Tag Archives: resurrection

False Ideas Christians Believe About…Salvation

11 Jun

What happens when we die? Is there a way to know? In this post we are fact-checking phrases about salvation and the afterlife:

  1. We’re all God’s children.
  2. We need people to pray the Sinners’ Prayer.
  3. Jesus wants to live in your heart.
  4. I’m so sorry for your loss. Heaven must have needed another angel.

First, let’s consider the phrase: We’re all God’s children.

When I am writing these posts I have typed the phrase into a Google Image search just to see what results I get.  Sometimes I get a background picture that is useful.  I also often get surprising results.  When I typed the phrase, “We are all God’s Children” into the search bar, I discovered that a lot of people have been quoted as saying it. Dolly Parton.  Supreme Court Justice Brett Cavanaugh.  Politician JC Watts.  I wonder what they mean?

When we say, “We are all God’s children,” who is “we”?  All Christians?  Or all people everywhere? And what do we mean by “children”?  Are we simply talking about the theological principle that God is the creator, and in that sense he is the father of all?

It could be that the person making this statement is not talking at all about salvation and eternal family, but simply about the biblical teaching that all humans are created in the image of God. That is found Genesis 1:26, when God says, “Let us make man in our image and in our likeness.” 

In that sense all humans everywhere are created by God, made in his image, and therefore have equal value.  So there is a real way, and this is not just symbolic, in which we Christians can say that all humans are God’s children.  In God’s eyes we are all equally precious and valuable.  Even ISIS fighters, even child rapists, even your jerk neighbor, arrogant coworker, difficult family member or bully classmate.  Even the person across the your church sanctuary that you have a hard time with.  All are equals in God’s view.

But there is a Christian understanding of the family of God that is unique to Christian theology.  Jesus and his followers taught that there is a family of God that not everyone is a part of. 

In the Old Testament the Israelites were called the Children of God, which we saw in the Deuteronomy series.  Deuteronomy 14:1, for example, says that Israel were “the children of the Lord their God.”  But that was not a label that applied to all people at that time.  Israel had a special relationship with God.  They were in a covenant relationship.

In the New Testament we read that God has entered into a new covenant with the church, and thus God created a new family identity that people can be a part of.  But again, not all humans are automatically a part of this new family.

In John 1:1-14, John uses symbolic language to describe Jesus.  First he calls Jesus “The Word” and then he calls Jesus “The Light.”  Notice what John says in verse 7.  He says that John, and here he is talking about another John, John the Baptist, came to testify concerning this light, so that through the Light “all men might believe.”  That is key.  John is beginning to describe the new family. Clearly God wants all humanity to be a part of it. 

As the discussion continues, John says that the Light gives light to every man.  There again, it is for all humanity.  Every man.  And then in verses 10-11, John tells us that Jesus came into the world, to his own. Who were his own?  They are his original people, the people of Israel, the people with whom God had a covenant, just as we saw in Deuteronomy.  But there is a problem: those people, his family, the Jews, did not receive him, John tells us.  Thus God decided to create a new family, and a new way to become part of the family. 

Look at verses 12-13. John says that though the Jews did not receive Jesus, it is still possible to receive him and believe in him, and become part of his family.  We can become children of God.  Clearly John says that this new family is not about human genetics, or natural childbirth. The Old Covenant was like that.  You were a part of the Old Covenant as a Jew because you were genetically Jewish.  In the New Covenant, anyone can be part of God’s family, anyone can become a child of God, by receiving and believing in Jesus. 

One biblical metaphor for this is adoption.  We can be adopted into God’s family.  I’ve been at three adoption ceremonies over the last few years, and they are amazing.  There is incredible joy when a child becomes part of a family!  I sat in the courtroom three times just weeping with gratefulness.  That is what God has done for us! 

So let me reiterate.  God loves all.  Consider John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Also consider what Paul taught in 1 Timothy 2:4, that God wants all to be saved.  That 1 Timothy passage is so interesting because of its larger context.  In verse 1 he urges Christians to pray for and give thanksgiving for all people, even for kings and all those in authority.  Who was the king in authority when Paul wrote this?  The emperor Nero, who savagely persecuted Christians.  If you ever think that you can’t stand leaders in our country or other countries, imagine living in a country where the leader butchers Christians.  Pray for him?  Yup, Paul, says, because God desires that all would be saved!  Even those we hate.

But will all be saved?  We hold to the traditional teaching (as found in the EC Articles of Faith) of eternal destiny, that not all will be saved.  But God has loved us enough to make a way to be adopted into his family.  He has made a choice available.  The way to be saved came at the great cost of Jesus’ becoming one of us, giving his life for us.  So God shows us that he desperately wants us to be a part of his family. 

I recently heard a story about a man who grew up Muslim in Europe.  He said that he had a dream where Jesus came to him and called him to follow Jesus.  The man decided to follow Jesus.  You need to know the ramifications of that.  This man’s choice to follow Jesus meant that while he was becoming part of God’s family, he faced being shunned and threatened by his own earthly family.  But he received Jesus, believed in him, and followed Jesus.  He went on to start something like a hundred Christian churches, so that more people could be part of God’s family. 

