Monday, May 15, 2017

30. Why Humility?

     And thus, we come to the final chapter in the 30 week series of BELIEVE. Like many of the the elements included in BELIEVE and THE STORY, I have thought to myself, "I would not have included this story" or "I wonder why Randy Frazee and/or Zondervan did this."

     I wonder this morning "Why Humility?" "Hope" and "Humility" are two of the ten key virtues included in BELIEVE which are not found in the Galatians 5:22-23 listing of the fruit of the Spirit. Hope is a virtue similar to faith or belief and of course listed repeatedly in the New Testament, such as 1 Cor. 13, "faith, hope, love."

    But  again, I wonder why list humility compared to all of the other virtues of the Bible? Humility is listed as the polar opposite of "pride" found the seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, laziness, wrath, envy and pride), contrasted within the seven heavenly virtues (purity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility).

     Humility in this day is a virtue sadly lacking in politics, in friendships, in families, marriages, and even in religion. The Greek word (tapeinophorsyne) is so hard to pronounce, it would probably cause you a great deal pride if you were to learn to say it! It literally means lowliness of mind, not in the sense of stupidity, but in one's estimation of one's own importance.

     Humility is not low self-esteem, but rather a way of lifting others up, edifying those around us. It is a prerequisite for God to come then and be the one of lifts us up, instead of us trying to lift ourselves up. Often pride comes at the expense of us pushing others down to raise our own importance.

     Jesus said that the virtue of humility actually allows God to come and lift us up (see Matt. 18:4, "Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven," and Matt. 23:12, "And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

    We may question why humility but Christ certainly does not question it as a virtue. He requires it of us.


 The following devotional comes from Zondervan.

KEY QUESTION: 
What does it mean to value others before myself?

Humility is a driving virtue in the Christian life and community. Choosing to esteem others above oneself encourages harmony and love. The opposite of humility is pride. Prideful people typically believe they are better than others. They strive to get their way at the expense of others or boast as a way of boosting low self-esteem. When a person possesses Biblical humility they draw from internal “God-esteem.” They have received God’s unconditional love and embraced their inherent worth as God’s child. From this belief they are capable of lifting others up.

Jesus is our supreme example of humility. The God of the universe could have ridden into our world on a white horse with a serious entourage and fanfare. Instead he came to us as a baby born in a stable to poor parents.

As Jesus was coming to the end of his time on earth, he wanted to impress upon his disciples the importance of humility. He does so in an unforgettable way. (See John 13:1-17.)

What does God require from us? Micah, a prophet to Israel and Judah in the eighth century BC, answered this question with convicting succinctness. What God required then, he still requires of us today.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Read more in Micah 6:6–8.)

KEY VERSE: 
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3–4)

KEY IDEA: 
I choose to esteem others above myself.

KEY APPLICATION: What difference does this make in the way I live?
The ultimate humility is found when we place our heart in the constant position of putting God’s glory first and seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness. The more we immerse ourselves into the ministry of Christ to others, the more we experience the abundant life he offers. Seeing him change lives through our obedience is humility at its finest hour.

For growing Christians, a strong sense of self-esteem flows from “God-esteem” on the inside, which frees us to focus on “others-esteem.” When they enter any conversation with a neighbor, the prayer is, Dear God, help me place this person above myself and draw them to you. As the world becomes increasingly self-absorbed, humility will not only be one of the most attractive and refreshing fruit of God’s Spirit to a searching and hurting world, but also a great blessing to our own lives in offering our hearts daily to the Lord, as we exalt him and him alone.


Friday, May 12, 2017

29. A Kinder, Gentler Nature



     As many of you may notice, we are getting our parking lot repaved. I was at first surprised and even incredulous that they painted stripes in a very obviously wrong and mistaken way, only to later find out that they did so based on the wrong and mistaken blueprints that I (yes me) had given them. 

