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Archive for March, 2018

How important to the Christian faith is the resurrection of Christ? The simple answer is, “It means everything!” The apostle Paul said to the Corinthian Christians, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (I Corinthians 15:17).

Even so, many people in our world today do not believe that the resurrection of Christ actually happened. They portray the disciples in one of two ways: either as gullible rubes with a weakness for ghost stories, or as shrewd conspirators who conceived the resurrection as a fabrication in order to jump-start their new religion. The Bible paints an entirely different story.

As for the first theory, the Gospels describe the followers of Jesus as the people most leery of the rumors that Christ had risen from the dead. The disciple Thomas, often called doubting Thomas, said he would not believe unless he could touch the nail prints in his hand. The truth is that all of the disciples did not believe the wild story by the women who said they had seen Jesus alive. Matthew’s Gospel said that even after Jesus appeared to the disciples, “some doubted.” They could hardly be called gullible.

As for the second theory, the Gospels show the disciples cringing in locked rooms, terrified that the same thing could happen to them as happened to Jesus. Too afraid to attend the burial of Jesus, they left it to a couple of women to care for His body. The terrified disciples seemed utterly incapable of concocting a faked resurrection story, or of stealing His body.

Those who do not believe the resurrection of Jesus took place forget how hard it was for the disciples to accept it. The empty tomb only demonstrated that He was not there, not that He had risen. Convincing these skeptics would require intimate, personal encounters with the One who had been their Master. Luke gives the account of two followers on the road to Emmaus who are joined by Jesus, but they did not recognize Him. When they finally did recognize Jesus, He disappeared.

They rushed back to Jerusalem and found the disciples meeting behind locked doors. They spilled out their incredible story, saying, “Jesus is somewhere out there alive.” Suddenly, without warning, even as the doubting disciples argued against that possibility, Jesus appeared in their midst. “I am not a ghost,” He declared, “Touch my scars. It is I myself.” Even then the doubters persisted . . . that is, until Jesus offered to eat a piece of fish. Ghosts do not eat fish. A mirage cannot cause food to disappear.

In the six weeks between the Resurrection and the Ascension, Jesus made His identity so obvious that no disciple could ever deny Him again. Even James, the brother of Jesus, perhaps the last holdout unbeliever, capitulated after one of the appearances of Jesus, and he became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. According to Josephus, the Jewish historian, James became one of the earliest Christian martyrs.

One need only read the Gospels’ descriptions of disciples huddling behind locked doors and then proceed to the descriptions in Acts of the same men proclaiming Christ openly in the streets and in jail cells to perceive the seismic significance of what took place on that first Easter Sunday morning. These disciples went out to carry the news to the world. All of them with the exception of John became martyrs for their belief.

When the English journalist, Frank Morrison, began to write his classic book, Who Moved the Stone? he was determined to disprove the resurrection. He looked at all the evidence — and became a believer.

 

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Jesus made seven statements while hanging on the cross that are recorded in the New Testament. They are known as “the seven last words from the cross.” First, He thought of others: those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34), the believing thief (Luke 23:39-43), and His mother (John 19:25-27). The central word of the seven had to do with His relationship with the Father (Matthew 27:45-49). The last three statements focused on Himself: His body (John 19:28-29), His soul (John 19:30), and His spirit (Luke 23:46).

The drink of vinegar the soldiers gave Him did not fully quench His thirst, but it did enable Him to shout this word of triumph in a loud voice, “It is finished!” The Greek word used here is tetelestai. It literally means, “It is finished, it stands finished, and it will always be finished!”

The word tetelestai is unfamiliar to us, of course, but it was used in various ways in everyday life in Jesus’ day. Merchants used it to say, “The debt is paid in full.” A servant would use it when reporting to his or her master, “I have completed the work assigned to me” (see John 17:4). When Jesus shouted tetelestai from the cross it meant, “The debt caused by sin is paid in full.” The Old Testament sacrifices only covered sin; the Lamb of God shed His blood, and that blood has the power to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

When Jesus shouted the word tetelestai in a loud voice, His hours of extreme distress were over. The terrible agony was now behind Him. He would no longer endure the pangs of crucifixion, nor hear the taunts of the bloodthirsty mob. No longer would He experience the pain inflicted by the crown of thorns on His brow, the stripes on His back, or the nails driven through His flesh. He would no longer feel separation from His and our heavenly Father. He had accomplished what He came to do. His heart ceased to beat. Silence prevailed.

