Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Ressurection of the Dead

You believe that God created you, and just as you came from God, so to God you will return. All of you know your bodies will change and deteriorate. This is the way it was for my friend whose name was James back in Seattle. He experienced cancer for the final year of his life. During that year he lost 75 pounds. When I visited him in December just two days prior to his departure from this earthly life, I almost did not recognize him because he had lost so much weight.

Religious leaders throughout history have offered different solutions to this problem of death: 1) Buddha said that through meditation and focusing your mind on spiritual things, you can escape this bodily existence and experience God. 2) Ghandi said that if you simply do good to those who hate you and do not take revenge, you will find favor with God. 3) Mohammad said that if you pray five times a day, memorize the Qu’ran, and keep God’s law there is a good chance God will grant you paradise, but it is not certain. 4) Today, America tells you that you came from an ape, do not have a soul, there is no God, and that when you die you will simply deteriorate eternally in a coffin forever beneath the earth. Or better yet, you will be cremated and that will be the end. All of these answers do not give a satisfactory solution to the problem of death and the grave.

A man named Jesus Christ from the first century gave a different answer. He did not give some teaching for you to follow in order to gain favor with God. He also did not say that there was no hope beyond the grave. To a woman named Martha whose brother Lazarus had just died He proclaimed: “I AM the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Wow! Jesus, a Jewish Rabbi from Nazareth, a man that truly had flesh and bones, claimed that there is life after physical death, and that by believing in Him you will have eternal life—bodily! Next he asked Martha: “Do you believe this?” And this was her response: “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Just as Martha had faith that Jesus could raise her brother to life, so too through faith in Jesus Christ you will be raised to life when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. Because He lives, so also you will live. Because He was raised to life, so also you will be resurrected from the dead.

And just as Jesus asked Martha, do you believe this? So I ask you today: Do you believe it is actually possible for God to raise you from the dead after you die?

After Jesus asked Martha this question he showed her that what He was claiming about Himself was actually true. Her brother Lazarus had been laying dead for four days, and Jesus raised him back to life! People who did not believe in Jesus knew that it was true because they saw Lazarus at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The man was eating with Jesus at His table! The Pharisees wanted to kill Lazarus because they knew that Lazarus was dead before. But now he was alive!

I pray Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that as you created this world out of nothing, parted the Red Sea, and made man from the dust of the earth; I pray that we would also bring us who have trusted in you back to bodily life. Just as you fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures by sending your Son, Jesus Christ into the world; so also I pray that all of us may be anticipating eternal life by faith in you when you come again in glory to raise the dead to life. I pray Lord that those of us who have believed in you will experience resurrection and live with you and in you forever!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Treasures In Heaven

And he said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:15 - 21).

Your life is a treasure from God. God has created your life and back to God one day you will return. God has given you a conscience to determine right from wrong. The fact that you have a conscience testifies to the fact that God created you. God also created the heavens and the earth. He created the stars, skies, seas, mountains, and trees, and all of creation testifies to His glory. You believe God created the heavens and the earth because you see God’s splendid majesty in His work of creation.

God has not only created your life, and the heavens and the earth, but He has also given you treasures on this earth as gifts. God has provided you with food, clothing, your job, your home, apartment, and He has also given you possessions. This is because our God is a God who provides for His children. He does this with the hope that we would be good stewards of the treasures He has given us.

Your life on this earth will come to an end. Many of you probably think you will live to the age of 70, 80, or maybe 90 if you are lucky. But I want to remind you that you do not know how long your life on this earth will last. In 2005, 42,636 people died in car accidents in America. 42,636 deaths. You do not know how long your life on this earth will last. Your life on earth is only a temporary assignment. The rich man in the parable made the wrong decision when he decided to build larger barns (Luke 12:18). He was trying to find fulfillment in his possessions. He thought to himself, “I’m going to eat, drink and be merry (Luke 20:19). I only live once. So why not get as much as I can?” In America, we think the same way. You only live once, so get and accumulate as much you can. But God said to the rich man: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you” (Luke 12:20). You do not know when your time is going to come. You do not know when you are going to die. You and I are going to appear before the judgment seat of Christ and will given an account of what we did with the treasures God entrusted to us on this earth. You do not know when your time is going to come.

Your life does not consist in your status in the world, but in your standing in Christ. Your life is not about seeking satisfaction and fulfillment in this world. It is about finding fulfillment in the Bread of Life who is able to satisfy your soul. Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life who fulfills your heart and satisfies your life. Jesus Christ has conquered death by rising from it and He is the meaning of life. He will give you fulfillment and satisfaction so that you would not seek fulfillment in the things of this world, but so that you would find joy, fulfillment, and security in Him.

