Saturday, July 30, 2016


Just for fun I sat for a few minutes and thought about signs that could be used by those who like to picket, signs that would be an accurate reflection of the truth of who God is and how God relates to us. Here is a short list of ideas for picket signs that could be alternatives to the signs my family chooses to use when picketing, if one considers it necessary to picket . . . just for fun:

Short list of ideas for Signs:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God

We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God

Learn to do right; Seek justice; Defend the oppressed

Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow

Come to Jesus, you who carry heavy burdens and He will give you rest

It is for freedom that Jesus has set you free

You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free

The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart

The Lord heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds

The Lord has come to heal the brokenhearted

The Lord has come to preach good tidings to the poor

The Lord has come to proclaim liberty to the captives

The Lord has come to open the prison to those who are bound

Jesus came to make your life whole, not to destroy your life

God will grant recovery of sight to the blind

I once was blind but now I see

God will restore comfort to the mourners

Jesus was wounded for our transgressions

Jesus was bruised for our iniquities

By His (Jesus') stripes we are healed

The chastisement for our peace was upon Jesus

O Lord my God, I cried out to You, and You healed me

Lord, be merciful to me; Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You

God forgives all your iniquities, God heals all your diseases

God sent His word and healed them

Abraham believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness

God will relieve you in your distress

Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord

The Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness

The Lord is Good

God restores my soul

God leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake

In You, O Lord, I put my trust

The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord

The Lord loves what is right, and He loves justice

God Your righteousness is like the great mountains

God shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday

Peace on earth, good will toward men

God is Love

The Lord Rides out on behalf of truth, humility, and what is right

Win victories for truth and mercy and justice

The Lord is the confidence of all the ends of the earth

Mercy and truth have met together in the Lord

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God's throne!

Mercy and truth go before God's face!

The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed

The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting

Blessed are those who keep justice, and he who does right at all times

Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them

Revive me and bring my soul out of trouble

God's justice will produce lasting peace and security

God's loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him

For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; Save me, and I shall be saved

The Lord will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds

God so loved the World that He gave His only Son

Mark Chandler

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Eternal Hell: God’s Justice and Love

If you and I were to poll adults on what is the most emotionally terrifying thing for them the answers would vary a lot. People have phobias about dentists, dogs, enclosed spaces, lightning, heights, public speaking, spiders, snakes and a whole lot more. And for the people with true phobias they can reach a point of panic dealing with these things.

When I was a child my father took care of what would be the most terrifying thing for me. And that was the subject of hell. For me it was the most emotionally charged subject on earth. And that came about because my father believed hell was very real. And in his twisted way of looking at life he believed that only by bludgeoning people with fear tactics would he be able to produce compliant people who would turn to God to avoid hell. My father was Fred W. Phelps, Sr. the head of a cult in Topeka, Kansas called Westboro Baptist Church, commonly referred to as WBC. My father never understood how important it was to respect people enough to let them know the facts about something and let them deal with those facts as the free agents and adults they were.

Beliefs and feelings about hell range from one extreme to the other on a long continuum. Recently I spent 45 minutes doing an interview with a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Institute for the Studies of Religion at Baylor University on the subject of the afterlife, specifically hell. His goal is to create a tool to measure people's concerns about hell.

He asked me a lot of questions. About my life. About my religious background. About my beliefs about hell. He wanted to interview me and several of my family members who have left our family cult because he wants to include people who have had exposure to more strident teachings about hell to insure that his tool works for people with a variety of religious backgrounds.

I described the first 19 years of my life and what I was taught about hell. I referred him to five of my blog writings: “God Is Not Good”, “Abusing People with Religion”, “Assailed to the Breaking Point – Part 1”, “The Language of Love” and ‘My Brother Nate.” I told him this would be an efficient way to get an overview on the reality of the religious abuse our family experienced as a result of my father’s toxic pathology. I mentioned that as far as I was concerned I lived in a kind of hell for the first 19 ½ years of my life, right here on earth.

I stated clearly and forthrightly that today, as a man in my 60’s, I believe in a literal and eternal hell. And not because of my father’s fear tactics in my life but because of my own personal study and convictions.

I also described the stark reality of the psychological damage of having hell and the threat of hell used to control and hurt and damage me and its effects on my heart and my life. I told my young interviewer it took me 20 years after leaving my family’s cult to overcome the damage done to my heart and psyche by my father’s use of repeated threats of eternal hell to terrify me and manipulate me. My healing from this damage would include years of intentional work with professional counselors. Many of my siblings have not had the benefit of this type of restorative, healing work and remain trapped in the devastation of my father’s torturous words inflicted on their childlike souls as young children.

I explained in that interview my belief that the teaching of hell to children is inappropriate for where almost all children are both emotionally and developmentally. I told him I believe the love of God should be taught to little children and that little children should have free access to the truth of God and His love. Children need repeated affirmations of their worth and value to God during their young lives to grow up as spiritually healthy young ones. I told him my strong belief that only when a child is of appropriate age is it even responsible to tell them the truth about hell as Christ told all of us in His word. As we mature, each of us needs to know what is true if we are to ever be free. We need to hear and understand truth, but this needs to happen at a time when we are ready to absorb it and understand it.

I liken what the children in my family went through hearing about hell repeatedly and in such graphic and cruel terms to children who grow up in the midst of a war. Children will try various ways to cope with bombs dropping around their heads but when you talk to them as adults there are many scars in their souls having had to go through those things at such a young age. That would be true for all of my siblings and me who experienced “hell abuse” at too young an age.

I described to my interviewer the experiences I had as a child and how opposite they were of what I now believe is appropriate for young, tender minds and hearts. Instead of being told the truth about hell so I could have knowledge and be free to respond to the truth about my eternal consequences as a person, the threat of hell was used to hurt me and unnecessarily terrorize me. My father lied to me and my brothers and sisters about hell and about God. He lied by leaving out the amazing truth of God’s profound love for each of us. And that God had every intention of rescuing each of us from hell. If we wanted to be rescued. And that God gave each person that free will choice that he respectfully offered to them. With no bludgeoning!

I made clear that terror – stark raving terror - was the dominant emotion that described my childhood. Fear and anxiety and turmoil, a sense of worthlessness, hopelessness and the complete inability to sit still in my own skin were some of the ways I described what it was like to be threatened with eternal hell as a child, by my father. This wrong teaching was reinforced by my father’s own rage, violence, hatefulness and physical, mental, emotional and religious abuse of our entire family.

I described how my father manipulated my siblings and me by using the threat of eternal hell to control us from leaving his cult. Sadly, I had to set out in detail how constantly my father would verbally condemn anyone to eternal hell whenever he disagreed with or was upset with anybody at any time. He was very verbally free with these condemnations. My father told all of his children that if we ever left his church (his cult) we were going to hell. Period! The very thing he was so fearful of for his children was used by him to attempt to get and maintain complete compliance out of his children. My father had no respect for us as free willed beings who had to come to grips with our relationship with God on our own. He respected us far less than God did and yet never told us of God’s strong desire to rescue us from all that fear and condemnation of us as little precious people.

But in spite of all the wretched abuse we suffered as children growing up with my father I also said the solution to the question of hell was not to deny the truth of hell. I said there was one person who loved us enough to tell us the truth about the spiritual realm; the invisible realm of the spirit world; and that person was Jesus Christ. That Jesus came to earth just as He and his Father had decided he would, for the purpose of saving mankind. Jesus had an amazing and daring rescue mission to do for planet Earth and when He had accomplished His rescuing work after 33 brief years here He returned to the Father. He was faithful to tell us the truth about what we need to know.

1. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God they experienced exactly what God had told them would happen. They died spiritually. Spiritual death meant separation from God. Separation from God is Hell!

2. Hell is also described in the Bible as being a fire that is never quenched, outer darkness, a bottomless pit, wailing, gnashing of teeth, a worm that eats on you and never dies and never ending torment. Bottom line, I said that hell is literal and it will include the experience of pain and anguish and it is the complete absence of goodness and the complete absence of God. And hell will never end.

3. I said that God had solved the problem of this spiritual death and separation from Him before the problem had ever even occurred. He had a plan in place ready to solve this problem before any of us ever were aware we had a problem.

After having read all this you may still have a pit in your stomach or a brain that keeps saying back to you “but why hell at all? What is the point? Why can’t God forgive us for our wrongdoing without some punishment?”

That is how a lot of us feel when we first encounter hell. What has helped me in looking at this issue is to realize that we here on this earth have a strong need for justice to happen when others are wrongdoers against us. I recently watched a special on television about death row inmates in the weeks up to their executions. What was fascinating was not just the defendants understanding that they indeed had done a heinous crime in murdering people, often who were innocent bystanders, but the victims’ families’ responses. Even if the victims knew that the defendant had come to a place of repentance and understanding that the murder was wrong the victims still believed the inmate must suffer death.

I pondered where that need for justice comes from. I think it is from God. I think we have a built in system in our beings that knows when a wrong is committed and cries out for justice. I think it is built in by God. And honestly when I look at how we hurt each other on this planet, I realize that a lot of the perpetration of our wrongs is because we don’t see justice happening here so we take things into our own hands.

Back to hell. Hell is a judicial punishment for wrongdoing. It is a perfectly logical response by a just God toward our sin. God considers sin worthy of death. He made the planet and he gets to set up the justice rules. But God is not just perfectly just but He is perfectly merciful. So in his perfect mercy, He and His Son Jesus came up with a plan to deal with both issues. God and His Son came up with a plan to fulfill justice and mercy at the same time.

