Devotions- The Mark 12 Life

“What the World Thinks of Sin”

Posted on October 16, 2012. Filed under: Daily Journey, Devotions- The Mark 12 Life |

Walker Family Discipleship #2

 

Ephesians 2:1-10        And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

(Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV) http://www.esvbible.org/Ephesians+2/

 

Ephesians 4:17-24      Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

(Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV)

 

Dear Family,

In my last devotion/letter to you I mentioned some theological systems (Calvinism, Lutherism, Arminianism, Baptist) and brought up that everyone has a theology. I specifically brought up (only briefly) the differences between Arminian and Calvinistic theology in regards to man’s free will vs. God’s sovereignty. Arminian theology emphasizes man’s choice in salvation while Calvinism emphasizes God’s sovereignty. Today, and for the next few lessons, I want to go deeper into that subject by studying the doctrine of sin and showing how our understanding of what the Bible says about sin (hamartiology) affects our soteriology (doctrine of salvation). Today I will focus on what our culture, the realm of lost man, thinks about sin.

 

Our culture does not necessarily believe in the concept of sin anymore, which makes evangelism all the more difficult. People do not like being called sinners! Most folks DO, however, recognize that they are not perfect- “Hey, nobody’s perfect!” is a standard excuse. We also tend to say things like, “I made a mistake,” when confessing what is really an inexcusable sin. A mistake is when you miscalculate a math problem or turn left when you should have turned right as you drive through a new city but a sin is when you choose to do wrong and you know what you are doing is wrong (an expanded and more precise definition of sin will follow). Our culture says it is not wrong unless you get caught, then you can claim, “It’s a mistake!”

 

Our culture does have some sins it likes to prosecute. Adultery is OK, just don’t get caught; homosexuality is OK, gay pride and all that. But DO NOT DARE say homosexual behaviour is wrong; that is intolerant, homophobic and is one of the worst sins you can commit in our society! Isaiah was right when he said (Isaiah 5:20) “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” DO NOT DARE say that Mohammed is a False Prophet or that Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6). DO NOT DARE bring your faith into the public sphere and be the salt of the earth or the light of the world Matt.5:13-14; religion is OK in the eyes of the world, as long as it stays private and dares not accuse anyone else of being wrong.

 

Much of our culture is now openly atheistic and believes in evolution. If man is in fact the result of blind chance and the laws of nature that accidentally produced a thinking being with an idea of justice and right vs. wrong, then there can be no such thing as sin for there is no God who is holy and just. Sins are merely social constructs that are convenient for maintaining order. Heaven can be achieved on earth through politics, science, and education. At the core of atheism and evolution however, is the law of the jungle: Might makes Right, Survival of the Fittest. This produces situational ethics where the ends justify the means. If God is non-existent then literally anything goes! The more gentle form of this idea is Pragmatism: if it works for you, it must be good.

 

Probably the majority of our culture is deistic or theologically liberal: there is a God out there somewhere whose job it is to take all good people of whatever faith to heaven when they die. If there is a hell it is reserved for only the very worst of people…and even the Hitlers of the world may get a second chance. These folks view God as a cosmic Santa Clause and all religions are basically the same and all people are fundamentally good. Every religion is just a different road up the mountain to God. Sin is no real big deal in this system. The idea of salvation is to be as good as you can (while secretly comparing yourself to others so that in your own mind you come out as being better than most). In this mindset sin is equated with morality alone. God essentially winks at our sins, pats us on the back and tells us “That’s OK; just try harder next time.” In this system the liberal hermeneutic is governed by Love, not God’s holiness and sovereignty. God’s love trumps his holiness so there is no real punishment for our sins. Jesus’ death is a heroic tragedy and an example for us all but there is no need of a substitutionary atonement where Jesus dies in our place to pay the penalty for our sins to appease the righteous wrath of a Holy God.

 

The consequences of sin in this life are considered unfortunate, corporate/community problems that can be solved. People who wreck their lives by sin just need a “helping hand”, therapy, or some government program. It is considered rude and judgmental to point out that a person’s moral failures, i.e., sins, have brought about the bad circumstances that produce their suffering. Therefore, when the Church points to the many problems that come from sex outside of marriage (for example) like abortions, STDs, unwed mothers, poverty, lower education, crime, etc., and identifies the basic behavior as sinful, the world doesn’t want to hear it.

 

Self-esteem is the new mantra in schools and culture and claiming that certain actions are sinful is considered to be damaging to self-esteem. The direction of the legal system towards “Hate Crimes” is a direct challenge to free speech and the free exercise of religion because it will become illegal to label anyone as sinners and so on.

 

The bottom line is that we Christians must have a biblical view of sin and be aware of the cultural attacks against that biblical view of sin. We must understand hamartiology for our own sanctification and for our own understanding of our salvation, so that we can properly proclaim the gospel to a sin sick and condemned world. We must understand sin for our worship to be biblical, for our discipleship to be thorough, and for our mission to preach the gospel to be biblical. In any area of biblical theology we must be able to spot the sinful counterfeit and zoom in on the truth, being able to defend the gospel and answer the questions of those around us.

 

Next we will examine the Bible’s definition of sin and man’s condition.

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“The Bible, Theology, and Discipleship”

Posted on October 6, 2012. Filed under: Daily Journey, Devotions- The Mark 12 Life |

Walker Family Discipleship #1

Saturday, October 06, 2012

 

Matthew 28:19-20      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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)   http://www.esvbible.org/search/Matthew+28/

 

2Timothy 3:14-17       But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

(2 Timothy 3:14-17 ESV)  http://www.esvbible.org/search/2Timothy+3/

 

 

Today I want to look at the idea of doctrine or theology. Can we get past the idea of theology and just let the Spirit lead us? Can we bypass doctrine and just get to the Bible? Can we lay aside theological systems like Calvinism or Arminianism and just stick with the Bible?

 

In the two Bible passages I printed above you will find the words, “make disciples” and “teaching”; it is these words and ideas I want to examine first. The Greek word for “make disciples” in Matt. 28:19 is matheteuo which means to teach, instruct. A mathetes is a learner, student, disciple of a teacher; hence our term for the 12 men who followed Jesus- Disciples.  

 

This passage is known as the Great Commission and gives the Church, as well as individual Christians, our marching orders; this is what we are to be doing- making disciples. (We are also to be worshiping, encouraging one another and doing all things for the glory of God…but those are different topics.)

 

When it comes to making disciples there are methods, there are tasks, but there is also Content. In the Great Commission itself Jesus tells us to [teach] “them [that is, all who are baptized from the larger group of “all nations”] “to observe all that I have commanded you.” Notice that we are not to merely ‘teach them to KNOW all that I have taught you’. Knowledge is NOT ENOUGH. While Christianity is the most intellectual of all the world’s religions, it is not primarily about head knowledge. What does Jesus say? “teaching them to OBSERVE all that I have commanded you”. The goal is OBEDIENCE, becoming CHRISTLIKE, taking in the New Nature and walking by the Spirit. HOWEVER, one must FIRST learn the content, absorb the material, know the teachings which are commanded, BEFORE you can obey them in faith out of love.

 

FAITH itself must begin with head knowledge. We must first hear and understand the gospel with our minds, then, as the Holy Spirit changes our hearts we accept that it is for us, and finally, as the Holy Spirit completely gives us a new heart and we are born again, we surrender wholly to the LORD and trust completely that He has saved us. The problem is when we are satisfied ONLY with a head knowledge or even if we accept the importance of the gospel for us, but do not actually repent, trust and follow. Faith itself, if it is a genuine faith that leads to salvation, is a miraculous gift from the Holy Spirit and is always accompanied by repentance.

 

So there is a content to the gospel which we must believe, put into practice, and then proclaim and teach to the nations. Those who do believe in Jesus we must Disciple by Teaching them BOTH the Content of the Bible and How to put it into practice.

 

Jesus himself follows this practice as he gives the Greatest Commandment in Mark 12:28-34     And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

(Mark 12:28-34 ESV)

 

NOTICE that when Jesus is asked the question he begins with a quote from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) which is a foundational Doctrinal statement of the Jews. Jesus begins his answer with doctrine, another word for teaching. In other words, the Greatest Commandment begins with Doctrine, the official, recognized Teaching of Scripture and then moves into matters of the heart- “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind and with all your strength.” Jesus does not neglect the mental, the intellectual side of faith and loving God. Jesus is here teaching doctrine.