Now that you have been saved, your treasures are to be used not hoarded. That is, with your treasures, you are to give, not store things away. Life is not about how much you can get or accumulate, but how much you can give and share. The rich man in the parable did not understand that his possessions were not his, but God’s. If he realized this, he would have been a better steward with the gifts God gave him. He said, “What am I going to do with my crops (v. 17), with my barns (v. 18), with my grain (v. 18), with my goods (v. 18)?” He did not understand that God gave him possessions as treasures to give. He thought they were his to hoard. Before Jesus told the parable He said: “Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions” (Luke 12:15). You are not going to take your money, car, and house to heaven. A New York journalist wrote on March 6th concerning Tuesday’s upcoming lottery: “Lottery players lined up at ticket machines across the country Tuesday, dreaming about the fat bank accounts and permanent vacations that winning the record $370 million dollar jackpot would bring. New Yorkers were buying more than one million tickets an hour….Virginia retailers were selling 8,550 tickets per minute as Tuesday night’s drawing approached.” How many of the millions of people who bought a lotto ticket do you think were planning on using the money to help plant churches? How many of the millions of people were hoping to use the money to help the poor in third world countries? How many know that there is only a one in 13.9 million chance that they are going to win? And so what if you win? What if you were that one? You might win the lottery and die the next day. Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions. So if life is not about you and me, what is it about? It is about Jesus Christ who is King and we His servants who have been redeemed by Him. Life is not about how much you can get but about how much you can give. Life is not about accumulating but it is about sharing. In Luke’s gospel he describes many people who were lovers of money. In contrast to this, in the Book of Acts, Luke describes the early church as people who shared with each other and had all things in common. The early Christians knew that life was only a temporary assignment. They knew that life did not consist in the abundance of their possessions. Some people knew that their properties were bigger than they needed, so they sold them and shared the money with the church. People said, “That person needs clothes, I have some. That person needs money, I can help.” This is what it means to be rich towards God and store up treasures in heaven (Luke 12:21). So what can you do today? You can give to the poor around you. You can give clothes to people who are in need of some. You can give food to those who are hungry. Give to those who ask of you and do not expect repayment. In America, we think that if we give someone $10 then they owe us $10. But Jesus says to give and not expect repayment. You can also give to the church to further the kingdom of God. Some people think that giving to the church is giving to a non-profit organization to only further its success. But giving to the church is about building the kingdom. It is about the people of God having resources so the kingdom of God would increase and advance. It is about the Word of God increasing in our community and city. It is about the spread of the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And as we give and share, we await the Lord who promises to come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

At the resurrection you will have treasures in heaven. When Jesus comes again in glory to raise all the dead He will give believers eternal life. Then you will have treasures in heaven. So believe that God created you and has given you treasures on this earth as gifts. Believe that God created you and back to God you will return. Believe that life is only a temporary assignment. Your citizenship is not on this earth, but your citizenship is in heaven. Therefore, live as strangers here knowing that eternity awaits you. Then at the end, Jesus will say to you: “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master. Go…and have treasures in heaven.”

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Scripture And False Teachings

In the history of the Church there has been 3 basic false teachings concerning how the Christian should read and handle Scripture.

1) Fundamentalism/Biblicism - This view does not take seriously into account the human side of Scripture. It ignores the context of passages and the historical situation of the authors. It also disregards the historical interpretation of texts in the writings of the Fathers and Councils. It also disregards the Creeds as unnecessary and emphasizes the individual over and against the Church.

2) Romanism - This view I would characterize as a medieval fear. It states that Christians should not be encouraged to read their Bibles because they will come to incorrect understandings and will challenge the views of the Church.

3) Liberalism - This view states that the Bible is not God's Word, but only contains God's Word. It states that the Bible is not inerrant, but that it does have error and cannot be trusted. When an extra-biblical source contradicts the Bible, the extra-biblical source is favored.

What is the Lutheran view? The Lutheran view is that the Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit (SA, III, 8, 13; SD, X, 14-15; XI, 12; Ap, IV, 107-108; AC, XXVIII, 49) and are without error (LC, IV, 57; V, 76; Ep, XI, 14; VII, 13; SD, VII, 96). All teachers in the Church of God are judged by the Scriptures (Ep, Rule and Norm, 1-2, 7-8; SD, Rule and Norm, 9-10), and when Pastors in the Church teach falsely, the Scriptures must be adhered to (AC, XXVIII, 28, 49).

From this we can already see that the Lutheran view of the Scriptures rejects Liberalism. But what about Fundamentalism and Romanism?

Concerning Fundamentalism, Lutherans do not have an individualistic mind set when it comes to the Scriptures. The New Testament was written by individuals to communities of Christians. For the Lutherans of the 16th century, it was necessary to see how the early community of Christians received those documents. What did they confess as Apostolic teaching? What heresies crept into the Church, and how was Scripture used to combat those heresies? For Lutherans today, the first six Ecumenical Councils are held in high regard, since they combat false teachings concerning Christ. The teachings of the Fathers, especially of Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, and Leo have always been held in high regard for there solid Christology. If any interpretation of Scripture runs contrary to the teachings of these Councils, there teaching was not accepted, since these Councils adhered to the Scriptures. The Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds are held to be accurate confessions of the true Apostolic faith. They are necessary because people disagree over the meaning of Scripture and these Creeds confess the orthodox teaching over and against the heretical ones on the basis of Scripture. The Creeds are also summaries of the orthodox Christian faith. Further, the Apostles and Nicene Creeds have historically been confessed at baptisms. In conclusion, Lutherans have always confessed Sola Scriptura, but have not meant in the way that other Reformers like Calvin, Zwingli, and the Ana-Baptists meant it. It was unthinkable to believe in something that was never believed before. For more on the Lutheran view of Scripture and Tradition see this link: Scripture and Tradition

