Hope – The Early Church part 4

If you look around our world today I think you would see a pandemic of hopelessness. We see and hear of so many disturbing things that it is easy to lose hope and without hope it becomes very difficult to endure hardships.

I would dare to say that it is hope that sees people through difficult times. We long to see deliverance from difficult circumstances or trials we are enduring. Without that “light at the end of tunnel” we feel lost, alone, and full of despair. You read of the rash of suicides that swept through Japan recently or even the rise in teenage runaways and suicides even in our own nation and I believe it is all because people have lost hope. They have lost hope in goodness, purity, and ultimately they have lost hope in God or that God even cares or if He exists at all.

The early church endured tremendous persecution and some endured to the point of death. What was it that got them through these trying times? Hope. The hope they had in the promises of God and the hope they had in the love of Christ. They pinned all of the hopes on God; that He would act and work and move.

1 Peter 1:3-12
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 You rejoice in this, [a] though now for a short time you have had to be distressed by various trials 7 so that the genuineness of your faith —more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire —may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that would come to you searched and carefully investigated. 11 They inquired into what time or what circumstances [e] the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when He testified in advance to the messianic sufferings and the glories that would follow. [g] 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you concerning things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Angels desire to look into these things.

Throughout the history of the Israelites, God was always giving them hope. As slaves in Egypt of 440 years, God promised He would deliver them and it was that hope of deliverance that helped the nation of Israel endure the enslavement by the Egyptians. The whole Old Testament points toward Jesus as the hope of true salvation. And Jesus teaches us not to concentrate on the present problems but to look toward the future to the rest and peace we will share with Him for all eternity. Hope is a tremendous force that enables us to keep going forward when those around us have quit.

1 Peter 1: 20-21
He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the times for you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

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Why do bad things happen?

I just read a post on a friend’s blog asking the same question and I responded with the following.  I thought I would just post it here so hopefully you might be encouraged as well.

I have pondered over this question and there are is not an over arching answer that will comfort us all.  One thing is pretty certain in that no matter who you are, where you are, or what your religious affiliation is you will encounter some very hard things.  We may not always understand why things happen but there are some things we can count on:

1). Christ will be there in the storms for those that have placed their trust in Him.  Several episodes from Jesus life point to this fact and none stand out more then when the disciples and Jesus were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and a storm over takes them.  Jesus was there and He did not “poof” at the first sign of trouble.  Sometimes Jesus will calm the storm in our life but other times He will not.  But He will always be there.

2). Bad things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people.  Bad things happen.  The causation of the tragedy may differ but the result is the same.  Whether by a poor decision on your part, a poor decision by somebody else part really matters not.  Just as with   death and taxes, tragedy is almost guaranteed for us all.

3).  Bad things happen to good people, in my own honest opinion, sometimes to show that God’s faithfulness and a person’s faithfulness to God.  How a christian responds to a tragedy speaks more about what they believe than when there are times of joy and prosperity.  The world watches how a christian responds to adversity to see if God really does make a difference.

4).  One thing we tend to forget is that God’s initial intention was never for things to be the way they are.  His initial purpose was for there to be a intimate fellowship between Him and His creation.  However the everything was corrupted with the fall of Adam and Eve into sin.  The corruption not only affected the relationship between God and man but also affect our world.  Death, suffering, sickness, and despair are all a result of the fall of man into sin.

I too have gone through some things I never thought I would have to face.  Did I question?  Yes.  Did I wish it never happened? Of course.  Did I doubt? To be perfectly honest I did.  But you know God is bigger than my doubts and questions.  His shoulders are big enough to carry me when I do not understand .  God used a particular painful part of my life to teach me more about Him.  As I was enduring this painful time three questions always seemed to arise. 1).  What did I believe about God?  2).  Why did I believe it? and 3) Do I trust His promises?

To sum it up let me quote Theodore Roosevelt
“The way we endure what we must endure is more important the the trial itself”

God Bless and get those feet wet!

