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The Key (and almost always overlooked) Ingredient to New Year’s Resolutions

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45% of all Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, while only 8% actually achieve them. The more troubling number is the 55% who make no resolutions at all. Goal-setting is the beginning of a pathway to growth, improvement in certain areas of your life, and the accomplishment of greater things in the coming year. If you have not set goals for the coming year, let me help you begin by focusing on what matters most.

If you are a Christian, you are called to follow Jesus every day, always motivated by the Gospel – that is, what He has already accomplished for you. This is critical:

The most important goals that you could ever set or achieve for yourself, have already been achieved for you, by Christ Himself.

Jesus lived the perfect life on your behalf, suffered the punishment for all of your sins, and He died your death on the cross. He rose again from the grave to conquer death and hell, so that you could live the resurrected life now, and into eternity. So, the key question you face as you set your eyes on the coming year is this:

Now that Christ has already done everything necessary for your salvation, what will you do?

This question sets up all the hopes, dreams, and goals for your life in the coming year. If all that really matters has already been accomplished, you can now live without fear of failure or a need to gain the approval of others. It means that all you need to do is worship Him daily and follow Him as His Spirit leads you, one day at a time. You are now free to love others without any need for love in return, because all the love you need you have already found in Him. So, as you set more specific goals in the freedom and rest of the Gospel, begin with these key truths:

  • As you pray for blessing, remember that Jesus Himself is the Blessing.
  • As you pray for guidance, remember that Jesus Himself is your Guide.
  • As you pray for rest, remember that Jesus Himself is your Rest.
  • As you pray for joy, remember that Jesus Himself is your Joy.
  • As you pray for success, remember that Jesus Himself is your Success.
  • As you pray for direction, remember that Jesus Himself is the Way.
  • As you pray for truth, remember that Jesus Himself is the Truth.
  • As you pray for life, remember that Jesus Himself is Life.

Now, set specific goals for the coming year in light of these life-changing truths.

“… Christ is all, and in all.” Colossians 3:11

Jesus: the God-Man

Jesus raised questions as soon as He appeared on the public stage. Since the first century the questions have continued: Who is He? Where does He come from? How can He speak with such authority? Believers, skeptics, the curious, and opponents continue to debate the answers. 2,000 yrs. later, Jesus remains the central figure of history and still the dominant influencer of our culture. A recent updated TIME magazine lists Jesus as one of the “100 People Who Changed the World”. He’s on the cover with the Beatles, Mother Teresa, Hitler, and others.

I remember, many years ago, at the turn of the century- the millennium- TIME ran it’s normal “Person of the Year” cover story and then added, the “Person of the Millennium”. Guess who? You got it: Jesus Christ. I remember thinking, “Yes, and the millennium before that, and the one before that, and the millennium to come, and the one after that one…” Jesus is the central figure of all of human history.

So, “Who is Jesus?” remains the key question. Many Christians don’t realize that Jesus made His identity the focus of His teaching. Think about it: the central focus of His teaching was not a certain principle or truth, (in fact He said that He IS “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”). He personified Truth. Who He claimed to be was the central focus of His teaching and ultimately, their reasons for crucifying Him. This is why His question from Matthew 16:15,  “Who do you say I am?” echoes through time and space into our hearts today. This is the big question. And it’s a very personal question He’s asking: Who do you say He is?

Through the years it seems that we have drifted away from the biblical Jesus and preferred a safe, ethereal, sanitized Savior. It seems this has left many with no choice but to conclude that the stories about Him are myths and legends. For some, He doesn’t seem real or “now”.

This is not a new thing. Rudolf Bultmann, an influential German theologian and New Testament scholar – a prominent liberal voice in the 1800s – is best known for his concept of demythology – which was actually not what it sounds (a divesting or a “getting rid of”) the so-called mythological approach to the historical Jesus. Instead Bultmann advocated that theologians need to interpret, what he called, the mythological elements in the New Testament existentially. Meaning, he contended that faith in the kerygma or “teaching” and proclamation of the New Testament was necessary for Christian faith, not any particular facts regarding the historical Jesus. Or to say: You don’t need the historical Jesus to have faith.

