Ascent by Dr. Abidan Shah

ASCENT by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  Geico, the auto insurance company, is known for its funny ads. How many of ya’ll remember their cavemen ads back in 2004? They featured these Neanderthal-like cavemen who were trying to make it in a modern setting. The premise of their ad was that their website was “so easy, a caveman could do it.” This offended the cavemen who happen to be standing nearby. All joking aside, it is commonly assumed that human beings evolved from cavemen like the Neanderthals, Australopithecine, or Homo Erectus, or that we are similar to animals, especially apes. In our series on apologetics called “Contend,” we will answer some of the questions that were raised: Do humans and chimps share a common ancestor? Are human and chimp DNA very similar? Where do the Neanderthals fit in the Genesis account? Who were the cavemen? Here’s the main point: God has made us in his image. The image was never lost at the Fall, just marred. Through Jesus, we are restored and made new creations in the likeness of God. Evolution from ape-like creatures or “cavemen” is not only false, but it also devalues the image of God in us and seriously undermines the gospel.

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Context: As you know, this was Day 6 of the creation week. God was about to create the final act of his creation. It would be unlike anything that he had made thus far. It would be the crown of his creation. Unlike the previous acts of creation, this was not just a “let there be…” Instead, listen again to verse 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” Several important things here:

  • First, unlike the previous creations of matter, light, plants, celestial bodies, and animals, this one involved the entire godhead. Yes, all were involved so far, but this one was going to be special. In fact, this is also where we first meet the plurality of the godhead. Later, we will learn that God is “trinity” – Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Again, this implies that human beings are a special creation.
  • Second, unlike the previous creations, this one will be in the “image” and “likeness” of God himself. The Hebrew word for “image” is “tselem” and “likeness” is “demut.” Both imply that human beings will be similar but not identical to the original, that is God. Similar in that we will share the communicable attributes of God – love, justice, creativity, reason, grace, mercy, truth, relationality, and even holiness. Even these, we will not perfectly share with God. Nonetheless, not identical in the sense that we will not be like him – omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, sovereign, transcendent, unchanging, and self-existent. These and more attributes make God who he is.

Being “image bearers” brings some very important benefits:

  1. It makes us God’s representatives in the world, called to rule over his creation. 26“…let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
  2. It gives us special dignity above all other living creatures. Genesis 9:6 “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God he made man.” Also, James 3 8 “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.”
  3. It allows us to have a special relationship with him, unlike anything the living creatures can ever experience. Of course, God is spirit, but when he appeared on earth, it was always in a human form and not any animal. So also, his angels appeared as humans. Ultimately, the plan of salvation was for us. Jesus is God becoming man.

I can go on and on, but I want to stop here and make a point that will help us answer the questions that were raised – Ever since the beginning of time, human beings have been either trying to exalt themselves to the level of God or devalue themselves to the animal world. For some reason, we cannot seem to accept the gift of “image bearers.” In the past couple of hundred years, this has expressed itself by either claiming that we have evolved from ape-like creatures or from “cavemen” over millions or hundreds of thousands of years. Let’s look at each of them:

  1. Evolution from Ape-like Creatures:

Although Charles Darwin did not talk about human evolution in the Origin of the Species, he talked about it 12 years later in his other book The Descent of Man. His arguments were based on anatomical, embryological, and behavioral evidence, not fossils. Until his death in 1882, no fossils for non-human or pre-human ancestors of human beings had been found. He blamed it on the lack of fossil research. Bottom line: Human and primate fossils are extremely rare (See David Menton and Marvin Lubenow). About 95% of all known fossils are marine invertebrates (don’t have a backbone/spine). About 4.7 % are algae and plants and 0.2 % are insects and other invertebrates. Finally, 0.1% are vertebrates and out of this a small fraction are primates (humans, apes, monkeys, and lemurs). Maybe about 6000 human individuals if counting single teeth and bones. Much more apes and monkeys in the fossils than humans.

