The Day I Met Jesus

I’m not a mystic. I don’t seek out special divine experiences. My Christian faith is based on the Bible’s revelation of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit has often, softly spoken to me as I study God’s Word. Nothing dramatic, but still quite profound in terms of experiencing God.

Years ago I was on a youth missions trip and a fellow tagged along who had led a very different life from mine. He had fought in Vietnam, engaged in many sinful behaviors, and then come to faith in Christ with a corresponding dramatic change in his attitude and behavior. He was very outspoken in his testimony, and one phrase he constantly repeated was, “since I met the Lord” or “since I met Jesus.”

I never asked him what he meant by that, but I assumed it was just a dramatic way of saying, “since I became a Christian.” On the other hand, he may have meant exactly what he said.

I was 45 years old when I met the Lord Jesus, although I had been a believing Christian from an early age. Prior to meeting Jesus, I had read my Bible and prayed regularly. Starting in my teens, I occasionally heard from the Lord in the form of a soft voice – not audible, but in my Spirit – or sometimes a very pointed Yes or No regarding some situation. Sometimes, while reading a familiar Scripture, the Spirit would well-up inside me and reveal a new understanding, like a spiritual lightbulb going off.

But for all that, I had never met Jesus. When I was age 45 I was going through a very stressful time, full of anxiety, and although I prayed daily over my situation, peace was elusive. One morning I was reading a daily devotional while leaning against the washing machine downstairs. After contemplating the day’s reading and Scripture passage, I again began to pray over my situation. I had hardly begun when suddenly, Jesus was right there in front of me. He was somewhat indistinct, and the only words He spoke were these: “It’s me! Don’t be afraid.” Then He just faded away.

In that moment of meeting I received and understood several things. First, I understood with absolute certainty that Jesus was referring to my then-stressful situation. He conveyed to me the He was the One behind the circumstances, and therefore I had no need to fear. In that moment, as Jesus spoke, an incredible peace flooded me, and from that moment on my anxieties disappeared completely. I can tell you with joy that my “stressful situation” ended up coming to a wonderful conclusion a few months later, and I endured those months with absolute confidence that whatever the outcome, I would be OK.

Second, I perceived that as Jesus spoke, He was smiling. Not just smiling, but really almost laughing with enthusiasm. It was as if my closest friend was delivering to me the happiest news, and was relishing the joy it would give me once I heard it. Jesus was thoroughly enjoying the moment!

Third, without Him saying it, I understood that this was the Jesus I had always known – the carpenter’s son from Galilee who had healed the sick and driven out demons; who had been killed on a cross and raised to life; who had ascended to heaven and in whose name alone there is salvation. This was the Jesus of the Bible, whose identity and claims have been challenged and ridiculed, whose followers have been imprisoned and killed, whose Church has been often fractured and rebellious. This was the Jesus proclaimed by Peter on the day of Pentecost and by Paul across the Roman Empire. This was the Jewish Messiah, God’s anointed Son. It was Him, and no other.

Since I met Jesus, I approach every spiritual discussion with a new confidence. You could say that, more than ever before, “I know whom I have believed.” High-minded philosophies and speculations that deny Christ or try to minimize His significance are sheer nonsense to me now, whether I can mount an intellectual argument against them or not. I have met the Lord, and no argument can overcome that. I realize that there are many Christians and non-Christians who have not (yet) met the Lord, and I don’t know why He chose to reveal Himself to me in that way, but whenever I pray for struggling believers now I always include a request that God might reveal Himself to them in some special way, so that they may receive a faith and confidence in Him beyond what they’ve ever known.

Interestingly, I have heard numerous testimonies of how Jesus has been appearing and speaking to Muslims in the last decade or so, and that many have come to Christ as a result. I have heard of formerly-Muslim Christian ministers who were prompted by the Spirit to go and visit a neighbor who had just received such a visitation, in order to share with them the Gospel and the Word of God, and to encourage them for the inevitable persecutions that lie ahead.

Of course I will never forget the day I met Jesus. That He was willing to condescend and take the time to visit me, so undeserving, still astonishes me, and it shows me that every person, no matter how unbelieving or lukewarm or unfaithful, matters to Him. What grace! What kindness!

What love!