But not all will choose to be adopted into God’s family.

Therefore, my conclusion about this phrase it that it needs some explaining: We are all God’s children, as he is creator of all, but all humans are not a part of the family of God that is the church. 

We’ve talked about receiving Jesus and believing in him, and that leads us to our next phrase.

What is “The Sinner’s Prayer”?  Some Christians have said that we need people to pray this prayer so that they can become part of God’s family.

I’ve heard it called the ABC prayer:  A – Admit that you are a sinner.  B – Believe that Jesus died and rose again to pay the penalty of our sin.  And C – Confess your faith in Jesus.  This is also sometimes connected to verses in Scripture, particularly in the letter to the Romans, called The Roman Road.  The letter A is supported by Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  The letter B is supported by Romans 5:8, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  And the letter C is supported by Romans 10:9-10, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

So it sounds good, but is the Sinner’s Prayer in the Bible?  No. 

Wait. No?  How can you say, No, Joel? You just read all those verses from Romans that show it is in the Bible? 

Let me explain.  The ABC Prayer is not in the Bible, and it was created as a way to give people a method for starting a relationship with Jesus.  It is very easy to understand, and thus some have said that it is good for kids.  That very well may be true.  We should not, however, give kids or anyone, a false idea that all God wants them to do is say a prayer.  The Sinner’s Prayer might actually give them the wrong idea, as if God wants us to say certain words. 

So what does God want?  Is there one specific way that people come to follow and believe in Jesus?  No.  People through the ages have come to Christ in so many ways.  That is okay.  In the Bible we see many different ways that people come to believe in and follow God.  There is no one way.

I recently read the story of James Bryan Smith who, after reading a book by CS Lewis, came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, and decided to follow Jesus.  He and his friends started reading the Gospels, and as a result their lives were changing.  Several of their friends also became Christians.

Then Smith met a guy in a college campus ministry who asked Smith if he ever prayed the Sinner’s Prayer.  He said he never heard of it.  The campus minister was aghast, and responded, “Well, then, you are not saved and doomed to hell.”  Smith explained how he had been reading the Gospels, how his life was changing and how he was interacting with Jesus every day. The campus minister said, “Nice story, but if you die tonight, you would go to hell.” 

Smith believed the campus minister, and prayed the prayer, and it seemed to him that this version of the Jesus story was all over the place.  It was a story of “rotten sinners, an angry God, a sacrificial Son, and the constant battle to make it to heaven in the end.”  One day, he says, he came to the realization that he hated being a Christian.  Clearly the Sinner’s Prayer was detrimental to Smith. I would suggest that it has been likewise for many others, misleading them about what it means to be in relationship with Jesus.

So if it is not a Sinner’s Prayer, where can we go in the Bible to guide into understanding what it means to begin a relationship with Jesus?

I would recommend that we look at Jesus, and his approach to the disciples.  Remember how he started his relationship with them?  He said two words: “Follow me.”  That was it.  The concept of “believe in me” was a part of his teaching to the disciples, as we see that especially in the Gospel of John.  The disciples’ true belief in Jesus, however, only came after the resurrection.  Three years of ministry later! 

Think about it.  Through the three years they followed Jesus, during which time they were doing all the work of ministry: healing, exorcism, preaching, but they still didn’t fully believe.  How do we know this?  Because when the end came, at his arrest in the Garden, what do we see?  Judas betrayed him, Peter, the leader who boldly proclaimed belief just a few hours before, ended up denying him three times, and all the rest ran away in fear.  It was after Jesus’ resurrection when their belief was solidified, and they never turned back, even giving their lives sacrificially to follow him.  What that means is that for the disciples, following Jesus came first, believing in him came second.

We so often have it the other way around.  Smith said this: “The central question of the gospel is not how can I be saved, but who is Jesus?  Your relationship to Jesus unleashes redemptive power.  I hear people say, ‘We need to get people to make a commitment to Jesus.’ My response always is, ‘We need to get people to know Jesus.’  If they come to know Jesus, in his beauty, goodness and truth, they will naturally make a commitment to him.”

We don’t need people to pray the Sinner’s Prayer, we need to get them to learn who Jesus truly is.  Smith again summarizes Jesus’ mission in a way that I find so compelling: “The Christian story is not primarily about how God in Jesus came to rescue sinners from some impending disaster.  It is about God’s work of initiating us into a fellowship and making us true conversation partners with the Father and the Son through the Spirit, and hence with each other.” 

In other words, there are many ways to come to Jesus, and one way is not better than the other.  It could be a Sinner’s Prayer moment in Sunday School. But it could also be through dreams.  For some it is a slow life-long process of parents and churches investing in their kids.

Do we need a specific date that we prayed a prayer?  No.  Do we need specific words of prayer?  No. 

We can place too much emphasis on a prayer, date, event.  But maybe you’re wondering, what about the needed emphasis on evidence of a real relationship?  Jesus once taught, “By your fruit you will know them.”  What he meant was that a real relationship with Jesus will be evidenced by what comes out of our lives.  You know it is an apple tree because it has apples growing out of it.  As Paul said in Galatians 5, walk in the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit will come out of your life.

What does that mean?  Walk in the Spirit? Well, it relates to the next phrase we are fact-checking.

