Thursday, October 21, 2021

Only Jesus


I know one can't believe everything that gets posted on social media, but I have no reason to believe my son would lie about the results of a recent poll.

We don't know who was polled or what the exact questions were, but the published findings state that 60% of self-proclaimed, born-again American Christians between the ages of 18 and 39 believe that Buddha, Muhammed, and Jesus are all valid paths to salvation.

I liked Curtis' translation of that statistic. Saying that 60% of self-proclaimed, born-again American Christians between the ages of 18 and 39 believe that Buddha, Muhammed, and Jesus are all valid paths to salvation actually means that 60% of self-proclaimed, born-again American Christians between the ages of 18 and 39 are NOT Christians.

Make no mistake, all religions do not teach the same thing, being sincere is not the same thing as being right, and all paths do not lead to the same place.

Acts 4:10-12  -  Know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. [Jesus] is 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

That's what Peter said and that's what all true Christians must say.

Buddha did not sacrifice his body on a Roman cross.

Muhammed did not shed his blood to purify us from our sin.

Philosophers and philanthropists cannot transform us into representatives of righteousness.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...this kind of non-pluralistic message sounds narrow-minded and exclusive to the modern ear. But it is actually as expansive and all-inclusive as "whosoever will may come."

Thursday, October 14, 2021

How I Learned that Forgiveness Benefits the Forgiver


I was fired from my first youth ministry position.

Now, if you were a member of that church and you just read that sentence and you thought, "I thought you resigned," you would not be alone. Back in those days, when the leadership wanted a pastor to be gone, they allowed the pastor to tender a resignation. This allowed the departing pastor to avoid the stigma of Being Fired.

I survived the trauma, obviously, and went on to serve at three other churches before putting lock-ins permanently in my past.

The thing is, the one elder who was most responsible for my departure from that first ministry position stuck in my mind. Any time I heard a sermon or lesson about our need to forgive one another, my thoughts turned to him. It even got to the point where I couldn't enjoy the sitcom, Head of the Class, because one of the actors looked a lot like that one elder.

I finally realized that I was harboring a grudge against him and that I needed to heed the words of Jesus in Mark 11:25, "When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

I needed to forgive the man or I would be carrying around a burden of bitterness the rest of my life.

So, I wrote him a letter that explained how I felt he had personally undermined my work with the youth and manipulated the board of elders into getting rid of me. But I also said that I believed he thought he was doing what was best for the church and that I was no longer going to harbor any ill will toward him.

His response acknowledged that he had received my letter and that he had heard I was doing well at my new church. There were no words of apology or regret...and that was just fine with me.

Truth is...once you've forgiven someone, they no longer hold any power over your personal peace or sense of worth.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Pray Where You Are


Have you ever listened to someone talk about something going on in their life, or read a particularly personal post on social media, and told the person you would pray for them?

Probably a pretty high percentage of people who read this blog can answer "Yes" to that.

Well...have you ever done that and then totally forgotten to ever know...pray for the person?

That would be one of my two definitions of "amenesia." (The other being when you pray for someone and then promptly forget about them or their need.)

In order to avoid promising to pray but then breaking that promise, I will usually stop whatever I'm doing and pray right then INSTEAD of promising to pray. In the context of a social media request for prayer, any comment I leave will be an actual prayer; not the words "I'm praying for you," but something that usually begins with "Father God...".

Truth is...while having a particular place and time set aside to talk with Yahweh is a good thing, let's not think that's the only time we can pray. I'm grateful for the following song by Lost Dogs, "Pray Where You Are." Make it so!

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

No...Really...What Do You Mean By "Following Jesus"?


A follow-up to last week's post.

You may or may not recall that last week's "Truth Is..." pointed out how following Jesus involves more than just agreeing with certain points of doctrine or philosophical falderal.

Since then, I came across a meme that skewers popular culture's version of expressing care and concern that illustrates my point perfectly.

Truth is...if Legolas and friends followed the example that most of us today are laying out to the world, the Ring of Power would never have been destroyed and Middle Earth would have succumbed to the forces of Sauron long ago. Let us be men and women who put our prayers into action.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

What Do You Mean By "Following Jesus"?


Probably because of the terminal mass of assumptions that have been attached to the term "Christian", it has become popular to identify oneself as a Jesus Follower. It's an attempt to differentiate oneself from merely attending church or from adhering to a particular set of mostly-radically-right-wing political positions.