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God’s Love – The Reason for it All

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:33, 34)

In recent years I’ve cut way back on writing about larger, cosmological issues related to God’s nature and purpose in creation, and my reasons are twofold. First, there is a limit as to what we can understand about God in our present condition, and so we inevitably place too much confidence in our own reasoning and speculations, going far beyond what God has chosen to reveal in Scripture and in Christ Jesus.

Second, it can be argued that there is limited value in debating about the nature of God and His purposes while our own lives are still lacking in love and personal holiness. If we can fathom all mysteries and knowledge, but have not love, we are nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)

Nevertheless, it is beneficial to grasp at least a broad, foundational understanding of God and His purpose in Creation, and so I’ll offer a brief, if inadequate, introduction based on what I see in Scripture.

God is the origin and essence of many virtues, partially summarized by the “fruits of the Spirit” in Paul’s letter to the Galatian church – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (5:22-23)

In contrast, there are anti-virtues that have no place in God’s kingdom, and therefore do not originate in God. Among them are sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. (19-21)

The inner attitudes and desires which prompt such behaviors are incompatible with God’s own inward nature – the essence of who He is. Of all the virtues that flow from God, it is love that overshadows and binds them all together.

  • And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
  • Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
  • See what great love the Father has lavished on us…
  • This is love: Not that we loved God, but that he loved us…
  • For God so loved the world…

The reason for God’s creating the universe, this world, and us is not to amuse or entertain Himself, as some suppose. It isn’t all just a pointless game run by an omnipotent puppet-master. The reason behind it all, is love.

Love is God’s nature. Love is God’s very essence. God is so brimming with unending, overflowing, inconceivably immense love that He is compelled to lavish it on someone or something. He does this not to fulfill some selfish need, but because God’s love is so un-selfish that His nature forces Him to give it away – that’s the nature of love.

And so in keeping with His own nature, God has created all things in order to display and pour out His love beyond Himself. God’s wisdom and power and glory are also evidenced in creation, but the crowning purpose behind it all is love. After all, what are wisdom and power and glory to God, if He has not love?

But is this world really the “best” God could do? It can be hard to understand God’s love from our present perspective, given that evil exists and is such a daily reality here on earth at the present time, but before we start attributing evil and suffering to God we ought to recall that we see now as through a darkened glass… only a shadow of what’s really going on. The one thing we can hold on to and put our faith in, knowing for sure, is that God is love.

Anything that does not originate in love is not from God, and although God can weave all things – good and evil – into the tapestry of His purpose, He will ultimately destroy all things that do not originate in Him; that do not originate in love.

The purpose of it all is love – from the physical universe to the free will which makes evil possible. How does the presence of evil serve God’s loving purpose? Well, now you’re asking me to speculate, which I have done many times in the past. I can certainly speculate on the relationship between good and evil and the necessity of free will for God’s love to be fully manifested, but it would be nothing more than speculation.

So for now, I’ll leave it at love – the reason for it all.

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When God Ran

I don’t often post music, but as I was writing on Jesus and free will this song popped into my head. Released by Benny Hester in 1985, it brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard it, and still does. Have you wandered from God? Then this is for you.

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It’s Either Jesus, or Not

When debating any idea about God, my go-to source is Jesus, and the earliest, most reliable existing source documenting His life and teachings are the biblical Gospels, all of which are generally agreed to be First Century accounts – written shortly after the events had happened and no doubt read by many eyewitnesses of the events themselves.

You can doubt the veracity of the Gospels, or even the New Testament for that matter. If so, that’s your choice. But I know that, comparatively speaking, the Bible is pretty much the most well-documented piece of ancient literature out there, with literally thousands of manuscripts or copies of manuscripts – Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek – from which to choose and compare and verify, not to mention  the numerous versions that have been translated. In fact, it was a Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) from which Jesus and His followers most often quoted.

We also have many confirmed incidental details found in the Gospels and New Testament letters – people, places, even nautical practices and legal proceedings – all lending great confidence that the New Testament collection is a historically accurate and reliable source for the events and teachings within.

So I have no problem accepting the reliability of the Bible, or the Gospels in particular. The Jesus I know is the Jesus of the Bible… what other Jesus is there? And the Jesus of the Bible purports to be the very Son of God Himself.  He claimed that He never spoke or acted on His own, but spoke and acted only as instructed by the Father. So much so that to see Jesus was to see God.

