Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where's the Justus?

Where's the Justus
By Brenda Black

Quickly! Name the winner of Britain's Got Talent in 2009... If you guessed Susan Boyle, you'd be wrong. She was runner up. But Boyle was catapulted into infamy not only for her haunting, ethereal voice and penchant for timeless music selections, she broke records as well as performed on them. The Guinness World Records cemented her status as one of music's biggest singing sensations with three titles: Fastest-selling Album by a Female (UK), Most Successful First Week UK Debut Album Sale, as well as Oldest Artist to Reach No.1 with a Debut Album (US & UK). In just 21 days, she sold more than a million copies of “I Dreamed a Dream.”

I'd venture to say that you could name faster the vice presidential candidate who lost in the 2008 election before you could name the VP currently in office. And you are sure to recognize one of the greatest names in golf, Jack Nicklaus. But did you know that 19 times he ended up in second place in championship play.

Now – tell me the name of the runner up disciple to take the place of Judas Iscariot after his treacherous betrayal and death. I'm waiting. Still waiting. If you are having trouble with his name, maybe it's because he had three - “Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus)...” (Acts 1:23b)

Before you write off Justus as the first loser in the contest, keep in mind that he was selected as one of two noble contenders from at least 70 devoted men for the honor and was one who walked with Christ and knew him as Lord and Savior. Luke recounts the criteria for nomination: “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22)

Joseph Barsabbas knew the Lord and the Lord knew him. He didn't bear the name Justus without reason either. Some have suggested that the name was given to people in adult life because of their righteousness. For example, The Anchor Bible Dictionary (p. 1134) discusses the name "Justus" and writes, "This epithet, implying obedience and devotion to the Jewish Law, was perhaps given to him (Joseph-Barsabbas) by other Jews." Justus was eligible, he was loyal, he was available, he was honorable.

So why wasn't Justus appointed as one of the twelve? Because God called Matthias. The results were not produced by men, but born of God who “knows everyone's heart.” When the apostles prayed, “Lord, show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry...” God delivered an answer. Without God's confirmation, the appointed man would most certainly fail.

“The great thing the apostles were to attest to the world, was Christ's resurrection; for that was the great proof of his being the Messiah, and the foundation of our hope in him. The apostles were ordained, not to worldly dignity and dominion, but to preach Christ, and the power of his resurrection. An appeal was made to God... It is fit that God should choose his own servants; and so far as he, by the disposals of his providence, or the gifts of his Spirit, shows whom he has chosen.” (Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible)

Losing a talent contest provided Boyle the opportunity for worldwide fame. Losing an election launched international status and 2,257,946 facebook friends for Palin. Losing his signature game for nearly 20 years still rendered Nicklaus the beloved "Golden Bear". If this is possible, then I have no doubt that Justus made a difference in spite of his non-appointment. It is completely probable that this second fiddle apostle with a noble heart positively impacted the world!

Where's the justice? It is written on the faces of the widows no longer forgotten when deacons were appointed to care for their needs in the early church while the apostles devoted themselves to teaching the Word. It is written in the pages of history where believers went out two by two and spread the gospel to every nation.

Not only those preferred by humanity accomplish greatness, it is also the ones who come in second. Just ask Susan Boyle or look up Justus when you get to heaven.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

God Answers

God Answers
By Brenda Black

What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? What is the secret of happiness? What is love?You just read four of the top ten “Unanswerable” questions according to search engine. Seems to me it is not the questions that beg solution. The real question is why don't people accept the answers?

The search engine, originally known as Ask Jeeves and launched in 2000, claims to be able to answer 16 million questions a month. “...occasionally there is going to be a question where there is no simple answer, so we're letting our users do it themselves," said Nadia Kelly, spokesperson for the site in a press release announcing their 10th anniversary poll.

Though he hasn't yet weighed in at, one scientist-turned-author, Stephen Hawking, brashly claims he has the lowdown on the higher up. His book, The Grand Design, asserts that the existence of God is not necessary to explain the origins and mysteries of the universe. The theoretical physicist states that creation needs no God.

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist,” reads an excerpt from Hawking's work.

The BBC News Magazine explains in an article dated Sept. 21, 2010, “His new book The Grand Design uses something called M-theory to claim that the laws of physics created our universe unaided. The cosmic fireworks of the Big Bang needed no supernatural spark to set them off. They can apparently light themselves, in an endless succession of universes...”

