Reflections by Joel Uriel

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
- Acts 17:11

Monday, May 31, 2010

Wretched

O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? -Romans 7:24 KJV

Amazing Grace

At a young age, he was a merchant sailor with whose reputation was so bad that it made other sailors blush. Before long, he became British slave trader. So wretched was he, that even his crew was disgusted. Once in a drunken stupor he fell overboard. To rescue him, crewmembers threw a harpoon through his leg so they could pull him back on board.

On another of his voyages, his ship nearly sank in a fierce storm. They lost most of the food, their ability to navigate, and were literally within days of cannibalism. By the time they reached land, John Newton finally recognized God's hand on his life. Newton left his ungodly ways, stopped slave trading, and became a pastor committed to ending slavery.

Saved by grace

John Newton was not being humble when he wrote "that saved a wretch like me." Slave traders are pretty low on the "sinners" list. The apostle Paul tells us in 1st Timothy 1:10, that enslavers rate down there with those who kill their parents.

Wretch is a pretty strong term; To be wretched is to be hopeless, Despicable; hatefully vile and contemptible.

Q What goes through your head when you sing "a wretch like me"? Do you have an honest recognition of your state? Do you think, "That's me – Hopeless and despicable, in desperate need of God's grace." Or do you think, "That's putting it a little harsh." We should replace "wretch like me" with "wretch like Charles." If we're honest with ourselves, most of think we stack up pretty well in the grand scheme of things.

To those who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:

"Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." – Luke 18:9-14 KJV

We cannot receive God's saving grace until we repent of our sins. I've had a chance to witness to a young man who has trouble understanding this fact. He freely admits that he has made a mess of many things in his life, but he thinks that he can make up for them by doing good deeds. In his case he plans to enter the military. Perhaps the military is where God wants to use him, but he cannot work off his sins in the military. He, just like all of us, must honestly and humbly admit his wretched state to God.

Grace alone can save a wretch like me. (Repeat that with me, but insert your own name.)

Not getting what we deserve

What exactly is grace? We use the word in so many ways: we say grace before meals, credit cards have a grace period, and people have been named Grace.

The grace Newton wrote about is God's saving grace. Grace is to not receive the punishment we deserve for our wretchedness.

Example 1:

Let say you got pulled over for doing 70 down Hospital Drive; not only that, but your tags are expired, your license is revoked, there's no insurance on the car, you're not wearing a seat belt, and to top it off, you swear at the officer and ask him why he isn't guarding Dunkin Donuts.

If he lets you off with a stern warning, you could call that grace.

Getting better than we deserve

But grace is even more. Grace is the application of Christ's righteousness to the sinner (GRACE = Gods riches at Christ's Expense). An undeserved blessing freely bestowed on man by God. It is this incredible kindness that He shows us, in ways both great and small.

Example 2:

Now say you're a server at IHOP and you're having a horrible day; you're late for work (which is why you were speeding earlier), you mess some guy's order, spill water and then pour coffee on him, and swear at him again (Again because your customer is the same officer who pulled you over earlier).

Now imagine he gives you a $200 tip – that's grace. Grace is getting better than we deserve.

Depths of grace

Now back to John Newton: I love stories of dramatic conversions, those 180ยบ changes. We've had some come through our church with such stories. I love them, but I can't fully relate. Most of us have a "three steps forward, two steps back" walk with the Lord. We often mean well, but our actions don't quite match our intentions.

When I told you about Newton's conversion, I left a key piece of information: From the time from when he became a Christian until when he gave up slave trading was six years. And it took 25 more years for him to speak out against slavery.

Perhaps what makes grace so amazing is its depth. God is amazingly patient with frail and failing people, like John Newton, like you and like me.

  • Q Do you know someone who has been "saved," but never changed?
  • Q Are you that someone?

God's patience is often mistaken for permission to sin. Paul addressed this in Romans:

What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? - Romans 6:15-16 KJV

When we, as genuine believers, take grace as permission to continue sinning, it shows we don't understand sin. Sin is a fatal disease, something to get away from, not something to get away with.

