March 25, 2013

10 Reasons Jesus Rose from the Dead

Here's your annual reminder ...

Jesus died the most excruciating of deaths – hanging on a cross, suffocating to death as His dangling body gasped for every breath. And He did it for us sinners – to save us from our sins! But, of course, that was not the end of the story. No! On the third day, this same Jesus rose from the dead. Really! He bodily, physically rose from the grave where He lay, and now He reigns forever at the right hand of God! And that resurrection, while being a happy ending to Jesus’ life on this earth, was surely far more than just a happy ending. His resurrection unleashed so many of the blessings that come to God’s believing people … blessings we would not possess were Jesus not literally, bodily resurrected.

So, I say, the resurrection is not just the Bible’s version of ‘they all lived happily ever after.’ It’s a vital fact of history, and serves as the fountainhead for so much of what Christians hold most dear. Think it out with me. The resurrection of Jesus ...

1. Reminds us that Jesus really was dead. He did not merely appear dead. He literally, physically died ... therefore we are surely forgiven!

2. Proves that Jesus really was who He said He was (Romans 1.4). Not just a great religious leader; not merely a great teacher … but the very Son of God! There have been many great men. But they are all dead, proving themselves mere mortals. Jesus, however, is alive and well, demonstrating Himself to be the very Son of God!

3. Proves that the cross worked (Romans 4.25). Remember why Jesus died? So that sin might be forgiven and death (which results from sin) might be finally defeated. But, had Jesus not risen, how could we be sure that death had been defeated? And if we’re not sure death has been defeated, how can we be sure that sin (which causes death) had really been forgiven? Thank God we do not have to long ponder those questions – for Jesus is risen indeed! See also 1 Cor. 15.17.

4. Proves that the Scripture is accurate (1 Cor. 15.3-4). The Old Testament prophesied the resurrection 700 years in advance (see Isaiah 53.10). The New Testament confirms it. The Bible is, therefore, not a book of fairy tales and false prophecies … but an amazing collection of absolute truth! See also Luke 18.31-33.

5. Proves that God is all powerful (2 Cor. 13.4a). Nothing is more irreversible than death. But God reversed it!

6. Reminds us that Christ has triumphed over the devil (Ephesians 1.20-21). Just when the devil thought he'd won, Jesus rose and held a victory parade in enemy streets!

7. Ensures that we, too, will someday rise from the dead (1 Cor. 15.23). We are one with Christ. What happens to Him happens to us ... including bodily resurrection. See also 1 Thess. 4.14, 2 Cor. 4.14, 1 Cor. 6.14.

8. Ensures that we have new life here and now (Romans 6.4-6). Christ has new life. Someday we will too. But even now, we have been given new hearts and new starts … because of the resurrection.

9. Ensures that Jesus can continue ministering to us. Because He is alive, He can intercede for us (Romans 8.34, Hebrews 7.25). Because He is alive, He can save us (Acts 3.26). Because He is alive, and appeared to Paul in Acts 9, we have all the various books we have been quoted from above (Paul's letters). Thank God we do not worship a dead Savior, but one who ever lives, and can still help us!

10. Gives us a reason to celebrate on Easter Sunday … and every Lord’s Day. The reason Christians worship and take their Sabbath rest on Sunday (as opposed to the Old Testament Saturday) is because Sunday is the greatest day of all … the day Christ rose from the dead!

So there you have it. Ten reasons to fall down and worship this (and every) Sunday!

March 24, 2013

What we do at 11AM on Sundays

In the middle of 1 Chronicles 16 is a beautiful poem of David (or perhaps of Asaph, his chief worship leader). It’s a song about what God’s people should do when in a setting of corporate worship. It’s a description of how to act in the Lord’s presence, in the Lord’s house. For us, then, it’s a kind of blueprint for how we should act at 11:00am each Sunday (or whenever your church meets for corporate worship). Let me walk you though it…

1. "Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name" (29a). In essence, we are to speak well and much of the LORD when we are in His house on His day. He should be our topic of conversation in the car, and in the hallway before the worship service. Our lips should be filled with good things to say about God all morning long. Maybe we recount what He’s taught us this week. Maybe we discuss the sermon or SS lesson. Certainly we ought all to sing with full hearts…and think about what we are saying about our God! Sundays at 11:00am are about speaking well and much about our God!

