Christ our Coming King: Part I

pexel chickenThere have been many end of the world predictions over the years.  But possibly the most interesting of all doomsday predictions came from a chicken.  Apparently there was a hen in Leeds, England back in 1806 that became known as the prophet hen of Leeds when she began laying eggs with the words “Christ is coming” written on them.  People traveled from far and wide to visit this prophetic hen.  However the whole thing was uncovered as a hoax when it was found out that the owner of the hen was using corrosive ink to write on the eggs and then reinserting them back into the hen, to be laid later.

Many people are interested in talking about the end times.  There are actually many passages in Scripture that deal with this topic.  Acts 1:6-11 is a very familiar passage that contains Christ’s ascension to Heaven and a challenge to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.  However, this well-known passage actually begins with a question about the end times.

In Acts 1:6 the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b, ESV)  Typically when we look at this passage we tend to gloss over verse 6, but when we recognize this starting question it takes us deeper into the context of what Jesus is saying.

Remember, the disciples had an unclear idea of what exactly the Messiah had come to do.  They had grown up hearing these prophecies of the coming Messiah and the interpretations that suggested that he would be a conquering hero or a political or military leader who would return the kingdom of Israel to prominence.  They then saw firsthand the miracles he was capable of and they gave up their lives to follow him.  But then he was crucified and died and they were probably pretty confused, until he rose again and displayed authority over death.  When you combine what they had seen of Jesus with what they expected of the Messiah, it is easy to see how they might have expected him to establish his kingdom right away now that he had risen.  But they were still missing pieces to the puzzle.

In verse 7 Jesus basically answers their question by telling them that the timing of his kingdom is really none of their business.  That is not what they were supposed to be focused on.  And that is not what we are supposed to focus on either.  Many times we are in such a hurry to get to verse 8 that we miss this important answer.  But this helps provide good context for verse 8, because while Jesus says the timing is not our business, he does tell us what is supposed to be our business.  In verse 8 Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8, ESV)

Our understanding of verses 6 and 7 doesn’t drastically change our understanding of verse 8, but it does add an extra emphasis.  We may not know when the end is going to come, but we do know what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime.  This is a pivotal verse in the Bible.  It is kind of like an outline for the rest of the book of Acts as we see the disciples basically living out these words in the rest of the book as the Gospel spreads to the world.

After saying these things Jesus then ascended to Heaven and the disciples were left standing there watching him go.  Then all of a sudden a couple of messengers showed up and asked the guys why they were just standing there gazing at heaven.  And then they tell them that Christ is coming back.  It’s like they were implying that the disciples should stop standing around and get busy doing what he had told them to do.

It may seem weird to take a passage that focuses on Christ’s ascension into Heaven and use it to talk about Christ our Coming King, but the context is clear.  Christ’s is coming again.  Ever since he left, we have been living with his imminent return.  We don’t know when he will return, but we do know that he is coming.  We see that stated right here in this passage as well as in many other places in Scripture.

Christ did not just come to earth, live a good life, do all those miracles, die for the sins of mankind, rise again and then just ride off into the sunset at the end of the story.  He left with a plan to return.  He is coming again.  The story is not finished yet.  And when he comes he will be ushering in his kingdom.  So Christ is not only our Savior, and our Sanctifier and our Healer, he is also our Coming King.  We can look forward to his return and to spending eternity with him, but talking about his return should not focus us on standing around watching for him to return, or arguing about when the end of the world is going to come, it should spur us on to do what he wants us to do while he is gone.  All of this provides context for verse 8.  So let’s let the fact that Christ is coming again, spur us on to be his witnesses to a world that desperately needs him.

Christ our Healer

pexel hand outIn the Christian and Missionary Alliance Statement of Faith we find this sentence: “Provision is made in the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ for the healing of the mortal body.”

To understand the Biblical foundation for this belief we turn to Matthew 8 and find a story of healing. “14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.” (Matt. 8:14-16, ESV)

Notice that when Jesus touches Peter’s mother-in-law not only is she healed immediately, but she is also healed completely.  Apparently in this area of Israel Malaria was common.  We do not know if that is what she was suffering from or not, but imagine if she did have Malaria.  Even if she had been healed of the fever it still would have taken her some time to recuperate.  But in this story she immediately gets up and starts to serve them.  That is amazing.  Jesus didn’t just take away the sickness, he gave her complete health and rejuvenation and strength to the point where she was immediately able to get up and start serving her guests like a good Jewish mother in law would probably do.

