God is not Fair

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An objection I hear from time to time is that God is not fair or he is unjust.  A great of example of this objection is when Abraham lies to the Egyptian Pharaoh. Because of the lie Pharaoh takes Sarah, Abraham’s wife and future mother of the nation of Israel, as his wife because Abraham told the Egyptians that Sarah is his sister. Because Abraham lies to the Egyptians God punishes the Egyptians with a plague. Here is the relevant passage that shows God’s supposed unfairness…

11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. 17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had. Genesis 12:17-20 ESV

God justice is bigger than the lie of Abraham. Is Pharaoh innocently and righteously living before God? Absolutely not. Why did Abraham fear Pharaoh and decide to lie? Because Pharaoh is a treacherous man who may not be above killing another man to take that man’s wife. God is never unjust or unfair. Pharaoh is just as accountable to God as Abraham. Here a few examples of this higher idea from Jesus in the New Testament.

8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Matthew 20:8-14 ESV

The parable Jesus is telling is of workers who agreed to a wage and then were hurt when other who worked less received the exact same wage. It their mind it was an unfair distribution. Jesus responds that it is his right as the owner (God and Creator) to pay each as he sees fit. In addition, these workers agreed to work for that wage because it was a good wage. When we are comparing our lives with the lives of others discontent and “fairness” questions arise but that discontent is unjustified because God is always just. Here is another example of Jesus dealing with this “fairness”.

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” John 21:20-22 ESV

Peter asks Jesus what the fate of John would be. Peter wants to compare his own life to the other Disciple that is closest to Jesus. Refusing to answer the question Jesus insinuates “what does it matter to you?” or “Would you call my answer unfair and would it rob your joy?”. Jesus looks to Peter in the same way he looks to all of us and tells Peter “You follow me!” Stop using fairness and justice as an excuse to stay unengaged with God. Christ sees the full picture and he knows the father’s plans for each and every person. Truth be told if God was fair to each and every person all of us would be dead and punished in Hell for all eternity. Paul states it perfectly when he speaks about the wages of our sin leading to death. But God’s unfair gift is eternal life through Christ.

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 ESV

“the Way”

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Early on in the life of the Church it was not yet called Christian, Protestant, Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, or Reformed. It was simply known as “the Way”. Saul, before becoming Paul, wanted to round up the members of the “the Way” and later after conversion Paul caused problems for entire regions as a member of “the Way”.

19 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. Acts 19:23 ESV

I like the name “the Way” for the early church because it is so perfectly descriptive of the purpose and point of life. In the Greek, the word used to describe the local church is properly understood to mean simply a road, journey, or a traveled way. It can be used in metaphor as course of conduct or method of thinking. Those outside and inside the early Church referred to this newly formed group as “the” way, road, and course of conduct. Not “a” way but “the” way. They were making a statement that the path ahead is definitive and final with no other options being true. The reason this is so perfectly descriptive is that Jesus himself spoke of salvation as a journey not a status. Jesus also used the exact same word to describe this choice in journey.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matthew 7:13-14 ESV

We are all journeying in this life on some road or way of thinking. Jesus made special care to note that His way is narrow and difficult. The way of the world however is wide open and easy, but it leads to destruction. Life is hard and people make bad situations worse with bad choices. Sometimes I am amazed at how fast those bad choices spiral out of control.

24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:24 ESV

When our founding parents were moved out of paradise “the way” to life and fellowship with God was cutoff. Our rebellion against our creator keeps us all headed for destruction and broken before a perfect and Holy God. Jesus has come to make a way for creation to return to our natural state of fellowship with our Creator.

3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:3-7 ESV

The beauty of this journey and way is that if one would stop running and listen there is a guide who knows the way and is ready to show the way. More He is the way. Through Him is truth and life. What was once blocked and guarded because of rebellion has been opened and made possible by the perfect obedience of Christ.

Giving up on You

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Who am I as a Christian? Am I a Conservative Christian? Blessed (materially) Christian? American Christian? Bible Believing Christian? Family first Christian?

