Sunday, April 5, 2015

Can I Be Confident Good Friday and Easter Happened?

This weekend, churches through the world are getting to celebrate Good Friday and Easter. In preparing to do that, we should remember that churches do that because they hold that Good Friday and Easter commemorate 2 historical events. Do we have any reason to believe that those event actually happened  back in history? Clearly not everyone in the world believes that Jesus died and rose again. 

Let's start with Good Friday, the day that marks when the Lord Jesus was crucified by Romans soldiers. Two ancient historians, Josephus, a Jewish historian writing at the end of the 1st Century AD and Tacitus, who is considered the most important source on Ancient Rome who wrote at the beginning of 2nd Century, both noted in their histories that Jesus was crucified. Neither of these men were follower of the Lord Jesus, but they both affirmed that Jesus was crucified by the authority of Pontius Pilate ( Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.63-64; Tacitus, Annals 15.44). A contemporary scholar, a man who is highly critical of the Bible, John Dominic Crossan stated in his book Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever by” – (John Dominic Crossan,  Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, HarperCollins, 2009, 163). The New Testament clearly affirms that the Lord Jesus died, but it is not just the New Testament that makes that affirmation.

What about Easter? Easter marks the day the Lord Jesus was resurrected or rose again from the dead. Given that I am a pastor, and I have said publicly a number of times that the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the hinge of history, you would probably expect me to say that I believe the Lord Jesus rose again. My authority for that conviction is the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 15 is a chapter in the Bible that has influenced me hugely. But I recognize that not everyone believes that the Bible is the Word of God. But I do not think you have to believe the Bible is God's Word to see that the resurrection is a historical fact. Critical scholars of history do believe there is reason for us to understand that the resurrection was a historical event. Those scholars, many who do not consider themselves followers of Jesus see good reason to believe the resurrection happened. They point to a few things that lead them to conclude that:

(1)   The disciples sincerely believing that Jesus rose again - the disciples claimed that they believed it to the point they were willing to suffer and die for that belief

(2)  The conversation of Saul the church persecutor to Paul the apostle

(3)  The conversation of skeptical James the brother of Jesus

A slightly smaller number of critical scholars, probably 75% of those who seriously study the resurrection also believe the empty tomb is a historical fact. Again, not every scholar or person believes the resurrection took place, but there is noted historical evidence to suggest that it did take place (For more information on this topic, please see Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel, 2004).

Clearly part of the challenge for anyone considering the Resurrection is the fact that dead people stay dead. That is our experience. The  Resurrection by nature would have to be a miracle. Anthony Flew, who, during his life, was considered to be the world’s foremost philosophical atheist was not willing to affirm that the resurrection was a historical event. But he was willing to say, and did say, “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religions." (Antony Flew Interview in Philosophia Christi Winter 2004). This comment from a man who was also considered one of the chief philosophical commentators on the topic of miracles.

The events being celebrated this weekend are historical events. But they are more than historical events. They are are events that change history, and can your life. If you would like to know about how Good Friday and Easter change history and your life, please contact me. I would love to talk with you about either.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Embraced by God's Word

Two Sundays ago, we focused on Psalm 1 and our need to embrace God’s Word. I pray that you are taking the time to do that very thing – to get God’s Word into your life and then have it run through your life. One thing I do not think we talked about that Sunday connected to embracing God’s Word is that when you embrace God’s Word, you will undoubtedly find that God’s Word will be embrace you. What I mean by that is at different places and times, verses you have memorized and meditated over will seemingly pop to mind, challenging you to think about the verse again and again. When this type of thing happens, I believe that is an indicator of the Holy Spirit seeking to help us. Last Sunday during the Lord’s Supper I mentioned a verse the Holy Spirit has used with me a lot of times – Romans 5:8. Another verse the Holy Spirit uses with me is Ephesians 5:8

Ephesians 5:8 – for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

In those few words, God has reminds me of a couple of critical facts. First, I was darkness. Second, I am light in the Lord Jesus. Because the Lord Jesus came, died for our sins on the cross, and rose again, He made it possible for me to go from darkness to light. The way that happens – for me to go from darkness to light, for anyone to go from darkness to light, is that I was introduced to the story of the Lord Jesus and I learned that if I would turn from sin to God and trust the Lord Jesus as my Savior, He would make me light in Him.

