesus Christ, God incarnate. The job assignment of every Christian is to pass along the hope they have.
Lamentations 3:26 "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord."
Also refer to the "hope of salvation" in 1 Thessalonians 5:8.

Jesus came to provide "hope". The gospel is all about hope. Because God came to earth in a frail human body, he did certain things to provide hope to mankind. He was born of a virgin and conceived by the Spirit of God himself. He lived a perfect life without any sin. He performed numerous miracles; even raising the dead. he died for ALL of OUR sins instead of us. He was resurrected from the dead and still lives. Furthermore, he physically ascended to heaven, but if you are a Christian, he lives here still in your heart.

For God, his desire is that we should love him! That's his only expectation. For that love, God provides hope. He traded his only Son in exchange for our eternal life. It wasn't an even trade because Jesus was innocent, but we're as guilty as hell is real! He took all the sins of mankind on his back at one time and bore them for us.
Titus 2:14 "Who (Jesus) gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."
Jesus redeemed, or shed us blood for us, meaning ALL mankind, from "all iniquity", or all our sins.

What must we do to be saved? We are to believe what the gospels say. Now, I'm getting to the essence of the problem!

Most people believe in God, but truly it is merely "God as you understand him.", according to the Twelve Step Program. First off, you will never UNDERSTAND God. God is magnificent. Man's problem all along is endeavoring to have the knowledge of God.
Genesis 3:5 "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof (the fruit), then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."
Therefore, point #1 is that "God is NOT God as you understand him!" He is God who is beyond understanding.  If you understand God, then why does he put up withe the shenanigans of Hitler or even you and me? Please tell me about it!

Therein lies a BIG problem. People believe in God, but make no attempt to understand he in whom they believe. God says "Look around at the creation. That's my doing. Search me out to find out more!"
Romans 1:20 "For the invisible things of him (God) from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse..."
By what we see we have no excuse! We see what he created, and we are obligated to learn more about the Creator. Science has always sought to refute the Creator, but their research merely demonstrates that there must have been a Creator, even as they deny that they have failed to find the answer! It's their "god of Chance" who did it all, I suppose!

Therefore, the first thing to believe, as a Christian, is that God is the Creator! That's imperative because God said he did that! If that is wrong, then God is a liar and we shouldn't believe anything he says.

Our entire hope of eternal life depends on whether God has the power to make it happen. God said this:
 Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."
If you deny God the Creator, then the "God as you understand him" has no power. He can't provide a heaven for you because you are skeptical that there even is a heaven. Your faith is so weak that your God didn't even have the power to create earth, let alone the heavens and heaven!  It's imperative that you believe in an almighty God because if he is limited, he cannot fulfill his promises and therefore you have no hope for eternity!

Let's look at "God as you understand him." He's a weak God who has not the power to create. It just happened and God claimed he did it. God is a liar. What is written in his book is all lies. It's not even the word of God. It's mere writings of men. However, because I need to believe in something to have any hope at all, I'll just say 'God does exist' and hope that he does so that I can escape whatever is after death!" Isn't that the way the "Christian" (sic) who believes in evolution thinks?

Believing in God is NOT enough. He must be the God as portrayed in Holy Scripture! He cannot be a God which we've created in our minds to fit how we think he should be! How is it that men believe he should be? He should be tolerant and put up with any sin we dream up. He should allow everybody to go to heaven. He should be kind enough to allow even those who deny and hate him to be rewarded. In other words, he should let me into heaven without regard to how bad I am. After all, what's so bad about sinning? Everybody does it! You see... that's the God you created, but he's not God; he's you Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein. You created that monster who most people worship!

Believing in God is NOT enough.
James 2:19 "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble."
If your belief is merely that God exists you're worse off than even the demons. Whereas, you merely believe, the demons "believe, and tremble"!  If belief is not enough, then what does it take?
Ephesians 2:8 "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God..."
Point #2 is that mere belief that God exists or even created it all, is not enough. To get your reward in heaven, you must have faith!  Faith is a composite of belief and trust. You have confidence that God is all powerful, that he is always truthful, that he provided a way and that if you believe in God in that manner, you have a chance. That doesn't mean that you DESERVE a chance, but God gifts that for you! The concept of giving to you what you don't deserve is called "grace".