Paul in his Letter to the church at Corinth provides some insight into the approach he took when preaching to this wealthy, hedonistic, and idolatrous merchant city.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 ESV

Paul could have come as an orator with lofty speech. Certainly he was trained to be that. In fact that is how Paul approached the people of Athens and their stoic philosophers (Acts 17). Paul is the intellectual elite of his day. He has all the privilege of the ruling class and the discipline to be successful at it.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Philippians 3:4-6 ESV

What confidence do I as a Christian today have in the flesh? I am wealthy (relatively speaking). I never hunger because food is not available or too expensive. Income is possible for me through several avenues even though the economy is not that great. I have the right to defend myself and my home, but I live in a low crime area where the government has provided reasonable law and order (relatively speaking). Basically I can live without fear of those around me. It is no effort or sacrifice to be Christian daily in my community (however I notice some isolated individuals who have lost their job or business because of Christ). I have much to be confident in the flesh. I am highly educated and believe myself to be above average intelligence. Is there anything I can’t do if I put my mind and labor to it? Can I set aside all of that to be a Christian who knows only Christ?

Paul comes not with self-help and categories of Christian. He does not come and divide the people into groups based on the color of their skin, how blessed they have been, or if they work harder than everyone else. He sets all that aside and says he has come to know nothing before them but Christ crucified. Did you follow all of God’s rules? Great. Did live a life of selfish pleasure? Fine, but now come together and see that we are all are dying not living because this world will end. Christ and Christ Crucified alone brings life to these petty identifiers and the short life on Earth.

Maybe you know someone who talks about Jesus too much? Are they annoying and unbearable? Maybe they are or maybe you are seeking the approval and pleasure of this world a little too much? Maybe someone calling you Christian with no other identifier is just unbearable? If God tells you that being black is of no consequence and to leave that heritage behind could you do it? If he tells you to walk away from the gay life style because Christ first is more important would you pause to even consider? What if God called you to walk away from the grievance of “white genocide” and not be concerned with maintaining the “white race”? Could you know nothing but Christ Crucified? Is it possible to walk away from being a Republican or a Democrat and be simply Christian? If Christ called could Tiger Woods walk away from golf? The answer is yes because Paul did just that. If you are saved by Christ then life is where he calls and draws us. What Hillary calls irredeemable and Romney calls the 47% can become children of the King before Christ. Paul walked away from the Jewish and Roman privilege he had enjoyed all his life. God changed his name from Saul to Paul and he became a suffering servant called by God to speak the gospel of Christ. Why did Paul give up all of his strength and approach the Corinthians so humbly?

5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:5 ESV

Paul the intellectual elite with wealth and power could have written books and done all the talk shows extoling his strategies for being perfect at anything in this life. But he did not do this in the city of Corinth. He wanted the Corinthians to be persuaded that faith, power, and wisdom comes only from who they are in Christ. Power comes from God and God alone. Power of the flesh no matter how privileged or educated is weakness in service to God.

When I was saved a miracle happened. The Creator God of the universe intervened in my march to eternal death and gave me new life in Christ. I was nothing and had no ambitions. Raised in a single parent home I had the freedom to be a deviant in all kinds of criminal ways. I had the freedom to fail out of school. I had the desire and the ability to be selfishly depraved and would have been content to be hidden away with nothing. Christ has called me into the public. He has acted in me to lead others. He pulls me out of my selfishness to serve him in ways that are beyond my natural ability or desire. It is supernatural and it is a faith that rests not in me, my heritage, my country, or my politics but in the power of God.

Paul wanted the Corinthians to place Christ and his priorities first. Paul wanted them to humbly submit to God and like Christ who has gone before choose the plans of God. Father I pray “not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36 ESV)

Then once we have humbly submitted to God and forsaken the identifiers and the wisdom of this temporary age Christ is able to live through us in the power of God. Paul becomes one of the most influential figures in all of history because Christ lives through him. Countless others throughout history have impacted world in a positive way that points to Christ because they gave up their own ambitions and their own identifiers and recognized them for what they are. Tools and things of this world to be used in service to Christ.

Everyone Loves a Party

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Jerika Bolen is a young girl with spinal muscular atrophy. It is a disease that destroys nerve cells that interact with voluntary muscle movement. She has a ventilator for breathing assistance much of the day and she is in a significant amount of pain trapped in a body that will not function as it was originally designed. What has captured the news for this story is that this 14 year old has decided that she wants to be moved into hospice and taken off of her ventilator which will end her life earlier than if she continued on in the present state. It is no small choice the young lady has taken and I grieve with her and her family that this cursed world would even need such a choice. I am not in her situation so I cannot speak to this being a good or bad choice. I would only say that as a general rule human life even when difficult should be something all of us would fight to preserve.

