Tuesday, March 27, 2018


There is a prominent public figure in our country who has claimed that much of what is being produced by the media is “fake news.” This little phrase, “fake news”, has been embraced in many ways, from serious skepticism to over the top parody. Unfortunately, one of the outcomes is this is that more and more people are becoming skeptical of what they hear. People are losing confidence in the public debate and are struggling with what they can truly believe.

                This pervasive skepticism is not really new. It has been around for a very long time. It has worked its way into the heart of most people. This is especially true when it comes to religion and matters of faith. Christianity tends to be a top target when it comes to spiritual skepticism. People are skeptical of any religion that claims to have the truth. Instead they want to have the option of gleaning from a buffet of spiritual ideas those that they feel fit their life. It is very common for people today to claim to be spiritual, but not religious. For example, in an interview with Claire Hoffman on December 9, 2013, Katy Perry stated that she liked to essentially cut and paste together her own religion, taking the nice, feel-good parts of the Bible and combining them with other religions and philosophies.

                One of the aspects of Christianity that raises the greatest skepticism today is the reality of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Many today want to make the story of the resurrection just a myth created by the church to reinforce their religious system. Others see the resurrection as a spiritual experience rather than a tangible reality. Is the resurrection of Jesus fact or fiction?

                I firmly believe that God has not left us without enough tangible evidence that Jesus, in reality, died on a cross, was buried, and rose again. The gospel accounts of the resurrection ring true as historical, eye-witness statements of an event that really happened. As we approach Resurrection Sunday, take some time to consider the evidence for the reality of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

1. It is a historical fact that Jesus was crucified by order of Pontius Pilate. Matthew 27:11-26, Mark 15:1-15, Luke 22:66-23:25, John 18:28-19:16

2. Jesus was flogged and cruelly mistreated before his crucifixion. Matthew 27:27-31, Mark 15:16-20, John 19:1-5

3. Crucifixion was one of the cruelest forms of capital punishment. A man would be nailed to a cross, with the nails going through his wrists just below the palm of the hand and a single nail through his feet. Before his feet were nailed, his knees would be slightly bent. Once the cross was in place, the whole weight of the man’s body would be on his wrists. His chest would be constricted, restricting his breathing. He could push up with his legs to get a breath, but the pain would be excruciating. In addition, prisoners were routinely flogged before they were crucified causing them to bleed profusely. As the man became weaker and weaker he would die of blood loss and asphyxiation.

4. After Jesus died, the truth of this was confirmed when a soldier thrust his spear into Jesus’ side and blood and water flowed out, indicating that the serum and red blood cells had already separated in Jesus’ body. John 19:31-37

5. Jesus was placed in a tomb carved out of the rock. A large stone was rolled in front of the entrance that would have taken several men to remove. It would be impossible to move the stone from the inside. Given the extent of Jesus’ wounds and the weakness caused by his crucifixion, even if he was still barely alive when he was placed in the tomb, he would have quickly died in the cold airless tomb. Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, John 19:38-42

6. The tomb was sealed and a guard of soldiers was placed at the tomb to keep anyone from removing the body of Jesus. Matthew 27:62-66

7. The women were the first to discover the empty tomb. In those days, the testimony of women was not considered valid. This points to the accuracy of the story. Matthew 28:1-7, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-11, John 20:1-2

8. Upon examination by the disciples, it was discovered that the tomb was empty, but the grave clothes were still there. If someone was going to take the body, they would not leave the grave clothes. Luke 24:12, John 20:3-9

9. The guards that had been posted reported all that had happened to the chief priests. The chief priests paid them money to spread a false story. The story does not hold water on a number of accounts.
Matthew 28:11-15

10. The first people to see the risen Jesus were women. Again, if a person were making up this story, they would not have even included the women. Matthew 28:8-10, John 20:10-18

11. The disciples never anticipated the resurrection. They are not depicted as the heroes of this story, but as scared, dejected men, hiding from the authorities.

12. Jesus appeared to the disciples in a locked upper room. He gave them physical evidence that it was really him and not a ghost. Luke 24:36-49, John 20:19-23

13. Jesus appeared to two other disciples on the road to Emmaus. Luke 24:13-35

14. Jesus made a second appearance to the disciples in the upper room, this time with Thomas present. John 20:24-31

15. Jesus appeared to the disciples in Galilee. Matthew 28:16-20, John 21:1-14

16. Paul records multiple encounters with Jesus, by various groups during the 40 days before his ascension. 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8

                The evidence for the truth of the resurrection is there. It is up to each person to decide for themselves if they will accept it as fact or fiction.