God has also used Ephesians 5:8 to remind me that because I am light in the Lord, that fact should change the way I approach and live life – I need to walk as a child of light. That fact and its call for the right response is literally life change in a big broad sense, but it should also show up and impact each area of life. God’s Word really can spark changes in our lives.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Some Thanksgiving Thoughts

This week is a bit odd for me. Part of my work time has been about preparing for the Thanksgiving Eve service on Wednesday night and part of it has been about getting ready for Sunday and the start of new series from John 1 for Advent. Yet I have also been asked to take part in a discussion about physician assisted suicide, and probably like many of you, I was deeply saddened to hear the protests in Ferguson turned destructive. We are living in a context that is dark, which means distress and gloom of anguish are around us. That is a very sad and even disturbing thought, especially as we prepare for Thanksgiving and anticipate Christmas. And yet, maybe that thought brings Thanksgiving and Christmas into focus. The Lord Jesus did not come to earth because everything was rosy and bright. He came because we desperately need Him to be the Light of the world. Our world needs the reality of Christmas.

But what about Thanksgiving? 1 Thessalonians 5:18 states, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” How can we give thanks when businesses are burning and people are looting? Please note carefully that we are not called to give thanks for all circumstances, but rather in all circumstances. How can we do that? Perhaps Christmas, the coming of the Lord Jesus can be the spark for our giving of thanks. Even though circumstances are not great, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. He sent His Son for us, and part of the Son coming, dying, rising again, and returning to heaven leads to His soon return to earth to put all things in subjection (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). We can give thanks because God’s past actions on behalf of His people provide confident hope that He will complete His plan and as Revelation 22:5 tells us, night will be no more. Darkness and that all comes with darkness will be done. The Lord God will our light. Let us give thanks because the God of Christmas calls us out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thoughts About a Tough Message

I write this blog with a heavy heart. For the next two Sundays we will be doing a short series called, “What is Next?” The series is a brief look at heaven and hell.  This Sunday we will start with hell.  I just finished my notes for Sunday, and I can say this message has been one of the more difficult messages I have ever prepared. In preparing I read some words of a theologian, Sinclair B. Ferguson that perhaps set some of the tone for my heart and mind. He wrote, “To speak of hell is to speak of things so overwhelming that it cannot be done with ease. . . . The contemplation of hell prostrated holy humanity. Our Lord never spoke of it with relish.”[i]  In light of my inner turmoil you might be wondering why we are doing this series or at least this message. Perhaps these words written by Timothy Keller express it best: “If Jesus, the Lord of Love and Author of Grace spoke about hell more often, and in a more vivid, blood-curdling manner than anyone else, it must be a crucial truth.”[ii]

I believe the wisest attitudes and actions to hold in life are attitudes and actions that align with the Lord Jesus. Hell is not an easy subject, but it is a subject that the Lord Jesus spoke about. It is something that He took seriously. That should lead us to also take it seriously. In the fall of 1939, C. S. Lewis preached a sermon, “Learning in War-Time” in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford, England. Early in the message he said concerning the Lord Jesus and our attitude to hell, “I know, too, that nearly all the references to this subject in the New Testament come from a single source. But then that source is Our Lord Himself. . . . They are not really removable from the teaching of Christ or of His Church. If we do not believe them, our presence in this church is great tomfoolery. If we do, we must sometime overcome our spiritual prudery and mention them.”[iii] Please pray for our time together on Sunday, please come on Sunday expecting for the Lord Jesus to speak to us through His Word about a tough subject.

[i] Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Pastoral Theology: The Preacher and Hell,” in Hell Under Fire, ed. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 220.
[iii] The text of this message can be accessed by a Googling “C. S. Lewis Learning in wartime”

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Getting Ready for Sunday

I have been pondering ideas related to love, gratitude, attitude, and worship that were sparked by looking at a story Jesus told in Luke 7. Given that we gather as a church every Sunday, it is possible for us to think of church simply as a routine that might be a good thing in our lives, but hey, we all get tired or even bored of routines. 

The main thrust of the story in Luke 7 is not about worship, but is about love and gratitude. As I thought about my love for and gratitude toward God for what He has done for me, I was challenged to consider my attitude toward worship and how love and gratitude impact my attitude toward worship. Here is where my pondering took me: when we gather on a Sunday morning for a time of group worship, I believe that my love and gratitude toward God should be the motivator for me to be present in a service and for me to participate in the service. But clearly, my love and gratitude do not start with me. I do not create them. They are products of or responses to God’s love and forgiveness freely given to me through the Lord Jesus. To me there should be a wow in our lives, even in the context of a routine, when we consider what God has done for us. A wow that ignites me to action. When I ponder the truth of what God has done for me, the idea of gathering with others to worship seems like an incredible blessing, one in which I want and need to be a part of. Those thoughts are making me very eager to participate in our worship service on Sunday. Yes we gather every week, but when I consider what God has done, we need to gather very week and give thanks. I hope you are eager to participate too when you consider what God has done through Christ. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Prayer for 2014

When one year ends and another one begins, it is pretty common for us to stop, though maybe only for a moment, to take stock of our lives. But should we take the time to do this kind of thing? According to Plato, during Socrates’ trial for corrupting the youth of Athens in 399 B.C. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” ( Should you take some time and examine your life?

