Brightness by Dr. Abidan Shah

This weekend, we are back in our series on apologetics titled “CONTEND.” Each one of these messages has helped us to understand the Bible better and to be able to defend our faith. Especially as we are examining the days of creation, I’m reminded that the same God who spoke the universe into existence is the same God who cares for and provides for you and me. That, to me, is the greatest source of hope, knowing that God is in control of everything!

This weekend, we are looking at the creation of the sun on the fourth day in Genesis 1. The sun is often something we take for granted, but life on earth wouldn’t exist without it. God set it exactly the right distance from earth and made it exactly the right temperature to sustain life for His creation. The title of this weekend’s message is “BRIGHTNESS.”

Do you see God’s handiwork in the sun’s light? Every sunrise and sunset is a beautiful reminder of God’s power. Are you saved? Invite your friends and family to worship this weekend as we dive back into the book of Genesis!

Flourish by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction:  One of our kids’ favorite movies is the computer animated science fiction WALL-E. It is set in the year 2805 AD when the Earth has become a barren wasteland, overrun with trash from years and years of mass consumerism. A 5-year plan to clean up the planet is initiated while humans are somewhere in space in a fleet of star liners. Unfortunately, the plan fails and the countless WALL-Es (Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth Class) are shutdown, except for one. For 700 years, this one last WALL-E is still going about his day trying to clean up until one day he finds a seedling plant. As you know, he also meets a probe named EVE (she was given that name for a reason). What is relevant for our message is that the tiny green plant was the sign that Earth had become habitable. In today’s message in our apologetic series, we will also learn how God strategically began with the creation of the plant life. Here are some questions: “If the sun was not created until Day 4, how could plants survive on Day 3?” “I’ve heard of the bionic leaf. Does it mean that we can make plants now?” Main point: God has made every blade of grass, every flower in the field, every fruit on the tree, and every bush and mighty oak in the forest. They all testify to his SAP – his sustenance, his artistry, and his promises towards us. Let’s not forget – Jesus bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness.

Genesis 1:11 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, andthe fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so.

Context: After God created the waters and land on the third day of creation, he created the plant kingdom. Three things are mentioned: Grass (deshe), Plants (eshev), 3. Trees (ets). This does not mean that there are 3 different kinds of plants. The first (deshe) refers to vegetation generally. It emphasizes the lush greenery over a previously earthy land surrounded by water. The other 2 are the main classifications: plants that bear seeds outside and plants that bear fruits with seeds inside. The main reason for giving us plants is Genesis 1      29 And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. 30Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. Human beings (adults) require about 2000 food calories per day. That is about 8000 kJ (kilojoules). We need energy, especially from the sun. A plant produces about 100 calories per square meter of leaf surface facing the sun in one day. That is about 420 kJ. Plants are stationary and they can gain this energy. How about us? We gain that energy as we consume the plants that function as solar energy concentrators. God thought of everything! The phrase “according to its kind” is added to emphasize the “self-perpetuation” of the plant kingdom.

Can you imagine the change in the earth in just a matter of 3 days! At first, it was just plain black and white of the watery matrix. Then, comes the sky and the sea, which brings the blue color. Now, with the creation of the green plants, there is another color added to the spectrum. On day four, there will be the sun, which will bring yellow and orange. Finally, with the creation of the sea creatures and birds on day five and animals and humans on day six, there will be the red color and some of the variations. By day 7, there will be the entire spectrum of the rainbow colors – Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red. How beautiful!

Application: God is the only one who can bring color into our colorless world. The world has been trying to copy and steal this, but it belongs to him. He can do that in your life as well. It happens when you receive Christ as your Savior. Have you done that?

According to evolutionary theory, it could not be this simple (Roger Patterson listed the following development of plants according to evolution):

  • Plants began as green algae and went through many adaptations to go from water to land.
  • Fossil evidence for plants comes from 400 million years ago. By the way, there is not a single fossil series, transition from one form to another.
  • Symbiosis helped plants survive on land.
  • Initially, the forests were filled with giant ferns and cycads (thick and woody stem with large and hard leaves). These became our fossil fuels today.
  • Next came the seed plants, followed by vascular plants (fossils around 375 million years ago), and finally flowering plants (fossils around 130 million years ago).

The main problem has to do with the process of photosynthesis. Simply speaking, it is the process by which plants take in carbon dioxide and sunlight and through the process of photosynthesis give out glucose and oxygen. This not only gives the plants the food they need to survive, but also gives us the oxygen we need to breathe. Top scientists from top institutions with top credentials and top technology have been trying to replicate it with very meager results. I did some research on the latest in plant physiology. Here are two I want to share:

  1. According to the Harvard Gazette, Chemist Dan Nocera found a way to use sunlight to split water molecules and combine it with CO2 to make renewable fuel. This is known as the Bionic leaf. Hopefully this will help people in poorer parts of the world, but so much more still needs to be done. Thus far, the focus is on oxygen because the project was with the Office of Naval Research to help generate oxygen on the fly for divers. There are so many issues that still have to be addressed and it is far from ready.
  2. According to an article in the Heliyon, an open access science journal, Dr. Tanai Cardona from the Imperial College, London, claims by studying the enzymes involved in photosynthesis, instead of looking in ancient rocks and rock layers, that there must have been bacteria that evolved oxygenic photosynthesis and later evolved into anoxygenic photosynthesis. To have complex life-forms on earth, you need oxygen. God thought of everything. That’s why he made plants before he made animals and humans. Plants use photosynthesis (we will see that in a minute) to produce oxygen. According to the standard evolutionary theory, cyanobacteria developed the ability to do photosynthesis and produced oxygen about 2.3 billion years ago. This is based on some geochemical evidence. Don’t forget that, according to evolution, the earth is about 4.5 billion years old and earth’s atmosphere did not have any oxygen until 3 to 2.4 billion years ago. By the way, it was claimed that cyanobacteria evolved from green and purple bacteria which have only one photosystem compared to the two photosystems of cyanobacteria. What caused this evolution or replication? Never mind, there is no answer. Now it is claimed by Dr. Cardona that some ancient microbes came earlier, and it could have been as early as 3.4 billion years ago. The whole point is that if it its 3.4 billion years ago that oxygen was produced through these bacteria, then it’s only one billion years for photosynthesis to develop from the origin of the earth at 4.5 billion years. Also, life on earth began 3.7 billion years ago according to evolutionists. How does this impact their model? These gives barely 200-300 million years for all this to happen! By the way, originally his research showed that it was even longer than 4.5 billion years ago that photosynthesis began. So, he suggested that the process was faster in the beginning and then slowed down later since the earth had cooled down.

How complex is this process and God did this in less than half a day! Photosynthesis is probably the most important chemical reaction on earth, and it’s happening constantly everywhere since the beginning of time (from Jonathan Sarfati). On the surface, this is very simple, but, on closer examination, it is highly complex. The formula is six molecules of water plus six molecules of carbon dioxide produce one molecule of sugar plus six molecules of oxygen:

(6CO2 + 12H2O + Light Energy à C6H12O6 + 6O2 + 6H2O)

The most important part of the reaction is the breaking of the water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. Scientists refer to this as the OEC (Oxygen-evolving complex). This requires a lot of energy. Light in the form of photons does this, but it must be just right, not too much or too little. God designed this to occur inside the chloroplasts which contain the chlorophyll, which is necessary for photosynthesis. According to a system called Photosystem II, as the photon reaches the leaves, it is channeled through chlorophyll where it knocks out an electron from an atom and this electron helps convert sugars from CO2. Now the chlorophyll (P680) must replenish this lost electron. This is achieved through a catalytic core present in all plants and algae – Mn3CaO4-Mn. This provides the redox potential, stores the energy from the four photons, and maintains the water molecules in the right positions.

Again, how awesome is our God!

Ultimately, he gave us plants, trees, and fruits for greater reasons. Here are the main ones:

  1. It all started with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2        9 And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

  1. It represented the curse of sin.

Deuteronomy 21      22 “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.”