 

The doctrine Jesus teaches here should affect our understanding of God, salvation, Scripture, worship, etc. THEN he moves to the Second Commandment, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Again this is an Old Testament quote (Lev.19:18). This is both doctrine, it is a teaching commanded by the Lord, and it is practical, it is something we are to DO. Know, Believe, Obey, Teach is the sequence. It Is Impossible to make Disciples without knowing, believing, obeying and teaching sound doctrine.

 

We see this pattern also in some of Paul’s letters. In the book of Romans Paul begins with a doctrinal section (1-11) and then moves into the practical section (12-16). We see this in Galatians with 1-5:12 being more doctrinal and 5:13-6:18 more practical. Again in Ephesians, 1-3 is more doctrinal and 4-6 more practical. A similar pattern exists in his other letters. All of this is Not to say that the doctrinal passages in Paul are not also practical nor do I mean that there is no doctrine in the last half of Paul’s letters; I am just pointing out the general tone seems to always move from more doctrine to more practical. It takes BOTH to be a disciple.

 

The big idea here is that doctrine precedes and informs ethics; teaching leads to understanding first, then application. We cannot just “do” Christianity; we must first think and believe, then do. Neither can we just “think” Christianity; we must put our faith in action. James 1:22 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

 

Back in Matt. 28:19-20 and 2Tim.3:14-17, the other word I want to look at is translated as “teaching”. This word in Greek is didasko and can sometimes be translated as “doctrine” (compare the ESV to the KJV in 2Tim.3:16-17). What does the Christian Teacher teach? He/she teaches his disciples “the teaching”, “the doctrine” of scripture. He teaches what the Bible presents as the truth. He teaches what the Church has consistently taught.

 

In 2Tim.2:2 Paul writes, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This corresponds nicely to Matt. 28:19-20 as we see Paul telling Timothy to disciple others who will go on and disciple others, etc.

 

But there is a problem. What about those who warp or misunderstand the teaching of the scriptures? What about bad doctrine? 2Tim.4:3,4 warns us, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” And 2Peter 2:1 also warns “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in disruptive heresies…”

How do we pass on the teaching of scripture from one generation to the next? How do we pass down warnings against false teachings, heresies, to the next generation? From the Old Testament prophets to the Apostles, to the early church through the middle ages, the Reformation, to this day God has used faithful men to write down their teachings about the scriptures, their sermons, and their histories. The writings of the men after the apostles are Not as important as Scripture which is inspired by the Holy Spirit, but they can certainly be useful and very beneficial to the church and to us.

 

The word “Theology” is a compound word using two biblical words Theos (God)and logos (Word). The meaning of “theology” is God-talk, reasoning about God, the study of God. Thus, theology is studying what the scriptures say about God. In its broadest sense it is the teaching of scripture, in its narrow sense it is specifically the study of the doctrine of God the Father, who He is and what he does. This is to distinguish theology from Christology (the study of the Son of God, the person and work of Christ) or pneumatology (the study of God the Holy Spirit). For now I want to just discuss the study of Theology in its broadest sense of all things about God, the teaching of scripture on everything.

 

A Theologian is a person who has been educated and trained in theology, usually complete with a Ph.D. and teaching/writing professionally. But, a pastor/preacher is also a theologian as he studies the Word and writes/preaches what he learns. Beyond that however, EVERY CHRISTIAN is necessarily a THEOLOGIAN as they study the Bible in faith seeking to understand the Word, apply the Word, and pass the Word on to others. EVERY Christian has a THEOLOGY, be it strong or weak, good or bad.

 

It is impossible to look past theology or ignore theology, as you study the Bible. Of course some people can have a very inconsistent, uninformed, unbiblical theology and some can be too slavish to a particular theology such as Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutherism or Baptist theology. Any theology can be carried to an unbiblical extreme or become cold and dead.

 

But what the great theologians of the past have done is very simply study the Bible to see what the Bible teaches, and then write down their understanding of Bible doctrine. The Church over history recognizes that some past theologians have been used by God in a big way. Calvin and Luther for example, the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, etc. We do not look at these men as substitutes for scripture, but rather as great expositors of scripture. What these men did was to force the Church to return to the Bible after 1,000 years of Catholic corruption. Calvin, Luther, Knox, the Puritans and early Baptists were the bold revolutionary missionaries of their day…and they paid a heavy price. Their faith, passed down to us, was a faith that withstood the burning at the stake, the drownings in the icy rivers, and other horrible tortures from the Catholics and others.

 

Very often when you hear guys say disparaging remarks against these older theologians it is because they are either ignorant of church history or they have a particular theology of their own that goes against the theology of the great men of the faith. Everyone has a theology and everyone learns from someone.

 

Obviously we want to go to the scriptures first and foremost, but there is safety and accountability in checking our findings with godly men from the Church past, as well as godly men in the Church present. The man who doesn’t want to check his understanding of scripture with others is usually arrogant, in error, and wants to interpret the Bible in a way that is merely pleasing to the flesh. When someone is teaching us the Bible, even in an informal Bible study or a sermon in church, it is wise to know who has fed the person feeding us. What church background do they have? Who do they read? What school did they attend? How do they understand the key doctrines of the Bible? Which preachers do they like to listen to on the radio or podcast? Do they have a man-centered theology (Arminian) or a God-centered theology (Calvinism)?

 

We believe in the doctrine of the perspicacity of scripture (the scriptures are understandable by the average person), but that does not mean we can ignore sound rules of hermeneutics (rules for interpreting literature). Arminians have a hermeneutic that is man-centered, that is they value the freedom of man’s will first and foremost. This is the key to interpreting scripture for them. Calvinists have a hermeneutic that is God-centered, focusing on God’s sovereignty and glory. When you go to the scriptures what you find with these two different theologies is that as Arminianism tries to account for the paradox of God’s sovereignty vis a vis man’s freedom in the end it is God’s sovereignty which must be curtailed. In Calvinism however, the doctrine of man’s free will is limited to whichever nature he has (sinful or redeemed) thus preserving God’s sovereignty and giving greater glory to God. In other words, a man who is lost CANNOT, on his own, choose to repent and believe because his heart is by nature opposed to God; similarly, a saved man CANNOT choose to ultimately give up Christ and lose his salvation. Prior to being born again we are dead in our trespasses and sins and cannot cause ourselves to be born again because we are powerless and do not want God at all. The born again man, though remaining sinful until heaven, has a heart for God, has the indwelling Spirit, and is in an eternal covenant with God who cannot break his word. A person’s theological presuppositions, whichever theology they adhere to, will lead them to very different positions on salvation, so while the scriptures are clear, our sinful minds can make things very complicated. Hence the need for checking our theology with godly men from the past and present.

 

In conclusion, we must never reach the point of ignoring the teaching of scripture. Doctrine is simply what the Scriptures teach and is essential for the Christian life. Everyone has a theology; we must just be sure our theology is biblical, sound, consistent and vibrant. Whoever is teaching me has a theology. We ignore the godly men of the past and their works to our loss and peril as unsound doctrine and heresies abound in our age.

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Judges 17:1-6 “Micah’s False Worship!”

Posted on August 30, 2012. Filed under: Devotions- The Mark 12 Life |

Thursday, August 30, 2012 Bryan E. Walker

The Old Testament Book of Judges is full of memorable Bible stories from our childhood days in Sunday School and VacationBibleSchool and, at the same time, one of the toughest, most violent, and graphic books in the Bible, where it can be very difficult to see Christ and the gospel in what is written. The final 4-5 chapters are especially challenging as they include gross violations of the Ten Commandments including false worship, graven images, adultery, rape, murder, and just plain indecent behavior. Where is the gospel? The gospel message of these final chapters of Judges is that a lack of sound doctrine and biblical worship leads to sin, chaos, and anarchy which clearly points out our need for a King- Jesus. These chapters hit our current day hard as we, like the ancient Jews, tend to do what is right in our own eyes. We live in a day where there are no standards and chaos is erupting all around. We must look to the King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is coming soon and has the only solution to our sinful chaos right now with His gospel.

