March 31 – Another Tomb

Read: Mark 6:21-29 & Matthew 14:1-12

When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:29 ESV)

Herod married his sister in law. That’s pretty weird. But he did. And John the Baptizer called him out about it. Which promptly landed John in prison. It eventually cost him his life. Herod had John beheaded in the prison at the behest of his niece-turned-stepdaughter.

When John’s disciples found out they collected the body (minus the head) and buried him in a tomb. John was the greatest man to ever live, but he was just a man. He would stay dead. He would stay in his tomb.

Jesus was understandably sad about the death of his cousin, friend, and colleage. Ultimately he would face a similar fate for his continued stance against the Pharisees and their damnable corruption. However, Jesus’ tomb was only borrowed, and that for just a few days. Because as the sun came up that first Easter Sunday morning the Son of Man came out of the tomb.

It’s rare in America for believers to face the threat of death for taking a hard stand for the truth. However, a day may come when we do. If whether, at home, or abroad we sometime find ourselves facing death for the truth of the Gospel, we may wind up in another tomb. But Jesus holds the keys to death, hell, and the grave. He holds the keys to our future and our foundation. We can rest well and easy in him.

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5 Minimal Facts of the Resurrection

Much of this is borrowed heavily from Lee Strobel’s book “A Case for the Real Jesus“. One of my favorite books.

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In the minimalist fact approach the evidence must be so strong that the vast majority of today’s scholars on the subject—including skeptical ones—accept these as historical facts. This involves subjecting the bible to historical scrutiny like any other account from antiquity.

1. Jesus was killed by crucifixion.
Historical forensics supports this beyond doubt.

2. Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.
The same people that abandoned him at the moment of his arrest, later believed in his resurrection and lordship so strongly that they were all willing to do die for their beliefs.

3. The conversion of the Church persecutor Paul.
A self-asserted enemy of the burgeoning Christian movement switches sides with nothing to gain (via naturalist perspective) from his conversion other than persecution and eventual martyrdom.

4. The conversion of the skeptic James, Jesus’ half-brother.
James was a devout Jew and grew up with Jesus. Not only did he convert, but he became the pastor of the Jerusalem Church which was the heart of the early Church.

5. Jesus’ tomb was empty.
The Jerusalem factor – Jesus was publicly executed, buried in Jerusalem, and his resurrection was proclaimed in the very same city. Mere weeks after the crucifixion, Peter declares to a crowd in Jerusalem: “God has raised this Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of the fact.”

Enemy attestation – skeptics were saying that the disciples stole the body, the religious leaders paid the soldiers guarding it to spread that story, it’s an indirect admission that the body was unavailable for display.

Liars make poor martyrs – Are we suppose to believe that the disciples conspired to steal the body, pulled it off, and then were willing to suffer continuously and even die for what they knew was a lie?

Testimony of women – women were the first to discover the vacant grave, in both first-century Jewish and Roman cultures, women were lowly esteemed and their testimony was considered questionable; If you were going to concoct a story in an effort to fool others, you would never in that day have hurt your own credibility by saying that women discovered the empty tomb.

All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of the empty tomb, and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history. – William Ward of Oxford University

March 30 – Gladly Perplexed

Read: Mark 6:14-20

When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. (Mark 6:20b ESV)

Herod just didn’t get it. He didn’t know how to take John, didn’t know who he was, what he was up to, or why he was so perplexed. Ultimately he threw John in prison for his preaching against Herod’s sinful lifestyle. Yet even after that he regarded John as a holy man.

The cool thing about John is that he modeled exactly what Jesus wanted out of the disciples. John went before Jesus preparing people for the Kingdom of God, just as the disciples were charged to do when they were sent out, and just as we are charged to do today. John did it with great gusto.

Even today we can share the truth of the Gospel in a way that is perplexing to people. In fact, I completely believe that when we actually commit ourselves to lovingly sharing the fullness of the Good News it will perplex people. It will cause them to begin to question things in their lives that are out of order, and that separate them from God’s truth.

Unfortunately Herod did not ultimately respond to the Gospel in a positive way, but that didn’t keep John the Baptizer from sharing the fullness of truth. As you share your faith with those around you may not be met with positive response either. You might meet some gladly perplexed people too. Press on. Keep sharing. It is worth it.