There is a completeness to the healing work of Jesus that is powerfully shown in this example.  Jesus doesn’t just take away what is wrong, he brings life.  And word must have spread because soon a crowd had gathered to seek a healing touch from the Lord.

That is a powerful story, but it also provides important context for verse 17: “17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”  (Matt. 8:17, ESV)

This verse suggests that there is more to this scene than just the healings that are taking place.  This is the fulfillment of a prophecy about the Messiah.  This is a declaration of who Jesus is.  And it is referring to Isaiah 53, which is known as the passage on the suffering servant.

“1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?[a] And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected[b] by men; a man of sorrows,[c] and acquainted with[d] grief;[e] and as one from whom men hide their faces[f] he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:1-6, ESV)

This passage is a prophecy about the coming Messiah and it is easy to see Jesus in these words. Nobody would have looked at Jesus as he was growing up in Nazareth and said, look there is the Messiah.  There was no pomp and circumstance.  He was just the son of a carpenter.  And after he came out and began his ministry he was despised and rejected.  He had his life threatened and he was constantly under attack from the religious leaders of the day.  Eventually he was arrested and unjustly tried and convicted.  Then he was beaten and placed on a cross where they drove nails into his hands and feet and hung him up to die.  And on that cross he took our sins upon himself and died as a sacrifice for the world.

This passage in Isaiah 53 seems to be focusing on what Christ would do on the cross when he was beaten and pierced and killed while carrying the sins of the world on his shoulders.  Even the phrase “bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows” from verse 4, has us picturing the cross.

But if Isaiah 53 is pointing toward Christ’s work on the cross, why is it connected to Matthew 8 which is a story about Jesus’ healing ministry?

When we look at verses 4-5 of Isaiah 53, we see that it is our sicknesses and our pain and our sin and our punishment that he takes upon himself, while he is stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed, chastised and wounded.  And it is because he went through what he went through, while carrying all of our stuff that we get to enjoy what we see at the end of verse 5 which says, by his wounds we are healed.  That healing is complete.  Christ died and rose again in victory over sin and the curse that sin brought.

Now let me point out that because of sin, we are living in a broken world.  We treat sickness as if it is the main problem, but sickness is actually a symptom of the brokenness that has come as part of the curse of sin.  Healing sickness is actually like healing a symptom.  In Matthew 8, Jesus healed Peter’s mother in law, but she would have gotten sick again after that and eventually she still died.  Sickness is simply a symptom of the brokenness caused by sin.

While he walked this earth Jesus chose to care for the symptoms of living in a broken world, like hunger, sickness, and evil spirits.  But while he chose to address some of the symptoms he was always moving toward the main focus, which was the victory he would bring through his work on the cross and through the grave.  Things are not going to be perfect until Christ returns and wipes away this broken world and brings a new heaven and new earth.

In Revelation 21 we read: “1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c] 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4, ESV)

That is what we look forward to.  One day sickness and death will be no more. But what about today? What do we do with the stuff we face right now in this broken world?  Are we stuck just looking forward to our future in Heaven?

Christ could have just walked this earth, completely focused on the cross, and ignored the symptoms of this broken world that were all around him.  But he didn’t.  He chose to stop and listen and touch and heal those in need.  Even though those healings were just temporary and he was just addressing the symptoms, Jesus still chose to heal.  Why?

Last week I was at a national youth convention for The Christian and Missionary Alliance.  As part of that convention my son Jacob and I attended a seminar led by Ken Castor.  During that seminar Ken asked the audience to shout out some things as volunteers wrote them on a giant white board.  One of the things he asked for them to shout out was things that Christ does for us.  People yelled out: he healed; he forgave; he died; and other things Christ has done.  My son Jacob just quietly said, he stopped.  And I turned to him and asked what he meant by that.  He told me that when people cried out to Jesus as he was passing by, he would stop and listen to their need and touch and heal them.  And I was like, you know what, he’s right.  That’s something that Christ did.  He stopped.  Why did he stop?  He stopped because he loved them.  He had compassion on them.  And that is still true today.  When we cry out to him Christ still stops and listens to us and touches us.

