RESPONDblogs: Is the Jehovah’s Witness “Jesus” the Genuine Article?

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I was getting ready to go out on Saturday morning when our front doorbell rang. I opened the door to a young lady who greeted me and began to talk to me about “religious” issues. My heart sank – I was just on my way out to a friend’s wedding! But – she seemed very earnest. And I felt a tug to stay and talk for a while. I let her speak…and then she asked whether these religious issues interested me.

 

I scratched my head a bit. “I’m a Christian”, I responded, “so God is very much at the centre of life…I’m not so keen on religion tho. However – let me ask you something.”

 

She nodded expectantly.

 

I asked, “Who do you say that Jesus is?”

 

Without a blink she responded, “Well he is God’s son.” I nodded – “Yes…but what does that mean?” She began to look a bit puzzled now. “Well I guess it means…” She stopped. I volunteered an ending to her sentence. “You reckon it means that God created Jesus? He is created BY God?” She nodded. “Yes – that’s it”, she said.

 

“Okay – that’s interesting because my view of Jesus is completely different from yours. He’s God. He’s not created BY God.”

 

She nodded and without a thought she shot back, “Let me ask you then. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray…who did he teach them to pray to?” It was my turn to look puzzled now. However many times I engage with a Jehovah’s Witness…this bit always strikes me as incredible. I carried on.

 

“You are right. The Bible records that Jesus taught his disciples to pray to God the Father. But you know what else the Bible shows us? That Jesus himself RECEIVED worship…personally. More than that, the Bible’s overall presentation of God has always been that three persons exist. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” She looked at me incredulous. This bit in the conversation that always hits me hard. I’m gutted that the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach their poor people to ignore and deny such a central biblical doctrine as the Trinity.

 

I really felt for this young lady. I was glad I’d stopped to chat with her. My heart so wanted her to get who Jesus really is! I decided to leave her with a statement and a question.

 

“You know, based on what we read in scripture the early church wrestled with but ultimately agreed on Jesus identity. The Jesus I am describing to you – the one who points to the other members of the Trinity and receives worship also for himself – is the prevailing view. Yes it’s tough to wrap our heads around. It looks like what I am saying has mystified you. Let me ask you. If there was no mystery to God…if we understood everything there is to know about God…it wouldn’t make him much of a God. Would it?” She smiled and nodded. And as my time had gone – we said goodbye.

 

As I closed the door – my heart ached. It matters who we understand Jesus to be. Why? If Jesus is NOT God – then we are completely lost! Why do I say that?

The Bible explains what humanity’s main problem is. Actually it’s not poverty or petrol prices or religious terrorism. It is sin. We underestimate the extent of our problem.

“all people…are under the power of sin.  For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Romans 3:9 – 23, NLT

Why is sin a problem? Because it ruins any connection we could have with God, it messes up our relationships with other people and it ultimately leads to our demise…physically, spiritually, completely.

“For the wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23, ESV

“It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.” Isaiah 59:2, NLT

We all limp along carrying this crippling sin problem. It leads to our demise and our isolation from the God who made us.

Only God himself can sort out this problem. It is too big an issue for anyone else to fix! And so the Bible tells the tale of God preparing the nation of Israel and then coming in person…Jesus Christ…to give all people…you and me a way out of our sinful rebellion against God. He came to Earth to forgive sins. Only God can do that job. Because at heart, sin is mankind’s direct rejection of God.

“Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.””, Luke 7:48, NLT 

“For this is how God loved the world; He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16, NLT

 

That’s not me disagreeing with my friend at my front door. It’s the Bible I share with my Jehovah’s Witness friend (although her New World Translation has been slightly modified by un-scholarly people to trip her up in her understanding – outrageous!). It’s also the Church Fathers who studied under Jesus Disciples and led the first Christian Churches.

 

And then it struck me. It’s only valuable items that are counterfeited. People only go to the effort of creating fake 50 pound notes…because the real ones are so valuable. There’s no one in human history more valuable than the God-man Jesus Christ. Not to me…not to the writers of the Bible…not to all true Christians down thru history. No wonder there are counterfeit versions available to anyone who is unfortunate enough to accept them.

RESPONDblog: Is Jesus Birth Really Prophesied in the Old Testament?

god with usHappy 2015 – hope it’s a good one for you!

 

During the Christmas period, I heard this verse from Matthew’s Gospel being read during the Carol services I attended.