March 29 – Fakers

Read: Matthew 11:7-19

But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” (Matthew 11:16, 17 ESV)

The Pharisees were major critics of John and Jesus, neither of whom avoided offending their ridiculous religious pride on a regular basis. Jesus compared to them to children playing wedding and funeral games. They were fake and phony. Less than the real thing, poor replacements. The Pharisees fell short of what God had called them to in a lot of ways. They had traded authentic communion with God for shallow and ridiculous purity rituals.

It would be kind of like if you were supposed to have dinner with your family or close friends, but all you did was stay in the bathroom and wash your hands all night instead of ever taking your place at the table. What’s worse is that they kept calling everyone else into the bathroom too. Their message to everyone was something like, “the only way to really worship God is if you stay here and wash your hands.”

They were fake. It was tragically sad because I’m sure there were many among their number who legitamately believed they were doing the right things. It kind of makes you want to step back and examine your own life when you think about it like that. Is there any area in my life where I am accepting less than the real thing? Am I trading authenticity and communion for shallow ritual or stubborn tradition? God helps us to find these areas of our loves that we might be blind to if we’re serious about coming to terms with them.

A Christian Response?

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We talked about it.

My wife and I regularly discuss ongoing issues in American and Church culture. As a couple ministering to college students at a public state university, which my wife also teaches at, we are often asked how we feel about certain issues. We debate. We playfully argue. We almost always come to agreement.

This week we found ourselves discussing the barrage of socially charged cultural issues that have faced our nation in recent months and one thing was pretty clear to us. There has been almost no response (or at least none that we’ve heard in our hectic lives) that represents how we feel. So we did what we do. We talked about it. I took notes in my journal. I’ve been doing that for almost 20 years, which is mostly what results on this blog. And the über popular “11 Reasons Why Christians Are Wasting Their Time With Culture War” blog was born.

Billy Graham once wrote that you should turn your critics into coaches. I have got a lot of feedback in the last two days. Some of it was challenging. Some made me chuckle a bit. All of it was helpful. I felt like I’ve gotten a lot of coaching.

I wanted to write a follow up that further clarified how we feel and what we believe so as not to leave any unanswered questions surrounding us. Admittedly this is a much more involved process than a list of 11 thoughts, and so I’m hoping that my shortcomings as a writer don’t confound the issue further.

 

What is culture war?

In my opinion culture war is the emotionally charged, and often ridiculous, squabbling, bickering, and arguing that surrounds touchy issues in our society. I use the word war because in these heated issues both sides always seem to be out to crush the opposing viewpoint. Respect rarely seems to enter the discussion. Intelligence generally gets left behind. It is the clashing of opposing world views that results in a nasty standoff. And yes, this is something that I believe Christians are wasting their time with when they willfully engage in that kind of activity.

 

How should Christians respond to cultural issues?

As Jesus would. I think that’s how we should respond to all issues. And I don’t believe that the answer to that can be found outside of the Bible. When you get right down to it I believe that the Bible shows us that Jesus responded to the cultural issues of his day in three ways.

1) He genuinely loved people. Especially those society had written off. He seemed to give everyone a fair shake.

2) He spoke the truth plainly. He saw sin for what it was, but rather than throw stones he offered mercy which led to repentance.

3) He wanted justice. Whether it was ridding the Jewish Temple of swindlers and corruption, or the prophetic Jesus of John’s apocalyptic Revelation, Jesus is shown as a lover of justice.

 

How do I respond to cultural issues?

Clearly I can’t dictate to you behavior. I shouldn’t. I won’t. I am full of my opinions, and sometimes I am overly fond of them. At the end of the day they are still my opinions. Many of them I try to adapt from my understanding of what I believe the Bible teaches. My point is that I can really only tell you how that I respond to these supercharged cultural issues. I try to live up to what I mentioned above about how it is that I believe Jesus responded but this is what that looks like on a practical level for me.

• I am a preacher. I frequently stand in front of large audiences and speak about matters of faith. Those are sacred opportunities to me. I don’t waste them railing about cultural or social issues like some insecure backwoods hick, even though I often find myself feeling like an insecure backwoods hick.

