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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Resurrection Change


4Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5And stooping to
look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples went back to their homes. – John 20:4-10
They saw the empty tomb. Jesus’ body was not there. The burial shroud was, but Jesus was not.
For John, seeing is believing. He sees the empty tomb. He believes that Jesus’ tomb is empty. John believes that Jesus’ body is not there anymore. John may even believe that Jesus has, indeed, been raised from the dead just as Lazarus had been raised from the dead just a few weeks before.
For John, “seeing is believing.”
But it isn’t enough.
Peter and John’s initial reaction to the empty tomb of Jesus is to go back home.
It would not be until later that evening that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’” (Luke 24:45-47).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is pretty amazing. He is on a very short list of people the Bible records as coming back to life after dying:
  • The son of a Zarephath widow (1 Kings 17:17-22)
  • The son of a Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:30-37)
  • Lazarus (John 11:38-44)
  • Another widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17)
  • Jairus’ daughter (Matt. 8:28-43, Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39)
  • Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12)
  • Dorcas (Acts 9:36-42)
But Jesus’ resurrection is different. His resurrection from the dead was not – or at least should have not been – a surprise. The Scriptures say that Jesus would rise from the dead.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. - Psalm 16:10
After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. - Hosea 6:2
O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? - Psalm 30:3,9
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt,  he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. - Isaiah 53:10
Even Jesus Himself – whom John calls the Word – told the disciples on numerous occasions that He would rise from the dead.
Ultimately, the resurrection of Jesus Christ can only be truly understood and believed because of Holy Scripture.
Personal experience of the resurrection is very important. I have been changed by the resurrection of Jesus. My heart nearly bursts with joy at the final scene of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Because Jesus lives, I live my life (or try to live my life) differently from the way the world says I should.
But this personal experience isn’t enough. If I watch the movie enough, the emotional impact will fade.
But there is something that will not ever fade, something that doesn’t change, something that is ever-living.
The Word of God.
Only when John, Peter, and the rest of the disciples had the Scriptures opened to them could they take the resurrection to the ends of the earth and actually be changed themselves.
They saw the empty tomb. They saw the resurrected Jesus with their own eyes. But that wasn’t enough. Only when the Scriptures were opened to them did they truly understand the resurrection.
Personal experience of Jesus Christ is a wonderful thing. But only when that personal experience is grounded in the never-changing truth of God’s Word will the resurrection change your life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Given and Shed For You

The Lord’s Supper.

Celebrated by millions of churches and billions of people each week. But what is it? What is given in it? What is the power of the Lord’s Supper?

Image courtesy of PhotoBucket

When Martin Luther drew up the four questions he used to teach people about the Lord’s Supper, the fourth question was a question of worthiness.

Martin Luther wrote this in his Small Catechism:

Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.

There are three areas – all related – that we should focus on whenever we plan on coming to the Lord’s Supper. Repentance, personal faith, and a common confession of faith.

Repentance

The Lord’s Supper gives us three things: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. We receive life and salvation because we are given the forgiveness of our sins.

The forgiveness of sins is the chief blessing in this sacrament. Jesus Christ gives us His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine. He shed His blood on the cross. He sacrificed His body on the cross. He did this because He loves us. And when He did this, our sins were forgiven.

This is a free gift, given by grace alone.

But do not make the mistake of thinking that this gift – while free – did not cost. It cost Jesus everything.

The Lord’s Supper is  a gift given and a gift received. God has to give it. We have to receive it.

How do we receive it? We have to prepare ourselves for it.

Martin Luther mentions “fasting and bodily preparation.” Apparently these were common things to do in the 16th century. Luther’s problem with them was not their commonality but that they were required by the Church. People had to do them to receive the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner.

Luther didn’t find that in Scripture. What Luther did find was that faith is the only requirement; faith in Jesus Christ. And faith in Jesus Christ leads us to repent of our sins.

