Unborn babies can hear the world around them. Recently Dianne Neal Matthews wrote in Guidepost’sMornings with Jesus about an experience with the birth of her grandchild. She traveled to the daughter’s home for the birth of her fourth child.
After the little girl was born, each family member got to hold her. As the newborn passed between the parents and each sibling, Mrs. Matthews was amazed at how calm, alert, and content she was. The baby had just left a warm and cozy environment inside her mother, and now she was experiencing a cool world with bright lights and new sensations on her skin. Yet, each time the baby was put into the arms of a family member who talked to the baby, she calmly responded, quietly moving her arms.
When Mrs. Matthews was able to hold her, the baby was not calm and settled. However, when returned to her mother, she became quiet and peaceful. Mrs. Matthews realized that the baby had been hearing familiar voices of the family for months, which made her feel safe. Because Mrs. Matthews lived far away, the baby had no experience with her unfamiliar voice.
Years ago, McCall’s magazine reported a story where a baby was subjected to a physical push from one direction outside the mother’s body each time a specific song was played. After three “pushes,” when the song was played again, the baby moved away from the direction of the push, clearly avoiding it. Issac Stern, the famous violinist, once told the story of playing a certain melody when his mother was present. She stopped him and asked where he got that melody. He was dumbfounded and had no idea. Then she told him, “I wrote that melody and played it a number of times when I was pregnant with you.”
A baby inside its mother’s womb is a baby – not an extension of the mother’s body. Unborn babies can hear the world around them. Unfortunately, our nation has now decided that killing a baby is acceptable if that baby is an inconvenience for the mother. This amounts to infanticide, similar to the ancient Roman practice of throwing unwanted babies into the street. That disregard for life was a part of what destroyed the Roman empire. One has to wonder how long God will tolerate infanticide by our nation.
Perhaps the most abused word in the English language is the word “love.” We hear that word used in every kind of situation. “I love that song” certainly is different from “making love.” In English, you have to look at the entire context of a statement about love before you know what the person who said it is talking about. The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greeks had multiple words that we translate with our one word, “love.” In today’s world, the greatest love is agape.
In the Greek language, sexual love was the subject of the word “eros.” “Thelo” was used when the love was a desire or wish. “I love that kind of perfume” would be an example of that use. The prefix “phileo” indicating an emotional or material kind of love and had multiple uses. “Philargurix” was the love of money. “Philanthropia” was human love. “Phildelphos” was the love of brethren and is familiar to us today in the name of the city Philadelphia. “Philedonos” was the love of pleasure.
The New Testament presents a unique concept of love. The Greek word is “agape,” a noun, or “agapao,” a verb. These words were used 114 times in the New Testament and especially by Jesus Christ. In John 21:15-17, Jesus repeatedly asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Jesus used the word “agape,” but Peter kept responding with “phileo.” The greatest love is agape, but Peter did not understand that yet.
Many people struggle with the teachings of Christ because they don’t understand Jesus’ concept of love. How can I love my enemy (Matthew 5:43-44)? How can we love one another (John 15:12) when many of us are not lovable? Ephesians 5:25 tells husbands to love their wives as Jesus loved the Church. This is not a sexual reference any more than is Jesus’ discussion with Peter. A marriage based solely on sex is doomed.
The familiar passage in 1 John 4:8 that “God is love” is another reference to the unique form of love that God calls us to. Christians have help in their capacity to love as 1 Corinthians 2:11-16 tells us that an unbeliever: “…cannot accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” The passage goes on to say that Christians “have the mind of Christ.” So do I have the capacity to love my enemy? Not in a physical sense or a sexual sense, but I have grown to love in a spiritual sense. This is a growth process, and I am closer to it now than I was 50 years ago.
Read Matthew 5-7 and pay attention to the fact that Jesus is talking about loving the spiritual nature of all humans. When you read 1 John 4:12-13, you see a great picture of what Christian love is all about: “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us. We know we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” Read the rest of the chapter and especially verse 20: “If a man says that he loves God and then hates his brother, he is a liar, because he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen.”
The persecution of Christians inChina continues to be severe. It is estimated that there are 60 million Christians in China, but half of them are in unregistered churches. Our Chinese materials are mostly in the hands of unregistered Christians, and a vast percentage of those are in university settings. A new tactic against the gospel is a Bible revision by the Communist Chinese Government.