Friday, March 23, 2018


Ephesians 6:11
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.

                Recently I listened to an audio version of C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters. It was first published in 1942, but it is as contemporary as if it were written in 2018. The Screwtape Letters is a revealing look at the schemes that Satan and his minions use to pervert the souls of people. One of the things that stood out to me as I listened is how blind we have become to Satan’s attacks. As Screwtape writes to his nephew, Wormwood, concerning the best ways to pervert the soul of “his man,” the tactics recommended seem so obvious. Yet, in real life, we fall into these obvious traps time and time again.

                The Bible tells us that Satan is like a roaring lion, prowling around, seeking someone to devoir. There are three truths that come out of this image, of which we should all be aware. First, Satan has an insatiable hunger for evil. His whole bent is to do damage to God by attacking God’s creation, especially humanity. Second, Satan is always looking for those individuals who are isolated. An isolated person is a vulnerable person. Third, Satan knows exactly how to maximize a person’s vulnerabilities.

                One of the things that Lewis points out in his masterful book is that Satan often uses “the big sins” to blind people to the quieter, often more deadly, subtle sins. Although murder, stealing, and immorality are all destructive, they are set up by the sins of character. Satan is a master at slowly and subtly distorting a person’s character to the point that they are willing to engage in any manner of evil and be able to justify it. Paul speaks to this in Romans 1:28-32. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

                Paul unmasks some of Satan’s schemes in Ephesians 4:29-32. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Let’s take a closer look at the traps Satan sets for us.

- Unwholesome talk: In our age of expanded ways of communicating, it has become common for people to use these many communication tools to expound all manner of unwholesome talk. Some people feel that they can say anything on social media without accountability. They will say things through the internet that they would never say to another person face to face. It is all too easy for us to get caught up in this.

- Bitterness, rage, and anger: These three go together, because they are all part of a continuum. Bitterness comes when we feel wronged. We are hurt by what someone else does or says, and we allow that hurt to fester. It begins to sour our heart. Bitterness, if unchecked leads to rage; a burning desire to get back at someone. Rage gives birth to anger, which is the outward explosion of our negative emotions.

- Brawling and slander: Out first thought is of engaging in a fist fight, but in this context, brawling refers more to an argumentative spirit. We fight others with our words. This argumentative spirit naturally leads to slander; the demeaning of another person. Slander is so common today that we do not even recognize it.

- Malice: this is an entire category of emotions and actions that have one purpose in mind; to do harm to another person. Malice is active aggression against another person in both words and deeds.

                All of these things begin within a person. They are all character issues. We want to blame our circumstances or the people around us, but the real cause of these things lies deep within us. James makes that very clear in James 1:13-15. When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

                If we are going to counter these negative influences in our lives, we will need to take positive action. Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God, so that we can stand against Satan’s attacks. In Ephesians 4, Paul gave us a few strategies to fend off the schemes of Satan.

- Guard your words: It is often better to say nothing than to “speak our mind.” Paul tells us to replace unwholesome talk with words that uplift and encourage others. Make it a habit to express positive words to those around you.

- Acknowledge the Holy Spirit: The Bible tells us that when we place our faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us. Too often we forget His presence. We need to remind ourselves that God’s Spirit lives within us. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

- Actively practice kindness and compassion: These are skills that need to be developed and honed. At first, they may feel awkward, but over time they will become our natural response to others.

- Learn to forgive quickly: Just as we have been forgiven by God through Christ, we need to extend that same forgiveness to those around us. Instead of holding a grudge for some perceived wrong, we need to give it to God and let go of it.

                The Devil is a master at what he does. On our own, we are no match for his malevolent schemes. But we can stand in the power of Christ. The first step is to be aware of Satan’s tactics so that we can take up the shield of faith and quench his fiery darts as the come our way.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


                I have begun reading Generational IQ by Hayden Shaw. At the beginning of the book he outlines, in general terms, the characteristics of the different generations, focusing on the things that have uniquely shaped them. The way each generation looks at life is different, because they have been shaped by different forces. I happen to be squarely in the middle of the Baby Boomer generation (1946-1964).