Turn to Ephesians 3:16-17 and you’ll read Paul say, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

There it is. This phrase is right out of the Bible. But what is this talking about?  Our actual heart?  Our blood pumper? 

No.  The heart is symbol for the center of our will and emotion.

What this means is that Jesus with us.  This idea pops up in many places in Scripture:

John 14:23 – If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

Romans 5:5 – And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

But what does this mean?  In what way does Jesus live in us?  It is a strange concept to think about Jesus being in our hearts, so this phrase needs some explaining.

Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 6 that our body is the Temple of Spirit.  In the Old Covenant, the presence of God resided in a physical building, the tabernacle, and then eventually the temple in Jerusalem.  But in the New Covenant, God’s Spirit resides in us. 

God no longer resides in a building! 

Think about that.  God, through his Spirit, wants to live with you!  Amazing, isn’t it.  God created us to have fellowship with him and wants to be so close to us.  He loves us, and went to such great lengths to be with us.  “God with us” means that he wants to make his home with us for the purpose of human flourishing.

It is vital for us, then, to learn to walk in step with the Holy Spirit who lives with us.  How often do you think about the Holy Spirit throughout the day?  What could it look like for you to talk with him, listen to him, allowing him to shape you more and more to look like Jesus when Jesus lived on earth?  It means we must give attention to our lives, our choices, our thoughts.  We must give time to practice developing our relationship with God. 

There are habits and practices that we can add to our lives to grow our relationship with God. I would encourage to search this blog for posts like this one that talk about spiritual practices.

Now we have come to the final phrase we’re fact-checking, and it relates to our relationship with God after death. 

This is expressed so often in the context of grief, such as loss of a loved one.  It sounds like a sweet statement.  But at deeper glance, this one has some concerns.

First of all, it can make God the bad guy for taking a life. “Heaven needed?”  It seems to say that the person who passed away is now serving a higher purpose.  But does God take people out of their earthly existence because they are needed in heaven?   There is no biblical teaching to support this idea, and it is dangerous to depict God that way. 

But what about the rest of the phrase?  Do humans turn into angels when we die?  What is the biblical teaching on angels?

Angels are super popular in our culture.  Hebrews 1:14 gives maybe the best description: “they are ministering spirits sent to serve those (us) who inherit salvation.”  Throughout the Bible, angels are messengers.  Psalm 91:11 is where we get the idea of angels protecting humans.  Psalm 34:7 is another similar reference.  But I would strongly caution us to avoid the idea of individual guardian angels, as if we have an angel assigned specifically to us.  The psalms are poetic, and that means they use symbolic or figurative language that should not be interpreted as teaching scientific fact.

In my opinion, this is not a major point of theology, and as a result, it is one that I do not hold with a tight grip.  The angelic realm is just too mysterious in biblical teaching, I think, for us to be certain of much.  So please know I don’t mean to come across as dogmatic.

So back to the phrase we are fact-checking.  It raises another question: what does happen when we die?

Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christians who die will be given new bodies.  But those new spiritual bodies are not the same as angels.  Quite frankly we don’t precisely how a human spiritual body might differ from an angelic body.  What we do know is that angels and humans are different creations. 

Humans who die and are given new spiritual bodies, however, are still humans. 

My conclusion is that the phrase “heaven must have needed another angel” is not true, if the person saying the phrase means that humans transform into angels.  If the person saying the phrase means “angel” in the symbolic sense, though, referring to humans who are in heaven, then that is totally in keeping with biblical teaching.

I think that a better question to consider is: What should we say when people are experiencing grief?

The reality is that in moments of grief, when we don’t know what to say, but we think we have to say something, what comes out can be word vomit.  In those moments we can utter really bad theology.  What we should do is say nothing and just hug them and express our love and concerns. 

I recently heard an interview of the man who has handled settlements for many of our national tragedies.  After 9/11, he was responsible to divvy out money to families that had lost loved ones.  As he met with families, one time he tried to express empathy, and said “I know what you are going through.”  The family looked back at him across the desk, and said, “You have no idea what we’re going through.”  He never said that again.

Our hearts are in the right place when we are counseling people in their time of grief, and we so desperately want to make it better.  But we need to use self-control and not just let words out.  Also when you are the one grieving, and people say ridiculous stuff to you, I know it is hard in that moment of pain, but we can be gracious to them, and remember that they are just trying to help. 

Remember that grief takes time, and is unique to each situation. So when it comes to salvation and the afterlife, we can praise God that he has made a way for us to be in his family.  Let us be a people that warmly, graciously invite people to get to know Jesus.

How to have an inheritance that cannot be squandered

24 May

Image result for squandered inheritance

Michelle and I both had grandparents pass away in the last few years, and we have watched our parents and their siblings handle their parents’ estates.  Sometimes inheritances are smooth and easy.  Sometimes they are a bit complex.  One time Faith Church received a bequest from a parishioner who passed away, and it took nearly two years to receive it!  After a person passes away, there can be many details to process in the settlement of their estate.  Those details are often bills that eat away at the inheritance.  Imagine the frustration when what initially appeared to be a nice inheritance is reduced to pennies.