This causes me to hold very definite beliefs whenever I discuss or debate the nature of God, or free will, or Heaven, or any other theological question. For example, Jesus strenuously insisted in the reality of Hell (Gehenna). No matter how you choose to define this place, Jesus insisted on its reality, referred to it numerous times, and figuratively declared that we ought to take extraordinary measures to avoid going there, it’s that bad. For this reason, it really doesn’t matter if some find Hell to be morally or theologically offensive. To Jesus it was reality, and so it is to me.

When it comes to sickness, we never see Jesus making anyone sick. We do see Jesus constantly healing the sick. We never hear Jesus telling anyone that their ailment is God’s doing. But we do hear Jesus explaining that sickness and other things that kill and destroy are the works of the devil. For this reason, to state that God is responsible for both, or for any kind of evil, is philosophical nonsense, unless you know better than Jesus.

When it comes to freedom of choice, the Bible is one long document exhorting us to “choose” from beginning to end – from Adam and Eve (who chose wrongly) to Israel – “Choose ye this day whom you will serve” – to Jesus – “Repent!” Jesus was repeatedly amazed and / or frustrated by people’s choice to believe or disbelieve, and He harshly condemned those who chose not to believe or repent. So when I hear theological arguments against free will, I can only assume these folks claim some spiritual insight that was beyond the grasp of Jesus. Seriously.

The same could be said regarding other religions or other “gospels.” It is recorded that Jesus identified Himself as the only way to the Father and that no one knows the Father except the Son (Jesus). His closest apostles testified that salvation is found in no other person or name than Jesus. Paul bluntly told the enlightened members of the Areopagus that all their temples and idols were false, and that all their philosophies fell short of the truth found only in Jesus Christ.

So here’s my point: We know God only by what He has revealed… not by our own cleverness or comprehension, but by God’s choice to reveal some aspects of the Big Picture. His method of doing this was not arbitrary or disordered. From Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Jacob, to Israel, to the Messiah, to the Church that bears His name, it’s all there, laid out and in order.

Yet I see so many who want to take a little bit of Jesus, a little Bible, a little eastern mysticism, a little philosophy and a dash of personal opinion, and from all that they envision a god who conforms to their notions of what God must be or has to be, over and above the revelation we have in the Bible, and in Jesus.

You want Jesus, but apparently Jesus was mistaken about many things. He didn’t understand that Hell was impossible and free will was an illusion. He was too narrow-minded by insisting that God had graciously provided one – and only one – way for all mankind to be reconciled to Him. He got it wrong and there really is no devil, and He was naive not to realize that God is responsible for all things evil as well as good.

If that’s what you think, then you understand God better than Jesus. Congratulations.

God’s revealed truth will only be received by those with hearts that are ready… “good soil” if you will. Other hearts might like some of what they hear, but they’re not satisfied and have a lust for more – more secrets, more novelty, more intellectual stimulation. If the absolute teachings of Jesus start to seem foolish to you, it might be wise to examine your heart. Is it possible that some secret pride compels you to think that you have figured out eternal mysteries that even Jesus didn’t understand?

In the final analysis, saving faith comes not to the clever philosopher or theologian, but to anyone who is willing to believe Jesus – to confess, trust in, and rely on Him and His word. So is it Jesus, or not?

~ Don 

 

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What Happens to Christians Who Die?

I was recently reading a fellow Christian blogger’s take on Hell as defined by the Bible. She had a lengthy and well-researched series of posts, citing various Scriptures and deriving conclusions from them.

Since I recently posted against using Scriptures as mere proof-texts, I want to clarify that to know anything for certain – deep down in our spirit with no room for doubt – requires not only a familiarity with Scripture but the confirmation of the Holy Spirit.

Other matters of doctrine we may have strong opinions about based on our best understanding of what the Bible teaches, but no clear confirmation from the Spirit. That’s ok, because to accurately know and understand everything pertaining to God or Heaven or Hell would require us to be walking as Jesus did – perpetually filled to the fullness of God’s Spirit.

So today I’m going to lay out my beliefs on what happens to Christians when they die, based on my best understanding of Scripture.

