Merry Christmas 2010

Today is Christmas. It’s a day that families get together; a day that gifts are exchanged; a day that, most importantly, we celebrate the birth of our Savior. Christmas is a day that we remember that God became man; John 1:14 says the word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. And why did he appear? To destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). So why do we exchange gifts on Christmas?

Christmas is the time when God puts His money where His mouth is and sends His Son into this broken, fallen, messed up, crazy, hellish, imperfect world. Christmas is the time when we are given a gift that we did nothing to deserve and nothing to earn. This reality is greater than anything we ever imagined possible. Christmas is the time that we give gifts to remind us that God gave a gift greater than we could ever imagine 2000 years ago, despite the fact that we deserved death. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Modern American culture does its best to distract us from this fact; it tries to tell us we need the latest TV, the coolest clothes, the newest CD, and a million other things that will complete us. But the truth is, we have all we need in Christ. He is sufficient and He is the only place we will ever find true joy and true completion.

Looking to any other gifts that God gives us in this life to complete us is quite common; it’s called idolatry and God has been fighting it from the beginning (don’t believe me, look at the first of the Ten Commandments: Exodus 20:2-3; Deuteronomy 5:6-7). It kills me that my heart is so quick to wander, to look elsewhere, to cheat on my Savior. If I’m honest, I’ll realize that I’m the one missing out; I’m the one settling for less; I’m the one that’s being cheated.

So this Christmas, I encourage you to spend some time thinking about this priceless gift we’ve been given: The grace of God, the forgiveness of Sins, the promise of Life Everlasting.

Spend some time thanking God for what He’s done on your behalf.

Spend some time remembering.

The third day He rose again from the dead

(This is part nine of a multi-entry blog series exploring the Apostles’ Creed.)

This post will examine the most important event in human history. After Jesus died and was buried He stayed in the grave during the Sabbath (interesting) but

“The third day He rose again from the dead”

A couple entries ago I mentioned that Christ’s death on the cross was the second most important event in human history. His resurrection is the single most important event in human history. I was once told that, as an aspiring preacher, the only thing I should preach is the cross. That’s foolishness because there is far more to Jesus than his death on the cross! For example, His death on the cross would not have achieved the forgiveness of sins if He had not been divine, nor if He had sinned, etc. So while His death on the cross is very, very important, it’s not the only thing that is worth mentioning.

It would be impossible for me to overstate the importance of Jesus’ resurrection. But one secondary detail I think is worth addressing first. Some people will argue that Jesus was only in the grave for one day. They’ll say something like, “He died and was buried on Friday, He was in the tomb on Saturday, and then Sunday He rose from the dead. He was only dead one day!” That’s a very Western way of counting the days. The Eastern Jews of Jesus’ day would have counted Friday evening, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning as three days, which is why they said He was in the grave for three days.

But back to my main point: the significance of the resurrection. Why do I say this is the greatest event in human history? Well, I’ll give you three reasons.

First, the resurrection is proof that God found Jesus to be a worthy sacrifice for our sins and that we have been forgiven. Romans 4:25 says plainly that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The NIV translates Romans 4:25 as, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” So we see that Christ died for our sins, but was resurrected for our justification. This may seem like a fine distinction, or even hair-splitting, but Romans 4:25 emphasizes the importance of Christ’s resurrection. Wayne Grudem puts it this way in Systematic Theology: “When Christ was raised from the dead, it was God’s declaration of approval of Christ’s work of redemption.”

Second, the resurrection gives us power to live a new life. We find that Jesus’ closest followers deserted Him once He was arrested (Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:50, John 16:32). In fact, one of His followers is so scared he runs off naked (Mark 14:51-52)! Peter, His most outspoken and devoted disciple follows Him “from a distance” after He’s been arrested (Matthew 26:58, Mark 14:54, Luke 22:54). Next Peter denies Jesus three times; once to a servant girl (Matthew 26:69-70, Mark 14:66-71, Luke 22:56-57, John 18:17). But at the beginning of Acts, we find this same Peter bold and outspoken (Acts 2:14). Peter is even arrested for preaching about Jesus and appears before the high priest and his council and refuses to stop sharing the Gospel (Acts 5:27-29). What caused this change in Peter? The resurrection! Peter encountered the Risen Christ and was never the same. Peter testifies to this in his own letter when he writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3). We are born again through the resurrection of Jesus. Romans 6:4 tells us that “we too might walk in newness of life.” That is the power of the resurrection.