    When I learned that the error was mine (mostly mine I might add) I was thankful that I was gentle rather than harsh when I told them of "their" error. It reminded me of the phrase I used a couple of weeks ago, "Lord, let me give the gentleness today that I will need to receive tomorrow." I was also reminded that anytime you point one finger at someone else's wrong, three are pointing back at you. 

    Do you believe that gentleness is a virtue that you really want to possess? Then why are we so quick to not practice it? The King James word for this is "meekness" which rhymes with "weakness" and we Americans, Christian or not, often do not truly value being gentle as a virtue. 

    Consider road rage. Is it really worth it to get so upset because some driver ahead of you is going to make you five seconds later? Or maybe not even that, as you pull up beside them at the light. 

    When George H.W. Bush coined the phrase, "a kinder, gentler nation," in his presidential acceptance speech, he probably did not realize how that phrase would be such a defining moment nearly 30 years ago. While ridiculed as idealistic, are there not many who wish our presidency, let alone our nation, were a little kinder, a little gentler? A nation becomes gentler when we collectively in our nature become gentler. 

     While there are a lot of things we may not be able to do, is it not true that all of us can be gentle? Gentleness may come more naturally to some than to others (and that is certainly true by the company we keep! Some people are harder to be gentle with than others). But all of us, especially those of us with the Holy Spirit's fruit living within us, ALL OF US can be gentler and kinder to one another. 

The following devotional comes from Zondervan. 


KEY QUESTION: 

How do I demonstrate thoughtfulness and consideration toward others?

Nothing kills a family, a friendship, a neighborhood or even a church like pride, arrogance, anger, closed ears and raised voices. Since God is all about community, he calls his followers to be gentle. Of course, he teaches us by modeling this virtue right in our midst. Jesus offered up powerful insights and encouragement in the Sermon on the Mount.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1–5)


KEY VERSE: 

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:5)


KEY IDEA: 

I am thoughtful, considerate and calm in my dealings with others.


KEY APPLICATION:

 What difference does this make in the way I live?

Think about this self-evaluation question regarding the virtue of gentleness: If you had plans with someone for Sunday evening, would they be dreading the time with you or excited about the visit? Would they be expecting you to be calm or abrasive? Would they anticipate you to be thoughtful and attentive or self-focused and distracted? Would they leave the time with you feeling encouraged or discouraged? Worn-out or refreshed?

The problem with this scenario, though, is that self-evaluation is deceptive. We cannot fully see and understand our lack of gentleness. If we want to know the true measure of our gentleness, we have to ask others.

Jesus extends the invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). I want to be able to say this to the people God has placed in my life. How about you? With Christ in us, we can be gentle!


Sunday, April 30, 2017

28. Faithfulness is God's Gold Standard


     Faith seems to be what God values the most in His people. The "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11 lists all who exemplified faith. We are people of faith, but are we faithful? In other words, are we people who can be trusted ourselves?

     It would seem obvious, right? People of faith being faithful. We who trust God, is it right for us to be anything less than trustworthy? We believe in Jesus, but do people believe in us to be genuine?

     There is a legacy of faithfulness found in Genesis. Not perfection, although Joseph is said to be someone in the Bible who did not demonstrate an identifiable sin. And consider his legacy of faith.
  • Abraham the testimony of Faithfulness, showing obedience in leaving, offering, and trusting. His testimony demonstrates that faith in God should not be based on sight, but on what and Who is unseen. First he left all in Haran and Mesopotamia for a country he could not see. Then he believed God would grant him a child in his and Sarah's old age. Abraham promised that he and the lad Isaac would return, even though he had already purposed in his heart that Isaac would be sacrificed. God rewarded Abraham with Laughter.