Differences between Human and Ape skulls (Menton):

  • Small vs Large (1400cm3 vs 500cm3)
  • Sloped vs Vertical Face
  • Flat vs Curved Forehead
  • Flat vs Protruding Nasal Bones
  • Jaws and Teeth (humans have thick enamel)
  • Pelvis and legs (the gait is different to walk on two legs)
  • Carrying angle of the knee
  • Locking Knee
  • Foot Bones
  • Hand Bones (the thumb is the most distinguishable feature, longer in humans)

What about ape-men fossils? From combining bones of apes and humans (Piltdown Man in Natural History Museum in London with the skull of a human and jaw of an orangutan, with the teeth filed down. It was left there for 50 years.), claims that ape skeleton is human, and vice versa. Unfortunately, lots of pictures drawn by artists also misrepresent the facts. Now there’s a new category called “hominin,” which includes Ardipithecus, Australopithecus(Lucy), Paranthropus, and the genera Homo. Ardipithecus = Afar Ethiopian word “ardi” meaning “ground” and “pithekos” = Greek for “ape.” Australopithecus = Latin “australis” means “southern” and pithekos. Paranthropus = “par” beside and “Anthropos” man. They seem quite official sounding on the surface, but they are not. The Homo group leads us into the next category.

  1. Evolution from Cavemen:
  • Homo Habilis (Homo = Latin for man, “handyman,” 1.4-2.4 million years ago)
  • Homo Rudolfensis (1.9 million years)
  • Homo Erectus (Java Man and Peking Man, 1.9 million – 144,000 years ago)
  • Homo Heidelbergensis (found in 1908 near Heidelberg, Germany, 700,000-200,000)
  • Homo Neanderthalensis (from Neander Valley in Germany in 1856. Since then, about 500 are found in central and western Europe, the Carpathians, Balkans, Ukraine, Western Russia, and northern Asia, 400,000-40,000)
  • Homo Floresiensis (Flores, Indonesia, “hobbits,” maybe deformity)
  • Homo Sapiens (us about 200,000 years ago)

Basic differences: large brows in adults and wide nasal cavities.

3 contradictory evidences:

  • the DNA evidence shows that we are the same. Through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technology, in 1993 onwards, they were able to study mitochondrial DNA. Savante Paabo, a Swedish biologist, has been able to map the genome of Neanderthals and has found that we are not only similar, but also, we have mixed. (Some are gone but many may still be around, but they are not inferior (Papua, New Guinea, Australian Aborigines, and Mamanwa, Philippines).
  • Fossil records shows close association and integration with modern humans.
  • Archaeological evidence shows that their behavior and thoughts are human.

How does evolution from apes or cavemen undermine the gospel?

  1. It undermines the Problem

Rom. 5:12   Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many…18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

  1. It undermines the Prescription

Ephesians 4      20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

  1. It undermines the Promise

1 Corinthians 15       45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.

Invitation: Are you still part of Adam’s family? Jesus has come to bring you into the family of God. Are you saved?

Astray by Dr. Abidan Shah

ASTRAY by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction:  Some animals are smart, and some are not. Dogs are smart. Some are even smarter than humans, especially working dogs. Bees are smart. They have the classic swarm intelligence where they work together to build a nest or defend themselves. Dolphins, they say, have a larger brain that any animal, relatively speaking. But there are also dumb animals. For example: sloths. Other than being super slow, they can also mistake their own limb for a branch and fall to the ground. Another animal that I consider dumb are sheep. They are often unaware of their surroundings, and, for just another clump of grass, they are often led astray. In fact, that is the title of our message today – ASTRAY. If you have your Bibles, please find Isaiah 53. Main point: Human beings are like sheep. We are easily led astray by our sin. We are prone to wander and get lost. Jesus came to bring us into his fold by taking our punishment of sin upon himself. He became our lamb unto slaughter. By trusting in him, we can be saved.

Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Context: So many of you have shared with us how much this series from Isaiah 53 titled “ATONEMENT” has meant to you. You have enjoyed the history and the geography behind these pages. You have also appreciated how the prophecies from the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New. Keep in mind that we were in our series through 1 Peter titled “TOGETHER FORWARD” that launched us back to Isaiah 53. Many of you have so many questions. Rest assured that we are in the process of getting something together that will benefit your whole family.

Listen again to Isaiah 53:6 “All we like sheep have gone astray…” Isaiah the prophet wrote those words 100 years into the future to a people he had never met but who needed his words in their exile. Keep in mind that Isaiah, through the Holy Spirit, was writing to the Judeans who would be living in exile in Babylon. To refresh your memory – the people of Israel had divided into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) after Solomon’s reign. Both had sinned blatantly by going after false gods and breaking God’s commandments. God sent Assyria against the Northern Kingdom who by 722BC dispersed them, never to return. The Southern Kingdom continued for another 100 years, but they followed the way of their brothers and sisters to the North, if you remember from last week’s message. By 609BC Assyria fell to Babylon, their Akkadian brothers and sisters to the south. In 597BC, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, came against Judah. Listen to 2 Kings 24       13 And he carried out from there all the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house, and he cut in pieces all the articles of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the LORD, as the LORD had said. 14 Also he carried into captivity all Jerusalem: all the captains and all the mighty men of valor, ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths. None remained except the poorest people of the land. 15 And he carried Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officers, and the mighty of the land he carried into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. 16 All the valiant men, seven thousand, and craftsmen and smiths, one thousand, all who were strong and fit for war, these the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon.” Before he left, he put Zedekiah, his handpicked king, on the throne and warned him to pay their taxes. Ten years later, Zedekiah rebelled, even Jeremiah the prophet warned him not to. As promised, Nebuchadnezzar returned. Listen to Jeremiah 52      13 He burned the house of the LORD and the king’s house; all the houses of Jerusalem, that is, all the houses of the great, he burned with fire. 14 And all the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down all the walls of Jerusalem all around. 15 Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive some of the poor people, the rest of the people who remained in the city, the defectors who had deserted to the king of Babylon, and the rest of the craftsmen. 16 But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left some of the poor of the land as vinedressers and farmers.” Sin and disobedience have consequences. It may seem that God has decided to overlook sin but he will punish sin.

Application: Are you presuming on God’s grace? Is there unrepented sin in your hearts?

How did the people feel in exile? Initially, they lamented. They felt sorry for Judah, Jerusalem, their leaders, their homes, and themselves. Listen to them:

  • Lamentations 1 1 How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow is she, who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces has become a slave! 2 She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears are on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her. All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies. 3 Judah has gone into captivity, under affliction and hard servitude; she dwells among the nations, she finds no rest…”
  • Lamentations 2 20 “See, O LORD, and consider! To whom have You done this? Should the women eat their offspring, the children they have cuddled? Should the priest and prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord? 21 “Young and old lie on the ground in the streets; My virgins and my young men have fallen by the sword; you have slain them in the day of Your anger, you have slaughtered and not pitied.
  • Lamentations 3 14 “I have become the ridicule of all my people—Their taunting song all the day. 15 He has filled me with bitterness, he has made me drink wormwood.16 He has also broken my teeth with gravel, and covered me with ashes. 17 You have moved my soul far from peace; I have forgotten prosperity.”
  • Psalms 137 1 “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. 2 We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it.”

Principle: There is a place to grieve, but prolonged grief or improper response to grief will lead to a victim mentality.

Application: Do you take your griefs to God? Are you living with a victim mentality? Do you know him as your Savior and King?