2. "Bring and offering, and come before Him" (29b). We should not come to Sunday at 11:00 empty-handed, but with an offering of money, or service, or praise. Indeed, remembering that everything we give was first given us by God, we should be offering ourselves to the LORD  all week long…with Sunday as the culmination!

3. "Worship the LORD in holy array" (29c). “Array” is another word for clothing. Here it is used in a figurative sense. In other words…worship the LORD wrapped in a garment of holiness. Come to the LORD with a clean robe on your back. Pursue godliness all week long. And when you fail (which you often will), confess your sins and be cleansed afresh before meeting with the LORD in His house. Cleansed afresh through the mercy of Christ! That’s why we pause for confession of sin during the pastoral prayer...that we might come before the Lord in the garments of holiness that He Himself has made white!

4. "Tremble before Him, all the earth" (30a). Reverence the LORD. The presence of God in the house of God is not the place for silliness and slapstick. God is in heaven. And this giant earth (on which you and I are dust mites) is His footstool. Therefore we ought to tremble at even the thought of God…much more when we enter His presence. Are you trembling today?—with both reverence & anticipation—at the prospect of meeting with God?

5. "Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice" (31a). Joy and gladness should be the theme of our times together with the LORD. We tremble at His greatness and holiness…and we leap for joy at His mercy and kindness! Yes, we may have heavy hearts some days … and the Lord knows that, and has compassion. But there can be a deep-seated, hopeful joy in our hearts, alongside the tears. So the call to joy is not a call to phony smiles. But it is a call away from self-pity, hopelessness, and (perhaps worst of all) mere religious routine. What a tragedy if our faces…or worse yet our singing…should betray that we think God is boring, or run-of-the-mill, or incapable of meeting our deepest needs. How often I am guilty of this. Let’s not be today!

6. "Let them say among the nations, 'The LORD reigns'” (31b). Did you catch that? We ought not just speak well of the LORD to one another (as in #1). We ought also to speak well of Him among the nations! We come here and are fed every Sunday at 11:00am so that we might tell the nations and the neighborhoods about the wondrous love of Jesus! When’s the last time you told a co-worker or family member something specific about the LORD, His goodness, and His plan of salvation? Maybe something you hear or see in God today will be just what needs passing along!

For all these reasons (and many more) 11:00 on Sunday is the greatest hour of the week. Let us make the most of every moment!

March 12, 2013

Ducks, Dots, and Rest in God

Anyone who knows me at all will say that it is no secret that I like to have all my ducks in a row; all my i’s dotted and t’s crossed. It’s a serious enough felt need that I used to organize the church’s coat hangers by color (until I replaced them with all white to save myself the trouble and annoyance!).

I like all my books to be in the right places; all my bills to be paid well ahead of time; all the items checked off my to-do list at the end of every day. It doesn’t always happen, of course. But I do my best to leave myself with as few loose ends in my life as possible. And, sometimes, that can be a good thing. It can help me be reliable for other people; give me a decent credit score; and help me sleep at night, feeling that everything is under control.

But control can also be an idol – a kind of drug which, when we are unable to get it, drives us to irritability, irrationality, and sometimes great anxiety. And I don’t know that I ever realized how hooked a person can be until the last few weeks.

Recently – I trust through the wise providence of God – I have discovered that a number of my ducks have gotten out of line. In a handful of areas of proper paperwork and record-keeping, I haven’t crossed all my t’s or dotted all my i’s. But I didn’t realize it. It’s almost like the unruly ducklings were hiding under the bed so that, though they were out of place, I didn’t even know they existed! The details are unimportant (and relatively minor in the grand scheme of things), but suffice it to say that I have realized in recent weeks that there were a number of loose ends that needed tying up; a number of situations over which I had not exercised my patented system of checks, balances, and (most of all) control. And sometimes, when the ducks have wandered so far afield, it is very difficult to get every last one of them back into single file again – perhaps impossible.

That realization has really thrown me for a loop. You mean there are actually areas of my life which I thought I had under control, but which were actually botched and confused? I understand not being able to control car wrecks, and sickness, and world politics … but these are things that I had a firm grip on (or so I thought). And now I feel like I’ve woken up in the middle of a gigantic mess … one whose far flung splatters cannot possibly be all cleaned up to my satisfaction. I don’t have ultimate control!

Some years ago, a friend of ours walked down the stairs to discover that her sons had turned the basement floor into a makeshift Slip-and-Slide … using blue paint as a substitute for water! Years later, and after a great deal of clean-up, she was still discovering little splatters of blue pigment hiding here and there in various corners and crevices! That’s how I feel about my paperwork ducklings. I’ll never get everything fixed the way I want it; the way I think it must be.