As we continue on through Scripture we see that healing was an active part of the ministry of the early church.  And down through history that has continued.  Sure there have been plenty of abuses and we have gotten off track from what it was intended to be along the way, but Christ is still our healer.

He still stops when we cry out to him.  He listens and cares about what we are going through and he touches us.  I don’t know why he sometimes chooses not to heal.  But I do know that Christ loves us and he is still our healer.  It is not our faith that heals us, it is not some guy in a fancy suit, it is not prayer or oil or the ability we have to believe, it is Christ who heals.  Through the cross he established victory over sin and death and everything that goes with it.  He came to bring us life.  And even though he no longer walks on this earth in flesh and blood, when we cry out to him, he still stops because he loves us.  Christ is still our Healer.

 

 

Ordination and Mission

odell ordinationThis past Sunday we were blessed to host the ordination service for Chris O’Dell at The River.  Chris and his wife Jamie were part of The River in the early days and then left for ministry in Taiwan.  They serve at a coffee shop/church called The Aroma.  You can find out more about their ministry and how to partner with them on The Aroma Website.  Chris and Jamie and their boys continue to be part of The River extended family and we partner with them as they are ministering in Taipei.  It is a great partnership considering our similar kind of ministry focus at Dunn Bros. here in Chaska.  This is a way for us to be fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission for us in Matthew 28:19-20 where he says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  We are in the process of making disciples here in Chaska, MN and at the same time we are partnering with them in making disciples among people we may never meet this side of Heaven as we partner with Chris and Jamie in Taiwan.  Please join us in supporting them.  Check out The Aroma Website for more information.

Discerning God’s Will

pexel one wayI was recently asked a question about discerning God’s will.  How do we know what God wants us to do?  I believe that Romans 12:1-2 is a great passage to help us answer that question.  In Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul uses the word therefore in verse 1.  That is important because we need to pause and connect what he is about to say with what has been said.  Now the word therefore in this case actually marks a transition not just from chapter 11 to chapter 12, but from Paul’s overall direction up until this point to what he is going to talk about through the rest of this letter.  In the first 11 chapters of this book Paul has been focused on doctrine and now he is challenging them to put that into practice in the way that they live for Christ.

He also uses the word appeal.  That word can also be translated as urge or exhort.  He is challenging them with a bit of authority.  It is stronger than just asking.  So considering all of this great stuff about God that they have learned in the first 11 chapters, Paul now challenges them on how they are to live.

He begins by telling them to present their bodies as living sacrifices.  Let’s break that down a little bit.  A sacrifice is basically offering, giving up or dedicating something.  Like in the OT when the people would bring a lamb to be sacrificed on the altar.  But Paul here is talking about a living sacrifice.  That means that it is still something that is given or dedicated, but it is not killed like the OT sacrifices were.  The living sacrifice he is referring to here is our bodies.  So putting all of this together, Paul is talking about our lives being given or dedicated to God.

Notice also that Paul tells them to present their bodies as living sacrifices.  That might seem like they are to work really hard to be a good Christian, but that word present can also be seen as offer or yield.  I would suggest that yield is a great way for us to understand what Paul is talking about here.

The word yield means to give way or submit.  So yielding our lives to the Lord as living sacrifices would be like submitting ourselves to him and his plans for us rather than our plans for ourselves.

Paul then goes on to talk about not being conformed to this world.  The word there carries the idea of us being squeezed into a mold.  We are constantly being bombarded by messages from this world about what we are supposed to look like, want, desire, believe, feel or think about things.  And much of what the world suggests is contrary to God’s will.

But Paul is saying, don’t let that stuff corrupt our thinking.  Don’t let the world dictate what we believe or think.  God has something better for us.  God is calling us away from this world and toward him.  Rather than being conformed by this world, he is calling us to a transformation.

You know the word for transformed there is the word from which we get our word metamorphosis.  The way this is written suggests a continual renewing of the mind.  He will give us a new way of thinking that may not make sense to this world, but God’s knows what is best for us and he will show us a better way.  This continual renewing of our mind then will lead us into God’s will.  The more we yield to his plans for us, then the more we will be able to understand what God really wants for us.

So let’s get back to the original question.  I know this is the big picture answer.  It is kind of a long term approach to answering this question, but this is how we know God’s will.  It is through choosing moment by moment and day by day to yield our lives to God that we get to know his will.

