Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Ten Reasons Why You Should Give to the Salvation Army this Christmas Season

The views in this article do not necessarily represent the positions or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's partners or affiliates.  The statements made belong solely to those making them.

The Salvation Army is a great organization to support during the Christmas!  Full disclosure, I work for the Salvation Army and have for the past four years.  But I'm very careful about where I donate my money.  It's always wise to consider carefully which organizations you give your money to.  Here are ten reasons why I think you should support the Salvation Army this Christmas season!

1. The Salvation Army has a proven track record going back over one hundred and fifty years.  In fact the famed economist Peter Drucker said, "The Salvation Army is the most effective organization in the USA."  And he also said, "The Salvation Army's goal is to turn society's rejects alcoholics, criminals, derelicts into citizens." In fact the co-founder of McDonalds Joan Kroc so trusted the efforts and effective results of the Salvation Army that she donated 1.9 billion dollars to the Salvation Army to build community facilities today known as "Kroc Centers" across the USA.

2. 82 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to help those in need through feeding programs, housing, rent assistance, clothing, homeless shelters, and rehabilitation programs among dozens of other programs.

3. The Salvation Army is a biblical Christian organization with a mission statement indicating, "the mission of the Salvation Army is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination."  The SA is not just focused on material needs, but spiritual needs as well!

4. Disaster services is a key service of the Salvation Army, where volunteers and officers will serve those directly affected by disasters, severe weather, and other concerns through giving out food, providing housing, and spiritual counseling.  If it's on your heart to support those affected by disasters, please give this season!

5. The Salvation Army assists over 25 million people each year in the United States.  There are thousands of corps facilities around the USA serving those in need and preaching the gospel.

6. One of the great ministries of the Salvation Army is prison ministry, and the hope of helping those who are lost in crime, addiction and sin is a great hope indeed when considering where to give during Christmas season.

7. Children's After School activities are one of the cornerstones of Salvation Army corps facilities across the USA.  The SA serves children through daily after school programs, character building activities, band classes, singing companies, vacation bible school, and other ministries as well.

8. When I began working for the Salvation Army and saw the thousands of kid's toys that they distribute during Christmas, I realized that being in the SA is kind of like being a mini Santa Claus!  Children ought to have gifts to open on Christmas, SA makes that possible.

9. I think the single most exciting and dynamic ministry of the Salvation Army are the Adult Rehabilitation Centers. These facilities house those attempting to break free from drug and alcohol addiction. I've worked in this ministry personally, and I've seen how these men and women are hungry for hope and change, and the word of God, and how Jesus Christ saves them from addiction.  It's amazing! 

10. The Salvation Army preaches the gospel to many in our society who might otherwise never hear the gospel.  One of the chief goals at the founding the SA in London was to reach those unreached by other churches.  This continues to be an important goal of the Salvation Army, to preach the gospel of Jesus to those who might otherwise never walk into a church. 

Related Posts:
  1. Ten Reasons Why I Love the Salvation Army
  2. Is the Salvation Army a church?
  3. How I Met Jesus
  4. Top Ten Reasons Why I Love the Salvation Army Uniform
  5. The Mission Statement of the Salvation Army: What's your mission statement?
  6. William Booth's Mount Purity
  7. The Missing Piece of the Puzzle in Evangelicalism:Holiness unto the Lord
  8. Orthodoxy, Orthopathy, and Orthopraxy
  9. The Army of God will have Victory after Victory
  10. How Holiness Theology Transformed My Understanding of Christianity

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Encouragement for Church Leaders

1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

We are all witnesses of the sufferings of Christ. We’ve studied his life, and how he lived and suffered for each of us.

Since we identify with Christ’s sufferings, we are also partakers of those sufferings. We suffer for Christ. And so we also have access to the glory that is going to be revealed.

Christ charges each of us, to shepherd the flock of God. Pour your heart and soul into the work of the ministry. Don’t do it because you have to, or because God is making you, or you feel obligated. But simply serve willingly.

Don’t serve for any earthly gain, not for status, or for power or money, but eagerly serve for Christ, to the glory of Christ, humbly, because you love Jesus.

It says 'do not be domineering over those in your charge.' But instead be an example to them.

Why should we do this? Because, as shepherds, we know the chief shepherd will appear, and he will judge us impartially for how we’ve conducted those placed in our care, during our time on Earth. We will be held accountable. 