  1. It was on a tree that Jesus died

1 Peter 2:24who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.”

  1. It is the tree of life that awaits us.

Revelation 22       1 “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations…14 Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.”

Invitation: Can you see God’s promises in his creation? Have you ever asked Christ to be your Savior? Are you saved? Will you have access to the tree of life?

Sacred by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction:  How many parents have told your kids not to let strangers into the house or even tell them that you are away when you’re gone? Nicole recounts a time when her parents were away, and this man knocked on their door in the evening. Her dad had helped him out sometime back at his office and he had somehow found out where he lived. Nicole told him that her parents were busy and could not come to the door. So, he went down the driveway and kept pacing up and down the sidewalk. Little while later, he came back to the door and before Nicole could get to it, her brother opened the door. The man asked for their dad again and he blurted out, “They’re not here.” Nicole quickly called a neighbor who lived around the corner and the man finally left. As you know, we are in our series on apologetics called CONTEND. In this message, we’re going to learn why it is essential to be discerning against those who come knocking on our door, claiming to be like us when they are doctrinally opposed to us. Main point: Doctrine is often looked upon as old fashioned, divisive, and boring. To the contrary, doctrine is essential to the gospel and impacts eternity. Doctrines have to be learned, defended, and reaffirmed, especially the first-rank ones. The Holy Spirit guides us in true doctrine.

2 John 7 “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.”

Context: Very early in the life of the church, first-rank doctrines were under attack. What are first-rank or first level doctrines? Per Mohler and Ortlund (separate works), these are the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture. Of course, there was not a full-on attack against these doctrines in the earliest days, but the attack had begun. John the apostle referred to the attackers as a “deceiver” and an “antichrist.” Then he reminded the readers – 8 “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.” In other words, the doctrines that have been worked out so carefully should not be cast aside so easily. Instead, verse 9 “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” Here we notice that the first-rank doctrines of the Trinity and Christology are being defended and reaffirmed. But wait, here comes a warning – 10 “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” What a strong indictment against those who deny these first-rank doctrines!

In this message I want to deal with 2 groups who are known for coming to our houses with their so called “gospel” – Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Both claim Christianity and both claim the Bible as their book as well, but they allege that it has been corrupted. Also, both add their own literature to the Bible and claim that it is on the same level:

  • Mormon: The Book of Mormon, the Doctrines and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses: New World Translation and their Watchtower Bible and Tract Society with their 2 magazines – “Watchtower” and “Awake.”

In the chart that I have shared with you over the past few weeks, the challenge is again to the “Authority” of the Bible, primarily on that matter of the “Canon.” By the way, both of these movements are what scholars refer to as the “New Religious Movements (Terry Muck). They have cropped up in the past 200 years. Although many smaller movements can be named, these fall into the category of the “reinterpretation” or “recovery” of true Christianity. In other words, they claim Christianity as their roots, but they also claim that they are restoring Christianity to its true roots. How do we determine whether or not they are indeed true?

I. External-Verification (Historical Accuracy & Unity and Coherence):

A. Bible:

Historical Accuracy

  • To begin with, we have 100% of the text of the Old Testament and New Testament. This is done through a discipline called textual criticism. I have dedicated my life to the NT text.
  • Both the OT and NT make tons of references to lands and regions, kings and rulers, cities and towns, mountains and valleys, rivers and seas, buildings and monuments, events and dates, treaties and policies, customs and traditions, etc. We can verify each of them. I’ve been to Israel many times and seen many of these places – Tel Dan in the north to Elath in the south, Joppa in the west to the Dead Sea in the east. I’ve been to Greece and stood on Mars Hill where Paul preached. I can go on and on.
  • Most important verification is the Resurrection of Jesus. Something happened that turned those fearful disciples into bold martyrs. History was divided into 2 halves!

Unity and Coherence

  • Over 40 authors from different backgrounds, places, and historical situations.
  • Nonetheless, from the first book to the last, the message is about God’s salvation of humanity through his son Jesus Christ. I have talked about this endlessly.

2. Mormon Writings:

Historical Accuracy & Unity and Coherence

  • Although they believe the Bible, according to their Article of Faith 8, the Latter-Day Saints “believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” Also, in their History of the Church 4:461, it is claimed that Joseph Smith called it “the most correct of any book on earth.”
  • To begin with, who was Joseph Smith? It is claimed that it all began in 1820 when a 14-year-old boy in up-state New York prayed that God would show him which church to join from among the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians. As he prayed in a nearby grove, an overpowering force bound his body and tongue, and thick darkness came upon him, so that he could not speak. Just when he thought that he was going to die, a pillar of fire came down from heaven and he saw the Father and the Son as separate men but just alike, standing before him. The Son told him not to join any church but wait on further revelation. Few years later, the angel Moroni appeared to him in 1823 and promised that he would find a book of gold plates, which he claimed to find in some nearby hill in 1827. The book was supposedly in “reformed Egyptian,” which no one knows what that language is, and the book of Mormon was published in 1830.
  • The story in the book is about the coming of the Hebrews to settle in the Americas. Apparently, their life between 6th century BC and 5th century AD are described in the book. There is no historical evidence for this. Also, it is claimed that Jesus came here to preach to them after his resurrection. Those who received became the Nephites and those who rejected became the Lamanites, who are supposedly the ancestors of the Native Americans. There were battles between the two groups and the Nephites were gone, but not before the plates of the recordings were buried by Moroni, the son of Mormon, the last Nephite general. Again, there is zero historical evidence for all this.
  • Overall, it is written in a pseudo-translation pretending to be written in the style of the King James Version.

3. Jehovah’s Witnesses literature:

Historical Accuracy & Unity and Coherence

  • Although they believe the Bible, they use their own translation, claiming that ours is corrupt. In fact, they believe that the Watchtower Society is “the one and only channel which the Lord has used in dispensing his truth continually since the beginning of the harvest period…” (April 1, 1919).
  • In the late 19th century, a young man in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania named Charles Taze Russell began a class called the “Millennial Dawn Bible Study.” He was a Presbyterian, but found the doctrines of predestination, eternal damnation, and the Trinity troublesome. He got some of his ideas from the Adventists and others who taught on prophecy, and he put them together in his literature which later became part of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
  • He claimed that Christ’s invisible “second presence” had happened in 1874 and the harvesting period had ended in 1878. The “end of the Gentiles” time would take place in 1914. That year came and went, but it was claimed that the invisible occurrence had happened, and Satan was thrown out of heaven. Now Jesus had begun his heavenly rule and starting in 1918, the 144,000 were in the heavenly kingdom. Russell died in 1916 and the leadership passed on to Joseph Franklin Rutherford. He was the one who “solved” the problem of the 144,000, by claiming that they are the “anointed ones” as opposed to the “great crowd” which represents all the Jehovah’s Witnesses (name chosen in 1931).
  • The writings of Russell and Rutherford are not used anymore. Instead, it’s the materials from the Watchtower Society. Who writes them? The leadership but anonymously since 1942.

You would think that the external verification would be enough to prove that the Bible alone is the true Word of God. Unfortunately, both groups claim in one way or another the witness of the Holy Spirit. This is not a problem for us. Instead, it is a must for believers. Because of our sinful minds and hearts, the Holy Spirit has to illumine and demonstrate the truth of God’s Word:

  • Illumination – show us the truth of God’s Word.
  • Demonstration – testify to us that it is the truth.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t give new evidence. He is the cause of faith not the reason.

1 John 4      1 “Beloved do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.”

II. Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit:

  1. Bible: We’ve obviously seen what the Holy Spirit has to say, especially about the Trinity and Christ.
  2. Mormon Writings:
  • Trinity is denied. Their trinity is 3 persons united in purpose not being. Instead, polytheism is affirmed since they claim that there are many gods in different parts of the universe.
  • The Heavenly Father was a man at one time who was created by a god, who was also created by another god. He passed through degrees of sanctification to become God. God was once a man like we are and that humans can become like God is now (Snow).
  • Jesus was a product of Heavenly Father and mother. They deny this but Satan was a spirit brother of Jesus through another wife of the Heavenly Father.
  • His sacrifice is not sufficient. Ordinances and covenants in the temple are necessary for godhood in the Celestial Kingdom.
  • Much more.