The problem is typically when we ask this question, it is that we want to know God’s will right now about a particular situation.  Paul is describing much more of a long term process.  He is pointing out to us that we need to grow in this area and it will take time of gradually, more and more being able to discern his will.  If we are not yielding to God moment, by moment and day by day, then it is going to be hard to know his will for a one time event.  So the first thing that I want to impress upon us is to start with these basics.  Let’s begin yielding our lives to God as living sacrifices, choosing his way instead of our own and over time we will be growing in our discernment of God’s will.

But I am not totally sure that that answers the intent of this question and I think there is also something here for the times when we want to know the will of God as we make decisions in our lives.  Notice this idea of not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Too often when we are faced with a decision, the main things we consider are the things of this world.  Most of the time we make decisions based on the same way the world makes decisions.  We tend to weigh the pros and cons like finances, happiness, future possibilities and things like that.

We need to stop letting worldly priorities dictate our choices and instead earnestly seek Gods will.  You know there are plenty of things that we know to be God’s will that we choose to ignore when we are trying to make a decision. Sometimes I am faced with a choice that makes all the sense in the world, but it kind of steps on some of the things that I already know to be true about God’s will. Many times we choose to ignore those things or compromise them just a little bit, so that we can grab hold of a bigger paycheck or some measure of enjoyment that we so desperately want for ourselves.  When we do that, we are letting ourselves be conformed by this world, rather than being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

I believe that if we lessen the voice of this world and stop listening so much to what this world says is best, and if we focus on the stuff we already know to be true about God’s will,  then while that may not give us a definite answer it is going to narrow things down quite a bit and help us be able to see things more clearly as we try to discern God’s will.

 

 

Good, Good Father

pexel fatherIn Matthew 7:7-8 we read:  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

So in this passage Jesus is speaking on prayer.  Asking, seeking, and knocking are all basically forms of prayer.  They are speaking of us going to God with requests.

I don’t believe this passage is saying that we can ask for whatever we want, regardless of God’s will and we will get it just because we ask.  I don’t believe that is what it means to be a good father.  I don’t give my kids everything they ask for and it is not because I am being mean, it’s because I love them and I am trying to do what is best for them.

Sometimes we go to God with things that seem good and we can’t see any reason why it would not be good for us to receive what we are asking for.  And yet still God does not give us what we want.  Those times are tough.

I have a good friend who is a pastor and his wife has cancer.  I don’t know why God has not just stepped in and miraculously healed her.  There is no reason that I can see for that not to happen.  I can only imagine what it must be like to cry out to God again and again and not receive that healing.

Sometimes when we cry out to God again and again, and don’t receive what we are asking for, our souls hurt and we can begin to forget who God really is and who we are in him.

This passage is teaching us something very important about God.  Overall this passage is about prayer, but Jesus is also pointing out that God is a good father.  Look at the example Jesus gives in verse 9-11: 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

A good earthly father may not always give his son what he asked for, but he is not going to ignore him or taunt him or give him something harmful instead.  And Jesus says that if that is true of an early father how much more true is it of God.

This is known as an “a fortiori argument” or an argument from the lesser to the greater.  If a good early father would respond like this, then think about how much more we can expect from God.  God is better than even the best image we could have of what a good earthly father is like.

I think I am a decent father and I believe that my children know that I love them and want the best for them.  But I know I am far from perfect.  I have had to apologize to my children many times for losing my cool, or accusing them of things they didn’t do or lack of patience or other things.  I am far from perfect.

But I know how much I love my children.   They mean more to me than I could possibly express.  Recently I was singing the song “Good, Good Father,” by Chris Tomlin.  As I was singing I was drawn into the image of how I see my kids.   I was trying to put myself in their shoes and if only they could see themselves through the way I see myself looking at them.  If they could only recognize how much I love them, not because of how good they are at pleasing me, but simply because they are my children.  And then I was thinking, do I see God that way?  Do I really see him loving me with the kind of love that I have for my kids, only infinitely greater?

I sometimes get a very warped idea of who I am in God’s sight.  I can be very performance based in my thinking like I have to please God or always be on my best behavior rather than just recognizing that he is my dad and I am loved by him.  And his love for me is not based on how well I am doing, but because I am his child.

So as I was singing this song I felt like I was crying out for my soul to get this.  I want to know, down deep in my soul, that God is a good Father and I am loved by him.  That doesn’t change.  It is who he is and it is who I am in him.