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,[a]
    which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:23, NLT

 

This is Matthew quoting from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who is thought to have lived in Israel’s Southern Kingdom of Judah 700 years prior to Matthew. The original passage from Isaiah says this:

All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin[a] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).  By the time this child is old enough to choose what is right and reject what is wrong, he will be eating yogurt[b] and honey. For before the child is that old, the lands of the two kings you fear so much will both be deserted. Isaiah 7:14-16, NLT

I wonder why Matthew took Isaiah’s ancient words…and understood them as pointing towards Jesus? Can we know for sure that this passage looks forward to the birth of Jesus as Matthew’s gospel affirms that it does?

 

Well – the historical setting of Isaiah’s original passage is an interesting one. Around 730 BC the Assyrian empire was expanding and threatening Israel. King Ahaz of the Southern Kingdom Judah faced the might of the Assyrian Army – and he didn’t know what to do.

The prophet Isaiah came to King Ahaz and prophesied that the Assyrian King, and eventually the conquered Northern Kingdom’s King, would not defeat him. Isaiah invited King Ahaz to ask God for a sign confirming this – but Ahaz refused.

In response – Isaiah declared that God himself would give King Ahaz a sign. A child would be born during Ahaz’s lifetime. A child that would still be living when the scary Kings of Assyria and Israel would finally be defeated.

 

So Isaiah is talking about a virgin conceiving a child. But in his day, that wasn’t the Mary we hear about in the Nativity. She wouldn’t be born for another 700 years. And the child that was conceived in Isaiah’s day wasn’t Jesus. Isaiah was originally referring to different people altogether. So the question is – why did Matthew cite Isaiah’s  prophecy and say that it pointed toward the birth of Jesus?

 

Well here’s the thing that the New Testament writers discovered. Jesus Christ is the key to understanding God’s work in the past…and his plans to rescue the human race in the future. To understand the meaning of the Old, you need to view it thru the lenses of the New.

 

Actually we see this happening throughout the New Testament. In the Acts of the Apostles, for example, the first Christian preachers spoke about Israel’s history and how it reached its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. They quoted the Old Testament prophets and they pointed to Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of their words.

For David himself never ascended into heaven, yet he said ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honour at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.”’ “So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” Acts 2:34-36, NLT

Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s work.

“For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” 2 Corinthians 1:20, NLT

 

So why did Matthew cite Isaiah’s prophecy to old King Ahaz when talking about the birth of Jesus? Yes – there was an immediate purpose behind Isaiah’s words that related to the onslaught of the Assyrian army. But God also held a bigger purpose back when Isaiah originally spoke those words to King Ahaz. The ultimate purpose of these words didn’t just benefit King Ahaz – but the whole human race. Over time, God was putting the pieces together that would finally lead to the birth of Jesus.

 

Here’s one final thought. Both Isaiah and Matthew make a point of naming that child as “God with us.” Now, fast forward now to the end of Matthew’s gospel. Do you know what the final words of Jesus are to his followers?

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20, NLT

I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS. Jesus literally is  – God with us. From start to finish.

As we all face a new year – how great would it be to have God in our corner? How great to start this year knowing that we have God’s resources and his encouragement each day. How can we know that God’s got our back in 2015? Thru Jesus – who wants to be God with you and me in 2015 and beyond!

RESPONDblogs: Maybe the First Christmas was More Stressful than Restful

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I love the children’s nativity at our church – it’s one of the highlights of the Christmas season for me. Tea towels have never looked more festive, shepherds have never looked more cute. It’s a time for our children to enjoy dressing up and retelling the tale of the baby born in a manger with a star overhead, and visitors coming from afar.

 

I love this.

 

And yet the actual events that are being acted out here by our kids were very different.

 

The Bible tells us that Shepherds came to see the baby in the manger.

 

“…the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the lord has told us about.’ They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.” Luke 2:15-17, NLT

 

Well – first of all –Mary and Joseph found themselves without any lodging following a long duty trip to Bethlehem  – this sounds horrible. Could you imagine travelling for hours on a long haul flight in Economy, only to find on arriving that your accommodation had fallen thru and you had nowhere to sleep? This was Joseph’s situation with his pregnant wife.

Next – a manger was an eating trough for animals. The poor couple found themselves needing to borrow the livestock’s eating trough to use for the baby. How do you think the animals reacted to that? Don’t you think the livestock was going to be pushing and bumping them out of the way? Stuffing their heads in to the trough…licking and chewing what they could get hold of? What a nightmare. This doesn’t sound very “calm and bright”, does it? Actually to me it sounds pretty stressful!

 

And then – the shepherds arrive.  In Jewish culture, Shepherds were the lowest of the low. They were people who lived outside with animals; a solitary smelly existence. David Instone-Brewer says, “When the Jews asked whether a piece of bread had gotten too mouldy or was still edible… then they would ask…well would a Shepherd eat this? If the answer was NO…if not even the even the lowest of the low would touch it … then just throw it away!” Basically, Shepherds were stigmatized in Jewish culture. And Luke’s Gospel tells us that it was shepherds who came to visit the baby Jesus first.

