Can I trust the Bible?

Many people have the impression that all kinds of weighty evidence shows that the Bible is basically untrustworthy.

Scholars argue about which if any of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels are really authentic. Archaeologists and historians argue about which if any of the events recorded in the Bible actually happened.

“When so many people, with such impressive credentials, are telling me not to trust the Bible,” you might wonder, “who am I to disagree”?

As you think about this question, remember three things. First: don’t let anyone intimidate you.

Truth is not established by a majority vote, or by important people. In fact, the Bible states that many of the highly placed people of this world are going to find its main message very difficult to accept. Check out 1 Corinthians 2:6-16. The better you understand the message of the Gospel yourself, the more you’ll come to see why that’s true.

Second, keep in mind that the view that the Bible is untrustworthy is by no means unanimous.

While there are certainly scholars who doubt the Bible, there are plenty of others who don’t. Actually, the kind of scholarship that doubts the trustworthiness of the Bible begins with the assumption that the Bible contains mistakes. That’s one approach to take, but it’s not the only one. Nor is it the correct one.

Finally, the Bible claims special status for itself.

The Bible is more than just a book. Its authors tell us that they are communicating God’s own Word to people (2 Peter 1:20-212 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is able to do more than just inform and inspire us. It is able to draw us into a personal relationship with the living God, through which we receive his gift of eternal life (John 20:30-31).

Are these claims true? Can the Bible really do everything it says?

There’s only one way to find out. Read the Bible for yourself on its own terms and see what happens to your heart. It’s the difference between going to a movie and seeing it yourself or just reading what the critics say about it.

How do I find God?

How do you find Atlanta?  You could go to a public library and ask for a map.  You could surf the internet for road directions.  You could ask a family member for help.  Or you could use Global Positioning System’s navigational technology.  This technology is now standard equipment in many new cars or on-sale at most electronic stores.  Using  satellites positioned many miles above the earth that transmit signals to earth-based GPS units to determine location and direction, GPS helps us get from point A to point B.

A GPS can give you step-by-step directions to Los Angeles.  But a GPS can’t help you with life’s most basic question: “How do I find God?”  Many people ask this question during a personal crisis that causes us to look for explanation, comfort, or relief.  Like looking for road directions, you could go to your public library and ask for books on religion – but there are so many religions that claim to be true even though logically not all of them can be.  You could Google for God – but when you do, you will come up with 356,000,000 pages — most of which raise more questions than they answer.  Or you could ask a family member for advice about how to seek God – but you probably did that already and feel more confused.  Or you can use technology already trusted by millions of people for thousands of years.  This technology is not available as standard equipment or on sale from any electronic stores.  Yes, it is a different type of GPS known as God Positioning System.  This spiritual GPS is simply reading a book known as the Holy Bible.  Year after year, more people buy the Bible, read the Bible, trust the Bible, and are inspired by the Bible more than any document on earth.  That’s because God himself gave us this book to seek him.  It’s a road-map … a road-map to heaven.  The Bible is more accurate and trustworthy than any Global Positioning System.

This spiritual GPS informs us that every person is wired to search for God, but God isn’t the one lost.  Spiritually, we are. Because of our personal sins we are lost eternally.  Hopeless and helpless, we need accurate directions to help us find a fulfilling life now and an eternity in heaven.  Simply opening the Bible activates this special spiritual kind of GPS as we start to read the words and apply them to our personal lives.  As we read these words of fact and reality, we soon find that the Bible’s central person is Jesus Christ, God’s own Son and our human brother who tells us all that we need to know about God.  Jesus tells us simply to believe that he lived a perfect life in our place, died the death we deserved on a cross, and rose physically from the grave to guarantee every believer an eternal life in heaven.  We find God as we believe in Jesus as the Savior.  As we review the pages of the Holy Bible, God also assures us that he will give us his unlimited Holy Spirit to help us believe what our limited human minds couldn’t possibly understand–that God loves us and also has a plan for our lives right now.

But this Spiritual GPS, the Bible, also directs us to a local Bible-believing, Jesus-centered church.  Talk with a pastor, get involved in a regular worship service and Bible study, apply the words of the Bible to your life.  Taste and see that the LORD is good.  Earth-based GPS has it’s limitations:  it needs a power source and doesn’t work if it’s antenna is blocked.  But God’s GPS, the Bible, works anytime, anywhere.  So use it.  Believe it.

I’m not perfect; I make mistakes. So what?