American missionaries were able to take large numbers of Chinese Bibles into the country before the government’s crackdown. The Chinese government has answered that by producing a state version of the Bible. A high school textbook published by the Chinese government quotes their version of John 8:3-11. This passage is the account of a woman taken in adultery and brought before Jesus by the religious leaders. The leaders cite the Old Testament law saying that she should be stoned. In verse 7, Jesus says, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” The Chinese government quote of this passage is quite different. In the Communist version, Jesus says that the law has to be enforced, and he stones the woman to death.
This has been called “the Communist Christ,” and it is a very different Christ from the one we read about in the Bible. It is also a vivid demonstration of what happens when Christianity gets mixed up with politics. The atheistic Communist government twists the biblical teaching to fit their agenda.
We emphasize Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount) and Matthew 22:21 (about rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s). We do that keep biblical teaching pure and not tainted by the political agenda of the day. Bible revision by the Communist Chinese Government is nothing new. People who claimed to be Christians distorted Christ’s teaching to justify slavery in America. Others today use the Bible to justify abortion and immorality.
There is a psychological war going on today that is at odds with the principles Jesus taught. In Matthew 23:4-7, Jesus described religious leaders who would put emotional, moral burdens on people and do nothing to help them: “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be carried and lay them on men’s shoulders: but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers, but all of their works they do to be seen of men…” In the same way, many people mishandle the major moral issues of our day by pressing others to correct their behavior. We call it emotional mind games.
Galatians 6:1-2 describes how Christians should act: “If a man is overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual should restore such a one in the spirit of meekness considering yourself lest you should also be tempted. Bear you one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Years ago, I knew a religious leader whose son had engaged in a sexual act that resulted in a pregnancy. The religious leader had been a prominent opponent of abortion, but when he learned of the pregnancy, he encouraged the young woman to have an abortion, and he paid for it. This kind of hypocrisy reflects the lack of empathy in our culture today. I would blame it on our society’s drift away from God and from what Jesus taught.
There is a cemetery in Rome known as the Flaminio Cemetery. A religious group in Rome secretly obtains the remains of fetuses from abortion clinics and hospitals. They bury these aborted babies in a place they call the Flaminio Cemetery. At each grave, they place a cross with the name of the mother who terminated her pregnancy. The idea is to use emotional mind games to shame the women who gave up their children.
While we oppose abortion, we also know from experience how difficult the decision can be. We regularly receive letters from women who are struggling with guilt feelings years after having had an abortion. When Jesus dealt with the woman taken in adultery, he did not condone what she had done.,However, He said to the religious people who were ready to punish her, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her” (John 8:3-12).
We tend to rate sin. The wrong I do is a minor offense, but your sin is a major one. We must stop the emotional mind games and follow the example of Jesus. He told the woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” We will accomplish much more with empathy and compassion, working to provide alternatives to destructive behaviors instead of trying to shame people into rejecting sinful choices.
One of the interesting things going on in the world today is how we use our money. The sale of a T. rex fossil is one example. The skeleton of a massive dinosaur can bring huge profits to the owner. Recently a 13-foot tall Tyrannosaurus rex fossil known as “Stan” was sold at Christie’s Auction House for $32,000,000. Most of us would wonder why anyone would spend that kind of money on a fossil? Sarah Rose Sharp gave a possible answer in Hyperallergic.com:
“And honestly, can we find a more contemporary symbol than a tyrant king who stomps on all other living things with no regard for propriety, before witnessing the extinction of his species based on natural science beyond his control?”
Daily we see reports of leaders in politics, media, and technology raking in vast amounts of money no matter who gets hurt in the process.Jesus dealt with this mindset in His day. The parable Jesus told in Luke 12:16-21 is a picture of what is happening today. We should heed His follow-up teaching in verses 22-34. The words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19-21 tell us what we should hold as important. Luke 18:10-14 demonstrates the attitude we should have.
The sale of a dinosaur fossil for massive amounts of money is just one more illustration of how we use our money and where we place our priorities.
The November/December 2020, issue of Archaeology, the journal of the Archaeological Institute of America, carried an interesting article titled “The Price of Purple.” It tells about an archaeological site known as Tel Shikmonan in northern Israel, where there is a very long history of securing purple dye for coloring textiles.