3. Jehovah’s Witnesses Literature:

  • Trinity is denied. Jehovah is the only god.
  • Jesus was created as Michael the Archangel. He became the Son at baptism. Hence, they read John 1:1 as “a god,” which is grammatically and theologically false. Also, the Holy Spirit is God’s active force.
  • Jesus died only for Adam’s sin, not for all of humanity.
  • No hell. Instead, paradise will be for a select few and the rest will be annihilated.

Invitation: Can you discern? Does doctrine matter? Is Christ your Savior and King? Is the Holy Spirit in you testifying to the truth?

Canon by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction: Last month, June 2021, an Italian artist named Salvatore Garau put up a sculptor at an auction titled “lo Sono,” meaning “I am.” He set the opening bid between $6000 to $9000. Only problem was that it was an invisible piece. According to Garau, “The vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy, and even if we empty it and there is nothing left, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that nothing has a weight…Therefore, it has energy that is condensed and transformed into particles, that is, into us.” People laughed about it. Some put pictures online of their invisible pieces. Believe it or not, someone bought it for $18,300! Here’s where the story takes a turn. Couple of days ago, Tom Miller, a Florida-based performance artist, claimed that Garau stole his idea. Back in 2016, he had assembled an invisible piece titled “Nothing” over 5 days. Miller has hired an attorney. How does this connect with our message in our series titled “CONTEND?” Just because you believe it, it doesn’t make it right. Main point: The Bible is not one person’s imagination of truth and reality. It is a collection of God’s words through various individuals in various times and in various ways regarding one thing – the coming of his son. Jesus is God’s son who came as a real historical person in a real historical place and time to fulfill God’s promise of salvation for all humanity.

Hebrews 1      1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

Context: What a powerful declaration of the special revelation of God through the ages! If you remember the chart I have created, so far, we worked up. The Scriptures are authoritative because they were inspired by God and hence inerrant. They were inspired because they were the special revelation of God. Now, we need to work down. Because the scriptures were authoritative, they were affirmed as canonical by the church. The Old Testament canon was already set before the New Testament was written and the New Testament canon was affirmed by the church in due time. Of course, there are certain questions that have been raised regarding canonicity. Here are some questions that we received in our survey:

  • Why are there more books in certain Bibles?
  • Is there any value in the books that have not been included?
  • Isn’t the process of canonization similar to other religions?

In answering these questions, I want us to compare the biblical canon to the Buddhist canon. In other words, how do the Buddhist religious books compare to the Bible.

  1. Main Character:

A. Buddhist Religious Books

  • Buddha or Word of the Buddha
  • There was one – Siddhartha Gautama from Northern India in the sixth and fifth centuries BC. He was a prince. For various reasons, his father would not let him venture out of the palace. He did not know what suffering was. He was married and had a child. One day, at the age of 29, he asked his charioteer to take him for a ride. On the way, he was exposed to “Four Sights” – an old man, a sick man, and a funeral procession. In other words, he was exposed to suffering. The fourth sight was a Hindu sadhu who seemed very peaceful. He decided to become one and left his wife and son. This was the “Great Renunciation.” He went searching for the truth and even tried to scourge himself. Finally, at age 35, he sat under a pipal tree to meditate. All night, he fought against the evil tempter Mara. As a result, he experienced enlightenment and the path to the end of suffering.
  • This path begins with 4 Noble Truths: 1. Existence is suffering (dukkha) 2. Suffering is caused by desire (tanha). 3. Liberation (nirvana) from suffering and desire is possible. 4. The Eightfold path is the way to escape – right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Basically, they are morality, concentration, and wisdom.
  • After this he gained some disciples and began preaching his way to enlightenment.
  • Basically, his teachings were rooted in Hinduism, Jainism, and other ancient religions. There was a lot of focus on suffering, meditation, and following wise teachers. Karma was again important. The goal was to progress through the reincarnation cycles and escape to Nirvana. Unlike Hinduism, which focuses on coming back in the next life, Buddhism focuses on the continuation of pure karma from one life to another.
  • But, there were many other Buddhas. Their common teachings together are the buddhavacana or the word of the Buddha. This is the essence of the eternal Dharma or teachings.

B. Bible

  • From start to finish, the Bible is about Jesus. Listen again to Hebrews 1 2 “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power…”
  • That’s why when Jesus began his ministry, he said in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” After he rose from the grave, he met some of the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 25 Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
  1. Canon:

A. Buddhist Religious Books

  • There are 3 canons based on the three main traditions: Theravada, Mahayana, and Tibetan Buddhism.
  • Theravada (way of the elders) claims to be the earliest and closest to the early Buddhist community. It is found in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia (Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Kampuchea).
  • Mahayana began around the time of Christ and spread from India to China, Korea, and Japan. It claims to be superior to Theravada. Unlike the Indian focus on nirvana, the Chinese and Japanese focus was more on enlightenment.
  • The Tibetan Buddhism or Vajrayana came in the 7th century to Tibet, and it is found in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. It is more focused on Indian tantric practices. These include mudras (physical postures), mantras (magical phrases), calling on ghosts, demons, and territorial spirits. Their leader is the Dalai Lama, who is considered to be a reincarnation of the previous 13 Dalai Lamas and is believed to be connected to Buddha.
  • Based on the 3 traditions, there are 3 different canons:

#1. Theravada – Pali Canon which has the Tripitaka (3 baskets) containing Buddha’s teachings, monastic codes, and philosophical analysis. They were passed down orally and finally penned 400 years later and agreed upon 500 more years later. This is much larger than the Bible, 11 times. This is how the Ajanta and Ellora Caves came to be. They were places for monks to study, work, and meditate.

#2. Mahayana – It has the Pali canon and many more which it considers to be superior. It has about 100,000 pages in printed form. They are like libraries. This where the Lotus Sutra comes in, if you’ve heard of it.

#3. Tibetan – part of the Mahayana tradition and other texts.

  • Buddhism has also spread to the west. It is heavily influenced by Japanese Buddhism and a new kind of Buddhism is emerging. It is a buffet style Buddhism, which tinkers with Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism, even Jodo (pure land) Buddhism.

B. Bible

  • Old Testament – 4 Canons (Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox)
  • Jewish – The traditional number of books is 24. Referred to as Mikra (that which is read) or Tanakh [T, N, K = Torah (instruction/law), Nevi’im (prophets), Kethuvim (writings)]
  • Protestant – The traditional number of the books is 39. It retains the order of the LXX but the text is based on the Hebrew Bible.
  • Roman Catholic – The traditional number of books is 49. It is based on the Alexandrian canon of the LXX. The order of books varies. It is based on current editions, such as the Jerusalem Bible and the New American Bible. The appendix of the Latin Vulgate contains 3 Esdras, 4 Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasseh.
  • Orthodox – The traditional number of the books is 53. It is based on larger versions of the LXX. “Orthodox” here refers to the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches (the Slavonic Bible being the traditional text). In Orthodox Bibles, 4 Maccabees and the Prayer of Manasseh-and in Slavonic, 3 Esdras are in an appendix.
  • The extra books found in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox canons are not part of the Jewish canon. According to Josephus, the 24 were it for the Jewish canon.
  • The Essenes from Qumran only cite from the Jewish canonical books and only wrote commentaries on them.
  • Philo (20BC – 40AD) the Jewish scholar only cites from the canonical books. So also, the NT authors stick to the canonical books. Jude quotes from 1 Enoch but it was not claimed to be canonical.
  • The extra books were added by the RC and Orthodox as important to certain Jewish people.
  • The New Testament canon of 27 books have remained the same throughout. The ones claimed recently are gnostic heretical books.
  1. Purpose (Adapted from Thane Hutcherson Ury)
A. Buddhist Religious Books B. Bible
1.    No personal god 1.    God wants us to know him.
2.    History is cyclical. No creation 2.    History is linear. Yes, creation
3.    Main problem is suffering 3.    Main problem is sin
4.    Salvation is from inside 4.    Salvation is from above
5.    Ultimate goal is Nirvana 5.    Ultimate goal is relationship with God
6.    It all happened under a tree 6.    It all happened on a tree
7.    No judgment 7.    Day appointed for judgment
8.    No life after death 8.    Eternal Life
9.    Be lamps to yourself 9.    Shine the light of Jesus
10.Without Buddha, still Buddhism 10.No Christianity without Christ

3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. The writer then goes on to compare Jesus to the Torah, Moses, the Promised Land, the priests, Melchizedek, the sacrifices, and the covenant.