                One of the major shifts that took place for the Boomers was the shift from theology to psychology. The generation before the Boomers (Traditionalists) were guided by a sense of what was theologically correct. The Boomers looked to psychology as the guide for life. Self-esteem became paramount and guilt was to be avoided at all costs. One of the things that was lost in this shift was the concept of sin. Sin became a dirty word, because it caused people to feel guilty and that was bad.

                To put this shift in perspective, consider what has become acceptable and forbidden in common discourse. When I was growing up we heard a lot about sin from our parents and grandparents. Sex was taboo. It was rarely, if ever talked about in polite company, and then only in hushed tones. Today, sex is everywhere. It is openly discussed, often in graphic detail. It is used in advertisements to sell products. It is an integral component of most movies and TV shows. On the other hand, we rarely, if ever, hear the word sin. If sin is mentioned, it is spoken of as passé, or the concept is made fun of. Sin has replaced Sex on the list of dirty words we are not allowed to use in polite company.

                Shaw makes a very compelling case that psychology can surface the issues in our lives, but it cannot offer a real solution for them. Without an understanding of sin, there is no way out of our self-destructive behaviors.

                The Bible is very clear that sin is the central issue of human life. It was the rebellion (sin) of Adam and Eve that polluted our world and kicked off the cycle of decay and death. No one is immune from this spiritual pandemic. Both the Old and the New Testaments affirm that sin is the universal condition of every person. …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23) The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3) There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

                To deny the reality of sin in our lives puts us at odds with God and with ourselves. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:8, 10) We live in a world that wants to deny the reality of sin yet struggles with the moral vacuum that it causes. Without an honest understanding of sin, there can be no right and wrong. The evil in our world cannot be adequately explained. We are left with moral anarchy, with the most powerful and the strongest dominating the field, until someone stronger and more powerful comes along.

                Denying the reality of sin is like refusing to accept a diagnosis of cancer in our body. We can ignore it, but it will not go away. Instead, it will continue to grow until it kills us. In the same way, refusing to acknowledge sin allows it to continue to grow and take over our lives. Left unchecked, sin leads to death; eternal separation from God.
    When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

                We don’t like to talk about sin, because it makes us feel uncomfortable and even guilty. But it is that very sense of guilt that God wants to use to free us from our sin. When we are willing to come to grips with our sin, the door is opened for us to find true forgiveness and restoration of our soul. As John writes in 1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

                Jesus came to earth to take care of the sin problem. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He paid the price for our rebellion and sin. It is through Him that we can receive forgiveness of and freedom from our sin. In Jesus, we can move from death to life. "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

                Satan has done a masterful job of hiding the reality of sin in the darkness. It is time that we bring sin back out into the open so that it can be clearly seen. Only then can we find the real solution to the things we struggle with. Only then can we shake our persistent feeling of guilt and condemnation.

Romans 8:1-4
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.



Tuesday, March 13, 2018


                One of the highlights of every Olympics is the medal ceremony. The top three finishers are announced in order from bronze medal to gold medal winners. Then the national anthem of the gold medal winner is played. All three athletes are happy to be on the platform, but the bronze and silver medal winners are overshadowed by the focus on the gold medal winner. Sometimes the disappointment of coming in second or third is just too much for the athlete. We witnessed this with the Canadian Women’s hockey team. As the silver medals were placed around their necks, one of the athletes quickly removed it. In her frustration, she stated, I didn’t come to the Olympics to win silver. She later apologized, but her actions highlight a truth that we all know but are reluctant to admit. No one likes coming in second!

                It is very common for Christians to talk about giving Jesus first place in their hearts. Too often, the reality is that we give Jesus Silver Medal devotion. We have unconsciously divided our lives into two distinct categories; sacred and secular. Our sacred life consists of worship on Sunday, Sunday School, a small group, and personal devotions. Our secular life fills all the rest of our time. If we were to stop and do a time study, we would quickly discover that, in practical terms, we regularly give Jesus second place in our lives. It is not that we disregard Jesus or stop believing in Him. It is more that we just don’t think about Him in the daily routines of our life. We do not make a conscious effort to include Jesus in what we see as our secular life. We functionally practice a personal form of separation of church and state.