Oddly the whole thing was going to happen in Christ’s physical body. God was going to dump all of mankinds’ sin and crimes against humanity and God into one moment in history. And that moment was Christ hanging on a cross to pay for humanity’s sins. It met God’s justice requirements because Christ’s death was big enough to cover all of humanity’s sins. And He was allowed to do it because He never sinned himself. I know, wrap your mind around that! But that same act met God’s mercy requirements in that God and Jesus took the “hit” on themselves. And paid the price for sin so no one ever had to go to hell. Isn’t that amazing? Can you imagine being Jesus and knowing that your purpose in life was to pay for all the rape, and murder and kidnapping and wrongdoing the human race could ever think to perpetrate on each other and you yourself having done none of that sinning? Amazing Jesus.

So this week on Friday as you go about your day, just ponder the fact that Friday represents “good Friday” in our spiritual history. As the day God provided justice here on earth by Christ’s dying on that piece of wood in the Middle East. Sin had been paid for. And God also provided mercy. If someone wanted to accept the gift Christ provided by paying for our sin, we never had to experience hell.

And if you really want to get excited about who God is, ponder with me what happened on Sunday. God raised Christ from the dead so he would be able to live forever. If you receive the gift of Christ’s death on the cross, your sins are paid for, but Sunday, oh Sunday! It represents that Christ comes to live inside us in the person of the Holy Spirit to allow us to live COMPLETELY different lives than we would have before. Because we have a brand new living spirit that is capable of being and doing good! I know. This blog is mostly about Friday. But, oh, Sunday! Sunday is wonderful too in our lives!

I explained to my interviewer that there is no behavior or action or attitude or mistake that any person could ever make that would result in them spending eternity in hell except the rejection of God’s solution to the problem. I said that ONLY the rejection of God’s provision; who so loved us that He gave His one and only Son to die and save us from hell and so He could have the relationship with us He has always wanted; would be the reason any person will ever find themselves in eternal hell separated forever from God.

I told him that every single human being has complete freedom to avoid hell. That Christ loved us enough to tell us the truth about the invisible realm that is eternal, as well as the visible realm which is temporary. And by loving us enough to tell us the truth He has given us the full opportunity to solve the problem of hell forever, personally. Each of us individually!

While I had learned from my father to be terrified and to be one hundred percent certain that I would face a personal angry God with personal accountability and punishment, I had never been told that I had the option of experiencing a personal God who loved me and who wanted a relationship with me forever.

Sometimes I liken my father’s behavior in speaking so much and so often about hell because of his fear we’d miss out on heaven like any other parent who sees their child going into a potentially risky behavior. An example might be how a parent deals with a 16 year old learning to drive. One type of “glass half full” parent might want to not focus on the fearful part and help the kid understand the fun of getting to places, the freedom and independence to travel in this wonderful country, to get around where and when you need to and what driving offers. But even the glass half full parents probably muster up the courage to say “but honey, there is a downside to driving. You will be going at high speeds in a 2 ton hunk of steel with other drivers going at high speeds and we live in a culture where people drive drunk, drive while texting and drive when the weather doesn’t really permit it.” That might be a balanced approach to include the good and the bad.

What my father did in this analogy was not only to scare us to death about possibly dying and hurting ourselves and others, he just preemptively took the keys away! And told us every day that he would control our ability to drive (and hurt ourselves) by just never giving us the keys.

It would be impossible to overestimate how messed up my siblings and I are with this attitude my father foisted on us. He scared us to death with the negatives but not once every explained or lived out the positives.

So you might be surprised, with my upbringing when asked by my interviewer if I still have a fear of hell and my answer was “No!”

I said it was not just because of knowing the truth but that it was because of a personal relationship I have developed in the intervening years with my God. I said we all understand what it can be like to have a trusting relationship with a child, a parent, a spouse, other family member or friend and that though difficult to describe in words, we all know what it is like when we can trust someone. I said the same is true of God. In the world we live in, through difficulties and joyful experiences, day by day, week by week we are able to grow in our relationship with God and we can learn to trust Him.

Brokenness and terror and fear and anxiety can be replaced by wholeness and trust . . . and peace. I told this young man that perfect love completely eliminates fear. That the difference is the difference between night and day. It is like shining a light into a dark room. When the light enters, the darkness is gone.

I discussed the dangers of avoiding the subject of hell or denying the reality of hell. I posed the questions: “Why would you avoid or deny something of such importance when all you have to do is face directly toward the truth and deal with the truth straight on?” Not only does it help you forever but it allows you to have peace and wholeness in day to day living. Why would a person live in denial or accept a lie when the simple truth can set them free?”

Emotions that destroy the heart can be replaced with emotions that restore the heart and restore the life for each person who knows the true living God and knows the truth He has given us. We have absolutely no reason to fear hell!

So hell is real and even more real is the victory over hell and the grave that God secured for everyone who believes. The healthy way to heal and put your life on a strong foundation, forever, is to listen to what our loving God has told us about what is true, and accept what He says. Place your life firmly on the foundation; The Rock: of Christ Jesus!

I ended by telling this young man that I am free in my heart today in a way I never thought possible growing up in my father’s house. I am at peace in my heart because I have come to know the love of my Creator. His love is deep and wide and it lasts forever.

I invite you to please begin a relationship with God today, if you have not already done so, and take an unbearable load off of your mind and off of your eternal soul. Don’t put it off, don’t avoid it, and don’t try to do an end run around it or break an opening through the middle of this reality. Face it, accept it and live.

Eternal hell is real because God is Just. Eternal salvation is real because God is love! Receive the gifts of Friday and Sunday! God wants to give them to you!

Mark Phelps

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Legalism and Grace

Have you ever had someone call you a legalist? It is not a compliment the way it is usually used! It’s definition? Legalism: A strict literal or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code. And once you put that conformity on other people they really want to be close to God. Not!!

How does one get wrapped up in religious legalism? It is an important question. So many churches today preach a wonderful message of grace and forgiveness from the pulpit but yet they live so ungraciously toward one another during the week. So harshly. So legalistically. We are supposed to live out the message and truth of grace, not just preach grace, not just have grace on the name of our church. We are to live it out in the every day of our lives . We don't want to place massive gorillas onto peoples' backs and add to their burdens by requiring religious adherence to our rules.

Religious legalism usually starts off with good intentions. It begins with peoples’ heartfelt desire to find acceptance from God. That is a good thing. Many strike out on their own to order their lives to what they believe defines holiness. The problem is, they tend to look only at the things that can be measured. And that would be outward conformity only. They go on this journey because they believe it is the right thing to do and to find His acceptance.

They start with themselves – what would God like? Well He would probably like me to go to church. He would probably like me to read the Bible. He would probably like me to pray a certain number of hours during the week. He would probably like me to go to Bible school. He would probably, He would probably, He would probably. Then we say “I'm not sure I can do all this but I really want God to like me so I will try as hard as I can!” The approach starts with 'me'. Not with God. And it is an easy place to find oneself. If you are in a relationship with God you are half of that relationship! And God says clearly “Be holy as I am holy.” It’s not as if the desire to be holy came from nowhere.

My experience watching Christians is they are at a crossroads once they decide to follow God into the deep waters of holiness. We either realize it is a day by day walk with God that requires humility and wisdom and many bumps along the road or we invent rules that will allow us to “know” when we have met the “holiness standard.” Set by us of course!

Let’s step into Joe or Jill Christian’s life. Let’s say Joe has had a problem with Internet pornography before he came to Christ. He is aware that the Internet, for him, is a dangerous place. And for him initially he might choose to set up some serious parameters around his usage of even his home computer. He might have passwords that his wife knows. A history he is willing to show her (or his Bible study) at any time.

But what if Joe decided his problem required him to set up those same parameters on everyone? What if his own set of rules that he believed needed to be deeply personal convictions for himself he decided needed to be personal convictions for everyone. Joe might become a deeply religious person as he sought to deal with his own weaknesses and aspects of his specific sin nature. But the problem is Joe could easily end up entering the condemnation zone (which is a much worse place than the twilight zone).

The condemnation zone is where you start taking your personal convictions and looking at other people through them and making a judgment on how they are doing with God. How is that other person doing with God? How are they lining up with God? Are they working hard to gain His acceptance? And usually they are not (in your opinion). And you begin making assumptions about their motivations and the condition of their heart.

It’s not like women aren’t prone to these same issues. A woman might come to a conviction about the wearing of certain neck lines, skirt lengths, swimsuit wearing, you name it. And for her it might be a desire to honor what she sees in the Bible as it pertains to holiness and modesty in dress. The challenge for one woman is she may decide that all women everywhere, no matter what age, what culture and what state of relationship to God still have to follow her rules for holiness. She might start on a crusade she thinks is going to honor God but ends up decimating the women and girls around her.

So then how do you see other people? If you have set up stringent standards for yourself you might just decide other people who don’t have your standards just don't care! They're just not dedicated to God like I am! Something is wrong! No longer can you love people but they have to perform up to a certain level before you will allow your love to go out. And you are giving the impression that this is how God feels toward us. And that is not what the Bible says at all! Grace is defined as God’s wonderful goodness and unmerited favor toward people. He gives away his favor just because he wants to! So why are people then trying to earn his favor you ask? Because they believe that's what religion tells them. Religious tradition is filled with this.