Invitation: Who would you rather trust? Someone who imagined or someone who has been promised and who came in definite time and place and fulfilled that promise? Are you saved? Do you know Jesus as your Savior and King?

Inspiration by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction:  There’s an urban legend out there about a man, his car, and vanilla ice cream. By the way, an urban legend is a tall tale with a small truth. There is a small truth in this story. One day a famous car company received a complaint from a man that his car did not like vanilla ice cream. Of course, they dismissed it as a prank, but the man wrote back – the car does not start when he gets vanilla ice cream, but if it’s any other flavor, then its fine. So, just to play along, they sent an engineer to check on it. Sure enough, first day, he got vanilla and it didn’t start. Next day, he got chocolate/strawberry and it started right up! Day after, vanilla and it didn’t start! He called back to the head office and said that its true! The next day, he decided to investigate the matter further. He began to document every detail of the man’s routine. Then, he realized what was happening. The engine was experiencing a vapor lock, a problem that happened when liquid fuel became gas in the fuel delivery system of the old engines, unlike the fuel injection ones of todat. It would obstruct the fuel pump causing a loss of power. Given a few extra minutes, the obstruction would clear and it would start up. The reason it didn’t start right away when the man got vanilla ice cream was because vanilla ice cream being popular had plenty of tubs and easily accessible. He had to wait for the attendant to bring him the other flavors and it gave more time for the fuel to vaporize. It had nothing to do with the flavor of ice cream. The point is this – he sort of had a correct diagnosis of the problem, but a completely wrong prescription. We are in our apologetics series called CONTEND and we are looking at what makes the Bible different from other religious books. Main point: For a book to be inspired, it should provide more than just the correct diagnosis of the human problem. It should also provide the correct prescription. The Bible is the only book that provides both. It not only tells us that we are lost in sin, but it also points us to God’s Savior named Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…”

Context: Paul wrote those very important words to Timothy, his son in the ministry. “All Scripture” = pasa graphe. Some scholars believe that this refers only to the Old Testament and others believe that it refers to both the Old and New Testament. I believe that even if Paul didn’t mean this at that point, by process of deduction from 2 Peter 3, we can claim that it includes both the Old and the New Testament – 15 “and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” Here the questions are brought up:

  • Can other religious books claim to be Inspired?
  • Can there be truth in other religious books?

Keep in mind our chart in this miniseries. Last weekend, we focused on Revelation and the difference between how the Bible was given and how the Quran was given. This weekend, we will focus on INSPIRATION and whether there is any truth in the Hindu religious books.

Nature of the books:

  1. Hindu Religious Books (taken from Timothy Tennent and others):
  • No human authorship and historical origins of the most sacred texts.
  • True knowledge is eternally reverberating through the universe as a resonating sound known as “anahata sabda” = unstruck sound. This is symbolized by the sound “Om.” It is the essence of ultimate reality or consciousness. It is the self. It is a sacred symbol that is chanted by itself or before and after times of worship.
  • Is Om associated with God? Can be but not necessarily.
  • Unlike Christianity and the Bible which has a linear time, Hinduism depicts the world as going through endless cycles of creation and destruction, with no beginning or end. At the dawn of each unending creation cycles (yug), the sages rehear the sacred sound which is converted into knowledge and that’s the sacred tradition.
  • These traditions were passed down orally and later written down as the 4 Vedas (knowledge) – Rig (hymns), Sama (chants), Yajur (sacred formulas), and Atharva (spells). They are not 4 separate books, but 4 recensions of the same common core material.
  • Next is the Brahamans, commentary on the Vedas. This is followed by the Aranyakas, to be read in the forest. Finally, the Upanishads, philosophical and speculative material. It means “to sit down near” the guru.
  • All this is the Sruti, that which is heard. It is not rooted in history.
  • There could be more, the mysterious “fifth Veda.”
  • Then, there is the Smriti, that which is remembered. It is written by human authors and rooted in history.
  • It is secondary to Sruti.
  • This includes the philosophical Sutras, the Law books, the Puranas, the Mahabharata with the Bhagavat Gita, and the Ramayana.
  • God revealing himself is found in the Smriti, especially the Gita where Krishna reveals himself to his follower Arjuna.
  1. Bible

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” We are familiar with the words “inspire” or “inspiring,” but they mean very different things than what Paul meant here. The former imply filling someone with the urge or ability to do something good or creative. You can feel inspired by reading a good book. You can inspire others to take on a challenge in their life, but inspiration here is “theopneustos” = God breathed or God’s spiration. Here the word is referring to something that God did 2 other times in history:

  • Creation of the world – Psalm 33:6 “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.”
  • Creation of human beings – Genesis 2:7 “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

So also, the creation of his word is the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on the writers of the Scriptures that resulted in their writings being an accurate record of the special revelation, i.e., the Word of God (this discussion based on Erikson).

(Note: Revelation vs Inspiration = God to human writer vs human writer to others, then and now.)

How did God breathe his word? Did the writers have a much deeper walk with God than the rest of the people? Did the writers have a heightened sense of God’s thoughts? By inspiration we mean that God directed the thoughts of the writers so that they were exactly his thoughts. God used the personalities, gifts, trainings, and experiences of the writers, but the final choice of the words was exactly what he wanted in his providential guidance in the writer’s life and his purposes in the world. 2 Peter 1:21 “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” Hence, we hold to the verbal-plenary view of inspiration, i.e., words and the whole message.

Bottom line: there is a big difference between how the Bible was given and how the Hindu religious books came together.

Purpose of the books:

  1. Hindu Religious Books:
  • There is wisdom found here and there, but there is no atonement or redemption.
  • There is the promise to find God within oneself but it does not deal with sin.
  • Based on fear of gods, spirits, never-ending rituals, and a billion reincarnations to escape the circle of life.
  • It has oscillated between monotheism, henotheism, polytheism, and animism.
  • Overall, accept the Vedas, caste system, and worship of different gods and goddesses and protection of cows.
  • The scriptures can be divided into 3 ways: 1. The way of works (karma marga); 2. The way of knowledge (gyana marga); and 3. the way of devotion (bhakti marga). The first 2 are Sruti and the last one is Smriti. Therefore, the Hare Krishna movement leans heavily on the Gita, which is Smriti. Some of this was espoused by the Beatles, Beach Boys, and others.
  • The point is that Hinduism deals with the problem of sin but has no solution for it.
  • There is karma (what you sow is what you reap), samsara (cycle of life), and moksha (liberation out of life into the Brahman and nothingness/emptiness) through many reincarnations.
  • There’s so much more that I do not have time to go into here.
  1. Bible:

Why did God breathe the scriptures? Back up to verse 14 “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learnedthem, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Scriptures not only make us wise unto salvation, but also help us to mature and become equipped for every good work.

In my opening illustration, I mentioned that the diagnosis is there but no prescription.

“From the unreal, lead me to the real! From darkness, lead me to the light! From death, lead me to immortality!” (Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28)

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” In that statement, you have the Way (Karma Marga), Truth (Gyana Marga), and Life (Bhakti Marga).

Invitation: What are you searching for? Are you saved? Have you met Jesus Christ?