In 2013, the Florida State Seminoles were celebrated as college football’s BCS Champions after completing a perfect 14-0 season. In the long history of Major League Baseball, only 23 pitchers have tossed a perfect game. Each of those 23 pitchers is widely celebrated for accomplishing one of baseball’s rarest individual feats. In 2009, USA Today reported that a Michigan teen got a perfect score on her ACT–and her SAT–and her PSAT! She was rewarded with a full-ride scholarship to Princeton University.

If perfection is so celebrated because of its rarity, should the opposite be true as well? Should imperfection be condemned? I mean, if perfection is considered the rarest of all feats, shouldn’t it be considered acceptable if the rest of us don’t achieve such a vaunted status? Nobody’s perfect at life! We all make mistakes. Who cares?

God cares. While imperfections are an accepted part of life for us, they are not acceptable to our God. Imperfections run contrary to the way God intended this world to function. When he finished his work of creation, God was pleased to know that everything worked in harmony. There were no imperfections; “God saw all that he made and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Our imperfections are therefore an offense to our perfect creator God. They are not excused; they are not overlooked. They are punished for the offense that they are.

Sure, nobody’s perfect. That’s why we need someone to be perfect for us.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Yes, Jesus Christ who had no sin or imperfection became our imperfection so that he might receive all of the punishment that we deserved, paying for it all by his death on the cross. In return, he grants us the perfection that we could not achieve on our own. In Christ we become “the righteousness of God.”

As much as we celebrate individual accomplishments of perfection–the perfect season, the perfect game, or the perfect test score–how much greater can we celebrate the perfection that is ours by faith in Jesus Christ! In Christ you are perfect; believe it! Celebrate it! Live it!

What is My Purpose in Life?

“What is my purpose in life?” is a question that gets replayed over and again at every stage of life. College students rack their brains trying to determine their purpose in life as all sorts of philosophies are spread out before them like food at a restaurant buffet. Empty nesters restart the quest when their children have moved out. As their health and abilities decline, the elderly often wonder what purpose they still have.

Have you found your purpose in life?  It is a question that is always demanding an answer.  It is always there haunting us, confusing us, bewildering us.  For many it is a painful question because the answer has eluded them.

The reason why so many of us struggle to find purpose in our lives is because we keep looking to the wrong person for the solution.  While it seems to make sense to look inwardly for our answer, we won’t find anything more than a mirage, a grasping at the wind.

Jesus helps us look beyond ourselves to find our purpose.  You see, our purpose in life is a combination of “out of this world living” and “living our lives for others.”  Jesus states our purpose for us in a book of the Bible called Matthew.  In Matthew 22:37 and following, Jesus unveils that purpose.  He removes the smoke and mirrors.  He states our purpose with crystal clarity.  He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  He then goes on to say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  With these words Jesus directs us to live for God and for others!

Do you want contentment in your life?  Then discover or rediscover God by getting to know him and love him personally through the good news of the Bible.  Be strengthened through his means of grace, found only in his Word of life (the Bible) and his sacraments of Baptism and Communion.  Safeguard your soul as it yearns for the one who loves you more than you can imagine (Jesus).  Use your mind to seek out ways to serve God and to serve others.  Living with God’s purpose as your reason for living is living a life of amazing adventure!

How do I make a decision for Christ?

I’m not very good at making difficult decisions. I remember standing over a college application, trying to decide what area of study to enter. I remember lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to decide if the car I had just test-driven would be my first car. I remember staring at dozens of real estate listings and actuary tables, trying to decide which house, if any, would be my first home.

I’m not very good at making difficult decisions. Whether or not you’re the same way, I think we would both agree that we want the right to make them. We want to be able to chart our own course, to succeed or fail on our own.

So what about Christ? When we talk about making a decision for Christ, we are talking about the most important decision of all. Our attitude toward Christ has an impact that lasts longer than a four-year college, longer than the life of a car, even longer than a thirty-year mortgage. We’re talking about eternity here. So it’s understandable for us to be concerned about this important decision.

But interestingly enough, this is one that we have no ability to make. The apostle Paul spelled out the truth clearly in a letter to Christians in the city of Ephesus. Paul said that by nature human beings are “dead … in sins” (Ephesians 2:1). He meant that, left to ourselves, you and I have the same ability to make a decision about Christ as a dead body has to make a decision about a college, a car, or a house. Absolutely no ability at all.

As much as not having a choice is very distasteful, in this case it is good news. It means that life’s most important questions don’t start with the words, “How do I…” Those questions always lead to doubt and uncertainty – things that none of us wants when we’re talking about eternity. Life’s biggest questions are not directed inward. They are directed to one who is outside of us. Questions like, “Does God love me?”