The church my father started is an example of religious tradition on steroids. If everything is not done exactly how their rules say things are to be done the response is immediate harshness and condemnation. They monitor and police every member to enforce their religious rules. And if you are not a member of their church or leave their church you are condemned to hell, end of discussion. All the while they tell you their behavior is motivated by their love for you. They have a vague intellectual understanding of grace but they desperately cling to their rules and traditions; their legalism! The Pharisees in the Bible got so lost in their religious rules, traditions and power structures that when the Lord appeared and disrupted their religious system their response was deadly anger.

You completely miss what God has revealed about Himself in the scriptures when you live a life like I just described. The only way a person can find acceptance before this Holy God is to believe in the holy substitute God sent to this earth to essentially go to the gallows for us. For our sin. And that holy substitute is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ alone is holy enough to gain the acceptance of God. Jesus Christ alone is perfect enough to gain the acceptance of God. You and I will never be perfect enough to gain God's acceptance no matter how hard we try. Not by a million miles! But the Good News is that God has a way around this problem. One he designed with Jesus before time began.

The way to gain God’s acceptance is to have someone deal with our sin problem which has put us massively at odds with God. You can’t have sinners hanging out with a holy God who hates sin. At least not very well! The way God the Father provided for us to come to Him and be accepted was Christ. Because He completely accepts Christ and Christ is willing to stand in and take our punishment for us. So the first step in a relationship with the Father is to believe the Son did what He said He could do. Pay for our sin and set us free. To be fully and completely accepted by the Father. You see there is no other way other than faith in the solution, the one He provided, the person of Jesus Christ.

In a sense I need to hide myself behind Jesus Christ who is my stand in. The one who is going to my gallows. I need to be attached to him as a branch to the vine. Then you and I can have that acceptance with God before we try to do anything to please God. The acceptance God has provided is by my faith in Jesus Christ alone, and all of a sudden I find the complete acceptance of God. My sins are forgiven. I am washed clean by the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God. And I can experience in my soul the presence of God. And I can experience His love. His love begins to fill my heart and it becomes my motivation! The more I understand His love the more I respond to His love!

Jesus wants individual hearts to be open to Him as Messiah and King. It's why He came. He's not looking for crowds. He is looking for individuals. He wants each of us as individuals to open the gates of our city; open our own individual hearts; and let Him in to be King of our life, each of us. He wants us to let Him set up His throne in our heart, each of us. That's what He wants. And when He does that our whole life changes. And God is saying I will accept you in the exact same way I accept my beloved Son if only you will hide yourself in Him.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:16-17

Hide yourself in the Son of God. That is where you will find the acceptance of God and you will experience it in your soul. God has promised us that He will put His Holy Spirit within us, just as He put His Holy Spirit upon His only beloved begotten Son. And then we will have God's power to live our lives like Jesus lived and not depend on legalism for God's acceptance. This is a life-long process motivated by the love of God, powered by the strength of God, as we are kept safe within the care of God.

“Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen;
My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased;
I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
“He will not quarrel, nor cry out;
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.
“A battered reed He will not break off,
And a smoldering wick He will not put out,
Until He leads justice to victory.
“And in His name the Gentiles will hope.”
Matthew 12: 18-21

A bruised and battered reed blown over by the wind, knocked over by the forces around it. When someone comes to such a bruised and broken reed the person says: “can I use this?” and someone answers: “No, throw it away. It's worthless!” But Jesus says He will not break it and destroy it. Instead He will take it and heal it. Some of us are like bruised reeds today. We're barely making it, we've been beaten up by the world and we are kind of messed up. We've been knocked down, drug along behind a truck, and we are just shredded wheat on the inside. Just completely mauled and demoralized. And we think what can God do with me? What can God do for me?

God is not interested in you meeting a certain standard before He will accept you. He knows better! God accepts you in Christ. And God wants to come and heal your brokenness. But if you approach God on the basis of works you will never experience that healing because you will always be blocking His moves. You say to God: 'No no, you don't understand, I'm just not good enough!' And God says: “I'm good enough!” I was good for you. Now let me heal your life.” You say to God: “No, you don't understand! I haven't got that act together yet! I'm still working on it.” And we keep blocking His moves.

All the Lord wants you to do is put your hands down. Stop fighting with God. Let Him reach down into your heart and touch your life, in the deep deep areas of your life, and bring freshness and healing. That's vulnerable. Don't be afraid of the Lord. Put the hands down. Sure you are a broken reed, a bruised reed. But see the Lord wants to come in and heal you and set you back up right and wrap that binding string around you to strengthen you and touch your heart and restore your life.

The Lord is well pleased with us when we hide ourselves in Jesus. Let Him cover you with His love. Cease from striving and take Him at His word. He loves you. He is not going to hurt you.

Mark Phelps

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Jesus Intentionally Gave His Life

Warning: Please do not read this writing if you are sensitive to or may be upset by graphic descriptions of physical violence.

Please do not allow children to read this writing.

My first experience reading the details of the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross was about 25 years ago. It was during the time of the celebration of Easter in America and I happened upon a book that presented information on the subject. I remember it so clearly because I could not stop reading and pondering the reality of what I was reading.

In some very real ways I found myself relating to some of what I was reading because of the physical abuse I had experienced at the hand of my father. Nothing, of course, like I was reading, but some faint memories of my own abuse stirred in my soul and the feelings that these memories brought to the surface I think God used to help me understand His crucifixion. And maybe understand my own abuse just a little bit better. And certainly understand His love for me a little bit more!

The memories I was tapping into as I read the book on crucifixion were feelings such as shivering in my body when I was awakened in the middle of the night as a small boy, waking to the cold chill of terror as my father was raging. My knees, stomach and chin would shake uncontrollably. Feelings of stark fear when I was facing a physical beating and there was no one or no way to stop my father from beating me. The raw physical pain I still have memories of that was a part of the intense physical beating and battering I experienced at the hand of my father. The despair I felt watching my father beat one of my brothers or my sisters or my mother knowing there was nothing I could do to stop him.

Certainly I have had many questions about God and I have given a lot of thought to the subject of God, who he is and what he is like. I was plunged into all of this “God stuff” from my birth.

In the final analysis I have come back to one overwhelming realization over and over and over again. Whatever I do or do not understand and whatever I believe or do not believe about God, ultimately I have to ask myself, and answer some questions that, for me, go to the core of the issue of who God is and what he is like.

Assuming for a minute that there is the least possibility that this Jesus who is well documented in history might just possibly be the person he says he is, the very Son of God in human flesh, here are my questions:

‘Why would God allow His Son to suffer the way He did?’

‘Why would Jesus have been so willing to go through what He went through?’

‘What could possibly have been the motivation for such a voluntary act on the part of Jesus?’

I would like to describe some of what I have learned over the years regarding what Jesus experienced. There are some variations in what I have read over the years in the accounts of what Jesus experienced but for the most part all the accounts are consistent in their description of the main details. I invite you reading this to do your own study on this subject. Perhaps as you read what I am writing you will have questions similar to the ones I have mentioned above.

I also invite you to use your imagination as you read these descriptions of the crucifixion of Jesus. Imagine you are the mother of Jesus. Or imagine you are a close friend of Jesus. Or imagine yourself in the circumstances in which Jesus found himself and try to comprehend what it may have been like if you were the one experiencing what he experienced and how you may have felt and responded. Personally I have done this many times. I have tried to fathom what it would have been like if I had been the one in the place of Jesus through every moment of what occurred during these final hours of his life on earth.

The night before Jesus was crucified he went to the Garden of Gethsemane and he prayed to his father. He was aware of the suffering he was about to endure over the next several hours and he was already experiencing the weight of it all in his mind and his heart. Jesus was experiencing extreme psychological stress. In fact he was exceeding sorrowful unto death. During this time of enormous emotional strain he began to sweat blood.

Some say this can’t be so or this is an exaggeration. But in reality, though rare, the phenomenon of Hematidrosis, or bloody sweat, is well documented. Severe anxiety causes the release of chemicals that break down the capillaries in the sweat glands. As the capillaries are compromised the result is a little bleeding into the sweat glands and this mixes blood with sweat.

This Hematidrosis also caused Jesus’ skin to be very fragile so that a few hours later when Jesus was flogged by the Roman solders his skin was hyper-sensitive to pain. Further, Hematidrosis very likely produced marked weakness and shock to his body. I really cannot imagine the amount of emotional stress Jesus my Savior was experiencing while in the garden that night praying to his father.

  The next violence Jesus endured was after his arrest in the middle of the night and Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin. A soldier struck Jesus across the face for remaining silent when questioned by the high priest Caiaphas. The palace guards then blind-folded Him and mockingly taunted Him to identify them as they each passed by, spat upon Him, and struck Him in the face.

  This may not sound all that bad until you realize that the strikes to his face were numerous and savage, and they caused the face of Jesus to be marred so that he was no longer recognizable as a human being. The blows were not just mild slaps. The soldiers delivered direct violent forceful blows with their open palms and fists to the bare face of Jesus at point blank range. They also pulled out his beard!

Jesus willingly gave his face to these men and intentionally allowed them to treat him this way. We would not get the picture of what Jesus endured from most artists’ renderings of Jesus on the cross. But this is in fact what took place. No bones were broken in his face but the bruising and contusions and swelling left his face so damaged that his face no longer had the appearance of a human being when the soldiers were done beating Jesus.

Then in the early hours of the morning, after being battered and brutalized, dehydrated, and exhausted from a sleepless night, Jesus was taken before the Roman procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, who had final authority concerning the condemnation and execution of Jesus. Though Pilate could find no fault in Jesus he issued the order to have Jesus flogged and then crucified.