Finally, Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope for our resurrection in the future. Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope that we will be united with Him through our death to sin, and resurrected like Him after we die (Romans 6:5). In fact, the resurrection is the only reason it makes sense to be a Christian (1 Corinthians 15:17). Paul goes so far as to say that Christians should be pitied if Jesus did not resurrect (1 Corinthians 15:19). Some people would say that, even if Jesus never really existed or was not really God, the way of Jesus is still the best way to life. Paul disagrees! Paul says we are to be pitied more than all men! That hardly sounds like Paul would agree with that teaching. Fortunately, Jesus did resurrect and we can have the hope that we will be raised in glory, just as Christ rose from the dead in glory (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). This is the kind of hope that gives us “glorious and inexpressible joy” (1 Peter 1:8). This is the kind of hope that gives a married couple the strength to face terminal brain cancer; the kind of hope that keeps a single mom going when it feels like the weight of the world is about to crush her; the kind of hope that saves marriages; the kind of hope that heals soldiers with PTSD; the kind of hope that keeps Christians faithful in the face of temptations, suffering, and persecution; the kind of hope that can change the world. Praise God for the hope that He gives us through His Son!

Building a Life Worth Living: Building off of the Maker’s Designs

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. –Proverbs 19:21
And we come to it…planning.  I consider myself a “do-er”; that is, a person who must always be moving.  ALWAYS.  Especially now facing all the constant struggles that I do, I’m always looking, listening, analyzing…PLANNING.
“If X happens, then I’ll do Y, or if X doesn’t happen, then I’ll do B.”  It’s exhausting and it feels almost like manipulation.  
Life, according to the world, is nothing but a series of plans to be made and executed with all the fervor and efficiency our humanity has to offer. And we love to plan, don’t we? Even as believers, we get very motivated and focused on the plan; the road that leads us to the end of the task; the accomplishment of a mission that satisfies some deeply rooted need to succeed and be counted; to make our mark. And while this, in itself, may produce a well-intended work that bears good fruit, we are keenly aware and reminded of our particular failings as people – EVEN WHEN WE SUCCEED. We love to follow plans and we are good at it, but whose plan are we following exactly?
How many of us have had good plans; Even plans for ministry?  I am talking about intense, call-of-God type plans that compel us to action in various ways, sometimes life-altering and always purposeful. Ever have those?
How many of us, once the plan is in motion, suddenly realize that we have decided to take the reigns and steer the direction of that plan? At some point, we forget where our purpose, and our help, comes from.  I’ve known for some time now, that my tenure in the U.S. Air force is coming to a close.  The timing of that is still in question, but it is much sooner than I expected.  So, being the man in perpetual motion, I started to take action to secure my future!  I pursued a position in the secular community – for profit, for comfort, for security.  Then, despite a phenomenal interview and all signs pointing towards a safe and secure job…I was turned down – kind of…
So, after much prayer and a gentle reminding of my call to ministry, I re-vectored and am back on that unsecure, SCARY path that the Living God has called me to.  The hard road.  But, it’s in that uncertainty that I find hope, it is in that uncertainty that I find peace, it is in that uncertainty that I find my place!

Jeremiah 29:11 Says, “For I know the PLANS i have for you, says the Lord, plans for a future and a hope…”
If you notice that what MORGAN has planned is nowhere in that statement from the Almighty…not anywhere.
Ok, Ok, I get it, He has my best interests in mind…but what does that mean, why am I still tortured by a past I cannot forget…
1st Peter 1:5-9 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Remember, that for each of us out there who knows him, there are many others who do not. He has his heart set on those people; those who suffer in hopelessness. So how do we know that our plan is also God’s plan? Well, that is the question isn’t it? I am not sure there is a perfect answer apart from the generic ‘pray about it’ answer you might find in the coffee area of church on Sunday. I do know one thing though: If our plan is focused more on serving the lost and suffering and less on serving ourselves and our ambitions, well then it is probably mostly God.
The funny thing is, God will let us carry out our own plans until we see that His way really is the ONLY way!  Funny how he does that, isn’t it!?