It amazes me and fills me with holy awe that God would entrust such a vital task to people like you and me.  But God seems to choose the least likely people to press forward his plan for humanity.

One of the most thought provoking and evocative scriptures for me is from James 3:1 and it says: “Not many of you should become teachers my fellow believers because you know we who teach will be judged more strictly." 

This scripture fills me foreboding, and well it should. We’ve got a general judgment, and then there's the judgment God will render on teachers and leaders of the church, which will actually be a more strict judgment. There will be more guidelines and rules and higher standards that we were suppose to meet. I'd be worried that I wouldn't make the cut in the first one, much less the second! 

But God is faithful.  He makes the impossible, possible.  If we respond in obedience and prayer through this life, He will ensure we make it home safely.

My concluding thought to all of us, is that we tremble at this thought, and so conduct our business before God that we are found to be without reproach, and working impartially to bless God’s people. 

Related Posts:
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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Philosophy of the End Times: Immortality, Resurrection, Heaven, and Hell

Today we’re going to be talking about the philosophy of the end times, what we call in theology, “eschatology.” The movement I'm part of, the Salvation Army, defines our view of eschatology in this way: 

“We believe in the immortality of the soul; in the resurrection of the body; in the general judgment at the end of the world; in the eternal happiness of the righteous; and in the endless punishment of the wicked.” 

We’ll break down this theological statement and examine it part by part in light of scripture, to try and understand how God goes about completing the victory of Christ Jesus, how he judges the world, how he rewards those who are righteous, and how he punishes those who choose wickedness.

First of all, we look at the beginning of this statement which says “we believe in the immortality of the soul…” 

Ecclesiastes 12:7 (ESV) says, “…the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” 

So we know from the scriptures that God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into him life, and while our present body is doomed to die because of the fall, our soul, our spirit, will return to God after we die (Genesis 3:19). In short, we are more than a body. We each have a soul. And that soul is eternal (Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 225).

Next it says, “we believe in the resurrection of the body.” It’s important to remember that in the next life we won’t be vapid spirits, like a mist floating around in the clouds. We Christians believe that we will be given new bodies in the next life.

Philippians 3:21 says that we will have new bodies, transformed to be like Christ’s glorified body. When Jesus resurrected from the dead, was he a ghost or a mist or wisp of cloud in the air? No, Jesus was physical. He ate with his disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:35-48). We as Christian salvationists do believe in the resurrection of the body, and we want to avoid over-symbolizing our future eternal life as a sort of non-physical life, with harps floating in the clouds. We will not be “disembodied spirits” but whole persons in Christ (Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 226). God’s design for the restoration of Eden is much more than a pop cultural picture of eternity.

Next our truth statement says, “We believe in the general judgment at the end of the world.” Theologians of the past were not as politically and religiously correct as we are today. They weren’t overly concerned with not hurting people’s feelings or sugar-coating the “justice” side of God’s character. They just put it out there. And we know from the scriptures, that there will come a day when the righteous and the wicked will stand before God, and give an account for how they lived (Romans 14:12-13). 

2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV) says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

Theologians often refer to this event as the “great white throne judgment” which comes from Revelation 20:11-15. We should always be careful as Christians, how we are living. We want to be quick to love, and we want to avoid condemnation of others, and we want to make sure we’re loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And we want to make sure we’re being faithful stewards of our time and resources. And we also want to make sure we’re quickly repenting of sins as they come up in our lives. Why? Because we know there will come a day when we will stand before God and give an account of our lives (Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 226-227). Thankfully we have Jesus Christ who is our advocate before the Father, and who has washed away our sins (1 John 2:1, Hebrews 10:10-12).

For those who are vindicated on the day of judgment, we believe “in the eternal happiness of the righteous.” And for those who are condemned on that day we believe “in the endless punishment of the wicked.” Let’s unpack these two last statements. 

Jesus has gone to prepare a place for those who love and obey Him (John 14:2-3). Indeed, the book of Revelation speaks of a new heavens and new Earth, in which God has remade the universe, and has remade the Earth to be a perfect place of peace, similar to the original garden of Eden (Revelation 21). And in this new reality, on this new Earth, the book of Revelation describes the eternal city of God called “The New Jerusalem.” 