Doing "good" things to DESERVE heaven is not possible. All the "good" that you do is as filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6).  It's merely accepting Jesus by faith which makes a Christian. It has to be by faith in Jesus since he was the sacrifice that God made for ALL men for ALL time for ALL sins ever committed.
John 14:6 "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
Point #3. Believing in God, even the One True God, is not enough! You must believe that he provided a method of saving you. His method from Creation Day #1 is that he would provide the sacrifice. Jesus was always Plan A and the only plan. Everybody ever who is in heaven are there because Jesus is the Way and only way. Abraham is in heaven! He's there because he had enough faith in Jesus to be willing to do what God actually did to his only son. Salvation was always by Jesus. It's not a new thing! Christianity precedes Judaism in that "the voice" who spoke in the the Garden of Eden was "The Word" which was born Jesus (John Chapter 1).

Reading and applying John Chapter 1 is the key to understanding that the Old Testament is all about Jesus!

The next thing one must do is to accept "the gift". The gift is Jesus' sacrifice for me personally and you personally. You must believe that he is God incarnate (in the flesh) and that God died in your place. You must accept his sacrifice that he made for you. He did that to save you from eternal damnation.

Point #3 is that you must accept the gift Jesus made for you. His gift, saving you from hell, requires something. You must believe in hell and punishment for those who fail to accept Jesus. If a person doesn't believe in hell, what is it then that Jesus saves you from? It is eternal damnation. You see, that is your "hope"; that you don't spend eternity in hell. Without Jesus there is no hope because only God has the power to save!

Point #4 is that after Jesus made his sacrifice, if you accept him, you must love him because he saved you! It would be foolish and selfish to accept his gift to you and not love him back. God expects that!

The Greatest Commandment is to love God. Believing in him, is NOT loving him. To love God is being thankful that he provided a Way to save our wretched skins! How do we repay his love. We obey his commandments.
John 14:21 "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him."
Believing in God  is NOT enough! We must make a living sacrifice; our self. We must quit doing the things "right in our own eyes" which satisfies the desires of the flesh and give them to God. That's how we show God that we truly love him! "Faith without works is dead." (James 2:26). By works (doing what God commands) is how we demonstrate to God that we're serious about our faith and love. If we're Christians and we're not obeying the Ten Commandments, then we must ask "Do I truly love God?" The willingness to sacrifice the things we love to show love to God is a measure of our sincerity. Those who merely believe without doing God's will fool only themselves. God, in the end, will say:
Matthew 7:23 "And then will I (God)  profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
You can't fake being a Christian. You can't be a "Christian as you understand it!" You must be a Christian who accepts Jesus, trusts him and obeys! If not, the last words you'll ever hear from God is "depart from me" or plainly "get out of my sight!"

There is no "hope" in not believing. The only hope is in God as he IS. Your composite multiple choice weak god isn't God. You misunderstand him! He must be the God of scripture and he must be Jesus who made the sacrifice. You can only come to the Father through the Son (Jesus):
John 14:6b " No one comes to the Father except through me (Jesus speaking)."
Point #5. Belief in God without accepting Jesus doesn't cut the mustard!

Putting it mildly, believing in God is NOT enough! One can only come to God through belief in Jesus Christ. He and the Father are one, and if a person fails to accept Jesus, they reject God!

I'm proud of my close relative for suddenly understanding why I've always been so adamant about doing what is right and not doing what is wrong. It's so easy to NOT do things. It's so hard to DO things! It's easy to NOT swear nor get intoxicated. It's difficult to love others. If I'm not doing the easy things, chances are that I'm not doing the hard things either.

There are things we just don't do because we say that we love God. For instance, because he says not to do the things the pagans do, I would never get a tattoo nor piercing. By abstaining from those things isn't a ticket to heaven, and he certainly forgives disobedience, but I obey because that's my only way to love and respect him!

That goes much further too! I control my anger because I revere God. I am faithful to my wife because God tells me to. I don't steal because that takes what belongs to the brother whom I'm supposed to love. Yes, I fail and you do to! However, sin is a choice. If we want to demonstrate our love to God and assure ourselves of our salvation, then we do as God wills us to do!

We will fail, but we don't have to. God loves us even when we fail and that's exactly why we shouldn't want to disappoint him! However, if there is no effort to please God, our love is obviously dead!

Point #6. Love God and respect him!