Authority by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction: Howard Hughes was a very successful American businessman. He made it big in the fields of engineering, aviation, and film making in the mid-1900s. Towards the end of his life, due to physical and mental issues, he became an eccentric and reclusive. Unbeknownst to Hughes, a journalist and novelist named Clifton Irving secured a contract with a large advance from a publishing house to write his autobiography. Irving claimed that he had exclusive interviews with Hughes, which was not true. At the last moment, Hughes and his lawyers stepped forward and exposed the whole thing as a fraud. Some people think that the Bible is nothing but a well-crafted and elaborate fraud on God perpetuated by the church to fleece the masses. In fact, here are some of the questions that you sent regarding the Bible: “Doesn’t the Bible have errors?” “What about all those books that did not make it into the Bible?” “What makes the Bible more special over other religious books?” “Aren’t all the copies of the New Testament corrupt?” “Why do the various translations disagree?” “Aren’t the biblical accounts similar to ancient myths?” It may seem like these questions regarding the Bible are all over the place, but, in reality, they are all connected to the issue of the Authority of the Bible. Main Point: The Bible is unlike any book in the world. It is the word of God without any errors, and it claims authority over our individual lives, church, and world. In fact, submission to scriptures is submission to God, more specifically to Jesus Christ.

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

Context: The first assault that Satan made against human beings in their relationship with God was regarding the Authority of the Word of God – “Has God indeed said…”That question had 2 implications: first, are you sure that’s what God said; second, are you sure you have to obey him. The first implication has to do with Revelation. The second has to do with Application. Both are a challenge to the Authority of God’s Word. To understand why the Bible is Authoritative and why we have to Obey it, we need to understand some of the other terms connected to the doctrine of Scripture. If you grew up in church, especially in evangelical circles, I’m sure you have heard a lot of big words regarding the Bible: Inerrancy, Inspiration, Revelation, Authority, Canon, Interpretation, Infallibility, and Application. What do they all mean and how are they connected? To begin with, the key word in all these words is Authority. J. I. Packer (famous evangelical theologian who authored “Knowing God”) wrote, “Authority is the basic theological issue into which discussions of biblical revelation, inspiration, and interpretation finally run.” I have come up with the following chart. It’s not perfect, but it helps us to understand how all the terms connect to Authority and to each other:

  • The Bible has to be obeyed (Application) because it is Authoritative.
  • Before you can properly apply, you have to correctly interpret it (Interpretation).
  • The Authority only extends to the Canonical books because they alone were recognized by the church.
  • They alone were recognized by the church as Canonical because they alone were Inspired.
  • Because they are Inspired, they are Inerrant.
  • They are Inspired and Inerrant because they were Revealed by God through the Holy Spirit to his people.

Let’s start at the beginning:

1. Revelation: This is God making himself known to human beings. There are 2 kinds –

A. General

i. Nature – Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.”

ii. History – Daniel 2:21 “And He changes the times and the seasons; he removes kings and raises up kings.”

iii. Human Nature – Romans 2:14 “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves.” This is only about right and wrong, not salvation.

 B. Special – We need more specific information in order to be saved. Acts 4:12 “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” This is where the 66 books of the Bible come in. The information in them is Personal, Anthropic, and Analogical. They come as historical acts (Abraham and Isaac; Babylonian exile), divine speech (“The word of the Lord came to me…”) and the incarnation of Jesus.

2. Inspiration: This is the process by which revelation is recorded and communicated to God’s people. More specifically, “the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on selected individuals which rendered them the instruments of God for the infallible communication of his mind and will” (Charles Hodge). 2 Timothy 3 16 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, (theopneustos = God-breathed) and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” It is verbal (very words and not just concepts and subjects) and plenary (all is equally inspired even if certain parts are more beneficial than others). Also, it has both the human and divine elements (differences between the styles of the prophets and the writings of the gospels). 2 Peter 1:21 “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

3. Inerrancy: “[Inerrancy] is a corollary of the doctrine of full inspiration of the Bible. The view of the Bible held and taught by the writers of Scripture implies the full truthfulness of the Bible” (Millard Erickson). Here’s the best definition: “When all the facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.” (Paul D. Feinberg)

Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”

Matthew 5:18 “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”

Note: Infallible – usually used by those who allow for the possibility that the Bible may not be fully free from error. They limit inerrancy to matters of faith and practice, especially salvation.

4. Authority – Here’s the definition of the “authority of Scripture” by Wayne Grudem – “The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.” The Bible has both bestowed and inherent authority. Because of its content that points to the living true God, it has bestowed authority. Because it is inspired and inerrant, it has inherent authority. It has authority over individual lives, church, and culture. Submission to scriptures is submission to God, more specifically Jesus Christ.

Joshua 1:8 “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

1 Thessalonians 2:13 “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”

5. Canon: Here “canon” refers to the list of authoritative books. It is often falsely alleged by the skeptics of Christianity that the church picked those books that fit their socio-political agenda. This is sensational history repeated in novels like The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. That’s just not true! The canon was providentially set by the Holy Spirit and the church councils in the third century simply affirmed those books. The true evidence is seen in their use by God’s people from the first century. Very early on, they made lists of books that were deemed authoritative. Yes, there are certain Bibles that have extra books in the Old Testament. We will discuss that in the weeks ahead, but this is not so in the New Testament. Most of the extra-canonical books are Gnostic in origin.

6. Application: Ever since the end of the seventeenth century, there has been a growing shift in the western culture regarding the word authority. Prior to the coming of modernism, authority was looked upon as a benefit. Since then, it is looked upon as a hindrance to the free inquiry of truth. Authority is considered to be the opposite of truth. Obeying the Bible is seen as optional and even detrimental to freedom. We have to once again recognize that the Scriptures are not only authoritative as a top down authority, but they are very beneficial to us because they truly know us and can help us. Hebrews 4 12 “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

7. Interpretation: In order to obey, scriptures have to be properly interpreted. We have to use all the possible methods that will help us get to the heart of what God is saying and what he is expecting of us. Does the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart guarantee accurate interpretation? How can two people taught by the Holy Spirit have conflicting views on a passage? Does the Holy Spirit give us deeper meaning that cannot be reached by a normal study of a passage? In what way does the Holy Spirit guide our understanding in the study of God’s Word? Only the saved can be enabled by the Holy Spirit to truly appreciate and apply the Word (I Corinthians 2:14; I Thessalonians 1:6).

We began with Satan’s challenge to the Authority of God’s Word in the lives of Adam and Eve. I want to close with his similar challenge in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Matthew 4       3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” 5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: “He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” 10   Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” 11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

Invitation: How much Authority does the Word of God have in your life? Ultimately, the Bible is God’s rescue manual to save you. Are you saved?

Greater Than Rome

GREATER – THAN ROME by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: How many of you have ever played “King of the Hill” as kids? The objective is to stay on top of the hill or pile and keep others from pushing you off. Unfortunately, people don’t stop playing that game when they grow up. They become rulers, kings, queens, and emperors. With Christmas upon us, we will be going through a 3-week series titled “GREATER.” We will learn how Jesus was greater than all the rulers and power brokers of the world in which he was born. In this first message, we will see that Jesus was “GREATER THAN ROME.” Please find Luke 2. Here’s the main point: Our world has seen rulers rise and fall, and empires come and go. But, there is only one who stands greater than all, and whose kingdom has no end. It is Jesus Christ. Many have tried to overshadow him, but, as someone said, “When small men cast long shadows, it is a sign that their sun is about to set.” Jesus stands greater than all, and the sun cannot set on him because he made the sun and the moon and the stars.

Luke 2:1 “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.”

Context: The passage I just read is very familiar, especially during Christmas time. We usually rush past this to Joseph going to his hometown of Bethlehem and Mary giving birth to the baby Jesus and wrapping him in swaddling clothes because there was no room for them in the inn. Then, there were shepherds in the fields watching over their flocks by night and the angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were greatly afraid, and on and on. We miss something very important in the opening verses of Luke 2. The gospel writer Luke has given us some very important information about the world in which Jesus came. Listen again to verse 1 “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.” The Greek word for “decree” is dogma, an imperial declaration. With just one decree, your entire world could be turned upside down.

