grace Posts

Calm Faith in Anxious Times

… and why it’s a great time to be a Christian.

 

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

We live in troubled times. In America we find ourselves in a political season that is unprecedented. Our country is more divided, volatile, conflicted, and confused than it’s been in my lifetime. Recent news of the UK’s departure from the European Union reveals that we are not the only ones. At a recent gathering in Charleston, on the anniversary of the massacre of the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. nine, I was reminded of how much further we have to go to bridge the racial divide in our country. We have a long way to go. Today the stock market is in a spiraling free fall, terrorism threatens us domestically and abroad, and immigration, sexual identification, abortion, financial disparity, and mental health, all top the news. Even as I write this, I discover that at least 36 people were killed and more than 100 were injured in an attack at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, by suicide bombers who blew themselves up. Is there any question, we live in fearful times? Understandably, these events result in skepticism and unbelief for many, while a few see the birth pangs of a coming new Creation. As a pastor, I’m reminded every day of this undercurrent of cultural anxiety, that inevitably surfaces in our personal lives- in our relationships, marriages, families, the workplace, and yes, in our churches.

I would like to offer the crazy notion that these are the best of times to be a follower of Jesus. In this cultural moment, we have an opportunity to bring forth a Gospel witness that we have not had in a long time. Indeed, every day is a good day to share the love of Christ and the hope we have in Him. But light shines brightest in the darkness. It is dark, and this is Good News. Hang with me; the Church needs to hear this.

The Jewish Rabbi, Edwin Howard Friedman, was a family therapist who applied family systems theory to congregational leadership. Years ago, I read his book, From Generation to Generation, in which he explains that one of the qualities to effective leadership is a non-anxious presence. He says parents must offer this non-anxious presence in the family in order to bring security, peace, and direction in the home. This, he describes, is the capacity to separate oneself from surrounding emotional processes through self-differentiation. This differentiation involves the willingness to be exposed and vulnerable and includes “a persistence to face inertial resistance”. He describes a self-regulation of emotions in the face of volatile criticism. This self-differentiation is not simply an emotional detachment, though it may lead to some, but is more the ability to attach one’s core identity to something outside of the role of leadership and all that entails. It is this self-differentiation that produces the necessary non-anxious presence.

This is what we need in our day. And no one can display this kind of non-anxious presence like those who have found their truest identity in Christ. One’s ultimate self-differentiation is found in Him. Christ offers Himself as the primal example. He defined Himself only in relation to the Father. He was the Beloved Son of God the Father, pure and simple. In John 12, He says He did not speak on His own authority, “but the Father who sent me has Himself given me a commandment- what to say and what to speak” (v. 49). He only did what the Father told Him to do and He only said what the Father told Him to say. Jesus differentiated Himself from all else- His followers, His circumstances, His personal well-being – and found His identity solely as the Beloved Son of the Father. If anyone ever had a non-anxious presence, it was Jesus. And yet, He lived up close and personal- incarnational- fully engaged.

Hear this: If you are “in Christ”, you too are a beloved son or daughter of God. By receiving His grace, through His death upon the cross, by faith, you are now found in Him. His identity is yours. The truest thing about you is found outside of your circumstances. The stock market, terrorism, political polarizations, relational conflicts, personal failures, nor any other thing can separate you from the love of God in Christ.

In anxious times, Scripture takes on new meaning; but only as is applied. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39

We are not defined by the circumstances around us; or perhaps we are. Our anxiety, anger, and fear, reveal our hearts and point others to our idols. Let us prove where our hope lies. Let us show the world the non-anxious presence of those who have been differentiated by the love of Christ. Now is the time to put our faith into action. Now is the time to differentiate ourselves as God’s beloved. Be the non-anxious presence others are looking for, and point them to the One who has made you so.

 

Dads: What your children really need to know about you.

 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1

Paul sets forth the greatest leadership principle a father can practice: “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Many Christian men know that this principle makes sense but few actually follow it. We’ve come to believe that we can say we believe one thing but live out another thing. And unless your children are under two years old, you’ve already figured out that you can’t fool them. They have a built in bull detector. In fact, you’ll do more damage than good, claiming to be or teach one thing, but do another. You will instill distrust and confusion in the life of your child.