What I would speak to is the reaction and obligation of the community. Jerika wanted to have a party to celebrate what little time she has remaining. The grand idea of going out with a bang. YOLO. Those close to her raised money and planed an event to celebrate. Jerika has an amazing support team. Maybe a better support than many in her situation. There was even a local reporter there to cover the event and it was published in the USA today. The quotes and story in that article are just astonishing to me.

The reporter Jim Collar opens the article with a profound quote, a question from Jerika about all the people who have given her attention in this event. Her question is profound and it is a question that I would like explore.

“It’s awesome,” she said of Friday’s party. “It’s fun. It’s a lot of people, and they look up to me. It’s kind of scary because I don’t know what they’re looking up to me for.”

When you throw a party people will show up. It is a fact of life. Add free food and even more people will show up. But this party was even more than that it is a going away party if you will. People attending might have answered Jerika’s question on why they look up to her with something like she is inspirational, she is brave, she is amazing for such a young girl, and she is strong. Many people may be moved by her story and her choice, and all of those things may be true about this 14 year old who has lived confined by this for so many years. But why such attention now? How should we respond?

First the party is a wonderful thing. This money raised by the community and the show of support from the community is an awesome gesture. People want her to know that she is loved. Jesus in the lead up to his eventual crucifixion is given an extravagant gift by Mary. She washes his feet with an expensive perfume. Judas, who ultimately betrays Jesus, objected saying the money received for that perfume could have been spent on the poor.

6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. Mark 14:6-8 ESV

A celebration of a life in advance of their death is a perfectly wonderful way to honor them. When I read about the donations, and the community support of this young girl I know that it speaks about the mercy we all want for our own lives when we see someone in such pain. Interviewing people who came to the party the reporter captures an interesting quote from the father of a family that drove thousands of miles to this event to meet the young girl they do not know personally.

The long drive was worth it to see her smile, and “out there on the dance floor looking like she’s living life,” he said.

“Looking like she is living life” is an interesting phrase, because I think this might contain some unrecognized honesty about the situation. This dance floor is life and it is living but it is not real life. The dance floor is always only a temporary distraction and entertainment from real life lived out day to day. For those that live daily with pain, a loved one who cannot take care of themselves, or any number of ongoing permanent disabilities a recognition that when the party ends Jerika will still be in pain, she will still need support from nurses and loved ones to care for her every moment and need. That realization is also reported in the article as the grief of the moment overtakes Jerika’s mother.

But as midnight arrived and the lights went on and the banquet hall began to empty, Jen’s emotions began to crack. The reality of what’s to come began to settle in. Prom planning had helped take her mind off her daughter’s coming death. Now what?

Now what indeed. The party is over and a hospice awaits. Will it take days, weeks, or months for life to end? Is the pain so great that this is the only answer? Are her family and friends so few that there is no one to share the effort of daily care? Are the financial cost so great that it would be better, honorable, and responsible to choose such terms at this point in life? I do not see the answer being yes to any of these so why?

Worn out and a lack of hope. It comes to this. What is the point? Why should she continue in pain, why should she be a burden, and why should she be a drain on resources of the community? Going back to the words from Jesus to the disciples “you always have the poor with you” is a reality we must accept in this broken, sinful, and cursed world. When Jesus speaks about the poor he is not only talking about those who are in simple financial destitution. He is talking about people who have no hope and are worn out. He is talking about people who are powerless and hidden from society. I believe in many ways Jerika and those who are unable to fully participate in society and those cut out of many joys of life feel this kind of powerlessness in a real meaningful way. It breaks my heart. God has created us as relational beings both with other people and with himself. Jerika and others in her situation within our own communities need to know that they are loved. They need to know they are loved by providing attention and acts of service toward them and their caretakers. Through Jesus and his saving power everyone has hope. Everyone has purpose. God has unlimited powers of peace and love. Are we working in our own community to serve others with that love that has been so richly poured out?

25 For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” Jeremiah 31:25 ESV

To anyone that is struggling know that God loves you. Know that He has a plan for you in this life and in the perfect eternal life to come. Do not grow weary, do not give up hope. Trust him for each day. For those of us that know people who live life in pain each day reach out and be a friend. Show your smile, give encouragement, and serve them in love.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12:1-3 ESV

Mind or Body?