Roman floggings usually consisted of thirty-nine lashes but often were a lot more than thirty-nine, depending on the state of mind of the soldier applying the lashes. Jesus was prepared for the scourging by being stripped of His clothing and then his arms were tied to a post above His head.

The soldier flogged Jesus with a whip of braided leather thongs with several metal balls woven into them, all the way to the end of each thong. When the whip would strike the flesh, these balls would cause deep bruises or contusions in his skin which would break open with further blows.

My brother Nathan, my brother Jonathan, my sister Katherine, my brother Fred Jr. and I; we all experienced something similar to this when we were beaten by our father with the mattock handle. Our father would give us so many blows with the mattock handle that our skin would badly bruise and then, after a few minutes break, he would beat us some more, just as the feeling was beginning to return to the previously beaten parts of our bodies. This repeated beating caused the bruises that had begun to form from the earlier beatings, to break open causing open bleeding and eventually open sores.

Of course what we experienced, though from our perspective it was very painful and traumatic, was minimal compared to what happened to Jesus. I don’t normally think of my brutal abuse in a positive light, but in this one way, in my being able to relate to Jesus even in this small way, I realize I have been able to understand even more what he did for me. And for this understanding I really am grateful.

The leather thongs used on Jesus also contained pieces of bone and glass. The bone and glass would cut the skin severely and imbed in his skin and when the whip was pulled back in preparation for the next lash it would rip the skin on his back and legs. The heavy whip was brought down with full force again and again across Jesus’ shoulders, back, and legs.

At first the thongs cut through his skin only. Then, as the blows continued, they cut deeper into his subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles.  Finally the skin of his back was hanging in long quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh and the entire area was an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. His back and legs were so shredded that part of his spine was exposed by the deep, deep cuts. His veins were laid bare and his very muscles, sinews and bowels were open to exposure. The flogging went all the way from his shoulders down to his back, his buttocks, and the back of his legs. It was probably more terrible than anything you could imagine.

History tells us that many people would die from this kind of beating even before they could be crucified. Jesus experienced tremendous pain and he would have gone into hypovolemic shock. This means he suffered the loss of a large amount of blood. Hypovolemic shock is a very serious medical condition. His heart was racing to try to pump blood that was not there. His blood pressure dropped causing him to approach near fainting (in fact he collapsed to the ground as he walked the Via Dolorosa). His kidneys would have stopped producing urine to maintain what volume of fluid that was still left in his body. He became very thirsty as his body craved fluids to replace the lost blood volume.

How would his mother have felt watching these soldiers torturing her innocent son?!

When it was determined by the centurion in charge that Jesus was near death, the beating was finally stopped.  By this time Jesus was already in serious to critical condition. The half-fainting Jesus was then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, soaked in His own blood. But the physical abuse had scarcely begun.

The Roman soldiers saw great sport in this pathetic figure of a small town Jew claiming to be king. They put a robe around his shoulders and placed a stick in his hand for a scepter. They still needed a crown to make their travesty complete. Flexible branches covered with long thorns were plaited into the shape of a crown and this ‘crown’ was pressed into his scalp. Again there was bounteous bleeding because the scalp has so many blood vessels.

After mocking Jesus and striking Him across the face and preparing his crown of thorns, the soldiers took the stick from His hand and struck Him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into His scalp. Finally, they got tired of their sadistic sport and the robe was torn from His back. Already having adhered to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds on his back, its removal caused excruciating pain and he began to bleed again almost as profusely as when he had initially been beaten.

Jesus survived all of this brutality and was then required to go forward toward the place of his crucifixion.  The heavy cross section (the patibulum) of the cross was tied across His shoulders, and Jesus was required to proceed with his executioners in his slow journey along the Via Dolorosa to the place of the skull, the place called Golgotha.

Because he was experiencing hypovolemic shock, in spite of His efforts to continue walking, the weight of the heavy wooden beam was too much. Jesus stumbled and fell. The rough wood of the beam gouged into the lacerated skin and muscles of his shoulders. He tried to rise, but his muscles had been pushed beyond their endurance.

  A man named Simon was recruited to carry the heavy cross section (patibulum) the rest of the way to the place where Jesus was to be crucified. When they arrived at the place called Calvary Simon was ordered to place that heavy cross portion on the ground and Jesus was quickly thrown backward with His shoulders and back against the wood. Historical Roman accounts and experimental work have determined it is most likely that the nails were driven into the body of Jesus between the small bones of his wrists (radial and ulna) and not through his palms. The Romans used large iron spikes that were usually seven inches long and tapered to a sharp point. They were 3/8ths of an inch in diameter.

The Roman soldier felt for the depression at the front of Jesus’ wrist. He drove the heavy, square, seven inch wrought-iron spike through the wrist of Jesus and deep into the wood. Quickly, the Roman soldier moved to the other side and repeated the action, being careful not to pull the arms of my Savior too tightly, but to allow some flexion and movement.

The iron spikes were hammered into Jesus through the place where the median nerve runs. This is the largest nerve going out to his hand, and it was crushed by the iron spike that was pounded into his wrist. Each wrist! You know the kind of pain you feel when you bump your elbow and hit your funny bone? This is an example of another large nerve very similar to the median nerve.

So try to visualize this. Visualize taking a pair of pliers and squeezing and crushing that nerve on your elbow. Too painful to even try to think about! That gives you a vague idea of what Jesus experienced, in terms of his pain when an iron spike was hammered through each of his wrists. The pain was excruciating! In fact the word excruciating was originally formulated to describe the pain experienced during crucifixion. Look up the origin of the word excruciating on Google.

Imagine if this were happening to you!

After Jesus was nailed by his wrists to the heavy cross section it was then lifted in place at the top of the stipes (the vertical section of the cross which was already secured in the ground) with Jesus hanging from his wrists. The sign reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” was nailed into place at the top of his cross.

Jesus’ arms immediately stretched about six inches beyond their normal length from the weight of hanging by his wrists and both of his shoulders became dislocated and it is very likely that his elbow joints were also dislocated at this time. Jesus’ left foot was then pressed backward against his right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, an iron spike was driven through the arch of each foot, leaving his knees moderately flexed.

Jesus my Savior was now crucified.

As He slowly sagged down with more weight on the iron spikes in his wrists, excruciating pain shot along his fingers and up his arms to explode in his brain -- the iron spikes in his wrists were putting pressure on his median nerves. And the pain was similar in intensity radiating from the iron spike through both of his feet.

As Jesus pushed Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He placed His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there was the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of his feet.  At this point as his arms fatigued, great waves of cramps swept over his muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps came the inability to push upward. Hanging by his arms, his pectoral muscles were paralyzed and his intercostal muscles were unable to function.

Jesus could draw air into his lungs, but he could not exhale. Jesus fought repeatedly to raise himself in order to exhale and get even one short breath back into his lungs. Spasmodically, he was able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. In essence crucifixion involves, in part, an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation.

The stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put his chest into the inhaled position. Basically in order to exhale he had to push up on his feet so the tension on his muscles would be eased for a moment. In doing this the iron spike would tear through his foot eventually locking up against his tarsal bones.

After managing to exhale, Jesus would then be able to relax down and take another breath in. Again he would have to push himself up to exhale, scraping his bloodied back against the coarse wood of the cross. This went on and on until he was completely exhausted. He was no longer able to push up and breathe any more.

After Jesus’ arms had come out of their sockets his chest sagged downwards, stretching out to its full extent. Try this yourself. If you strenuously stretch out your arms above your head spread as widely apart as possible, even while seated, you'll recognize the difficulty. Or with your hands spread as far apart as possible grab a bar high enough off the ground for you to hang on with your feet off the ground and hang from the bar in this hands-spread-far-apart position with all of your weight being held up by your hands. See how you feel after just five minutes. See what happens if you try to push your hang time to ten minutes!

It's easy to inhale with arms fully outstretched, but difficult to exhale again. Your body needs to work its muscles to breathe in and out, and it is used to doing so with little resistance. Once your chest is fully expanded, it is impossible to breathe in anything more than sips of air. Jesus slowly suffocated near the end of his crucifixion because he was unable to get enough oxygen and he was unable to expel the carbon dioxide building up in his body. The one who made the universe couldn’t even get a breath.

Basically Jesus my Savior was forced to alternate between the terror of the very real feeling of suffocating and the excruciating pain when he put pressure on the iron spike in his feet to push up so he could exhale and grab a quick gasp of breath.

I have experienced a faint shadow of what Jesus was going through. With lung disease I often become fatigued in my back and stomach muscles as I work exceedingly hard to get breath. Carbon dioxide gets trapped in my lungs due to the disease I have and the feeling of not being able to get my breath causes me panic at times and extreme discomfort. It often takes me tremendous energy just to breath. However, compared to what Jesus experienced I breathe easy.

Jesus experienced hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, bones out of joint, intermittent partial asphyxiation and searing pain where tissue was torn from His lacerated back as He moved up and down against the rough timber.

Then another agony began -- a terrible crushing pain deep in his chest as the pericardium slowly filled with serum and began to compress his heart.  Any of you with heart disease may relate a little bit to this final torturous experience of Jesus.

All of these details of his crucifixion bring to mind the 14th verse of the 22nd Psalm: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.”

