Saturday, April 25, 2015

Read All About It

"Jesus isn't here! He has been raised from death. Remember that while he was still in Galilee, he told you, 'The Son of Man will be handed over to sinners who will nail him to a cross. But three days later he will rise to life.'"

-- Luke 24:6-7

If it bleeds, it leads.

That's the old saying in the news business. Turn on the TV, read a newspaper or visit a news website and you're bound to come across story after story about political incompetence, "skyrocketing" unemployment and degenerate human behavior. The fact is that the media thrives on bad news and hyping the worst possible scenarios. After all, glad tidings rarely drive ratings or sell magazines. And positive headlines can make for lousy click-bait.

A steady stream of good news also Newspaper2doesn't paint an unrealistic picture of our circumstances. For example, a gloomy economic report from a government agency can lead to self-fulfilling prophesies when the public becomes too scared to buy a much-needed automobile or even a new pair of shoes. True, too many people really ARE struggling with difficult life challenges. But unemployment, crime, sickness and death have been part of the human experience for centuries--even in the best of times. There's nothing new there.

OK. Enough with the depressing headlines. How about some good news for a change?

As Christ-followers, our Good News (the Gospel) is that Jesus paid the price for our sins (past, present and future) when He died on the cross in our place. Then, just as predicted in the Old Testament, God resurrected him to life to forever defeat the power of sin and death in our lives. It's this same power that will one day raise all believers to eternal life and joy with our Creator.

"Death has lost the battle!" wrote the Apostle Paul. "Where is its victory? Where is its sting?"

This kind of Good News changes everything. But does it sound a bit too good to be true? If so, you're not alone. Even some of Jesus' apostles refused to believe it when they first heard that he was alive. Let's consider this encouraging passage from the Gospel of John, which reports the skepticism--and later amazement--of Thomas (the one forever known as "Doubting Thomas"):

Although Thomas the Twin was one of the twelve disciples, he wasn't with the others when Jesus appeared to them. So they told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But Thomas said, "First, I must see the nail scars in his hands and touch them with my finger. I must put my hand where the spear went into his side. I won't believe unless I do this!"

A week later the disciples were together again. This time, Thomas was with them. Jesus came in while the doors were still locked and stood in the middle of the group. He greeted his disciples and said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and look at my hands! Put your hand into my side. Stop doubting and have faith!" Thomas replied, "You are my Lord and my God!"

Jesus said, "Thomas, do you have faith because you have seen me? The people who have faith in me without seeing me are the ones who are really blessed!"

Are too many negative headlines getting you down? Then log off the Internet, turn off the TV and start reading some Good News...the kind that changes everything.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Penny for Your Thoughts

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity
among yourselves
as you follow Christ Jesus.

-- Romans 15:5

If we're to believe The Fun Times Guide website, the United States Mint produces more than 13 billion pennies per year. And each lowly cent features biblical truths that we should not overlook.

First, the penny was one of the first Pennycoins of the United States to include the motto "In God We Trust." Now look at the coin's reverse side. It's there that you'll see the phrase E Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for "out of many, one." An early motto of the United States, it signifies that our nation was founded when the 13 original colonies united behind the common cause of liberty. The Founding Fathers from Massachusetts often clashed politically and socially with their compatriots in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Georgia. But they put aside their many differences to write the Declaration of Independence, win the Revolutionary War and eventually ratify the Constitution.

Out of 13 small, divergent colonies was born a great nation, which today boasts more than 300 million people representing countless varied cultures. From San Francisco's Chinatown to New York's Little Italy, it's no wonder that the United States is called The Great Melting Pot.

Here's where the Bible lesson comes in: The Church--meaning all the Christ-followers on Earth--is also a place of immense diversity. Believers come from different religious traditions and have a broad range of preferences regarding worship music and sermon style. The Church is also a place where all races are welcome and present. It mingles the rich, the poor and the middle class. But what unites them all--or at least should bring them together--is a common faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. As the saying goes: "Level is the ground beneath the cross."

And that's just the way God wants it. Shortly before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus prayed to his Father about the Church--meaning not only his original followers, but also Believers in the centuries to come: 

"I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

Christ's prayer links the dusty streets of 1st Century Israel with the crowded superhighways of modern North America and Europe...and everywhere in between. But exactly how will Jesus' Church be made whole? It starts with a common focus on Him rather than a reliance on the world. What then will spring forth is unity--not uniformity. It's in this same spirit that we should embrace the Apostle Paul's admonition to some of the earliest Christ-followers:

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another," he wrote to the Colossians. "Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Choosing Hope

But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.
-- Psalm 71:14 

One of the interesting things about the English language is that a single word can mean so many different things. For example, we might say that we'd love to go to a restaurant, we love our children and we'd love for our favorite football team to win the Super Bowl.