In fact, the book of Revelation gets quite specific about this city, indicating the dimensions of this city, similar to how Noah was given the exact dimensions for the ark (Genesis 6:15, Revelation 21:16-17). 

Revelation 21:16-17 (NIV) says, “The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits thick.” 

12,000 stadia is about 1,400 miles long, and tall. So we see a city, some think it’s a giant pyramid in shape, others would say it’s a giant cube. But the point is it’s real, it’s a concrete reality. We want to avoid over-spiritualizing these images, as if we can’t really know what they mean. Revelation is showing us that we won’t merely be vapors in the clouds with harps, but we will be citizens of an eternal city of God.

Yet we also know that there is a place reserved by God for those who have rejected him and lived lives of sin and wickedness (Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 227-228). The scriptures refer to this place by many names, some of them include: Sheol, Hades, outer darkness, and hell (Psalm 16:10, Luke 16:23).

Hell is rarely mentioned in the pulpits of our modern age, and I do want to state it clearly that hell is a real place. It exists, and the scriptures talk about it, so we should be aware of it. Jesus mentioned it several times, and in fact stated that if a part of us causes us to sin, we ought to be so diligent as to cut it off, to avoid the fires of hell (Matthew 5:30). 

Now will hell be a place of literal fire and burning? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps it will be more like a great, empty, cold darkness. We don’t really know. But scripture gives us many images of hell as darkness, gnashing of teeth, conscious torment, being eaten by worms, and burning/fire (Matthew 10:28, Revelation 21:8, Mark 9:48). 

There are two primary views within evangelicalism regarding hell, one is our view which is conscious eternal torment and the other view is called “annihilationism” (Peterson, 2014). Annihilationism is the idea that the souls of the wicked are destroyed at the judgment, not sent to a place of torment (Boyd & Eddy, 2009). But we in the Salvation Army hold to the view of conscious eternal torment. Both views would be considered within the larger family of evangelicalism, but our movement specifically holds to the eternal torment view (Boyd & Eddy, 2009). The point of all this is, we don’t want to go to hell, and we don’t want our neighbors to go there. That’s why evangelism is so important, and that’s why Jesus told us to “go” in the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

In conclusion, we believe that our souls are immortal, our physical bodies will be resurrected, that all will be judged, and that the righteous will go to eternal life, and the wicked will go to eternal punishment.

Bible Gateway. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2018, from https://www.biblegateway.com/
Boyd, G. A., & Eddy, P. R. (2009). Across the spectrum: Understanding issues in evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Peterson, R. (2014, February 1). Annihilation or Eternal Punishment? Retrieved October 30, 2018, from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/annihilation-or-eternal-punishment/
The Salvation Army handbook of doctrine. (2013). London: Salvation Books.
Walton, John H. (EDT)/ Keener, Craig S. (EDT). (2016). Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: New International Version, Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. Harpercollins Christian Pub.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Developing Godly Habits: How to Order your Life

Sermon Audio:

I try to exercise regularly. I have to exercise a great deal and be very, very careful about how I eat, because my body is very good at gaining weight and not very quick to lose it. Can anyone relate?

I always have eggs for breakfast, and coffee. I try not to eat again all morning until lunch time. At lunch I eat a large meal, my largest of the day, and then I try not to eat again until 5:00 PM dinner. I play basketball for an hour and a half, full court, on Mondays and Thursdays. Three times a week I do a 20 min workout routine.

It's amazing how much time and effort we put toward our physical bodies. We fight very hard to keep fit and stave off old age. At least for as long as we can. But we know that each of us will one day die, and our bodies will pass into the ground, and our souls will return to the God who made them.

The Apostle Paul, when he wrote his letter to Timothy, told his young apprentice that physical training does have some value. But Paul indicates that training in Godliness has value for all things.

How much time and effort do we spend toward say, our jobs? Forty hours a week? And how much time do we put toward our families? Many hours of time. These things are important. Our jobs help us pay the bills, and provide for our families. Our families are very important. But do we have the right order of priorities? Is God first in our lives, and do we spend real time with Him? Are we training ourselves in Godliness?

Today we’re looking at the topic of developing great habits. So we’re going to look at a theological concept, exam some scripture, and then consider our applications.