Textiles colored with purple dye were listed along with precious metals in trade and tax records indicating prestige and royal status. In Jesus’ time, Roman high officials wore distinctive purple togas. In Mark 15:17, Jesus was clothed in purple when the Romans wanted to portray Him as king of the Jews. In Luke 16:19, the rich man in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus was clothed in purple to indicate his status.
In the New Testament, we read the story of Lydia (Acts 16:14-15, 40). Paul had arrived in Philippi, which was a “chief city” of that part of Macedonia. There he met Lydia, who came from Thyatira, which was a city near Philippi. Lydia was a “seller of purple” (verse 14). Verse 15 tells us that she owned a house and other people lived in the house with her. Selling purple dye was a high scale business. A woman owning a home and having a household indicated wealth and prestige in the Roman culture. Verse 40 tells us that the Church was meeting in Lydia’s house.
Skeptics have attempted to deny this account, but excavation at Tel Shikmona has strongly supported the Bible. Tel Shikmona is located on the coast at the foot of Mount Carmel near the present-day port city of Haifa, Israel. The ocean is shallow and rocky at Tel Shikmona, and there are large populations of murex snails in those waters. Liquid extracted from the hypobranchial glands of murex sea snails formed the purple dye when treated with light or oxygen. The sea snails at Tel Shikmona can produce large quantities of the purple dye that stains textiles like no other known dye. People had ground up lapis lazuli, which we rock hounds know is a blue color, but it fades and was not as unique as the murex purple.
Joseph Elgavish excavated Tel Shikmona in the 1960s and found thousands of artifacts. Later excavations convinced archaeologists that this was an industrial site focused on the purple dye industry. Roman rulers starting with Julius Caesar (46-44 BC) and continuing through Nero (AD 54 – 68) had laws to fine anyone wearing murex purple without permission. So Lydia was indeed a special woman with connections and clout with people at the top of the social structure. These facts strongly support her ability to use her status to help Paul in his work at Philippi.
People sometimes use demon possession as an excuse for bad behavior. The person will say, “It wasn’t my fault! A demon made me do it.”
First, let’s understand that Jesus conquered the forces of Satan. In Colossians 2:15, after Paul said that Jesus had forgiven our sins and canceled the written code, he goes on to say that Jesus also “disarmed the powers and authorities” which are Satan’s spiritual forces. You and I do not run the risk of having a demon take over and make us do something against our will. Here are some of the biblical reasons why we know that can’t happen:
#1. Prophecy said that when the Messiah would come, unclean spirits would be gone. See Zechariah 13:1-14. That is backed up by 1 John 3:8, and Colossians 2:15.
#2. One primary theme in the New Testament is that every person chooses what to believe and whom to obey. We cannot be taken over by anything, because it is our free moral choice. See Philippians 2:12, John 20:31, and James 2:14.
#3. The Church was never warned about demons even though it was warned about everything else. If we were at risk of demon possession, the Church would have been warned. See Acts 20:28-31, 1 Corinthians 4:14-17, Colossians 1:28, and 2 Peter 1:3-9.
#4. The New Testament gives us the cure for overcoming Satan’s power. See James 4:7, Ephesians 6:12-18, 1 Peter 5:8-9, and Hebrews 4:15-16.
#5. The Bible says that God has restricted Satan. See Revelation 20:1-3, 1 Corinthians 10:13, Romans 8:28, and 2 Corinthians 12:7-12.
God gave us the right to choose Him or Satan. It is our free choice, and God has promised He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). We cannot use the excuse that a demon made me do it.
Atheists are desperate to attack the reliability of the New Testament. Bart Ehrman wrote that the biblical stories about Jesus “were changed with what would strike us today as reckless abandon. They were modified, amplified, and embellished, And sometimes they were made up” (Bart Ehrman in his book The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend, page 269.)
Atheist scholars like Ehrman assume that the average person is too ignorant to understand why such a statement isn’t true. They assume that most people won’t take the time to find the answer to a challenge like this one. Thankfully some Christian scholars have responded. Dr. Timothy Paul Jones explains why Ehrman’s statement is false.
The accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching emerged among eyewitnesses shortly after the events occurred. Can we trust the New Testament accounts to be true? How about the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. Paul summarizes the story of Christ’s resurrection with two Greek words – paradidomi and paralambano. When these two words were used together, ancient Greek readers understood that the writer was citing oral history. Paul wrote in Greek, but in that passage, he called the apostle Peter by his Aramaic name “Cephas.” Paul also used a Greek word to describe an Aramaic method for joining clauses. What that means is that the oral history was originally in Aramaic. People in Galilee and Judea spoke Aramaic, and Paul must have received this oral history in Aramaic.