 

Chapter 17 begins with a story of a man named Micah admitting that he had stolen a LOT of money from his mother thus violating the 5th and 8th Commandments as he certainly was not honoring his mother and he stole from her. As the son restores the money to his mother she blesses him by the LORD and dedicates the returned silver coins to the LORD, BUT, in order to make both a carved image and a metal image, VIOLATING the 2nd Commandment! This shows a clear loss of understanding of the 10 Commandments and the Lord’s prohibitions against idolatry. Lack of sound doctrine will lead to improper worship, sin, and idolatry, despite an emotional fervency towards God. Micah proceeded to make his own ephod, supposedly with which he would seek the LORD, and household gods to place in his shrine, thus perhaps adding syncretism to his sins. Finally, Micah took it upon himself to ordain one of his sons as a priest when there is no indication that he was of the tribe of Levi, thus usurping the role of the priests under the law. Verse 6 describes Micah well, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

 

These final chapters of Judges, then, describe a situation where there was no scriptural authority, no religious order, everyone just did whatever and believed whatever. Sound doctrine was not being taught and worship was not based upon the Word. This points to our day as we have entire denominations and churches approving of same-sex marriage and preachers “reaching out” to Muslims, saying that we worship the same god. We have a President of the United States whose longtime pastor promotes Black Liberation Theology which is a different gospel, aligned with communism, and racism. We live in a day where the Republican National Convention is nominating a Mormon to the Presidency and people everywhere are affirming that Mormonism is just another branch of the evangelical church. We live in a day where the Democrat National Convention is hosting an Islamic prayer meeting as part of their convention. People will say of this time in American history (if there is an America a hundred years from now!) “In those days there was no belief in the God of the Bible in amerika, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes!”

 

It would be too easy, however, to just point at the sin problems of amerika today and apply the text in a broad sense. We must look in the mirror and personalize the text for us. The gospel in the text confronts me with my sin and you with your sin. Do I worship the Lord in “spirit and truth” as Jesus says to the woman at the well in John 4? Do I ignore my own breaking of the 10 Commandments because my sins “small” compared with someone else’s sins? Is it convenient for me to make false idols in my heart instead of worshiping the God of the Bible? Do I realize that every time I sin I am acting just like Micah from Judges 17? Am I living as if Jesus is NOT the King over the entire Universe, my own life included?

 

The only solution to the spiritual chaos depicted in Judges 17:1-6 is to repent and turn to Jesus as your only hope for salvation. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

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Deuteronomy 30:15-20 “Therefore Choose Life”

Posted on April 27, 2012. Filed under: Devotions- The Mark 12 Life |

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bryan E. Walker

 

A lot of times in Reformed circles we so focus on the Sovereignty of God (because the rest of Christianity seems to ignore it…?) that we tend to ignore those passages that command us to Choose. There is a balance within the Scriptures of commanding us to choose, to repent and believe, and the deeper explanations of God’s sovereignty and our helplessness. In Deuteronomy 30 there is a clear passage that commands us to “Choose life”, which I read earlier this week and now want to meditate on for a while.

 

The context of the verses I want to examine is stated in 29:1- they are in Moaband Moses is renewing the covenant between the 2nd generation, those who were children when God delivered the Israelites fromEgypt and who have grown up in the Wilderness, and the LORD. They are poised now to cross theJordan River and take over the Promised Land which their parents had refused to do 40 years prior. Moses is going to die so he will not be leading them further; that will be left to Joshua. So this occasion is very similar to the events at Horeb/Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19-24 (see especially 24:3-8) where the first generation of redeemed slaves swore to obey all the words that the LORD had spoken.

 

Moses now (Deut. 30) tells God’s people, “I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” People today do not generally like these kinds of contrasts; we really tend to prefer gray areas, mushy zones of moral relativism, ambiguity, and warm, fuzzy worship that is doctrine-lite. But Moses boils it all down to life and death, good v. evil. There is not much room for negotiation there, and I, for one, find comfort in that bold line.

 

What the Lord offers is life, abundant life, eternal life, because He alone is Good. The only other option is evil which leads to death. God is the author of life and he determines what is Good. Evil is anything that goes against God’s will and character or that does not perfectly fulfill the Good which God wills. This contrast between good and evil, life or death, comes from Genesis 1-3 where we see God speaking light into existence and the Author of Light draws a stark contrast between light and dark, day and night. Notice that the dark is not so much something as it is the absence of something- light. Then, in the Garden of Eden, there are the two trees, one representing life and one representing death. Adam was commanded to NOT eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because on that day he would surely die.

 

What life and death choice is Moses speaking about in Deut. 30? “If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God…then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land….But if your heart turns away…you shall surely perish!” Obedience leads to Life and Blessing, but turning away leads to death!

 

Moses goes into a bit more detail about what it means to obey the commandments of the LORD, “by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules…” To obey God, then, is more than a blind, mindless obedience. God intends for us to obey out of love. This points us back to an earlier verse in Deuteronomy, 6:4-6 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” This passage, combined with Lev.19:18“…you shall love your neighbor as yourself” are quoted by Jesus in Mark12:29-31 in answer to the question, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

 

Moses links obedience and love; they are inseparable. And this gets to the core of my main point: we are to choose life. We choose things based upon our will, our desires, what we love or value most highly. When we are lost, separated from Christ by our sins, it is impossible to choose Good, because our heart is only evil all the time. But once the Holy Spirit regenerates our heart, replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh, opening our eyes to the gospel and to Christ, then we can choose the Good, Christ. Regeneration must precede conversion. It is only as we are born again that we are enabled to freely choose Christ. As the Holy Spirit gives us the twin gifts of faith and repentance, our hearts are warmed towards Christ and we understand our own sinfulness and Christ’s wonderfulness…and we obey his command to follow out of love.

 

Moses saw what was ahead for his people. They would cross theJordan Riverand begin a long war with the Canaanites and conquer the Promised Land. They would face many temptations along the way, not the least of which would be to worship the false gods of the land. He commands them to love the God who has delivered them enough to obey Him.

 

This speaks to our sanctification today. If we want to enjoy the blessings that God has for us, we must choose to obey out of love. When we choose to not obey, we choose curses. Moses exhorts his people, and us, to hold fast to Him, for He is your life….So to choose life is to choose Christ, and to choose Christ is to choose life, and blessings.

 

My problem is, of course, that all too often I love other things more than God and choose…curses. Anytime I choose against loving God, against God’s will, I choose to hold fast to an idol, a false god- which brings death.

 

Pray for a heart that loves God so that we will choose life and obey Christ out of love.

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Devotion from John 1:1-18 “Jesus Is the Creator-God”

Posted on August 22, 2011. Filed under: Devotions- The Mark 12 Life |

Series I: The Basic Gospel

Week 1: Crucial Question- Is There A God?

Memorize John 1:1-5 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Day 6: Reading John 1:1-18 “Jesus Is the Creator-God and We Have Life in Him Alone”

             We have been studying passages that clearly teach that there is a God and that this one true God, the God of the Bible, created all that is. In our text today we find that this Creator God is personal, real, and actually dwelled among us as Jesus Christ. Knowing our creator is so much more than an academic fact; knowing God in Jesus Christ is the first step in salvation and is intended to give us new life in Christ. The main idea of John’s Gospel is found in20:31“but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The prologue to John’s Gospel introduces us to Jesus as The Word. Let’s study this important text and discover that Jesus is the Creator God and that we can have life in Him Alone.

            This passage teaches that Jesus is the Divine Word. The Greek for Word is Logos and this word was important for the Greek philosophers as well as for the Jews. For the Greeks the Logos is the impersonal principle of reason and logic that rules the universe and gives order and purpose to everything. This power was not personal for the Greeks, but abstract. It had some kind of creative force and was the source of wisdom. Logos for the Greeks did mean word or talking as is shown in our word geology which means talking about the earth, the study of the earth. But John is here telling the Greeks that the Logos is actually Jesus, and that he became a man and took on human flesh. This idea would have been abhorrent to the Greeks who largely thought of the flesh as being weak and corrupt and extremely remote from their concept of the Logos.