And the answer to that one is easy. In spite of the fact that we have sinned against him, in spite of the fact that we have treated him and the people around us as supporting actors in a drama that is first and foremost about me, yes, God still loves me. In fact, the Bible says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “The world” is all-inclusive. God loves us all, no exceptions.

You won’t find your name in that passage. But ask yourself this: when God tells you how much he loved the world, how he sent his Son Jesus to die for the sins of the world, how he has done everything needed for the salvation of the world, does that also include you?

A “yes” is the answer of faith. But realize that a “yes” does not indicate that you made a decision for Christ. There’s much better news. God made a decision for you. In that same letter to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” The decision about Christ is more firm and more certain than the very foundations of the world. And for that very reason, that decision was made by him, not us.

How can I be sure God loves me?

The sun is shining. The sky is blue. The lake reflects the sky. The trees are deep, living green. You and your family are healthy and happy. Work has been going great. You feel like a million bucks.

Wouldn’t you agree that God loves you?

Yes, today perhaps.

But clouds may cover the sun tomorrow. The lake can look rough and angry. The leaves will fall. The world can look bleak. Today’s good health turns into tomorrow’s sickness, accident, or death. Things may go sour at work. A family’s fragile happiness can turn to dust. Horrible things like earthquakes and terrorist attacks happen in God’s beautiful world. Then you ask, “Does God still love me? How can I be sure?”

You can’t be sure by looking around in the world. In fact, there’s another complication. We all have the voice called conscience inside us. Conscience tells me that I should do right. It also tells me that sometimes I do wrong. I don’t deserve God’s love. In fact, I deserve to be punished. I can’t be sure that God loves me by looking inside myself.

No, the only way to be sure that God loves you is if he tells you so himself.

He did tell you. He sent his Son Jesus with a message for the world. No one has ever seen God, but God the heavenly Father’s Son came to earth to tell us about him. Jesus tells us that God loves the world—all people. He loves us in spite of all the wrong we do. Jesus showed us God’s love not just with words but in action. He gave his life for us.

So how can I know that God loves me? Not by my experiences in the world. Not by looking inside myself. Only God’s messenger, his own Son Jesus, can tell me for sure. The message Jesus brought is written in the Bible. The Bible brings us Jesus. Jesus says God loves us—always. His word can make us sure of that.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

What Are the Means of Grace?

When people love you, it’s good when they can find ways to express that love.  It’s one thing to say “I love you,” and another thing to live it.
When someone in authority favors you, it’s good when they can find ways to express that favor.  It’s good to be favored, but it’s even better to gain something because of that favor.

When God loves and favors you, it’s not because you have met the standards he has set.  The only standard that makes sense to God is perfection, and we don’t meet it.  So when he loves us and favors us, despite our being unworthy, we have a special term for that love and favor.  We call it “grace.”

How does God show us his grace?  He does it by promising things to us and then delivering on the promises.  The promises of God are the “means,” the way he shows us his grace, definitely and personally.

It’s strange, but when we hear that “God loves the world” (John 3:16), we aren’t always sure that we are included.  Did God send his Son for us, personally?  We should be sure, but just to help us along, God applies the promises of his love personally to us in the sacrament of baptism (Galatians 3:27).

When we hear, “God reconciled the whole world to himself, not counting anyone’s sin against them,” (2 Corinthians 5:19), how can we be sure that our own sins are personally forgiven through faith in Jesus?  We should be sure, but just to help us along, God applies the promises of his grace personally to us in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:28).

The means of grace are God’s promises in Word and sacrament.

Saved by Grace

When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:4-5)

What can happen if you forgot to close the gate in your back yard and you let the dog out? You were 99% sure you closed it. What might happen if you are 99% sure you turned the stove off before you left the house? We don’t like to be less than 100% sure of something; it makes us uncomfortable that something bad can happen.

That’s why we really like the word GRACE. For five centuries the Lutheran church has focused on the fact that the Bible tells us very plainly that we are saved by grace. God tells us that he has done everything for our salvation and he gives eternal life to us as a free gift—there is nothing we have to do for it. This is an amazing message of good news!

However, the proclamation of God’s Word wasn’t always clear. For many years the message of the Bible was not made available to everyone. People went to church, they confessed their sins, they heard the priest tell them to go and do certain things and then maybe, hopefully they might make it into heaven. How would people ever know if they did enough, or if they were good enough? They were led to believe that Jesus’ life and death were not enough; they still had to contribute in some way for their salvation. Even after they died, someone still might need to do something to help them finally reach heaven. Imagine the doubt.

The Word of God removes all doubt about our salvation. The Bible teaches us: “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Salvation does not depend on what we do, but entirely on what Jesus Christ came to do for us.

