Monday, April 27, 2015

He came to make those who were His enemies His heirs

A family was vacationing at the lake. Dad was puttering around in the boathouse. Two of his sons, a 12-year old and a 3-year old were playing along the dock. The older brother was supposed to be watching little Billy, but he got distracted, as older brothers sometimes do. Billy took that opportunity to go check out the shiny aluminum fishing boat tied up at the end of the dock. He put one foot on the boat, lost his balance and fell into the water, which was about 6-feet deep. The splash alerted the older brother, who let out a piercing scream. Dad came running from the boathouse, jumped into the water, swam down, but unable to see anything, came up for air. Sick with panic, he went back down into the murky water and began to feel everywhere around the bottom. He couldn’t feel anything. Finally, on his way up, he brushed against Billy’s arms that were locked in a death grip on one of the posts of the dock, about four feet under water. He pried the boy’s fingers loose, and they burst thru the surface to fill their lungs with air. Finally when the adrenaline had stopped surging, and nerves had calmed down a little bit, the father asked his 3-year-old son, “What on earth were you doing down there hanging onto the post so far under the water? Billy said, “I was just waiting for you dad. Just waiting for you.”

That’s what God did for us. Except we weren’t holding onto a post, still alive but quickly fading. No, we were dead. Dead in our trespasses and sins. Having no hope and without God in the world. Slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. It couldn’t get any better than that, could it? To be enslaved to sin and find freedom? To be dead and then be made alive? And to be made alive together with Christ? That’s the pinnacle, isn’t it?

No. There’s much more. God did not just come to make bad people good. That would not be enough. Neither did He come to make dead people live. That is amazing all by itself, but it is still does not express the heart of God’s mercy. He came to make those who were His enemies ... His heirs. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. He adopted us into His family.

I am told that the law on the books in Georgia is that a father can change his will to cut out his natural born children from any inheritance. But he cannot, by law, cut out any of his adopted children.

That’s a picture of the Gospel. We are all naturally born sinners, and as such we stand to lose everything, including our lives. But those who come to Christ by grace and through faith are adopted into His family and can never lose their inheritance, any more than Jesus could lose His. There will never be a moment in time or eternity that the Father will turn to the Son, Jesus Christ, and say, “I have changed my mind. You are no longer my son.” The thought is unimaginable. Unspeakable.

Neither will God ever turn away one of us who know Him because of the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. Blessed are you if you really know that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Clearing the Roadblocks: The Resurrection

Challenge: Sure, Jesus was a great teacher, and he certainly was a good man. But I just find the resurrection to be a little too incredible. I can’t believe in a religion that’s centered around a man rising from the dead.

It does seem incredible, I won’t deny it. In fact (and I'm going to make things worse before I make them better here): I believe that Christianity actually rises or falls or whether Jesus physically rose from the dead. The Apostle Paul says as much in 1st Corintians 15. [1]
But believe it or not, I would suggest that this actually gives Christianity an advantage over the other world religions. Consider this: if the resurrection didn’t happen, then you can forget Christianity and move on. But at least Christianity is testable. You can make decisions for or against the Christian worldview based on objective, historical evidence.

But have you ever considered for yourself what the alternatives to the resurrection are? Here’s a brief list of the other theories that I’ve found out there:
  1. Jesus didn’t really die, he just fainted
  2. Jesus’ body-double died on the cross or
  3. Jesus’ body-double appeared to his disciples
  4. The disciples stole the body or
  5. The Romans lost the body
  6. The disciples lied or
  7. The disciples were high or
  8. The disciples had a collective vision/hallucination
  9. Everybody just went to the wrong tomb
You know what strikes me as odd? If there was good evidence supporting any of these theories, the others would just disappear. I mean, if there was strong historical evidence that Jesus didn’t really die and then rise from the dead, then skeptics and atheists wouldn’t mess with the idea of body-doubles and group hallucinations. If just one of these theories had solid historical evidence, then every skeptic would give the same reason, the same theory.

But you know what I hear? I hear a lot of people who have decided ahead of time “This can’t happen” (which is in itself a leap of faith, isn’t it?) and then there’s a mad scramble to make sense of the facts. Because we do have facts. There are at least four facts that even most non-Christian scholars and skeptics concede to be true [2]:
  1. Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried
  2. His tomb was found empty and no one ever produced his body
  3. His followers, as well as insider skeptics (like Jesus’ brother James) and outsider skeptics (like Saul turned Paul), had life-changing encounters with one thought to be the risen Jesus
  4. Christianity survived, even thrived, inexplicably through severe persecution
Only the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus has enough explanatory power to make sense of just these four minimal facts, let alone the rest of eyewitness testimonies we have in the Gospels.
If it helps, you can remember these as the “bear” facts—a handful of details considered accurate even by critics of Christianity—to give evidence for the resurrection.