The Apostle Paul in his letters, like Romans, Galatians, and Philippians, often returns to a simple formula for the Christian life. I like to call it the Pauline equation. This equation… this balance that we’re going to talk about has been wrestled with by all the greats throughout history, from Martin Luther during the protestant reformation, to John Wesley and George Whitfield, all the way to the 1970s revivals of Billy Graham, and the Jesus movements of the 1980s and 90s. Balance, between faith and obedience. The Pauline equation…

One, recognize that you’ve been saved by the grace of God found in Christ. Jesus Christ, through his life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the grave has paid our debt of sins. Your sins are washed away if you are in Christ. You’ve been born again. You’ve walked out of the tomb of sin and darkness, just as Jesus left the tomb and showed himself to many witnesses. If you’re in Christ, your sins are gone. Jesus has satisfied the wrath of God against sin by dying in your place. Your sins, that whole record of wrongs is wiped clean because your sins were put on Christ, at that moment on the cross when Jesus cried out: “Father, father, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus took our sin, and gave us his righteousness. Theologians call this the great exchange.

Two, Paul next always tells us that we must live the most pure and holy lives in response to this free gift. We’re exhorted to set aside sins of the flesh, and to embrace the fruits of the spirit. It takes dedication to walk in obedience in the Christ-life. If we skip either of these elements we can begin to drift away from Christ, and we begin to be in danger of losing our salvation.

As the 9th doctrine of the Salvation Army states: “We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.”

There are two key words in that statement I’d direct your attention to: “Obedient faith.” Faith in Christ’s atonement. Obedience to Christ’s commands. And what's the verb? “Continued.” We have to walk the walk, day by day, month by month, and year by year.

Obedience and faith. If we don’t obey Christ, then we are in danger of antinomianism. That’s a big theological word, but it means that we believe in Christ, but never change how we live. We keep on sinning, and then say “God will forgive me.” That’s not how a real Christian lives. So we need obedience.

The other danger is that we can become too focused on obedience and trusting in ourselves for our salvation. We start to slowly put our faith in self, and our own attempts at righteousness. We become a Pharisee. Either path leads to spiritual disaster. So we must walk faithfully and obediently, with Christ. And to do that, we have to consider how we can develop Godly habits.

We’re going to approach this topic of developing great habits from two perspectives. The first perspective is positive practices, the second is negative practices. In other words, we’re looking at biblical commands that tell us “to do” certain things, and scripture that tells us “don’t do” certain things. Then we’ll address applications.

Turn in your Bibles to 1st Timothy chapter 6, and we’re looking at verses 11-12: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

Verse 11, when your being tempted it is usually acceptable to simply flee the situation. I’ve been there. Don’t stay in the den if you have a choice, get out. That’s biblical. And it says, while fleeing from temptation, pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. So on one hand we flee, on the other we actively pursue.

When you pursue someone, or something… let’s say your dog runs away from home. And you’re out there looking for him, you follow his trail, and your after him for hours if necessary. In the same way, when we pursue righteousness, and godliness, it is an active pursuit. It’s a positive, intentional pursuit, something that we incorporate into our daily lifestyle. Too often we as Christians can become too locked in, too normalized. To follow Jesus is a living, breathing, exciting process. If it’s become too normal, then it’s time to stir it up, and go deeper with God.

Pursue faith, faith is an unshakable trust in God. We don’t simply believe that Christ is alive and well in heaven right now, we know it. We know it through and through. When we see chaos around us, division, poverty, and suffering, we are not shaken, not broken by it, instead we center our focus on Christ, and recognize with calm and peace, that His plan is continuing effortlessly forward.

Pursue love. Love is not a feeling, not in a biblical sense. Jesus said this is love: To give up one’s life for one’s friends. Love is action, love is doing something. Love is stopping by at your grandma’s house for no reason, because you love her. Love is calling your dad and just talking for an hour. Love is volunteering for Christmas kettles. Love is praying for your friend who doesn’t know Jesus. Love is action.

Pursue endurance. Does that seem like a strange thing to pursue? Most of us have been through crazy times in our lives when we’re shocked by what is happening. A family member dies. We lose a job. Our child is addicted to drugs. A dark depression sets in. We are in more need of endurance than we might realize. Be ready to fight through when dark times come. Winston Churchill said if you’re going through hell, Keep going!

Pursue gentleness. Men, gentleness is not our greatest ability. We can often be harsh & cold. We need to pursue gentleness. Especially with your spouse, and your children. Be gentle. Women, let’s talk. Have you ever said something rude to your husband in earshot of others? That’s not gentle. Have you ever, while disciplining your children, later found yourself using that same tone with your husband? Believe it or not, your husband needs gentleness from you too.