Jesus had great mercy on us. In his love he died the death we deserved and rescued us from our sins. By faith in him as our Savior, we have complete confidence of eternal life in heaven.

This is the main message of the Bible that we preach and teach in the Lutheran church. We are saved by grace through Jesus. Please come and hear it for yourself.

Does God have a plan for my life?

“You’re never alone or without help.”

That could be the opening line on the website of OnStar, a company offering to protect and assist you while you drive.

OnStar combines sophisticated global positioning with wireless technology to offer attentive, personal service for drivers. For instance, it can provide directions to a motel or even check on you when your airbag deploys.

Some people mistake God’s plan and purpose for them as a mode of transportation, something like a bus. They assume he takes you where he wants you to go from point A to point B while he drives. You climb aboard, and off he goes, without you even knowing where point B really is.

To better understand God’s plan and purpose for you, think of it more like communication. God is available to talk with you, to diagnose your dilemmas, guide your decisions, and help you when you are lost.

More importantly, God is active in caring for you. God is not a passive servant, idly sitting and waiting for your prayers. He offers more than a place to call for assistance. In his Word he tells you about your Savior, Jesus, and he encourages, directs, and empowers you.

God wants you to join him in heaven.

God watches over his people with his angels. He also filters everything that happens to his people so that it accomplishes his eternal goal.

In the Bible God promised his people: “I know the plans I have for you, … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you” (Jeremiah 29:11-12).

Where to worship

Do I have to worship in a church?

Have you ever grilled with charcoal?  I used to do it all the time.  To get the coals started, I would pile them up, spray some lighter fluid on them, and then apply a match at several strategic locations.  Those coals would begin to burn, and eventually they would be hot enough for cooking.

But sometimes my pile wasn’t quite what it needed to be.  On those occasions, some of the coals would roll off the pile, over towards the edge of the grill.  Almost without fail, those coals would quit burning.  To get those coals lit again, I’d have to push them back over to the burning pile, and soon enough those individual coals would be burning also.

When it comes to our spiritual life, you and I are a lot like those coals.  We tend to need to feed off other believers, to be encouraged by them, to be inspired by them.  God says it this way: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:23-25

So, is it important for me to gather with fellow believers?  Yes, it is.  God urges us to do so.  When you gather with other believers, not only do they encourage you, but you give encouragement to them.  Just by being there, you tell others that you believe in Jesus, that God’s work is important to you, that spiritual matters are your priority.  That gives wonderful encouragement to others!  And you’re doing it just by gathering with those fellow believers.

Now, to be clear, God also hasn’t told us how to do that gathering.  So, it wouldn’t necessarily have to be in a church.  It could happen in a variety of other ways.  (Like, for example, a home Bible study group, worship online and engaging with other in the chat.)  God doesn’t command a specific way to do it.

At the same time, Christians throughout history have gathered in a “church-like” setting.  In fact, Jesus himself did so.  In the book of Luke we read, “He (i.e. Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom” Luke 4:16.  Jesus went to worship at the synagogue.  In our way of speaking, “Jesus went to church.”  And, he did so customarily.  If it made sense for Jesus – the Son of God – to go to church regularly, might it not also make sense for us?  Sure!

Now I’ll quickly confess – I’m not always really excited about going to church, about attending worship or Bible study.  That’s because I’m a sinful human being.  So we go back to that Luke passage above, hearing that Jesus went to the synagogue regularly, and we thank God!  Why so?  Because Jesus was living a perfect life, and doing so in your place and in my place.  Remember,  Jesus not only paid for our sins on the cross, but He also lived a perfect life in our place.  When God put faith in your heart, God gave you credit for the perfect life which Jesus led.  So now God looks at you and at me as being perfect and holy, just as Jesus was!  And that includes our worship life; because Jesus worshiped perfectly, God considers you to have worshiped perfectly, too.

Wow!  That’s good news!  That God would consider me to be … perfect?!?  That’s awesome!  So, what would I like to say to God?  Well, I’d like to say “Thank you!”  Correct?  Sure!  Gathering with other believers can be a wonderful way to do so!

There are other thoughts involved.  For example, which church would I want to be involved with?  I want to attend worship services which are teaching all the truths of the Bible accurately.  What if there isn’t a church like that near me?  Well, perhaps I’ll have to get videos, or access worship opportunities online, or perhaps God might use me to be part of starting a congregation which teaches all the truths of the Word accurately.  Those are difficult situations.

But the general thought is, “Yes, God wants me to gather with my fellow believers, and to do so regularly.”  Why so?  Because God wants to encourage me with His Word, wants me to be encouraged by other believers, and wants to give me the honor of giving encouragement to others.  Blessings on your “gatherings!”