Holiness – The Early Church Part Three

The third characteristic of the early church found in the book of Acts that I think contributed to their effectiveness was holiness.  When we hear the word holiness I think we have a false idea of what it means.  It does not mean to be better than, to have more standing, or even someone who has earned God’s favor through doing good things.

Holiness is simply putiry.  To be holy in the eyes of God is to be pure.  Now we can not be pure before God without first being cleansed through the blood of Jesus.  “Though my sins be as scarlet, He has made me white as snow.”  A christian’s purity or holiness is found only through the person of Jesus Christ.  It is not something we can do on our own but only through Christ.

But we have a responsibility after Jesus has made us clean and pure to do strive to stay that way.  I think the early church longed to live a life as free of sin as it could.  We are not perfect and we still make mistakes and sin as did those in the early church.  However I sense that for most people in today’s society sin is not taken as seriously as it should be.  We tend to rank our sins as being in one of three catagories.  We have the little sins like the little white lie.  Certainly not much harm can be done.  Then there are the middle class sins.  These can range anywhere from unfaithfulness, to sex outside of marriage, to just about anything we can rationalize.  Then we have the biggies such as murder.

As humans we can rank our behaviour and often will compare it to others.  “Well I am not as bad as so and so” or “I would never do what he/she did”.  To some, their sense of righteousness comes from how much better they are than others or even how worse someone else is than us.  But remember what Jesus said, “If you are guilty of breaking even one part of the law, you are guilty of breaking the whole law”.  To God, sin is sin is sin.  Our little lies are just as much sin as an unfaithful spouse.  Paul says in Romans “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”.

I think that the early church had a proper perspective on sin.  They desired to be holy and free from the tangles of sin.  It was their desire to be pure before God by loving Him and keeping His commands.  If today’s christians (my self included) made it a priority to strive for holiness imagine the imapct we could have.

Humility – The Early Church Day 2

The second characteristic of the early church that made them so special was their lack of selfishness.  Another word we might use to describe that is humbleness.  A definition of humbleness I found at dictionary.com defines humbleness as “to lower in condition, importance, or dignity; abase”.  However the humbleness demonstrated by the early church was one of self imposed humbleness.

Humility is not a character trait that most people seek.  It is often thought of as being weak or a pushover.  We see someone as weak who is humble.  But let us look at the life of Jesus and see that there can be tremendous strength in humility.  The best example would the the instance where Jesus washed the feet of His disciples.  It was custom to wash the feet to clean the dust and dirt off from traveling.  It was usually done by a servant of the house that had a low position.  However, on this day it was Jesus, the King God incarnate, that knelled before mere humans and washed their feet.  What a beautiful picture of how Christ came not to be served but to serve.

The early church also displayed this.

Acts 2:41-47

41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers.  43 Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles.  44 Now all the believers were together and had everything in common.  45 So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need.  46 And every day they devoted themselves [to meeting] together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,  47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them  those who were being saved.”

The selfless attitude of the church was put into action.  Each member lowered his or her own position in order to put the needs of others before theirs.  In other words the humbled themselves in order to server one another.  Now I am not saying that we all need to go out and sell our possessions and give everything to the church and live in tents.  But I am saying that we need to be willing to give of our money, our time, our effort, our prayers, and/or our own possessions in order that we might serve others in the church.  Did you catch the result of all this humility?  The church grew day by day.  Why?

They members of the early church were acting in a way that was completely foreign to what society and the world teaches.  How often did Jesus teach that our behavior needs to be completely opposite of the world’s?  If we, individually and corporately, stand and serve one another then our communities will take notice and will see that we are doing things for selfish gain but more out of a love for God and our fellow man.

God Bless…

Energy Crisis

Our country is experiencing an energy crunch as we all know.  Our dependence on foreign oil has put a choke hold on our economy and is having a deleterious effect on our nation.  Check out the following video.

The Death of the Stateman

I want to take a small break from the series I recently started talking about the early church.  I want to just share a few thoughts with you on what I percieve as a problem in our nation today.  Just so you know and can probably tell from reading the following, I am a conservative through and through.  I am not a conservative because my parent and friends are or because it sjust what I have always done.  The traditional conservative platform lines up more with my personal beliefs and convicitions.