What that tells us is, Paul heard the story of Jesus from eyewitnesses (Galatians 1:18) who conveyed it to him in Aramaic. In 1 Corinthians 15:1, Paul reminds the Corinthians of what he had told them three years earlier. Paul carried this message everywhere he went, meaning that it was unchanged as it spread across the Roman empire. Clearly, the story of Jesus’ resurrection was not made up long after He died. The account was not “changed with reckless abandon”.
I sometimes get a heated letter, email, or phone call chastising me for advocating something that isn’t possible or safe. I can understand the concerns, and yet it is hard to miss the clear teaching of Matthew 25:35-40. How can we do we what Jesus told us to do? The fact is that it is safer and easier to do those things today than when Jesus spoke these words. The examples of the first century Church in Acts 2:44-47, of Dorcas in Acts 9:36-39, and of Lydia in Acts 16:13-15 give us clues as to how we can be doing what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 25.
HUNGERED AND YOU GAVE ME MEAT. Every major city in America has a food bank, operated by Christians, that needs volunteers and donations.
THIRSTY AND YOU GAVE ME DRINK. There are Christian groups like “Healing Hands” drilling wells and putting in water purification systems in areas without clean water. They need help and donations.
A STRANGER AND YOU TOOK ME IN. Churches near major hospitals such as Hands of Compassion near the Mayo Clinic provide housing and help strangers–and they need support.
NAKED AND YOU CLOTHED ME. Programs like “Coats for Kids” are operated by churches in nearly every major city in America. Finding and distributing coats to needy people is always a work that needs help.
SICK AND YOU VISITED ME. Visitation programs to hospitals are operated by groups of Christians and local congregations in every hospital in America. Hospital chaplains can integrate workers into visitation programs.
IN PRISON AND YOU CAME TO ME. There are prison ministries in virtually every prison in America and national correspondence programs like ours that offer programs free of charge to anyone who is incarcerated.
I get frustrated with the fact that my mailbox is stuffed every day with requests for help in works like these. Then I think about the fact that Christians do what most people in this world won’t do, and that is doing what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 25. If you can’t find any of these things close to where you live, we can help you find a national and/or local group where you can serve.
One part of my life’s history that I don’t talk about a lot is my experience with racial issues growing up in a divided society. As a child, I lived for several years in Alabama, where my father had his first college teaching job at Talladega State Teacher’s College. He and the school president were the only whites on the staff, and I was the only white kid in my school. All of my friends were black, and the people we knew in our daily lives were black. We never had a problem with anyone in that community.
When we left the campus area, we had problems. I remember when I had my tonsils removed. My mother had to take me to Birmingham to have it done. She told me later that when they brought me out of the operating room on a gurney, covered with blood, the doctor shoved the gurney at my mother and said, “Here nigger lover, you clean him up.”
We moved to McComb, Illinois, where my father got a job at Western Illinois University. When people learned that my father had taught at an all-black college and that I had attended an all-black school, we had all kinds of problems. The fact that I had spent grades 2, 3, and 4 in an all-black school meant to a lot of folks that I was inferior, and it was okay to beat me up. I tell you this to point out that now as a Christian and having had that experience, I can relate to the current struggles with prejudice and abuse in America.
Jesus dealt with similar issues throughout His life. John 4 tells us of His exchange with a Samaritan woman. Verse 9 says that the Jews avoided and rejected the Samaritans because they were of mixed race and had different religious beliefs. She was a woman, married five times, and living with a guy she wasn’t married to. Jesus addressed her needs and taught her. In Luke 8:26-39, Jesus showed compassion to a man who was severely mentally ill. The crucifixion of Christ happened because people had the same willful blindness that permeates our society today. The people who welcomed Him to Jerusalem in Matthew 21:7-11, crucified Him in Matthew 27:22-25.
The early Church faced massive persecution. In Acts 6:8-14, a man named Stephen was doing great things in the community. In Acts 7:54-60, the community stopped their ears and stoned him to death when he stated religious facts they didn’t want to hear. Christians are still being persecuted today. Racial prejudice still survives today. Children are still growing up in a divided society. We must replace hatred and division with love and service. That’s the only way our world can survive. If Christians don’t lead in this vital matter, who will?