  • Isaac was the type of Faithfulness, demonstrating resurrection from the  sentence of death. Surely he could have overpowered aged Abraham from being on the altar. Yet, he was a type like Christ, willingly laying down his life in faith. It was through Isaac that the Seed of the Woman would come to crush the serpent's head and though he favored Esau, Isaac blessed Jacob though trembling. We see twice the God of Abraham, but the Terror of Isaac (Gen. 31:42, and again in verse 53), the fear of the Lord. Isaac's faith was not in the absence of fear but in the very presence of fear and trembling, he showed the genuineness of His faith. Through his lineage would come the Christ. God rewarded Isaac with a Legacy.

  • Jacob/Israel was the testing of Faithfulness through his struggles with Esau, with Laban, even with the angel of the Lord. A deceiver from the beginning, Jacob would go through the trials and testing of faithfulness. Stealing Esau's birthright, then his blessings, Jacob never had the approval from his father that his brother had. His guile was repaid when Laban tricked the trickster and deceived the deceiver. His testing of love for Rachel was vindicated not only in his labor but in his fruitfulness. When he returned to face his family, he found himself face to face with God Himself, wrestling with the Angel of the Lord. Those who face the testing of faith are used mightily but often walk afterwards with a limp, a painful reward and reminder of the test...and how they prevailed. His new name would be a lasting reminder to his 12 sons and their tribes which followed that Israel, "God prevails."

  • Joseph was a triumph of Faithfulness, overcoming hardships without waivering. His faith was founded by his father's love, and that enduring faithfulness elevated him from the persecution of his brothers, the pit of their jealousy, from the prison of false accusation, and from the peril of being forgotten by the cupbearer. His triumphant faithfulness was evidenced not in vindictiveness, but in his vindication; his steadfast conviction was that God was faithful. While man intended evil, God intended good, so much so that he used evil for God's ultimate good. Joseph's reward for His faith was his Love for God and Love by God. For we know that all things works together for good for those who love God and are called to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

The following devotional comes from Zondervan.
 
KEY QUESTION
Why is it important to be loyal and committed to others?
Faithfulness benefits the people in our lives. When we are faithful to them, they are blessed. And, over time, our faithfulness to others also has a reciprocal benefit. First, we win favor. As needs emerge in our life, people will be inclined to help us. Second, we establish a name. When our name is brought up, even when we are not present, it is spoken with high regard. A good name established through a life of faithfulness is a boundless gift to pass on to our children.
Throughout the Bible, God called believers to be faithful to his assignment for them, no matter how difficult. In fact, it was often amid the difficult seasons that they most discovered the trustworthiness of God. When they aligned their lives to God’s story, he was with them and accomplished great things through them. All believers have the opportunity to open their lives to God’s will and demonstrate their faithfulness. The results of such faithfulness can be both great and beautiful as God works through those who believe.

KEY VERSE
Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. (Proverbs 3:3–4)

 
KEY IDEA
I have established a good name with God and others based on my loyalty to those relationships.

 
KEY APPLICATION: 
What difference does this make in the way I live?
Christians are not called to be successful as the world defines success. We are called to be faithful to God in what he calls us to do. We faithfully act in faith toward God and leave the results to him. If I die with five billion dollars in the bank but do not know and have not been faithful to God, then I have failed. If I end up broke but know God and have been faithful to his call on my life in the strength his Spirit provides, I have been truly successful.

YOUR TURN

Based on what Proverbs 3:1-6 says about faithfulness, who are some of the most faithful people you know? How have they found honor and a good name in your sight? In the sight of others?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

God's gots more kindness than we gots and He is willing to share

    When I was a kid, my mother was a widow, raising three kids and many
times without a job. When my grandmother, also a widow, sold the family farm, she would often take all five of us out to dinner. I remember one time my mother and grandmother were “arguing” over who would pay the $10 bill for all five of us at Bill’s Restaurant at Parker Plaza in Weatherford (remember the days when five people could eat for $10 at a restaurant?).

    I don’t remember how old I was but my grammar wasn’t the greatest and I piped up and said, “Mama, let Nonna pay, she’s gots more money than we gots!”