As I look back on our nation’s history I sense that the true stateman has passed into history.  Gone are the days when the governemnet was of the people, for the people, and by the people.  No longer do most elected officials truly represent what is best for our country.  Today’s politician seems to be driven by the desire to be re-elected at almost any cost.

Evidence of this can be seen in almost all areas of the political process.  Campaigns are now about how wrong the other person is and why it would be terrible for them to hold office instead of what that candidate believes in and stands for.  For some candidates it is very difficult to determine what they actually stand for or what side of an issue they are on.  Their statement are so carefully crafted as to not really offer any opinion so that no one is offended.

Once elected to office it seems that some forget where they came from and who elected them.  They tend to start making policy decision based on what the “party” wants or what is politically expediant for them.  How I long for someone to take a stand on an issue because it is the right hing to do and not the politically correct thing.  Our officals cave now to special interest groups or bow to the pressue of corporate donations as to what issues they will take up and how they will position themselves. Personal ambitions get in the way of what is best for the majority of the citizens.

And by the way, did you know that from January 1st until today July 16, you have been working to pay for our government?  I long for fiscal conservatism and fiscal responsibility.  I do not mind paying taxes, but I want my money that I have spent seven months working for to send to our government to be used wisely and responsibly.

The Early Church – Day 1

There are studies and statistics floating around today about church growth, membership numbers, baptisms, or any number of other quantifiable items to determine the effectiveness of the church.  However, I think we have misplaced some of our focus.  The mission of the church has always been one of outreach and also impacting the world in which we live.  I am saddened to think that we are not doing as well as we should in either case.

But, as I have read through the book of Acts it has been a great encouragement to me.  I love to see how the early church formed and started working to minister and carry out the Great Commission found in Matthew 28.  It is truly amazing to see how effective they were without the structure and organization found in most of today’s churches.  I have pondered how they could have been so effective and I think I have come up with several characteristics that we need to be better at as a church body and also on a personal basis.

The first characterisic is a simple yet powerful one that, in my own experience and life, has not been as pominent as it should be.  Acts 1:14 says, “All these (the disciples) were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.”

As I read that verse I am somewhat convicted when I look at my own prayer life.  It is not as prominent or powerful as it should be.  The early church was united in and by prayer.  They prayed not just on Wednesdays and Sundays, but continually.  Our prayer life has become somewhat privatized.  Prayer was a major activity in the early church and I think this was a source of great power and encouragement to each other.  It was a time for those gathered to speak and to listen to God in a very personal way.  Prayer was the binding force in their life and also empowered them to begin to reach the world for Christ.

How about today?  I am not wanting to come off sounding judgmental because I acknowledge the fault is in me as well.  What I do want to do tho is to encourage and spur us all to be more devoted to prayer.  But this is not the prayer we usually prayer thanking God for all these blessing and then asking for help for Aunt Doris.  I am talking about the kind of prayer that brings us ALL to a point where we are overwhelmed with the presence and the power of God and we humbly submit ourselves to Him completely. Our prayers should be filled with power, conviction, repentance, and awe for when we pray we are brought into the very presence of God.

Will you join me?

The Early Church

For some time I have pondered the differences between church today and what it might have been like in the early church.  Not all the differences are bad mind you but I think there are somethings that we might be missing and therefore are missing out on some blessings.  I am a member of a baptist church and I dearly love it and I love the baptist denomination as a whole.  I am not saying I believe Baptists have all the answers or are even right in some instances.  But I feel that their teaching and theology match the way I interpret scriptures than any other denomination out there.

Over the next three to four day I want to look at what I consider the four main characteristics of the early church, what it meant, and hopefully how it might be manifested in today’s church as well.  I will be taking most of my examples from the book of Acts since it paints a pretty clear picture of the early church and its impact on its society as a whole.

I hope that you will join me in the days to come as I hope that it will be an encouragement to you.

God Bless….