  As he slowed down his breathing Jesus went into what is called respiratory acidosis. The carbon dioxide in his blood was dissolved as carbonic acid and this caused the acidity of his blood to increase. This eventually led to an irregular heartbeat. His agony was nearing the end. His loss of tissue fluids reached a critical level; his compressed heart struggled to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into his tissue, his tortured lungs were making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. His markedly dehydrated tissues were sending a flood of pain stimuli to his brain.

Jesus’ mother was watching everything the soldiers did to her son! How could she stand it!!

In the condition Jesus was in he was still thinking about others. He asked his father to forgive those who were crucifying him. He promised one of those being crucified with him that he would see him that day in paradise because of his faith. And he told his close friend John to take care of his mother after he was gone.

With his heart beating erratically, my Savior, Jesus, knew he was near his moment of death. It was at this point he was able to declare his battle cry of victory “It is finished!” And then shortly thereafter he spoke the words, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Jesus then died of cardiac arrest.

One expert in forensic medicine, Frederick Zugibe, actually volunteered to tie himself to a cross to monitor what physically takes place during a crucifixion. He concluded that victims died from "hypovolemic shock." This condition sets in when a body has lost so much blood and fluid that the heart can't continue to function.

Jesus literally died of a broken heart!

Jesus gave his life on purpose.

His actions were intentional!

He was compelled to take each step and endure every agony to the end.

But why?!

Was Jesus insane? Was he deluded? Was he a masochist? Why did he go through all of this horrific agony? The Bible tells us he could have called legions of angels to rescue him. What held him on that cross? It certainly was not the iron spikes! Any of us giving thought to this must wonder what in the world was going on here! Why did Jesus allow himself to be excruciatingly tortured to death?

I try to conceive of the cruelty or foolishness or evil that I would have to attribute to the Father, God, if He allowed His Son to be tortured by His own creatures unless there was some incomprehensibly essential reason for doing so. I ask myself: ‘Would I allow my son or daughter to be treated like this if I had the power to stop it?’ Or I ask myself: ‘For what reason would I be willing to allow my son or daughter to go through such torture?’ Am I kinder or better or more caring than my Creator? I would not allow it! I would do anything I could to stop it! Am I better than God? Well I know better than that!!

Seriously, can any of us honestly propose that this ultimate sacrifice God made of His beloved Son based on His love for all mankind be anything less than the absolute most amazing action ever taken in all the history of all humanity? Can we?!

I believe the Father gave the life of His one and only precious Son intentionally because He loves each single one of us! I believe Jesus gave his life intentionally because of his love for each single one of us! There is no greater show of love than for a person to lay down his life for his friend. Jesus calls us his friend! We are the friends of Jesus. Each of us! Jesus died for his friends.

His actions were more intentional than we could ever realize! He has loved us from before the time we were born and he initiated a plan before time began to rescue us out of our broken condition that He knew we would find ourselves in. He knew before we could ever have a clue, that our souls were in a desperately hopeless condition relative to our relationship with our God.

From the moment man first disobeyed the Father we died spiritually and then we became prisoners to our sin. The justice of God demanded a sacrifice, restoring to Himself His own again. So the lamb, His only Son, was freely offered and atonement for our sin was forever made.

The Father and Jesus hate our sin because it causes us to die, and Calvary is the measure of His hatred. The only way to solve the sin problem and for us to ever be made alive spiritually, ever again, was for our brother to give his life for us. We needed a relative, a kinsman, to give his life to purchase back our souls. We needed someone who was perfect and therefore able to stand in our place before God. Jesus is that kinsman redeemer! Jesus is our brother and he loves us. He hated what was destroying us and He gave his life intentionally so he could destroy that which was destroying us and so that we could live with him forever.

Oh how our hearts cry out for justice in this world. We cry out for fairness. We want ourselves and others to be treated fairly and it goes against the grain of our souls when we witness injustice. Injustice offends us and it offends God. The bad news is we all come up short, we have all been found wanting because none of us are perfect. None of us are perfectly right and just all the time! The good news is Jesus is right and just all the time and Jesus met the requirement of justice for each of us and made it possible for us to all receive forgiveness, mercy and grace. So we receive way better than justice and fairness. We get to be loved no matter what our condition or what we have done! We get to have things made right when nothing seemed to really be right and when there was no hope. Because of Jesus!

The crucifixion of Jesus reminds us not only of the brokenness of the world but it also reminds us that in those times of suffering and pain, we are not alone.  In the person of Jesus we encounter a God who stands with us in the suffering, a God who is not apart from that burden and pain, but one who is in it with us.  He endured blunt force physical and psychological trauma for our sakes! He understands our feelings and our struggles!

Jesus says:

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I am gentle and humble. And you will find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

Out of his great love for us Jesus died intentionally because he knew he was going to rise from the grave and in so doing he was going to defeat death and defeat the grave. His love being so immense and so far reaching he wanted us to live forever and never have to die ever again.

The intentional actions of Jesus make God’s forgiveness an option. Before Jesus gave his life forgiveness was not available. The intentional actions of Jesus make life after death possible. Before Jesus gave his life there was no life after death. The intentional actions of Jesus defeated the enemy of our soul, defeated death and gave us victory over the grave.

The single overarching problem of all of human kind was the break in our relationship with our Creator, the one who made us and loves us. The intentional actions of Jesus solved this unsolvable problem and restored our relationship with our Creator. Each person who so desires can avail him or herself of this solution and throw themselves into the arms of God and live in his presence forever. And this can start right here on earth, right now, by faith!

But God loves us all too much to force us to love him. So he honors each of us who choose to go our own way! And he will honor that decision after we die! And the consequences are we will live forever without his presence and without his love. So we need to give serious consideration to our decision when it comes to Jesus.

Because Jesus was serious and intentional in his actions, we need to be the same. Each one of us needs to intentionally accept his sacrifice on our behalf and accept his love, or we need to intentionally decide in the cold light of day to deny his gift of life and turn our back on his love. No one can make that decision for us. Not even God!

He knew what was going to result from his dying and his getting up from the grave. He knew that it would give us life forever and his great love compelled him to intentionally endure it all. And he is satisfied with the results of all he had to go through. He is satisfied that we have life instead of death and that we will live forever with him as his brother. Each person who comes to Jesus he will in no way reject! Not ever!!

Jesus loves us and he knew what we needed and he was willing to do what had to be done. There is no greater gift! There is no greater news ever heard on earth! God truly made it possible for there to be peace between Him and each of us because of his good will and his love toward each of us. Someday this reality will be fully manifested for all who avail themselves of his love.

Jesus intentionally gave his life . . . for you . . . because he loves you!

Mark Phelps

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Motivation: Fear or Love?

The concept of how to motivate people in business and in life is something Americans care a lot about. What I’m writing about today is the way my father, Fred W. Phelps Sr. chose to motivate his children. And later how he tried to motivate his church and ultimately his community.

I think when my father started out as a pastor he was honestly telling people what he believed to be true. And initially I think he thought what he was saying was for the benefit of his listeners. But what my father did that hurt him and a whole lot of other people in the process was he started to isolate himself and would not allow anyone to give him feedback. About his thinking. About his preaching. And ultimately about the way he lived his life. And a man out of the loop of feedback from his peers is a man who can go astray. And to say my father went astray is truly an understatement.

What my father did was find what he thought were the most important rules from the bible for how to live properly and then he pounded those into the minds of his listeners. Over and over and over again! Those of us who later got out of my father’s cult found out that my father cherry picked things from the Bible that mirrored his growing hatred of himself and other people. So he truly chose over time to preach hate. The hate was actually in his own heart but he picked concepts out of the Bible that he thought might support his views and then ever so subtly he twisted them. And to do that he pretty much had to throw the true God and His Son out. My father especially disliked Jesus. Who he understood was loving and forgiving and because of that had to either ignore or malign.

When I first came to understand that Jesus had died for my sin and actually was a loving, caring Savior my life was at a very different place than it is today. I had no concept of the fact that the Father and the Son meant for me to live in relationship with them first and foremost. And ONLY after that they would empower me to live my life out in a loving way, with their love actually flowing through me. I had no idea about this kind of relationship when I was a young man in my father’s church. My father never explained how a person was to live up to his rigid rules. He just beat the rules into us. There was so much information spewed forth at us with rigid harsh expectations for how we were to live our lives but there was no instruction given on how that was to be accomplished. Truly your nightmare leadership style to be sure!

We did not understand anything about the power and the hope that was available to us for living the new life Christ wanted for us. Well for that matter most of us didn’t even understand that Christ had a new life he wanted for us! At least this understanding wasn’t coming from my father’s preaching. What we did understand was fear! What we got was my father’s endless teaching, mostly of his own making with little connection to the heart of God and the Bible’s plain meaning and packed with plenty of don’ts, with boat loads of fear mongering and deception, but honestly very few dos, certainly no instruction on how, and no hint of love!

What I have learned over the years is that people who are in a life giving relationship with the Father and the Son rarely have time to do anything negative or judgmental because they are so filled up with the love of God. The people who tend to bash, in my experience, are the ones far, far from God. And because they have no relationship with God they resort to rules.

I struggled to live up to the standards apparently required by God (remember, this was according to my father) and the meeting of this standard was imposed with brutality by my father, the preacher. I know now that it is possible to be aware of the facts of Jesus and his death for your sake without knowing what his death and resurrection truly means. I actually think this happens to a lot more of us than we realize if we aren’t truly given the teaching we need to understand this amazing life Christ wants to give us. That was my experience.