As Peter continues his teaching in 1 Peter 1, verse 4, he says the living hope based on Jesus’ resurrection, which we looked at the past few days, gives us “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”

What inheritance is Peter talking about?  That word “inheritance” is defined as: “to receive something of incredible value which has not been earned.”  Human inheritances can be squandered away quickly.  My father-in-law loves to joke around that he is going to write us out of the will, for example, if we don’t help him split firewood.  I love to say back to him, “Good, because all you have to pass on is junk!”

But not the inheritance that Jesus promises to those who are reborn.  We read that it can’t perish, spoil or fade.  Peter goes to enough trouble to use three individual words to describe how indestructible this inheritance is!  It is imperishable and undefiled and unfading, which is a word that means “pertaining to not losing the wonderful, pristine character of something”.

Like a new white shirt.  You know what happens: in a couple months or so, they lose that bright color.  But imagine a shirt that stays just as white as when you bought it at the store, even if you wash it 1000 times.  Paul says our inheritance in heaven is even better than that.  It will never fade.

So not only do they have hope that gives them inspiration to keep the faith now, even though they face persecution, they also get to experience the inheritance of God in heaven.

In other words, Peter is saying, “Christians, you can do this!  Though life is rough when you are going through hard times, remember the hope you have.  That hope can motivate you to stay true to God, to follow him, even when people come against you.  And what’s more, if they kill you, then you get that inheritance in heaven!”

It begs the question: just what will this inheritance in heaven be like?

Probably the most frequent thing I hear at a funeral is that heaven is a better place.  The person who died “is going to a better place.”  What is that better place?  A mansion in Heaven? The Good Place?  Have you seen the TV show The Good Place?  It is a comedy about a lady who, after death, goes to The Good Place, but it becomes apparent very quickly that a mistake was made, because she was supposed to go to The Bad Place.  And in the show, The Good Place is amazing!

Is that what our inheritance in heaven is?  Peter doesn’t tell us.  Instead he assumes that his readers who are going through hard times will know that their inheritance in heaven, which God has gone to great lengths to make available to them, and which God preserving for them, is far superior to what they are going through now.

Remember that Peter is talking to people who are being persecuted or who are threatened with persecution.  He is not intending to give them a full blown treatment of what heaven is like.  Instead he wants to remind them that they have hope now and an inheritance in the future.

For people living in uncertainty, there is certain hope that inspires them to stay true to God now, and an inheritance that will be waiting for them in heaven after they die.

I have to admit, during a prayer time last week, I was thinking about this passage and my own struggles in life, and I said to God, “Lord, I am intellectually thankful for hope of an inheritance in heaven, but I want to feel better now, to be done with my struggles now. I want that inheritance now.”

And instantly, you know what happened?  Thoughts flashed in my mind, thoughts I take as from the Lord, saying, “That’s what the prodigal son said.”

Bam! Conviction hit me hard and fast.  It’s true.  I so often ask for my inheritance now, just like the Prodigal Son saying to his father, “Give me my share of the estate,” while his father was still living.  What a slap in the face.  Do you ever do that to God?  I admit I do. I want my troubles to be done now!

But Peter is not telling these Christians going through a hard time that the hard time will stop.  The persecution might not stop.  Some have already died for their faith.  When we are going through a hard time, we usually want it to stop immediately.  Peter doesn’t say that though.

Instead he concludes in verse 5 that they are being guarded and protected by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in last (moment in) time. In other words, we can learn to wait for our inheritance in heaven.  We can learn to trust in God in the difficulties of the here and now, remain faithful to him, keeping that hope, that inheritance set before us.

But there is even more to this hope, Peter tells us in verse 5. By faith our salvation is shielded by God’s power. The word “shielded” is the idea of a guard that is posted until the time that God’s salvation is ready to be revealed.

Do you see the overall theme? Though you are going through these hard times, you can still have hope of a great inheritance, and it is secure.

You and I are not being persecuted.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t have challenges in life.  What are the difficult situations you are going through right now?  Know that your future is secure and your hope in Christ can enable you to face any challenges.

Nothing is certain in our world.

It is hard to watch the news.  Our country and world seems unstable.

The stock market is up and down. Bills keep coming and finances might be tight. Maybe we get laid off from work.

Health fails.  All of a sudden we can be on death’s door in a hospital bed.

Family and relationships go sour.  A person has to admit to their friend, “My relationship with my spouse is on the rocks, and we are headed for divorce.”  Friendships can tear apart.

Something in the house breaks.  The car dies.

A school shooting.  And our kids go through active shooter drills now.

Life feels very uncertain. We cannot count on the things of this world to take care of us.

But the good news is that we have a living hope.  And it is kept secure for us in heaven by the power of God.  That is our solid rock that will not be shaken.  What is that living hope?  That God is alive.  That he is active in our lives.  That he gives grace and mercy in the midst of the struggles.  That he loves us unconditionally. That he has made new birth in Christ available to us, so that we can have an inheritance in heaven.  This motivates us to pursue him in faith now!

That’s why it makes incredibly great sense to follow the way of Jesus, even when it gets hard, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when our bodies and emotions tell us to follow a different way.

Jesus’ way is the one true solid rock.