Repentance is the key because the Lord’s Supper destroys sin.  Repentance is us letting go of our sin before Christ’s body and blood destroys it. If we do not repent – if we do not let go – we can be destroyed along with our sin.

This is what might have been happening to some of the members of the Corinthian church that St. Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 11: 27-30

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

Repentance is a key element to receiving the Lord’s Supper worthily. But repentance can only happen if we have faith.

Personal Faith

By faith I mean believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior, having a personal relationship with Christ. It is more than just knowing about Jesus. Even demons know about Jesus and it causes only fear. Christ died for you, not in some abstract way or in some general way. He died specifically for you, and you, and you, and me.

Too often, I think, we are content to be “John 3:16” Christians and not “Galatians 2:20” Christians.

John 3:16 says, 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

But Galatians 2:20 says, 20I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The Lord’s Supper, then, makes our Christian faith intensely personal. Jesus doesn’t say He shed his blood “for the world” but “for you.”

This is the faith you have been given. This is the faith that is strengthened by God through His Word and the Lord’s Supper.

Common Confession of Faith

By “faith” I also mean our common confession of faith – that we all believe the same thing. This also is an important part of our reception of the Lord’s Supper.

Acts 2:42 and 1 Cor. 10:17 both tell us how important this common confession of faith was to the first-generation Christians. It was a way for them to define “family.” It was a way for them to make public confession to the world what they believed.

Today, we are criticized for this because it is perceived as being “stand-off-ish,” “closed-minded,” or even arrogant.

But even though we call this practice “closed communion” it doesn’t mean we’re “closed minded.” It means we take serious what God’s Word says.

Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before He eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.(1 Cor. 11:27-29).

This is no game. The Lord’s body and blood are powerful things. It is a gift that requires great responsibility. It can be dangerous, as the church in 1st Century Corinth found out the hard way – they misused the Lord’s Supper and it literally killed some of them.

Conclusion

It was on this night – the night that Jesus was betrayed – that Jesus said the wonderful words “Given and shed for you.” This gift that we partake of once again is amazing. It is amazingly powerful. It is amazing love.

And as Jesus walked the way of the passion following what we call the Lord’s Supper, the words “given and shed for you” take on a profound meaning. Let us think on this as we walk with Jesus over the next several days – to the Garden, the courtyard of the High Priest, the Judgment Hall of Pilate, the cross on Golgotha, and finally the Garden Tomb.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Engraved on the Palms of His Hands

Image courtesy of wileywillows.blogspot.com

Palm branches remind us of … what?

-          A tropical beach vacation.

-          A warm January day in Southern California

-          A welcomed oasis respite in the burning desert

-          Children processing and singing “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

The custom of palms at the end of Lent can serve to remind us of a Sunday long, long ago.

12The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!" 14And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,

15 "Fear not, daughter of Zion;behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!"
(John 12:12-15 ESV)

Why palms for such an event? In Jewish culture, palms are symbols of victory. What an awesome connection – Jesus rides into Jerusalem amid shouts of praise and symbols of victory. Little did the people know that the victory Jesus would win was not political or military victory but salvation victory!

Jesus is riding into Jerusalem amid the shouts and palms on His way to the cross. The cross would be where He won the victory for us over sin, death, and the power of the devil. The palms represent the victory that Jesus won over our sinful, corrupt nature. And God said of this nature,

9"By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, ill you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken;t for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19 ESV).

Remember those words? They were spoken over you when you received a cross of ashes on your forehead or the back of your hand on Ash Wednesday.

And the ashes we used were of palm branches used on a previous Palm Sunday. Interesting connection, isn’t it?

There’s one more connection I found. In the English language, “palm” doesn’t just mean a certain type of tree or the branch of that tree. It also means the part of the hand from the wrist to the base of the fingers. Our English word for this part of our hand – “palm” – came from the Latin word for the tree or branch. One source says the word traveled to Northern Europe (where the English language developed) via the Christians bringing the word for the tree they used on Palm Sunday in celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

While that may be interesting to some – ok, maybe just me – that isn’t the connection I really wanted to make.

