The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Mark 16:1-7

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.”‘”

With the words “He is risen” the whole world changed, the entire universe changed. Jesus won the victory over sin and death when He died on the cross for every sin ever committed, past, present and future, and when He rose from the dead on the third day He proved that our victory was secure. This is the central event in all of history, and the Resurrection changed everything. Through faith in Him our hope and future are secure. Who else can make such a claim? No one. Every other religion, every other philosophy, every other belief system, was founded by someone who lived and died and is still in their grave. Muhammad is still in his tomb; you can see relics taken from the body of Buddha. Confucius is still dead, Ghandi is still dead, Aristotle and Socrates are still dead. Only Jesus stepped out of the grave, alive, vibrant, our reigning King forever. This is why the Gospel changed the world forever. The power displayed in the Resurrection is the same power that changes lives and redeems people today. If you trust in Him you are trusting in our Creator, our Savior, but if you trust in false religions, humanism or the philosophies of mortal humans, you are following someone who still lies in their burial place. If you follow the dead, you will remain dead in your sins, but if you follow the living Christ, you will live forever. Please choose wisely…

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Under the Law? Let’s see…

Acts 15:23-29

“With them they sent the following letter:

The apostles and elders, your brothers,

To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

Greetings.

We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends, Barnabas and Paul – men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Farewell.”

This letter was written by the church council in Jerusalem, the mother church of early Christendom, in response to a push by some elements to bring the early Christians into obedience to the Law of Moses. The above letter is the response of the council, headed by the apostles Peter and James the Just and guided by the Holy Spirit. Much heat has been generated for centuries regarding obedience to the Law. If the Holy Spirit led the apostles who had spent three years with our Lord to make this pronouncement concerning the Law, how can I counter them? Let their words stand with the authority they were given by Christ.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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The Gospel, or Politics?

Matthew 28:18-20

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'”

Last night on the television I watched a conversation between a conservative Christian and the minister of a very liberal congregation from the same denomination, which I choose not to name but will say that it is an older, mainstream denomination. The heart of the debate was the fact that the liberal minister and his church were openly pursuing a very liberal social and political agenda to the point of posting harsh political signs in front of the church, while at the same time the congregation was in decline. I won’t burden you with all the back and forth, but I did see a very important comparison in the story, relative to my own personal experience. The minister’s church, like so many in our time, had wandered from a Biblical presentation of Jesus and into a pursuit of social and political change, while the number of people attending was dropping significantly. Meanwhile, I know a church that had been crawling along seven years ago with only twenty members, but when they got a new pastor who preached Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, the Lord grew that church and today they have an average attendance of over 1,000 people spread out among three services. What is the difference? One church preaches politics, the other preaches the gospel. One follows a humanistic philosophy loosely based on the teachings of Jesus, the other teaches the great love of Jesus expressed in His setting aside the glory of heaven to come among us and die a horrible death to pay the price of our sins. Now the shifting of focus within churches from the eternal to the temporal is not limited to the liberal, theologically muddy branches of Christianity although it is most apparent there. There are many reasonably conservative Christian churches that have also strayed into the elevation of politics and social change. When I first became a Christian in the mid-80s one of the big subjects of debate within the church was what to do with the new-found political power that evangelical Christianity had discovered. For the majority the answer was clear: politics must always take second place to the work of carrying the gospel of salvation to a lost world. Yet, decades later, many in the church seem to get that order of importance backwards. Being politically aware and active is important, but it has not been lost on me that nowhere in Scripture does it exhort us to put politics first, to make social change the whole point. We are encouraged to obey the authorities so long as they are not trying to force us to disobey God, and we are told to pray for our leaders that we may have peace. But the notion that the church must use politics to bring about the Kingdom is heretical and became popular during the 19th Century. Jesus didn’t come among us to start a program of social justice, although if we follow Christ and preach His Word society can improve; compare the “anything goes” madness of today with the relative social stability of earlier ages when the faith was more important to the majority of people. But the whole purpose of His coming was to atone for our sins and turn our hearts back to God in repentance. Jesus changes lives, you bet, He changed mine in some very dramatic and fundamental ways; politics mostly just changes who governs us and how. Jesus saves our souls, politics does not. So always put sharing the Biblical truth of Jesus Christ before trying to change the world through human effort. Keep politics where it belongs, and promote the gospel of our loving Savior, Jesus Christ. For only Jesus can changes the world in the ways that matter.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Stay Loving Even in Debate