This is not just knowledge we need as we face difficulty and uncertainty!  We can access this hope to make actual choices to keep following Jesus, to keep being his disciples, to keep living like he wants us to live, even when life is falling apart around us.

Have you experienced this new birth?  Following Jesus starts with new birth that Peter refers to in verse 3.  It means believing in him, and living your life the way he wants you to live.  Or maybe you have received the new birth of the Spirit, but you know you have not allowed that to fully define your life.  Today is the day to make the choice to follow Jesus.  Let’s talk about that.  Comment below!

How we can know that hope is alive

23 May

Photo by Hillie Chan on Unsplash

Last week I did a search on our local website, as I was looking for the word “hope” in the news.  You know what I discovered?  Hope is a very flexible word, used many ways for many situations.  Here are a few of the recent headlines.  Maybe you remember some of them!

First, here are a couple articles where something was done that brought change:

  • “Sewing Hope in Sierra Leone” – April 16 – It was about a local ministry that makes “pillowcase” dresses for girls in need.  So cool!
  • “Trump’s bid to help Chinese firm draws fire but raises hopes” – May 14 – I didn’t take the time to learn all about this situation but the news report thought it would raise hopes.

Then there is the most common use of hope.  Aspirations for the future!

  • “76ers hope to keep thwarting history in Game 5 vs Celtics” – May 8 …those hopes were not realized, sadly for all you 76ers fans, and happily for all you Celtics fans.
  • “Billboards warning against prescription painkillers hopefully will combat opioid addiction in Lancaster County” – May 8 …they hope billboards will combat opioid addiction?  How do you think that will work out?
  • “US hopes North Korea will become close partner, Pompeo says” – May 12

In our lives we experience lots of these hopes and dreams.  What hopes do you have? What do you hope will happen?

So often we talk about hope as something that we want to happen, but we have no idea if it will actually happen.  We use the word “hope” a lot in our conversation.  “I hope my team wins!”  “I hope I get an iPhone for Christmas.”  I hope…I hope…I hope for a lot of things.  We call that wishful thinking.

Wishful thinking is fun, but it can’t sustain us at the point of our need.  And wishful thinking is not the hope Peter is talking about, as we continue looking at 1 Peter 1:3-5.

As we saw yesterday, when, by God’s great mercy, you have been born again, you have a living hope. For those who are going through a difficult time in this world, you who are born again have a living hope that matters right now.  You have a living hope that shapes you right now. It’s not something that you are just waiting for one day.  It is living.  It is active right now.  This hope we have impacts us now, helping us to the have the proper perspective of what we are going through. It means that no matter how difficult it is now, you don’t have to turn away from God, you don’t have to give up, because you have a living hope.

And what is the foundation of that hope?  How can we prove that hope to be true?

To answers those questions, Peter takes us back in time 30 years or so.  In your Bible, turn to to John 19.  Remember that scene when Jesus is arrested and talking with Pilate?  It is wild. Look back in chapter 18 quickly, and you’ll see that Jesus had already stood trial before Pilate earlier that day.  Pilate found no reason to convict Jesus, and sent him away.  Now he’s back.  You get the sense that Pilate is just done with this whole thing.  I imagine a look on Pilate’s face, and a tone in his words, and they are saying, “Are you serious? I have to deal with this ridiculous situation? A guy who is clearly innocent, but these Jews want dead?  Geesh.”

Now in the beginning of chapter 19, he has Jesus flogged, hoping that will get these bloodthirsty Jews off his case.  He is very wrong.

You see what is going on here? Pilate is saying, “Jesus, come on, man. I know you aren’t guilty.  Why are you doing this?  Don’t you know that I have the power to kill you?”  When Pilate says that very thing, he reveals what is in his heart.  Pilate knows the normal power structure of the world.  The threat of death.  Whoever has the power to kill others holds total control.  That is the normal way of the world.  We see this every day in the news.  It’s why the threat of nuclear war around the world is so serious.

But three days later, something astounding would happen to that power structure.  Jesus, who Pilate did crucify, that same Jesus, would defeat death.  “Death where is your victory?”, the apostle Paul would say in 1 Corinthians 15.  Death has been swallowed up in the victorious resurrection of Jesus!

And that, Peter reminds us, is the basis of our living hope.  Jesus defeated death, and when we are born again, when we believe in him and give our lives to be his disciples, we have a living hope that one day we, too, will experience resurrection. The power of death has no hold on us anymore.  The power structure of death has been overturned.  Jesus’ resurrection is the new reality we live with.  Thus we have a living hope in the future that impacts us now.  But how?  More on that tomorrow!

How to access God’s power for your life

18 Apr

Image result for the power of godDon’t you hate it when the batteries are dead?  I pull out my cordless drill to work on something, and there is no power.  Thankfully, my drill came with a second battery, so I swap them out, and I find that they second one is dead too.

Ever dealt with that? So frustrating, right?  Powerlessness.

Power tools or other gadgets are one thing.  You can buy new batteries, or charge the ones you’ve got.  It just requires a little wait or money.

But when you are dealing with power for life, that’s another story.

What do you do if you are trying to kick a bad habit, and you feel like you have no power?  What about fixing a broken relationship?