The only way to be a great father (or a great leader in any arena of life) is to pursue something greater than yourself. As Christian fathers, we pursue Someone greater than ourselves. In Luke 7 we find the one time in all of Scripture that Jesus was actually “amazed” at someone. Consider how difficult it would be to amaze Jesus. A centurion had come to Him, begging Jesus to heal his sick and dying servant. He explained to Jesus that he believed if Jesus would just say the word, his servant would be healed. Luke 7:9, says,When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, He said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” But it wasn’t simply a blind faith that impressed Jesus. It was the centurion’s understanding of Jesus and who He is. The centurion understood a powerful lesson of leadership and of fatherhood. The depth of his understanding is revealed in Luke 7:8, as the centurion explains, “For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” The centurion knew that Jesus was under the authority of the Father and He had been given the authority to do what He needed to do. This is the first guiding principle of fatherhood. Dads, you are under the authority of God almighty. You have been given the role as a father by God Himself. Fatherhood is a stewardship; it is temporary; and you are accountable.

If you want to ask your children to follow you as you follow Christ, then you must first understand the guiding principle of fatherhood- that more is caught than taught. In fact, most of what you pass on to your children is caught, simply by watching you day after day. Apply these five principles as you seek to be a father worth following, and then experience the joy of leaving the rest up to God Himself, to shape and mold your children into His image. In the end, life is all about worship. Who/what you worship guides everything else in your life. It’s all about love. What you love is what gets your time, your energy, your thoughts, your money, and your life. Jesus said what you love is where your treasure is (Matthew 6:21). It reveals what you value most. The problem with most of us is that we practice “disordered love”. Augustine said that all of our sins are the result of love out of order. We love good things, more than the Supreme thing. Show your children how to love by putting your loves in order.

1. You love Jesus above all else.

Show your children how to live out of a Gospel identity. Show them that you love Jesus above all else by spending time with Him daily. When your children wake up in the morning, let them see a father pursuing Jesus first, above all else, in His Word. Show them a man who is in passionate pursuit of Jesus. And make Church a priority, above travel, the lake, golf, or whatever your other loves may be. Lead the way. Make it your life’s goal to follow Jesus every day. I’ve seen children watch their dads go to church every week but not follow Jesus every day and if you do so, you will present a false, distorted view of Christianity. Indeed, simply a religion that bears His name. In his book, Risk, Kenny Luck writes, “No man’s life for God will ever outperform his view of God.” He says the biggest challenge facing Christian men is not the world, so much as their view of God. We need men willing to risk and aggressively pursue God. Your view of God will determine your spiritual direction. It’s revealed in His Word and confirmed through your obedience. If a man’s view of God in Christ is accurate, there will be an aggressive and bold spiritual commitment and courage in leadership.

2. You love their mom more than them.

The greatest thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. I’ve learned over the years that the greatest security you can bring to your children is to love their mom. Fathers must express that love boldly and kindly in every day interactions. Again, it’s being caught by your children. Our sons will love their wives as we love ours. Our daughters will be loved and love, as we love our wives. When your children are young, establish clear parameters about who is most important in the family. It’s not the children. The child-centered family is certain to produce selfish attention addicts. The parent-centered family is clear about who’s in charge and which relationship is most important, above all the others. Do not let your young children interrupt adult conversation or adult time. Time for husband and wife supersedes time for children. Over time, this pattern brings great security in the lives of the children. Keep your relationship with your wife the priority, then you’ll be ready to guide your children. In our day, as never before, our sons need fathers. Our daughters need fathers. A father is the son’s first hero and the daughter’s first love. John Eldredge, in his great book, “Wild at Heart”, writes, “What we have now is a world of uninitiated men. Partial men. Boys mostly, walking around in men’s bodies with men’s jobs and families, finances and responsibilities.” Like food through the body, boys become men by spending time with men. And the father is the primary giver of manhood to his son.

3. You love your family more than your job.

One of the most common disordered loves in the lives of men is our God-given love for work. We were designed to work, to build, and construct. In his book, “Choosing to Cheat”, Andy Stanley sets forth a provocative principle: When it comes to balancing work and family, you’re going to cheat someone. He explains, “Everyone is busy. All of us have more to do than we will ever get done. We all have to cheat along the way. When you cheat strategically, you leverage your busyness for the sake of what’s most important. Cheating strategically allows us to communicate the message our families long the feel–you are important to me. You are more important to me than anybody or anything else in the world”. The idea of “cheating” is simply another way to talk about decisions made according to our priorities. Too many fathers pray, “Lord, help my family thrive while I’m in such a busy season and unable to be present in their lives.” Instead, there are times we need to pray, “Lord, I place my work in your hands. Allow my work to thrive, even as I seek to be present with my family during this critical season of their lives.” Throughout any career there are seasons of intense focus at work that will demand your time, but there are also critical moments in the lives of your family that will demand your time as well. In the end, Jesus never talked about “balance”. He talked about an all-out pursuit of one thing: the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). There’s only one first, and when we determine to follow Jesus every day, He will guide us when those tough decisions must be made.