God was so gracious that he sent them word through Jeremiah that he was still with them. They were to build houses and plant gardens, take wives and have children, grow in numbers and seek the peace of the city where they were living. Listen to Jeremiah 29.    10“For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Did the people listen? Yes, the Bible doesn’t give us much information, but in the past century archaeologists discovered cuneiform tablets (wedge shaped style of writing in soft clay with a stylus which was then either baked in a kiln or under the hot sun) that give us hints that the people did quite well in Babylon. Remember, there were 2 groups of people in exile: the royals and the wealthy; the middle class. Those who were sort of commoners got land. They farmed and became successful. Those who were from the upper echelons of society also got land and other privileges. They learned Chaldean. Their children were educated in the cultures and manners of the Babylonians. They increased in affluence and wealth. Some became royal merchants and others like Daniel and Nehemiah became royal courtiers. Overall, they advanced socially, economically, and politically. In other words, yes, they did well. But how about spiritually? That’s a different matter. Not much indication in the cuneiform as to whether they were following God. If Sabbath keeping was any indication, they were not obeying God. Jeremiah 17      24 “And it shall be, if you heed Me carefully,” says the LORD, “to bring no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work in it, 25 then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain forever.” Now it was out of sight, out of mind. Add to that a victim mentality and a little disappointment with God.

Application: In some ways, we are in exile. Are we still seeking God? Not all of us.

To such a people, Isaiah had sent his prophecy – Isaiah 53      1 Who has believed our report? (The prophet is speaking on behalf of the people to the watching world.) And to whom has the arm of the LORD (Isaiah used that imagery repeatedly – 40:10; 48:14; 51:5; 52:10. It’s like saying “right hand man.”) been revealed?

2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. (The Servant will not be some mighty oak or some fruit tree laden with fruits. He will not be the “best of the best” like those who had been taken into exile. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”)

3 He is despised (not actively hating him but simply considering him worthless or unworthy of our attention) and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; (Have you been around someone in grief or sickness? Hair is matted; breath is bad; face is stained with tears. It is not a pleasant sight. We want to get away from there. The Judeans in Babylon were trying to climb the Babylonian ladder of success and regain their old splendor. Jesus was surrounded by sick and bereaving people when he came.) He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. (We thought he was rejected and stricken “nagua” with leprosy. That’s why in the Babylonian Talmud the Messiah is described as a leper. This does not always have to be the case. To the contrary, he was representing us. We are grief stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. It is as if we are looking in a mirror and thinking it is someone else. He was not suffering because of the sins of the people but for the sins of the people. He was standing in their place and taking their spiritual punishment while they were improving their status in society and looking good and successful.)

5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised (The word is more like crushed.) for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. (There is now a shift from illness to injury. This is where Isaiah started out – Isaiah 1        4 “Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers,children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward. 5 Why should you be stricken again?You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. 6 From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment.” Our sickness is because of sin. Jesus did not come to suffer with us but to suffer for us.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; (Sheep run away and scatter when they are spooked.) we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. (The negative quality of the sheep are replaced by their positive quality by Jesus. Yes, they are dumb and fearful, but he was innocent and submissive.)

8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? (Those in exile wanted the best for their children and grandchildren. Hopefully, they will look back and sing our praises. He would have no such opportunity. In that society, such people were pitied. He was representing them!) For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.

9 And they made His grave with the wicked—But with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. He was hung between 2 thieves, but he was put in the borrowed tomb of a rich man. Joseph of Arimathea was a righteous man who was also a member of the Sanhedrin.)

Invitation: Are you gone astray? Do you need healing? Have you come to Jesus?

Living Stone by Dr. Abidan Shah

 

LIVING STONE by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  We have several families in the church who are building homes or have just finished building. It can be such a long arduous process. There are so many things to consider from the right builders, cost of the materials, weather, decision fatigue, and changes. But, in the end, it is all worth it when you can sit on the front porch or the living room and know that you are in your own house. But, it takes a lot of patience to get there. By the way, I went looking for some construction jokes online and they all said that they’re still working on it. In today’s message, Peter is going to appeal to the construction imagery to encourage his readers. Here’s what he’s saying to them: When the world and even our loved ones evict us because of our faith, we are not left homeless in this life. Instead, we are carefully chosen by God to join Jesus in building our spiritual house where God dwells. We are precious to him.