            To the Jews the spoken Word was powerful, it had creative energy, and it could accomplish things with an almost independent existence. We see this powerfully in Genesis 1 which we have already studied as God speaks things into existence. In the first 5 verses of our passage John very deliberately links what he is writing with Genesis 1 thus joining some of the Greek ideas with the Hebrew ideas of Logos forming a new Christian meaning and proclaiming Jesus as the Creator. In the few centuries between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New, the Jews began to equate Wisdom and the Word. Barclay writes, (p.34) “-wisdom was God’s eternal, creative, illuminating power; wisdom and the word were one and the same. It was wisdom and the word who were God’s instruments and agents in creation and who ever bring the will of God to the mind and heart of man.” Thus, in Jesus, John sees the creative Word of God, the wisdom of God, and the reason and logic of the Greek world, all in the divine Son of God who created everything and even took on human flesh. Radical!

            John tells us that “In the beginning was the Word…” He is clearly referring to Genesis 1:1 and is saying that Jesus existed before the creation of the universe; he was already there at the beginning. This implies that Jesus is co-eternal with the Father and he is uncreated. The Greek word eimi, was, is in the imperfect tense indicating continuous action in the past. Thus, in the beginning, Jesus-The Word, was already continuously in existence. This points to a principle in the study of origins, cosmology, that says there could never have been a time when there was absolutely nothing in existence. If there was ever a time when there was nothing, there would be nothing today and forever. Either the universe is eternal and self existent, or the Creator God is eternal and self existent. John claims in this text that Jesus, the Word, is eternal and self existent.

           The Gnostic religion that came about in the later 1st century believed that there were many “emanations’ from God before you got to Christ and that he was a created being. Likewise, the LDS teaches today that Jesus is a created being as does the Watchtower Society. Liberals from within Christianity also believe that Jesus was created and conceived like any other man. Islam views Jesus as a prophet, but just a man and certainly not co-eternal with the Father. Islam considers this doctrine of Christianity to be the reason why they consider Christians to be polytheists. The doctrine of the incarnation and the two-natures of Christ-that Jesus is both divine and human- is a great dividing line between Christianity and the cults, world religions, and heresies, and is an essential teaching of the faith.

Vs.2 “He was in the beginning with God.” In this verse John distinguishes between the Word- Jesus, and God, while in the previous verse he said, “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is an important aspect of the Trinity; they share the essence of the Godhead while remaining distinct and separate persons. Therefore we can say without a formal contradiction according to the laws of philosophy, that Jesus is God and Jesus was with God in the beginning.

“All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” This verse could not be clearer about the nature of Jesus and the universe. Jesus created all that was made, he himself was not made. This again points to the law of cause and effect. Every effect must have a sufficient cause, however, there must be something that is not an effect and is the first cause, the prime mover, which is uncreated, and therefore necessarily eternal. Any atheistic scientists must be able to answer the question of origins. Something must be eternal and outside the physical universe, for if the universe itself is eternal and uncaused, we would have an infinite regression and could never have reached this particular moment in time. Paul, in Col.1:15-16 says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him.”

            In our text John emphasizes that the Word took on human flesh. In v.10 “He was in the world” and in v.11 “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” But most directly in v.14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….” Again, the concept of God becoming flesh would be very strange to both the Greeks and Jews although in Greek mythology and some other pagan myths and religions the concept was there. This bold doctrine of the incarnation is essential for our faith. The Council of Chalcedon, AD 451, wrote, “…we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation…” (Henry Bettenson, 1963, p.51).

            This Creator, the divine Word, who took on human flesh and is the unique God-Man, is Jesus Christ. John writes in vv.16-17 “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace…grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Here we arrive at the Why of Jesus’ incarnation. It is fitting that I am writing this devotion the week of Christmas, 2010, because in Christmas we celebrate this same incarnation that brings us grace and truth. As sinners who are in a state of rebellion against our Creator, we are incapable of repenting on our own and accepting Christ as our Creator and Lord “his own people did not receive him”. We need grace, powerful, life-changing grace, that can only come from One powerful enough to create the galaxies. We need new life that can only come from One is life itself “In him was life”. We need the supernatural light of the gospel that can illumine our dark hearts and draw us to our Creator, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” We need the truth who is the person of Jesus Christ, who will strip away the lies we believe and give us a relationship with Himself.

            Jesus is the Word, our Creator and he has come to redeem his lost and fallen people. The Creator of the universe is seeking you. Have you responded?

Notes:

Main ideas of the text include- 1. Jesus is the Word or the Logos, the principle of logic and reason, yet also2. a person who is God, yet 3. also became flesh. 4. The concept of the Trinity is touched on as the Word was with God but also the Word is God. 5. All things were made through the Word. 6. He is life. 7. He is the true light. 8. He was rejected, yet, 9. those who do believe, who are born spiritually, become children of God by his grace. 10. The main point of John’s Gospel is that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that we might have life in His name (20:30f)

Previous Devotion:

mark12ministries.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/devotion-from-psalm-141-the-foolishness-of-atheism/

Bibliography:

Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of John, vol.1, RevisedEdition. TheWestminster Press:Philadelphia,PA 1975 (pp.1-75).

Bettenson, Henry. Documents of the Christian Church, second edition.OxfordUniversity Press:New York, 1963.

MacArthur, John Jr. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John 1-11. Moody Press:Chicago,IL. 2006 (pp.1-46).

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Devotion from Psalm 14:1 “The Foolishness of Atheism”

Posted on October 10, 2010. Filed under: Devotions- The Mark 12 Life |

Living the Mark 12 Life

Daily Devotions, Bible Study, Scripture Memory, History and More

In an effort to fulfill the Great Commandment

 

Series I: The Basic Gospel

Week 1: Crucial Question- Is There A God?

Memorize Psalm 14:1 “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.” They are corrupt they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.”

Day 5: Reading Psalm 14:1-7; Rom.3:9-18 “The Foolishness of Atheism”

 

            This Psalm is so important that it is almost perfectly duplicated in Psalm 53, and Paul quotes extensively from it in Romans 3 as he discusses the sinfulness of man. When studying the Bible it is essential to take notice and obey when God says something once, twice it is very important, and when he says it three times we need to surely pay attention. This Psalm is a wisdom/lament, reflecting the Wisdom literature that fills Proverbs, with the use of the word fool and the detailed explanation of the word that follows. The Psalm can be divided into three parts, with vss.1-3 showing the fool’s character as seen from the LORD’s viewpoint, vss.4-6 showing how the fool acts out his foolishness towards the LORD’s people, and vs. 7 where the LORD’s people await their salvation.

            “…fool” translates nabal, and is essentially a person who disregards the LORD, denies God in thought and deed, and breaks covenant with the LORD. It is not that the person is mentally deficient, many a fool is successful, intelligent and popular; rather, the fool is morally deficient, living for self with no regard for God or others. A fool is living in violation of the Great Commandment and the Second found in Mark 12:28-31 “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your should and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Proverbs 1:1-7 describes the fool as one who despises wisdom and instruction and the story of David and Nabal in 1Sam.25 shows a foolish man. A fool does not listen to or heed the Word of God as in Matt.7:24-27, where the wise man who hears (obeys) the words of Jesus is compared to a man building his house on a rock so that it survives the storms, while the foolish man who does not listen to Jesus and his life is like a house built upon sand and is destroyed by the storm. In Luke 12:13-21 the rich fool was not prepared to meet his Maker and in Matt.25 the five foolish virgins were not prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom.

            In Psalm 14 we see more of a practical atheism and not philosophical atheism, but in application it would certainly include the philosophical atheist. Derek Kidner writes, p.79, “The assertion, ‘There is no God,’ is in fact treated in Scripture not as a sincere if misguided conviction, but as an irresponsible gesture of defiance.” The fool believes his own defiant slander, “no God!” Charles H. Spurgeon writes, p.160, “The Atheist is the fool pre-eminently, and a fool universally. He would not deny God if he were not a fool by nature, and having denied God it is no marvel that he becomes a fool in practice. Sin is always folly, and as it is the height of sin to attack the very existence of the Most High, so is it also the greatest imaginable folly. To say there is no God is to belie the plainest evidence, which is obstinacy….”

            “…says in his heart”- this implies that perhaps his lips say one thing, but his heart says another. The heart is considered the seat of the will, the essence of our desires that are behind all of our choices. We may very well see a religious atheist here! Many people are church members and know the language of religion but inside they actually have no regard for God. Isaiah writes in 29:13 “this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…” Jesus quotes this Isaiah text in Matt.15:8. Now we can start talking about us and not just the atheist in the abstract. We each have the capacity to tell lies to ourselves and believe them. We choose to believe what we want to believe at the time. Have you ever had a long conversation with yourself to convince yourself that you could sin and get away with it? As if God won’t know what you are doing! This is exactly what the fool in vs. 1 is doing. We can justify all of our wrong actions and attitudes in this manner; we tell ourselves, No God!