In essence, I applaud the effort. But last Wednesday night's Bible study at my home congregation made me take a closer look at the concept of following Jesus.

We were looking at the first chapter of Mark's gospel, and I was particularly impacted by Francis Chan's comments about Mark 1:16-20, which reads:

 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay, he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Chan's passionate comments about those verses focused on how different following Jesus was for those fishermen compared to what most of us mean when we use the term.

James and John didn't just agree with what Jesus was teaching. Simon and Andrew went beyond meeting weekly at the local synagogue. When they became Jesus Followers, they off their duffs and followed Jesus.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...If I'm going to call myself a Jesus follower, it involves more than an intellectual assent. It requires action. I need to pay attention to where Jesus is going and what Jesus is doing and I need to go there and do that.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Whose Side Are You On and Does It Make a Difference?


Today we find our hero (Calvin of Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes) making a grave mistake.

Sadly, an attempt to remedy the situation doesn't mitigate his teammates' wrath.

There are two ways to go with this:

       1. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Just as Calvin felt proud of his accomplishment in getting the out, there are times when a person thinks they're doing a good thing when it's really a score for "the other side." Case in point: thinking you're taking a stand for righteousness when what you're really accomplishing is the continuation of a people-hating, Bible-thumping stereotype that has never drawn anyone into the Kingdom.

       2. What kind of army kills its wounded? Calvin's teammates could have turned this into a teachable moment and help mold Calvin into a productive member of the team. Instead, they condemned and rejected him. Kind of like blogging about Bible-thumpers.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...We've all stood on both sides of this equation and are equally dependent on the grace of God.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Disproportional Legend of the Pony Express


Think about all you've ever heard, seen, or read about the Pony Express.

Between movies, television, and books, we've been entertained by stories of those 400 horses, 180 riders, and 1900 miles of the Immigrant Trail our whole lives.

Now think about this. The Pony Express closed its operations just two days after the first cross-continental telegraph message: an assurance of support from the chief justice of California to President Lincoln.

The Pony Express casts a pretty long shadow for a business venture that only lasted nineteen months.

But still, those legends and tall tales are practically nothing when compared to the real-life impact made by a rag-tag group of fishermen, civil servants, and would-be political activists led by a backwater carpenter-turned-rabbi.

Truth is... The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.(Matthew 13:31-32 NLT)

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

How to Be a True Alpha


I hope you will appreciate the following excerpt from The Wisdom of Wolves by Jim and Jamie Dutcher as much as I do.

"The wolves of the Sawtooth Pack … had spent the last three days working through the carcass of a 600-pound bull elk and were enjoying the resulting food stupor, resting at the edge of the forest on a crisp October afternoon. During our years at wolf camp, we did our best to re-create the way wolves live in the wild, mimicking the success or failure of a hunt, bringing in road-killed elk and deer at irregular intervals. After such a big meal, they wouldn't need to eat again for several days.

"It was a picture of pure contentment. Motomo and Amani basked in a patch of sunshine. Snarling and growling in mock battle, Wahots and Wyakin played tug-of-war with a leftover piece of elk hide. Matsi and Lakota snoozed side by side. Chemukh, always the loner, gnawed on the end of an antler a few yards away. Kamots sat and calmly watched his pack.

"Suddenly he lifted his head to full attention and his body became tense. The forest was quiet save for the occasional croaking of ravens, but his ears pivoted forward and he turned to point his nose toward something distant and unseen. With sudden purpose he rose to his feet and trotted away with that cool, determined gait that wolves have. Motomo and Amani lifted their heads to watch him go, and then settled back down. They knew Kamots. Whatever it was, he had it covered.

"Fifteen minutes later he reappeared at the same confi­dent trot, rejoined the others, and lay back down. It must have been a false alarm, possibly an elk moving through the nearby forest or the distant falling of a long-dead tree. His body language told all that there was no cause for concern. Whatever was going on, he dealt with it. That's just who he was.

"For the better part of nine years Kamots was the undis­puted leader of the Sawtooth Pack. Under his protection, the pack thrived. From a filmmaker's perspective, he was beautiful to behold. His looks were classic-gray with a charcoal saddle, a dark face mask above a light muzzle. He wasn't the biggest wolf in the pack, but the way he stood often made him appear so. He held his head and tail high and kept his ears up and alert. When he moved, it was with an unhurried confidence and certainty. His eyes were his most expressive feature. They were light amber, almost yellow, and in an instant they could flash from serious to mischievous, to concerned, to disarm­ingly sweet. The joys and the burdens of his role seemed to play across his face constantly, making him one of the most engaging wolves to film, photograph, or just watch. In looks, in bearing, and in behavior he was the embod­iment of an alpha wolf.