Life and Death

Recently someone posted a comment about Jesus not actually dying on the cross and therefore there was no resuurection.  This is commonly known as the swoon theory and is used as an explanation for Jesus being seen alive after the crucifixion.  I want to take some time here to provide arguments for why I believe Jesus did actually die on the cross.

In order to discuss this we must be reminded of what physically happened to Jesus on that day.  Remember that He was subjected to mock trials the night before and was turned over by Pilate to be scourged.  The process of scourging is one of grousome detail but I believe it is important to realize just what Jesus went through before being crucified.  Roman scourging consisted of the prisoner being stripped of all clothing, chained to a post with their arms stretched above their head or to a stump or stone on which they would have been bent over and their hands and feet chained to the base. The instrument of the scourge was a whip that had braided leather strands that contained a metal ball on the end of each strand.  There might be up to 9 different strands to the whip.  Along the length of the brainded lether strand would be bits of metal or bone woven into the strands.  As the scourge was slammed against the body, the metal balls would cause bruising and contusions that would burst upong being hit again and again.  Also the bits of metal and bone would be embedded in the flesh of the victim and as the scourge was yanked back, peices of flesh, muscle, and sinew would be ripped form the body.

I refer to an interview of Alexander Metherell, M.D. by a journalist by the name of Lee Strobel.  Dr. Metherell has a Medical Degree from the Univeristy of Miami Florida and a Doctrate of Engineering from the Univeristy of Bristol in England.  He has studied the events of the scourging and the crucifiction and I will interject some of his thoughts on these subjects.

In the Book, The Case for Christ on page 195 Metherell relays another doctors description of the result 39 lashes of the scrouge would be:

“As the flogging continued, the lacerations would tesar into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce ribbons of bleeding flesh”

Metherell quotes Eusebius who was a third century historian in saying ,`The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure’.

I just finished watching a YouTube video talking about how Joseph of Arimethea, the person who buried Jesus, put him in the tomb so that the “superficial wounds would heal”.  Now pardon me but having my sinews and bowels open for exposure go a little more beyond superficial and I do not believe a mixture of Aloe and Myrrh would be enough to stave off the devastating punushment endured from the Roman scourging.  Jesus’ body would have been torn to shreds from this neck to his thighs.  There is little doubt that Jesus, after the scourging, would be suffering from hypovolemic shock.  This is a condition due to extreme blood loss and the heart is working extra hard to pump what little blood there is through out the body.  Jesus was already in critical condition and He still had to be crucified.

Crucifixion was devised to be a very painful way of dying.  Our word excruciating came about in order to describe the pain that was experienced during crucifixion.  It was so terrible and painful they had to invent a word to describe it.  I will not go into the whole process of crucifixion but it is important to know why a person dies from crucifixion.  A person’s arms are nailed fully extended to the cross member.  The cross member is then raised and attatched to the post that is in the ground.  The person’s feet were then placed on on top of each other and a single nail driven through both ankles.  Dr. Metherell states that at the point a person is hanging on the cross the stress on the arms from the weight of the body would pull the solders out of joint and a person’s arms would have been stretched perhaps even up to 6 inches in length.  With the arms outstretched, the chest cavity would have been expanded much like you were taking a deep breath but because of the weight of the body the victim could not exhale.  In order to breath out, the victim had to stand on the nail that was driven through the ankles dragging the raw back laid open from scrouging along the rough surface of the cross, breath out, and then sink down again to hang from the arms.  There is no way for me to even comprehend how incredible painful this was.  Death would come when the prisoner was so fatigued they could not push up on the nail to breath.  As Jesus neared death, his heart already stressed from hypovolemic shock, would have beat faster and faster which would have resulted in a build up of clear fluid around the heart and lungs. In order to hasten death, Roman soldiers would come by and break the lower legs, the tibia and fibula, so that a person would not be able to stand any longer.

I say all of this in order for us to understand what was happening to the body of Jesus.  Some people cast doubt on His actual death because He died in such a quick manner (6 hours) while some people would take days to die.  But given that Jesus was already in critical condition from the flogging (many people did not survive that) and then the stress of the cross, I am not surprised at all.