            “They are corrupt…”    The word corrupt means to destroy, spoil, ruin. This word hearkens back to Genesis 6:11-12 where it is used three times in reference to the world that God was about to judge with the Flood, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” This speaks of the doctrine of Total Depravity, the teaching that all people are corrupted with sin, slaves to sin, and choose sin because it is our nature as sinners to want to sin. It is sadly ironic that this doctrine which is proved every day in the lives of every person is very often denied. Not many people will look at themselves and say, “I am a corrupt sinner!” Yet this is exactly what is needed in order for us to repent and follow Jesus every day. Our society likes to use this word, corrupt, but usually only in relation to politicians. However, spiritually, we are all corrupt by nature.

            “…they do abominable deeds…” Deeds are the outworking of our hearts. If our hearts are corrupt then all our deeds will be abominable. Abominable means loathsome, detestable, abhorred and rejected by God. Later in the Psalm, at verse 4, the author describes one of the corrupt, abominable deeds as “the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread…” This sounds like greedy businessmen or bankers who take advantage of the poor and eat them like bread, that is, to consume them. Apart from God’s grace, when we are not in Christ, prior to our conversion, all of our deeds are abominable in God’s sight. We say this because Paul writes in Rom.14:23 “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Prior to our salvation we have no faith in Christ, therefore, none of our actions or thoughts proceed from faith and are sinful. Apart from a saving relationship with Jesus Christ all of our deeds are abominable in God’s sight. Isaiah brings this tough idea out in Isaiah 64:6 “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Ezekiel 36:17 uses some graphic, earthy, language to describe how God viewed Israel’s deeds.

            “…there is none who does good.” In Mark 10:18 Jesus says, “No one is good except God alone.” Those who, in their hearts, say that there is no God, the practical and philosophical atheists, those who have no faith in Christ, do not do any good deed in God’s eyes. Many will point to works of philanthropy that come from the wealthy whose lives may be as corrupt as they are rich, and then say that they are great men or women. Good deeds between hell-bound sinners whose minds never acknowledge God do not impress God; they are still corrupt, abominable and not good in the ultimate sense of the word. We may be thankful for the great philanthropic works of unbelievers, but we must realize that their benefit is for this life only. Keep in mind that the Bible does present many wealthy and powerful people in a good light as being faithful to God: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, David, etc., but very often the Scriptures point to how corrupt the wealthy and powerful are too. It is currently in vogue to criticize the wealthy elites of Wall Street in our political circles, yet the wealthy of Hollywood seem to get a pass. And all too often “the poor” are considered righteous because they have suffered and “been oppressed”. Poor people are just as corrupt and abominable as the rich. The deeds of the poor practical atheist are equally not good right along with the wealthy atheist. The point that Paul makes in Rom. 3 where he uses Psalm 14 is “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (vs.23).

            In seeking to apply this verse we must first apply it to ourselves, to we who are already believers. We must understand that to the extent we disobey Christ we are saying, “No God!” Sin is inconsistent with our calling, with our new nature, and with the Spirit of Christ who indwells us. Therefore, when we see or meet someone who is obviously apart from Christ, and who is living their life in a corrupt and abominable manner, we should have compassion on them by sharing the Gospel with them. All too often we shun or shy away from notoriously bad sinners, forgetting that our heart, apart from Christ, is also corrupt.

            The general idea of the Psalm is that the fool is within the Covenant Community of Israel yet is denying God by living apart from the covenant. For our day we need to realize that one of the largest mission fields is the Church itself. Many within our membership rolls are lost and have no saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, living their lives as practical atheists. Several denominations have made decisions that promote various sins and deny the authority of God’s Word, and yet tens of thousands of ‘believer’ still attend those ‘churches’. The Church is a mission field. And don’t forget the little children! Each child may be cute and be raised by godly parents, yet until they repent and trust in Christ they too are corrupt sinners.

            In conclusion we must understand that all of us are natural born atheists and choose to remain in that condition until God’s grace overpowers our unbelief. As we look at witnessing to those who claim to be atheists, we can do so confidently because we know that Scripture says the atheist is a fool. But instead of holding the atheist in contempt, we can identify with him/her because we know that at times, when we choose to sin, we too are proven fools by denying God who has saved us.

Next Devotion: mark12ministries.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/devotion-from-john-11-18-jesus-is-the-creator-god/

 

Bibliography:

Boice, James Montgomery. Psalms, Volume 1: Psalms 1-41. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI.1994 (pp.113-120).

Craigie, Peter C. Word Biblical Commentary, volume 19, Psalms 1-50. Word Books:Waco, TX. 1983 (pp. 144-149).

Delitzsch, F. Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 5, Psalms. Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody, Mass. originally published 1866-91(pp.125-130).

Dickson, David (1583-1662, Glasgow). Geneva Series Of Commentaries: Psalms.The Banner of Truth Trust: Edinburgh, 1959 (1653-5) (pp.54-62).

 

Durham, John I. “Psalms”, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol.4, Esther-Psalms. Broadman Press: Nashville, TN 1971 (pp.194-196).

Kidner, Derek. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Psalms 1-72, An Introduction & Commentary. Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester, England 1973 (pp.78-80).

Spurgeon, Charles H. (1834-92). The Treasury of David, volume one, Psalm I-LVII. Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody, Mass.

Terrien, Samuel. Eerdmans Critical Commentary, The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2003 (p.162-167)

VanGemeren, Willem A. “Psalms” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol.5 Frank Gaebelein, ed. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI. 1991 (pp.142-147).

Wilson, Gerald H. The NIV Application Commentary: Psalms Volume 1. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI. 2002 (pp.286-295).

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Devotion on Romans 1:18-32 “General Revelation Reveals There Is a God”

Posted on September 26, 2010. Filed under: Devotions- The Mark 12 Life |

Living the Mark 12 Life

Daily Devotions, Bible Study, Scripture Memory, History and More

In an effort to fulfill the Great Commandment

Series I: The Basic Gospel

Week 1: Crucial Question- Is There A God?

Memorize Isaiah 45:18-19 “For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other. 19 I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, Seek me in vain. I the LORD speak the truth; I declare what is right.”

Day 4  Reading: Romans 1:18-32 “General Revelation Reveals There Is a God”

            In these verses from Romans 1 Paul is discussing God’s wrath on the Gentile world for their unrighteousness and in vss. 19-21 he brings out the concept of General Revelation which means that God has revealed himself and his attributes to all people of all time through nature and in their own souls through the Law that is written in their hearts and confirmed by their consciences. While General Revelation is not sufficient to lead people to salvation on their own, it is enough to bring just condemnation. Once a person is born again and saved from their sin by Christ, they will understand General Revelation and be able to praise God for what they see of Him in nature.

            Paul shows in 1:18 that General Revelation is insufficient because it can be suppressed by sinful men. People suppress the evidence and truth about God because we are all sinners who, by nature, are in rebellion against God and do not want the truth about him to see the light of day. We are not neutral. In suppressing the truth about God we deny what nature shows us and we deny what our own consciences tell us. Though people may be ignorant of the Bible, and ignorant of Christ, we are not ignorant of God. The atheist is not ignorant of God, he actively seeks to suppress and deny the truth about God. The atheist does not deny God in a vacuum; he first knows about God then denies that God exists.

            The atheist must suppress the truth about the origin of the universe by asserting that life came from non-living matter, emotions came from non-emotive matter, and reasoning and memory came from non-reasoning, non-remembering matter. Can beauty, harmony, and complex information arise because of a purposeless process that developed by accident? Can the universe have created itself, thus violating the law of non-contradiction because the universe would have to exist and not exist at the same time and in the same relationship? The atheist suppresses the truth about God every step of the way.

            Paul says in verse 20 that “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” Ancient man was able to look at the world and understand that immense and mysterious power lay behind everything. Modern man, though stripping away much of the mystery through science, still comes to a stopping point beyond which science cannot go. The point of singularity, from which the Big Bang came, had to have come from somewhere; someone, with infinite purpose, power, and intelligence created it. It could not have been eternal nor could it have created itself. God alone has sufficient power to create the universe.