This passage is about prayer, but it is also a reminder that God is a good father.  A few chapters earlier when Jesus was teaching his disciples to pray he used the word Abba, which is a very intimate expression of father.  Imagine thinking of God like our daddy.

I may not know why God doesn’t answer some of our prayers the way we think he should and I don’t know why some of us are going through the things we are going through.  But if I know that my Father God is a good father, and that he loves me and wants what is best for me, then I can rest in him and trust that he will take care of me.

Sometimes in our lives we forget that image of God.  And in those times it is easy for us to give up and lose hope.  But when times are bad, that doesn’t mean that God is not a good father or that we are not loved.

In this passage where Jesus uses the words ask, seek and knock, those verbs are all in the present tense.  They could be looked at more along the lines of keep on asking, keep on seeking and keep on knocking.  I understand what it is like to be tired of asking, seeking and knocking.  But I want to remind us today that our God is a good father.  Let’s hold on to that image of him, even if we need to cry out to our own soul to remember that.  And let’s continue to bring our prayers before him, trusting that he hears us, that he knows what is going on in our lives, and that he loves us very much.

 

 

Resurrection not just Reanimation

pexel zombieSo Zombies are kind of a big deal lately.  There are many TV shows and movies related to zombies.  There was even a youtube video that went viral recently about a couple of brothers who pranked their younger sister on the way home from having wisdom teeth surgery.  They got her to believe that a zombie apocalypse was beginning.  Last I saw it had almost 14million hits.  According to Wikipedia “A zombie is a fictional undead being created through the reanimation of a human corpse.”

Today zombies are potentially more popular than they have ever been.  If you go online you will find all kinds of information on zombies, including many sites that focus on the best way to survive a zombie apocalypse.  I even came across articles on this subject on the websites for The Center for Disease Control, US News and World Report, and The Washington Post.

Recently I was asked by someone in my church, “What does the Church mean by bodily resurrection?”  This person referred to the apostle’s creed which refers to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  They were wondering if this means that when we go to Heaven we will have a body like we have now?  In other words, will we be resurrected back into the body we had before we died?  And if so, then at what stage?  Does a person just end up with the body they had right before they died, or is it from like when they were in their prime?  And what about someone who was missing a limb or had some major problem with their body, is that fixed?  And what if you were cremated?  Does that mean you can’t be resurrected?  The person who was asking these questions didn’t specifically connect this to zombies, but they are trying to figure out what to make of the idea of bodily resurrection.

Well, first of all let me point out that we are not talking about reanimation we are talking about resurrection.  That is a significant difference.  Scripture may not give us a definitive picture of what these resurrected bodies will look like, but in I Corinthians 15 Paul gives us enough of an image to recognize we are talking about something a whole lot better than zombies.

Paul begins that chapter with a very succinct outline of the Gospel.  In a few verses he reminds us that Christ died for the sins of the world, that he was buried and that he rose again and appeared to many people.  It is kind of like the Gospel in Cliff Notes fashion.

These first six verses provide an important foundation and then Paul moves on to connect Christ’s resurrection with our own. It is important for us to realize that Jesus did not just die as a sacrifice for our sins, he rose again in victory over death and sin and paved the way for our resurrection.

There were apparently some in Corinth who were suggesting that there was no resurrection for the dead.  In these verses Paul lays out a very logical argument that reminds them of the completeness of the Gospel.

Paul then moves on to talk a little bit about what this will be like.  Paul doesn’t give us an exact picture of what to expect, but he gives us a few images to think about to help us consider the idea of a resurrection body.

The first analogy is of a seed in verses 36-37. A seed that is planted in good soil germinates.  Basically the seed itself disintegrates or dies, but out of that seed grows new life in the form of a plant.  And what comes up out of the ground is not the same thing that went into the ground, but something new and different.

So we can understand the analogy to the seed.  A person dies, they are even planted in the ground, and a new body comes up out of the ground at the time of resurrection.  We should not expect it to be the same as it was when it went into the ground, but rather something new.

Paul moves on to the analogy of different kinds of animals in verse 39.  We know and understand the difference between a human being, an animal, a bird and a fish.  Their bodies are designed for very different purposes that are right for the environment where they will exist.  Our resurrection bodies will be different than our earthly bodies and will fit the needs of the new environment awaiting us.