      The word we are studying this week, kindness, reminded me of that story so let’s look at the word, but not in English but in the New Testament Greek.

      The word kindness in the Greek is crestotes and is sometimes translated as kindness or goodness and has the root of someone who loans someone else money or lets someone borrow something.

Kindness began with God.
      Eph. 2:7 tells us that one of these days, God is going to show us just how much he has to share with us in his free gift of his fabulous wealth and just how good and kind he has been to us in Jesus Christ.  That verse leads into how we are saved based on how good God is and not how good we are (quite frankly because we are not that good).

      Paul does the same thing when he was writing his young pastor protégé, Titus. God’s kindness and love combined with His mercy, Paul wrote in Titus 3:4-6, and again there is an abundance flowing from God.

      In Romans 2:4, again Paul uses the word crestotes twice in one verse, explaining that it is the riches of God’s goodness and kindness that leads us to change our ways. It is like we live next door to a guy who has all of the tools in the world and rather than us trying to go out and buy all those same tools ourselves, the neighbor comes over and gives us the keys to His tool shed and says, “Don’t go out and buy all these things yourself. Just use mine.”

      God doesn’t want us to use our own kindness because He knows on our own, we don’t have that much. Romans 3:12 says that “there are none who do goodness and kindness; no, not one.” He also says in that same verse that everyone has become unprofitable, worthless, useless.

      Our neighbor, God, has the tools including His kindness and goodness, that if we were to try to get the same amount of “tools” we would go broke, become unprofitable, and once we got home, they would appear worthless compared with what God has to share with us.

      But there is another variation of the word crestotes that is used in the New Testament that is surprising in how it is translated; no, it’s not rendered “good” or “kind” but it is translated “easy”.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest in your souls. For My yoke is easy (crestosand my burden light.”

      Jesus used the word again in Luke 6:35, “Lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind (crestos) to the unthankful and evil.”

      When we study the word kindness, and see how it comes from borrowing from someone else, it’s not that we are being a moocher from God and taking advantage of His offer to use His tools of kindness and goodness.

      It’s that “He’s gots” more kindness than we do and He is giving us His keys to use the wealth of His toolshed of kindness anytime we need His storehouse of tools.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sometimes (not often) I get discouraged in writing


   Every once in a while, I wonder "Why do I write?" No one is reading and my books will never get published.

   Then someone will encourage me ... like Anne Cina who drew these cartoons that make me smile. She was inspired to do so by my column (click here). And lo and behold she even alliterated it (now why didn't I think about the three C's!).
 
   Now I really enjoy writing. I went to a C.S. Lewis Conference years ago and introduced myself as a "failed writer," to which someone said, "The only way you can be a failed writer is if you fail to write."

(I guess that is why she was a successful writer. Smart as a whip lady...and no sarcasm there, it really made an impact on me.)

   In fact, that was when I started this blog. And sure enough, just as Anne gets therapy out of drawing, I get true pleasure out of writing my blog and sharing my insights. Perhaps some day when I am dead and gone, these writings will still be on the web and someone will get encouragement from them.

   And even if not, when those like (backspace backspace backspace because if I start naming names, I will leave someone out who always uplifts me when they comment on when I have put musings into character form) Melissa and so many others encourage me, I press on. I am at a conference today and again I am inspired to continue to write and right at the right time, someone writes me (right?) like Anne and inspires me to keep on keeping on and voila! I write something.

   Most of all, the Lord prompts me to write. So like Ezekiel, it is like fire in my bones and I try to keep silent and nope, I'm writing and cannot stop.

   So thank you, small fan club. I am not like my best friend from high school Marc Otte ... er ... Cameron who writes prolifically, professionally and pretty darn well entertainingly. I am not going to be on the New York Times best seller list ... ever (The Power of Positive Thinking was never on my reading list).

