Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Easter 2021 – He is risen!

Jesus at His tomb with Mary Magdalene

Matthew 28 (ESV) – He Is Risen

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.

But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”

So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.

The Women Worship the Risen Lord

And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. 10

The tough work of prayer

Prayer is like a battle. The enemy is constantly placing barriers in your way to keep you from reaching your final objective.

Life is a series of continual distractions that make it difficult to find time to commune with God. Even if one manages to slip away to a quiet place for a few minutes, odds are they will find themselves distracted by thoughts about what lies ahead in their day or week. I’ve heard so many people complain, “My days are so busy I just can’t find time to pray.”  In reality, if you have a busy day ahead you can’t afford not to pray. Paul’s epistle to the Church at Philippi says:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7

This is tough advice!  Who, after all, is not anxious about something, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?  And how difficult is it to present your prayers to God with thanksgiving in every situation? “Dear God, I thank you for allowing me to crash my car into that tree yesterday.”  Prayer is tough work indeed.

The nation has just gone through a painful, extraordinarily divisive presidential election process. The political rhetoric is still turned up to near the boiling point. Political disagreements have resulted in many friendships ending and have even caused divorces. Sometime it feels like the entire world has gone mad amidst the name calling, threats, riots, burning and looting. Many politicians will tell you that they have the answers to all our problems, but they don’t. Only God can fix this mess!

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  —Psalm 121:1-2

More than any time in recent history, America’s Christians need to join together in praying for our nation and those whom have been elected to serve. So, what about that politician from the “other” party?  Should you pray for him or her?  “God, please help this idiot to see how wrong he is.”  Well, not exactly.  You can certainly pray that the Holy Spirit would convict the individual politician to make decisions that honor God, especially politicians who profess to be Christ followers.   

If you have a beef with a particular politician—get over it.  I don’t mean this in the traditional fashion that contemporary culture says “get over it.”  I mean that, as Christians, we are obliged to forgive those who have trespassed against us, just as we pray to God to forgive us our own sins.      

“In Jesus, we experience freedom not only from sin and its hold on us but also from guilt, shame, worry, Satan’s lies, superstitions, false teaching, and eternal death. No longer hostages, we have freedom to show love to enemies, walk in kindness, live with hope, and love our neighbors. As we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, we can forgive as we’ve been forgiven” —Patricia Raybon, Our Daily Bread

Now here’s where it really gets difficult.  Not only are we told to “forgive as we’ve been forgiven,” but in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to love our enemies:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. —Matthew 5:43-45

Is there a politician or other leader whose behavior absolutely disgusts you?  If so, think of that person, then pray for him or her. Really!  Pray that God will soften their heart.  It they profess to be a Christian, ask God to fill them with the Holy Spirit.

Since 2001, The Presidential Prayer Team has been the source thousands of Americans have turned to for encouragement and inspiration to pray for America’s leaders. It is a non-partisan organization.  I encourage you click the “About Us” link below to visit their website and sign up for the daily prayer alerts.

A Prayer for Good Leaders

Father God, good leaders, come from you. Lord, this nation needs leaders with discerning hearts and wise minds. I beseech you today asking you today to give us wise leaders that will lead this nation in the right direction. Remove wrong people that are corrupt and living against your word from influential positions. Let our leaders be people who honor your holy name for it is only from you that they will get true wisdom. It is in the mighty name of Jesus that we believe and pray, Amen. —Anonymous

Saying goodbye to a brother in arms

Until this year, Veterans Day had become a relatively mundane affair for me.  As a 24-year veteran of the US Army, I’ve had my share of “Thank you for your service,” free meals from a special menu at (name your restaurant), and 10% discounts “for one day only” at various stores.  However, after this year Veteran’s Day will never be the same, as it is henceforth the day I said goodbye to a brother in arms.

In 1981 my wife and I were assigned military quarters in a duplex on a hilltop overlooking Godman Army Airfield at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I was a young captain serving in the Field Artillery. The couple living on the other side of the unit was approaching the end of their tour of duty at Fort Knox. It wasn’t long before they were gone and a new family moved in.  Although we were unaware at the time, God’s hand was moving in our lives by giving us these new neighbors.