Dr Thomas Dixon, author of the BBC article and senior lecturer in History at Queen Mary, University of London asks, “So, is Prof. Hawking's denial of the deity just one more example of an age-old conflict between science and religion?”

While Hawking hocks his platitudes, other noble and intelligent thinkers remain steadfastly resolved that science and creation, fact and faith fit together in a world established by Intelligent Design.

Brian Thomas, MS, writes for the Institute for Creation Research:

“Extraordinary information also characterizes this vast universe. The three-dimensional placement of heavenly bodies in space and the particular--and peculiarly life-enabling--universal parameters, such as the speed of light and electromagnetic strength, are some examples of fine-tuned information...

“Since concerns over gravity and energy do not address the more obvious question of information...then statements about gravity or energy alone form insufficient grounds to reject a supernatural origin for the universe...

“A classic argument for the existence of God holds that since something exists (say, the universe), and since something cannot make itself (without violating the first principle of causality), then a cause outside that thing must exist (God). In essence, Hawking has attempted to refute this reasoning by simply denying the second premise!

“Did the oak tree come from an acorn? No, Hawking would say--it was just the result of 'spontaneous creation' and there it is. Such reasoning makes no sense. Hawking's illustrious predecessor, Sir Isaac Newton, formed a more reasonable and accurate assessment of the universe's origins: 'This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.'”

The meaning of life has no meaning if you eliminate a loving God. Happiness has no measure if there are no moral standards. And love no motivation or satisfaction if we fail to comprehend its true value as modeled by a sacrificial, providential, merciful God. Spewing arrogant, godless philosophies does not undo truth. It does not remove God from the picture. It merely removes the man who embraces such fallacies from the blessings and mercies of the Creator and leads him and his followers down a deceitful path.

Hawking is not a prophet. He is not a priest. He is neither angel nor demon. He is a mortal with a brilliant mind given to him by the very God he denounces. When he dies, he will discover far more than any laboratory would ever prove on planet earth. He will face The Creator of the Universe and answer the most important question ever – “Who do you say that I am?"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman
By Brenda Black

I quickly turned the channel the other night. I didn't want to see a woman dismembered by the cranking, torturous pull of winched chains secured to shackles that clamped each of her arms and legs. The set-up for the illusion employed brave volunteers with strong stomachs to buckle down the apparatus and stand nearby as witnesses. I watched the prep and the promise of the magic man, but decided I could live my life without seeing the trick fully played out under stage lights and before a live and gullible audience. I don't have a strong stomach.

A few of the mourners who accompanied Mary to the tomb of her brother, Lazarus, probably felt the same way when they heard Jesus ask them to roll the stone away. It's going to stink, warned the practical Martha. But others, no doubt, crept in closer to see all the gory details.

Over the next few days, the novelty of the born again Lazarus beckoned crowds to come and see. They wanted to meet the magician, but they also wanted to see this man he raised from the dead. And between the two of them, their fame presented the Pharisees with a perplexing problem in need of a strategic remedy.

“So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.” (John 12:10)

Here in John 12 is a passage of Scripture filled with the miracle of a man brought back from the dead and a woman anointing the Lord with expensive perfume and wiping his feet with her hair. We hear the Lord predict his own death and learn of people enamored with the One who has power over the grave. Christ directly challenges the crowd to “Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” (vs. 36)

Still, even after all this, most did not believe in him.

The Lord's latest attempt to save foolish and hardened hearts came just prior to when the Christ would ride into Jerusalem to the sounds of cheers, but also to the leering looks from those who despised him. While some shouted “Hosanna!” Other were thinking hang him! As his adorers pronounced blessings on him as King of Israel, his enemies cursed him beneath their breath.

Then, nearly almost to the end of this same chapter we find a very revealing and humbling truth. No matter how great the King or how marvelous his exploits, man will only believe as far as they do not bear any risk. “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” (Jn 12:42-43)

In my tiny corner of the planet, I have been privileged to live my entire life in places where people are unashamed to profess their faith in Christ, though not everyone I know, knows the Lord. I was in college before I ever met a self-proclaimed atheist. I'd love to find out if she's still breathing since she never thought their was Anyone behind that very basic variable of life.