The Burial (and death) of Jesus
The Empty tomb (no one produced a body)
The Appearances of Jesus (or at least supposed appearances according to his followers)
The Rise of Christianity
None of the theories, nothing but the resurrection, accounts for just these four minimal facts alone. After all, a good conspiracy involves a small number of people (not over 500). A good conspiracy event lasts a short period of time (not over 40 days as Acts 1 tells us). And a worthwhile conspiracy offers low risk/high reward to the conspirators (but Christianity offered high risk/low reward if it was a lie).

But let me ask you one last question: what if the resurrection did happen? If Jesus really was who he said he was, and if Jesus really did what the Bible says he did, that would have massive repercussions for your life. Are you content staking your life on the chance that one of the other theories is true? Don’t you at least owe it to yourself to investigate for yourself the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?

[1.] "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain...if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins." 1 Corinthians 15:14,17 ESV
[2.] Gary Habermas has popularized this as the “Minimal Facts” approach.

Other posts in the Clearing the Roadblocks series:
Does God Care About Our Government?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Christians, get out of your own way

Nicholas Kristof, columnist for The New York Times, wrote this several years ago: “Liberals believe deeply in tolerance and over the last century have led the battles against prejudices of all kinds, but we have a blind spot about Christian evangelicals. They constitute one of the few minorities that, on the American coasts or university campuses, it remains fashionable to mock.” Then recently he wrote this:

“I’ve written often about committed and self-effacing Christians doing outstanding work combating injustice around the world, and it’s frustrating that they don’t get attention. The problem is that their heroism is often overshadowed by sanctimonious blowhards.”

I would take issue with the underlying assumption Kristof seems to believe, that Christianity is only important because as a whole it promotes social justice. But I would agree with him on two points. First, evangelical Christians are perhaps the most-mocked minority in our nation. Second, much too often we bring it on ourselves. I confess that often I am much more concerned about winning the argument with an opponent to Christianity than I am about winning the person. I can easily dig in to defend my right to be right, even though I know that in saving my turf I may lose my witness. My opponent may walk away shaking his head at my tenacity, but he won’t come closer to take a look at my faith. Or at me.

We Christians need to get out of own way. How’s this for a game plan? “Remind them (Christians)…to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” You have to join “Blowhards Anonymous” in order to follow those four commands of Scripture, but it will be worth it. You will no longer slander those with whom you disagree, even those who have declared themselves to be your enemy. You will resist temptation to enter into a diatribe either online or in person. Instead, you will with God’s help make your life such that people will not be able to resist asking why you live and love the way you do. You will seek to be gentle, which means, “ready to yield personal advantage.” And you will, by God’s grace, show perfect courtesy to all people. That’s hard. I know I can show some courtesy to some people, especially the people who are courteous to me, but perfect courtesy to everyone? What would that look like?

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield was at one time a self-proclaimed leftist college professor, living an alternative lifestyle, and she hated Christianity and everything it stood for. Then she received a letter from a pastor named Ken in her city. He wrote, as many others did, in response to an article she had published in the local newspaper, attacking Christianity. He didn’t argue or attack back. He simply asked questions, and what drew Rosaria Butterfield to the letter was his kindness. His courtesy. She wrote, “Later that night, I fished (his letter) out of the recycling bin and put it back on my desk, where it stared at me for a week, confronting me with the worldview divide that demanded a response. As a postmodern intellectual, I operated from a historical materialist worldview, but Christianity is a supernatural worldview. Ken’s letter punctured the integrity of my research project without him knowing it.” Mrs. Butterfield is now a Christian and a pastor’s wife.

Christianity will continue to be mocked. Jesus said it would be so. But may we not be mocked because we are sanctimonious. Let’s get out of our own way, for His sake.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Don’t Be in the Two Percent

I was intrigued by the article on the front page of the Times-News last Sunday. It was about church attendance in North Carolina in general and Alamance County in particular. One thing that made me laugh out loud was the pie chart that measured church attendance in our state in 2014. Forty percent of us in the Tar Heel state report that we attend church weekly. Twenty-four percent say they go nearly weekly, or monthly. Maybe that means they go weakly. Thirty-four percent never or seldom go. None of those numbers provoked laughter, only a groan or a sigh. But then I saw the tiny sliver in the very top of the pie chart, representing two percent of the people in North Carolina who don’t know if they attended church or not. Now, that is funny.