                At this point it would be natural for us to become defensive. We can come up with all kinds of excuses for seemingly placing Jesus second, but the reality is that we do it more often than we realize. We are all guilty. We place sports activities above worship on a regular basis. We spend far more time reading books and watching TV than we do reading the Bible. Social media has become the dominant force in life. In the past, the church was the center of community life. Today, the church is a marginal player in the community. In the past, the church was the moral compass for society. Today, politics and the media are the moral compass. We give lip service to the value of the church, but we take our clues from the society around us.  

                We are not the first generation to struggle with this challenge. Way back in the Middle Ages groups of people tried to reorder the priorities of their lives by retreating to monasteries and convents. They felt that the way to give Jesus first place was to completely disengage from the world. There are still people today that believe this. Yet, history shows us that disengagement was not the answer. The answer was given to us by Christ Himself. We need to be in the world but not of the world. To give Jesus Gold Medal devotion, we need to be fully engaged in our world, with Christ at the very center of all that we do.

                It begins with our attitude. That which dominates our thinking dominates our lives. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus addressed the focus of our everyday lives. "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
    "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

                Our tendency to give Jesus second place is really a matter of trust. We do not trust Him to provide for us what we need. Therefore, we place the pursuit of those things above Jesus. Jesus tells us that we can trust our Heavenly Father. He is not a miser. He is not stingy with His grace and mercy. When we adjust our attitude to seek Jesus first in every situation, He will put everything else into order.

                From attitude, we must move to action. The two go hand in hand. If we truly believe that Jesus loves us and cares about our needs, then we will begin to act differently. This means that we can go through our normal activities of life with a different perspective. Instead of seeing the things we do as an end in themselves, we can see them as a means of honoring and glorifying Jesus. Paul states this clearly and simply in Colossians 3:17. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. The way we live our daily lives matters to Jesus. He does not want us to withdraw and become hermits. He wants us to engage fully in life, with the purpose of transforming every situation for His glory. As Paul says in Ephesians 5:15-16. Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

                The way that we give Jesus Gold Medal devotion is by living lives worthy of Jesus in all that we do. We don’t have to become outwardly religious to demonstrate the character of Christ in every aspect of our lives. We don’t have to put up a façade of perfection to live genuine, honest lives before others. We do not have to become syrupy pious to be genuinely compassionate.

                Jesus deserves our Gold Medal devotion.

Ephesians 4:1
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018


Philippians 2:12-13
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

                I have been reading a couple of books about developing leaders in the church. To be frank, they have been a little discouraging. I want to give the authors the benefit of the doubt, and I know that, when writing on a particular subject, it is common to make things very black and white, but I get the distinct impression that if a person has not attained a certain level of perfection, they are not qualified to lead. As a pastor, these books have been discouraging, because I feel that I have failed to produce the kind of leaders that are expected.

                In a good way, these books have held up a mirror for me to look at my own life. Everyone who strives to be serious about their faith in Jesus Christ will struggle with the unfinished nature of their faith. The Apostle Paul relates this struggle with what theologians call “the already but not yet.” We are saved when we put our faith in Christ, but we are in the process of being saved, which is our future hope. To put it another way; we are living by grace and striving for perfection.

                We all live in the dynamic tension between the ideal and the real. The ideal is to be totally conformed to the image of Christ. Peter sets out this goal in 1 Peter 1:13-16. Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."  Jesus himself seems to set a pretty high bar for us to attain. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) The goal for all of us is genuine holiness and spiritual perfection.

                The reality is that we all fall far short of this goal. The danger for us is that we begin to believe that we must attain perfection by our own efforts. Our faith can become works based, yet we know that it is not. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) The good news is that we are living under God’s grace. Like infants and children who need to grow and learn, so we need to learn and grow in our faith. Grace is never an excuse for not striving toward the goal. Rather grace gives us the chance to mature in our faith. Grace encourages us to do our best. Grace picks us up when we stumble and fall. Grace alerts us when we get off track. Grace encourages us when we get discouraged with our progress.

                Paul puts this dynamic tension into perspective for us in Philippians 3:7-16.
    But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
    Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
    All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

                We live in the dynamic tension of the already but not yet. Through putting our faith in Christ, we are already made perfect in God’s eyes. Yet, we are looking forward to the day when we will stand perfect in His presence. In between, we work out the practical application of our faith under God’s grace. We should never take our eyes off of the goal of becoming like Christ in every way, but we should also not become discouraged in the process. Like a master teacher, the Holy Spirit is at work within us guiding us along the way; moving us step by step closer to the goal.

Philippians. 1:6
    …being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.