And then Paul moves on to compare earthly and heavenly bodies in verses 40-41.  Right now we live in earthly bodies.  They are fine and work for here on earth, but God has something different in store for us in Heaven.  These bodies were not meant for Heaven.

Paul then goes on to make some comparisons in verses 42-44.  First he talks about how our bodies will be imperishable compared to perishable.  That means that our resurrected bodies are not going to fade away or be temporary.  It is a body that will be built to last.

He then talks about how when we die, that is the low point for our earthly bodies.  They finally run out of strength and fail completely.  And when they do our bodies are at their weakest and most dishonorable.  But out of that weakness and dishonor of death our new bodies will rise in glory and power.  I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but it sounds pretty good.

The last comparison Paul points out is that our resurrected bodies will not be natural, they will be spiritual.  This is an important distinction.  I don’t know exactly what that will mean, but I would image that a lot of the limitations we know now, will not be limitations then.

Then in verses 45-49 Paul talks about how we will be born in the image of the man of heaven.  We started life with earthly bodies.  Adam was made out of the dust of this earth and so were we.  Our earthly bodies reflected Adam.  But our new bodies will be more reflective of Christ and that doesn’t mean we will look like he looked while he was on this earth, but more in the image of who he is in Heaven.   We will all finally have heavenly bodies.

Then Paul ends the chapter by telling us of the victory that is coming.  For those of us who believe in Christ, death is not the end.  Death is a result of the fall.  It Is because of sin.  In Christ we are set free from that curse of sin and have victory over death.  For most of the world death is seen as the biggest defeat of our lives.  But Paul is turning things upside down and saying that it is not defeat.  Death has been defeated and victory is ours in Christ as we are raised to new life with imperishable, glorious new spiritual bodies.

We may not be able to picture exactly what that means or looks like, but the specifics don’t matter.  Paul gives us enough information here to recognize that we have a lot to celebrate.

Paul’s final verse ends with a good note of encouragement for us in light of the resurrection.  He writes: Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

There is a confidence in this resurrection that allows us to get on with our daily lives.  We can be steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord, because we know that our future is secure.  In Christ, we know that one day we will rise again to spend eternity with him, and that understanding of our future allows us to have confidence here and now for whatever we are facing today.

We are looking forward to a glorious life in Heaven and while we are here on this earth we can stand in that victory even though we have yet to experience it.  I know life is not always easy here on this earth, but understanding this chapter can give us strength to stand immovable, knowing what is to come.

 

Footwashing

pexel feet waterIn John 13 we find a well-known story about Jesus washing his disciple’s feet.  In Jesus’ times people walked around all the time in sandals or barefoot and picked up a lot of dirt and other grime along the way.  Footwashing was essential, but it was a menial task that someone usually did themselves or had a servant do for them.  Yet in this story we see Jesus washing his disciple’s feet.

In verse 8 Peter objects saying, “You shall never wash my feet.”  Why was Peter so appalled by the idea of Jesus washing his feet?  Because it was a task reserved for servants or slaves.  Jesus was their teacher, their master and their Lord.  And yet he put himself in a subservient position, stripped down to his skivvies, grabbed a bowl of water and a towel and went around on hands and knees washing their feet.

Should somebody else have washed the feet?  Maybe.  It was customary at the time for the host to have a servant wash the feet of those who were guests.  That doesn’t happen here.  No host or servant is even mentioned in the room at the time.  But it does seem that there was a pitcher and a bowl and a towel readily available.  Any one of the disciples could have offered to wash the feet of the others.  But I would imagine they all that task was beneath them.  Knowing the disciples they were probably looking around at each other figuring that one of the other guys should do it.  They did after all get caught on multiple occasions arguing about which one of them was the greatest.

In reality, one of the disciples should have done this footwashing.  If there was one person in the room who should not have done it, based on the customs of that time, it was Jesus.  And yet he is the one who did it.

This would have been an emotional, powerful, jarring image for the disciples.  And that is probably what Jesus was going for, because the lesson is not just about serving one another.  This is a lesson in humility.  Jesus is saying, if I would wash your feet, then whose feet could it possibly be beneath you to wash?

Jesus then goes on to challenge them to follow his example in verse 17, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Jesus wants us to serve one another, but I think we can serve others without really getting the lesson that Jesus is giving here.  We can approach this almost like a boy scout approaching getting a service merit badge, but I don’t think that is the point.

