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The Most Important Christian Belief

Graham Maxwell

I have followed the teachings of Graham Maxwell for years and know there are few men with his gifts and unique ability to explain God’s ways. He wanted to make a summary statement that succinctly told of his experience with God, a short note to put on the back of a church bulletin, and this is what he wrote:

I believe that the most important of all Christian beliefs is the one that brings joy and assurance to God’s friends everywhere — the truth about our Heavenly Father that was confirmed at such cost by the life and death of His Son.


God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be — arbitrary, unforgiving and severe. Jesus said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” God is just as loving and trustworthy as His Son, just as willing to forgive and heal. Though infinite in majesty and power, our Creator is an equally gracious Person who values nothing higher than the freedom, dignity, and individuality of His intelligent creatures — that their love, their faith, their willingness to listen and obey may be freely given. He even prefers to regard us not as servants but as friends.

This is the truth revealed through all the books of Scripture. This is the everlasting Good News that wins the trust and admiration of God’s loyal children throughout the universe.


Like Abraham and Moses — the ones God spoke of as His trusted friends — God’s friends today want to speak well and truly of our Heavenly Father. We covet as the highest of all commendations the words of God about Job: “He has said of Me what is right.” Graham Maxwell

I don’t think anyone has said it better.

God Bless

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95+6 of 6–The Mountain Top

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I’m assuming we have all had that “mountain-top” experience, a time when time itself stands still, a time when your breathing stops and vistas pass-by your mind’s eye in slow motion, waves beating against the beach, hawks taking flight over the prairie, eagles soaring over glaciers sliding down and around majestic mountains, a time when your hair stands up on end and goose bumps and chills race down your back, and when even your scalp feels the tingly electric waves, as if transported to heaven or some other world for just a few moments, frozen, in who knows what, and you hear that—voice—that still soft whisper telling you your something special, that you were made for something more, something great. And it was real. It happened. You felt it. You heard it; and You were alone.

I’ve found these mountain-top experiences happen, most of the time, when I’m alone, or more correctly, when I’m alone with God. I don’t know how to explain it really. I can only say you have to experience it for yourself. When looking over the cliff’s edge, feeling the wind in your hair and the warm sun on your face, hearing the Meadow Lark behind you, seeing the eagle souring before you, looking over hundreds of miles of earth’s beauty, I’m overwhelmed at what God has created and what He’s given me to enjoy. Like a boy in a candy store, or a teenager buying his first car, or the time when you said, “I do,” the moment is riveted to your memory; it’s burned into your heart. That’s some of the relationship God wants for all of us.

God has placed an amazing world at our fingertips, adventures and challenges just waiting for us to enjoy with Him, biking, snorkeling, skin diving, mountain climbing, bird watching, rock collecting to name just a few. He’s given us millions of things to remember Him by: the starry sky loaded with stars, quasars, and comets, the romantic moon in its various phases, imposing mountains and crags, and peaceful valleys filled with fields of Columbines, asters, and daisies, and puffy clouds that dance and dissolve and reappear over time.

God gave us time. Not only are we alive 60-seconds of every minute and 60-minutes of every hour, we live 2,366,820,000 seconds in a 75-year life-span, that’s 2.366 billion seconds, and some of that time God made extra special. Built into God’s plan to up-lift and heal His wayward friends, He set aside time for each one of us to enjoy Him. God longs for us to spend time with Him, to ask Him the hard questions about life, to pray, to meditate on the world He made and His goodness. It’s part of God’s plan to redeem us, to heal. Before we fell from grace, before Adam and Eve chose to reject God and believe Satan’s lies, God placed safeguards into creation; He gave mankind a day of rest, a day to remember Him and how He loves us. And oh, how badly we need that reassurance. Knowing that the King of the universe cares for each of us, just like we are, individually, by ourselves, alone. What a gift, knowing God has already reserved time to be with me, just me, just you. The day was not intended to be a burden; it was supposed to be a delight. When is not working a burden, and when is being with the King of the universe not a delight? In our sinful condition it’s even more important to us than it was in Eden to spend time with the Almighty. Sin has torn humanity to shreds and we would do well to spend time with our Healer, our Friend, and our God, time to be refreshed and renewed.