2nd Timothy 4:2

“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”

I have been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting on things, seeking the Lord’s gentle guidance, and He gave me an answer through something my pastor said a couple of weeks ago. One of the greatest problems facing the Body of Christ today is not from the outside, but from the inside: we sometimes are so busy attacking each other over doctrines or practices that we do Satan’s work for him. Case in point. I know of a group on facebook created as a forum for discussing the Bible. This group has over ten thoussand members, most of whom are not Biblical Christians. Yet, in spite of the fact that said group is filled to the brim with unbelievers and cultists of every stripe, most of the fighting I see and sometimes got caught up in was between Christians of different groups. For every Muslim that has attacked even just the Scriptures I’d post, I usually got attacked by several “Christians” all wanting to argue their particular set of doctrines. Some of the bitter, hateful fighting between people claiming Christ made it very easy to understand why the wars in Europe between Catholics and Protestants were so bloody. Now I have always had a heart for apologetics, for being able to explain the resons why we believe what we do and defending our faith, but that passion for the faith was used to drag me into some very hot and harsh debates…no, arguments.
When I read people teaching obvious, un-Biblical doctrines, it was always so easy for me to jump in and “set them straight”. As Pastor said, my heart was in the right place but I wasn’t following the Spirit very well; I was reacting from my flesh, not the Spirit. We should be able to correct and reprove, and obviously we are not to let slanders and lies pass unchallenged, but we are exhorted often to do it in a spirit of love, gentleness, humility and patience. We should never let ourselves get dragged into the bitter hatefulness that surrounds us, for when we do, we give Satan a perfect opportunity to discredit our witness as a whole. One of the most frequently heard criticisms of the Christian faith I hear is “you preach love yet hate each other.” They have a point. Jesus said the world would know us by our love for each other. Where is the love when the debate sinks to the level of name calling and hateful judgements on each other? During the Arian controversy of the early church bishops condemned each other in the most vile terms; riots ran in the streets and Christians killed Christians. We may tell ourselves that we are much better than that, but human nature hasn’t changed in 1600 years; look at the blood that has been shed in Northern Ireland in modern times by Protestants and Catholics who hated each other. Back to the present, Dave… I have resolved that from now on I will not fall into that trap. I will state the truth, and if you wish to press your attack in the name of proving how right and clever and learned you are, you may do so without me. All that matters is Christ crucified and resurrected in atonement for our sins. I don’t need to prove how clever and eloquent I am, for I am the least of God’s children. Argue and hate if you must, but do it without me.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Christmas 2017

Luke 2:6-7

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

It seems to me that this time of year brings out the best, and paradoxically the worst, in people. It can bring out the best because it is a time of year when many people perform acts of kindness and generosity they might not otherwise do. Of course we celebrate Christmas by giving gifts to our friends and families, but often we also give to those we don’t know, either through charities or churches or just giving something to the homeless guy on the streetcorner. It is a time when many families come together, hopefully lay aside the usual petty differences that can arise within families, and celebrate Christmas together. But it can also be a time when tempers flare in the malls or in traffic, when rudeness and impatience and greed take over. A time when some people get judgemental when seeing how their family member has set the table or the neighbor has decorated their house. And it can be a time when a lot of well meaning people argue over what Christmas is and what it should be, and even whether it should be celebrated at all.