My Advent Experience

Last Monday, Connie’s alarm went off at 4:30 A.M. so she could go to the gym before it gets crowded. Great! I love the fact that my wife works out and that she has the discipline to get out of bed so early; I support her wholeheartedly. She also does this so she can get an early start on the day; once again, a great thing. My alarm goes off an hour later, at 5:30 so that I can go to the gym an hour before unit PT and get some extra time at the gym. Usually I fall back asleep almost instantly. However every now and then I have trouble falling back asleep.

That was me last Monday.

I tossed and turned for an hour. My mind had already initiated and now I was thinking about the day/week ahead, going to the gym, all the things I needed to get done that week. I had this sense of expectation that my alarm was about to go off any second. I was just waiting for it so I could get my day started. So I just laid there waiting. Pretty soon sleep was impossible and all I wanted was for my alarm to go off.

I think this is a lot like Advent.

The word “advent” comes from a Latin word, adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.” According to Wikipedia: “The theme of readings and teachings during Advent is often to prepare for the Second Coming while commemorating the First Coming of Christ at Christmas. With the view of directing the thoughts of Christians to the first coming of Jesus Christ as savior and to his second coming as judge, special readings are prescribed for each of the four Sundays in Advent.”

The other day I just knew that at any second my alarm was about to go off. I was certain of it and I think we are called to feel the same way about Jesus’ return. Many Jews had this feeling about the coming of the Messiah; they waited on it, they prayed for it, and they prepared for it. We’re supposed to be the same.

Advent is a season that celebrates that which has already been fulfilled and looks forward to that which will one day be fulfilled. It celebrates the birth of Christ as Savior in this world. It looks forward to the return of Christ as Judge to this world.

He descended into Hell.

(This is part eight of a multi-entry blog series exploring the Apostles’ Creed.)

This entry examines a line of the Apostles’ Creed that has troubled Christians for years:

“He descended into hell.”

This entry is going to be a little different than all the others before it. Why do I say that this verse has troubled Christians? Well…. it’s not Biblical! In fact, it could easily be considered counter-Biblical. In Luke 23:43, while dying on the cross, Jesus says to one of the thieves next to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus pretty clearly states three things in this statement:

  1. The thief will be in Paradise.
  2. Jesus will be with him.
  3. It’s going to happen that very day!

Also, Jesus says in John 19:30, “It is finished.” Which implies that Jesus did not need to suffer further by going to hell. Finally, when Jesus dies in Luke 23:46, He says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus is very clearly going to join His Father in Heaven at this point.

We quickly see that there is very little allowance for Jesus to go to hell. Some could argue that Jesus became omnipresent and was able to go to Hell and Heaven at the same time. Dr. Wayne Grudem very strongly opposes this line of the creed in an article that originally appeared in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 34, called “He Did Not Descend Into Hell: A Plea For Following Scripture Instead Of The Apostles’ Creed” (if you’d like to read the entire article, it’s available here). I’ll just share a couple quotes that I found particularly helpful concerning the development of this line of the Apostles’ Creed:

  • the Apostles’ Creed was not written or approved by a single Church council at one specific time. Rather, it gradually took shape from about A.D. 200 to 750.
  • until A.D. 650 no version of the Creed included this phrase with the intention of saying that Christ “descended into hell.” The only version to include the phrase before 650 gives it a different meaning. [It meant simply that he went into the grave.]

Dr. Grudem’s article concludes with this: “Unlike every other phrase in the Creed, it represents not some major doctrine on which all Christians agree but rather a statement about which most Christians seem to disagree. It is at best confusing and in most cases misleading for modern Christians. My own judgment is that there would be all gain and no loss if it were dropped from the Creed once for all.”

I know what you’re thinking at this point, “But hey, weren’t we going to be looking at major doctrinal sections that all Christians agree on? Did you say this was all upper-tier stuff in the Creed?” And perhaps more importantly, “What do we do with that? Does it even matter?”

I think this shows us two important things.

First and foremost, this shows us that over a long enough span of time, false teachings can, like a little bit of yeast in a batch of dough, spread and become pervasive. The Apostles’ Creed developed over a long span of time:  about 550 years! That’s longer than the United States of America has even existed! That is a long, long time. Over time, things can creep in to a church that are simply false; then people just cling to false doctrine because, like a loyal pet, it’s always been there as long as they can remember.

Second, this shows us that we must examine everything in light of Scripture; even something that we take for granted like the Apostles’ Creed. We must always listen and look. First you listen to those around you in teaching positions and then compare what they teach you to what the Bible says; do they match up? Listen and look!