     But I know one thing: I am on the Holy Spirit's Inspirational List because He surely inspires me, and I certainly hope that I am on the Lord's "Well Done Thou Good and Faithful Servant" List.



Monday, April 24, 2017

27. What does it mean to be good?



18 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God…”
Luke 18

    The virtue in Lesson 27 of BELIEVE is goodness. It also lists the word "kindness," but in every place where the word kindness is listed, it could be translated just as accurately as "goodness." So let us use that word as our virtue word. A form of the word "goodness" is used in the story from Luke 18 known as the "rich young ruler." 

    The rich “young” ruler (the Bible never says he was young) who came to Christ was sadly unfulfilled in his life. Maybe without thinking, he called Jesus “Good Teacher.”

    Jesus immediately saw an opportunity to expose his proud, self-righteous, and empty heart. The ruler was good, but not compared to Christ or God. This ruler, who kept “all” of the commandments (or so he thought … or so he said he thought) since he was a youth, did not realize what he was lacking.

    Jesus told him no one was truly good except for God. The “one thing” the ruler lacked was actually what he had: his possessions. Jesus loved the man, and told him the one thing that would bring him true fullness—to sell all and give to the poor and follow Christ. He was impoverished by his wealth.

    The Bible never gives his name. Could he have come to Christ later? I hope so but the Bible never says.

    Contrast the rich ruler to another ruler whom was “a good man”: Joseph of Arimathea. A member of the Sanhedrin Council, Joseph did not agree with the condemnation of Jesus to be crucified. Unlike the rich ruler, this ruler risked all that he had; that is, his position on the Council, in order for him to take the body of Jesus and to lay him in his own newly hewn tomb. Luke records that Joseph was “a good and upright man” (Luke 23:50, NIV).

     Compare the rich ruler also with another man whom Luke calls “good” and who also was named Joseph (Joses in King James).  He was a Levite who sold a field and gave the money to the apostles (Acts 4:36-37). This “son of encouragement” (so named by the apostles) was like Joseph of Arimathea, unafraid to take a stand, including reaching out to the once persecutor of the church, Saul of Tarsus, and bringing him to the apostles (Acts 9:27).

    Luke describes this “good man” named Barnabas in Acts 11.

22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.


    Being good is not by merely what we do, but how much we are like Jesus who is God.


The following devotional comes from Zondervan


KEY QUESTION: What does it mean to do the right thing in my relationships?

Jesus not only showed his followers how to be good and kind to others, but he also left us instructions that are both practical and radical.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36)

KEY VERSE
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 5:15)

KEY IDEA
I choose to be kind and good in my relationships with others.

KEY APPLICATION: What difference does this make in the way I live?
Out of a pure heart to do the right thing for others, we seek to build others up.
Every morning, we ask God to give us opportunities to take the good he is depositing in our hearts and give it away to others. We approach every day on the lookout to encourage others. In every conversation and encounter, we try to do something or say something kind, because it builds people up. In Christ, we have a bank account with unlimited kindness, and we seek to bless others by giving it away.

Out of a pure heart to do the right thing for others, we do not pay back wrong for wrong.

Out of a pure heart to do the right thing for others, we do the hard thing out of love.

YOUR TURN


Look around you. Where in your life do you see evidence of the kindness of God?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

26. Passing the Patience Test...With Pleasure, not Pressure





Here it is, the one you have all be WAITING for; the virtue of Patience!

How many times have you ever heard someone say, "Don't pray for patience. If you do, God will send you things that will test your patience."

But is that really true? Perhaps. Or perhaps, you have never learned how to endure the trial in patience in the first place and God simply sends you again and again to remedial school until you learn it. It is better for you to learn how to "pass the test" of patience. 

From our reading we see how the Lord is slow to anger, He is patient. (See Numbers 14:17-19). But the Lord is also patient in allowing us to execute punishment for our stubbornness (see Numbers 14:30-33). If you read the passages from Numbers, you might think that it is God who needs to learn patience, but in reality, God is testing Moses in this area and sure enough Moses passes the test. 