Bill and Susan were a unique couple.  Susan was a former Army officer and a member of the last generation of the Women’s Army Corps—the women’s element of the US Army. The WAC, as it was called, was disbanded in 1978, and all units were integrated with male units. Bill, or “Flip” as he was better known to many of his friends, was a figure larger than life. He was a soldier’s soldier—what every professional soldier aspires to be.  Commissioned as an Infantry officer, Flip was highly decorated in Vietnam, winning a Silver Star for valor in action against the enemy, two Purple Hearts in recognition of his status as a twice-wounded soldier, the Legion of Merit, and two Vietnam Crosses of Gallantry. He also earned the Ranger tab and a coveted Combat Infantryman Badge, or C.I.B., in recognition as his service as an Infantryman in combat. When I met him, Flip was an officer in the Army’s Aviation Branch, a helicopter pilot flying Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters, better known as “the Huey.” I was in awe!

Despite my being 10+ years younger and of lesser rank, Flip never let that stand between us.  He quickly became both a friend and mentor. Most importantly, he was a man of God.  Flip had a deep faith that he was not shy about sharing with others. He and Susan introduced my wife Linda and me to the Anglican form of liturgical worship, which eventually led to us becoming Anglicans ourselves. What a wonderful gift!  Bill and Susan would later become the godparents of our two daughters and, in turn, their two children would become like daughters to us.

My friend Flip died on August 21, 2020. During this time of pandemic, we were fortunate to participate in his online memorial service on Veterans Day.  Like too many Vietnam veterans, late in life Flip suffered numerous ailments connected with his military service.  The brave men and women who served in Vietnam are quickly declining in numbers today—many have reached their 70’s and 80’s and there are even a few in their 90’s. They deserve our thanks and admiration, as well as the Veterans Administration’s medical support and other services that a grateful nation owes them.

For those who might have served as Army officers at Ft. Knox, KY in the early 1980’s, you’ll understand when I tell you that Flip and I often shared time together at the Fiddler’s Green.  But unlike forlorn cavalrymen in the poem by the same name, who are eternally destined to quench their thirst at an old-time canteen, the passing of my friend is no cause for sorrow or melancholy.  It’s a time for celebrating a life lived for God, family and country.  As with the passing of every Christian brother in arms whom I’ve bid a similar farewell, I rest assured knowing that I’ll see Flip again on that day when Christ restores all things on Earth to the original order that God intended. His departure leaves us with an emptiness which only Flip could fill, but we take comfort in assurance of the glorious reunion to come. Until that day, rest in peace brother!

In Memoriam

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) William John Filippini

August 26, 1944 – August 21, 2020

Fiddler’s Green

Feed My Sheep

The Good Shepherd (C.1650-60) by Philippe de Champaigne

My recent work with a struggling young man in my community has provided me a stark reminder of the reality of hunger in America. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food security as “having access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.”  According to USDA figures, 10.5 percent of American households in 2019 lacked proper food security. While the government’s 2020 food security figures are not yet available, indications are that this year’s numbers will be much higher.  The primary reason for this is the sharp increase in national unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the map below shows, the food insecurity problem is widespread.

As a state workforce developer in Pennsylvania, I worked with hundreds of clients who had recently lost their jobs.  Food security was often a major concern of these displaced workers. Many had small children at home, making their situations even more dire.  More recently, as a volunteer job coach working with the elderly, I discovered that food security is a major concern for many of my clients. My typical client is age 70 or older, dependent upon a Social Security check of less than a thousand dollars a month as their primary income, and frequently has to decide between purchasing expensive prescription drugs or food, as they lack sufficient income to pay for both with what remains after paying the rent or mortgage.  

While the mission of Christ’s church is to spread the Gospel, it’s difficult to convey the Good News to someone with a growling, empty stomach. Jesus clearly recognized this. By feeding the five thousand in the miracle of the loaves described in John 6, Jesus provided for the physical needs of the crowd.  The very next day, he called Himself the “Bread of Life.” (John 6:35). Clearly, one needs food in the belly in order to be more open to partaking of the Bread of Life.  The level of involvement in feeding the needy varies significantly from church to church.  Many get involved in collecting and distributing holiday food baskets for the needy.  While this is a wonderful thing, such baskets only cover a few days of the annual 365 that people need to eat. Much more is needed.   