But without the historic Jesus, He’s just a fairy tale. N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop and today’s leading New Testament scholar, said, “It’s been said often enough, but it bears repeating: without the real human (historical) Jesus of Nazareth, we are at the mercy of anybody who tells us that “Christ” is this, or that.” So through the eyes of the historical Jesus we see God for who He is – the sent and sending God. He is the God who is on mission, “up close and personal” in our world, throughout history, and is at work today. We say Jesus was the God-man. Perhaps the more accurate expression is that Jesus was “the God, in man”.

And indeed, a man with flesh and bone and blood running through His veins, given the name, Jesus. Non-Christian historian sources reveal the historicity of Jesus. The First Century Roman historian, Tacitus, others like Suetonius, wrote about Christus (Christ) and His crucifixion. Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian writes of Jesus, as does Thallus and other government officials like Pliny the Younger, the Emperor Trajan, the historian Hadrian, and more Gentile and Jewish sources all wrote about Jesus and the emergence of the early church. Not long after His crucifixion (and resurrection), they immediately began gathering and worshipping Him as God. In fact, without the historical Jesus and His crucifixion there is no way to explain the birth of the Church in the First Century. There is no other explanation for it.

Without the historical Jesus, we tend to sanitize and tame Him by encasing Him in abstract theology. The idea is this: Let’s get our Christology right and then determine to put everything else at its service. In other words, let’s make sure that we understand who Jesus really is and then recalibrate who we are and all we do according to His character, His Person, and His life in us. In fact, let’s get our Christology right and then dare to place our deeply held desires for how to do church at its service. Not vice versa. Are we fundamentally aligned with Jesus’ purposes and His will for His community on earth? Let’s recover the absolute centrality of the Person of Jesus in defining who we are, as well as what we do.

If we do not recognize Jesus in His humanity we will see Him as distant, almost fictional, a kind of super hero or mythical character whom we may worship, but we will never follow. Some of us do not approach the Gospels in order to emulate Jesus but only to read stories about Him. A good place to start with a proper Christology is found in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

Transformed by His love, may we behold Him. And in-so-doing, be transformed by Him.

Christmas Presence – The Presence of Our Need

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Christmas Reminds Us of Our Greatest Need and Our Greatest Gift.

As a kid, you know it’s getting serious when mom says, “Wait until dad gets home.” At other times dad shows up when a child is in need or, as we’re older, when we have car trouble or a financial need. Dad shows up when there’s a big announcement or a surprise. Sometimes dad shows up just to save the day. When the Father has to show up in person, it’s always a big deal. Think about it: at that first Christmas, God had to show up. He came in Person, to set things right. He didn’t come angry (“for God so loved the world”), but He did come to bring justice, to set things straight – not to punish us, but to rescue us from our sin.

But He had to show up in Person? Christmas begs the question: Why? Why did Jesus come? Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:15-17:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Christmas Reminds Us of Our Greatest Need and Our Greatest Gift. “The true value of anything is known only when it is wanted.” J. B. Stoney

What did Jesus do? “… Christ Jesus came into the world…”

Matthew 1:23 says, He will be called, “’Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” John 1:14. This is Christmas presence. God showed up in Person.

Why did Jesus do it? “… to save sinners…” Christmas and the resulting Gospel, is not a gentle exhortation towards a more fulfilling life. It is the announcement of divine rescue from a life of self-destruction and an eternity in hell. The Good News of the Gospel is not that there is hope for you to change yourself, it’s that Jesus has “saved” you. This is why it’s not incidental that this story of redemption is called “Good News”. If it were merely information or a program for self-improvement, it would be called something else, like good advice or a good idea, or good enlightenment. Instead, Jesus came to SAVE sinners. Not improve them.

Reason and morality cannot show us a good and gracious God. For that, we need the Incarnation.