Application: Do ya’ll understand what that means? This is why it is vital that we speak out and we know our rights. Having our voices heard and be strong in politics is not optional.

Who was Caesar Augustus? Caesar Augustus was the emperor of Rome when Jesus was born. His birth name was actually Octavius. He was the great nephew and the adopted son of Julius Caesar, who was the dictator of Rome until he was assassinated. Octavius ascended the throne after him, but he wasn’t much of a soldier so he linked up with 2 Roman generals and politicians – Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus – and began avenging the death of Julius Caesar. He was brutal and did not spare any who stood up to him. He even had coins minted with Julius Caesar’s image on one side with the words “the God Julius” and his image on the other side with the words “Caesar, Son of a God.” But, he was not satisfied with being one of three and so he first got rid of Lepidus. Then, he defeated Mark Anthony at the battle of Actium, who committed suicide along with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. They knew what would happen if they fell into the hands of Octavius. Now, Octavius was the only man standing. He was powerful and cruel, to say the least. He established the Pretorian Guard – private bodyguards of 5000 soldiers. The Senate was afraid of him and gave him power over the proconsuls and the armies. They even made him “Pontifex Maximus” or the chief priest of the state religion. Their own position was reduced to being just advisors.

But there’s more – there were provinces in Asia that had supported Mark Antony. Now Octavius was in power and they were going to pay for that. Very quickly delegations came from city of Pergamum and the city of Nicaea informing him that they were going to make him a god and needed his permission to build temples in his name. Of course, Octavius said, “That’s okay. You don’t have to. But, if you insist….” Two years later, the senate even gave him the title we find in Luke 2:1 – “Augustus,” which means “great” as in god. He became Caesar Augustus, not only the Emperor of Rome but also a god who had been appointed by the will of the other gods. It was in his hands to bring the “pax deorum” or the peace of the gods to the mortals on the earth. He was the incarnation of all the gods. He was the savior. The people loved him. He expanded the Roman Empire, rebuilt temples and public buildings, reorganized the Senate, and brought opportunities to the people. He was so popular that Roman men even adopted his hairstyle. For the first time there was peace in the world, as long as you didn’t oppose Octavius. One scholar noted that never before in the history of the world was a man worshipped like Octavius – Caesar Augustus.

Some of you are thinking – how come we’ve never heard of him? Have you ever looked at the calendar? The sixth month is named after the god Julius Caesar and the seventh month is named after Caesar Augustus – August. None of this was by accident. The Romans had a “complex and vibrant ideological matrix” (David Nystrom) on how to leave a Roman legacy. One scholar (Nystrom) said it this way – “He (Augustus) did not fundamentally alter it by assuming the trappings of personal supremacy, but rather magnified it by directing Roman tradition through the prism of his own story.” In other words, what did it mean to worship Augustus or to call an emperor “king”? (Nystrom)

  1. The Romans claimed that they were ordained by the gods to conquer and civilize.
  2. The Romans believed in the conviction that their rule was just.
  3. The Romans believed that their domination was not fixed by the “limits of the earth but by the limits of the sky” (Cicero).
  4. The Romans had a steep social pyramid based on wealth, class, ancestry, and location.
  5. The Roman empire was an urban phenomenon, with Rome as the ideal and the goal was to spread “Romanitas” – Roman values or Romanness.
  6. The Romans expected and practiced self-promotion, with ultimate power being in the hands of a select few.
  7. The Roman religion was not about faith. In fact, it was looked down upon as being weak. Religion was about gods, sacrifices, and duty.

Why did Augustus want the world to be registered? Taxes. More money was needed to fund the growing army – 28 legions, each legion had over 5000 soldiers. But, there’s something more – Herod the king of Judea had made Octavius mad and this was his way of proving a point to Herod that he was the boss. Amazing isn’t it? Everybody’s life is turned upside just so he can prove a point. Verse 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.  3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. In short, Augustus had turned everybody’s life upside down with one decree.

How about Jesus? 4 “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.” Augustus thinks that he has really told Herod. What he doesn’t realize is that he was just a pawn in God’s eternal plan. Eight hundred years earlier a prophet by the name of Micah had prophesied the location of the Messiah’s birth. Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”

Greatness is found when you are faithful and obedient, and God writes your legacy.

6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. The word for inn is “kataluma,” which is guestroom. Joseph and Mary were probably staying with some friends and couldn’t find any privacy and had to deliver Jesus in the family room. Unlike Caesar Augustus who was living in the lap of luxury, the King of Kings had to spend his first night where the animals were tied.

Greatness is not in turning other peoples’ lives upside down. It is in laying our lives down for others.

8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:  14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”  16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.  17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.  18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

Greatness is when God comes to you and you know that you don’t deserve it.

Augustus had his “Res Gestae” (things done) left with the Vestal Virgins (Priestess to the goddess Vesta) to be read in the senate after his death. Only 3 copies have been found. Series of inscriptions were also written in the Forum Augusti with statutes of great men all round and Augustus in the middle riding in a chariot with the title “Father of his country.

What is the legacy of Jesus Christ? Eternity is not enough to list it!

Invitation: The world has an idea of greatness that fades away. God’s greatness never fades. Are you faithful and obedient? Are you laying your life down for others? Do you realize that you don’t deserve anything but hell? Are you saved?

Firm Resolve by Dr. Abidan Shah

FIRM RESOLVE by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  How many of you know of the “Loser’s Limp?” Zig Ziglar (in his classic book “See you at the top”) described it like this – “Characteristically, when a person falls victim to Garbage-Dump Thinking, he develops an assortment of ‘Loser’s Limps.’ You know what the Loser’s Limp is if you’ve ever attended a football game or watched one on television…The offensive player slips behind the defensive player, reaches up, pulls in a pass and heads for the end zone. The defensive man quickly recovers and takes out in hot pursuit. When the offensive player gets about 20 yards from the end zone, the defensive player realizes he’s not going to catch the man with the ball. Everybody in the stands knows it too. So, the defensive player frequently pulls up limping and the people in the stands say, ‘Well, no wonder the poor guy couldn’t catch him. Look, he’s crippled.’ Now that is his Loser’s Limp.” As we move forward in this series on 1 Peter, we’re going to learn how to avoid the Loser’s Limp during trials; and instead, make a FIRM RESOLVE (title) to press forward in the Christian life. Please find 1 Peter 1:13. Main point: When going through trials, it’s easy to become irrational, hopeless, and even revert back to our old ways. In such times, it is imperative that we make a firm resolve to be sober and look to Jesus, our source of hope. Ultimately, hopeful lives are holy lives.

1 Peter 1:13 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Background: This verse marks a shift in the focus of the letter. It begins with the Greek word “dio,” which means “therefore.” If you’re a Bible student or a Sunday School teacher, I’m sure you’ve told your students that “when you see a ‘therefore’ in the Bible, ask yourself ‘what is it there for’ or ‘what is its purpose?’” “Therefore” is a call to action based on what has been said thus far. What has been said thus far? After the opening greeting in the first two verses, Peter gave a long doxology from verses 3-12. In this long Greek sentence, he reminded the pilgrims of the Dispersion (Jewish and Gentile background believers in Asia Minor who were facing rejection by their own and societal discrimination by their neighbors) that even though—

1. Their own had rejected them and their neighbors had ostracized them. 1. God had chosen them and rebirthed them into his family.
2. They were feeling hopeless. 2. They had a living hope which was based on God himself.
3. They had lost their inheritance. 3. God had an inheritance – incorruptible, undefiled, andunfading – waiting for them.
4. Their trials were causing them grief. 4. Trials were opportunities for God to test and purify their faith so that they will receive praise, honor, glory when Christ comes.
5. They felt like mourning. 5. They were to rejoice with an exultant joy, the shouting joy that opens the pressure valve through trials.
6. They hadn’t seen Christ and still couldn’t see him. 6. They had a special love and trust relationship with Jesus Christ.
7. Christ was invisible. 7. Christ become visible to them and filled their hearts with joy inexpressible and full of glory.
8. They felt unsure as to where life was headed. 8. Christ had given them the assurance of their salvation.
9. They were people with no past and no future. 9. They were part of God’s greater plan of salvation, which the prophetshad tried to search it out and the angelsstill try to figure it out.
10. They could only see suffering. 10. The salvation plan included the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. If they suffered with Christ, they will also share with him in glory. No sufferings, no glory.