1 Peter 2      4 “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Context: As you’ve heard me say it throughout this series, Peter wrote this letter to encourage believers who were facing persecution and ostracization because of their faith. It was causing some of them to turn back to their old natures and pick up those old sinful ways – “malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking.” These are not sins committed in isolation, but sins committed in relationships. In other words, they were turning against each other in the church family. Peter evoked the imagery of a newborn baby to exhort them to seek the pure milk of those things that are proper for the life of a believer. If not, in fear, they will act the fool like David. But, there is another side to the Christian life. It is a life that is diametrically opposite to the innocent, helpless, single-minded life of a newborn baby. It is a life that recognizes that each of us are a small but significant building material in the house of God. It is a life that recognizes that each of us are to be a holy priest before God.

Application: How do you see yourself in the church family? Are you in the church family? Do you have this balanced view of the Christian life?

But, let’s back up because there’s more there. Why did Peter appeal to the building construction imagery? He was acknowledging their present struggles. The persecution and ostracization was having another 2-sided effect on them: On one hand, they were losing their sense of belonging; and, on the other hand, they were losing their inheritance from their old families. They may also have been barred from entering their temples where other business may have been carried out. This often happens when people become Christians in other parts of the world.

Illustration: As you’ve heard me talk about my dad many times, he grew up in a well to do and loving Muslim home. His future was set. He went to college and got his degrees. He had his career path laid out for him. He even knew who he was going to marry. The family had plenty of old money and plenty of prospects to make new money. But then, he had several life-altering moments, one in which he even came face-to-face with death. It caused him to start searching for the truth. After about a yearlong journey of searching, he came to know Christ as his Savior and King. But, when he told his father that he had become a Christian, his father was very angry and gave him the ultimatum: either renounce all this Christianity stuff or leave the house before he was up. Then he added, “If you leave just know that you cannot take anything from this house, except the clothes on your back. Your Jesus was a beggar. If you follow him, you will end up a beggar. One day you will return home and it will be up to me whether or not I will receive you back.” After that exchange, my father stepped outside and looked up at the night sky and had a conversation with God – “God, I don’t understand. I chose to follow you and the first thing that happens is that I lose my family.” God answered him, not audibly but in his heart – “Do you trust me that I can take care of you in the life to come?” He answered, “Of course. That’s why I’m following you.” God spoke to him again – “If you can trust me to take care of you in the life to come that you cannot see, why can’t you trust me to take care of you in this life?” That was it. My dad stepped out in the darkness and made his way to the local train station. He got in line to buy a ticket but he didn’t even know where he was going. The person before him asked for a ticket to Pune. When my dad stepped to the ticket window, he said, “Same place as him.” That night, my father lost his family, his inheritance, and all his earthly security. Unbeknownst to him, he had bought a ticket where the American missionary lived who would later adopt my father as his son.

So also, the believers in Asia Minor may have lost their families, their inheritance, and all their earthly homes and securities. Hence, Peter appealed to the imageries of building, stone, house, rejection, and shame. By the way, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, brought up the same point in Ephesians 2      19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” More than likely, Peter and Paul got this unusual imagery from the teachings of Jesus himself: Mark 12     10 Have you not even read this Scripture: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 11 This was the LORD’S doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” Here, Jesus referred to himself as “the stone.” The origin of this imagery goes back to the Old Testament: Isaiah 28:16Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; whoever believes will not act hastily.” God used the imagery of foundation and cornerstone because God’s people always had to face eviction and instability in life.

Application: You may not have to face evictions for your faith, but it may cost you to follow Christ in the days ahead? How far are you willing to go? There are more times of instability and uncertainty coming in the days ahead? Are you ready for them?

Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, refocused the persecuted and rejected believers on the fact that they were all involved in a massive construction project. It is the spiritual temple of God. Listen again to verse 4 “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious.” Here the “Living Stone” is Christ. There are 2 things about him: He is rejected by the world, but he is selected by God. But, it’s not just him – 5 “you also, as living stones…” We are also “living stones” that will be rejected by the world but rest assured that we have been selected by God.