            God’s divine nature is revealed in the tenderness of a mother caring for her baby and in the delicate beauty of a flower, in the stately majesty of a snow capped mountain and the terror of thunderstorm.. God is a God of grace and love, compassion and mercy, kindness and beauty. These attributes of God that we see in nature make us pause and contemplate the finer things of life. These things cannot have arisen from cold, dead matter.

            Man’s inner knowledge of justice and his crying out against injustice again point to God. If there is no such thing as justice why do we feel aggrieved when someone does us wrong? Animals may feel fear when a competitor takes away their food, but the animal does not feel that an injustice has occurred. Humans know injustice when they experience it and this points us to God. Why are we deeply moved when we see unjust suffering by others? How can we extract justice from a criminal proceeding apart from God’s being just?

            Paul says, “So they are without excuse.” Though unbelievers can make all kinds of excuses in the here and now, though they can suppress the truth about God, in the end they will have no excuse for their behavior. On the Day of Judgment God will convict them and they will know that all their lies and efforts at suppressing the truth about God, were futile. Paul says the wrath of God is being revealed against those who suppress the truth. The doctrine of the wrath of God is not popular today, yet it is indispensable for understanding the human condition and the gospel.

            Although men knew God, they did not honor him nor thank him as God; in fact, they worshipped false gods of their own creation, gods who resembled their own immoral nature. Even though we owe God everything, in our fallen sinfulness we are unwilling to give him praise, honor and glory. He gives us the very air we breathe and causes it to rain on the just and the unjust alike, yet still people deny there is a God.

            Notice the character of those who deny God: ungodly, unrighteous, suppress the truth, do not honor or thank God, they think futile thoughts, their foolish hearts are darkened, they have become fools, they worship things that are less than themselves, they are given over to lusts and impurity, they exchange the truth for a lie, they have dishonorable passions in homosexuality and lesbianism, committing shameless acts, they have a debased mind that is filled with evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slander, hatred for God, insolence, haughtiness, boasting, inventing evil, disobedience to parents, foolishness, faithlessness, and ruthlessness. These are the poisonous fruits of atheism. What kind of a neighbor do you want next door? One who represents these horrible fruits of atheism, or one who acknowledges God as the Creator and Redeemer of mankind?

            In Romans 2:14, 15 Paul writes, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them….” On this text William Hendricksen writes (p.97) “he equipped him with a sense of right and wrong. He did not permit even the Gentile to remain altogether without a testimony concerning God. Cf. Ps.19:1-4; Acts 17:26-28; Rom. 1:28, 32. This accounts for the fact that Gentiles are ‘a law for themselves.’ By nature- that is, without prompting or guidance coming from any written code, therefore in a sense spontaneously- a Gentile will at times do certain things required by God’s law. For example, he is kind to his wife and children, has a heart for the poor, promotes honesty in government, shows courage in fighting crime. Etc.”

            Hendricksen continues, “What God has written on his heart finds a response in this man’s conscience. As the etymology of the word, both in Greek and in English (from Latin) implies, conscience is a knowledge along with (or shared with) the person. It is that individual’s inner sense of right and wrong; his (to a certain extent divinely imparted) moral consciousness viewed in the act of pronouncing judgment upon himself, that is, upon his thoughts, attitudes, words, and deeds, whether past, present, or contemplated. As the passage states, the resulting thoughts or judgments are either condemnatory or, in certain instances, even commendatory.”

            Man’s conscience goes back to Genesis 1:26-27 and being created in the image of God:

Then God said, “Let us make man  in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Though certainly damaged by eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, man still has a conscience and this reveals a core knowledge of God that the atheist must suppress and cannot escape.

Bibliography:

Hendricksen, William. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the

            Romans. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, MI. 1981 (p.59-85, 96-97).

Luther, Martin. Commentary on Romans, 1552, translated by J. Theodore Mueller.

            Kregel Publications: Grand Rapids, MI., 1976 (pp.42-48).

MacArthur, John, Jr. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8. Moody

            Press: Chicago, IL. 1991 (p.59-104).

Murray, John. New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle To

The Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, MI.1959 (pp.34-53, 68-76).

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Weekly Devotion: Isaiah 44:24-45:25 “There Is No God but the LORD”

Posted on September 19, 2010. Filed under: Devotions- The Mark 12 Life |

Living the Mark 12 Life

Daily Devotions, Bible Study, Scripture Memory, History and More

In an effort to fulfill the Great Commandment

 

Series I: The Basic Gospel

Week 1: Crucial Question- Is There A God?

Memorize Isaiah 45:18-19 “For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other. 19 I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, Seek me in vain. I the LORD speak the truth; I declare what is right.”

Day 3  Reading: Isaiah 44:24-45:25 “There Is No God but the LORD”

            Isaiah 45 is about how God will use King Cyrus the Great, of Persia, for his own glory and purposes. This prophecy was written between 740-701 BC by Isaiah, the son of Amoz, in Judah, yet it is about a Persian King who would reign 575-530 BC, close to two-hundred years into the future. Some liberal scholars try to show that a Second Isaiah wrote chapters 40-55, and a Third Isaiah wrote chapters 56-66, but it seems their basic assumption is that God cannot work a miracle of prophecy. There is a unity of thought in the ancient Jewish community, the New Testament and the early Church that one Isaiah wrote the entire book. The bottom line is that God revealed some of the future to Isaiah in a miraculous way. Verses 11 and 21 imply that God knows or can tell the future, “Ask me of things to come…Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD?” We worship the only true God and he alone knows the future because he alone is eternal and he created all things. Vs.18 “For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth”.

            Isaiah’s day was a time of international tension, alliances, wars and rebellions, much like our day. He was writing to the people of his day who were tempted to trust in politics, international treaties, and armies instead of in the LORD. But in chapters 40-66 he is writing about future days for God’s people, when they have been exiled to a foreign country, urging the people both of his day and the future to trust that the LORD is the only true God, that he is sovereign and that he will ultimately save his people. This message of prophecy that was fulfilled long after Isaiah had died is still relevant to the Church today as we look forward to our King completely restoring his Kingdom here.

            The passage really begins in 44:24-28 and reveals what kind of God we worship. Vs.44:24 “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer”. He is our Redeemer, Heb. Ga’al– one who acts as the next of kin and purchases you out of bondage; it refers back to Exodus when the LORD redeemed Israel out of slavery to the Egyptians and brought them to Sinai where he revealed himself to them and led them into a covenant relationship with himself. God is a redeeming God. In this context he is pointing forward to the redemption that will come through the LORD’s anointed, Cyrus. Isaiah was saying that there would come a time when Israel would be captive in Babylon and Cyrus would be used of God to redeem them and bring them back to Jerusalem. Imagine how hard it would be for the exiled Jews, 200 years after Isaiah wrote this, to look at the conquering army of the Persians as they invade Babylon and trust that God was not only in control, but that he was doing this to fulfill his promise to Israel and return them to Jerusalem. For the Church today, we know that God has redeemed us from our bondage to sin through Jesus’ death on the cross.

            Vs. 44:24 continues, “your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb…” The LORD formed Israel from the womb, he chose Abraham to start a family, a tribe, 12 tribes, and finally a nation. The same God who formed and founded Israel will redeem Israel. When we compare this verse with a similar use in Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139:13, we can also see the principle of the sanctity of human life. God does form the little babies in the womb; no baby is an accident in God’s eyes just as Israel is not an historical accident. God has a love for Israel and a plan for their redemption from their beginning. God forms the little babies and loves them and has a plan for their lives too. While this text is speaking specifically of Israel, there is an analogy that is useful in forming a biblical view of the unborn, the issue of abortion, and the worth of the individual.

            Verse 24 then boldly proclaims, “I am the LORD, who made all things…” God alone is the creator of the heavens and the earth. He announces this bold doctrine in the context of being Israel’s Redeemer and Former. God’s big, beautiful creation is truly amazing, but if we are merely a part of his creation and not a part of his Redeemed, of what value is the creation to us?

            In vs. 25 we see that the LORD “frustrates the signs of liars and makes fools of diviners,” which means he opposes all the false gods, prophets, and idolaters and makes all their wisdom look foolish. There is only one God and he is the LORD. He will confirm his word about this servant, Cyrus, “he shall fulfill all my purpose” in verse 44:28. The LORD who is Israel’s Redeemer and Former, who alone made the heavens and the earth, who embarrasses those who worship false gods, will keep his word and bring about a man named Cyrus who will rebuild Jerusalem.