 Here’s the point: God gives us plenty of reasons to overcome and press forward through our trials.

Application: What reasons do you have to overcome the trials in your life? Can you see the purpose of trials in your life? Have you been born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Do you have a love and trust relationship with him? Is your life tethered to God’s greater plan of salvation? Do you know that there is no glory without suffering?

Listen again: 13 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind…” “Gird up the loins” is a Semitic idiom that means “tuck your long robe into your belt so you can move freely, rapidly, and without hindrance.” We would say, “roll up your sleeves.” Peter went a step further – 13 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind…” In his characteristic style, Peter mixed metaphors here. He was telling the pilgrims of the Dispersion not to let the trials and circumstances of their lives cause them to lose their mind, their focus.

Application: Are you guarding your mind? What do you allow to go into your mind? Who has the key to your mind? Here are some scriptures to remember:

  • Romans 12: 2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
  • 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
  • 2 Corinthians 10:5 “…bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
  • Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

Instead, “nephontes” (be sober), which was the opposite of being drunk and losing self-control.

Application: Are you sober enough to properly process information and be judicious and prudent? Do you make rash decisions?

Instead of losing your mind and indulging, 13 “…and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” “Rest your hope fully” is the first imperative (command) of 1 Peter. Keep in mind that in verse 3 Peter had told them that God had begotten them to a living hope, but now he told them to hope fully in the grace that is coming when Jesus comes. Also, in verse 10, Peter had told them that the prophets had prophesied of the grace that would come to them, but now he told them that grace is still on the way. The point is this: the work has begun but more is on the way; this glimpse of the fuller reality should help you live confidently today. The fact that we have lost confidence in the present is because we cannot see what lies in the future. As you see the heavenly city, it should help you live even more confidently now. This should make you fight even harder! For example: VE-Day was May 8, 1945, the war was already over on D-Day, June 6, 1944 when in “Operation Overlord” 1000 ships carrying 200,000 soldiers sailed across the English Chanel to France and landed on the shores of Normandy.

Application: Can you see what is coming for believers? Do you know that we win? As the adage goes, “we don’t fight to victory, but we fight from victory.” “If your faith cannot get you through one year, what makes you think it will get you through eternity!”

There’s more – 14 “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance.” Because they had been born again by the Father through the resurrection of the Son, they were to be “obedient children.” They are not to be obedient slaves but obedient children. There is a sense of dignity and choice implied. God doesn’t want us to obey out of fear but out of a willing heart. We are living in a culture where people will obey every mandate of human beings but disobey the commandments of God, even Christians. Peter warned them not to revert back to their former lusts in their time of ignorance. The word for lust “epithumia” is not just about the worst sins like gluttony, lust, greed, and pride, this is about the kind of life that lives to please self and reject God. It is about self-glory, self-preservation, and self-promotion. This is from the time of “ignorance.” This does not mean “lack of knowledge” but a life that doesn’t understand the need for God and his salvation in our lives. Some of the smartest people are ignorant because they haven’t realized that they need to be saved through Jesus Christ.

Application: Are you still in your time of ignorance? Are you still living by your fleshly lusts? Do you recognize your need to be saved?

Finally, what should be our standard through trials? 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” Peter points back to the Holiness Code between Leviticus 11-20 (11:44; 19:2). Nothing has changed with regards to what God expects from his people. Keep in mind that Holiness is separation from the profane.

Application: Are you taking the time to be holy, to be separate? Are you set apart for God’s purpose? Are you sober minded? Are you resting your hope fully in what is coming through Christ? Are you obedient? Are you saved?

Greater Plan by Dr. Abidan Shah

GREATER PLAN by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction: When the kids were young, sometimes they would enjoy helping me in the yard, some more than others. It would start out with a lot of excitement until they got tired, bored, or hot. Then, they would go back in the house to get a snack or a drink, and I wouldn’t see them after that. Although they would genuinely help me, I always knew that the bulk of the work was going to be on me. In the evening, we would get ice-cream to celebrate, it was not just for “my” work but “our” work. As you know, we’re in our series on 1 Peter and we now come to verse 10. Main point: When the trials of life become too distressing, you have to remember that you are simply a small part of God’s greater plan. In other words, when doubts arise as to where life is headed and what God is doing, tether yourself to God’s eternal plan of salvation through Christ. It began before you and it will continue to those after you. Here’s the best part – If you suffer with Christ, you will also share with him in glory. The title is “GREATER PLAN.”

1 Peter 1:10 “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you.”

Context: Here Peter was talking about the salvation of the pilgrims of the dispersion in Asia Minor. These were Jewish background and Gentile background believers in the Anatolian peninsula, modern day Turkey, who were facing persecution in the form of ostracization and rejection by their own families and community. This was all because they had received Jesus Christ as their Savior. Peter encouraged them to rejoice (aggalion = exultant joy, shouting joy) knowing that God was testing their faith and purifying them through their trials. He also reminded them to keep their eyes on Jesus Christ, whom they had not seen historically but they loved him and whom they could not see presently but they trusted him. As they loved and trusted Jesus through their trials, his invisible presence became visible and filled their hearts with joy inexpressible and full of glory. Not only that, but they also received the assurance that they would receive the end of their faith—the salvation of their souls.

Application: As you’re going through your trials, how is your love for Jesus? Do you take the time to think on his earthly ministry? Does your heart overflow with love for him? Are you trusting him every day? Do you take the time to reflect on his heavenly ministry right now? Does your heart take on new courage and strength knowing that he is with you? Do you have the assurance of your salvation? Are you saved?

Peter was not through. Since he brought up the subject of their salvation, he wanted them to understand how privileged they were in the whole course of salvation history, God’s greater plan. Listen again to 1 Peter 1:10 “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you.” Which prophets was Peter talking about? The Old Testament prophets. They inquired (ekzeitein) and searched carefully (eraunein). When those words are used in the context of discovering divine will, they have a very deliberate and meditative meaning. In other words, this was not just some side hobby or idle pursuit. They were very intense and intentional in their search:

  • We could start with Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people. In Genesis 20:7, God called him a prophet. Did he inquire and search carefully? Jesus said in John 8:56“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
  • How about Moses? He said in Deuteronomy 18:15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.” When Jesus began his ministry, people began to make the connection with what Moses had said – John 6:14 “Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’”

By the way, their search was not about the nature of his coming but about the timing of his coming. Listen to 1 Peter 1:11 “searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” The phrase “searching what, or what manner of time” should be read as “what time or what sort of time.” They knew what the Christ would do when he came; their question was “when?”:

  • Listen to David in Psalm 22 15 “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. 16 For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet…18 They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” No confusion there about how the Christ would suffer!
  • Also, listen to Isaiah 53     5 “But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. 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.” Again, no confusion here regarding how the Christ would suffer.
  • I don’t have time to bring up the rest of the prophets. Listen to Peter in his sermon from Solomon’s porch in the temple in Acts 3:24 “Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days.” The point is that the suffering of Christ was no afterthought. It was well understood. Their question was “when?”

Who was prompting this questioning? The “Spirit of Christ” = The Holy Spirit. By the way, this timing question became even more intense as it got closer to his coming:

  • Isaiah 6:11 “Then I said, ‘Lord, how long?’”
  • Daniel 12 8 “…Then I said, ‘My lord, what shall be the end of these things?’ 9 And he said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.’” Illustration: Like kids asking “Are we there yet?”
  • Habakkuk 1:2 “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear?” Habakkuk 2 2“Then the LORD answered me and said…3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.’”