There are so many arguments out there online over this and that aspect of Christmas that I’m not going to rehash it here. Yes, it is primarily a religious holiday, and to many people who are atheists or Muslims or whatever they repudiate it as something religious being forced upon them; if seeing a manger scene in someone’s yard offends you, then don’t look, go home and shut your eyes for a month. But it seems to me that most of the harshest arguments are between two people or groups who both claim Christ and can’t resist the temptation to argue over various aspects of Christmas. Yes, no one really knows on what date Jesus Christ was born, no matter how brilliant a case they can make in support of one date or another. Yes, there have been a lot of pagan influences from Northern Europe that have been incorporated in the celebration of the birth of the Savior; so do what I do, don’t practice them. Yes, in the last century especially there has been a great deal of commercialism and avarice and materialism come into what should be a humble and peaceful time. But should we reject the holiday completely because there are flaws in how or when it is celebrated? No.

The entire, sole reason why people began to celebrate this as a holiday was to commemorate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In that manger 2,000 years ago lay the perfect union of God and man, who came into our dirty, wicked world to pay the penalty of our sins so that we imperfect, sinful mortals could receive the gift of eternal life through Him. That’s all, but then it was more than enough. Another name given to Christ in the Bible is Immanuel, which translates as “God Among Us”. He entered our world because He loved us too much to allow us to march blindly to our destruction without an exit ramp. Personally, I believe that the more important event was the death of Jesus on the cross, for that is when He atoned for our sins. His resurrection was a close second, for it is the sign to all of us that He had defeated sin and death for good. But for Him to have led a sinless life to pay for our sins at Calvary He first had to be born, and that is why we celebrate Christmas.

So let’s stop arguing over this point and that point and just celebrate the birth of our Savior. The date doesn’t matter; the fact of His birth does. Stop tearing each other down and start building each other up. And if you don’t believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, please resist the temptation to revile those of us who do. Love one another, as Jesus told us to do. Be kinder and more patient. Be a bit more restrained in how much load you dump onto your credit cards. Argue less. And consider, even if only for a moment, the reality that on what was possibly a cold winter night in Bethlehem during the reign of Caesar Augustus, a child was born that was the union of the mortal with the immortal, of the created with the Creator. Consider the possibility that was true and not a myth. Try not to remove Christ from Christmas, for without Christ, what difference would it all make?

Merry Christmas to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Jerusalem the Capital of Israel? Yes!

2nd Samuel 5:6-10

“The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, ‘You will not get in here, even the blind and the lame can ward you off.’ They thought, ‘David cannot get in here’. Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, the City of David. On that day, David said, ‘Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water water shaft to reach those “lame and blind” who are David’s enemies. That is why they say “the blind and lame will not enter the palace.”‘ David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the supporting terraces inward. And he became more and more powerful, because the LORD God Almighty was with him.”

King David captured the ancient city of Jerusalem around 1000 BC, and that city remained the Jewish capital until the Roman sack in 70 AD and, in a sense, beyond. The Israelites were in possession of Jerusalem for slightly more than 1000 years before the Roman sack; since then the city has been at the heart of the Jewish religion and an important city for the Christians. From the time of the Muslim conquest in 638 AD until the end of World War I the city remained under Islamic control by various caliphates and then the empire of the Ottoman Turks. From World War I until the creation of the modern Jewish state of Israel in 1948, the city was governed by the British authorities. Since the war declared by her Muslim neighbors immediately after Israel’s independence, the Israelis took possession of West Jerusalem and then in 1967 they captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six Day War.

Today President Trump acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced plans to begin the process of moving the American embassy there. Making a rare political statement of my own, I fully support this move. For almost 2,000 years the Jewish people have longed to return to Jerusalem, and now the city is once again recognized as the capital of Israel, at least by the American government. Israel’s claim to Jerusalem is 3,000 years old, while Christianity has revered the city as the location of where our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, God Among Us, suffered and died for our sins, for 2,000 years. Islam has revered Jerusalem as one of their holy sites for 1400 years. The Jewish people have a definite historical precedence in claiming the city. The Palestinian Authority has for decades seen East Jerusalem as their capital; now, thanks to their intransigence in refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace, East Jerusalem is lost to them. So be it. In the 69 years since Israel has controlled the city (at least the western part), they have peacefully given Christians and Muslims full access – in a peaceful manner – to their holy sites within the city, to the extent of even restricting Jewish activity, including prayers, on the Temple Mount in deference to their Muslim population. They will continue to do so; can the Palestinian Authority state honestly that they would do the same if they had full control of the city? Very doubtful. I fear that given the chance they would follow the example of the Taliban and ISIS and destroy all non-Muslim sites.