"We've noticed lately that the word 'alpha' is falling out of favor among some biologists. They would rather use the dry observational term 'breeding adult.' Unfortu­nately, the word 'alpha' has also come to be used to describe aggressive, hypercompetitive human males, which further conveys the wrong impression. Yes, alphas are the breeding male and female -- but they are so much more than the dominant individuals of the pack. After spending years in Kamots's company, we have concluded that being an alpha has almost nothing to do with aggres­sion and everything to do with responsibility. Alphas are driven from within to shoulder the well-being of the entire pack. They patrol the boundaries of their territory, looking for danger. They are keepers of pack knowledge where to find prey and how best to hunt it. Alphas are assured, alert, and compassionate. A true alpha is a leader in the very best sense."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...leading with assurance, alertness, and compassion has self-interest and aggression beat all to pieces.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?


Thanks to Michael Spencer's insightful book, Mere Churchianity, for the following outline of the different kinds of Jesus different kinds of believers believe in.

Jesus on the cross
This is where Jesus begins and ends for many Christians. Despite believing that Jesus arrived on earth as a newborn and came back to life after being executed, the only thing Jesus did that makes any real difference for most people was that he died for the sins of the world. The tight focus on Jesus hanging on the cross is a version of Jesus where his other works, miracles, words, and overall mission are secondary. Sure he said some things and healed some people and taught people how to live. But all of that pales by comparison to preaching about the cross or focusing on the Eucharist.

Jesus the guru
This version sees Jesus' unjust execution on a Roman cross as the inevitable outcome of a good man living a life of love in a bad world, a la Martin Luther King Jr. What matters to these Christians is Jesus' teaching. If we could put the teaching of Jesus into practice, then we'd live like real Christians and the world would be a better, more peaceful place.

Jesus the miracle worker
This is the Jesus who solves problems by his superpowered ability to make bad things go away and good things happen. If he could cure a leper and bring corpses back to life two thousand years ago, he can deal with the problems people have today. Jesus the miracle worker is important in the present and has little real contact with the Jesus of the New Testament. He's mostly about hearing our prayers, changing things to match our desires, and sending miracles to whomever needs one.

Jesus the promoter
Jesus is always up to something big. He builds bigger churches, raises astounding amounts of cash, and sponsors huge religious events in stadiums. This version of Jesus can almost always be found in a venue with incredible music, entertaining video effects, and good-looking, upbeat speakers. He's the Jesus you meet when you find that awesome megachurch that has everything you need for a great religious experience.

Jesus the culture warrior
The culture-warrior Jesus is concerned about the public display of the Ten Commandments and the effect of Hollywood movies on your children. He fully approves of a number of political agendas, and his advice to his followers is to hunker down, take care of yourselves, and fight for America  -  a country that Jesus is particularly fond of. (No matter that he is a Palestinian Jew.)

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

All of these versions of Jesus contain truth, but they are not the whole truth.

Borrowing some more from Mere Churchianity:

Jesus did die on the cross and was raised from the dead, but that's not the entire gospel message.

Jesus' teachings deliver crucial knowledge, but Jesus is far more than just a motivational change agent. He gives people a new identity and a new life, not just better doctrine.

God is compassionate and a worker of miracles, but let's face it: Jesus doesn't always solve our problems. He is not a celestial vending machine.

There is no question Jesus is doing a big thing in history. He is advancing the biggest agenda ever: to bring all believing people from every nation into the Kingdom of God. But it's a mistake to equate Jesus with our ideas of importance or accomplishment, like attending a church that operates its own water park or having a laser show at the 11:00 a.m. service.

Jesus cares about what happens to children, families, and culture, but Jesus doesn't use morality to change the world, and he doesn't equip his followers with political weapons.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...I find myself humbly agreeing with C. S. Lewis, who said, "I need Christ, not something that resembles him."

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Nicene Creed: So What?


This blog just spent 33 weeks looking at the Nicene Creed line-by-line. Next to each snippet from the creed were related sections of Scripture. It was an attempt to validate those faith-tenents that millions of believers have hung their hats on through the centuries.

But why bother? What was the point?

One positive is the realization that there really is more that unites all the different denominations than the mostly inconsequential things that seek to divide us.