Sin is what destroys us, destroys others, and destroys our relationship with God – that's why God wants us to be free from it.

It is the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit that leads us to holiness, and away from sin, is a gift of grace, not burden.

Grace is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin.

As John Newton reached the end of his life and thought back on those six years he spent as a "Christian" slave trader, did he think, "Look what I got away with!"? Or, did he more likely think "Through many dangers, toils and snares, You, Lord, have lead me home; dangers I put myself in, toils and pain I inflicted on myself and others, snares that nearly snagged my soul."?

When it is our turn to stand before God, and we clearly seeing how much damage our sins did, will we say "Wow, look at all I got away with," or will we say, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Anything before God?

Here is another question that was asked by a 9 year old visitor to my old website:

Ok first I know that GOD was here before anything, but how? I mean it's just so confusing.

     For a thousand years in thy sight [are but] as yesterday when it is past, and [as] a watch in the night.
          -Psalm 90:4 (KJV)

     But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day [is] with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
          -2nd Peter 3:8 (KJV)

Time was created by God. Because God is eternal and outside of time, to him, one day is the same as a thousand years. The Study Bible I use (The Evidence Bible by Ray Comfort) has a very good explanation for this:

    The question of who made God can be answered by simply looking at space and asking, “Does space have an end?” Obviously, it doesn’t. If there is a brick wall with “The End” written on it, the question arises, “What is behind the brick wall?” Strain the mind though it may, we have to believe (have faith) that space has no beginning and no end. The same applies with God. He has no beginning and no end. He is eternal.
    The Bible also informs us that time is a dimension that God created, into which man was subjected. It even tells us that one day time will no longer exist. That will be called “eternity.” God Himself dwells outside of the dimension He created (2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:2). He dwells in eternity and is not subject to time. God spoke history before it came into being. He can move through time as a man flips through a history book. Because we live in the dimension of time, logic and reason demand that everything must have a beginning and an end. We can understand the concept of God’s eternal nature the same way we understand the concept of space having no beginning and end—by faith. We simply have to believe they are so, even though such thoughts put a strain on our distinctly insufficient cerebrum.

    -"The Evidence Bible" (Bridge-Logos Publishers), Page 769

It is natural for us to think that everything has to have a beginning (and an end) as we are born into the dimension of time. But God, who created time, exists outside of time, and is not subject to it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How man came to Earth

Several years ago I ran a website called "Reflections". I accepted Christ as my savior many years ago, but in many cases I was a "Christian" in name only. It wasn't until around 10-12 years ago that I really started seeking what being a Christian meant. At that time, I started doing a lot of research, and I created the Reflection website to share what I had learned. At that time I was blessed to be asked an assortment of questions by several of the visitors to my website.

Reflections has been off-line for several years now, but I came across a copy of the site I had stashed away. As I looked over the information, some of the information was definitely written from a Christian "newbie" perspective, others were pretty well researched. I thought I would share some of those here. I figure that these might help someone who is new in their faith, who are asking the same questions I had.

While running Reflections, I was asked several questions by a 9 year old and her family. I thought I would share one of her questions and my answer to her.

Do you watch scientific shows? Well I do with my dad. If you do than maybe or maybe not you've wondered which story is true about how mankind came to earth. Well that was my question.

I love Science and Science Fiction shows, but often both attempt to come up with their own ideas as to where we came from. The two most common look for ungodly reasons as to why we are on Earth:

A) Aliens – The common idea in this is that we were either planted on earth by an alien race, or that we are an experiment by aliens, or that we are somehow descended from Aliens who came to earth. Of course this doesn't answer the original question. If any of these three were true, then where did the original Aliens come from? Something (God) would have had to have created the Aliens.

B) Muck/slime/ooze – This idea suggests that we came about by random chance, that somehow after millions or billions of years nothing, some form of life randomly appeared. Then, after yet another million or billions of years pass, somehow that randomly created life managed to randomly mutate into a Professor with a PhD. Without intelligent, creative input, lifeless chemicals cannot form themselves into living things. This theory, known as spontaneous generation, was disproved by the great creationist founder of microbiology, Louis Pasteur.