Food banks and pantries exist across the country to help support food security. Typically, a food bank supports a region (such as a county), while local food pantries serve small towns or communities within larger towns/cities. According to the non-profit organization Feeding America, a food bank is a non-profit that safely stores thousands to millions of pounds of food for bulk distribution to local food programs, like food pantries. Food banks come in all different sizes. In contrast, food pantries receive food shipments from food banks and run food distribution programs where hungry families can receive food directly. Pantries feed hundreds of people per week! Because every community is different, there are many different types of pantries. It is common for a food pantry to operate from inside a community school or church. Some areas even have mobile food pantries to serve seniors with limited mobility or rural communities with little transportation.  Some pantries require the clients to demonstrate financial need, while others serve anyone who shows up. Some communities also have food kitchens, where the needy can eat a hot, nutritious meal.

Churches and individuals can help their local food banks, pantries and kitchens in a number of ways by donating money and by volunteering their time. Check directly with your local organizations to ascertain the best way to help each. A general rule of thumb is that monetary donations are preferable to food, as it enables the organization to spend where the need is greatest. Another general rule is that volunteers are always needed; this is particularly so during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many food banks, pantries and kitchens have adopted special precautions for COVID-19.  Those who might wish to volunteer should check with their local organization(s) to determine if they are comfortable volunteering in light of the precautions that have been adopted. In any case, I encourage you to reach out as you can to support food security in America. As James 2:15-16 tells us, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

Jesus feeds the five thousand, John 6:1-13 (NIV).  Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.  Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.  When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So, they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

Do not let your hearts be troubled

Jesus Watches Mary of Bethany Weeping at His Tomb

In John 14, Jesus’ disciples are troubled by the Lord’s words and behavior.  In John 13, Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and tells them that one who wishes to be a leader must be the servant of all.  He informs them that he is going away to a place where they cannot follow, foreshadowing his crucifixion, death and resurrection. Jesus tells them that one of the disciples will betray him. Finally, he tells Peter that he will deny Jesus three times. By this time, all the disciples are pretty shaken.  But next Jesus reassures and comforts them saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1) *.  He then goes on to explain that He is going away to prepare a place for them in heaven.

Such comforting words are needed today. The entire country is politically supercharged over the upcoming election.  Harsh words are spoken on both sizes of the aisle. Violent protests fill the streets of many major cities nightly. I continually hear people from the left, right, and middle expressing fears and worries over the future of America. This shouldn’t be a concern for Christians.

Here’s a news flash. The upcoming election has already been decided. The future of America has already been decided. Despite the hate and chaos, God’s divine plan is unfolding just as he wills it. The Father’s plan for Christ followers is the same as Jesus plan for His disciples.  He is preparing a place for Christians in Heaven. This plan was established before the Earth was created. It may seem to sometimes that God is moving slowly, but he isn’t.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. –2 Peter:8-9

Time is a perception that humans use to help wrap their minds around what occurs in life, but time is meaningless to God.  We see this clearly in Exodus 3:14, when God tells Moses that God’s name is “I am.”  We see this in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”  Mike Bennett, who writes for the Christian website Life, Hope and Truth, explains it like this:

The Bible tells us God “calls those things which do not exist as though they did” (Romans 4:17). In other words, God’s plans are so sure that it is as if they had already happened. So, when the One who became Jesus Christ volunteered to die for our sins from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), it was as if He had already been slain. Jesus also described other things that were planned “from the foundation of the world,” and they are just as sure. “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34).

“My spirit shakes with terror. How long God, how long? from Psalm 6

Rest assured that God is in control and nothing can change that. No matter what appears to be happening, God’s divine plan is unfolding just as He conceived it before creation. For many this is a difficult concept to grasp. Jesus is the key to God’s plan.  This is stated plainly in John 1:1-5, where John describes Jesus like this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

If you are a Christian and find yourself fretting over the coming election or other events occurring in the nation, I encourage you to read (or reread) the Gospel of John.  I guarantee you will find great comfort in its words.  Even if you are not a Christ follower, I encourage you to read the Gospel of John and carefully consider its words, for it is a guide to eternity.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” –John 6:68.

* All Bible passages are NIV.

Simplifying Life: the Pareto Principle

Pareto Principle

When I was working as a management consultant, one of my favorite lessons to convey to clients was the Pareto Principle, which is also known as the 80-20 Rule.  The principle was named for the 19th century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that an 80-20 percent relationship applied to many practical aspects of life. For instance, about 80 percent of nonprofit donations come from 20 percent of the donor base.  About 80 percent of sales come from 20 percent of your client base. 