4. You love others without condition.

Show your children how to love others like Jesus loves them. As you parent with grace, forgive and forget, your children will do the same. But you must also teach them to love others outside your family. Especially those who are very different from them. Watch for opportunities to offer biblical commentary on the issues of the day. The way you extend grace to others is the way they will. Show them by your actions how to love others unconditionally. Talk to your children about issues of race, religious pluralism, and sexual orientation. It’s even more important to show them what you believe. Befriend others who are not like you. Introduce them to your children. Have them in your home. You will teach your children how God loves them by showing them that you love people who are not like you at all. If you are not intentional about this you will inadvertently teach your children that you are only comfortable with people who are like you. This is not the way to help them experience God’s grace in diversity nor is it the way to prepare them for a future of growing (and necessary) diversity.

5. You love being with them.

The most important way to show love to your children is by being with them. The old adage that children spell love, T. I. M. E. is true. You can talk about how much love your children and even tell them how much you love them (often via texts or voice mails for some), but nothing surpasses your presence. I love the story of the little boy who was talking with his classmates at school about who had the best dad. “My dad is very busy and has a really important job. He makes lots of money and tells a lot of people what to do every day.” Another boy, seeking to one up the other, said, “My dad is the president of his company and flies in his own private jet to get to meetings all around the country. He’s the best!” Finally, the third little boy spoke up excitedly, “My dad is here!” His dad then joined his son and his classmates for lunch. If you are going to call your children to follow you as you follow Jesus, they must see you do so firsthand.

Dads: be there.

Did the Resurrection of Jesus Really Happen?

at-his-resurrection

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

Is Jesus Really God?

 I’ve talked to a lot of people who say they agree with, and appreciate, the teachings of Jesus. It’s popular in our day to resonate with His teachings but not His Church. Many people who are troubled by the exclusive claims of Christianity don’t realize that it was Jesus, Himself who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

He also said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). The Jewish writer of Hebrews said, “He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3). John 1:14 say that “the Word, (God) became flesh (Jesus) and dwelt among us.” Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh.

As we approach the question of His divinity, we need to realize that at the center of Christ’s teaching, His mission, His Message, His life, was (and is) His identity. The central theme and focus of His teaching was not a set of principles or commands; it wasn’t love or grace – per se – it wasn’t feed the poor, be kind to one another, or be a good citizen. At the core of His teaching was His identity. Who He was. And to be one with Him is not to do what He says, as much as it is to believe in HIM, who He is and what He has done.

This is why His definitive question still echoes forth into our hearts today:

“But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15

This is what separates Jesus from every religious leader ever known. His message was not, “Do this, don’t do that”, but “Believe that I am who I say I am.” Think about it: Jesus was ultimately crucified, not because He talked about love or serving others or caring for the poor. No, His enemies crucified Him because of who He claimed to be. He claimed to be the Messiah, “the Liberating King”. And it is His identity that continues to be at the center of discussion, debate, belief and unbelief, heaven or hell.

The importance of this question cannot be overstated. How might we tackle such a massive question? We must get to the heart of the matter. What do you think is the central event of the entire Christian faith? In all of history? The Resurrection is everything. 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: 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. Read it now.

Is Jesus Really God?  – 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

Rediscovering God’s Design for Marriage

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 10.14.33 AM

With all the talk about marriage today, we need to rediscover God’s original intent, in light of His greater purpose for all of us. God has created us in His image and His original intent has not changed. And it is in Christ alone that we are brought back, made into His image. If you have received the grace of God in Christ, you have already been sanctified. Only as you have been forgiven can you find your true identity, to be truly forgiven and forgive, and live like Jesus.

God’s purpose for the family is not to satisfy us, but to sanctify us. And marriage is the foundation, the driving relationship that establishes the context for this sanctification process in the home.

Establishing a Solid Foundation Ephesians 5:21-33

1. The Power for Marriage (5:18) In Ephesians 5:18, Paul says, “be filled with the Spirit”. This is the driving imperative and the rest of Paul’s teaching is linked to being filled with the Spirit. You can’t have a great marriage w/out being filled with the Spirit. This cannot be overstated. What does it mean to be filled with Spirit? It means that you live your life now in view of the Gospel, you are now a new creation- you have a servant’s heart, which relationally means, you have the ability to receive criticism, the ability to give criticism (w/out crushing others), and the ability to forgive and then love, not hold on to it. Spirit-filled means that you’re thinking logically, you know who you are and it drives all that you do. I accept myself because God has accepted me in Christ- not something or someone else. I should be cast off but Jesus has forgiven me, how can I be harsher with this person than Jesus has been with me? The power of marriage is the Gospel! And it is lived out by one who is filled with the Spirit. It’s the fuel that drives the engine, the oil that ends the rub- n unselfishness created only by the Spirit. It’s cause and effect.