I had a fair amount of the “head knowledge” of the Bible and the facts of Jesus’ amazing death and resurrection from the dead. What I didn’t have was an understanding that that historic event had real power connected with it to allow a young man in Topeka, Kansas to be able to live a very different kind of life. Eventually when the head knowledge became heart knowledge, and of a practical sort, my life changed. So I can honestly say to you that I am no longer living the life I used to live.

Here’s why. The Bible says some things happened when I became a follower of Christ . . . a change occurred that was as simple as the flipping of a light switch and as life altering as a baby getting born.

One part of the flipping of the switch was me having, for the first time in my life, help and power from God to live the life He wanted me to live. And the help would come from Him! In the Bible it says “It was through reading the Scripture that I came to realize that I could never find God’s favor by trying—and failing—to obey the laws. I came to realize that acceptance with God comes by believing in Christ. ‘I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Wrapped up in the gift of responding to God’s love and becoming a child of His was this amazing truth that God would live in me and with me and that because of that amazing fact, my life would never be the same. Because of God’s love for me and the fact He was now actually living His life in and through mine I could live my life in a completely different manner.

Okay, so what was the point about all of us trying to obey God’s law on our own? Do we motivate ourselves by our fear of God so we won’t misbehave? Do we honestly think it is because God’s desire is to keep us in constant fear and that He is going to crush us like bugs if we don’t toe the line? No! Then what is the point of us using fear, on our self and others, as a motivator for good behavior?

Remember the definition of “the law” in the Old Testament was simple and written requirements God set out for the Jewish people that would allow them to stay in the right relationship with Him. God created the Ten Commandments FOR His people. They were there for people’s protection just like guard rails on a curvy mountainous highway. But a cursory reading of the Ten Commandments brings us to the conclusion that no one has ever kept the law. All of us in the human race have broken those commandments. We have lied and coveted and not honored our parents and a whole lot more. The New Testament says something huge. It says “If someone obeys all of God’s laws except one, that person is guilty of breaking all of them.”

Wow. That’s a high standard. What’s that about? Who could even think about obeying all the laws of God all the time? When God made the universe He set it up as a moral universe. What that really means is it’s the kind of universe where the things you do matter. Your deeds have consequences. If you hit somebody you break their nose. And you actually break more than bones. You end up doing harm to the relationship you have with that person. God understands this cause and effect relationship. He set it up that way. What we reap we sow. Our actions matter. God expected people to live good, moral lives where they would show compassion and kindness and fight injustice. He would call the people He made to be of the highest moral fiber. But any thinking person realizes that God also gave people the ability to break His laws when He gave them free will. And people do break His laws with great regularity as we see each night on the news and as we walk down the streets of our villages, towns and cities.

Well that’s fine, but what was God really up to when He told us if we couldn’t obey all His laws it’s like we are guilty of breaking them all? When you read the Bible from cover to cover you see that God never lets up on the high standard He sets. In fact, He says things so beyond our comprehension they almost make us laugh. Like when He says “Be holy as I am holy.” Seriously?!

Well actually, yes. He was serious. This whole issue of God’s law itself and whether anyone had a prayer of keeping it completely was worked out by Jesus as He preached the Sermon on the Mount. On that mountain Jesus explained that the standard God set for Old Testament Jews He still wanted us to uphold but that Jesus was refining it to help us realize the standard was to be made even higher. But Jesus also explains in the Sermon on the Mount that this high standard has great and wonderful rewards. Jesus says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see God.” So His high standard, while high indeed, has a wonderful outcome. Jesus shows these high standards partly to encourage people how they could live happy, holy, and productive and caring lives. But he had another purpose.

Wait till you read the Sermon on the Mount again. You will see that the standard is truly Godlike. A standard so high it can’t be lived up to by we who are mortal! And you find out, as you wrestle with this thought, there was a reason why God did this. And that by showing the standard as insurmountably high must have been God’s point! Why else would you raise a bar even higher for a people who had never lived up to it in the first place! He wanted to make it really clear we couldn’t do it on our own and that without His Spirit living in us it was NEVER going to happen!

Um . . . does it have this odd feeling like we are being set up for failure? By God?

No, actually. It’s more like a master builder, who after asking his students to build a building as high as the heavens, tells them that not for one minute are they going to have to build this building alone. And that He will be with them each step of the way. When Jesus preached the truths of the Sermon on the Mount He built in the promises or the gifts we’d receive in each high standard he set out. When He says blessed are the merciful, He follows immediately with “they shall receive mercy.” So, yes, He is asking us to show mercy on people that it is sometimes hard to show mercy, too, but He reminds us those people will be shown mercy in unique ways. He is such an encouraging God! When He gets to the part where He says those who are persecuted for His sake are blessed He says “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in Heaven is great.” So when Jesus was setting this high standard He was promising us those actions would bring blessing to us, even if it would be in ways we couldn’t imagine. So these high, really impossible standards had promises built right in to them. And the reality is we are hard-wired by God for a desire to live these moral, honorable lives.

In most every place on the planet people want to live this exact kind of life with high moral standards. A truly well lived life! We can see this by the constitutions and legal systems of countries and municipalities but also in the rules we make for our own families. We really do care. And we want to live up to the standards of our own countries’ laws but also to a higher law. We are drawn to God’s law whether we understand it’s His or not. We want to be people of honesty and integrity who are able to show compassion and love towards other people. We really do! We see evidence of this desire in our response to what we read in the newspapers because we are embarrassed and saddened when we ourselves or others are not living up to high standards, ours or someone else’s. We are created in God’s image and there is a real desire in each of us to do what we understand to be right.

Can our desire for goodness and honesty and kindness ever be perverted? Actually made into the exact opposite? Well, yes. Little children in any culture have strong needs for belonging and acceptance and we see children following the adults around them, the good ones and the evil ones. Children and even adults can be taught to do wrong and essentially change their bent if there is enough incentive, coercion or fear involved.

If you look at the news today you see individuals being drawn into and indoctrinated in the evils of terrorism who as young children would never have dreamed of doing these things. And when I look at my family I see my nephews and nieces behaving the same way my brothers and sisters were trained to behave by my father. And what the masters of evil in any culture count on initially in their recruitment tactics is the human need to belong. If that doesn’t work, the teachers of evil move on to scare tactics and violence. But if we look at each person’s past, no matter how far back we have to look I believe we can see evidence of a desire to do what’s right and good and life giving in each of us, because each of us is made in the image of God. What I also see is with the folks in my family who have been able to leave the fold sometimes it’s the simplest things that let them know they must go. For some of them it is finding out that there truly are good and compassionate people on the “outside” even though they had always been told the opposite. Isn’t it interesting that love truly can ultimately prevail over fear?

I was many years into my life before Jesus’ love for me became the motivation for my actions instead of fear. I was taught to fear by my father. And my father did not just see to it that I was terrified of him, but that I was terrified of God. Somehow my father believed the only way to get “good behavior” out of us children was to terrify us. He must not have believed how much children are wired to want to please their parents. If my father had given me the slightest encouragement to be a good son and had understood my desire to please him and see a smile on his face or a “well done, son” that would have been so motivating. I had no idea that goodness or honesty or kindness or love could be the motivation for anything! I only knew fear as a motivator. And sadly for a while I motivated myself and even others by fear. It was what I had been taught and it was really my mother tongue. God rescued me from my family but I had a whole lot of unlearning of fear to do to get where I am today.

But now goodness and honesty and kindness and love all are motivations in my relationship with God. Now I know my God. I mean I know Him at a personal level. Or I am getting to know Him. If you love a person, your love goes beyond the facts of that person, goes beyond the intellectual knowledge you have about that person, but it is rooted in the facts about that person. For example, I love my wife because she is attractive to me, she is kind, she is sweet and she is nice and she is a great friend. All these things are facts about my wife, and therefore I love her. But my love goes beyond these facts. I could know all of these facts about my wife and not be in love with her and put my trust in her, but I do. My decision to love my wife goes beyond the evidence and facts of who she is, to the point of connecting with her essence, her soul and heart. We have shared thousands of special personal experiences that have deepened our mutual love, respect and submission. My wife and I are two souls who know one another intimately and deeply and will love one another forever.

It is the same with my love of God! My relationship with Jesus Christ goes beyond just knowing the historical facts about him, yet it is rooted in those exact historical facts. I believe in Jesus on the basis of the historical evidence, but my relationship with Jesus goes way beyond the evidence. I put my trust in Him and walk with Him on a daily basis. So my relationship with Jesus is no longer based just on my head knowledge and the information I have about Him. And it is not based any longer on fear. It is based on a daily, vital living loving relationship with Him. Very much like my relationship with my wife. He is living and real and a part of my minute by minute living! And he can be that for you if you want this!

Even with all of this, fear still creeps into my motivations for things at times, when stress is high or when I have failed. But I have had enough years now of knowing God’s love and goodness that the fear evaporates within seconds or within minutes now and I remember that God is my friend and a present help in trouble, not my adversary.

If you have been motivated by fear instead of love because of past abuse or mistreatment, know this is a process to being set free from it. But, oh, is it worth it! Love is such a beautiful basis for a relationship. And it will allow you to finally “be” you. With God and with others!

Mark Phelps

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Black Hole

People who have been abused as kids develop a whole lot of coping mechanisms to just keep going in our lives. Part of the reason we do this is because we have to. If we dealt with all our pain all of the time we might just explode! So we develop ways of getting a little respite, of getting a little peace, and of almost completely disengaging sometimes as a method of staying sane.