What is the purpose of this selection? 5 “…are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 6Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” As I read earlier from Isaiah 28:16, this was a fulfillment of prophecy.

Bottom Line: Christ is our pattern in building the spiritual house of God. There is a sense of solidarity and connection between the persecuted believers and Jesus. We are together involved in a building project. In fact, Christian community is the place of the presence of God in this world. We mistakenly overemphasize God’s presence with us individually. That may be true, but it is the community that displays God’s presence before the watching world.

7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” This is a fulfillment of Psalm 118:22. 8 and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” This is a fulfillment of Isaiah 8. They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.

Application: Are you working to build the temple of God? Disobedience will cause you to stumble? Also, Christ is precious to those who know him and are obedient to him. To others, he is a stumbling block – lost as well disobedient saved.

9 “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”

By the way, there is a judgment coming. Listen to 1 Corinthians 3      9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and thatthe Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.

Invitation: Are you saved? Are you building? Are you stumbling?

Episode 17: Running the Race (ft. Dr David Alan Black)

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In this episode, Abidan Paul Shah will be talking with Dr. David Alan Black about his newest book “Running My Race: Reflections on Life, Loss, Aging, and Forty Years of Teaching.” It’s about learning to deal with the pains of life in a way that draws us closer to the heart of God. Both laypeople and scholars will benefit from this book.

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LIFE IS A VAPOR (ARTICLE) by Abidan Paul Shah

LIFE IS A VAPOR – Article by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on April 2, 2016)

You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14)

Sylvia Edwards 4Monday afternoon two weeks ago I got a phone call that I have received before as a pastor but I never imagined whom it would be about. “Sylvia Edwards died.” I thought I had misheard the name and so I asked – “Who did you say again?” I heard it right the first time. It was Sylvia. I couldn’t believe it…I saw her the night before at church! We talked about her singing at the coming Fourth of July program. She wasn’t feeling well but she was still excited about picking out the songs and getting started with the practices. If you knew Sylvia, you would know that she loved to sing and she wasn’t one to sit still very long! Now, two days later we were standing by her graveside – “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”

Life is indeed a vapor, a mist. It’s like breathing on a glass window on a cool day. You see the condensation for a couple of seconds and then it’s gone. Such is life. The Bible repeatedly warns us about the brevity and unpredictability of life – 1 Chronicles 29:15 “…Our days on earth are as a shadow, And without hope.” Job 7:7,9 “…my life is a breath!…As the cloud disappears and vanishes away, So he who goes down to the grave does not come up.” Psalms 102:11 “My days are like a shadow that lengthens, And I wither away like grass.” In spite of all such warnings, many still live as if they have all the time in the world.

Sylvia Edwards singing at Clearview with her sister Linda Twisdale

Sylvia Edwards singing at Clearview with her sister Linda Twisdale

Listen to what the Bible says – “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” (James 4:15) This does not mean that God is against planning. He wants us to plan but He also wants us to acknowledge Him in all our planning. He wants us to remember that our life is a gift from God. It means much more than saying – “Lord willing I’ll be at church Sunday.” It means living life knowing that our every breath, heartbeat, and brainwave is on loan from God and can be taken away from us any moment. Sylvia knew that and so lived her life. How about us?

Many of us waste time on the trivial and miss the important. “One of these days I am going to spend time with my children.” “One of these days I am going to take my wife on a special date.” “One of these days I am going to bake that pie for my husband.” (Ladies – I know that seems trivial but not for us!) “One of these days I am going to stop by and see my parents.” “One of these days I am going to make things right with my brother.” “One of these days I am going to call my sister.” God wants us to stop procrastinating and start doing what is good – Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) Did you know that procrastination is a sin?! It is especially when we delay with God. “One of these days I am going to turn my life around.” “One of these days I am going to church.” “One of these days I am going to read my Bible.” “One of these days I am going to give my life to Christ.” Unfortunately, that day never comes and we keep sliding away from God. We’re like the fool who said – “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” (Luke 12:19-20)

Make it right with God today…not because you might die tonight…but because you have to live tomorrow.