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YOLO or You only live once. One might hear this called out as encouragement to someone about to do something bold, crazy, extreme, or stupid usually to gain a rush of adrenaline and excitement from the act. “You only live once” is good natured and intended to remind everyone to live life to the fullest while one can. The term however has a major shortcoming as it fails to recognize that while we live in this corrupted sin slaved body we also have an eternal spiritual nature that lives for eternity. The fact is we outlive this temporary physical body so no we do not just live once.

It is hard for contemporary society living in a material obsessed world to remember that there is also a spiritual world. The god of Science and Atheism has infiltrated every aspect of culture and life to the point that God is denied and if dwelt on a realization that if this is all just a material being then one is simply just the sum of chemical reactions. A machine that will one day stop working resulting in death and then nothingness. Paul rejected this YOLO way of thinking and highlighted in his letter to the Romans how the physical and the spiritual interact.

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Romans 7:14-15 ESV

The law is morality, truth, right and wrong, and accountability to the Creator. The commandment do not murder seems to be focused on governing the actions of the flesh but it is really more than that. It is a moral standard, a spiritual standard that God holds up as truth.

15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 1 John 3:15 ESV

The law is spiritual because it deals with desire and intent not simply just what actions were manifest in the material world. John the Disciple of Christ is saying that hate for someone else may not manifest into a physical altercation that ends in murder but that hate is still the intent and thus corrupts the spiritual nature of the person that has such evil thoughts. Jesus highlights this when it comes to sex. If you have ever looked at another person and imagined them sexually. If you have viewed or continue to view pornographic images, writing, or simply lustful material then according to Jesus your spirit has broken the law because the law is spiritual.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28 ESV

Now Paul acknowledged to the Romans that we have a serious problem with the Law. We know what is right and wrong but we do not have the ability to consistently carry it out. The physical desires of this body and the cravings and appetites of the world get in the way.

18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. Romans 7:18 ESV

There are two mistaken ways to go forward because of this war between the spirit and the flesh. First is to deny the spiritual aspect of oneself and say “oh well I was born this way”. Another “this is who I am”. Better yet people were made to enjoy these pleasures so YOLO and go for it to the extreme. The second extreme is to deny the flesh and physical altogether and focus solely on the spiritual side of oneself. Monks for example move way a remote location to cut themselves off from the physical pleasures of the world and attempt to live above the selfish evil desires of the flesh. The unhappy secret here is that even in the monastery one still must deal with the selfishness of the flesh. The problem with either way of living is that it will ultimately be unsatisfying. Life is more than pleasure and life is more than denial of physical. One cannot deny the spiritual side of things any more than they can truly deny the physical side.

6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:6-8 ESV

The sin of our physical desires must be put to death and we must be born again into a spirit filled life where the physical is controlled and enjoyed by the spiritual. It is in Christ that the Spirit gives us a new heart and a new desire for the things that are valued by God.

6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ John 3:6-7 ESV

The Hero of Spirit and Life

Human Effort

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What are superheroes? Well does it not say it all in the name… Superman! They are super human. Better than humans. They have that “X-factor”. Something that makes them better. In the past these superheroes were part God, part man. Hercules son of Zeus the strongest man to ever live. Now there are people in general culture who believe we will one day evolve these super human abilities. Yes your descendants might one day be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. For me in the here and now I have only evolved the super human skill of digesting cheese (that is no joke click the link). When I watch TV or Movies then I know that every “hero” makes the superhuman look easy. Falling, shooting, hacking computers there is no limit to their pain tolerance, hand eye coordination, or knowledge. Those are heroes that are…

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John 20:9 | Rise and be Alive!

Easter

It is a day that would become the first Easter, the resurrection of Jesus from death, a day that started like any other and as normal as any morning in a world of sin, grief, and death. Those who loved Jesus have come to tend the still fresh grave. Mary Magdalene one of His followers unexpectedly finds the grave disturbed and the body missing. She runs to tell this terrible news to Peter and John but they too are confused and dismayed.