Though I still live pretty much in the same small space we call the Midwest, the world is now at my fingertips. With changing technology and changing times, it is obvious that more people than that one bitter chick in college have issues about God. And they are free to spew their hateful, irreverent comments on blogs and talk shows, and in articles and sit-coms. I shudder at the audacity of some of the crude and ignorant verbiage. And then I remember what else John 12 warned: “'He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn – and I would heal them.'” (vs. 40)

This is not about God ostracizing a group of religious leaders. This is not about eliminating their opportunity for salvation. These are the words of a prophet who saw in advance that this is how they are going to treat HIM. Christ's actions and perfection left them faced with a life-or-death dilemma: Believe or kill him!

They killed Him. But, like Lazarus, He was risen from the dead! And now what do the haters and naysayers, the pagan and perverse, the atheists and agnostics have as a back-up plan? They kill the messengers like they wanted to kill Lazarus.

The following is just one of their most recent schemes according to The Voice of the Martyrs at :

Neshan Saeedi, a 27-year-old Christian, has not been seen since his arrest by government authorities in July, according to the Farsi Christian News Network.

On July 24, Saeedi was at home with his wife and young daughter in the city of Ahvaz, Iran, when plainclothes security officers entered his house and arrested the family. Security officers searched the home and seized personal belongings, including a computer, CDs containing films of Christian seminars and teachings, Christian books, Bibles and family photo albums.

The family was taken to the Chaharshir detention center in Ahvaz, where they were interrogated for several hours before Saeedi’s wife and daughter were released. Officers threatened Saeedi’s wife, saying if the family continued its Christian activities their daughter might be taken away. The family was accused of threatening Iran’s national security by participating in anti-government activities. They were further accused of being spies of foreign powers and of leading people to a pro-Israel ideology.

The house church that Saeedi’s family attended has stopped meeting out of fear for their lives and the possibility of further arrests. Government authorities are thought to be actively seeking the arrest of two of the house church leaders.
This incident is the latest arrest of believers in Iran in recent months. VOM encourages you to pray for Neshan Saeedi’s physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Ask God to protect his wife, daughter and the other church leaders, and pray that God will grant courage and boldness to all Iranian believers.

Pray for those who are persecuted for the cause of Christ. They die every day somewhere in the world.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's a Matter of Math

It's a Matter of Math
By Brenda Black

“The essence of mathematics is not to make simple things complicated, but to make complicated things simple.” ~S. Gudder

Take the passage in Luke 10:1-20 for example: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

“'When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

“'When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, “The kingdom of God is near you.” But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.”...

“'He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.'

“The seventy-two returned with joy and said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.'

“He replied, ' not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.'”

The God who spoke creation into existence did not haphazardly scatter whomever was handy to reach the world with his salvation story. He intentionally initiated a strategy steeped in perfect purpose and commissioned a specific number of recruits to get the news broadcast – 72 to be exact.

Think about this: The languages of the Holy Bible are Hebrew and Greek. The most prevalent language used in history for the spread of the Gospel is English. Hebrew has 22 letters. Greek has 24 characters. English has 26 letters. 22+24+26 = 72. You say that might just be a coincidence, but Christ did say to his disciples, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved...”(Mark 16:15) Guess what, at the time of Christ’s death, there were 72 nations known to man.

Good old 72 shows up elsewhere in Scriptures. In Numbers 11:14-17, 70 elders were chosen to assist Moses. Add Moses and Aaron to the total count; guess what, 72. There were 72 ornaments on the Menorah in the Tabernacle. There were said to be 72 separate pieces of the veil in the Temple which separated the Holy place from the Most Holy Place. There were also 72 members of the Sanhedrin.

Additionally, the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, was said to have been translated by 72 Hebrew Scholars (six from each tribe) in 72 days.

Even with all of the intrigue surrounding 72, there's another number just as integral to Christ's commission. He sent them out two by two.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

Still the most important number is that invisible component of the three-fold cord. The ONE Holy Spirit that accompanied sheep among wolves, provided food through the hospitality of others, filled their hearts with peace in unpredictable places, dominated demons and filled obedient disciples with joy and a safe return.

The Messiah didn't complicate matters with his specific plans. Instead, He solved the world's sin problem by dying on a cross. He sent out willing servants to tell the Good News. He simplified access to the Gospel by taking it to every being on the planet.

He still calls his believers to go out and share his love story. We are each commissioned and empowered to do such bidding and we never go alone. The Holy Spirit will always accompany the faithful who stick to the plan. It really is that simple.