But why must it be a certain way? Why must I be able to cross all the t’s? Why must I dot all the i’s? There are some good, and I hope, honorable reasons for wanting to do things the right way. And doing things the right way is not at all to be set aside as unimportant. But perhaps as much as anything, I am realizing that my thirst for control and order and detail has become a mechanism for not needing to trust God. If I have everything in order, I can go home at night, prop my feet up on the couch, read a good book, and have not a care in the world … and all of that with or without God.

Now, of course, I wouldn’t normally say it to myself quite like that: ‘I’m doing all these things and tying up all these loose ends so that I don’t have to trust the Lord.’ And I certainly haven’t taken up that pattern as a way of intentionally avoiding Him. But the root of having to have control over so many different details is a desire to trust someone I know I can count on – namely myself! And that has become painfully obvious as I’ve discovered more and more splotches of splattered paint that I’m finding nearly impossible to get cleaned up to my satisfaction. It all feels so, well, out of control … and it’s tied me in knots at times.

But are things out of control, really? Don’t I preach that God is sovereign over all things? That He not only turns all things for good, but actually means, and works, and designs them according to His own wise plans? I do. God is in control. And I believe that … in my head at least. But am I, on the strength of God’s control of my life, able to come home at night, prop my feet on the couch, and enjoy my wife and children without worries and fears? Am I able to rest in God … or only when I myself am in control?

These are hard questions. I know that I have not fully worked my way to the bottom of them yet (and may never, fully, in this life). I’m not even certain that, in these few lines of typeface, I am adequately communicating all that is in my heart. But I’ve been realizing, and wrestling with, and needing to repent of these things for several weeks now … and I thought it might be helpful to me (and maybe to a few of you) for me to allow my various thoughts to spill out onto the page – even if, like blue paint, I don’t have them all quite lined up in the right places yet.

The summary, I think, is just this: Very often – at least in my own experience – the desire for control; the insatiable quest to have all the ducks in single file is actually a mechanism for not having to trust in a God who knows and does far better than I … but whom, alas, I cannot see; and whose wise ordering of my affairs must be taken by faith, not sight.

I wish I could have learned these things without the recent set of unsettling circumstances. I wish, in other words, that I could have controlled the timing and severity of this lesson! How’s that for irony? But, ah, God is a better teacher than me. May we all learn to trust, more and more, in Him.

March 5, 2013

God's Gift

“He thinks he’s God’s gift to women!” There’s a phrase that I heard not a few times growing up (not about myself, mind you!). It referred to a fellow who (wrongly) saw himself as a real-life Casanova, believing that women should be falling all over themselves to get a date with him! Maybe you’ve met one or two of these guys yourself. Maybe you’ve used the telling description with which I’ve began.

But I want you to know that there is something really healthy about desiring to be “God’s gift”—though probably not for Mr. Pick-up line! Listen to what Huram, king of the neighboring land of Tyre, said about Solomon when he became king of Israel:

"Because the LORD loves His people, He has made you king over them." 2 Chronicles 2.11.

Translation: ‘You’re God’s gift to the people of Israel.’ Huram saw something in Solomon that was going to make a great king. Namely he saw Solomon’s wisdom, his desire for justice, and his desire to serve the Lord faithfully. So he said: ‘You’re God’s gift’—“because the LORD loves His people, He has made you king over them.”

I thought about that this past week. Wouldn’t it be great if that could be said about me—as a husband, father, pastor, and friend? Wouldn’t it be great if that could be said about you: “Because the LORD loves His people, he has made you” dad, mom, church member, Sunday School Teacher, deacon, usher, nursery volunteer, etc. on their behalf’?

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be “God’s Gift”—so long as we recognize that the one who receives the gift is far more important that the gift itself. A man loves his wife more than the diamond necklace he buys for her. God loved His people—so he gave them the gift of Solomon! A gift is merely a tool in the hand of another, but has no greatness of its own to boast in.

So it is healthy to consider yourself as “God’s Gift” if you believe that being so means you are simply a servant of other people; if you believe that those you serve are more important than you; if your happiness comes from simply being a gift—not from being recognized as a gift.

There is no questioning that the LORD loves His people. The question is: Are you the kind of wise, faithful, humble servant that He might be pleased to give to your family, friends, and church as His gift?