Those are positive commands. We’re being told “do do this.”

Now let’s look at some negative commands. Turn in your Bibles to Galatians 5:19-21: “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

We looked at some things “to do” and now we see things to “abstain from.” To abstain means to never touch those things. If I’m abstaining from alcohol, I never buy it, I don’t think about it, and I don’t hang out in bars. I stay away from it.

In the same way Paul exhorts believers to stay away from various sins that threaten to shipwreck our Christian journey.

A few things jump out to me. Sexual immorality is always at the top of the list. It’s a sin that we’re especially susceptible to. If we aren’t proactively resisting those sexual temptations, they can and will take over and enslave us.

Idolatry jumps out to me. Idolatry is when we put something in our lives before God, like money, or our marriage, or even ourselves.

Hostility jumps out. How often does hostility occur in our relationships? Or when we’re driving?

Divisions and dissensions. We’ve all seen people at our work places, or in our circle of friend, who like to spread gossip, and stir up drama and controversy. The Bible very clearly tells us, don’t be one of those people.

So I’d encourage you to look over this list in greater detail on your own time. But do recognize the seriousness here. At the end of this list it says “Those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” So if we persist in these sort of sins, and refuse the Spirit’s leading, we won’t be going to paradise. We’ll be going to the other place. Take it seriously.

So, how can we put these various commands and practices into action in our lives? To truly live as a “real Christian” takes an ordered life. It takes intentional weekly practices.

I’d like to recommend a book to each of you, it’s called Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. This book is a best seller, and it’s really the gold standard of spiritual disciplines. It’s been instrumental in my life, to develop deeper relationship with God.

The two great practices of all Christians are personal prayer and Bible reading. Let’s talk prayer.

I set a goal of praying for 30 minutes a day, three times a day. When Daniel was in exile in Babylon he prayed 3 times a day. Now, I’m a night owl, so the best time for my long prayer is at night. Usually I begin at 9:00 PM. If you’re a morning person like Major Bob, you could always wake up at 4 AM and pray then.

I’d like to teach you a prayer that I think is great. Everyone look at your hand, doesn’t matter which one. First, your thumb. Your thumb is the one closest to your body. Pray for those close to you, your parents, friends, and family. Pointer finger. It stands over your thumb. Pointer finger means pray for your spiritual leaders. Here you can pray for Major Bob and Lisa, and for other leaders in the corps here. Believe me, they need your prayers, especially during this time of year. Your middle finger, it’s the tallest finger, standing above all the others, so for this finger you pray for those in authority. Pray for the president, and his cabinet. Pray for congress and the courts. And pray for local political leaders as well. The ring finger is our weakest finger. It really can’t do too much. So here we pray for the weak and the hurting. We pray for alcoholics, drug addicts, the abused, the lonely, orphans, widows, and so on. Finally, the pinkie is the smallest finger, so here we pray for ourselves and our needs and desires. Five finger prayer.

Next, Bible reading. I usually read my Bible at the end of the day, after I pray, when I get in bed. I keep my Bible there, and I read one or two chapters from the New Testament and one or two chapters from the Old Testament. Keep it simple. But do it. Be in the word each and every day. It usually takes me a while to fall asleep at night, so what I do is I use my Bible app or my laptop to play an audio Bible to myself while I try to sleep. It’s great. Check out biblegateway.com.

All these practices start by developing great habits. What do the psychology nerds say about developing a great habit? It takes about two months of “forcing yourself” to do it. It’s a little awkward at first, it’s a little bit of a chore, but after those first few months, it becomes a habit. This is how we develop great habits. It’s by doing it every day, even when maybe we don’t really want to, that it’s going to develop into a habitual practice.

In conclusion, we can do this! God will make it possible. These are practices that will become great habits, that will transform your walk with Jesus, from something that may seem distant or stale, to something living, breathing, close, and active. Let’s pray.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Overcoming Strife and Division: How can the church build unity among believers?

1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment."

It's no secret that we live in a time of great divisions and differences.  Western society seems to be in state of shifting identity.  And as humanity in the west attempts to understand who they are and what values they represent, we see the same cultural conflicts begin to show themselves in the body of Christ.