But a clue to the even bigger deal was in the "Truth is..." conclusion to the very first posting:

Truth condensation of thoughts or tidy list of beliefs can do the entire breadth of Scripture justice, but maybe this will help get things into bite-sized chunks suitable for digestion and life-change.

Oooooh...that last hyphenate..."life-change". Why did I have to go and bring THAT up?

Life-change really is what it's all about, isn't it? What good does saying I believe in this or that or the other thing do if the way I live my life isn't affected by those beliefs?

So we say we believe the power of the Holy Spirit reanimated Jesus' dead body, validating every word he ever spoke. So what?

So LIVE like your Lord is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful. Let your life be a reflection of that knowledge, love, and power. "Let your light so shine..."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is..."Anyone who listens to [Jesus'] teaching AND FOLLOWS IT is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock." (Matthew 7:24 NLT)

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Heaven's Gonna Be a Blast


Per the Nicene Creed:

[We look for] the life of the world to come.

Per the Holy Bible:

Since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

Romans 8:17-25 (NLT)

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.

Philippians 3:20-21

But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.

2 Peter 3:13

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...while none of us knows exactly what heaven will be like, Scripture assures us that when Jesus returns, he will make all things right and restore the world to its original intent of unhindered fellowship with Yahweh and with each other. There will be no negative results from the presence of sin or sickness, "and he will wipe every tear from our eyes." (Revelation 7:17)

Bonus Treat...Here's a yee-hah kind of knee-slappin' song from the early days of Jesus Music that's the source of this post's title and a reason to sing along with Honeytree.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The Grave Can't Hold Me


Per the Nicene Creed:

We look for the resurrection of the dead

Per the Holy Bible:

But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.

1 Corinthians 15:12-23 (NLT)

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...the most audacious claim of Christianity is also the most important. Paul has said it well. If there is no resurrection...if death is the final chapter...then Jesus was either a well-meaning teacher who was suffering from a major delusion, or the foulest fiend the planet has ever seen.

Next week...the final phrase from the Nicene Creed, and it's about our final outcome.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

One Baptism


Per the Nicene Creed:

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins

Per the Holy Bible:

After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him.

Matthew 3:16 (NLT)

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit."

John 3:5

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Acts 2:38

As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing.

Acts 8:36-39

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Ephesians 4:5

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...we mortals have managed to turn this simple, Scriptural imperative into a multi-faceted controversy. However, reading Scripture at a basic, no-twisting-required level, we can agree with those fine folks in Nicaea back in 325 A.D. that a baptism that gives witness to a person's faith, repentance, and submission to Christ is an expected part of a Christian's journey.

A quote from one of my sermons of long ago:

You may say to me, "I've loved Jesus for over 20 years. You're telling me I have to be baptized?" And I may say to you, "You've loved Jesus for over 20 years and you're telling me you haven't been baptized?"

Grace and peace to you.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

One Church


Per the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one holy, universal, and apostolic Church

Per the Holy Bible:

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NLT)

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Ephesians 4:11-16

With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter.

2 Thessalonians 2:15

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Contrary to the signs outside all the church buildings around the world that proclaim different denominational names and conferences and traditions, there is only one Church, and it spans all man-made distinctions and trivial divisions. Christ is the head of this one Church, which is comprised of all persons who have been joined to him through faith. The Church is not limited to any particular time, place, ethnic group, language, religious heritage, denomination, or institution.

As for the word "apostolic"? It comes from the Greek word for people who are sent on a mission (apostello). As Christ was sent into the world, he has sent his followers into the world (John 17). The Church is apostolic not only because we are sent on a mission, but because the teachings of the first apostles  -  those called and sent by Jesus himself  -  are authoritative for the Church. The New Testament Scriptures have apostolic authority and are God-breathed.

Truth is...No matter what side discussions and opinions about controversial subjects may seek to divide us, the Church stands united by the Love of the Father, the Lordship of Jesus, and the Leading of the Holy Spirit. The main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Spirit Has Spoken


Per the Nicene Creed:

[The Holy Spirit] has spoken through the prophets.

Per the Holy Bible:

"In the last days," God says, "I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants — men and women alike — and they will prophesy."

Acts 2:17-18 (NLT)

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.