But for those of us who carry our abuse into our adult lives, without healing, we now carry the terror and abuse of our childhoods into our work lives, our marriages, our parenting, and our everyday worlds. If I could have my wish it would be for every person on the planet to have the healing I have had from my abuse. Because it has changed my life. But part of why I write this blog is the hope that some of my healing process will give you the courage to fight for your healing process. Because you matter. God wants to unshackle you from the bondage of what abuse has done to your heart and your psyche.

Perhaps if you victims or family members or therapists or physicians or anyone reading this can relate to what I am writing in this particular blog, it will allow you to help someone take steps into their own healing journey.

This is a short writing describing some of my feelings and thoughts during my healing work. It’s my attempt to describe the dark place I would go into, a place of despair, at the worst times in my suffering from what abuse had done to me. The place I continued to fall into I called ‘The Black Hole.’ I seldom have any of these feelings in my present life but these feelings and thoughts permeated my heart before, during and for several years following the formal healing work I completed.

As you read this I invite you to imagine two things.

1.Imagine what it might have been like for my wife who lived with me all through the years I had these feelings and its impact on her.

2.Imagine the power at work, by my Creator and God that must have been at work to heal and restore the heart of the person I was, with these feelings being very real and dominant in my life.

Here is a little window into what it felt like to be in ‘The Black Hole’:

As a little tiny baby boy I was brutalized physically and psychologically by my father and abandoned emotionally and physically by my mother. This is the black hole.

I am broken on the inside. My heart is broken.

As an adult I have learned to function in the world but don’t ask me to trust you. DO NOT ASK ME TO TRUST YOU! Don’t ask me to depend on you. Don’t expect me to relax or rest peacefully . . . EVER! Don’t expect me to accept what you tell me as the truth. I know better.

What I know is you will lie to me. You will leave me. At the point when I most need you, you will be too weak or too busy or completely absent and I will be alone again with this monster, my father.

I don’t want to hear about your faith or your God. I know more than I ever wanted to know about your God . . . way more! I do not want to hear your words! If knowing your God makes you act the way you do toward me, why would I EVER want to know him?

I easily see your hypocrisy. I see your lies. I see your manipulation of circumstances to make them fit your blind prejudices. I see your deceit. I watch you and see where you don’t measure up. I know better than to ever believe what you tell me.

I know that things will never be different. You have made that clear to me. I have come to accept the fact that I will always be alone deep inside to face this frantic desperation all by myself.

Don’t ask me to have faith. I’m not that stupid. You hide all your hate and prejudice and evil and viciousness behind some belief in some invisible entity then you use this invisible entity to destroy me, your son. Are you kidding? Have faith in someone who gets people to hurt their children?

So now I want lots of facts that I can touch and verify on my own. So I can protect myself. So I am able to see and to know you are not lying to me, whoever you are. It doesn’t matter WHO you are. I’m too smart to fall for your blind faith. Show me the facts, sir. Show me the facts, ma’am. If I can’t see it, it’s not real. If I can’t control it I want nothing to do with it. If I can’t prove it with cold hard facts I will reject it. You will never be able to prove to me that there is a God who loves me so DON’T EVEN TRY! I have been terrified for years by your God . . . keep your God away from me!!

I may look like I am alive, but I’m really dead. You may see my body in the room, but you will never see my heart. That is still mine, however stomped on. I will appear to be kind to you and compassionate when I am able to because I know what it feels like to be treated with cold cruelty and I would never want you to feel what I have felt. But don’t expect me to show you my heart. Don’t expect me to give you my heart! Don’t expect me to be vulnerable with my feelings. Nobody will ever know how I really feel. And if you leave me it won’t hurt me because I won’t have really connected with you or attached to you from my heart. You will probably learn it would have been better if you had never met me!

I have become a master at living without living. I am a cynic. I am a doubter. I live in despair. My hope was taken from me within the first few days of my life. I will go through the motions of living but I am not truly alive.

The rage stored up in my heart from my abuse now gets used in destroying myself. It is too terrifying to show my rage to anyone because it feels like I might cease to exist. Can you normal people understand this? So I will try to keep my rage within but in doing that I am destroying my own body. I know my rage leaks out at times in little ways but there is nothing I can do about that. You will just have to live with it, sorry! I lived my father’s rage for years and now it is my default mode. So it will inevitably leak out on some of you.

Oh and don’t bother caring about me because it really won’t make any difference. There is nothing you can do. I learned in the first few days of my life not to trust you and I learned this lesson extremely well and have never forgotten it. Trust leads to others hurting you and then the inevitable betrayal and pain and I know I will always be alone in my pain. So I learned not to trust and I learned not to feel any hope.

Please don’t tell me God loves me because I know you are lying to me. If my father and mother don’t love me why would you expect me to believe that your invisible entity loves me! Can’t you see how ugly and worthless I am? What’s wrong with you!?

Once upon a time a little hope stirred somewhere deep inside me, and I think I may have seen just a little glimpse of light. But it was gone before I knew it. Darkness returned and darkness and anger and anguish remain deep in my soul. I will never trust what I can’t prove and what I can’t control. The pain is too overwhelming. The pain burns in my body and I do everything I can to avoid more pain and I stuff this pain down as far into my subconscious as possible because I can barely live with the pain I feel now.

Now let’s fast forward to the next phase of my life, after I left my family’s cult.

After I left my father and the sick things he taught me about how worthless and unlovable I was I still had to figure out the human race. I had no choice but to figure out how to get along with people. What a difficult world to figure out! I remember what an odd feeling it was when I first met a few kind hearted people who actually did not try to hurt me or destroy. How on earth was I to navigate that mine field?

It is an odd feeling to have the walls of my heart 10 feet tall and 10 feet thick and yet meet the occasional person who stirred something in my heart. In spite of those well-constructed walls I was allowed to see into some of the goodness of mankind. And what did I see in this process? Well, little glimmers. Of kindness. Of thoughtfulness. Of reasonableness. Of the spirit of an occasional person who seemed not to want anything from me but to say hello and ask what I wanted on my burger…Oh, how very strange to begin to realize there are some people who really are loving and caring people. How could I have been prepared for these folks with what I was taught in my hate-filled home!

When you are making a massive paradigm shift in your life it feels like you are in free fall. I was moving forward very slowly in my life from a world that had been defined by hate. What I was given a daily fare of in my home was God’s hatred toward his helpless creatures, my parent’s hatred of society and yes, even hated of their own children, and that society was evil at its core. But we in my family’s church were all the “good” folks, the only “okay” people regardless of how we behaved. So, yes, I began to gain some new data points from interacting with the world and learning there were some seemingly nice people, but my little kid core self kept arguing back and saying “Don’t trust this person! He could turn out to be like your father!”

Remember I asked you to imagine what my wife had to go through living with me during this process? Well sometimes she saw me taking a baby step forward in my trust of people, but she also got to witness me falling back into the black hole and believing that no one was trustworthy. And on some days it probably felt to her like I didn’t even trust her. One of the truly good people I had ever known. And whose love for me was profound and had been borne out in her daily patience and love that I still marvel to understand.

I also asked you to imagine the power of my Creator and God to help me heal and to restore my heart. Even when it was permeated by the poison of hate.

The Bible says “God is love.” And if true, that means God can only do what is loving. Ever! The chasm I had to cross was from a home filled with hate and the fruits of hate to trust the best, most trustworthy being in the universe. This was going to take a God who was a master at understanding the human heart and how to remove the poison of hate from it.

Our early childhood teaching is very hard to overcome. It comes in in the most formative years of our lives where the basis of all we are happens. And the core of what I was taught and understood was the core principle of life was hatred. How on earth was God going to help me extract that poison out of my system, my head and my heart? And how was I to maintain my relationship with my very tenderhearted wife and those who were around me in those years?

That journey is the journey this blog has tried to unfold. To say I marvel at the process of God’s mercy and help to me in this journey would be an understatement. But as I worked through to the other side of that process it has brought tremendous freedom . . . to love people, to love God, to love myself, my wife, and my girls . . . to love even the unloving. God has graciously modeled all of that for me and He has walked with me in each step.

The single thing that stunned me the most, and took my breath away, was when I realized that God desires for me to love Him from my heart, on my own, without Him forcing me to love Him. God desires a relationship with me. With me! He gave the life of His precious Son for me because He loves me. And He wants me to love Him from my heart. He wants me to love Him! This is the amazing truth that broke into my darkness, took away my fear and changed my life forever.

Thank you, God. Thank you, amazing therapists. Thank you, my darling wife. Thank you my brother Nathan. You all are the best. Without you I would not be the man I am today. Thank you!

Mark Phelps

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Evidence For Faith

There is only one person in history whose life was accurately written about in explicit detail before he was ever born. The details of this man’s life included information about the circumstances in which he would be born, things that would be accomplished in his life, the type of death he would die and the fact that he would be brought back to life after he died. In fact he is the only person who has ever been raised from the dead and remained alive, leaving an empty tomb which remains empty to this day. This same person also had much detail written about his life after he was born in the form of biographies written by those who knew him.

The details about this man’s singular life that were written before he was born are included in the prophecies of the Old Testament, the sacred book that was given by God to the Jews. The details about his life starting with his birth and following are documented in the New Testament. The Old Testament was written between 400 and 1500 years before his birth by multiple writers, many of whom were not contemporaries of each other, and these writings were widely distributed centuries BEFORE his birth. The details about this person’s life in the New Testament fit the details that were written ahead of time with astonishing precision. We know of nothing that has ever rivaled this level of precise prophecy that was later fulfilled in the details of one man’s life in the history of the world.