This is the connection I want to make. The English word “palm” – meaning the part of the hand – is used in an Old Testament Bible passage.

Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:16 ESV)

God says this to us to remind us that He has not – and never will – forget us.

Have you ever thought – or even cried out loud – “The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me”? I know I have. I’m pretty sure that you have, too. It feels that way sometimes.

But God specifically tells us that He will not forget us. In fact, He says He cannot forget us because every time He looks at His hands, He remembers us. He has “engraved” us on the palms of His hands as a reminder of us, as a reminder of how much He loves us, as a reminder of what He did because He loves us.

Our names are not engraved on the palms of His hands. Our names are written in the Book of Life. I like to think that our names are written in the Book of Life not with ink but with the holy and precious blood of Jesus shed on the cross. Shed on the cross when He died for our sins.

Written with the blood of Jesus shed when nails where driven through the palms of His hands – thus marking Him forever.

© 2004 Icon Distribution / Flickr / Courtesy Pikturz

Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

The custom of palms – may it ever serve to remind us that God will never forsake or forget us.

The custom of palms – may it ever serve to remind us that God loves us.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What To Do With Words

The competition begins with two volunteers and two cans of shaving cream. 

Round 1 – the first one to empty their can of shaving creams wins!

Round  2 – the first one to put all the shaving cream back in their can wins!

Just as we can never put the shaving cream back in the can, we can never really take back the words we say.

Like trying to un-shoot a gun, or un-ring a bell, un-saying a word is impossible.

The words we say are as immortal as anything can be in this world.

So be careful what you say.

That’s part one of this little message.

Part two is: what do you do after you say your words.

Take a look at that pile of shaving cream. You can’t put it back in the can. But what you do with it is important. 

It would be funny – to someone, at least – to take that pile and push it into someone’s face. A whole movie genre is base on that concept!

But let’s think of this in relation to our words and what we do with the aftermath of saying them.

And here I’ll use an unlikely character – Judas Iscariot.

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15and said, "What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?" (Matthew 26:14-15 ESV)

Judas said these words. He couldn’t take them back. He couldn’t “un-say” them. The chief priests were expecting Judas to do with what he said he would do.

And, of course, Judas did just that.

But there was still hope for Judas. He couldn’t put the shaving cream back in the can, but he could have cleaned up the shaving cream by asking Jesus to forgive him. He didn’t do that, though. Instead, Judas decided – wrongly, I add vehemently – that Jesus wouldn’t forgive him.

And Judas gave up any future he would have had with the forgiveness Jesus won for him – and all of us – on the cross.

Do not give up as Judas did. The shaving cream can never go back in the can. But we can clean it up instead of spreading it around.

In the same way we can never “un-say” our words. But we can clean up their mess with words of love and kindness, with words of Jesus’ love and kindness.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Not a Village But a Church

A few years ago, First Lady Hillary Clinton stirred up a bit of a controversy by declaring “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Controversy or not, she wasn’t all wrong.

It doesn’t take a village, but it does take a church.

The Christian Family is created by God the Father Almighty.

It flows out of the ultimate relationship – the Holy Trinity. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are the perfect family relationship model.

God the Father creates us. You know the story – God created all things in six days and the crown of His creation of humans. He created Adam and then out of Adam God created Eve. Adam was created out of the dust of the earth and the breath of God in him. Eve was created out of Adam’s side or rib. Not out of Adam’s head that she should be head over him, not out of Adam’s foot that he should tread all over her. God created Eve out of Adam’s rib that they should walk side-by-side together through this life – as a family.

Jesus Christ came thousands of years later to fulfill all prophecy. When the human race fell into sin, a savior was needed. Jesus Christ is that savior. He was born, lived the perfect life, and suffered and died to save us from our sins. Jesus spent about three years with a group of people, in a relationship with what could be described as His family. In fact, that exactly how Jesus described this group.