The application of the 80-20 Rule I most like is that about 80 percent of the work on a project is accomplished through 20 percent of the effort.  For example, if it takes five hours to detail a car, you can finish 80 percent of the job in about an hour.  The remaining 20 percent of the tasks will take four hours to complete.  The lesson learned is that if you can accept something less than perfection in a practical task like vacuuming your house or maintaining your lawn, you can save yourself a lot of time and significantly simplify your life.

The Rev. Dr. Alexander Whyte (1836-1921), was a popular Scottish theologian in his day.  His biographer, G.F. Barbour tells an interesting story about Whyte’s encounter with a particular female parishioner who told him, “Dr. Whyte, I just love being in your presence. You are so saintly.”  Whyte replied, “Madam, if you could look into my soul, what you would see would make you spit in my face.”

While the Pareto Principle has many practical applications in everyday life, Rev. White knew that when it comes to God, giving 20 percent of yourself is not enough.  Whyte understood what Jesus means in Matthew 10:37-39 when he says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (ESV) 

Jesus wants all of you—not 20, or 80, or even 99 percent of you.  He makes this clear when He tells his disciples “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26, ESV)

It’s easy to give part of yourself to God.  You can attend church every Sunday, pray to Him every morning, and tithe 10 percent of your income. Outwardly you might appear saintly, as the Rev. Whyte appeared to his parishioner, but God sees inside us all.  Scottish Theologian Oswald Chambers said, “We are only what we are in the dark; all the rest is reputation. What God looks at is what we are in the dark—the imaginations of our minds, the thoughts of our heart, the habits of our bodies; these are the things that mark us in God’s sight.”  This is why, St. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12 (ESV), “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

God wants all of you. Therefore endeavor constantly to place Him first in every aspect of your life. And when you fail, as you inevitably will, seek His forgiveness.  As St. Paul encourages us in 2 Timothy 4:7, continue to fight the good fight.   

 

 

 

Stretch Yourself

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“It is perilously possible to make our conceptions of God like molten lead poured into a specially designed mould, and when it is cold and hard we fling it at the heads of the religious people who don’t agree with us.”  —Oswald Chambers

Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg are the co-principal investigators and co-directors of Project Information Literacy at the University of Washington Information School in Seattle. One of the areas they study is information overload and multi-tasking.

Since 2008 the pair has surveyed over 10,000 college students. One of their most significant findings is that, “Information is now as infinite as the universe, but finding the answers needed is harder than ever.”

In today’s complex, often confusing wilderness of digital information, it’s important that people periodically take time to slow down and think!  Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “Always keep in contact with those books and those people that enlarge your horizon and make it possible for you to stretch yourself mentally.”

I have to agree with his advice. I’ve found that a good way to slow down is to turn off the laptop or smartphone.  Instead, try engaging in meaningful conversations and reading.

My most meaningful conversations usually occur with my wife Linda.  She is one of the smartest people I know. Her logic and ability to find clarity in the midst of confusion have always amazed me. If she were the only person I ever talked with, my life would never lack for interesting, meaningful dialogue.

As for books, it’s hard to know where to begin, but I’d like to suggest a few good ones for Christians hoping to stretch their minds a little.  My top five, in no particular order are:

My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chambers, who died in 1917 at age 43, is widely regarded as one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. He wrote only three books in his lifetime, but there are many bearing his name.  They are the products of his devoted wife Gertrude, a professional stenographer who recorded all of Chambers’ sermons verbatim in shorthand.

My Utmost for His Highest is a book of daily devotions written by Mrs. Chambers. It draws from dozens of her husband’s sermons. First published in 1924, it is the most popular Christian devotional ever written.  The idea of total abandonment, i.e. completely surrendering one’s life to God, is at the center of its message. As the book’s title suggests, we must strive daily to do our utmost for God.

Chambers said, “We have the idea that we can dedicate our gifts to God. However, you cannot dedicate what is not yours. There is actually only one thing you can dedicate to God, and that is your right to yourself (see Romans 12:1). If you will give God your right to yourself, He will make a holy experiment out of you— and His experiments always succeed.”

The language of the original text is somewhat challenging for modern day readers due to its use of Scottish vernacular. Fortunately, there are versions available in modern English.  Personally, I find that working through the original version simply adds to the exercise of stretching my mind. When read as intended—one short devotion per day—this book will help you stretch yourself for an entire year.

Your God is too Small, by J.B. Phillips

J.B. Phillips was a canon of the Anglican Church.  He died in 1982.  His seminal work, Your God is Too Small, was published in 1952. According to Phillips, from childhood we are taught to package God in a tiny box conforming to our personal beliefs and preferences.  Look for all of the answers and you’ll find them by turning God into something simple and understandable. Phillips calls this “God in a box,” which is also the title of the book’s seventh chapter.