 

How do you feel when a homeless person accosts you on the street? For myself – I wish I could say I was always welcoming, and always quick to offer help to that person. But I can’t. Why? Rightly or wrongly – it often makes me feel uncomfortable when a homeless person stops me on the street. I don’t know what to say to them – I find their plight difficult to look at – and on top of all of that, sometimes it has been some time since they had a good bath or shower!

 

Joseph and Mary had the 1st century equivalent of poor homeless visitors coming to see their new child. Not the most auspicious of guests.

 

The original Nativity was stressful for the people involved, it was uncomfortable for the family and it attracted the undesirables of Jewish society.

 

And then on top of all of this – Matthew’s gospel tells us that…

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of king Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.’…They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him.” Matthew 2:1+11, NLT

Now – surely – we finally get someone arriving to dignify the proceedings. At last – we get kings visiting the baby Jesus? Right?

Wrong. The arrival of these people was also an awkward encounter for the family to endure. Why? Because these wise men weren’t Jews. They came from far away pagan lands, people who studied the stars. The Greek word for the wise men (Magi) is the word we use to get our word “magician”. It is thought that these individuals came from the Old Testament Babylon.

There is a historical link between Israel and Babylon, we can see this in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament.  Daniel was a Jewish man who was taken to live in pagan Babylon where life was difficult for a Jew. There were many alien customs there, there was pressure to worship the Babylonian King as a God. And – there were magicians, astrologers and wise men living there.

The Magi who visited Jesus probably came from there …a pagan country…the enemy nation…evil Babylon.  A 1st century Jew would have been very suspicious at the arrival of such a Gentile person.

 

So – lets summarise our nativity so far. We have stress for the family, we have uncomfortable and difficult living conditions too, we have Jewish undesirables accosting them in the Stable. And now we also have the 1st century Jewish equivalent of “the enemy” coming to say hello to them.

You know – I love the carol “Silent Night” – but I do wonder whether the events surrounding the first Nativity were anything but quiet and restful! Stressful and uncomfortable sounds like a better description to me.

 

And this causes two thoughts to occur to me.

FIRST – if the Nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels are made up stories, if the Jesus birth narratives are fabrications, if they are just intended to make Jesus seem more important than he actually was…then I don’t buy it. I don’t agree with the thought that these Nativity accounts are made up. Because I really don’t think a 1st century Jew would have written a story like this. As David Instone-Brewer suggests, “This story is so crazy, it must be true!”.

If the author wanted to impress a Jewish audience with a fabricated account, Matthew’s Gospel would probably have had the local Jewish Leaders and the Priests coming to visit the Christ child. After all – Priests and Leaders  were the people that  1st century Jewish culture esteemed and respected. So to hold up Jesus birth as an important event…you would want him to be recognized by those sorts of people. Right? Instead – what we get in both Matthew and Luke’s Nativity account is the opposite. Jewish undesirables and suspicious pagans are the one who welcome Jesus Christ into the world. That’s crazy. What’s the point of saying that? There is no point…unless it is just simply a true historical account of what really happened on that first Nativity.

 

SECOND – the account of Jesus life is not an easy one. Jesus is not some ancient equivalent of a Marvel superhero from today. Jesus life was difficult and scandalized from the beginning. He faced misunderstanding and stigma all his life. He lived an ordinary and hard existence. Yet at the same time – he is the most extraordinary person who has ever lived. His earthly life was surrounded by suspicion. Yet in reality, he is also God in human form…God with us. God who created the Universe and he is worshipped and adored in heaven.

 

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:23, NLT

 

So it strikes me that – when our lives feel hard, when we suffer times of pain and suspicion. When we are numbered with the undesirables in society…Jesus is standing right along with us. He knows exactly how we feel because he has had it worse himself. And if that is the case – if Jesus is standing alongside you and I in our situation right now – then it means that no one has fallen too far. No one is a lost cause. No one is irredeemable for Jesus. In fact, Jesus Christ is an expert at rescuing lost causes.

 

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16, NLT

 

This Christmas – we might have misunderstood just how stressful and how uncomfortable the first Nativity was. But to Jesus – it really doesn’t matter. He experienced it all so that he could reach out to us in our loneliness and our brokenness and save us. That was his Father’s intention on that first Nativity. It’s still Jesus’ intention today. Why not let him reach you this Christmas?

 

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:6-11, NLT

 

RESPONDblogs: Happy, Hope-filled Halloween!