            Verses 45:1-4 announce that the LORD will subdue nations before Cyrus, breaking through doors of bronze and cutting iron bars, giving him treasures, so “that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by name…I name you, though you do not know me.” God is the LORD over those who do not know or acknowledge him; though people reject him, he remains God and directs their paths. God can sovereignly choose to use anybody for his purposes, but that does not mean he approves of their sinful lifestyle or false religion, nor does it mean they will be saved.

            In 45:5-7 the LORD states that he alone is God and says that he will be equipping Cyrus, an unbeliever, to make God known to people from the East and West. This was accomplished in 539/538 BC with the famous decree from Cyrus that allowed the Jews to go back home to Israel and rebuild their city and Temple (Ezra 1).

            Logically there can only be ONE Supreme Being. If there were more than one god, neither could be supreme and there would be chaos, which is what we see with the ancient Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. Given that there is, out of logical necessity only one essential being who is the Prime Mover, who is the uncaused cause, who must be spiritual- not material, highly intelligent and powerful enough to create the universe, then that Being must be unique and alone, without any competition. “Besides me there is no God.”

            He is the creator of the light and darkness- there is no lord of the darkness to compete with the God who is. He creates well-being AND calamity, meaning he is sovereign over all things, including evil, though he himself is untouched by evil and is never the direct cause of evil. This passage clearly shows that God is the LORD over creation and history, the past, present, and the future. There is none like him!

Application:

            Do you worship and serve the one true God willingly and lovingly as a follower of Christ? Or, are you like Cyrus, doing God’s will by accident, blindly, not by faith? Though God uses all of his people for his ultimate glory, those who serve by faith will also be glorified while those who serve unwillingly will be humbled and, finally, cast into the lake of fire. Though Cyrus was a great man in the world’s history, there is no record that he ever repented and followed the LORD exclusively.

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The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, editor. Volume 6 Isaiah-Ezekiel, “Isaiah” (pp.266-73), Geoffrey W. Grogan, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1986.

Commentary on Isaiah by Harry Bultema. Kregel: Grand Rapids, 1981 (originally published in Dutch in 1923). See pp.437-452.

The Bible Speaks Today Series, The Message of Isaiah, by Barry G. Webb, IVP: Downers Grove, Ill. 1996. See pp. 181-184.

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Devotion on Acts 17:16-34 “How To Find Common Ground”

Posted on September 13, 2010. Filed under: Devotions- The Mark 12 Life |

Living the Mark 12 Life

Daily Devotions, Bible Study, Scripture Memory, History and More

In an effort to fulfill the Great Commandment

 

Series I: The Basic Gospel

Week 1: Crucial Question- Is There A God?

Memorize Gen.1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Day 2  Reading: Acts 17:16-34 “How to find common ground”

 In this passage we find Paul is in Athens waiting for Timothy and Silas and using his time wisely in evangelism. In vss. 16-21 Paul began in the synagogues with his own people, then moved to the marketplace where every day he reasoned with the people who were of different philosophies like the Epicureans and Stoics. But in vs. 22 we find Paul at the Areopagus, Mars Hill, which is where Athens held court, especially in religious, philosophical, and moral matters.

            Paul begins his address by acknowledging they are religious in every way. This is likely a simple statement of fact, not a compliment, but it can be interpreted as a criticism, “You are too religious,” or “superstitious.” He then refers to all their many temples and idols but focuses on the one to “the unknown god”. Here is Paul’s entry point, his bridge into this pagan culture. The Athenians are not atheists; they are very religious; Paul and the Athenians have something in common, they both believe in the supernatural. Paul takes that unknown god and uses it to begin proclaiming the gospel.

            Paul is not equating the God of the Bible with this pagan unknown god, but he uses the idea because it is true, the Greeks do not know the God who is. We must be very careful to not equate the God of the Bible with other gods, false gods, like Allah or any of the Hindu gods. Unfortunately, there are many people who believe that everyone worships the same god but by different names- that belief must be objected to by all true Christians. The key idea here is that the Athenians did not know the true God and Paul is about to explain to them who this God is. So in Paul’s opening he establishes that there is a God, the Athenians are ignorant of him, but he is knowable.

            Notice that Paul begins his evangelistic message with the God of creation, the Lord of heaven and earth. In other words, Paul is making it clear to the Athenians that the God he is talking about is supreme in every way. The Greeks and Romans had a hierarchy of many gods but the God Paul is speaking of does not live in temples nor does he need anything from humans because he is the giver of life, breath and everything. This sets the God of the Bible above all the other gods of the pagans and presents a logical truth as well. Realistically, what can a man offer the God who created all that is? We come to God with nothing; we ourselves need what only He can give.

            Paul next directly confronts one of the core beliefs of the Greeks when he states that God made all nations from one man. The Greeks believed they were superior to all other people, all outsiders were barbarians. Paul is showing that God is Lord of all, including every nation and people. With this statement he cuts through all prejudice and racism; all people are created in the image of God and all people need the salvation that only God can give.

            In vs.27 Paul is showing that because of the evidence for God in nature, in our conscience, and in reason people ought to be seeking God. People have become incurably religious in their seeking after God, but due to our fallen, sinful nature our seeking is not a genuine seeking for the God who is, it is a seeking for gods after our own nature. People feel their way towards God as in a thick darkness, and everything they find along the way they make into a god. Paul is NOT saying here that anyone can seek God on their own and find Him apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sincere seekers in other religions are only saved as they hear about Jesus, are convicted by the Holy Spirit, and repent of their idolatrous ways and follow Christ in faith.

            Paul states in vs.28 that God is not far from each one of us because God is everywhere present, omnipresent. He then quotes from a Greek poet of Crete, Epimenides, who establishes that all of us live and exist in relationship to the Creator. Paul also quotes Aratus of Cilicia, Paul’s home region, saying that all of us are the offspring of the Creator. Although these pagan authors were referring to their pagan gods, Paul can legitimately take their concept and apply what truth is there to the God who is. These pagans are confirming the universal natural revelation of God yet they remain pagan, lost, doomed to hell unless they repent of their sin and trust in the Jesus Paul is proclaiming. Paul emphasizes that God now commands all men everywhere to repent; judgment is coming.

            In vs. 31 he mentions the assurance of a day of judgment we have because of God “raising him from the dead.” Here is the special revelation of the gospel. Natural revelation is enough to reveal there is a God and some of his attributes, but natural revelation only condemns, it cannot save. But God has revealed himself fully in his Son, Jesus, and has provided salvation through the cross and the resurrection. Luke does not here record the name Jesus nor does he mention the cross. In all likelihood this speech before the Areopagus was much longer than what Luke records; we can expect that Paul expanded on these comments.

            How did the intellectuals of Mars Hill respond to Paul’s proclamation? Because of the resurrection some mocked. There will always be those who reject the gospel as foolishness and ridicule those who proclaim it. But some were intrigued by what Paul said and wanted to hear more about it. There are sometimes honest unbelievers who hear the gospel and see its logic and historicity and are open to discussion. Finally, some were called by the Holy Spirit and believed in Jesus and joined Paul, including Dionysius of the Areopagus and a woman named Damaris.

            In this encounter with the elite philosophers of Athens Paul boldly entered into their domain and did battle on their turf, using some of their own poets and idols as a bridge to bring them the gospel in terms they could understand. Paul did not feebly invite them to come to the synagogue for a revival. Luke did not record any Scriptures that Paul may have used, the philosophers may not have been familiar with the Old Testament so Paul may not have used them here, or, he could have used them and Luke just did not include that part of his sermon.

Application:

            Do we even notice the false gods around us? Do we care? Paul was provoked in his spirit upon seeing all the idols and temples to false gods and goddesses (vs.16). It is all too easy to get used to the false gods and idols around us so that we lose our evangelistic zeal. Granted, we do not have idol worship around us in America like some countries do, at least in the sense of statues and altars where people sacrifice sheep and cattle; but we have become a pluralistic society; there is an Islamic Mosque close to me.