Oswald Chambers cautioned us against such shaping God in our own image, saying, “Our danger is to water down God’s word to suit ourselves. God never fits His word to suit me; He fits me to suit His word.” (Not Knowing Whither, 901 R).

David wrote in Psalm 8, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

Your God it too Small leads its readers through a series of intellectual exercises designed to expand their concept of the God who created the universe. If you find yourself marveling at God’s creation, unable to wrap your mind around it all, this book will help you see God in a totally different way.

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) is one of the most popular and prolific Christian authors and apologists who ever lived. He penned over 30 books.  Today he is best known for his classic series The Chronicles of Narnia, which have been transformed into an extremely successful series of films.

Originally published in 1942, The Screwtape Letters is arguably the Lewis’s most unusual book.  It is written in the format of a series of letters from an uncle attempting to mentor his young nephew through an important task. This would be nothing unusual, were it not for the fact that Screwtape is a senior demon and servant of Satan.  The letters are written to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter.  Wormwood has been given the task of ensuring the damnation of a British businessman who is referred to only as “the patient.”  Screwtape provides his nephew a clear strategy on how to undermine the patient’s faith and lead him into sin.

Lewis’s book is a dissertation on the human condition—a deep analysis of man’s inner makeup, with all of its strengths, frailties, temptations and struggles. Screwtape, through his keen understanding of human behavior, explains to Wormwood the best methods for ensuring the patient’s ultimate demise. The book paints an in-depth picture of spiritual warfare and the ultimate triumph of God.  It is guaranteed to make you think about your own inner self.

Luther:  Man between God and the Devil, by Heiko A. Oberman 

Originally published in German in 1982, this book is considered by many German scholars to be the most comprehensive biography every written on Martin Luther (1483-1546).  Luther was the central figure of the Protestant Reformation and remains one of the most influential theologians in history.

Even without the discussion of Luther, Oberman’s book would be worth reading just for its political, cultural and religious discussion of the Reformation.  However, it offers much, much more. Unlike many Luther biographers before him, Oberman attempts to describe Luther’s thoughts and deeds as something much more than just a medieval German monk who rebelled against the authority of the Catholic Church.

Oberman contends that Luther was convinced of the reality of the devil and viewed his own life as a continuous struggle against evil. (Not unlike The Screwtape Letters).  Luther viewed the world as an enormous battleground where God clashes with Satan. Approaching him from this angle lends a whole new perspective to Luther’s theology. This book is guaranteed to stretch your mind!

Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, edited by Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland

If you’re a middle-aged Christian like me you might recall hearing about a popular movement in the 80’s and 90’s centered on “the quest for the historical Jesus.” The movement, which still has some momentum today, was epitomized by the Jesus Seminar.  The Jesus Seminar was organized by the Weststar Institute in 1985.

According to the institute’s website, its purpose was to, “to renew the quest of the historical Jesus and to report the results of its research to the general public, rather than just to a handful of gospel specialists. Initially, the goal of the Seminar was to review each of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the gospels and determine which of them could be considered authentic.

The seminar began with a group of 30 Bible scholars, but eventually grew to around 200. Put simply, this movement was an attempt by Bible scholars, not necessarily Christian scholars, to refute the divinity of Jesus Christ by framing him in history as nothing more than a typical, popular Jewish teacher of his day.

Jesus Under Fire is a compilation of essays by eight prominent Christian apologists written to challenge the methodology and conclusions of the Jesus Seminar.  The book’s introduction describes the furor surrounding Jesus:

“Today some people say that Jesus never said most of what is recorded of him in the Bible.  Some pronounce further that Jesus never did most of what the Bible records he did.  They claim that Jesus of Nazareth was a far different figure than church history and the creeds have believed him to be.  Therefore, if we are to be intelligent people, even intelligent religious people, we must not simply accept what the Bible records Jesus claimed for himself and what the early church claimed him to be.  If we are to be truly modern in our religious quest, we must not simplistically hope that Jesus’ actions as they are recorded in the Bible are factual, or that they have any relevance for us today.  Jesus must be stripped of ancient myths that surround him as to what he said and did, so that the modern person can hear his true message.  Jesus must be brought down to earth from the status to which the early church elevated him, so that we can understand who he was as he walked under Palestinian skies and comprehend what, if any, religious relevance he has for us today.”