The Blessing of Sorrow

You can listen to this and other sermons online by clicking here or watch the video here.

THE BLESSING OF SORROW by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

theblessingofsorrowWe are in Matthew 5 for our series titled – “SALT AND LIGHT.” This morning we are looking at the second beatitude and our message is titled “THE BLESSING OF SORROW.

Matthew 5   1 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Overall Background: Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. You can picture Jesus looking across that mountain and seeing the multitude/people.

  • There sits a family that just lost their home in a fire.
  • There sits an old man who lost his ability to see.
  • There sits a young man who just lost his job as a soldier.
  • There sits a young couple that was robbed on their way to Galilee.
  • There sits a father whose son just ran away from home.
  • There sits a mother who lost her daughter to an epidemic.
  • There sits that middle-aged couple wondering where time has gone.
  • There sits a young girl who lost her innocence to what she thought was love.
  • There sits a little boy who lost his parents.

As the Bible says, “seeing the multitudes” he opened His mouth and said – “Blessed are those who mourn.” In other words, “Blessed are those who have gone through some loss.” Why do we mourn? Because something or someone we had is not there anymore.

Not much has changed. The multitude is still grieving. There are people all over this room who are mourning. As someone said, “In every pew there sits someone with a broken heart.” We are grieving over the loss of a job, house, health, relationship, love, money, vision, time, or a loved one. Life is a series of losses – some big and some small – and because of that we all mourn or sorrow to some degree or the other.

Application: What are you doing with your sorrow? Are you pretending that everything is all right? Are you looking to false substitutes to cope with your sorrow? Are you looking to Jesus? Are you trusting Him to get you through? Only He can truly comfort you.

3 things we will see in this message. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will apply this beatitude to your life so not only will you get this but go further to Luke’s rendition of this beatitude – “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”

I. WHY DO WE MOURN?

This week was a busy one for me. All day Monday through Wednesday I was in Raleigh for NCLEAP – NC Law Enforcement Assistance Program. They were conducting what is known as PCIS – Post Critical Incident Seminar. It is an event designed to help officers (Police, State Troopers, Sherriff’s Dept.) and their spouses who have gone through trauma like line of duty shooting and line of duty death. People don’t realize what men and women in law enforcement go through every day of their lives. They are constantly bombarded with trauma, death, loss, and grief and it begins to take a toll on them and effects their health, relationships, and work. Just to let you know – as many as 100 commit suicide every year. At this seminar men and women and their spouses come from everywhere who are struggling with loss and they are helped with peer support and teaching. As the chaplain for the Henderson PD I was invited to be there and I am really glad I went. One of the teachers was Dr. Therese Rando who is a world-renowned grief expert and Clinical Director of The Institute for the Study and Treatment of Loss. She has published as many as 80 works on the subject and been on national TV and everything. Amazing how the Holy Spirit works! This week I am preaching on mourning and the world expert is sitting behind me! Here’s what she shared:

There are 2 kinds of loss in life:

  1. Physical loss – car is stolen, house burns down, leg is amputated
  2. Abstract loss – divorce, job loss, relationship loss

Both of these are known as Primary Loss. But there’s something else happens next which is known as Secondary Loss – Because of primary loss, people go though a deeper loss of their worldview – what they believe about God, this world, themself, and others. Because of your loss you begin to look at everything differently. Keep in mind that there’s a difference between losing your keys and losing a loved one to cancer but your loss is important to you. Children leaving the home can be a loss. Depending on how serious your loss was to you, you begin to rewrite your life script.