I believe Jesus is challenging them to a brand new way of viewing their lives.  I believe he is calling them to a radical self-abasing, others-focused kind of life.  It is the kind of life that Jesus himself exemplified in the way he lived and died.  He didn’t just sacrifice his life on the cross, he sacrificed it every day he lived on this earth by the way he cared for and served those around him.

I don’t think that Jesus is calling us to acts of service.  I think he is calling us to heart change.  He is calling us to a heart of humility and servanthood and that is harder than just volunteering for some service projects.

This is a lesson or us to have different view of our lives.  It is for us to humble ourselves to look at our lives with a different perspective recognizing that we are servants of Christ and therefore servants of one another.  Remember, as followers of Christ, we are to be becoming like the one we are following.  Well, this passage is who Christ is.  He lived a life of humility and servanthood.  And I believe the only way for us to become like this is for him to work supernaturally in our lives to make us more like him.  The question is, do we want this and are we willing to yield our lives to someone who wants this for us?

 

Guilty Pleasures

pexel pizzaThere are many things that I love that I am somewhat embarrassed to share with people.  For instance, I love Totino’s froze pizza.  It is one of my guilty pleasures.   I enjoy it, but I don’t tell everyone.  I want them to believe that I have a more refined palate.  Sometimes I do.  But I also still love a good Totino’s frozen pizza from time to time.

I am willing to confess that to you in this blog, because it is funny and quirky and interesting.  But how willing would I be to confess more than that?  how willing would I be to go deeper and share some of the deep, dark things that I don’t want anyone to know about my life?

James 5 contains an excellent passage on healing ministry within the church, but sometimes we pay so much attention to what James is saying in verses 13-15 on healing, that we miss out on what he says in verse 16: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16, ESV)

James says to confess our sins to one another.  That idea seems somewhat foreign to us.  We are okay sharing things like our silly love for Totino’s pizza, but we don’t really want to go any farther than that.  We don’t want to be that vulnerable.  We don’t want to let others know the stuff we struggle with.  We don’t want to air our dirty laundry.  We are more comfortable letting others think that we have our act together.

But James is telling us to not hold that stuff in.  We are to confess to one another.  There are many benefits to this type of confession.  It allows us to welcome and invite accountability into our lives.  It allows us to publicly recognize our struggles.  It brings dark things out of the shadows and into the light.   It invites others to get involved in our brokenness and to pray for us and help us in our spiritual journey.

Also, it is interesting to note that verse 16 is part of this passage on healing.  Sometimes when we have unconfessed sin in our lives, it can eat us up from the inside out.  We can literally be stressing about our unconfessed sin to the point where it is causing physical problems and sometimes we don’t even realize what is going on.

It is also a benefit for the church as a whole.  I believe the church over the years has done a disservice in that we have hidden sin, and pretended that we all have our act together.  Confessing to one another breeds intimacy, and helps others be open to sharing what is going on in their lives.  It allows those who struggle with similar things to recognize that they are not alone.  It allows us to reach a new level of authentic community.

In order for this kind of confession to happen, we must not be judgmental and we need to be trustworthy.  We have to be a safe place where people can be vulnerable without worrying that it will be used against them in some way.

James then goes on to challenge us to pray for one another.  It is a natural progression for us to go from sharing with one another about our sins, our struggles, our failures, and our needs and then to simply pray for one another.  And that also is good for both the individual and for the church as a whole.

But for this too we must be vulnerable.  We have to stop asking for prayer for our neighbor or our great aunt, and start asking for prayer for ourselves.  We need to let other people know of our struggles, our failures, our hurts and our pain.   And then we can really pray for one another.

It doesn’t seem natural for us to be that vulnerable with one another.  We are more comfortable sharing about the things that don’t really matter.  But if we are going to become the church that God is calling us to be, then we need to put aside those barriers that get in the way and confess our sins to one another and pray for one another.

 

Ultra-Marathon Life

malcolm mcA few weeks ago at Crown College I had the opportunity to meet Malcolm Mcloughlin. He is an Irish author who was at Crown to speak for their Missions Fest. He shared about running ultra-marathons of 40, 50 and even 100 mile races and compared that to the endurance of a lifelong journey with Christ.