So in short, hurrah for Israel and well done to President Trump for making a difficult and unpopular decision that was long overdue. Of course the Jew-haters of the world will condemn this move, they are already starting to. But perhaps the apparently now permanent loss of even East Jerusalem will wake up the Palestinian Authority and the PLO to the fact that Israel is there to stay and that further refusal to come to the table and negotiate in good faith with the Israelis will just cost them more in the future. And since Islam claims at least parts of the Old Testament as valid (the parts they agree with), perhaps they would do well to remember what was said in Numbers 24:9, “May those who bless you be blessed, and those who curse you be cursed!” Jerusalem will forever be the Holy City, the center of the Kingdom of God and the seat of a returned Jesus Christ, ruling the nations with an iron scepter.

To borrow a phrase from the fictional Borg, “resistance is futile”.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. And to all my Jewish friends, a heartfelt shalom!

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Defending Our Faith…Civilly

1st Peter 3:15-16

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear; having a good conscience; that whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.”

When the Holy Spirit led Peter to write these words almost 2,000 years ago he was not writing to just pastors, priests, ministers or bishops. He was not writing to theologians because at that time perhaps the only Christian theologian was Paul, and he certainly needed no schooling in defending the faith. No, Peter was writing to every believer in every age. The apostle was charging every one of us with the responsibility to give a better answer for our hope than a simple “that’s just the way it is”. Peter was telling us that we all have the responsibility to know what the Scriptures teach about Jesus and to be able to explain our faith in a clear and coherent way. In the Body of Christ we have many members with different callings and testimonies; not all are called to be pastors or theologians or apologists. But all are expected to be able to give the reasons why we believe the way we do. But a very important part is to do it with “gentleness and respect”. We need to be sensitive to the Spirit’s guidance in this matter, for often the way in which we respond has a powerful effect on the listeners. A reply given in an angry or hateful way is but wasted breath, for the listener will rightly decide that our words are meaningless when we preach about loving people because we ourselves don’t practice it. I am a member of a number of Christian groups on Facebook. Most are warm and loving communities of believers, but in at least two there are many people who don’t know Christ or His love and spend a lot of time and effort belittling or arguing against Biblical Christian faith, and often it is done in a harsh and mocking way. I expect that when dealing with unbelievers. But it is heart rending to see so many people who claim Christ, some of them even teaching Biblical truth, answering in such a harsh, hateful way, ridiculing the person they are debating and calling them vile names. We are called to better than that. We are admonished to not respond to evil with evil. I freely confess that it is very easy to get drawn into pointless arguments and exchanges of harsh words; I have been led into that trap before and asked our Lord’s forgiveness for that kind of behavior. My dear brothers and sisters, when they call us ignorant fools and other, often worse things, do not respond in kind, respond with patience and love. Remember that they called Jesus drunkard and demoniac and fornicator, and He warned us that as the world hated Him it will hate us. Let it go. Please don’t let our enemy Satan drag us into pointless arguments about often arcane points of Scripture. Don’t get pulled into meaningless arguments over geneologies and points of the Law, as Paul said. Answer the question or the charge as the Spirit leads you, but do it in a spirit of love and with great patience like our Lord did. If we do that, then our words will be far more effective, if not to our attacker then perhaps to someone we aren’t aware of who is listening to the conversation or reading the replies on an online post. If we speak the truth in love then God will use our words to bear good fruit whether we ever know it or not. And what matters most is not proving how right we are or how clever and eloquent, what matters most is being a good witness and pointing others to our loving Savior, who awaits them with open arms and boundless grace.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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