In the stifling silence following the death of Jesus, however, other sounds could be heard: the sound of bursting fetters, breaking chains, crumbling prison walls, the rending of veils, the overthrowing of barriers, the opening of gates. The last words of Christ on the cross were not words of defeat, but the cry of victory. He had finished the redemptive mission assigned to Him. “Finished” was the terrible ban of judgment upon the ages, the power of darkness and desolation, the curse of sin upon humanity. The debt was paid in full!

What Christ had finished, however, has scarcely begun for us. He accomplished what we cannot. He closed the unbridgeable gap between a holy God and sinful humankind. His daily visible teaching of His disciples was now behind Him. The work of His invisible presence would continue through them on the day of Pentecost and beyond. Forgiven by Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, every single Christian to this very day is assigned the mission of spreading the good news of God’s love to the entire world.

What is the message that we as Christians are commissioned to share? No longer does any person have to live under the power of sin. Every person who believes is by God’s grace forgiven of his or her sin and given the opportunity to become a worshiping and serving member of the body of Christ known as the church. Christ’s redemptive mission was completed successfully; our mission as Christians is still ongoing.

The barrier standing between a sinful mankind and a holy God has forever been removed. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, bore our sins in His own body. Earlier in His ministry He had said, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save the lost.” The eternal life He came to give to those who believe is now forever guaranteed. It became a certainty the very moment on that fateful day when from the cross He said, “It is finished!”

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There is no higher or more meaningful worship experience for those of us who are Christians than when we come to The Lord’s Table to take the bread and cup. No one should ever participate in this special hour of worship without giving serious thought to the price Jesus paid that we might be redeemed.

I will never forget a Lord’s Supper service that I scheduled several years ago in a Wilmington nursing home. Knowing how long it had been since Christian residents there had been able to celebrate communion, I carried the elements one Sunday morning especially for them. Sitting before me in wheel chairs were about twenty-five residents. After sharing what it means to take the bread and cup “in remembrance of Christ,” the elements were passed. Sitting on the front row side by side were two ladies, one white and one black, both well above eighty. The white lady, a wealthy Episcopalian, was a college graduate; the black lady, a Baptist, possibly had not finished high school. Both had tears streaming down their cheeks. Beautiful! Powerful!

There were so many differences between them – their background, their level of education, the color of their skin etc. But as believers in Jesus Christ they had all things in common. In taking the bread and cup, they were sisters, family members. I remember that Lord’s Supper service as vividly as if it were yesterday.

The Lord’s Supper will likely be scheduled in your church prior to Easter Sunday. I pray that you will attend, and that you will grasp the full meaning of those deliberately chosen words spoken by our Lord to His disciples the night before He was crucified, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me” (II Corinthians 11:24). And likewise the words He spoke as He passed the cup, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (I Corinthians 11:25-26).

God’s Word says that those to sit at The Lord’s Table should first examine themselves. Your worship experience will have its greatest meaning if, prior to taking the bread and cup, you will ask yourself the following questions, all of which are based on the seven cardinal sins:

Pride: Have I failed to demonstrate genuine humility? Been self-assertive? Self-indulgent? Opinionated? Done anything that would damage my church? Been scornful or contemptuous?

Anger: Have I been impatient with my family or with others? Been overbearing, cruel or sarcastic? Hurt others in any way, bodily, or spiritually? Yielded to vengeful or jealous thoughts – sullenness, hatred, rage, or irritability?

Lust: Have I entertained impure thoughts or been involved in impure acts?

Sloth: Am I diligent in my work? Am I addicted to laziness? Indolent in thought? Slack in devotion? Faithful in attending worship? Careless or casual in fulfilling my responsibilities?

Envy: Do I show love to persons around me? Or do I cherish grudges, old scores, and hatreds? Discontent? Peevishness? Nagging? Resentment of all unfairness? Sour disposition? Cynicism?

Avarice: Have I acquired anything, money or goods, by unfair or unjust means? Failed to pay anything that should be paid? Kept any possession belonging to others? Failed to give God what is due Him in time, money and service?

Gluttony: Have I been guilty of overindulgence? Spent too much on self? Neglected self-discipline?

 

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Lloyd John Ogilvie, former pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California, in The Bush is Still Burning, relates the story of the time he asked one of his parishioners this penetrating question, “What do you feel is the deepest need in your life, and what can I do to help?”

His parishioner’s response was immediate and direct. “I need a new God!” he replied. “What I know about God I learned from my family, my friends and the culture in which I was raised. I’ve thought about God as a judge, or as a heavenly policeman. He has been up there or out there somewhere. And I couldn’t believe that He either knew or cared about me and my struggles.”

His answer accurately describes the way too many Christians in today’s world view God. They were taught and have come to think of God as an absentee landlord – aloof, distant, and nonexistent insofar as knowing about the daily problems they face or having genuine concern for them.