It's also no secret that the church of Christ on Earth is called to a unity that transcends the divisions and conflicts of this world.  Sometimes the church has failed to properly show that unity. But instead of ragging on the church and it's failures, how instead can we help build toward unity?  How can the body of Christ transcend cultural conflicts and ideological differences?  Let's look at a few ways to approach this strife and division.

1. Recognize that deep differences in values do exist.  There are major value differences between different sectors of our society.  A student at MIT or Princeton working on a law degree or a doctoral thesis is going to have in most cases radically different viewpoints than a rural steelworker who lives in a town of 12,000 people.  So be it.  Differences do exist.  As Christians, how can we focus on what unifies us, instead of divisions?

2 Corinthians 13:11 ESV "Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you."

2. Don't use the pulpit or the body of Christ to propagate your ideology.  If you happen to be a social justice minded progressive activist or a stalwart constitutional conservative libertarian, in either case, as we worship together as Christians, and we both take up positions in leadership in our churches, whether volunteering for a can drive or serving as a youth pastor, learn to separate the ideology from the Christianity.  

The ideology says that political and cultural values come first, and Christianity comes second.  Learn to reverse that.  Christianity comes first, and the values of the word of God, and secondary all the values of the ideology, whether conservative or progressive, or whatever else it may be, socialist, or libertarian and so on.  This is harder than it seems. Because we will want to use our platform to support our agenda.  But should we?  That is the real question.  Is the pulpit for scripture, or for ideology? We are a deeply divided society, but, we can unite around the common values of the Bible and Christianity. 

Philippians 1:27 ESV "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel"

3. Facilitate Communication and Relationships. It's pretty easy to argue with someone over social media or email. It's a lot harder to do the same thing eye to eye, in the same room.  When we converse face to face, we are forced to realize that our opponents are just people.  We realize these people are humans, not monsters.  And that makes it hard to keep yelling and battling it out over ideas.  Then again, even face to face there are some things that simply won't be able to be worked out.  Different people have different viewpoints and opinions.  That's how the world is.  But we all also have many things in common.  How can we build on those unifying beliefs to build unity in the body?  

This is not to say that if we all come together and talk then we're all going to sing kumbaya or anything.  That sort of pie in the sky just isn't realistic.  But with more communication, perhaps unity can be improved in the body of Christ.  We have differing views, but we have common beliefs as well. 

Romans 13:8-10 "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."

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Sunday, November 18, 2018

What is God doing in your Life right now?

We're often privy to share our testimony, of how we got saved, or how we became a Christian, or how we were raised in the faith. But there is another form of testimony.  And it begins with this simple question: What is God doing in your life right now?

I'd like to share with you what God is doing in my life right now.  And I'd encourage you to consider for yourself what He is doing in your life.  How is God at work?  How are you walking with him?  What do you notice as you interact with God?  Here is my testimony:

Right now in my life, God is shaping me and molding me into who I’m supposed to be. He is forging me through the fires of affliction. He is melting me down, and working the impurities out of my soul. I’m like the mold of clay, and he is cutting the extra pieces off, and molding the remaining pieces into a work of art. I imagine 4 years ago when I first began moving toward ministry I looked like little more than a lump of clay. But today I imagine the contours, the shapes, the lines in the skin are beginning to appear. The mold may be just beginning to resemble a mature follower of Christ.

God has put me through a time of testing recently. He has put before me temptations, and allurements, to see if it is really the desire of my heart to serve Him, or if I still desire to live only for my own selfish desires.

He has tested me and purified me through tense situations, and prolonged stressful ordeals, to ensure I can remain cool under pressure. He has called me beyond the limits of my own strength, to see if beyond my own strength, I will dare to rely on His strength.

He is calling me into holiness. He is calling me into sanctification. He is calling me into deeper prayer and study of the word. He is calling me to learn to socialize, communication, leadership, and self-discipline.

God loves me enough to put me through these trials and tests, because He has willingly entrusted the proclamation of His word to someone even such as me. Which is simply amazing. I don’t deserve all the grace, kindness, compassionate love, and truth He has poured out to me. Walking with Him is the great joy of my life. I love God, and He loves me.

When I’m tempted to believe that I can’t be holy, and that I’ll always be stuck in sin, God calls me to stop making excuses, and to dig in deeper to the Christian life.