Like Moses, I too struggle with patience. No, I have never murdered an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave and, no, I have never struck a rock when God told me to speak to it. But when tensions flare and tempers flash, I have been known to fail my patience test. As I prepared to teach this class, I felt like, "How do I teach something that I am still learning?" 

  • First, I think I teach the lessons the best which I have had to learn the most. I have found that I pass the test when I first prepare for it with a Quiet Time in the morning. As I pray and read the Bible, I walk through my day, asking God to be with each step. For the areas that I don't know are coming, it seems that my devotional time in the morning helps me to "expect the unexpected" events that await for me each day.

  • Second, I don't count to ten, instead I count my blessings. The children's lesson talks about how Jesus healing a man who waited 38 years to be healed. The Apostle Paul prayed for healing and after the third prayer, Paul found the grace to face the hardest answer from the Lord; that is, the answer of "no." How did Paul pass the patience test? He counted His blessings and God blessed Him with the grace of knowing when Paul was weak, God is strong.

  • Third, I persevere with pleasure, not pressure. When my patience runs thin, I try to wait with pleasure, looking for ways to make lemonade out of lemons (or at least flavor my water with those lemons). I look for the good in the bad situation, remembering that God and only God can take the worst thing in the world, the death of His Son, and make it the best thing in the world, the resurrection of His Son. When God says wait, hang on, because things are about to become GREAT. Remember, no pressure, no diamonds! So don't just wait; wait with pleasure.
Understand, you can ask my family and my coworkers, I have not mastered this completely. I am writing this now, but I am soon to be reading it and like Randy Frazee said, "Lord, let me offer the patience today that I will need to receive tomorrow."

This virtue of Patience is the first of the final five that are "more outward and are felt by others when we are exhibiting them" (Believe, page 419). The other four are Kindness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Humility.

The devotional below comes from Zondervan 


KEY QUESTION: 
How does God provide the help I need to deal with stress?

One of the primary ideas behind the virtue of patience is taking a long time to overheat. The Greek word carries the idea of a thermometer. If a spiritual thermometer were placed in our mouths as we faced a difficult situation, how long would it take for our temperature to rise? As we mature, we learn to control our anger and practice patience in all circumstances.

Another aspect of patience is holding up under the pressures of life, waiting on the Lord for resolution.

Patience is a virtue that we develop through control of our anger, and we develop this virtue in the face of adversity. Our cultivation of patience pleases God, who is patient with us. Patience affects our relationships in a positive way and brings great joy to our lives and community. The writer of Hebrews tells us how God fosters this virtue in us over time.

KEY VERSE
Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. (Proverbs 14:29)

KEY IDEA
I am slow to anger and endure patiently under the unavoidable pressures of life.

KEY APPLICATION: 
What difference does this make in the way I live?

Enduring in patience and trusting Christ help us see that receiving something later is often a far better plan than receiving it now.

The faster we want a life event to occur, the more it usually means we aren’t ready to handle the responsibility of it. TV commercials and credit card invitations prey on this fact of human nature. “We just have to have...” is always a strong indicator that we should wait.

As we mature in Christ, we will see more clearly why his timing is perfect. He knows best when we need something; therefore, to trust his heart and hand to provide is far better than placing before him our selfish demands. Someone once wisely said, “God never moves hastily, but when he does move, he usually moves swiftly.”

YOUR TURN



In what ways is waiting patiently different from merely waiting? (You may find one idea in Proverbs 19:11.)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Reasons to Believe in the Resurrection

Believe Lesson for Easter Morning, 

April 16, 2017

Reasons to Believe in the Resurrection



-------------------------Key Question-------------------------
How does Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead impact my life, my faith and my future?