What about dealing with a difficult health problem or job loss or lots of bills?

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt powerless?

Sometimes in life we feel totally powerless about the situations we get into.  And that is not a fun feeling.  We hate it!  I hate it.

In Ephesians 1:15-20, Paul talks about power that is available in those difficult situations.  Paul prays that they may know, in verse 19, “[God’s] incomparably great power, for us who believe; that power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.”

This reality is ours.  You can know God’s resurrection power at work in your life now!  What an amazing promise.

And yet some of you hear that, and it sounds so far-fetched, so unbelievable. How do you feel about that?

On Easter Sunday I have found that while we often look backward in thanks and joy remembering Jesus’ victory over death, and while we look forward to the day when we will experience that resurrection ourselves and be with him, we often neglect to think about the implications of the resurrection right now. Does the resurrection matter today?

Paul is saying that we can experience that resurrection power in our lives right now.  He is not talking about some distant future.  As followers of Jesus, we should expect that working of his mighty power in our lives right now.

Evaluate your own life.  Have you become defeated?  Have you forgotten that his power is available to you now?

That power that God wielded to raise Jesus from the dead is available to us!  Or as another translation puts it “how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God.”  New life is available to us now.  Power for victory over our on sin.  Power to be changed.

But you might be thinking “wait a minute…I have been asking for that power to be at work in my life for 20 years, and I feel like I haven’t seen it.”  Or “I have been praying for a loved one to experience that power, or for that power to heal a broken relationship…and I have been praying for a long time, and I haven’t seen it!  What gives?”  Know that many people feel this way.

Some things to remember:

  1. We are in a battle with an enemy who has not given up.
  2. We have free will, and God rarely, extremely rarely overrules us.
  3. We might have a misconception about our part in the process. Paul is not saying here that we need to just do nothing and wait for God to rain down his power in us.   We have a responsibility.

Know that God is alive and well, and his resurrection power is at work changing lives.

A couple weeks ago at Family Night, a former Faith Church member shared the heart-wrenching story of her husband’s arrest, conviction and incarceration for child pornography.  She also shared how the power of God has been very evident in their family’s life, and especially in her husband’s life, as during his 20 month-long house arrest he started following Christ.  He lost his job, they had to declare bankruptcy, and their neighborhood rejected them because of his sinful choices.  Through this, God’s transforming power was at work, and her husband, though he is in prison, is a changed man, and is even ministering to other inmates in prison.

Those of us here for the CV Community Good Friday worship service heard the amazing story of how one of the top gang leaders in Lancaster City came to Christ.  He went to a presentation at Clipper Stadium where Nicky Cruz spoke.  Cruz was a big time gang leader in New York City whose life was transformed by Jesus, and has been sharing the story of the power of God for decades.  So this Lancaster City gang leader was listening to Cruz.  He didn’t respond to Cruz’s sermon, to the invitation or to the prayer.  But as he walked out of the stadium into the parking lot, he broke down and gave his life to Christ.  Since that time, he has now led 13 of his gang members to Christ!

On Thursday night at our Maundy Thursday Passover Seder, a Jewish Christian shared his story.  He grew up in a Jewish household, and though he heard about Jesus, he never read the New Testament.  He was always taught that Christians were violent cult members.  Later in life he started reading the New Testament, and he was absolutely astounded at what he read.  He learned about a thoroughly Jewish man that was truly the Messiah, the Savior, the Promised One, and this Jewish man gave his life to Christ.

God’s power is at work in so many ways!

And that power is available to us.  If you have a problem with complaining, God’s power is available to you.  If you have lustful thoughts, God’s power is available to you.  If you have anger issues, God’s power is available to you.  That same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to you to transform your life now.

But what about the people who are Christians who feel distant from God?  What if they are thinking “I wish I could experience some of God’s power in my life! But I don’t feel like I do.”

We need to first of all realize that his amazing power is available to us!  That alone might be a new concept for you.  God is not distant. His power is available to us.

Second, we should ask him for his power.  That’s what Paul is doing in this prayer in Ephesians 1.  Paul is praying that those Christians in the Roman city of Ephesus would know God’s power like never before. Start asking God to give you his power to transform you life.

The hard part of this is that some of us are not experiencing this amazing manifestation of power, and we wonder if something is wrong with us.

“Where is this power you are promising, God?”

God can and does manifest himself in radical ways.  But his incredible power is also available and flowing to us in many ways, sometimes quiet ways, sometimes in ways that don’t seem like power.

It should be seen as a partnership.

I have heard people say “God took away my desire for cigarettes” and it was miraculous.  But more often than not, it will be hard work.  God empowering us to work hard, to be creative, diligent, determined.

Should we think “God will supply food for my family while I do nothing.”?  No, most often God’s power will enable you to get out there and work.

I am an adjunct professor for Lancaster Bible College.  I teach online course.  Back in the fall, I was looking ahead to the winter/spring, and I hadn’t heard anything from the college about teaching.  So I contacted them, and asked if they needed me to teach. The one course I teach is for adult learners who are going back to school later in life to finish off an uncompleted bachelor’s degree.  That course has been on a standard schedule, and they responded that would continue as normal.  But I also teach regular semester courses in the traditional undergrad program.  I asked about that, and they told there were none.