9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. John 20:9 ESV

It is clear to the modern reader of this gospel what has happened because Easter is an event that is celebrated and has been celebrated for a few thousand years. That Jesus destroyed death for all people of every tribe and nation. The disciples and the followers of Christ did not yet fully understand this event that was occurring right before their eyes. They were confused and overwhelmed. John writes that he did not understand at that moment what was happening. To most familiar with what John is communicating this is hard to believe because Jesus told the disciples plainly exactly what was going to happen.

17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” Matthew 20:17-19 ESV

Because of His relationship with the Father and because He was executing the Father’s will perfectly Jesus was in complete control of the future events and Jesus knew the purpose and the outcome.

My post today is to celebrate the wonder of this event and to acknowledge it before others that I am a follower of Jesus because of what God accomplished through Him. But maybe the reader of this post is familiar with the Easter event but not the message and significance of what occurred. Why must Jesus be raised from the dead? What is the purpose and point of this Easter event that makes it an annual celebration and the most important day of observance in the Christian life?

Peter who was confused on that first Easter morning not understanding what Jesus had told him plainly and not understanding the scriptures preaches his first sermon on this very topic. Peter now clearly understands and answers the question about the purpose of Christ and His resurrection on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit arrives to establish the Church.

31 [King David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts 2:31-36 ESV

Peter tells us that Jesus is raised from death to life by God the Creator to exalt Jesus as the King of Kings. King David acknowledges this future Jesus as his Lord a greater king than himself. God exalts to Jesus to His rightful place a throne next to God the Father. All power and authority both in life and in death is given to this King and Lord.

9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Romans 14:9 ESV

I am part of the creation and I submit to the Creator who reigns over life and death. He has conquered death and extended to all who accept Him life eternal and free. That is why Easter is so important. That is why Easter has been celebrated annually for thousands of years by every nation and tribe.

24 It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Romans 4:24-25 ESV

Jesus was convicted and sentenced to die for my sins. He paid the criminal’s wage of death on my behalf. Then three days later Mary discovered what Jesus had told them to be true that He was raised to life, the victor, to justify me before God that I a sinner who should be dead is given life and relationship with God the Father and Creator. Easter is upon us once again pointing the way to justification and mercy before God. If you have not already done so admit your selfishness and rebellion against God and submit to the Salvation of Jesus Christ.

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit 1 Peter 3:18 ESV

The Hero of Spirit and Life

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What are superheroes? Well does it not say it all in the name… Superman! They are super human. Better than humans. They have that “X-factor”. Something that makes them better. In the past these superheroes were part God, part man. Hercules son of Zeus the strongest man to ever live. Now there are people in general culture who believe we will one day evolve these super human abilities. Yes your descendants might one day be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. For me in the here and now I have only evolved the super human skill of digesting cheese (that is no joke click the link). When I watch TV or Movies then I know that every “hero” makes the superhuman look easy. Falling, shooting, hacking computers there is no limit to their pain tolerance, hand eye coordination, or knowledge. Those are heroes that are championed everywhere we look. People who can save us from the enemy. Jesus had those kinds of skills for real. 

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. John 6:14-15 ESV 

The disciples most closely following Jesus wanted him to kill the Romans and become king as well. Jesus blows up this idea because unlike the superheroes that mankind craves Jesus is not here for the temporary things of this life. Jesus refuses to use his powers the way they wanted, the way they expected, or the way they demanded. 

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. John 6:60-63 ESV 

What! The “flesh is no help at all”, did he just say that superman can’t help? Did he just say an army behind the most powerful superhuman ever to walk the earth is of no help? It begs the question then help to do what? Certainly Jesus could have kicked Rome out of Jerusalem. Jesus had another agenda for his super human skills and the people of then and the people of today do not like that agenda. The plans that Jesus had that he spoke about in this conversation with the disciples involved something more than human. These plans involved “spirit and life”. Jesus did something crazy. He did something Heroic. He allowed the evil of this world to kill him. He willingly allowed himself to die because as he said “the flesh is of no help” in solving this problem.  