The same holds true for the word hope. CrossWe say that we hope it will rain in California. And we also put our hope for eternal salvation in Jesus Christ. But why should we hope for that? Isn't Jesus just another popular figure from one of the many religions that are out there?

Not at all! During his brief time on earth, Jesus cured the sick, raised the dead, forgave sins and became a living sacrifice to pay the price for all the wrongs of the world (just as God had planned it long ago). His resurrection from the grave--which was predicted in the Old Testament--proved his ultimate power over death. And 2,000 years later, Jesus' words continue to change lives and deliver hope.

Jesus is literally hope personified. And he's also the only way to God. In John 14:6, Jesus proclaims that no one can come to the Father (God) except through him. And when his disciple, Philip, asked to see the Creator, Jesus reassured his confused follower that God was much closer than he realized. In fact, very close.
"Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?" asked Jesus. "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father?'"

This claim, of course, make millions (maybe billions?) of people uncomfortable. It's a claim of exclusivity. And it's also much more than a politically incorrect notion. Popular culture condemns it--and anyone who dares to declare it--as "intolerant."

But the truth in which Christ-followers hope is anything but exclusive. After all, Jesus' death and resurrection make eternal life available for EVERYONE who puts their faith in him and accepts God's free gift of salvation! Christ won't close the door on those who seek and ask. And unlike false religions, the true way to God isn't about keeping certain rules, saying special prayers or eating (or not eating) particular foods. Instead, it's about having a personal relationship with Jesus, accepting what he's already accomplished and letting him live within. Man-made religions are about "do." But Jesus is about "done."

To borrow the title of an old-time gospel song, this news is nothing less than Blessed Assurance. We know without a doubt that Jesus has taken care of our past, present and future through his sacrifice on the cross. And in a world dominated by tragedy, sorrow and uncertainty, he's the only reason that we can choose hope.   

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Gospel Truth

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

-- 2 Timothy 3:16:17 

Can you really believe what's in the Bible? And is all that stuff about Easter and Jesus rising from the dead really true?

These are lofty questions with eternal consequences. But who really knows the truth? After all, some people say that the Bible is too old to be relevant in the 21st Century. Others doubt the possibility of all the miracles it reports. And still more claim that the Bible is no greater than the scriptures of other faiths.

With so many legitimate concerns Bibleout there, what makes the Bible stand out above every book ever written?

First, the Bible claims to be God's Word--and then backs it up with hundreds of prophesies (predictions) about events that would happen decades or even centuries later. For example, the Old Testament records in detail God's plan for saving mankind through a Messiah. The prophet Micah wrote that the Savior would be born--in of all places--an obscure Middle Eastern town called Bethlehem. And as we read in the New Testament, Jesus actually fulfilled these prophesies in person through His birth, ministry, death and resurrection. And he did so to the letter!

Historically and scientifically accurate, the Bible is also the most studied and critiqued book in history. Try as many have, no one has been able to disprove its claims. Luke, the physician who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, also wanted the real scoop. So he interviewed the people who knew Jesus best and could attest to His reality. Consider the opening lines of Luke's first book:

"Many people have tried to tell the story of what God has done among us. They wrote what we had been told by the ones who were there in the beginning and saw what happened. So I made a careful study of everything and then decided to write and tell you exactly what took place. ...I have done this to let you know the truth about what you have heard."

The Apostle Peter--someone who knew Jesus personally--also documented his own testimony:

"When we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not telling just clever stories that someone invented," he wrote. "But we saw the greatness of Jesus with our own eyes."

It all adds up to a mountain of evidence that would stand up in court. So as Christ-followers seeking to grow in our faith, what should be our response to this awesome reality?

First, we should take time each day to read and memorize God's Word. After all, it's his message to us that covers just about every facet of life. And of course, we also need to obey it--even if it doesn't make sense at the time. What's more, we should delight in it because we know it's the source of truth for our life. And this all leads to our final response: trust.

God's Word to us through the Bible is surely trustworthy. And who better to confirm this than someone who very much believed it himself: Jesus. Luke's Gospel tells us that Christ even launched His public ministry by reading passages from the Book of Isaiah. A small Jewish congregation was the first audience for these stunning words of new-found meaning. But Jesus also meant them for everyone--even those of us today with ears to hear them:

"Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Yes, we can and should believe God's Word for us in the Bible. And that's the Gospel Truth!