Hebrews 10:19-39 is a powerful passage about recognizing who we are in Christ, drawing near to God and having endurance in the faith.  This call to endurance reminded me of what Malcolm Mcloughlin was talking about at Crown College. He referred to how someone could fake a 5k or a 10k race. You don’t have to be a runner to run those races. Malcolm also said that you could even train for a bit and fake a half marathon, or maybe even a marathon. But ultra-marathons are different. They take a different amount and level of training and endurance that you can’t fake. And then, he likened that to the Christian life.

This theme of endurance seems to be central to what the author is talking about. But what jumped out at me is that right in the middle of the passage there are a couple of verses that are focused on our relationships with each other. In verses 24 and 25 the author writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV)

That word spur is actually a word whose meaning is more along the lines of irritation or exasperation, contention or argument. The overall wording would direct us toward the idea of provocation and it is used with one another to denote the idea of like mutually provoking one another.

It brings to mind that training buddy who pushes you to go on even when you think you can’t do anymore. The one who challenges you to do one more push up, or to do one more weightlifting rep, or to run one more mile.  And in the midst of those times when we are being pushed to continue on, we may even become annoyed with that training buddy, but we know that we need them. If we are going to run this race, we need them in our lives.

In these verses the author says do not neglect meeting together as is the habit of some. We need to realize how important we are in one another’s lives. When we come together it is not just about singing a few worship songs and listening to a sermon.  The times that we get together are opportunities for us to connect with one another and become a body, so that we can be in position to speak truth into one another’s lives and encourage each other, and correct one another’s theology and help each other stay strong in the midst of weaknesses and hold each other accountable, because enduring through a life long walk with Christ is hard.

If all we look at church as is a place to sing some worship songs and to hear a sermon, then church hopping, or occasional attendance, or staying on the periphery, or even just catching sermons online and listening to worship songs in our car can take the place of that kind of church.

But this passage is telling us that there is more to church than that. We need each other. We need the relationships within the church to help us endure. We need to recognize that we are running a marathon, not a sprint. And while it may seem easy today, there will be days ahead that will not be as easy.  So let’s not give up meeting together, but rather let’s intentionally develop the kind of relationships with one another where we can encourage each other and spur one another on in this ultra-marathon of life.

Kiss One Another

pexel kissDid you know that there are about 59 one another statements in the New Testament that specifically deal with how we are to be in relationship with each other?

Some of the verses overlap so that there are more than one verse about the same instruction.  15 of the 59 verses specifically talk about how we are to love one another.  That is the most talked about one another topic.  The next two most referenced one another instructions are tied with 4 each.  One of them is to encourage one another and the other is the instruction is to kiss one another.

In 2 Corinthians 13 we read: 11 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. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you. 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  (2 Cor. 13:11-14 ESV)

In these verses Paul instructs the church to greet one another with a holy kiss.  That instruction is mentioned four separate times in the New Testament making it one of the top three most talked about instructions among the one another passages.  We find it mentioned in Romans 16, I Corinthians 16, and I Peter 5 as well as here.

Paul actually gives us several instructions in this passage about how we are to relate to one another.   He is probably summing up what he has said in this letter with a few perfunctory statements about how they were to live.

He tells them to rejoice, to be restored, to comfort one another, to agree with one another and to live in peace.  Overall there seems to be a common theme of unity that is to exemplify the way they treat one another.

And then he tells them to greet one another with a holy kiss.  Apparently the early church used that method to greet one another.  In the ancient world this was not uncommon and actually today in many societies it continues to be a tradition.  However, in the early church it appears that the kiss was meant to signify the special union that they had with one another in Christ as part of one family.  Notice it is a holy kiss.  It was not meant in a sexual way at all.  It is devoid of that kind of emotional desire or intent.  It is a different kind of kiss that symbolizes the unity and intimacy that they have with one another in the Lord.

So is this something we should do?  I am not suggesting that we should start this practice, but when I read this and picture the early church greeting one another the image I have is of a church that was excited and happy to see one another.  I picture a church that was so invested in one another’s lives that they were like family.  I picture a church that had gone deeper into an intimate relationship with one another than we would typically consider with the church in our society today.  I picture a church that truly loved and cared for each other.  I picture a church that had authentic, real relationships with one another.

So while I might not be that interested in beginning a tradition of kissing one another, I do like that intimate family like picture of the church.  I like the depth of intimacy I see in this passage.  And I would love to see that at The River.  That is my challenge for us as a church family.

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