As a Christian minister I have spent my life trying to minister to people: leaders and followers, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, young and old, married and single. Most of them have two things in common: they believe in God, and yet they have persistent struggles in their lives.

I have watched some of the people I have served fold under the pressure during times of strain and struggle. Often the reason they caved under the pressures they were facing is that they needed a new God other than the one they had fashioned in their own mind – or at least a new and clearer view of the one true God.

We all have times of insecurity and self-doubt, times when we lack self-esteem, times when we feel so overloaded that we struggle, times when we do not know which direction to take, times when we have exhausted all of our resources. Anxiety is a stranger to none of us. Fears and frustrations track us like a birddog tracking a covey of quail.

We have all had and still have periods of discouragement, disappointment, and times of emotional letdown. Worry knocks on everybody’s front door. The trouble begins when we open the door and invite it inside. Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrows; it only robs today of its strength. To worry about what we can’t change is useless; to worry about what we can change is stupid.

Not all of our struggles are internal, however. We all face difficult situations at work and within our families. Progress is sometimes slow, circumstances vary, and conflict seems inevitable. Everyone at one time or another has to deal with impossible people. Each day presents us with a new edition of bad news, or with a difficult challenge we have not faced before.

The reason we have difficulty facing such things is often that we have a diminutive God of our own making. We need to believe in and personally experience the true God who knows and cares and intervenes and acts, who is present and powerful, who makes things happen!

We need to know that we do not have to face our struggles alone. The God of the Bible is the God of the past, the present, and the future. He is infinitely able to make good things come to pass. Knowing this offers no help unless we know Him personally.

That is why “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). He has promised to walk with us every mile of the way and to make us adequate for any hour.

I have known God personally for seventy-eight years, and I have never faced a need or problem in which He and His promises were not the answer I needed most. His answer has not always been the answer I initially would have preferred, but it was always the one He knew I needed. I have often failed Him, but He has never failed me.

Do you need a new God?

 

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Having been born in 1931 most people in my home town did not have a surplus of material “things” – often referred to as “stuff.” In the next two or three decades the economy greatly improved and more stuff became available. People saw it, wanted it, bought it, displayed it, and compared it with other people’s stuff. When compared to what people owned during the early 1930s most of us now have a great deal more.

Currently in our country there are more than 30,000 self-storage facilities containing more than a billion square feet of space where people can store their accumulated stuff. Sixty or seventy years ago self-storage facilities did not even exist. Americans spend $12 billion every single year just to store their extra stuff.

Just one citizen, William Randolph Hearst, businessman, politician, and newspaper publisher, became an expert at accumulating stuff. He built a residence containing 72,000 square feet to house his stuff. It contained 3,500-year-old hand-carved Egyptian statues, medieval Flemish tapestries, and some of the greatest works of art of all time. It was located on 265,000 acres.

Multiplied thousands of people now go through Hearst’s house, and they all say the same thing: “Wow! He certainly had a lot of stuff!” What happened then? After acquiring an ungodly amount of stuff he died. One out of one dies. It happens to everybody. We ultimately leave all of our stuff behind – for our kids to divide among themselves, or to be sold in order to pay Uncle Sam who is waiting in line for his portion.

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19). It is not wise to attach one’s greatest value to things that do not last. It is much better to attach supreme value to that which is eternal – God and people.

Small children find it easy to say of the things that are given to them, “Mine!” Adults know that small children do not earn any of their stuff. It is all provided for them, a gift from someone much older and wiser than they – parents, grandparents, or other members of their family. As a general rule they don’t always take good care of what is given to them. Nevertheless, like adults, they become very attached to their stuff.

Consider a few statements from Scripture: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1). “When God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift from God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19). “How much better it is to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!” (Proverbs 16:16).

I have been a Christian minister since 1949. When it comes to being a Christian steward of the material wealth God has given to us, would you care to guess what is probably the most asked question I have been asked about tithing? It is, “Do I have to tithe on the net or on the gross?” When translated this means, “How little can I give and still be on good terms with God?” Expressed another way it means, “How much of my stuff can I keep for myself?” It is like going to your mother the week before Mother’s Day and saying, “Mom, what is the least amount of money I can spend on your present and still be assured that you love me?”

Every one of us will one day have to give an account of how we have handled what God has entrusted to our care. It can be an occasion of great joy or one of deep regret. God only loans to us the stuff we say is ours, but it all belongs to Him. Only what we give back to Him and to bless others will we be able to take with us into what Jesus called “the Father’s House” (John 14:1-4).

 

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