Two weeks later, surprise, my name was on the list for one of those regular semester courses.  I thought Okay, great!  That extra income would be a wonderful help.  Then two weeks after that, I got an email from the guy who originally told me there were none available, and this time he offered me to teach another course!

I had to ask, I had to work, but clearly it was God who provided.  And what amazing is that this winter/spring we needed extra income to be able to go visit our son who graduated from Army boot camp in Oklahoma.

God’s power is available for the powerless. Remind yourself that God’s resurrection power is available to you.  Believe it. Ask for it.  And then strive for it.

He is risen? Really? So what?

3 Jun

“He is risen!  He is risen indeed!”

This is the call and response that we use on Easter Sunday.  But this Sunday is not Easter Sunday.  That was two months ago.  This Sunday we’re revisiting Easter again.  Why?

In the book of Acts we learn that the earliest Christians decided to meet on Sundays because Jesus’ resurrection happened on a Sunday.  Think about that.  Many cultures around the world reserve Sundays as a day off for rest and worship because nearly 2000 years ago a small group of Jesus’ followers wanted to give time every week to commemorate his resurrection.

It didn’t start off that way.  In fact those Christians were all Jews.  They lived in a culture, in the nation Israel, where Saturday was the day off for worship.  Sunday was just another workday, the first day of the work week.   So these Christians had to deal with the ramifications of their decision to worship on a day when everyone else would be working.

Did they only meet in the evening after work was done?

Or did they worship in the morning or afternoon, and thus have to say to their employers, “Sorry, but we are no longer working on Sunday mornings or afternoons,” and face the consequences?

It would have been much easier for them to worship on the Sabbath like everyone else did.  The Jewish worship day, called Sabbath, was Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.  It would have been super easy for the Christians to just worship on the Sabbath, but they chose something else.  They chose to worship on Sundays because that was the day of the week Jesus rose from the dead.

That’s why we worship on Sundays too.  But that’s not why we’re talking about the resurrection this coming Sunday. So why are we talking about it?

Maybe you’re wondering if it is because this coming Sunday will be one of our two summertime Sundays of worshiping in the park, and we wanted to focus on something special.  Nice thought, but nope, that’s not the reason either.

I have a much more mundane reason why we’re talking about Jesus rising from the dead.

You know why?  It’s what comes next.

We have been studying the life of Jesus as told to us by a guy named Luke who was one of the first missionaries.  Luke tells us right at the beginning that he did the work of a journalist and historian, trying to tell the story of Jesus’ life.  So since the last Sunday of November 2014 we have been learning about the words, works and way of Jesus.  All he taught and all he did.  So that we might learn to know him better and follow him.

Now we have come to the pinnacle moment in his life.  On this, the 70th sermon of the series, we travel back to the first Resurrection Day.  As much as we can.

But on that day, when the first disciples heard those words “He is risen!” their response was a bit different.  They didn’t say “He is risen indeed!” as we do with excitement and hope and thankfulness.  Instead, they likely asked it as a question: “He is risen?  What are you talking about?”

Good question, disciples.  What is this resurrection thing all about?  Why does it matter?  Even if we believe that it happened 2000 years ago, how does that ancient history affect us now, if at all?

Join us at East Lampeter Community Park on Hobson Road at 10am to learn more!

Saying No to invitations

24 Mar

I’ve been invited to a bunch of banquets lately, and interestingly enough they are all great, and they are all on the same weekend, April 21-23.  It is unique that they all ended up at around the same time, but it is not unique to get invited to banquets.  Have you noticed that there are lots of banquets these days.  Maybe you have been invited to them too.  The ones I’m invited to tend to be fundraising banquets.  The organizers bring in a special speaker, or a music group, have a silent auction, live auction, etc., and they give you an update about their charity or ministry, then raise money.  The cool thing is that not only do you get a really good meal, but you hear about so many good causes, and you get a chance to support them!  I love a good banquet, but I can’t say yes to them all.  Frankly, I’m just too busy.

Because I can’t go to this group of banquets coming up, let me invite you to consider them!

First there is the Wenger Foundation Praise Dinner, on April 21, a banquet that raises money for a number of local charities, including Evangelical Seminary, of which I am an alumnus.  The cost of this banquet is $125.  This banquet supports great causes, and Evangelical has amazing educational programs for all kinds of people, but at $125 a plate, I’m not going to be able to swing it.  The invite says the cost of the banquet is entirely underwritten, so all of the $125 goes to the charities.  That’s great, but we’re busy that night…believe it or not, because we’re going to another banquet!  To hear about that other banquet, I invite you to join us for Easter worship on Sunday at Faith Church.

The very next night, April 22, Michelle and I have been invited to the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding annual celebration banquet at Shady Maple.  Michelle and I have gone to that one numerous times, and some of you have joined us.  It is always really great.  Not only do you get a wonderful Shady Maple meal, it is free!  Again, the banquet costs are completely underwritten so how does CPYU raise money that night?  They have tons of silent auction items, and a live auction, and it is fun!   Like the praise dinner, I’m busy and can’t make the CPYU banquet.  If you want to go, you’ll hear an awesome presentation about CPYU’s important ministry to teenagers, parents and youth workers.