Jesus Christ of Nazareth is my savior. He is a real, living savior. Who is alive right now, and with us here in this room. So I am not ashamed of Him. If there’s anything I can advise you to do today, it’s this: Go deeper with Him. Dare to believe that He is really there. When I needed a God figure to save me from the darkest times of addiction, Jesus Christ made it abundantly clear how real and powerful He is. So trust Him and obey Him.

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Explaining the Empty Tomb: Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?

Perhaps the most important question of the entire Bible is the question of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. To put it plainly: Did Jesus rise from the dead?  If Jesus was crucified, in reference of history, and he died, and was placed in a tomb, and he simply stayed dead, then Christianity is nothing.  But if Jesus was crucified, buried, but after three days he physically resurrected from the dead, then Jesus was really God on Earth.  And everything he said and did matters infinitely.  

Verified historical sources tell us that Jesus was a real person who was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Galilee. Historians also tell us that Jesus spoke, and lived, and was crucified under the Romans, probably around the age of 30-33. History also records that Jesus died, and was placed in a particular tomb, the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. History also tells us that the tomb was found to be empty.  We will examine, briefly, several prominent views of the historical fact of the empty tomb, and how to explain it historically.  We will then examine which view is most accurate given history. Then we’ll consider the positive evidence.
 Jesus is mentioned as a historical person in multiple sources, such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, the Babylonian Talmud, and Lucian among others (Gleghorn, 2001). 

But the New Testament scriptures are themselves more historically attested to than any of these sources, with 5,868 ancient Greek manuscript copies (Slick, 2008). The accuracy of these manuscripts when compared to one another are 99.5% accurate (Slick, 2008). The only differences between these manuscripts are minor spelling and grammar errors that don’t impact the meaning substantially (Slick, 2008). Therefore, I would make the contention, as is the general consensus in history, that the New Testament documents are historically reliable and outside historical sources prove beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus of Nazareth did exist, was crucified, and his tomb was found to be empty.

Now the real question is, did Jesus rise from the dead? The tomb was empty, that much is historically known.  So how do historians explain the empty tomb?  The most direct explanation would be that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. Christianity spread quickly after the crucifixion.  In fact, each of Jesus’ disciples aside from John were martyred for their faith (Gertz, 2008).  History records that each of them died proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead (Gertz, 2008).  Why would they die for something that wasn’t true? In fact, there are historically recorded events in which Jesus appears to people after his death, including at one point when he appeared to over 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6). The best answer is that Jesus really did rise from the dead. 

But there are other arguments that are put forward as possible alternatives to this hypothesis.  Some would contend that the disciples of Jesus went to the tomb and stole the body, and then proclaimed that Jesus had resurrected.  That’s one theory.  Another theory is that Jesus’ disciples were so devoted to him and wished so greatly for their master to still be alive that they hallucinated seeing Jesus.  Still another theory is that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. He was only injured, or drugged, and later he recovered from his injuries and appeared as if he had resurrected.  They call this the “Swoon theory.”  Additionally, there are several other less prominent theories, such as the women went to the wrong tomb or the Roman authorities themselves removed the body of Jesus, but these theories are quite unlikely, so we will not explore them further here.  Instead we will look at the three main counter theories, the stolen body theory, the mass hallucination theory, and the swoon theory.

The first theory is that the disciples stole the body (Storms, 2017). The stolen body theory is not likely because it is recorded that the disciples were so terrified that they fled when Jesus was arrested and brought before Pontius Pilate (John 20:19).  In addition, Roman guards were present during the crucifixion monitoring the situation.  And it’s recorded in the scriptures that guards were placed outside the tomb of Jesus to guard against any possible tampering (Matthew 27:62-28:15).  Roman guards would face execution for failing to fulfill their orders, especially in a situation like this, where stakes were high.  When combining the reality that the disciples were fearful and in hiding, and the tomb was guarded by Roman soldiers, it is highly unlikely that the disciples stole the body.  Additionally, how does one championing this theory explain the post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus? 

The mass hallucination theory indicates that the disciples were hallucinating when they thought they saw Jesus (Storms, 2017).  They wanted Jesus to be alive so badly that they hallucinated.  However, there are several problems with this theory.  First of all, how does one explain that all the disciples saw Jesus, together?  How do they explain that a crowd of over five hundred people all saw Jesus at the same time?  Were all of them hallucinating?  And how could all the same people have the same hallucination?  None of this makes any sense.  Hallucinations are not shared among the same people.  Therefore, the mass hallucination theory fails on these grounds.