-------------------------Key Idea-------------------------
With the proof, power and promise of the resurrection, we believe in an abundant life now and eternal life in the future

-------------------------Key Verse-------------------------
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:58

When we Christians are called to believe in Christ and the resurrection, are we called to hope against reason? Believe without any evidence? The recent release of the movie, The Case for Christ, which tells the story of Lee Strobel’s conversion from atheism to faith, highlights a major part of Christianity: apologetics. There are reasons to believe in Christianity; and in the words of another apologist, Josh McDowell, the evidence is so overwhelming, it demands a verdict.

So what are the reasons to believe in Christianity? The Apostle Paul is the ultimate example of a skeptic who converted to Christianity. In his case, however, he was so opposed to the newly formed faith of Christianity that God had to miraculously appear to him on the Damascus road. Once converted, Paul realized that this method of evangelism (Jesus Himself appearing in overwhelming light that results in three days of blindness) was the exception and not the normal method. Therefore, the apostle lays out specific reasons to believe and more than any other part of the faith, nothing is more central than Christ rising from the dead.

The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word which means “to make a defense.” It literally means to make a case for a religious faith through a series of systematic arguments and reasoning. It dates back as old as Christianity itself, with Paul going to synagogues and public discourses to give reasons to believe. For instance, Acts 17:2, 17 says, “Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures… Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.”

Paul wasn’t the only one making a defense for Christianity. His traveling partner, Luke, the beloved physician, wrote the entire gospel after interviewing eyewitnesses “from the beginning.” He explained: “I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account … so that you may know for certain the things you were taught.” (Luke 1:3b-4, NET)

Another doubter who was converted to faith was the famous Doubting Thomas, who would only believe if he could see the nail prints in the hands of Jesus and put his own hand in his side. And while we all know that Jesus did appear to Thomas, like the conversion of Paul, Thomas’ conversion from doubt to faith is not the normal way of defending our beliefs. Even Jesus commended those who are converted without having incontrovertible faith: “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Peter perhaps gave the greatest call for apologetics in 1 Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” In that one sentence, Peter says first, set apart the Lord in your own heart; then second, be ready to defend (Greek: apologia) to everyone who questions us; lastly, he says we should give our reasons not in combative or argumentative fashion but rather in humility. 

Paul wrote several letters to the Corinthians as a result of their many problems that they had. Divisions, immorality, even instructions on how to partake of communion. But perhaps most troubling of all, Paul concludes 1 Corinthians addressing a huge problem…some did not even believe in the resurrection.

1. Proofs  Exposition of the Scriptures, Empty tomb, Eyewitnesses, and the Example of Paul

The Scriptures. The Apostle Paul ends his first letter to the Corinthian church by reminding them what he had taught them “first of all.” The gospel in a nutshell is found in 1 Cor. 15:3-4 as one of the earliest summations of the “good news” of the resurrection. Twice Paul appeals to “the Scriptures” (what we now call the Old Testament) as a proof of the resurrection.

3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.


How are Old Testament prophecies that the Christ would rise from the dead, given hundreds of years earlier, a “proof” for us to believe?


Paul was not the first to appeal to the Old Testament prophecies to help people believe in the resurrection. Jesus Himself, on Resurrection Sunday, appeared to two persons mourning over the death of Christ on the road to Emmaus. In Luke 24:13-27, Jesus began with Moses and the Prophets to expound to them “in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” The Bible prophetically foretells of events hundreds of years beforehand in such vivid detail. For those events to come to pass is strong evidence that the Bible is reliable.

In Romans 10:17, Paul stated that “faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is living, powerful and sharp; it also divides and discerns. Even if people do not believe the Bible, the word of God is still supernaturally powerful and should be used even with skeptics. Someone said, “Even if you don’t believe in a knife, it still will cut you.”