Shaunti Feldhahn is a Harvard-trained researcher and author, in her book, “The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce”, details groundbreaking findings from an extensive eight-year study on marriage and divorce. Among other things, her research found: The actual divorce rate has never been close to 50% “The 50% figure came from projections of what researchers thought the divorce rate would become as they watched the divorce numbers rising in the 1970s and early 1980s when states around the nation were passing no-fault divorce laws”, and those who attend church regularly (the ones who have access to the Spirit of God) have a significantly lower divorce rate than those who don’t. “‘The Good News About Marriage’ also reveals the divorce rate among those active in their church is up to 50% lower than among non-churchgoers.” SO, the power of the Spirit makes all the difference.

2. The Posture in Marriage (v. 21) Here, the qualifying participle (of the main verb, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit”) is “submitting” in v. 21. It is mutual submission “out of reverence to Christ”. So in marriage, our greatest concerns are the needs of the other person. This is radical. This of course, involves the need for forgiveness and restoration of the relationship in the case of sin, which is inevitable in all relationships. Christopher Lasch, was an author, professor, who famously labeled us as a “culture of narcissism” explained that most people do not see marriage as two flawed people coming together- but instead as the union of two people who somehow fulfill one another’s needs. Instead, marriage creates a space of stability, love and consolation, a “haven in a heartless world”, Lasch calls it. Paul says, mutuality does not mean sameness in roles. The husband is Head, as Christ is Head of the Church- Husbands are the first servants in the home and bear the ultimate responsibility for the marriage before God. What does this look like? It all comes down to this question: “How can I help?”

3. The Purpose of Marriage (5:22-30) is (what Tim Keller calls), “Gospel re-enactment”. Marriage points to Christ & His Church. Marriage is the union of two good forgivers, growing servants. God takes your selfishness and biases and He forces you to deal w/ them in marriage. For the first time in your life, you can’t run. God will not let you run. Marriage brings light to your selfishness, So in marriage, we find the most powerful potential for change. This is why God’s purpose in marriage is not to satisfy you, but to sanctify you.

Keller points out that the Christian answer to the idea that you will find another to satisfy you- the myth of the right person- is that no two people are compatible. He sites Duke University Ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas, who has famously made this point: “Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.

We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married. But there’s another reason we never find the “right” person. Any two people who enter into marriage are spiritually broken by sin, which among other things means to be self-centered – turned inward for self rather than outward for God and others. Marriage is not designed to bring ultimate satisfaction but sanctification.

4. The Priority of Marriage Paul quotes from Genesis 2:24 – “a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife.” (vv. 31-32). We find here also the exclusivity of marriage. Marriage is not only permanent, sacred, intimate, and mutual; it is also exclusive (Gen. 2:22-25; 1 Cor. 7:2-5). This means that no other human relationship can interfere with the marriage commitment between husband and wife. For this reason, Jesus treated sexual immorality of a married person, including a husband’s lustful thoughts, with utmost seriousness (Matt. 5:28; 19:9). For the same reason, premarital sex is also illegitimate, since it violates the exclusive claims of one’s future spouse.

Sex outside of a loving, committed relationship is sin because it goes against God’s design and your own design. If sex is money then it is a massive devaluation of the currency. It is cleaving, a public commitment, honoring the parents of the individuals. Marriage is not merely a human agreement between two consenting individuals (as in a civil union); it is a relationship before and under God (Gen. 2:22).

5. The Projection of Marriage (vv. 22- 33) Here “projection” is the act of showing, presenting, especially to an audience. Marriage points to something greater than itself. As we love one another like Christ has love us, we point others to Him! (v. 33) Marriage as “Gospel reenactment” points people to God through Christ. In Jesus Christ we’ve been married to God! SO:

The ultimate purpose of marriage is to point to something else (the Gospel) and to Someone else (Jesus). And a watching world sees in a married couple how Christ love us. And guess who has a front row seat of this Gospel reenactment? The children in the home!

God’s purpose for the family is not to satisfy us, but to sanctify us.

There are no “relationship problems” or “marriage problems”- there are only “people problems”. The Bible calls this “sin”. The only relationship that fixes us is the relationship with the One who brings forgiveness and redemption into our brokenness. We are in need of rescue and this is what we all have in common: We cannot rescue ourselves. But being in Christ means that you are now made holy. Don’t miss this. You’ve been “holied”.

If you have never received Christ’s gift of grace, you will never experience the kind of relationships you were designed to have. And you will never be sanctified, made righteous on your own. But in Christ, you are made holy. Made righteous by Jesus. “For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” Hebrews 10:14. If you are in Christ the process of sanctification is not becoming something you’re not, but becoming who you already are in Him.