By the way, this was not just about Christ’s suffering but as verse 11 adds, “the glories that would follow.” What are these glories? 1. Resurrection – 1 Peter 1:21 “who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory…” 2. Ascension and Authority – 1 Peter 3:22 “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.”

What is the point of all this? 12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven…” Throughout their existence, the people of old, especially the Old Testament prophets lived in the light of Christ’s coming suffering and glory. They faced their trials in the shadow of this greater plan of suffering and glory. More importantly, they did all this for us:

  • When Abraham took Isaac to Mount Moriah, he had this greater plan in mind.
  • When Joseph lay dying, he spoke to his brethren about this greater plan.
  • When Rahab the prostitute hid the spies in her house, she had this greater plan in mind.
  • When David was fleeing for his life from Saul, he wrote about this greater plan in his psalms.
  • When Jeremiah wrote to encourage the people in exile, he had this greater plan in mind.
  • When Esther resolved to stand up for her people saying “if I perish, I perish,” she had the greater plan in mind.

I can go on and on, the point is this – Those Old Testament people faced their trials with the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow with us in mind. In a way, they were partaking in Christ’s suffering that would come in the future, along with the glories that would follow. By the way, a side note here – 12 “…things which angels desire to look into.” Meaning: The angels watch in awe this entire drama throughout human history!

What is the application for us? Some people live in the microcosm of their own trials, griefs, pains, and uncertainties. They feel defeated, disillusioned, or distressed. They want God to get them through or bless them with something or teach them some great truth or principle. What if life was never meant to be lived in some personal bubble. What if my suffering or yours were part of a divine Master plan? What if our trials were meant for us to connect with the sufferings of Christ and the glories that are to follow? What if what we’re going through is not for us but for those coming after us? What if we are to rejoice and not reject the sufferings of life? Listen to 1 Peter 4:13 “but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”

Here’s the principle: If you don’t tether yourself to God’s greater plan of salvation through Christ, the storms of life will carry you away or tear you to pieces or leave you bruised and wounded. And, when you get through, that’s it. There’re no glories to follow.

Invitation: Are you bogged down with the immediate? Can you see what God is doing through your storm? Can you see what God is doing through the storm of 2020? What are doing for those who are coming behind you? Are you saved?

Prayer: Doctrine by Dr. Abidan Shah

Prayer Doctrine.jpg

PRAYER – DOCTRINE by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction:  Kids have some very interesting prayers! I found a few online:

  • Dear God, If you give me genie lamp like Alladin I will give you anything you want except my money or my chess set. Raphael
  • Dear God, Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each so much if they had their own rooms. It works with my brother. Larry
  • Dear God, Thank you for the baby brother but what I prayed for was a puppy. Joyce
  • Dear God, Please send Dennis Clark to a different camp this year. Peter
  • God, I would like to live 900 years like the guy in the Bible. Love, Chris.
  • Dear God, I want to be just like my Daddy when I get big but not with so much hair all over. Sam

Unlike kids, who pray with a childlike faith and innocence, adults have a complex and sometimes even an unbelieving attitude towards prayer. Today we begin a 2-part series on prayer: first, we will focus on doctrine, and then, on practice. Here’s the main point of the first message on the doctrine of prayer: Our prayers reflect our understanding of God’s providence. In other words, our understanding of how much God is in control and how much free will we have will directly impact how and how much we pray.

1 John 5     14 “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”

Background: The Greek word for confidence is “parresia,” which can be translated as openness, confidence, boldness, and frankness. This is the kind of spirit we should have when we come to God in prayer.

As many of you know, I grew up in a Christian home with a pastor for my dad. We were not a perfect family, but we were a praying family. From an early age, I remember watching my mom, my dad, and my grandma pray. In church, I remember listening to adults pray, just like we do here. We even had home prayer meetings twice a week. We had 2 different language services (still do) and we would meet at different people’s homes each week to pray; Wednesday evening was people of the Hindi language service and Thursday would be of the English language service. As a little boy, I remember praying all the time—for a baby sister, for a new bike, for new shoes, for good grades in school, for being able to win a race with the other boys. I believed in prayer. But then, it happened. When, I can’t pinpoint the time, but I began to become more “realistic” and “grownup” about what I asked in my prayers. I began to lose the childlike faith and innocence in my prayers. I still prayed, but it wasn’t the same. I believe I have just described the prayer life of most of you here.

Why do we experience such a shift in our prayer life? Short answer: We grow up and face real life. We go through suffering and loss. Our hopes get dashed. Our prayers remain unanswered. We even come face-to-face with evil. Now, there is a change in our view of God and our prayers. It’s like the child who has a toy doctor kit and one day he gets a little cut. Instead of using the instruments (thermometer, stethoscope, blood pressure kit) in the box, mom and dad take him/her to a real doctor or nurse who have real instruments. That’s when the child realizes that the instruments are simply toys. They are just pretend. Now, the child does play with the kit but it’s only pretend.

Long answer: Real life jars our view of God’s providence, and, with that, our prayers change as well. Let’s begin with defining the word “Providence.” For starters, that word is not found in the Bible but the concept is everywhere. Basically, it is the answer to how much is God in control of the world he has created and how much can we influence him. When we begin to seriously deal with the matter of God’s providence, a lot of complex and deep questions rise up. I don’t have time to deal with all of them here. There are some wonderful books out there like “Providence and Prayer” by Terrance Tiessen. Here, I just want to bring out a few of the major ones (they are interconnected): Is God timeless or is he bound by time just as we are? Because if he is in the same boat as we are, then, how can he really be prepared for what is coming around the corner? Does God know the future? How much does he know? If he does know the future, why doesn’t he do something about bad things? Does God allow evil to exist? Is he helpless to combat evil? Is he allowing evil to bring about something good? How about when it brings a lot of pain? Do I have any free will? Can people interfere with the plan of God? Does God change his mind? Bottom line: Does prayer change things?

If such questions about God’s providence are not answered, our prayer life will suffer.

Here’s how the proper view of the providence of God can help our prayer life:

  1. God’s providential control is comprehensive, detailed, capable, loving, and best.

There is much about the providence of God in creation in the Book of Psalms and Job. But, here is a classic passage from Matthew 6     26 “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 28 So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Matthew 10     29 “…And not one of them (sparrows) falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. 30But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Miracles are also part of his equation, but they are rare.When they don’t happen, we have to trust his perfect plan.

  1. People act freely within God’s overall will.

The best way to understand that is to imagine a road trip growing up. Mom and dad will get to the destination but it’s up to us as to how we will enjoy the trip. When it comes to humans, his sovereign will is always done, even if his moral will may be rejected. God’s purpose was to bring the people into the Promised Land. This was a preparation for the coming of the Messiah one day. Nonetheless, they all had a choice in how they would live in the land.Joshua 24:15 “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Even evil has been allowed to exist temporarily but the boundary is set, as in Job. In his divine wisdom and care, he allows it. Through his foreknowledge, God already knows what we or evil will do, but everything is always within his reach and control. Isaiah 46:10 “Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’”

  1. God works in us to bring us in partnership with his will and he uses prayers as a major means.

This happens through scripture, prayer, (personal and corporate) and fellowship with other believers. 1 John 5     14 “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” Moses prayed for God’s people and miracles happened. The early church prayed and circumstances changed. Amos 3:7 “Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” Jesus wanted his disciples to participate in prayer. John 16      23 “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” This applies to our personal lives as well because we are connected to his comprehensive plan. James 4:2 “…Yet you do not have because you do not ask.” Can we change the mind of God? In his perfect wisdom and plan, he has even allowed for that. His overall plan is always intact, but it does impact the immediate plan of God.

  1. Providence, Prayer, and everything else are ultimately connected to our salvation through Jesus Christ.

In every petition, we should ask – “How does the gospel of Jesus Christ fit in?” Don’t ask for a Ferrari to get to church on time! Romans 8     26 “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Invitation: What do you believe about prayer? Does God answer? Can he answer? Have you prayed to invite Jesus into your life to be your Savior and King?

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