The True Story of How Man came to Earth can be found in Genesis:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his [own] image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
    -Genesis 1:26-27 (KJV)

On day six of creation, God made man. We were created on the same day as all the land based animals (yes, this includes dinosaurs!).

I hope that this is helpful information. If your parents allow you to access the internet, I recommend the following web sites that can help with further studies:

ChristianAnswers.Net - http://christiananswers.net

Answers in Genesis - http://www.answersingenesis.org/

The Institute for Creation Research - http://www.icr.org/

The Christian Apologetic Research Ministry - http://www.carm.org/

Creation Super Library - http://christiananswers.net/creation/

Archaeology and the Bible - http://christiananswers.net/archaeology/

As always, the first place to look is in God's word itself (the Bible).  I am honored that you have asked me these things. Please feel free to ask any other questions you may have.

"The more I study Nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator"
    -Louis Pasteur, "The Evidence Bible" (Bridge-Logos Publishers), page 1454

Friday, May 7, 2010

Guilty until proven innocent….

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. (Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution)

Often we hear the phrase "innocent until proven guilty", especially in various legal movies and television shows. Unfortunately, with the recent explosion of Police License scanners, Red-light cams and the assortment of more and more surveillance cameras that are starting to pop up, it seems that those with the power are taking the position of "We know you're guilty, we just need to catch you".

Don't get me wrong. I fully support banks and businesses that put these devices in place. But these are not places that have anything to gain. A bank monitors to protect its customers. A restaurant that puts such up in their parking lot again is protecting its customers. And should I decide that I don't like one of these places using such devices, I can always take my business elsewhere.

The problem is when government gets involved. Many of these Red-light cams are being used to generate revenue, and if revenue is down, what stops a corrupt government from misusing these devices for their own purposes? There are only so many alternate routes one can take if they are against these red-light cameras, and those routes are becoming fewer and fewer. Please don't get me wrong, I do not map my route to avoid these cameras, I am just using this as an example.

This is just a minor infringement. I have always had these same concerns with regard to the Patriot Act put into place by the president George Bush. I had disagreements with some of the things he did, but overall, I had trust in our president. I never thought of him as one to be against his own country. But I have concerns for our current government. Daily my respect for our elected officials diminishes. As Peter Parkers uncle in the movie "Spider Man" says, "With great power comes great responsibility" (oddly reminiscent of Luke 12:48). I do not see our current government coming close to acting worthy of the responsibility it has been given.

In the eyes of God, we are definitely guilty, and God is everywhere, so God sees every transgression we make. But that is God's right, not government.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Trust….

I enjoy listening to Politics. I also obviously enjoy discussing religious topics. One of my favorites personalities to listen to is Glenn Beck. I believe that he is spot-on with the issues facing our country. And I can disagree with him on the religious issues (He is a professed/practicing Mormon), yet can stand next to him in defense of our country.

Lately Glenn has been quoting a lot of scripture. On one hand, I applaud him, as too many these days won't take a stand for their faith. And to his credit, he has not started quoting the book of Mormon (sticking to the bible, and being pretty good with keeping things in the correct context). But I have one word of warning for both him and those who have the same political stand. Glenn has pointed out how the founding fathers felt that government was a necessary evil, and that we shouldn't put out trust in Government to solve our problems, but in the American people. Many times he has referenced the following:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12, KJV)

He is correct in this, but I also wish to point out the following:

It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes. (Psalm 118:8-9, KJV)

This passage in Psalms reinforces not over-trusting leaders, but it also warns us that we should not refocus our trust in man either. It is God whom we need to turn to. It is God where we need to be placing our trust. Our country has gone out of it's way to remove God from the minds of men, thus if we can't trust government, most will put their faith in their fellow man. Many men may have good intentions, but often the wickedness in their hearts will deceive them (Jeremiah 17:9 KJV).

Glenn, keep up the good work, but remember to not over emphasize man, and make sure you are putting your faith in the correct God.

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