The chapter titles of Jesus Under Fire describe the authors’ response to the Jesus Seminar:

  • Where do we start studying Jesus?
  • Who is Jesus? An introduction to Jesus studies.
  • The words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive or Memorex?
  • What did Jesus do?
  • Did Jesus perform miracles?
  • Did Jesus rise from the dead?
  • Is Jesus the only way?
  • Jesus outside the New Testament: What is the Evidence?

This book is for serious mind stretchers only.  It is probably the most difficult book I have ever read…and reread.  I found each of the essays intellectually stimulating—the sort of stuff that makes me go back and reread each paragraph, underlining sentences as I go.  I spent about six months working my way through it the first time…and it was time well spent. I hope you will find it equally as enjoyable.

Give yourself a special gift this Christmas and start reading one of these wonderful books.  You won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

 

Simply Good News

Jesus on Cross

                                                            For I decided to know nothing among you,                                                                                                                  except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”                                                                                                                                        1 Corinthians 2:2 (ESV)

Life is becoming more and more complicated these days.  Wherever one turns he or she is met with new challenges.  Today’s new cars have more gadgets than did many airplanes just a few years ago. Simply watching television can require using several very different remote controls that must be used in a specific sequence to view the media one desires.  So-called smartphones often prove smarter than their users, leaving befuddled owners struggling to figure out how to use all of their phone’s capabilities.

Politics has also grown more complex. Many private interest groups today sponsor advertising in favor of one politician or another. It’s difficult to sort out the source and motivation behind each message and even harder to discern fact from fiction. Attack ads grow more vicious each year.

Even eating has become more challenging for those  concerned about health and fitness. Should you use butter or margarine?  Is coffee good for you or bad?  Is a little red wine really beneficial to your health? How much exercise does one really need?  Is it better to walk or jog? It’s hard to sort through it all.

Unfortunately, complexity has increased in religion as well.  Mainline Christian denominations are being divided by new doctrines and beliefs. Recently the National Cathedral, arguably the foremost Episcopal churches in the United States, hosted a Muslim prayer service.  And don’t even try to sort out what’s going on between Muslims, Jews and Christians in the Middle East! It’s enough to drive one mad.

Fortunately for Christians, St. Paul maintains a simple view of the Gospel. Listening to his words can help us cut through much of the confusion that exists today. In his first letter to the saints in Corinth he writes, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  (1 Corinthians 2:1-2, ESV)

Christ’s crucifixion for our sins and His resurrection from the dead are at the center of the Christian faith.  A highly educated and intelligent man, St. Paul professed a belief in Christ built on faith, not reason. He understood that reason could never lead to a full knowledge of God, because God is too big and too awesome for a simple human mind to fully comprehend. As the psalmist tells us:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, beholding, O Lord, you know it altogether.  You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.   —Psalm 39:1-6 (ESV)

Popular Christian pastor and author Ray Stedman wrote, “The main thing about being a Christian is to see that “the main thing remains the main thing.’ That is what Paul is saying (in 2 Corinthians 11:2). The ‘main thing’ is that at the heart and center of your life is the ‘simplicity that is in Christ,’ a simple thing. I have noticed over many years of observation that when religion becomes complicated, it is always a sign that it is drifting away from the realities and centralities of faith.”

The good news about Jesus that was preached by His apostles is quite simple: (all  citations taken from the ESV)

Jesus came to save all mankind.  1 Timothy 1:15 – The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… —St. Paul

Jesus is mankind’s only pathway to God .  Acts 4: 11-12 – This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven or given among men by which we must be saved.” —St. Peter

All people are born in a condition of sin, separated from God.  Romans 3:23 – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” —St. Paul

There is nothing anyone can do on his own to earn God’s salvation.  Romans 3:10-12 – “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  —St. Paul

Christ came so save mankind from sin and death—separation from God. 1 Timothy 1:15 – “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”  —St. Paul

Salvation is a gift freely given to those who put their faith in Christ.  Romans 10:9-10 – “…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. —St. Paul

One needn’t be a Bible scholar to understand the Gospel.  The message is quite simple.  The gift of God’s salvation is free to those who, with faith and repentance, ask to receive it.