What’s next? Loss leads to grief and mourning. There’s a difference between the two:

  • Grief is your reaction to the loss. This can be psychological, behavioral, social, and even physical. It includes crying, depression, guilt, anger, irritability, restlessness, fear, anxiety, numbness, sleep deprivation, social withdrawal, addiction, etc.
  • Mourning is learning to cope with your loss. It involves adjusting to the loss by undoing our previous ties with that thing or person. It involves building new ties with that thing or person. It involves revising our worldview and learning to move forward. By the way, people grieve and mourn differently.

Life is a series of losses – some big and some small – and because of that we all grieve and mourn to one degree or another. This is a big problem of life. Isn’t it amazing that Jesus began His Sermon with the most common human problem?!! After all He is God! What did you expect! It behooves me when people say that the Bible doesn’t apply. It applies much more than you think!

Application: Are you struggling with some loss in your life? Are you trying to pretend that you are strong and it doesn’t bother you? Are you living in grief and mourning? God understands. Jesus understands. He cares.

II. WHAT ARE SOME WAYS PEOPLE COPE? 

People try all sorts of ways to mourn. They are known as “coping mechanisms.”

  • Act out = Go wild. Do crazy things. You owe it to yourself.
  • Adapt = Find a new normal. Just adapt to this loss.
  • Altruism = Help other people and it will make you feel better.
  • Avoid = Just don’t face it. Pour yourself into your work, hobby, or relationship.
  • Cry = Let it out.
  • Distance = Move away. At least get away for a while.
  • Emotionality = Have an outburst. Make people scared of your anger.
  • Fantasy = Go into your make-believe world. Turn on a favorite song and dream.
  • Help-Rejecting Complaining = Ask for help and then reject it. Look for pity.
  • Intellectualize = Think deep on the subject. Go get a PhD on it.
  • Passive Aggression = Be stubborn and hostile even if it hurts self. Procrastinate.
  • Provocation = Get others to act so you can react.
  • Regression = Act like a little kid.
  • Self-harming = Cause pain to self so you don’t have to face the pain of loss.
  • Trivializing = Pretend that it’s not a big deal.

Why do people try these coping mechanisms? Because they give some temporary relief or even long-term relief but there’s a big difference between relief and comfort. Jesus did not say, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will find relief.” The English word “comfort” comes from the Latin com = with and fort = strong. It’s connected to words like fortify and fortress. We will see all this in the last point.

Application: Which one of these coping mechanisms are you using? Are you just satisfied with relief? Relief can only shift the pain, sometimes on those around you. Can you see the pain that others are feeling through you?

III. HOW DOES GOD COMFORT US? 

Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.

Background: Keep in mind that Jesus gave these beatitudes in a particular order. You cannot jump around here. The first one is the first one for a reason – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Remember the “kingdom of heaven/God?” It is the rule of God through the Holy Spirit in the life of everyone who has received Jesus as his/her Savior. Remember Romans 14:17 “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Who are the “poor in spirit?” They are those who have less of self. So the first beatitude is saying that those who have less and less of self will be more and more under the control of the Holy Spirit. When you have this in place you are ready for the second beatitude – “Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.”

Look at the word “comfort,” not in English but in Greek. It is the word “parakaleo.” It is the verbal form of “parakletos,” the name Jesus used for the Holy Spirit.

  • John 14 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
  • John 14:26 But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.
  • John 16 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:

When Jesus gave the second beatitude, it was in the context of the Holy Spirit being the one who comforts. Jesus Himself is our Comforter but now He is also at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. So he sends another Comforter the Holy Spirit. Amazing! We have 2 Comforters! What are they doing? One is advocating for me in heaven and the other from earth. The Holy Spirit encourages me, guides me, strengthens me, gives me exactly what I need, sends the right people in my life, and even uses my loss to comfort others. Guess what? It works! “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried” – G. K. Chesterton

But it doesn’t stop there – Listen to Paul in 2 Corinthians 1   3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. The point is that we’re not just waiting to be comforted but as salt and light we comfort others.

Invitation: Do you know Jesus as your Savior? How are you handling loss in your life? Are you looking to the Holy Spirit to comfort you? Do you know someone who needs Him?

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