By now you may have concluded that I am speaking about Jesus Christ of Nazareth, unique among men. Can you imagine, just for a moment, how absurd you would think it was if I talked this way about any other well-known historical figure? Who could have accurately written the precise details of the life of Einstein, Aristotle, Napoleon, Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander the Great, Thomas Jefferson, Henry VIII, Joseph Stalin, Mozart, Plato, you, your neighbor or any other character 500 or 800 or 1000 or 1500 years ahead of their lives? Nowhere in any of the literature on earth, secular or religious, is this duplicated. Not even close. The fact that Christ would be accurately written about in the Old Testament and the subsequent biography of Christ in the New Testament is nothing short of astounding!

We have historical evidence that the Old Testament was written well in advance of the New Testament. And because of this reality we can begin to think clearly about what it means that events were written about in a history book BEFORE they ever happened. Your mind might try to come up with feasible ways to explain how writings of this level of specificity could be written in advance of someone’s life, but one valid explanation is that this happened in a supernatural way. By supernatural I am meaning that God himself stepped into history and worked through the lives of writers to make sure that the details of Jesus Christ’s life would be in books written centuries before he was born.

The last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, was written about 443 B.C. The first book of the New Testament, Matthew, was written about 40 A.D. leaving approximately a 500-year gap between the Old and New Testament books. We know with certainty the Old Testament existed hundreds of years before the beginning of the New Testament because of the existence of the Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament into Greek about 200 B.C. This translation was begun during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus about 280 B.C. and was completed not long after. This confirms the fact that the Old Testament is much older than the New Testament.

God has chosen to show that the Bible is His communication to every man and every woman in a very unique way but he has backed his writings up in an amazing way by making sure we would know they are true. That way is through the giving of specific, detailed prophecy and the fulfillment, hundreds of years later, of this specific detailed prophecy. Prophecy is God’s own method of proving His truth.

If God wanted people to know he was a trustworthy person to listen to, what better way than to do something no one else in history could do? And that was to predict things hundreds of years in advance that he knew were all going to come true. The teachings of the Bible are so unique and different from all other religions, and so very important to the human beings God created. Events predicted centuries in advance confirm the Bible to be a heavenly decree, the absolute and final Word of God and that its message is fully authorized by the Almighty. It has His divine seal, letting all people know He has spoken.

This type of authentication for the truth of God’s writings can never be counterfeited by other writers because only God has foreknowledge of the actions of free and intelligent agents, men and women. It is the unique ability of the Almighty, the all-knowing God, to be aware of new things, new people and new events before they ever even exist or take place. The true God alone foreknows and foretells the future. And He has chosen to confine his foretelling to the pages of Scripture. Sensing the tremendous force of this fact, the philosopher and apologist Justin Martyr said, “To declare a thing shall come to pass long before it is in being, and to bring it to pass, this or nothing is the work of God.”

In the entire history of man’s existence, except for the prophecies of Scripture, there is not a single instance of a prediction, being expressed in unequivocal language, which included objective measurable detail, which boasts the slightest claim to fulfillment.

Suppose there were only 50 prophecies in the Old Testament (instead of the known 333) concerning the first coming of Christ, giving details of the coming Messiah and which all come together in the life of Jesus. The probability of chance fulfillment as calculated by mathematicians according to the theory of probabilities is less than one in 1,125,000,000,000,000. Now add only two more elements to these 50 prophecies, and precisely pre-state the TIME and the PLACE at which they would happen and the immense improbability that they will take place by chance exceeds all the power of numbers to express or the human mind of man to grasp.

The divine perfections of foreknowledge and fulfillment can best be seen in the realm of prophecies concerning Messiah, more than any other sphere. The Messiah was the person the Jews were waiting for who was coming to save their people from their sins. It is easy to see, if enough characteristic details are given, identification can be clear and precise when it comes to prophecy. So many details of Messiah are given in prophecy hundreds of years ahead of time and each one is exactly fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, so identification is positive.

Christ’s coming is the central theme of the Bible. The coming of Christ promised in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament; His birth, character, work, teachings, sufferings, death and resurrection; are the overarching and central themes of the Bible. Christ is the bond that ties the two Testaments together. The Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed, the New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed.

Here is a brief summary of the prophecies concerning Messiah, assuring His identity:

- The work of the redeeming of mankind was to be accomplished by one person, the promised Messiah

- As the “Seed of the woman” He was to bruise Satan’s head

- As the “Seed of Abraham” and the ‘Seed of David” He was to come from the tribe of Judah

- This Messiah must come at a specified time

- He was to be born of a virgin

- He was to be born at Bethlehem of Judea

- Great persons were to visit and adore Him

- He was to be called out of Egypt

- He was to be raised in Nazareth

- He was to be preceded by a person who was a forerunner/foreteller of him before beginning His public ministry

- He was to be a prophet like Moses

- He was to have a special anointing of the Holy Spirit

- He was to be a priest after the order of Melchizedeck

- As the “Servant of the Lord” He was to be a faithful and patient Redeemer for the Gentiles

- As the “Servant of the Lord” He was to be a faithful and patient Redeemer for the Jews

- His ministry was to begin in Galilee

- Later He was to enter Jerusalem to bring salvation (the saving of people from the penalty of their sins)

- He was to enter the temple

- His manner of teaching was to be by parables

- His ministry was to be characterized by miracles

- He was to be a ‘Stone of stumbling” to the Jews, and a ‘Rock of offense’ (he was going to offend people by what he said!)

- He was to be hated without a cause

- He was to be rejected by the rulers

- He was to be betrayed by a friend

- He was to be forsaken by His disciples

- He was to be sold for 30 pieces of silver

- His price was to be given for the potter’s field

- He was to be hit on the cheek

- He was to be mocked

- He was to be beaten

- His garments were to be parted four ways and lots were to be cast for his clothing

- He was to die by crucifixion

- His death was to pay for the sins of all people who ever would commit sin

- His hands and His feet were to be pierced

- Not a bone of His body was to be broken

- He was to suffer thirst

- He was to be given vinegar to drink

- He was to be “numbered with the transgressors”

- His body was to be buried with the rich in His death

- His body was not to see decay

- He was to be raised from the dead on the third day after he was buried

- He was to ascend to the right hand of God

- He was to make intercession before God on behalf of all who trust Him for the rescuing of them from the penalty of their sins.

Remember, there are actually 333 specific predictions concerning the coming Messiah in the Old Testament! These I’ve listed are just highlights. Here indeed is Jesus, God’s Rock of Ages, faith’s unshakable standing place!

You are invited, you individually, you the reader, to research these facts on your own regarding their prediction in writing in the Old Testament by multiple writers who lived at least 400 years before their occurrence; up to 1500 years before their occurrence; and the detailed writing of their fulfilment in the New Testament, especially the four gospel writings. For example, take the opportunity to read Isaiah 53 and compare it to the accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion in the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

It is mathematically impossible for even a fraction of these clearly stated prophecies to be fulfilled by chance by any single person. Instead of chance happenings, what you have before you is an explosive, mathematical impossibility. And evidence for your faith.

But wait? Evidence for my faith? Why does any of my faith get exercised when God tells the truth about something hundreds of years in advance just by predicting it? I may even think it’s amazing that God has this power and knowledge but what does that have to do with me? Today?

Try to step for just a minute into God’s shoes. He knew He needed to communicate who he was to the people he made. But he had more to communicate than that. He had to communicate how to avoid some very serious land mines that would come up in every single human being’s life. And in the writing of this book that had such a critical message to life on the planet he had to do it in a form people could understand and relate to. People across all of history! And he had to write it in such a way that it would speak across language barriers and across all cultures. Tall order, right? And from God’s perspective this was the most important book in the world to the most important people in the world. We his amazing creation!

It was a book about him but it was also a book about us. God looked into our existence and knew there was something that was going to damage and hurt us and something that was bad enough that the only answer was something his own son would have to do for us. So while the Bible, Old and New Testaments combined, was written for people who would live in any age, God had to write it in such a way that people would actually pick it up! I have wondered if one of the reasons he put such extensive prophecy in his book is because he knew it would be a draw. To the mathematician and scholar who would KNOW that his prophecies could not be coincidence . . . and had to be orchestrated by a phenomenal mind . . . but more . . . by a God with a phenomenal purpose.

So while God used irrefutable factual evidence of the kind he intended you to have so you might have a faith based on information . . . and based on the facts that God Himself tells ahead of time, he also had a deeper work he was doing. He needed all of us to understand that a disease entered the human system that was going to take us down. All of us! And that disease was sin and the impact sin would have on us. Not just sin we would commit that would harm us who share this planet, but even bring harm to our relationship and ability to communicate with God. He also needed all of us to understand things he would describe in great detail that would show exactly what He had planned in the way of salvation for us; a Messiah; because of His indescribable and immeasurable love for each of us!

If only you could know His love for you, you would run to Him and never leave His side!

This is my hope for you, that you would know this love of Christ and by knowing His love be changed for good, forever!

What if you were to go do some digging and find out this truth for yourself? Or what if maybe you wrote to me and allowed me to connect you with resources and books that have these prophecies and their fulfillment laid out for you. This couldn’t be more important! This could not be more important for you . . . today, and for you for all of your tomorrows.

God spent a lot of time getting these prophecies written just to reach out to you, reader, in 2015 in the circumstances you find yourself in. Let His love pour over you through all this amazing truth!

Mark Phelps