Why did He come in the flesh? - (Why the Incarnation?) Why did He have to show up in person? Couldn’t God (from heaven) just fix things? He came in the flesh:

  • to show us that God exists - How do you know God exists? He came here in person to tell us so, to show us that He does and how He would live “IN PERSON”
  • to empathize with us - to understand, to identify with us

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15 He came to sympathize with us- so that we would TRUST Him.

  • to live the perfect life on our behalf - He came not simply as our good example, He came as our perfect Substitute. He lived the perfect life FOR us, because we could not. God demands, not our progress, but perfection. And only in Christ is He satisfied.
  • to physically die on the Cross – This is why our Message is not, humanity and it improved, but “Christ and Him crucified”. Christ is not just our good example; He is our perfect Substitute.

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:22

  • to physically be raised to life again
  • to be glorified in bodily form – Death results in the separation of the body and the soul. Our bodies go to the grave and our spirits go to the Lord. The separation continues until the resurrection. But w/ the Lord, He rose again, with a glorified body, the same as it was before & is now into eternity- and we will follow Him one day, at the final resurrection. He had to come in the flesh- to be born like us, to live, to die, & to be raised again, and to reign forever as the Risen King.

D.A. Carson: “If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.”

What is my response? “… of whom I am the foremost…” Like Paul, we recognize our sinful state and humble ourselves before God. We will never truly celebrate Christmas until we realize how sinful we are. We will never be truly transformed by the Gospel until we realize how desperately we need a Savior.

For many of us, our greatest problem is not our badness but our goodness. We’ve concluded that “good people” are those who “do good” and “bad people” are those who “do bad”. Even our good works are done with sinful motives. Ironically, as theologian John Gerstner points out, “The main thing between you and God is not so much your sins; it’s your damnable good works. ”

Consider sin, not so much as breaking the rules, but putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge- through your own self-salvation project, it puts you in control. Sin is not as much about bad behavior up against good behavior. Sin is a condition of the heart. This is why we cannot rescue ourselves. Romans 3:23- “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, but that doesn’t stop us from measuring distances. We’ve forgotten that God demands perfection not progress. And He still does. Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. We say that we’re not saved by works but by grace, but many of do not believe that we’ve been saved by grace alone. We could say that we are saved by works, just not our own – we are saved because Christ fulfilled all of the crushing demands of God’s Law and He lived the perfect life on our behalf. In Christ, you are not defined by your past. You are defined by Jesus’ past. And His is perfect. Consider the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son. The older son was kept from the feast of salvation, not because of his remorse over his bad deeds, but pride in his good deeds.

When was the last time you realized your need? When was the last time you were truly broken over your sin? When was the last time you expressed your need for Him or thanked Him for it? The only thing that we bring to the table, is our sin that makes Christ’s sacrifice necessary for us.

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one?” – Romans 3:9-12. Christmas begins with the recognition of our great need for a Savior. Christmas Reminds Us of Our Greatest Need and Our Greatest Gift. It all starts with a recognition of our need. J. N. Darby, (a theologian/author in the 1800s) said it this way: “Wisdom and philosophy never found out God; He makes Himself known to us through our needs; necessity finds Him out. The sinner’s heart- yes, and the saint’s heart too- is put in its right place in this way.

“Necessity finds Him out.” Only in your need for God do you find Him. Do you live with a constant realization of your need for Him? If so, I know this about you: you are a worshipper. You live in constant gratitude for God’s grace to you. Let’s let Christmas Reminds you of your Greatest Need and your Greatest Gift. Christmas brings forth worship.

Paul’s response was worship: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” When you have an awesome dad, you know what you do- when he shows up to save the day? You praise him, you thank him. You talk about him. You tell all of your friends about him. You want everybody to meet him. God came in the flesh and the response of the angelic host was worship. Luke 2:14 says, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

Christmas Reminds Us of Our Greatest Need and Our Greatest Gift.

We know whom to thank.