No sooner were the words out of his mouth when Judas, the one out of the Twelve, showed up, and with him a gang of ruffians, sent by the high priests, religion scholars, and leaders, brandishing swords and clubs. The betrayer had worked out a signal with them: “The one I kiss, that’s the one—seize him. Make sure he doesn’t get away.” He went straight to Jesus and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The others then grabbed him and roughed him up. One of the men standing there unsheathed his sword, swung, and came down on the Chief Priest’s servant, lopping off the man’s ear. Jesus said to them, “What is this, coming after me with swords and clubs as if I were a dangerous criminal? Day after day I’ve been sitting in the Temple teaching, and you never so much as lifted a hand against me. What you in fact have done is confirm the prophetic writings.” All the disciples cut and ran. Mark 14:43-50 (MSG) 

Jesus could have started a war. He could have let Peter go all Jack Bauer on those men, and Peter wanted that war. Rome could have fallen. The world could have fallen on their knees before the feet of Jesus. That moment could have been it. But Jesus refused. He stopped Peter and all the disciples “cut and ran”. What is so heroic or super human about this? Would it not be more heroic to become king and force all the world into peace ending the evil we see? Would not a King Jesus be better than the evil we see in wars of divided mankind? Let us pause before answering that question and see the birth announcement of Jesus by the angels themselves.  

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 ESV  

Did you hear that women and men, boys and girls, workers and executives, Kings and homeless? Jesus was born to save and he saved everyone through his death. If he had become King at that moment when the world came to kill him then he would have been king over a people of death. Savior would not have been his title. Jesus came not to be a king over dead people, but to be king over a regenerated and living people. Jesus came not to be King over Rome, but to be King over death itself. 

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, Hebrews 2:14 ESV 

Remember Jesus telling the disciples that he was here for “spirit and life” and the “flesh is no help at all”? Jesus knew what he was doing. His death gave me life. His death covered over my shame and my sins. His death reconciled me to God who created me. Jesus the most heroic super human savior the world will ever see died in my place that I might be made alive in the spirit.  

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 1 Peter 3:18 ESV

John 9:3 | Jesus Does Heal for God’s Glory

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A healing Jesus is important to the church and the body of Christ. Any small group within a church has a long list of prayer requests and a majority of those prayer requests will most likely be physical issues. Sickness, addictions, and all manner of ailments that trouble loved ones. So why does a good God allow these things into our lives. A better and much less selfish question is why does God allow debilitating disease, deformity, and death to be commonplace? We all know or we might be someone that is disabled in some major or minor way. Why does it seem that so many have cancer and yet many loose the fight even with much prayer? Is Jesus really a healer and does he still heal today? The answer is yes to both however we need to explore why Jesus heals and to what purpose.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. John 9:1-3 ESV

When you study and review the Bible where Jesus or the Apostles healed or performed miracles they were always in such a way that the healing directed all glory to God. The healing of an individual established God’s authority to the person healed and to the witnesses. Never are healing and restoration simply or only for personal reasons. Nowhere in the Bible does God promise everlasting pain free living in this present world. Quite the opposite is true. God promises that the consequence of sin is death.

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 ESV

Review this most famous healing by Jesus where he brings to life a man who was dead and buried. Notice that even before Lazarus died Jesus knew the end result would be a resurrection that would give authority to God in mighty way.

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”… 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:1-4;38-44 NIV

Multiple times in this passage Jesus testifies plainly about the reason for bringing Lazarus back to life. It was for God’s glory that the people witness to it would believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. While profoundly important that Lazarus was resurrected to his family the primary point of the miracle was not about Lazarus. Sadly Lazarus is going to die again at some point in the future because our present bodies are under the curse of sin.

While I have witnessed friends and acquaintances give testimonies about how God healed them of cancer or some other issue I have also witnessed loved ones die much too young. I do not know why God chooses to heal or not. Some prayers are answered in ways that seem undesirable to me yet I know that God in his wisdom has always done the right thing. Paul has an answer that I do find acceptable. Paul was faced with a physical issue that he prayed for God to heal. Read here his perspective when God told him no.

though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:6-10 ESV

Boast in weakness? Boast in hardships? Content with disability? Why would Paul boast in such things? Because in that weakness and disability Christ could be glorified. Sometimes God does not heal because others can see him more clearly when we live a life that says God’s “grace is sufficient” even in this weakness. God’s grace is all I need. Come heaven or hell, life or death, God is enough for me.

If you recognize your weakness and limitations and are ready to put your trust in God’s grace now is the moment to turn away from your sins and trust in Jesus and his perfect power to give new life.