The “swoon theory” is that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross (Storms, 2017).  First of all, Jesus was scourged by the Romans, and forced to carry his own cross (Matthew 27:26, John 19:17).  He had a crown of thorns forced around his head.  He would’ve been bleeding profusely.  He was then nailed to the cross, on the wrists and through the feet, areas that would cause high amounts of bleeding.  Jesus was hoisted upon the cross for at least three hours, probably much longer (Matthew 27:46).  He would’ve struggled with massive loss of blood, difficulty breathing, exhaustion, and dehydration.  

And we read in the gospels that Jesus was pierced with a Roman spear to make sure he was dead (John 19:34). It was recorded that blood and water flowed from the location where he was pierced.  The water and the blood would’ve been clear evidence that Jesus was dead.  According to J. Warner Wallace (2014) “Anyone beaten as badly as Jesus in the hours prior to his crucifixion would surely have suffered circulatory shock and heart failure. When this happens, pericardial or pleural effusion typically results. Water begins to form around the heart or in the lungs. If this happened to Jesus, water would pour from his body if the soldier’s spear entered into either of these two regions.”  Medical science tells us that the water and the blood shows that Jesus was in fact quite dead.  For this reason, the swoon theory is certainly false.

So why should we believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Well there are several good reasons to believe this.  Once again we can mention how Christianity rapidly spread from Jerusalem and into the ancient Roman empire, being preached by the same disciples who fled into hiding after Jesus was crucified.  These same terrified disciples became as bold as lions to travel as missionaries across the ancient world when they encountered the resurrected Jesus.  The example of the Apostle Paul is also telling.  He encountered the resurrected Jesus on the Damascus road and he went from being a persecutor of the early church to one of its most ardent heroes (Galatians 1:23).  Jesus appeared to over five hundred witnesses, and it was recorded by the apostle Paul that while he was writing his letter many of these people were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6).  He in effect invited readers to go and ask these eyewitnesses about when they saw Jesus. Jesus of course also showed himself to his disciples on the Emmaus road, along the sea of Galilee, and to James, after his crucifixion.  Given the spread of Christianity from a few thousand persecuted Jewish Christians to being the most prominent religion in the world today, the empirical and historical evidence is strong that Jesus did in fact resurrect from the dead (Hackett & McClendon, 2017).  Additionally, even today millions of people testify to the fact that Jesus has changed their lives.  This all forms a cumulative case that we can indeed believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

In conclusion there is much evidence to believe historically that the tomb was empty, and that Jesus did rise from the dead.  Though non-believers put forward several alternative theories to the resurrection, those arguments do not hold water when compared with recorded history and the facts involved in the situation. Given the cumulative evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, we can believe that Jesus is bodily resurrected, and is our true Lord, King, and Savior.

Edersheim, A. (2010, April 23). Did the Disciples Steal Jesus's Body? Retrieved October 31, 2018, from https://www.christianity.com/jesus/death-and-resurrection/resurrection/did-the-disciples-steal-jesuss-body.html
Geisler, N. L. (2012). The big book of Christian apologetics: An A to Z guide. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Gertz, S. (2008, July 1). How do we know 10 of the disciples were martyred? Retrieved October 31, 2018, from https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/how-do-we-know-10-of-disciples-were-martyred.html
Gleghorn, M. (2010, February 09). Ancient Evidence for Jesus from Non-Christian Sources. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from https://www.bethinking.org/jesus/ancient-evidence-for-jesus-from-non-christian-sources
Hackett, C., & McClendon, D. (2017, April 05). World's largest religion by population is still Christianity. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/05/christians-remain-worlds-largest-religious-group-but-they-are-declining-in-europe/
Slick, M. (2008, December 10). Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from https://carm.org/manuscript-evidence
Slick, M. (2017, June 09). Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from https://carm.org/disciples-stole-jesus-body-and-faked-his-resurrection
Storms, S. (2017, April 24). 10 Things You Should Know about the Empty Tomb of Jesus. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/10-things-you-should-know-about-the-empty-tomb-of-jesus.html
Wallace, J. (2014, April 23). Two Hidden Science Facts in the Passion Week. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/two-hidden-science-facts-in-the-passion-week/