What happens to Christians when they die? For me it is Paul who speaks most clearly on this subject. In Philippians 1:21-25 Paul spells out his dilemma of choosing whether he would rather die or go on living:

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.”

Paul says that to die is gain and that to depart means to be with Christ, which is better by far than to go on living. To me this expresses an absolute confidence by Paul that he (his spirit) would immediately be in the presence of the risen Christ upon death, and that this is a wonderful place to be. He confirms this notion again in 2 Corinthians 5 by stating that:

“as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” and that “we would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord”

Again, leaving our bodies (via death) places us at home with the Lord, and the implication is that this is an immediate occurrence.

A final support for this belief comes from 1 Thessalonians 4: 14-17

“For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

Notice that Jesus will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep (died). This implies that they are with Jesus right now, meaning their spirits are with Jesus (their bodies are in the grave). Paul elsewhere states that, “He (Christ) died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him” again affirming that even in death (asleep) we will be with Jesus. (1 Thess. 5: 10)

But what about the phrase fallen asleep? I have never entertained the notion that the dead – righteous or unrighteous – are literally “sleeping” in the earth, or in Hades. Old Testament descriptions of people “asleep in the grave” reveal just how little they understood about the afterlife, not yet having a better revelation in Christ.

In the New Testament, the phrase fallen asleep or fallen asleep in Christ is interchangeable with died or died in Christ. It is akin to us saying politely that a person has “passed away” or “departed” rather than simply saying that they died. It’s a more gentle expression, if you will. Jesus Himself used the phrase fallen asleep to say that Lazarus had died. (John 11: 11-14)

One’s perspective on this may depend on how you define “soul” and / or “spirit.” In my view, the soul of a person is dependent on the body to operate. It is the mind, emotions, and will of the person, operating primarily through the brain. The soul reflects our personality based on human experiences, genetics, and other influences. Our souls get anxious and they can find rest; they may be troubled or at peace.

Our spirits, on the other hand, do not depend on the body to exist or function. They represent our “inner-most being” so to speak, and they come into agreement with God’s Spirit when we are born again. Paul describes the struggle between the desires of his flesh toward sin, and the desires of his spirit to please God, so our spirits have a will and a desire. (Romans 7: 7-25)

It is our spirit that enters the presence of Christ upon our death, and it is the spirits of departed Saints that Jesus will bring with Him at His return. When our bodies are resurrected at the return of Jesus, these spirits will reunite with their (now transformed) bodies in the air. (1 Thess. 4: 14-17; 1 Cor. 15: 51-54)

We were never meant to exist as disembodied spirits. We are a whole being – body, soul, and spirit – and to be separated from any aspect of our being renders us incomplete. This is why Paul stated that we do not desire to be unclothed (without any body) but to be clothed with our permanent, transformed body… our resurrection body, which is no longer subject to death or decay. (2 Corinthians 5: 1-4; see also 1 Thess. 5:23)

That’s my take on what happens to Christians when they die, based on my best understanding of Scripture. Many other passages related to death, the grave, Hades, Hell, and the resurrection fit in with this perspective in one way or another. Maybe I’ll do a post on what happens to non-Christians when they die?

Any opinions that diverge from mine are welcome! What do you think the Bible teaches?

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The Bible is Not a Proof Text

There’s a familiar saying that the Bible can be used to prove anything, or put another way, almost any position on any issue can be supported by selectively quoting and interpreting the Bible. If you want to believe that God is in the rocks and trees and animals (pantheism) you can form a list of Scriptures that seem to support your belief. You believe that Jesus was merely a man and nothing more? Got you covered. You think a person absolutely must be dunked under water to enter Heaven? It’s in there.

Well, not really. The Bible was never meant to be a log book of proof texts for political or theological positions. It was written to progressively reveal God in such a way that men and women would be able to seek Him, and to recognize Him when they found Him. It was meant to bring us into relationship with God through His unique Son. Knowing about God is nice, but knowing God is Life.

Though all Scripture is God-breathed and inspired by the same Holy Spirit, and it is all useful for wisdom and understanding, it is not all equally useful for understanding every aspect of God’s nature, His purpose, or His character.