Ecclesiastes 5:15 | Commitment

arlingtonWhat is the major commitment in life that consumes all of the time you have? Stop now and think for a few moments and think about what the number one commitment might be. We have many commitments, some not of our own choosing, but there likely is some single commitment that is most important to you. Spouse? Kids? Work? Service to a Country at war? Politics? Sports? Something material like a house or car? Maybe a charitable cause to eradicate homelessness, or hunger is the commitment? I am a practical person and my major commitment is my wife and children. Much of what I do in life is for their benefit. Take a look at the people, ideas, and things you place a commitment on and then ask to what end you are committed to those people, ideas, and things. I ask the question that way because this life is temporary. We are all going to die, and if you are fortunate you will get around 80 years of this life to work on your commitments.

Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands. Ecclesiastes 5:15 NIV

Just think about how temporary that is. Is that Job in and of itself worthy of your time and effort? Is that Charity serving a cause of worth? Is the most current news on Sports Center worth the attention and time?

For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone? Ecclesiastes 6:12 NIV

I reflect on this sobering idea of the temporary nature of this life. As Americans living in the relatively peaceful west my mind drifts toward the east where Israel and Palestine are at war. Where Russian and Ukrainian fighting has accidently killed hundreds of people flying overhead at 30,000 feet. It is so meaningless and evil the end to those lives. More closely to home I look at the soldiers who serve to keep me safe, who serve to keep the shores where I live at peace. That is a commitment from them that I am grateful for, because it allows my commitment to my family to be possible.

There is one commitment I have read about that gives me pause and it is of Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth. They served as missionaries in China around 1900 to great personal sacrifice. Their commitment was absolute and it lasted a life time. Johnathan did not buy Rosalind an engagement ring he gave the money for the ring to the poor. They lived most of their productive life in Asia as missionaries suffering illness and even the death of 5 of their children. They had to flee a 1000 miles across China when war broke out. Toward the end of their service Rosalind returned home to Canada with their children and she wanted Jonathan to return with her. He refused and asked this question to her “Suppose our country were at war with another nation and I, a British officer in command of an important unit. Much depended upon me as commander as to whether it was to be victory or defeat. Would I, in that event, be permitted to forsake my post in response to a call from my family”? Johnathan eventually returned home to Canada at the age of 74 and almost blind. He then traveled preaching the gospel even preaching four times on the Sunday before his death.

Jonathan’s commitment to the Gospel of Jesus overrode any other commitment even to that of his family. I and most others may balk at such a disregard, but he viewed the world as a battle ground that needed his attention. Just like the soldiers who leave their families at home and commit to service in a war in another land Jonathan followed the same ideal.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24 NIV

I think men and women like the Goforth’s grasped the idea of deny and follow from Jesus in a way that I living in the comfort of my job, home, family, and consumerism are afraid to absorb. Johnathan was committed, he was willing to “deny” the life he wanted with all the comforts for a radical life serving Jesus. If this life is temporary and eternity with Christ is forever then are my commitments in this life really the best choices? What does that say about me if I selfishly make myself comfortable while my neighbor who does not know Christ has only this life now to look forward too? Maybe I like Johnathan should “deny” myself even just a fraction of the extreme he followed? Jesus used the word “deny” here to mean that this follower would “lose sight of one’s self and one’s own interests”. This word is only used in the Gospels and only in context of words from Jesus to the disciples. Jesus calls us to walk away from the selfishness of ourselves and join Him in this work.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24 NIV

Following where Jesus leads means that the plans I have for myself and the commitments I want to make may not align with the plans Christ has for me. This is demonstrated in the act of Baptism. The individual who has accepted the Lordship of Christ and wants Him to be their advocate before God symbolically is immersed under water and then raised out of the water. The old commitments, life, desires give way to a new commitment, life, and desire.

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life … Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. Romans 6:4;13 NIV

As you think of the commitments that take up your time are there any that might not be so important? Is the one big commitment something Jesus wants from you? My commitment to my wife and children is aligned with the life Jesus wants for me, but Jesus would not accept a commitment to my family to give them only material goods without teaching them an eternal perspective that is in service to God. Would you commit to search the scripture and pray for commitments from God that should be higher in priority? The service to God will last forever. You can take that with you. Service to self in this short life is temporary and none of it will benefit us in the life to come.

Tucker, Ruth A. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya A Biographical History of Christian Missions. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.