Concerning Romanism, Lutherans hold that this fear results in damnation. If people are not hearing the the words of Christ read in their own language, how are they supposed to be followers of Christ? How are parents supposed to raise their children as Christians? What if the Priests are preaching false doctrine? How will the hearers know if they are not familiar with Scripture? The Church is not infallible and should always be ready to repent and refute false doctrine. In 1522, Martin Luther completed his German translation of the Scriptures in the language the average German citizen could understand. He did this because he desired people to constantly keep the words of Christ on their hearts and lips. Concerning Bible reading by Christians, the Lutheran Confessions say:

"Truly, we Christians ought to make every day such a holy day and devote ourselves only to holy things, that is, to occupy ourselves daily with Gods Word and carry it in our hearts and on our lips (LC, 3rd Commandment, 89)."

"In addition, after God has made his beginning through his Holy Spirit in baptism and has ignited and effected true knowledge of God and faith, it is necessary to pray unceasingly that day by day, through this same Spirit and his grace, he strengthen this faith and preserve his heavenly gifts in us by means of daily exercise in the reading and use of Gods Word, and preserve us until the end. For where God himself is not the school teacher, nothing can be studied and learned that is pleasing to him and beneficial for us and others (SD, II, 16)."

All three false teachings: Fundamentalism, Romanism, and Liberalism, are harmful to the Church, and it would behoove Lutherans if they combated all three false teachings even today.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Bible Study Groups

Should Christian pastors encourage small group home Bible studies? My contention is absolutely yes. And below are the reasons why:

1) Fellowship - Home groups are a place for Christians to experience life with one another. Many Christians are distracted by the pressures and influences of non-Christian friends. It is important that Christians find others whom they can identify with, grow with, and be held accountable towards.

2) Transformation - In home groups, Christians can interact with the Word of God and discuss it with other believers. Bible study groups are an opportunity to interact with a text, and get questions answered. The Holy Spirit working through the Word of God shared at such an intimate setting can be a place for great spiritual renewal.

3) Mutual consolation and edification of brothers and sisters in Christ - Home groups are an opportunity to share your life with other Christians. They are a place to share your struggles, sins, and thanksgivings. They are a place to receive guidance, assurance of forgiveness, and prayer.

4) Mission - Often times home groups grow and multiply. Friends invite non-believing friends to come. The non-believing friends get their questions answered, here about sin, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are then brought to the Pastor to be baptized and instructed in the faith.

The most common fear I hear regarding small groups is that without a Pastor people are bound to go astray and be taught falsely. This is a good fear for all Christian pastors to have. We are responsible for the spiritual care of all the people entrusted to our care. We will give an account of the ways in which we conduct our pastoral ministry. So what should we do?

My hope is that pastors would not only equip small group leaders with orthodox materials, but that they would act as Overseers of the development of the groups. There should be no small group leaders who have not been instructed in the orthodox faith. I would also encourage a small group leader questionnaire to be given to those who desire to be leaders. This will ensure that the potential leaders are strong biblically, doctrinally, and have not forgotten their instruction. Further, a small group leadership seminar is a great idea as the leaders can get instruction and advice on how to lead a small group. And finally, I would encourage Pastors to meet with their leaders on a regular basis (maybe monthly or every other month) to check in on the development and progress of each group.

There are basically two options: 1) Option #1 is to operate out of fear and neglect the potential for fellowship, transformation, mutual consolation, and mission. 2) Option #2 is to trust in your system/process and pray that the Holy Spirit would bless such a noble endeavor. The benefits for small groups are enormous, and they have great potential for spiritual renewal and mission.

To operate out of fear and only have one Sunday morning Bible study taught by the Pastor decreases the potential for mutual consolation and mission. Fellowship and transformation can still occur but I'm afraid that people will likely be less open and there is probably less potential to grow. In large groups of people, people are less likely to share their burdens and confess their sins. Further, people from all different walks of life are less likely to attend a small group where they have trouble relating to everyone there. Are large amounts of high school kids going to go to Bible study groups with seniors? Are large amounts of college students going to go to Bible study with middle school students? These are some questions for us to consider as we plan our future ministries.

Some have identified home bible study groups with 17th century European conventicles because they meet at homes without pastors. However, this has no basis. First, conventicles were secret meetings without the knowledge of pastors. Second, the Eucharist was celebrated and lay people were not attending the liturgy. In home Bible study groups, the Pastors are involved. They are the ones who equip, provide the materials and oversee. And the Eucharist shall not be celebrated except where there is a Shepherd to administer it with the whole congregation on the Lord's Day.

In conclusion, small groups are an opportunity for fellowship, transformation, mutual consolation, and mission to occur. The Pastor is the preacher, teacher, the one who appoints leaders, the one who provides materials, and the one who oversees the groups. We can trust in this process and pray that God blesses it, or we can operate out of fear and will most likely not have as much of an impact on the people we are leading or the non-believers in our city.