I love the creative way these guys have expressed the history of All Hallows’ Eve. Take a look.

 

 

All Hallows’ Eve was a vigil designed originally not to glory in the forces of darkness at all. But rather as a brief pause before the celebration of the lives of those who have gone before. The brilliant people who had used their lives to point to the true hope of the world – Jesus Christ.

 

 

“The future is futile for forces of evil, and so they did scorn them in times Medieval.”

 

 

“The triumph is not with the forces of night, it dawned with the one who said…I AM THE LIGHT.”

 

 

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

 

Have a great day, today!

RESPONDblogs: Morality. Is it a GIFT or just the result of EVOLUTION?

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My kids have always had a keen sense of what is right and what is wrong.

As twin girls, they grew up together and they did so with little finely tuned radars that instantly detected when one of them was being treated unfairly. If Naomi was given a MacDonalds Happy Meal on Tuesday while Rebecca was at her swimming lesson, Rebecca made it quite clear to us that she expected to receive a Happy Meal herself at our earliest convenience. As I am sure you will understand – Christmas and Birthdays in our house have always been a delicate balancing act.

 

It’s not just my girls who are like this. We are all beings with an acute sense of what should be and what should not be. How many times have we flashed the other motorist and said something like…”He should NOT have cut me up like that!” Have you ever watched the news on TV and shaken your head, “How can people be so cruel to each other? The world ought not to be like this.”

 

Humanity’s clear sense of “ought” and “should” is called Morality. We are a moral species.  And – as far as we can tell – this marks us out from the other life forms on this planet.

 

So this brings me to my question. If the Atheists are right and there is no God…if our universe is simply the result of physical necessity and the working of the laws of physics…then where do objective Moral values come from? How did we evolve our finely tuned sense of right and fair vs wrong and unfair?

 

It seems to me that Atheism – and particularly the Material Naturalist worldview – has a problem. It wants us to believe that a non-moral first cause combined with a non-moral evolutionary process of chance and natural selection – has led to a moral species.  Us.

 

How can a non-moral process led to a moral result?

 

At which point the naturalist may smile and respond. “Your analogy of the driver that cut you up is the right one, Stuart. Morality is simply the result of millions of years of social convention and evolution. It’s the way that society has grown to regulate people’s behavior. This is vital for us – it promotes cooperation and it avoids society from breaking down. BUT – it does not require any God to exist. It has just happened over a long period of time. Morals come from within us.”

 

And I would answer – why? Why is it better for society for someone to cooperate and have their behavior regulated? Why is it better for society NOT to break down? The answer – survival of the fittest – right?

 

Yet this answer is not a good description of what is under pinning our morals in society. Why? Because it misrepresents us.

 

What do I mean?  Well a society that was truly built on the principle of “survival of the fittest” would have no time for the handicapped or the elderly or the sick. But this is not what I see today. An incredible amount of time and care is expended every day on our planet to care for people in this unfortunate position. I see it in the Western countries, and I also see it in the developing countries in Africa. The people doing the hard work of caring are to be applauded … they deserve a medal! Right?

Did you ever see the Science Fiction movie from the 1970’s – Logan’s Run? That was all about a society that killed its elderly as a matter of course. Elderly is classed as over 30 (I’d be long gone, myself!) The drama of the story comes from two characters – Logan and Jessica – who instinctively know this is wrong and decide to fight against it. And – as they approach the big 3 0 – they run away so that they will  not be killed themselves. This story resonates with us when we watch it because we know inside – it’s wrong to put old people down for the benefit of the young. It’s wrong in fiction as well as fact. A society built on survival of the fittest…or the youngest…or the better off…or the minority is inherently corrupt and evil.

 

Those who claim that evolutionary principles have led to human moral values – are simply not thinking thru the issue. They aren’t honestly going where their claims would ultimately take them to. Why? Because “survival of the fittest” leads us to Hitler’s final solution. Do you really sense that it’s right to go there? Because I don’t…and I can bet the majority of the people alive on our planet today agree with me.

 

No – I think that OBJECTIVE moral values exist. They don’t come from within us at all. They are given TO us. They are baked into us by the Baker. Morality is not about studying beneficial behaviours and copying them. No – morality is about studying behaviours and making an objective moral judgment on them!

 

Where does that objective standard come from?

 

Here’s what I think.

I believe that our hard wired sense of right and wrong – comes from the character of the God who made us and left his imprint on us. I think human morality is a signpost to the source. It’s like a stamp of authenticity from the manufacturer. Objective moral values point to our creator, who is described in these terms by the Bible.

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5

“…God is love.” 1 John 4:8