The Bible is historical (factual); it is poetic (at times metaphorical); it is prophetic (predictive and declarative); and it is morally instructional (law, including the royal law of love). Not every portion of Scripture is suitable for understanding every theological question.

Furthermore, God has purposely revealed Himself in a progressive manner, so that the understanding of Moses is not holistically the same as the understanding of Paul or Peter or John. In fact, the entire Old Testament is full of types and shadows of things that were to come; things now revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. It isn’t easy to discern the details in a shadow… mostly just general impressions.

But anything brought into the light can be viewed far more clearly and accurately. When it comes to future events, Paul says that even now we are seeing as through a darkened mirror, and that we won’t understand fully until we see Jesus face to face. But in the life and teachings of Jesus, we have the most perfect and complete revelation of God – and of reality – that has ever been presented, eclipsing all previous revelations in its clarity and forthrightness.

Let me highlight two keys to interpreting Scripture accurately. The first should be familiar: Examine every Scripture in its own context, setting, intended audience, and time in history. Also ask yourself if Jesus or His apostles ever addressed the issue, and give them the greatest weight. Look at all relevant Scriptures, not just one or a few.

Second and just as important: Listen to the Holy Spirit. This may sound subjective, but it isn’t. Receiving the Holy Spirit is as easy as submitting yourself to the Lordship of Jesus and placing your faith in Him for the forgiveness of sins. Now you’ve got it.

Learning to hear His voice requires spending time in His presence, becoming more intimately acquainted with the person of Jesus. Although God does speak in a variety of ways (I’ll elaborate on that in a future post), the most common is the simple YES / NO. The YES comes as an unmistakable peace, regardless of circumstance or your mind telling you otherwise.

The NO comes as a check in your spirit, an “Uh-oh, something’s wrong” that may come even though you don’t specifically know why. This can happen while reading or listening to someone else’s teaching on God or the Bible. When you hear a teaching and you sense the check in your spirit, that’s a good time to pray and examine relevant Scriptures for yourself until the light of the truth dawns in your heart… you will know that you know what you know. This might happen immediately or over time.

But isn’t this just relying on feelings? No, but it does take time to distinguish between the Spirit and our feelings. And our ability to hear can be compromised by lack of fellowship with Jesus, just as the sound of a friend’s voice can fade over time. And there are other voices out there, including the voice of the deceiver / imposter who likes to impersonate God, and your own head voice that speaks according to your current head knowledge, impressions, and emotions.

There is no substitute for time with Jesus. You may get it wrong sometimes in the beginning, but progressively you will begin to recognize His voice among all others. Once you hear Him speak on a subject, no amount of human reasoning will ever persuade you otherwise.

The Bible can be made to support anything, so be sure to read, pray, and listen carefully.

~ Don

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Christian Politics

Politics. I get it. As a thoughtful human being I have very strong and definite political opinions regarding this country in which I was born and raised. I have opinions on our current president, the previous president, and the seven other presidents that have come and gone in my lifetime. Public schools, immigration, taxes, foreign policy? You bet.

At one time I was proud to proclaim my opinions – they were all “right” of course! 🙂 – and this resulted in many vigorous debates and arguments over the years with friends, coworkers and family, not to mention numerous strangers on social media.

With God’s help, I put a stop to it. Oh, I do vote and I do still educate myself on both sides of controversial issues. I continue to have definite political opinions. But I keep them to myself, and that has been a true work of God.

A major emphasis of this blog is that I – like all Christians – am a citizen of Heaven. We are members of God’s family by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is an incredible truth, so much so that John the apostle exuberantly proclaimed, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

Lavish love. That expression doesn’t fit in with any of my political arguments. Becoming overly concerned with politics, or overly vocal in our political opinions, actually serves to drive others away from Christ. Our politically conservative or liberal opinions will drown out God’s offer of lavish love to the world. It’s an ugly thing to drive someone away from Christ over transient opinions.

So I choose God’s message – his gospel of peace – over my politics. I certainly enjoy the many benefits of living in America, but if America should ever decline and fall, my citizenship in Heaven will remain forever.

So love America… a little. Participate in politics… a little. But love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and let that love spill over into the lives of all who cross your path. Your (real) citizenship is in Heaven, and no one can serve two masters.

~ Don

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