Here are some of the reasons that I am convinced that Jesus physically died on the cross and did not just faint.  First, the Roman soldier was very well trained in the art of killing.  I do not think it a stretch to say that they could identify someone who had died.  It was what they were paid and trained to do.  For a Roman soldier repsonsible for the execution of a prisoner to let that prisoner off the cross without being dead would mean execution for them.  To make a mistake like that would have cost them their own life.  Were other prisoners taken down from the cross?  I really do not know but if they were I do not think it was because the Roman’s thought they were dead.  Secondly, a spear was shoved through the side of Jesus.  The spear would have traveled through one of the lungs and punctured the heart.  And this acurrately describes the statement found John 19:34 where it says”Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”

Dr. Metherell is finally asked if it is at all psossible that Jesus merely swooned and his answer is “I tell them that it is impossible.  It is a fanciful theory without any possible basis in fact”.

The evidence found in history, the Scriptures, disciplines like pathology and medicine strongly support the physical death of Jesus on the cross.  I believe it takes a greater leap in faith and logic to believe in the Swoon theorey.

The Grey World

The idea of truth has been on my mind now for sometime. Like most all of us truth is something that we deal with on a day to day basis.  There are concepts and ideas that we hold as being true that help us to live our lives.  Our founding fathers used the idea of truth in saying in the Declaration of Idependance “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  But I have come to believe that our sense of what is truth has been distorted.

But what is truth?  I looked up truth in the dictionary at http://www.dictionary.com and here is what I found.

truth

1. the true or actual state of a matter: He tried to find out the truth.
2. conformity with fact or reality; verity: the truth of a statement.
3. a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like: mathematical truths.
4. the state or character of being true.
5. actuality or actual existence.
6. an obvious or accepted fact; truism; platitude.
7. honesty; integrity; truthfulness.
8. (often initial capital letter) ideal or fundamental reality apart from and transcending perceived experience: the basic truths of life.
9. agreement with a standard or original.
10. accuracy, as of position or adjustment.
11. Archaic. fidelity or constancy.

We even have a hard time defining what truth is without using the word truth.  I will take my own interpretation and try to offer a definition we can work with.  I define truth as something that is constant and always correct despite the circumstances.  Let me see if I can give an example.  If I climb up to the top of a diving platform and jump off I will fall.  It is something that will happen no matter how many times I do it.  That is a physical truth.  We have mathmatical truths that even children understand such as 2+2=4.  Take two objects and add two more objects and you will always have four.

But what about spiritual or moral truths?  This is where people would like to make things fuzzy.  I hold to the belief that there are certain moral truths that are always correct.  But I have heard time and time again from people that truth is relative or that there are no absolute truths.  Let me quickly look at these to ideas as I will probably deal with each in more depth later.

First the relative nature of truth.  What this basically is saying is that what is right or wrong can change depending on the situation.  What is morally right in one instance can be morally wrong in another and vice versa.  It’s not ok for children to lie to their parents but it is ok for parents to lie on their tax returns.  Such plurality is very puzzeling and can be quite confusing.  If we go by my definition that truth is something that is always right no matter the circumstance, then if we say that truth is relative what we are really saying is that truth does not exist.  In a relative mindset truth becomes more of opinion and conjecture.  Truth cannot be exist if it is only relative.  This can be a dangerous place to live because if we say that truth is relative then we can justify any action.

What about the argument of there are no absolute truths.  In a similar manner we use this again to justify our actions.  But my one question in response to there are no absolute truths is that is that not an absolute truth?  And if so, an absolute truth does exist which therefore negates the argument.

I believe there are things that are always right and things that are always wrong.  Loving our neighbor as Jesus taught is always right.  Doing something hurtful to our neighbor is always wrong.  Some people want to live in a gray world where there is no distinction between the ideas of right and wrong.  My problem with living in a grey world is that I know there is color and knowing that makes a grey world look awfully drab.

John 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

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