“Only through repentance and faith in Christ can anyone be saved. No religious activity will be sufficient, only true faith in Jesus Christ alone.  —Ravi Zacharias                                                                               

 

 

 

Living Without a Compass

Compass

Today we are engaged in a deadly global struggle for those who would intimidate, torture, and murder people for exercising the most basic freedoms. If we are to win this struggle and spread those freedoms, we must keep our own moral compass pointed in a true direction.      –Barack Obama

A few days ago I was on the phone with my good friend Joe, who lives in California. Joe and I have each spent a lot of time in the Middle East, so our conversations often drift into the current events there.  Naturally, we couldn’t have such a discussion without mentioning the Islamic State (ISIS), the radical group currently wrecking havoc in Syria and Iraq.

I was busy bloviating about the ISIS situation when Joe interrupted with a short but cogent comment summing up the entire problem. “This is typical of what eventually happens in every society that doesn’t have Christ.”

Wow!  I wish I’d thought of that.  Joe is right.  History is replete with examples of the same kind of godless butchery that is the ISIS trademark.  Not all of it was beheadings and ethnic cleansing, but it was ruthless and chaotic nonetheless. The cruelty of ISIS appears feeble when compared to the likes of the Roman Empire, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and dare I say the People’s Republic of China, the country upon which the economy of the United States so depends.

While life in the United States has yet to descend into chaos, there is little doubt that the country is in a state of moral decline.  Create a vacuum and something will fill it.  Take God out of our families and homes, and chaos will eventually replace the divine spirit. The evidence is all around us. American society is rapidly becoming more secular; we are entering a post-Christian era.

For Christians, this could ultimately prove to be a blessing in the final analysis. Christianity has historically endured its greatest tests and proven strongest and most effective when operating from a position of weakness within society as a whole. Jesus was the perfect example of this.  The son of God allowed himself to be crucified, and in so doing took all of the sins of mankind upon himself.

His Apostles all fled in fear after Jesus’ crucifixion and remained in hiding until the resurrected Savior appeared to them in the flesh.  The assurance they gained from this and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost empowered them to spread the Gospel around the known world.  Their faith remained unbroken, even though most suffered a martyr’s death.

Like the resurrected Christ appearing to his Apostles 2,000 thousand years ago, today Christ still manifests Himself to His followers during both the best and worst of times. A good friend of mine who is a priest and former Army chaplain was fortunate enough to visit Russia back in the 1990’s to help re-establish the chaplain’s corps in the Russian army.

Like early Christians of the Roman Empire who had to meet secretly in catacombs beneath the cities, during the Soviet Union era many Russian Christians gathered in secret places to worship God.  After the collapse of communism they were eager to bring the church back “above ground.”  Today, the Russian Orthodox Church flourishes where only a few years ago it was suppressed.

Remarkably, Russia’s current leader and former KGB officer Vladimir Putin is being hailed by some as a defender of the Christian faith.  In December 2013, Putin declared in a speech, “Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values. Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”  The world truly is turned upside down today!

I once had a senior Army officer tell me he preferred to work with men who possessed spiritual values, regardless of their religion.  He explained that having faith in a power higher than one’s self is an indicator of how one will perform under pressure; in this instance, the pressure he was referring to was the stress of combat. However, the truth of his statement applies to every facet of life. People and nations need a moral compass—something to keep them going in the right direction.  The best source of such guidance is a profound belief in God.

Nations rise and nations fall. Every nation has followed this progression from bondage to bondage. The nations of this century will be no different… As Christians we must recognize that nations will rise and fall just as individuals will be born and die. Our civilization will not last indefinitely, but will eventually pass off the scene. Only God’s Word endures forever. We should not put our trust in the things of this world for they are destined for destruction. Instead, we should put our faith in God and His word.    

                                                                                                            —Kirby Anderson, The Decline of a Nation*

*The complete text of Kirby Anderson’s “The Decline of a Nation” is available at this link:

http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/decline.html

Freedom Isn’t Free!

Memorial Day Flags

           Freedom isn’t free!

As a retired soldier, Memorial Day is always a special day of remembrance for me.  My stepfather and a dear friend, both of whom were also soldiers, lie buried only a few paces apart in Arlington National Cemetery, alongside thousands of our departed comrades.  It is good that we occasionally pause to remember those who served our country.

But as we memorialize departed comrades, may we never forget the true price of freedom.  No Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine died to set mankind free. It was a simple carpenter who walked the shores of Galilee some two thousand years ago.  Jesus paid it all!

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.  John 15:13 (NIV)

Jesus Crucified“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16: NIV