There are a lot of things that I don’t know if I did in 2014. I don’t know if I rode a bicycle more than once. I don’t know if I skipped a rock across a pond. I probably did; I just don’t remember. I don’t know if I played golf three times or two. I don’t know if I stayed up past midnight even once. I don’t know if I played a card game. There are many more, but you get the drift. The things I am not sure I did are just not that important to me. But I know whether I went to a funeral, a wedding, or a church service. How can someone not know that? Clearly because going to church is not something that is important to them, not just to the two-percenters, but to the growing majority of people in our city and state.

You need a reason to go to church? “And He (God) put all things under His (Jesus’) feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” The church is the sum and substance of God’s plan for the world. Jesus rules over kings and governments and scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs and demonic powers and the powers of nature and universities and religions and the Milky Way and the galaxies that are flung out all over the universe. He rules over everything that we do know about and He rules over everything we don’t know about. And the One who rules over everything we know about and everything we don’t yet know about is the head of the church.

Alistair Begg tells the story of John Reith, the first director of the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corp. He was a tall man, six feet six, an intimidating figure who had big bushy eyebrows that he liked to peer through as he looked at you. But early in his tenure as director, he saw some of his employees huddled together, whispering about something. Later that day Reith called one of them to his office and asked what the group had been discussing. The young man said, “Oh, we were talking about how to produce a radio program that will be a fitting burial for the Christian faith. It’s time for that nonsense to be put to rest.” Standing up and towering over the young man, a red-faced John Reith looked through bushy eyebrows and growled, “The church will stand over the BBC’s grave one day!” And it will.

I want to invite the two-percenters to join us for worship. If for no other reason, at least you will know that you went to church in 2015.

See you tomorrow.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Do you believe this?

It was the winter of 1998, and the four oldest Fox children had walked from where we lived in downtown Graham over to the Pine Cemetery, pulling their sleds behind them. There was a great hill for sledding in the cemetery that attracted the kids in the neighborhood whenever we had a “real” winter. The little Foxes had been gone for about an hour when Jesse, then 4 years old, asked his Mom, “When are they going to come back from the grave?”

We stand on the precipice of another celebration of the greatest news the world has ever heard, the news that Jesus Christ came back from the grave. He is risen! He is risen, indeed. For centuries, Christians have lived with hope in the midst of suffering, have read His Word and kept His commandments, have gathered with others who believe and given their lives to telling the story, and have even given up their lives to follow Him. But the sad truth is, we live in a world that is increasingly skeptical of the absolute truth of the gospel, a world that is willing to believe almost anything except that Jesus Christ is God and died for their sins and bodily rose from the dead and is the only way to the Father. But that is the very foundation of Christianity.

A Barna Research poll last year revealed that 30 percent of those who claim to be born-again Christians do not believe that Jesus came back to physical life after He was crucified. What? That’s like saying, “I believe that Michael Jordan went to Carolina but he was never a basketball player.” Right. We don’t have to pay taxes in two weeks, either.

The truth is, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection all year round in the church because it is the very linchpin of Christianity. It is the foundation, without which the Christian faith has no meaning or purpose. In fact, Paul goes even further in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says that if Christ is not risen from the dead, then “our preaching is in vain.”

I have always wondered: What do preachers talk about every Sunday if they don’t believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead? Furthermore, why bother? Thorkild Grosboel, a Lutheran pastor in Copenhagen, Denmark, proclaimed a decade ago, “There is no heavenly God, there is no eternal life, there is no resurrection.” The denomination suspended Pastor Grosboel. For one week.

Ten years later, one wonders if such a proclamation today would even raise a yawn in many churches.

Justice William Bedsworth wrote about the denomination’s decision, tongue firmly planted in cheek: “I didn’t know whether to be impressed that (these church leaders) were so open-minded or confused about what their job description for pastors must look like. ‘Wanted: Educated, well-meaning individual who believes in gravity, covered-dish potlucks, cold fusion, puppy dogs, Mars bars or any combination thereof, to counsel parishioners and conduct religious services. Or not.’”

If Jesus is not risen, then our preaching is in vain. Vain preaching offers no hope, only the sad salve of learning “sin-management” or “coping strategies.” Is it any wonder that people are leaving resurrection-denying churches by the hundreds of thousands?

Jesus walked into Bethany where he knew his friend, Lazarus, had been dead for four days. He said to Martha, the deceased’s sister, “I am the resurrection and the life … Do you believe this?” She wasn’t so sure. Until Jesus called Lazarus’ name and he who was dead walked out of the tomb.

Hey, I have great news. Jesus Christ conquered death. Do you believe this?