46While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48But he replied to the man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" 49And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 50For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." – Matthew 12:116-50

After Jesus rose from the dead, He said that the Holy Spirit would come. Ten days after Jesus’ ascension in heaven, the Holy Spirit came with power to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. That is the day that is celebrated as the “Birthday of the Church.”

The Church is not a building; it isn’t a philosophy, or some ethereal concept. The Church is flesh and blood people. The church is a family.

Read through the Book of Acts and the Epistles of St. Paul and others and you will see a family that rejoices together, cries and is sad together, and helps those who need help together.

Unfortunately, as the Church grew bigger and bigger, and the Empire of Rome got smaller and smaller, the Church changed from family to a world power and government.

The concept of “family” might still have been there, but the structure was not in place anymore to actually live as a family. Some parents sent their children to “the Church” to learn and grow. But it wasn’t the same as having a group of people who love each other take care of each other and assist in the developing of the next generation.

Today we are at a crucial point in the world’s history where the Church is needed more than ever before – the original Church as family.

When all the world seems to sink into chaos, there will be only one thing that will stand these tests of time.

Jesus said, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18). “This rock” refers to the faith of Peter and the rest of the disciples that was given them by the Holy Spirit. Given to us, as well, through our baptisms and strengthened through Word and Sacrament.

When the Church became the dominant political force in the world, the family-void left behind was filled by other things.

One of those things was the military. Stories abound of groups of men who found themselves in grave situations but banded together to survive.

Because the church had advocated its God-given role to be the extended family of people, others filled the void. But because they are not God-instituted and ordained fellowships like the Holy Christian Church, they are inadequate to fill that role.

Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” That friend is Jesus Christ. And Jesus has called us to be part of larger fellowship – the Christian family!

A word of caution needs to be said here. It has been my experience that many people have turned to the Church to raise their children, but have not been truly a part of the family. This, in my opinion, is just as detrimental as turning to the government or the military or other entity to fill the void of family in a child’s life.

If you look at the beginning of a Luther’s Small Catechism, you will see words written there that –when taken to heart and put into practice – will change your child’s life, your life, and the life of the Church Family.

At the beginning of five of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine, it says, “As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.”

Our Church Family, then, begins in the home!

When True Men Ministries started six years ago, it was because families were in desperate need of finding a way of bringing back God’s Will for them. God has a dream for our families.

Part of that dream is that mom and dad should be present and the integral part of raising the family. All depends on this.

Dads, Fathers, Papas, Daddies, Pops – whatever you call him or yourself – you are vitally needed in your home. In fact, the Church Family starts right in the home.

Young children need their moms and dads in their lives. A mother gives birth and nurtures and feeds a newborn. A person’s first exposure to love and care is through their mother! Take that away and a newborn will not thrive.

As a son or daughter grows older, they continue to look to their moms and dads for the answers to the questions they have. “Am I beautiful?” “Am I going to make a good wife or husband someday?” “Do I have what it takes?”

The vast majority of broken homes in this world are missing the dad who can answer these questions like no one else can.

A mom and dad that can tell – and show – their sons and daughters that they love them and will always love them will begin to restore the Church Family to the place that God intended it to be.

You see, the Church begins in the home with mom and dad! Fathers are the “High Priest of the home,” as one pastor puts it. He is the one who is specially called by God to be His representative to his family. And mothers walk along side their husbands in carrying out that role:

5You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:5-9

What happens in church on Sunday mornings actually begins in the home. The Church Family actually begins in the home. There is a movement today among new church starts to go to a model of the “house church.” This, I believe, is an attempt to capture this truth.

But we don’t have to tear down our current church structures. What we can do is simple – bring back the family altar to our homes. Set aside time for your family to eat together, talk together, have a daily devotion together, and pray together.

If we can set aside time in our busy schedules, as a family, to eat, talk, devote and pray together – it will do three things:

1. Change our home life for the better;

2. Change your churches in to the rock-solid foundation that people need;

3. Change our world.

What do you think? Leave your comments!

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