God created our world in six days and rested the seventh. God led Israel out of Egyptian bondage and said remember the seventh. He toppled Jerico after Israel circled the city seven times. He made Noah and his family wait seven days in the ark before flooding the world. God pointed out seven clean animals to eat; Jacob had to work seven years for Leah and seven more for Rachael; Midian was given seven children;  There were seven years of drought and seven years of plenty in Egypt; servants were set free after serving seven years; priests wore there garments for seven days; God instructed Israel to construct lamp-stands with seven lamps. There are scores of Biblical events associating the true God and His love and protection with the number seven.

In the New Testament Jesus healed the man’s withered hand, cast out unclean spirits, healed Peter’s mother in-law, healed the man by the pool of Bethesda, and gave back the blind mans’ sight, all on the seventh day. Then, to top it off, Jesus Himself, rested in the tomb on the seventh day, just after His crucifixion.

Which day of the week has the greatest associations paired with it? Jews rest on Saturday the seventh day, because it says to in the Bible’s 10-Commandments. Muslims rest on Friday because they didn’t want to be associated with the Jewish religion. The early Christian church changed their day of worship about 200 to 300 years after Jesus died because they didn’t want to be associated with the Jewish religion either. But if you use the Bible and the Bible only, and don’t depend on tradition, the seventh day has the most meaning linked to it; it’s paired with God’s most significant events.

If you look through the Bible for events that occur on Friday, the Muslim’s day of rest, you won’t find many references, but when you do, they’ll be associated with preparing for the seventh-day Sabbath. And if you look through the Bible for events that occur on the first day of the week, Sunday, you’ll find about a dozen texts:

Mark 16:9 Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons.

John 20:1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.

John 20:1-2 So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

Matthew 28:1 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.

Mark 16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him.

Mark 16:2 Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.

Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.

1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.

Genesis 1:5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Leviticus 23:11 He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.

John 20:19 So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Luke 24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.

If you knew nothing of the controversy between Muslims, Jews, and Christians, and if you didn’t already know the fourth commandment says to keep the seventh day holy, and you had to figure out which day was the most significant, the day most closely associated with the King of Kings, our loving Creator, which day would you suggest?

 

95+5 of 6–God’s Wrath

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God’s wrath is not an ever-burning hell but leaving us to the natural consequences of our rebellious actions, actions and attitudes that really do lead to an eternal death. If Luther had continued his reformation, he would have seen the distinction between an imposed penalty and the natural consequences God has warned us of. Luther is known for his attempts to assuage God’s wrath, crawling up stairs on his knees, offering endless prayers and petitions to other priests while pleading for God’s mercy, because like many of us, he was afraid of God’s “wrath.” And it’s no wonder.

The Middle Ages portrayed a horrible picture of God, of something called purgatory, and of hell. I can hardly post the pictures of Gustave Dore’s illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy, they are that terrifying, and Dore was just illustrating the greatest book written to date, the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, finished in 1320, just a year before his death. The Divine Comedy was widely considered to be the greatest work in Italian literature and one of the greatest works of world literature.

The book describes Dante’s travels through hell, purgatory, and paradise, from a Mid-evil perspective, and I want to emphasize the evil in Mid-evil. It is an amazing piece of literature; it’s truly a work of art, but Dante’s picture of God was distorted and his understanding of God’s wrath was wrong, dead wrong. God is nothing like Dante’s portrayal, and neither is heaven; and there is no purgatory, and there is no hell as he describes it.

Consider a few of these Bible verses regarding wrath:

Romans 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

Romans 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 The exchanged the truth about God for a lie.

Romans 1:26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.

Romans 1:28 furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind…

In Romans 1:24, 26, 28, and 4:25 paraditomy, or its root word, is used every time and it means to hand over, to give up, to let go. God’s wrath is: Him giving us up to the sad consequences of our choices.

95+4 of 6–Jesus=Father

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Jesus is not the Father, but He is God. God, the one we call Father, He is God. And there is one other, the Holy Spirit, He is God, too. The doctrine of the Trinity is still debated between churches, but it’s what I believe–there are three distinct beings with the same essential, eternal, timeless qualities. But what may be even harder for people to believe are Jesus’s words, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9; NKJV)

Most people are comfortable with the God of the Old Testament being different from the God of the New Testament, or the God of judgment being different from Jesus, the God of love and grace. Many believe that Jesus’s main purpose in coming to this world was to placate, to appease, to pacify the God of Justice; thus, they must be different. Jesus is nice but the Father is…well, you know. But Jesus said if you have seen me you have seen the Father–that’s profound! That’s mind-bending!