Believe it or not, that very same weekend Michelle and I had also signed up to go to the International Justice Mission’s prayer gathering in DC.  It’s not really a banquet, and we’ve heard it is an awesome prayer-filled weekend.  IJM is also doing incredible work rescuing women from trafficking around the world.  We were excited to go, so we paid the registration and booked our hotel.  But after giving it some further thought, we backed out.  With the kids in sports, work, the general busyness of life, and preparations for our big trip to Cambodia in June, we decided it would be best to stay home.

So many great opportunities.  But life is just too busy to go to every banquet.

On Easter at Faith Church you’re going to hear about another banquet invitation.  Shouldn’t Easter focus on the resurrection?  Yes! We’ll talk about that too.  But you’re also going to hear about some people who, like me, are too busy to go to a banquet.  But this is a banquet invitation like no other.  It’s not a fundraiser.  It’s one you won’t want to miss. Will you be too busy?

At the turn of the new year, we skipped a section of our study through Luke, and I promised we would return to it on Easter.  So on Easter we jump back to a very interesting story of a banquet invitation in Luke 14:15-24.  Hope you can join us.

Open your mind to new life – Luke 24

8 Apr

New-Life-And-OldLast week I asked “Is there only bad news in a broken world?

This past Sunday I had some help from the elementary age kids (and some of you older “kids”!) in trying to answer that question.  Becka, our worship leader, drew large a large picture of planet earth, and as I mentioned the bad news out there in the world today, I ripped up the globe into pieces.  It can feel like ours is a shredded world.  I talked about how the disciples following Jesus just had their world ripped to pieces.  Their leader had been arrested, beaten, falsely tried, and killed.  They could easily be next!  So I handed out the ripped pieces of the world, and asked the kids to color them brightly, and I continued with the story.

On the third day those same distraught disciples started hearing very strange news.  Good news.  But so good it was unbelievable.  They heard their Lord was alive!  As the days wears on, their excitement builds as he shows up to meet with a few of them.   Finally, he appears at the place where they were all together.  After getting over their initial shock, he gets down to the business of sorting this all out for them.

You can read about it in Luke 24:44-49. You can see their lights going on, or as Luke says in verse 45, “he opened their minds,” so they could understand that the Scriptures they had heard all their lives going to worship at synagogue now found fulfillment in him. He was the promised Savior, the Messiah. But he was a very different Savior than what they expected. The prevailing idea of the day was of a military Messiah who would remove the Romans from their land.

Jesus wasn’t a king with a sword on a warhorse. Instead, he was the one who would save the world from the penalty of sin. Forgiveness is possible. Repentance is possible. New life is possible. Just as he rose from the dead to new life, so they and you and I can have new life. As he taught them many times, it was not just a promise of eternal life in heaven with him after death. Life after death is good news! It was certainly that. But it was not just that. He also offers to us the possibility of abundant life now.

We Christians often sit back and shake our fingers, saying “What is wrong with the world today?”

The great writer G. K. Chesterton was reading the paper once and came to the editorial section. The editors of the paper asked readers to answer that very question. “What is wrong with the world today?” He knew he needed to respond. So he wrote a letter to the editor. Probably the shortest letter in the history of letters to the editor: “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton’s response was two words: “I am.”

As long as we just sit back and talk, we are what is wrong with the world. New life means we are changed, and we share that victory with the world.  We are to be the good news in the world. New life in Christ starts by changing our hearts, and then we share that new life in as many ways possible.

As we were talking about this passage a few weeks ago at our sermon roundtable Bible study, one person told the story about a woman who was driving behind him way too close in a big old car. And he got angry. He thought, if she stops, I’m going to give her a piece of my mind. And then he thought “I don’t want to live like that…so angry.” He said that he needs that hope, that awareness of what Jesus has done for me.  When we remember that our sins are forgiven, we can and should repent of our sins and take on the new life of Christ.  Abundant life is a life that turns away from sin.

One of the first followers of Jesus who would come along a bit later, a guy named Paul, said in the letter he wrote to the church in the city of Ephesus that we are not alone in this abundant life.  Instead God wants to help us change.  Take a look:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Did you hear that? The same power that rose Jesus from the dead to new life is available to us! That is Good News. Jesus’ new life means there is hope for our lives to be made new!

He wants to make the world new. At that point in the sermon, the kids brought their newly colored ripped pieces of the world put the picture of the world back together.

In the same way, when you follow Jesus, know that he wants to make you new, to put your life back together.

Many of you know I really enjoy the band U2.   Their lead singer, Bono, was recently asked about Jesus and new life, and I like what he had to say:

Do you need some good news? The message of Easter is that new life is possible in Jesus. Your sins can be forgiven. Repent of your sin, believe in him, and ask God to give you his resurrection power to make your life new. That is good news. That is news worth searching for. God gave to give us an abundant life – not an easy life, not a cut and dry life – but an abundant life. Life to the fullest. Life lived in community with one another and with an all-loving, gracious, giving God. We have access to a New Life.

Our old history ends with the cross; our new history begins with the resurrection.
Watchman Nee