2 Peter 1:20-21

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is..."All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right." (2 Timothy 3:16) A more literal translation for "inspired by God" is "God-breathed". Put that together with the knowledge that the Hebrew word for breath and spirit is the same, and you've got a picture of how it is that the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets, in both the Old and New Testaments.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Praise the Spirit, Too


Per the Nicene Creed:

With the Father and the Son, [the Holy Spirit] is worshipped and glorified

Per the Holy Bible:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

1 Peter 1:3 (NLT)

Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.

Matthew 14:33

For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.

John 4:24

Those who obey God’s commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us.

1 John 3:24

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...because the Holy Spirit is just as much God as the Father and the Son, He deserves our worship just as much. It may feel a little strange for those brought up in more conservative circles...or certainly so for those raised with no spiritual background at all, but the Spirit provides our most intimate contact with God. It is only "natural" that we worship Him through song, meditation, and obedience.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Where Did the Holy Spirit Come From?


Per the Nicene Creed:

[The Holy Spirit] proceeds from the Father and the Son.

Per the Holy Bible:

But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me.

John 15:26

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...It seems reasonable to me to believe that humans have not invented the Holy Spirit and that He is a real aspect of the Triune God. I mean, why would anyone make up something as hard to understand as this?

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

A Body Without a Spirit Is a Corpse


Per the Nicene Creed:

[One name for the Holy Spirit is] the Giver of Life

Shedding Graveclothes

Per the Holy Bible:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.

John 14:16-17 (NLT)

And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.

Romans 8:2

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

Romans 8:11

Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.

Galatians 6:8

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...Without the Holy Spirit, we couldn't experience any kind of "Christian life" whatsoever. Moral, upstanding citizens? Sure. But what made Jesus exceptional and unique was his unswerving dependence on the leading of the Spirit and entrusting himself to that leading...even to the point of death. Our efforts at being little Christs (Christians) will only be exceptional and unique if we do the same.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Lord Holy Spirit


Per the Nicene Creed:

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord

Per the Holy Bible

The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Genesis 1:2 (NLT)

After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him.

Matthew 3:16

On the day of Pentecost, all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

Acts 2:1-4

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Truth is...There is much more to be said about the Holy Spirit, and it will be said in the next several phrases in the creed. For now, let's just begin one step ahead of some believers in Ephesus that Paul encountered in Acts 19:

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions until he reached Ephesus, on the coast, where he found several believers. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he asked them.

“No,” they replied, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Never-ending Kingdom


Per the Nicene Creed:

And his kingdom will have no end

Per the Holy Bible

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. You rule throughout all generations.

Psalm 145:13 (NLT)

I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life.

John 6:47

What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.

1 Corinthians 15:50

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven: “The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.”

Revelation 11:15

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Truth I've said before, eternity is a concept that my human brain can't quite get a grip on. But if God's rule is a perfect rule, and his kingdom is literally heaven on earth, then it makes sense that it would never come to an end.

Lead on, oh King eternal...

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Why Jesus Is Returning


Per the Nicene Creed:

To judge the living and the dead

Per the Holy Bible

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:11-15 (NLT)

We apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all — the living and the dead.

Acts 10:39-42

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Truth is...people nowadays don't much like the word "judge". "Judge not lest you be judged" (Matthew 7:1) is a far-more-quoted verse than even John 3:16. We don't like the idea of being held accountable for our actions. But the really good news is that when Jesus judges, the action of submitting ourselves to His Lordship, no matter how imperfectly we may live it out, trumps all the sins and mistakes we ever make. He won't pretend that we've never done anything wrong, but he will apply HIS payment of OUR penalty to our ledger.

"He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west."

Psalm 103:12

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Return of Jesus


Per the Nicene Creed:

He will come again in glory

Per the Holy Bible:

Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken!

Isaiah 40:5

After saying this, [Jesus] was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

Acts 1:9-11

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...perhaps the most hope-inducing words ever uttered by Jesus are found in John 14: 1-3.

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

And of course, Rich Mullins has a highly appropriate song for this occasion. Enjoy...

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The "Where" of Jesus


Per the Nicene Creed:

[Jesus] is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Per the Holy Bible:

Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

Romans 8:34 (NLT)

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 1:19-20

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Truth is...This is another one of those things that are Scriptural but maybe not all that important. However, what Jesus is DOING there beside the Father is absolutely mind-blowing: "If anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous." (1 John 2:1)

Jesus is our defense attorney!

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Ascension of Jesus


Per the Nicene Creed:

He ascended into heaven

Per the Holy Bible:

Then Jesus led them to Bethany, and lifting his hands to heaven, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. So they worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God.