How do we put those paradoxes on the same platter? It helps me when I consider two facts. First, it was really Jesus who led Israel throughout the Old Testament.

1 Cor 10:1-4 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. (Emphasis mine)

It was Jesus who led Israel through the desert. It was Jesus who gave the 10-Commandments and the laws in Leviticus. It was Jesus that gave the command to stone the Sabbath-breaker and destroy Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. It was Jesus who spoke and created our world.

Jn 1:1-4 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

The second reason we have a problem seeing Jesus and the Father as one, as having the same character, is, we have misunderstood the legal system as being punitive and not protective, and we have overlooked several other reasons why Jesus had to die. Jesus’s death was a demonstration, not an appeasement; it spoke to much more than merely a legal transaction.

In light of the great controversy between God and Satan, a controversy over God’s laws and character, God proved that He too was selfless and giving, that He loved this world, you, me, us, even though we had sided with Satan. He showed the universe what would happen if beings worshiped a god they were afraid of, demonstrated by the ruling Jewish leaders when they crucified Him! He demonstrated that He did not lie in the beginning when He said if we sin we die. His statement was not a threat; it was an undeniable fact, and He proved it, much to Satan’s shame.

Bringing God and mankind back together, knowing what God is really like, knowing God is love and wouldn’t lie, knowing God loves us more than life itself, and knowing God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit will heal and save all those who trust Him again, this is the atonement!

95+ 3 of 6–Two Resurrections

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This would be Luther’s third addition to his 95-Thesis–clarifying and distinguishing between the two resurrections.

Consider all the interesting ways that organisms reproduce and produce copies of themselves, men and women have babies, orangutans have little fuzzballs in their own image, trout and turtles and teal all having little ones in their own image; so why do ugly caterpillars wrap themselves up in an unimpressive, boring, pale cocoon, wait a few weeks, and then emerge as brilliant butterflies, one of God’s most beautiful creatures? I think God was giving us hope in a resurrection, an event when this ugly mortal puts on beautiful immortality. The Bible says that when Jesus comes there is a resurrection of the Just and seemingly a few of the unjust. Look at this verse from Revelation 1:7

7“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen.

And add to this Jesus’s words in Matthew 24:30-31 about His coming:

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

And add this passage from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 about believers who have died:

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

At earth’s darkest hour, Christ will come, with holy angels and with God Himself. Christ resurrects the righteous, and they with those still living are gathered up by the angels to meet Christ in the air. It sounds as though some of the most wicked will be raised too, to see Him fulfill his promise, those who pierced him, which may include Judas and others who mocked Him. These people are raised only to see how wrong they were and are put back to “sleep” in wait of the resurrection of the wicked. The righteous are escorted to heaven to study the books of life and rest up from this earthly ordeal. After all the saints from a hundred generations have reviewed the books, after looking over the evidences explaining why some of earth’s residents made the choices they did, does God raise the wicked.

At the end of the 1000-years of study, the New Jerusalem, adorned as a bride, is brought back to and relocated on the earth.  The saints and the city are now on earth again, and Christ resurrects the wicked. Thinking they have one more chance to over-throw God and His government, Satan and all the evil angels and evil resurrected people surround and then attack the city, showing once again how unsavable they are. God in mercy, reveals his glory, the glory hidden ever since the conflict began, and all those out of harmony with His presence are consumed; they become ashes under our feet.

Malachi 4:1-3

For, behold, the day comes, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and you shall go forth, and grow up like calves of the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this,says the LORD of hosts.

95+2 of 6–Immortality

95+2 An Immortal Soul

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The theory claiming that mankind has an immortal soul was borrowed from paganism and incorporated into the early Christian church. Martin Luther classed it with the “monstrous fables that form part of the Roman dunghill of decretals” (E. Petavel, The problem of Immortality, p. 255). Had Luther continued his church reforms, addressing the erroneous doctrine of the immortal soul, it would have been on his extended 95-Theses list.  There are so many reasons not to believe in man’s immortal soul that it’s hard to know where to start, but here are a few to check out:

  • Genesis 2:7 Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (It does not say he was given an immortal soul.)
  • Ecclesiastes 9:5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.
  • John 11:11-15 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.”  Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
  • 1Thes 4:13-18 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
  • Job 14:10-12 But man dies and lies prostrate. Man expires, and where is he? Aswater evaporates from the sea, And a river becomes parched and dried up, So man lies down and does not rise. Until the heavens are no longer, He will not awake nor be aroused out of his sleep. Oh that You would hide me in Sheol, That You would conceal me until Your wrath returns to You, That You would set a limit for me and remember me! If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my struggle I will wait Until my change comes. You will call, and I will answer You; You will long for the work of Your hands.
  • In the very day when the silver cord is loosed and the golden bowl broken, man’s thoughts perish. They that go down to the grave are in silence. They know no more of anything that is done under the sun. Job 14:21.
  • For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible… so when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 1 Cor 15:52-54
  • The resurrection of Lazarus, the bringing back from the dead of the boy by Elisha and of Peter’s mother in-law, were their souls all brought back from heaven to enjoy this life of pain and suffering? Nothing is said of their experiences. Wouldn’t you expect a few words about their understanding to fill a paragraph or two, in Holy writ, telling of their glorious experiences from the glories above?

In Martin Luther’s Exposition of Solomon’s Booke Called Ecclesiastes, p. 152, he states, “There is, saith he, no duty, no science, no knowledge, no wisdom there. Solomon judgeth that the dead are asleep and feel nothing at all. For the dead lie there, accounting neither days nor years, but when they are awaked, they shall seem to have slept scarce one minute.”

In summary, the description of man’s creation does not suggest we have a soul, much less an immortal soul. Solomon makes it clear that after death we know nothing. Job asks God to keep him in the grave until after His wrath is poured out. Jesus said death is like a sleep, and Paul and others say we wait in the grave until the resurrection at Jesus’s second coming; we wait in the grave as this mortal puts on immortality. And most convicting of all is Satan’s first lie in the garden of Eden, showing where he stands in the debate: as Satan told Eve, “you won’t surely die;” he preached the first sermon on the immortality of the soul.

 

95+1 of 6 The War in Heaven

Theses 95+1 The war in heavenWar in heaven

One of the greatest advances in Christianity in the last two-hundred years is the focus on the “war in heaven,” Revelation 12:6.  Formerly looked upon as just a minor detail, it has grown into a fundamental doctrine. The context of a war changes everything! It changes how we see and understand the need for our planet’s creation. It changes how we see Jesus’s temptations, what happened in Gethsemane, why Jesus had to die, and more. The war predates our planet’s creation, our first parents, and their fall; it predates everything we know of. What was the war about, who was involved, how are we included in this, and why are we just now focusing on it?

Martin Luther would have caught this but there were so many other glaring abuses to address that he just didn’t get to it. When translating the Latin text of the Bible into German, he separated out the apocryphal books, putting them in-between the two testaments, and he had some issues with Hebrews, James, Jude, and the book of Revelation, and that’s why those books are found at the end of the Bible today. At one time, commenting on the book of Revelation, Luther is quoted as saying, in German, I feel an aversion to it. The book with the clearest references to the war wasn’t scrutinized. Eventually, the apocrypha was rejected, and Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation were accepted. Read this pointed reference about the war from Revelation chapter 12.

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (NIV, Rev 12:7-9)

The entire chapter elaborates on this war making many other verses and stories in the Bible come to life, such as: Jesus’s temptations in the wilderness, the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the descriptions of the king of Tyre and the king of Babylon, and countless other insinuations.

The problems started in heaven not earth. How? Why? If you sew all the pieces together we find that Lucifer, the smartest, the most beautiful, the most gifted, and most prominent of God’s creatures wanted to usurp God’s power and authority; and to do so, he had to degrade God’s character; he had to lie and accuse. In many and various ways Lucifer suggested that God could not be trusted. The battle boiled down eventually to challenging one of God’s statements: God said that if you sin you will die; Satan said if you sin you thrive; and therefore, God cannot be trusted. Lucifer has argued that point from beginning to end. He told Eve in the garden the same thing:

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it [sin] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3: 4-5)

And when Jesus was on earth Satan repeated the accusations (Matthew 4) that God can’t be trusted. And today, in a thousand ways, through movies and videos and even sermons, Lucifer, now Satan, repeats his challenge that the wages of sin is not death; no, it will open your eyes. Oh, how wrong he is!