I believe the quick answer to that question is a qualified yes. Your life should be examined, but it is nothing something that you can do alone, you need help, honestly we all need help to accomplish such a task. Recently I was reminded of why that is in fact the case. Jeremiah wrote these words a long time ago:

Jeremiah 17:9-10 – The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  10 "I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."

Our hearts, not the physical organ, by heart Jeremiah was speaking of the totality of our inner lives, are not something we understand. And sadly, our inner lives are not very pretty sometimes, yet how we act and the attitudes we project come from that mess. Though we need to be examined, it is not a private activity. As verse 10 shows us, the Lord alone is the One who can do such an examination.

As we embark on a new year, I would like to suggest that with some measure of regularity we need to pray a couple of verses of Scripture and wait and listen carefully for the Lord to answer that prayer. The verses are Psalm 139:23-24:

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Most men and undoubtedly many women go through each day at full speed and do not carve out time for the discipline of praying, contemplating, and reflecting over God’s answers. Such an activity may sound to some as a type of useless nasal gazing. But I believe it should sound to us like an incredible gift from God to us. Psalm 139 is written in the context of distress – note the harsh words of verses 19-22. And in that context, the psalmist, presumably David has noted that God’s knowledge of his life is complete and full (verses 1-12). Such knowledge should not surprise us given that God is the One who made us (verses 13-16) and should drive us to worship God (verses 17-18). If the first parts of the Psalm are true, then in a world that is not always what it should be, we may not always be the people we should be. We probably need an examination.

Maybe I am alone in this concern, but I wish I could do parts of 2013 over again, and way too many previous years. I made choices and mistakes that were ill informed, hurtful to others, and just plain stupid.  I know that I am capable of repeating the same actions in 2014 without inviting and heeding God’s examination. I need Him to help me see His discernment of my motives and actions. I need to move toward His transformative work in my life. Without asking for His examination, I will miss what I truly need, which only He can give.

Please pray Psalm 139:23-24 regularly this year. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thinking about an Incredible Christmas Gift

One of the blessings of God in my life was being raised in a family that loved God and loved each other. A noted result of that is Christmas is filled with many positive memories for me. Memories from the wonder of a six year old looking at the presents wrapped under the tree to 30 family members filling my parents’ home for Christmas dinner seem to bubble up for me this time of year.

Another memory that seems to re-surface each year is of being a college student teaching Sunday school. A couple of years in a row, as I taught 6th graders and then moved up to work with junior high students (7th-9thgraders), the story of the angel appearing to Joseph seemed to be a part of the curriculum at Christmas time. Though the story has much richness to it, one verse repeatedly struck me:  Matthew 1:23. It reads:

"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).

For a number of reasons the words “God with us” have always wowed me. The Lord Jesus came as a baby to save us from our sins, as Matthew 1:21 states, but the reason He did that was to be with us. Perhaps because as a college student I struggled with issues of personal worth and value, I was taken back in a good way by the statement that God the Son came to be with us. God desires to have a relationship with us to the extent that He reached out to us by coming to us. Though the analogy is far from perfect, indulge me for just a moment. As a child, and maybe even as an adult, there is something about having another child knock on your door and ask if you wanted to play. In coming, the Lord Jesus is like the neighbor kid coming and knocking on the door asking us to come out and play with Him. As I said, I know the analogy is not perfect, but it strikes me that Jesus came to be with us. I do not deserve His interest or attention, but I am dramatically blessed by it. We have been given an incredible gift in Jesus’ coming.

No longer being in college – now we have two sons and a daughter-in-law in college, with a third son starting next fall – that Sunday school teaching college student era seems like a life time ago, but the wowness of Jesus coming to be with us still shows up every Christmas. And I suppose part of the reason why is because before the Lord Jesus ascending to heaven, He made an amazing promise at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew 28:20 ends with the words:

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

The gift of God’s presence at Christmas is not just a Christmas thing. Jesus is not just present during the time you have your nativity set out. If you are a follower of the Lord Jesus, He has promised to be present always. That is a Christmas gift that keeps giving and giving to us all year round. God gives the most incredible gifts. I pray your Christmas is about celebrating and thanking God for the amazing gift of a relationship with Him this Christmas.