Luke 24:1-12 (NLT)

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
Acts 1:6-11

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...the ascension of Jesus holds no great theological importance other than what Jesus told his disciples about it in John 16:7: "It is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the [Holy Spirit] won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you."

Stay tuned. There will be more about the Holy Spirit in five weeks.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Resurrection of Jesus


Per the Nicene Creed:

On the third day, [Jesus] rose again in accordance with the Scriptures

Per the Holy Bible:

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (NLT)

But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened.

Luke 24:1-12

One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.”

But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

Matthew 12:38-40

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Truth is...there would be no Christianity without the resurrection. Make no mistake, the first Christians did not make up the story of a resurrection in order to validate their "cause". The resurrection of Jesus turned them into Christians. Otherwise, they would have been just one more group of disappointed fans.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Burial of Jesus

Per the Nicene Creed:

[Jesus] suffered and was buried

Per the Holy Bible:

The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard of the governor’s headquarters (called the Praetorium) and called out the entire regiment. They dressed him in a purple robe, and they wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head. Then they saluted him and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they struck him on the head with a reed stick, spit on him, and dropped to their knees in mock worship. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.) And they brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). They offered him wine drugged with myrrh, but he refused it.

Then the soldiers nailed him to the cross. They divided his clothes and threw dice to decide who would get each piece. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. A sign announced the charge against him. It read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Ha! Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

The leading priests and teachers of religious law also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!” Even the men who were crucified with Jesus ridiculed him.

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. “Wait!” he said. “Let’s see whether Elijah comes to take him down!”

Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

Some women were there, watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James the younger and of Joseph), and Salome. They had been followers of Jesus and had cared for him while he was in Galilee. Many other women who had come with him to Jerusalem were also there.

This all happened on Friday, the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath. As evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea took a risk and went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. (Joseph was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.) Pilate couldn’t believe that Jesus was already dead, so he called for the Roman officer and asked if he had died yet. The officer confirmed that Jesus was dead, so Pilate told Joseph he could have the body. Joseph bought a long sheet of linen cloth. Then he took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it in the cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone in front of the entrance.

Mark 15: 16-46 (NLT)

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...Believing Jesus died is an important part of Christianity, and not just because "he died for our sins." If he had not actually died, then the resurrection would be a farce and, as the Apostle Paul wrote, "we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world." (1 Corinthians 15:19)


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Death of Jesus


Per the Nicene Creed:

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate

Per the Holy Bible

Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”

And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for his death—we and our children!”

So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

Matthew 27:24-31 NLT

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Truth is...the "he was crucified" part isn't so much a matter of faith as the "for our sake" part. There is extra-biblical evidence that a man named Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion during Pilate's term as Roman governor. The amazing thing about that crucifixion is the belief that it was an example of the truly innocent willingly paying a penalty in the place of...for the sake of...the truly guilty.

Thank you, Jesus.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Live On, Mom


Sunday, April 11, 2021...Georgina Della (Smith) Roth has been in a state the professionals call "actively passing" for three or four days. Around 1:30 AM, she completes the process.

At 7:00 AM, my brother, the oldest of my surviving siblings and the one who had been daily providing care to Mom before the medical incident that put her in a nursing home by way of the emergency brother calls me and says "This is the call."

"This is it," I respond.

"Guess who woke up in heaven this morning?"

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...Mom had spent six years and 9 months as a widow, and I doubt she truly enjoyed a single minute of it. Yes, she was sometimes distracted by happy events and visits from children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, but there was always a longing to go Home. Enjoy your sweet victory, beloved saint!

Psalm 73:23-26

Yet I am always with you;

    you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,

    and afterward you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?

    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

    but God is the strength of my heart

    and my portion forever.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The "What" of Jesus


Per the Nicene Creed:

He became incarnate from the virgin, Mary, and was made man

Per the Holy Bible:

All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

Isaiah 7:14 (NLT)

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.”

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord."

Luke 1:35-46

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
John 1:14

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Philippians 2:6-8

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people.
Hebrews 2:14-17

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Just so we don't turn "incarnate" into some mystical, purely-religious term, let's remind ourselves that it has a universally understood definition: "embodied in flesh; given a bodily, especially a human, form."

Truth is...While occupying Planet Earth, Jesus was not a visible spirit, magically hovering six inches off the ground and never quite "one of us." When people refer to Jesus as "God in the flesh," that is exactly what they mean. Jesus had a human body, just like you and me.