• When I engage on cultural issues with believers: I do this in one on one conversations. I do it in small group settings. I always try to do it in a setting that gives people opportunity for dialogue. I want to be able to discuss the issues in a healthy and friendly way. I never make cultural matters the main point of our get togethers.

• If I engage with unbelievers: It is per their request. I very rarely do it in a social media, or online, setting. Face to face conversation is the only way I have ever seen that actually brings a level of respect to the table.

• Without the assumption that I am right. This is a tough one. I am the kind of guy that really likes to think things through. So it’s way too easy for me to become emotionally invested in the fruit of that process.

• Imperfectly: Obviously for all of my efforts and desire to want to be like Jesus I am, and will always be, pretty far off the mark.

 

How should you respond to cultural issues?

That’s not my call. If you’re a fellow Christian, then like me you believe that we are to take our direction from Christ. I’ve stated above what I believe that entails, and how it plays out in the context of my life and ministry. Perhaps God is calling you to engage in a more public arena. I wouldn’t dispute that. I do think that within even that possibility, we as Christians must always promote truth with love. We must not put our political/cultural/social agendas above individual people. It’s sometimes easy to forget that such controversial issues have real people with real lives, real feelings, and real hurts attached to them. I also think we must keep in mind that our perceived devotion to America is always to be kept in check by first maintaining a higher devotion to Christ. Don’t confuse our nationalistic wants for Christian duty.

 

Breaking my own rule.

I do believe in the traditional Biblical view of marriage. I absolutely believe that abortion is appalling. I have guns, and I like to kill animals because they are tasty. I think immigration needs to be reformed really really badly. I hate seeing hard working people getting shafted by deadbeats. I think there are a lot of good government programs helping a lot of people that genuinely need the help. I also think our government is a toxic mess. I pay taxes because Jesus said to. I’m not a Republican because they annoy me, and I’m not a Democrat because they annoy me even more. I vote.

I have opinions. I’m not going to beat anyone up with them. I’m not going to use them as a launch pad for an attempt at hurtling my own insecurities. The person is always more valuable than their given opinion on any issue.

March 28 – More Than A Prophet

Read: Luke 7:24-28

What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. (Luke 7:26 ESV)

Jesus emphatically declared his cousin John the Baptizer to be the greatest man ever born of a woman. That’s pretty high praise coming from the highest of sources. And Jesus let the crowds know it. He reminded those listening of John’s importance.

As a prophet John was God’s voice in his day. In fact, he was the fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah which specifically talked about a voice preparing the way for The Lord. John was important not just because he was that prophet, and not just because he fulfilled prophecy, but because he stood against religious corruption.

Jesus himself was regularly called a prophet, sometimes he was even, like John, mistaken for a resurrected Old Testament prophet. Actually, they were both far more than prophets. John was the transitional figure between the Old and New Covenant. He preached the message of the soon coming Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah.

It is incredibly reassuring to know that Jesus was not just a man. He was not just a prophet. John was the greatest man that ever lived. Jesus was the only God-man that ever lived.

March 27 – In That Hour

Read: Luke 7:19-23

In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. (Luke 7:21 ESV)

While John the Baptizer was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel he reached out to Jesus via his disciples. I believe that he was looking for further encouragement and assurance regarding the true identity of his cousin. He got the assurance he was looking for.

John’s disciples showed up in the middle of Jesus performing many miracles in the area where he was ministering. They witnessed people with diseases who were cleansed. The saw people purged of plagues. They witnessed Jesus cast out evil spirits. They even saw the blind regain sight. And it was all done within a short amount of time. It must have been an incredible day.

Sometimes we need to go to Jesus for assurance. Not because we are necessarily doubting him, although if we’re honest we do probably face those moments as well, but because we are looking for encouragement. Jesus is the best place to go for assurance. He is the best place to go for encouragement.

The fact of the matter is that we will all face seasons where we feel as if we’re imprisoned. I those moments we can take all of our doubts, insecurities, and questions to Christ. He is able to answer the questions, calm the fears, and deal with our doubts. Sometimes it may seem to take us a bit to overcome those things, but I truly believe that when we take them to him he will begin to work in us and for us that very hour.