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Have you heard the one about the atheist who, on Thanksgiving Day, suddenly realized he had no one to thank? Thanksgiving is explicitly, a theist’s holiday. But it’s a good day for everyone to pause and to, “Know that the Lord, He is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture” Psalm 100:3.

The atheist must acknowledge that you cannot get something from nothing. It’s simple logic and it’s scientifically impossible. Nor can you get living matter from non-living matter. Scientifically impossible. Simple cause and effect is proof of the existence of God. Every effect must have a cause and God is the Cause of all things. This means that He has created us and we are His. God has created us to seek Him and to find Him. We were created to worship Him.

Herein lies the challenge for the atheist. To acknowledge God ultimately means you are accountable to Him. For many, this comes as bad news. Initially, for all of us, this is bad news. Because we all know intuitively that, if there is a God, He is holy, just, and all powerful. We know God exists but we do not want to acknowledge Him. Romans 1:21 says, “Although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” But to those who understand the Gospel, this is Good News. Though He is holy and demands perfection, we know that Jesus has lived the perfect life on our behalf. He has fulfilled all of the crushing demands of God’s Law for us. He died on the cross for our sin and became the perfect sacrifice for all who would receive His gift of grace. He rose again, conquering death and hell so that we might live in power over sin and experience the freedom of living as God created to, all to His glory.

We know whom to thank. Don’t miss this. In the midst of all that is Thanksgiving, enjoy all the great gifts of God’s grace, but pause to acknowledge Him as the Giver of these gifts. The greatest of which is the gift of Himself in the Person of Jesus. May thanksgiving give rise to great hope that the God who has so richly provided for us will continue to reveal His grace to us as it continues to increase for all eternity as He shows us “the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” Ephesians 2:7.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”- Ephesians 1:3. The grace we’ve seen thus far is only a taste of the grace that is to come. Practice your thanksgiving now. Be ready for much more to come. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever”- Pslam 136:1.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Did the Resurrection of Jesus Really Happen?

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The importance of this question cannot be overstated. The Resurrection is everything. It is not only the most important question of the Christian faith, it is the most important question of life. If Jesus rose from the dead, then we have to accept all that He said. If He didn’t rise from the dead, then we don’t need to worry about anything that He said. The central issue is not whether or not you like His teaching, but whether or not He rose from the dead. If the Resurrection took place then He is exactly who He claimed to be. If He didn’t, everything is futile, we are still in our sins, and we need to pack it up, go home, and wait for death to come. This precisely the point that Paul makes:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

This appears to be the earliest statement of belief, a kind of creedal proclamation, doctrinal statement. In fact, we see elements of the Apostles Creed (widely accepted by the 4th Century), but this was written as early as 35-49 A.D. So we are looking at a statement of belief from within a few years after the Resurrection.

Did the Resurrection of Jesus Really Happen?

Let’s corroborate Paul’s outline with historic documentation.

1. Christ died. (v. 3)

If you’re thinking it seems to be circular reasoning to seek evidence for the life, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Christ by using the Bible, then let me give you sources outside of the Bible: Tacitus, a 1st Century historian, writing about Nero’s blaming Christians for the great fire in Rome wrote:

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.”

These statements don’t prove that He was God, but they do prove that Christ lived (and when He lived), and that He died, through the “extreme penalty” (crucifixion), under Pilate. Celsus, a 2nd Century opponent to early Christianity, wrote the earliest known comprehensive attack on Christianity. He wrote:

Jesus accordingly exhibited after His death only the appearance of wounds received on the cross, and was not in reality so wounded as He is described to have been.” He says, after His “death”, He appeared with wounds.”

Liberal scholar, John Dominic Crossan (a part of the infamous, Jesus Seminar), concluded Christ’s death is indisputable, saying, “That He was crucified, is as sure as anything historical can be.”