            Pluralism is now taught in the schools and accepted in everyday life. Pluralism says that all cultures and religions are of equal value and merit. There are many ways to “god” and we should not only be tolerant of these other religions but we should not put ours forward as the only true religion let alone try to convert someone else. This is now the dominant thought in our culture and it makes our modern society much more like ancient Athens. We have allowed people from every country and culture to come into America and worship as their religion sees fit. There are mosques being built every day as Islam is now the fastest growing religion in America. Hinduism, Buddhism, and even Neo-paganism and witchcraft are growing. My church is beginning a ministry to refugees from an eastern country where the main religion is Buddhism The public schools are teaching our children that all these religions are just as true as Christianity. Are we provoked?

            Then, when you speak with average Americans who are mildly religious and attend church sometimes, or are even very active in the church, you find that many worship a god who is not the God of the Bible. Many liberal churches often teach that Jesus was just a man and that he really did not die for our sins nor did he rise again. Many churches now welcome sin instead of condemning it; homosexuality and abortion are defended by many liberal preachers and bishops while conservative preachers often tolerate immorality of the heterosexual kind by church members. Are we provoked in our spirit? Many conservative Americans who are religious nonetheless have a religion that says, “As long as you try to be good, and your good outweighs the bad, Jesus is glad for you and will take you to heaven when you die.” Or, God is primarily concerned about your physical health and financial status here on earth. Are these not false gospels and false gods, idols? Are we provoked in our spirit?

            Paul used an excellent technique in his speech before the Areopagus. Though he was deeply provoked by the gross idolatry all around him, he spoke the gospel to the leading intellectuals of Athens with respect and with knowledge of their own poets. All too often we are quick to criticize others who worship false gods without ever seeking to listen to them or study their belief system or show them any kind of respect. Yes, there may be a time to “hack Agag to pieces before the LORD” (1Sam.15:33) or to seize the prophets of Baal and slaughter them as Elijah did in 1Kings 18, but more likely you will be called to share the gospel in love, with respect, to the unbelievers around you, like Paul did in Athens.

            When those opportunities arise, it helps to find a point of contact, some common ground, with the lost person. Paul did that by quoting from their poets and examining their altar to an unknown god. We need to look for points of contact, without compromising the gospel, that can be used to reach the pagans around us.

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Devotion on Gen. 1:1 “Why Is There Something Instead of Nothing?”

Posted on September 5, 2010. Filed under: Devotions- The Mark 12 Life |

 Living the Mark 12 Life

Daily Devotions, Bible Study, Scripture Memory, History and More

In an effort to fulfill the Great Commandment

Series I: The Basic Gospel

Week 1: Crucial Question- Is There A God?

Memorize Gen.1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Day 1 Reading: Gen. 1:1-2:3 “Why is there something instead of nothing?”

“In the beginning God…” The Bible assumes God, it does not deliberately try to prove his existence; it simply begins with God. Verse 1 does not mean that there was a beginning for God, it means that at the beginning of the universe, God was there, creating, speaking into existence the entire universe. Before the universe was created, there was only God. There was no pre-existent matter which God used to “fashion” the universe. There was only God. This is known as creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. The answer to the age old philosophical question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” is that God chose to create all that is and God himself is eternal.

The first chapter of Genesis is more about the “who” of creation than the “how”, although science and the Scriptures agree on some of the “how”. Plato said that a “demiurge” must have had supreme reason and intelligence to create the universe and set it in motion. Aristotle said there had to be a Prime Mover who himself is unmoved.  Parmenides said that nothing can come from nothing. While the ancient Greeks thought that matter was eternal, current physics says that space, time and matter must all have begun at once and posits the “Big Bang” as the source, but cannot tell what caused the Big Bang itself. The Bible says this Prime Mover, the Uncaused Cause, the source of the Big Bang, is a personal, all powerful, holy God who said, “Let there be light!” And there was light. He is eternal and has always been. There has never been a time of nothing.

The evolutionist seeks to explain the intricate beauty and harmony of the universe in naturalistic terms like: chance, natural selection, evolution and mutation, a universe that just “pops into existence” or that creates itself. But the evolutionist must explain how that which is non-life produces life, non-personality produces personality, chaos produces beauty. Good luck with that! An infinite number of tornados in an infinite number of junk yards will never produce a working Mercedes-Benz nor will an infinite number of monkeys typing away on an infinite number of word processors ever compose a piece of music like Handel’s Messiah. Complex beauty that communicates information and truth requires an intelligent creator. DNA in every cell of every living thing carries so much complex, beautiful information that it could not have happened “by chance”. The word “chance” is a mathematical word describing probabilities and has no creative or causative power. The universe shows design and purpose throughout because it had a designer, a creator, who created it with purpose. Intelligence, personality and thought must come before a complex, beautiful, material universe.

The atheist will frequently ask you to prove the existence of God using the scientific method. He wants to see God in a test tube. But God is Spirit, he is invisible but everywhere present, he has no mass but is omnipotent. When the atheist demands to see God, you can remind him of what Jesus said to his disciples when they asked to see the Father in John 14:9 “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” To study Jesus in the Bible is to know God the Creator.

If the Bible were a symphony, Genesis 1 would be the overture. It sets the tone for the rest of the Bible. The Bible begins with God and ends with God; he is the First and the Last. He is the beginning point to understanding all of Scripture, understanding man and the world. To deny God is not only foolish, it will lead to hell. The beginning of the Gospel, the Good News, is acknowledging the existence of God. Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Digging Deeper in the Text:

            There are 7 words in the Hebrew text in this first verse, and the number seven is the key number throughout 1:1-2:3. There are 14 words (7×2) in verse 2. At the end of the section, 2:1-3 we have 35 words (7×5). The name “God” appears 35 times in this section and “earth” 21 times. Heaven or firmament appears 21 times and of course there are 7 days. None of this is by accident. Moses has beautifully crafted this opening chapter to point us to a God of order who has created this wonderful universe to reflect his glory.

            The first word is bereshith and means that which is first in place, time and order. Yet this word is used in a way that can mean a long period of time, not just a single point of time. Therefore, there is no effort on the part of Scripture to inform us of how long ago the beginning was, or how long the beginning lasted. There is room within conservative, Bible believing Christianity for those who believe in a young earth of only about 10,000 years and for those who believe in an older earth of 4-5 billion years. The Scriptures do not give us a date for Creation.

            This word, bereshith, has another connotation in Hebrew, it points to an ending point, the end of time. To the Hebrews, the concept of a beginning necessarily implied a conclusion. Thus, with time, there must be a beginning and an end. This is in contrast to the cultures around the Jews. Many of the pagans, including the Greeks, believed time was cyclical, a never ending repetition. This shows that God is in charge of time; he starts it and he will end it.

            The next word we want to look at in this verse is “God”. The Hebrew name for God used here is Elohim, which is the generic name for God, not the covenant name of YHWH. El is the word for God that all the peoples around Israel would recognize and Elohim is the plural form. Why did Moses use Elohim in the creation account instead of YHWH? Using the common name for God shows that Moses was claiming God was the Creator of the whole universe. He was not merely the God of the Hebrews, he was God over the entire universe. This name for God in this context denotes God’s eternality and omnipotence. He existed before the beginning and created all that is. Elohim is a plural form. Why would Moses use the plural? It denotes God’s greatness and uniqueness and would lead us to give a special reverence for this majestic name. While this plural form does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity, it does point us in that direction.

            The final word from this verse we should note is bara, “created”. This word is always used in reference to God and denotes a divine activity that results in something new. The word is used frequently in Isaiah where God is contrasting himself with the false gods who cannot do anything. The significance of this teaching is that, while the pagans looked at the universe as a divine mystery not to be investigated, the Jews taught that God created it all; it is merely creation and can therefore be investigated and studied without fear. This is the foundation for the Western view of science.

Applying the Text:

            Look at some of the following photographs of God’s creation in the micro-universe, the world around us, and the larger universe:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/11/photogalleries/best-tiny-microscopic-life-pictures/index.html

http://www.livescience.com/php/multimedia/album.php?aid=33321

http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/solar_system/

Here is a link that explains the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God:

http://www.carm.org/cosmological-argument

So many times as we go through our day we forget to see the wonder and beauty of the natural world that is all around us. Look for an opportunity to acknowledge God as the Creator as you look at the universe he has created. Understand that science developed primarily in the Christian West because our world view was shaped by Genesis 1-2 and the knowledge that God is separate from his creation and that we can study nature without superstition or fear of the “gods”. We do not worship nature, but the Creator.

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