Thoughts on the New Year

Happy New Year

As the beginning of another year rapidly approaches, Christians can use this time in three ways: as a reminder, as an opportunity, and as a warning.
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When Disaster Strikes

Tornado Damage

Whenever a disaster occurs – whether it is a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or some tragic accident – people often wonder if God was somehow involved. If so, they wonder if the event was an execution of divine judgment against the victims or the greater nation/society as a whole.

Questions like these are nothing new. Jesus commented on this concept when He discussed a couple of tragedies with which His audience was familiar.

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (Luke 13:1-5).

It is important that we know why these things happen. As Jesus made clear, we should not be quick to attribute these things to God’s direct operation. Yet even when an event occurs without direct, divine involvement, there are still lessons we can learn from these disasters.
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The Poor Widow’s Oil

A poor widow came to Elisha after her husband died. She was in desperate need of any help the prophet could give her. She cried out to him, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord; and the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves” (2 Kings 4:1).

Before we look at some lessons from the help that Elisha gave this widow, it is important to first notice a couple of facts about her deceased husband. The text states that he was one of the “sons of the prophets,” a servant to Elisha. Furthermore, his widow testified that he “feared the Lord” (2 Kings 4:1). This was not a worthless or wicked individual. He was a faithful servant of God and His prophet.

As we read the account of Elisha helping this poor widow, we see that God made provision for her – she was miraculously given enough oil to fill every container she was able to borrow from her neighbors. She was then able to sell the oil, solving her great financial dilemma (2 Kings 4:2-7).

Now, let us notice a few lessons from this story.
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Reminders from the Tragedy in Japan

An elderly man looks for his house through the rubble in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, northern Japan.It is truly sad to read news reports and see pictures and videos of the devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunami that occurred in northern Japan. While our hearts go out to the victims and our prayers are for all those affected, it is also important to remember some important lessons that this tragedy teaches us.

Riches are uncertain — Paul told Timothy, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us will all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). The material possessions we currently have are not guaranteed to remain in the future. While we may use and enjoy the things of this life, we must remember that they are not of lasting significance. Jesus said, “not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Therefore, He says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
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The Death of Eli

Ark of the Covenant

Eli, a man who judged Israel for forty years, died on a day of great conflict between the children of Israel and the Philistines. He did not die in battle, nor was he killed by the sword of his enemy. Instead, he died a sad death upon hearing news of the battle.

The man said to Eli, ‘I am the one who came from the battle line. Indeed, I escaped from the battle line today.’ And he said, ‘How did things go, my son?’ Then the one who brought the news replied, ‘Israel has fled before the Philistines and there has also been a great slaughter among the people, and your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been taken.’

When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell off the seat backward beside the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for he was old and heavy. Thus he judged Israel forty years” (1 Samuel 4:16-18).

There were four troubling pieces of news that Eli received before he died.
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Where Did Jesus Go When He Died?

Many, having been influenced by Calvinism, believe that Jesus died in our place as a substitute for us.* This notion is not supported by Scripture. Some who hold to this substitutionary theory of atonement believe Jesus was only separated from the Father while on the cross. Others believe this separation extended past the cross, which would mean that Jesus went to torments, not paradise, when He died. What do the Scriptures say? Where did Jesus go when He died?
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Whose Place Did Jesus Take on the Cross?

Crosses

Jesus’ death on the cross is part of the foundation of our faith. Yet for an event so important and familiar, many have misconceptions about it. One common misconception is the idea that Jesus died in our place or in our stead. We sometimes hear the terminology that calls this sacrifice the vicarious death of Christ. Vicarious simply means a substitute. This is the idea that many have – Jesus died in our place as a substitute for us.

Let us notice a common illustration that is used to emphasize the presumed vicarious nature of Christ’s sacrifice. [I say this is a common illustration because I have personally heard it, or something very close to it, used on multiple occasions by gospel preachers from the pulpit.] The illustration goes something like this: You are a defendant in a court of law and, being found guilty, are sentenced to pay some outrageous fine that you could never be able to pay. Since you cannot pay, you are going to be sent to prison. Then someone you do not know steps forward and agrees to pay the debt for you. He takes your place. It is as if he was the one who committed the offense because the punishment for your offense fell on him. Your debt is transferred to and paid by him. As a result, you are free.

The parable described above is used to depict Jesus as one who willingly took our place and acted as a substitute for us. The punishment we were due for our sin, He endured. We are thus free from the penalty for sin. This is a heart-warming metaphor. But as we shall see, it is not Biblical.
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