2. Christ was buried. (v. 4)

In 1st Century Judaism, after a man died, someone had to claim the body and bury it before sundown. All four Gospels state that Joseph of Arimathea, a rich, dissenting member of the Sanhedrin, offered his tomb for Jesus’ body. Not one of disciples showed up to take, and care for, His body. This is what some scholars have noted, is a story of “embarrassment”, to the early followers. Not one of His followers believed Him enough to have the guts to go get His body. They all ran. They completely failed their Master, not a way to start a movement.

3. Christ was raised from the dead. (v. 4)

The fact there was an empty tomb is undeniable. The theories started immediately. Some said, “the disciples stole His body.” This theory claims that they were on the run, hiding out scared, and suddenly became grave robbers, overpowering soldiers guarding the tomb. The “swoon theory” claims that Jesus didn’t die but instead, passed out, and the cool of the tomb brought Him back to life. Professional executioners knew when a victim was dead. They did not bury Jesus alive. Another theory is that the women went to the wrong tomb. Then, of course, everyone went to the wrong tomb. Why did no one go to the “right tomb” and produce the body? Another source of “embarrassment” for the early disciples would have been that the first eyewitnesses of the resurrection were women. Women were not even allowed to be witnesses in court. No one would try to make up or devise a story that included women as the key eyewitnesses to the most important aspect of the story, unless it actually happened. You don’t have theories on an empty tomb unless there’s an empty tomb. There was an empty tomb.

  • He appeared to over 500 people. (vv. 5-9)

Paul points out that He appeared to different people, at different times, in various ways. One person here, a few people there, small groups, large groups, and to 500 at once. He’s pointing out these were not hallucinations. Paul says, some who saw Him, “are still alive”. Archaeology proves that the four biographies of Christ were written within the lifetime of Christ’s contemporaries. Most scholars agree that by 70-80 A.D. the Gospels were written. There were people who knew Jesus personally. They saw Him risen. Others could have refuted the claims about Him. So, within 50 years, would be the same as if people claimed J.F.K. was the Messiah or that, after his assassination, he rose form the dead. What would happen? Those who knew Him would refute it. Not unlike Lloyd Benson’s famous quip to Dan Quayle in the 1988 Vice Presidential debate; he could’ve said, “I knew Jack Kennedy. And he was not God, nor did he claim to be.”

  • The disciples believed, preached, and died martyr’s death. (vv. 10-11)

All of the disciples, minus Judas, who hung himself previously, and John, who died in exile, died martyr’s deaths. For many, this is the ultimate proof. No one would die, knowing they were dying for a lie.

  • The Church was born.

You cannot explain the birth of the Church apart form the resurrection. In the written testimony of Pliny the Younger (carrying out the persecution of early Christians for Trajan), he states that the early Christians “gathered on a stated day before dawn and sang hymns to Christ as to a god.”

Here’s what we know (apart from the Bible): Jesus lived (and when He lived), He was crucified, He was buried, an empty tomb was commonly accepted and not disputed even by the enemies of Jesus, and His early followers claimed to have seen Him alive again, and from the very beginning, worshipped Jesus as God. All of this points to the central event of history: the Resurrection. N. T. Wright makes this important historical observation: There was no thread of resurrection in Jewish theology or in Greek philosophy. There was no formation of resurrection theology over time. It appeared fully developed over night.

Here I have not proven that Jesus rose from the dead. But I have forced the skeptic to give an answer for the facts. But at the end of the day you can only receive this truth by faith. Immediately, many are frustrated, wondering, “Why faith!? I have such a hard time with faith! I can’t just believe.”

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Think about it: aren’t you grateful it’s faith. You don’t have to be good enough. You don’t have to be religious enough (because you can’t be). You don’t have to be smart enough. You can’t be. God is beyond your goodness and your comprehension. Praise Him for faith. Stop trying; stop working. Get off the treadmill of religion and believe.

Perhaps I’ve helped break some barriers that you have to have. But you must realize that belief precedes knowledge in spiritual matters. Faith always precedes reason as we approach a God who is bigger and more glorious than our minds can fathom. Eternity weighs in the balance. You must answer the question.

“But who do you say that I am?” – Jesus