The Sepulcher. Another defense Paul used was the empty tomb. It is interesting that from the beginning, the defense of the Jewish leaders was to explain why the tomb was empty. A great way to have squashed the rumors of Christ rising from the dead would have been to simply produce the body. Instead they paid soldiers to say that the disciples stole the body. However, Paul’s appeal to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is foundational to Christianity, Paul said. “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:17)

The Sightings. Thirdly, Paul, like his friend Luke as we said earlier, appealed to eyewitnesses. Peter and the twelve apostles (this would include Thomas, who saw Christ a week after the resurrection and also Matthias who was selected to replace Judas and was a “witness…of His resurrection.” See John 20:26-29, Acts 1:22). He also included 500 others who saw Christ all at once, James, the half-brother of Jesus who did not believe until after the resurrection, and then also all of the apostles or sent out ones, which could mean as many as 70 more who were the ones sent out (Greek: apostello) during Jesus’ earthly ministry (see Luke 10:1). Add all of those appearances up and you have nearly 600 times of Jesus being seen.

The Salvations. Lastly, Paul gives himself as an example. A persecutor of the church, Paul deems himself as least of the sent-out apostles. And yet he himself is an example that anyone can go from an unbeliever to believer. The changed lives of a believer can sometimes be the most convincing example of all. Jesus said they (meaning the unbelieving world) will know us by our love and changed lives.

For me, all of the apologetics in the world and all of the reasons for faith is not why I am a believer. It is the grace, the gift of God, which saved me. I know I can’t explain it enough. I know can’t show people what is in my heart. But like the old hymn says, “You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.” The changed lives of Paul and me and you and the millions who have been changed are perhaps the greatest arguments that the world can never explain away.


Do you have a personal testimony of why you believe in Christ? A testimony is a quick summation of explaining why you became a Christian and how your life has changed as a result of your salvation.

2. Protests. If tomb was not empty, then you have an empty foundation, an empty faith, an empty falsehood, an empty future, and an empty forgiveness

Proofs alone are not going to stop a skeptical world. There are protests from outside the church and in the case of the Corinthians, even inside the church. Paul was amazed that even after all that he had taught them, that there were “some among you” who did not believe in the resurrection. Specifically, some in the church may have believed Christ was raised, but they did not believe that they themselves would be raised.

In Judaism such persons were called Sadducees and it was against those that Paul argued in one of his defenses (see Acts 23:6-8, Acts 24:15-21).

But also in the Gentile culture, there was a great deal of skepticism against the resurrection (see Acts 17:32).

Worst of all, Paul found that he not only had to fight the doubters of the resurrection in the Jewish faith, in the Gentile faith, but now in the church?? He was almost beside himself!

12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

It was as though was saying, “If you don’t believe in the empty tomb, you have then you have 

  • empty foundation (“our preaching is empty”), 
  • empty faith (“your faith is empty”), 
  • empty falsehood (“we are found false witnesses”), 
  • empty future (“the dead do not rise”), and an 
  • empty forgiveness (“you are still in your sins”).

If this passage teaches us anything, it is that we should be absolutely assured of the resurrection, both Christ’s and our own!


Which argument have you heard against eternal life or the resurrection that leads you to doubt your faith in eternal life?


Which defense for the resurrection gives you the most encouragement and “blessed assurance”?

3. Power. Despite the protests against the resurrection, Paul appeals to the fact that if God did in fact raise Jesus from the dead, then He will also give life to the believers. Romans 8:11 (But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you) is very similar to 1 Corinthians 15.

20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death….
31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” 33Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.

The power of the resurrection is not just the fact that there is life after death, but that there is also resurrection power within us right now. That power gives us strength to overcome sin, and it also gives us the power to live a righteous life, even if it means “fighting with beasts at Ephesus.” Paul was referring to a time in which he and others were so discouraged that “we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.” (see 2 Cor. 1:8).

Again, there is a parallel in this passage and in Romans chapter 8—For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

Believing in the power of the resurrection gives us power internally to overcome the discouragements of this life. Paul said that those who did not believe in the future resurrection were not admirable. Such false beliefs only lead to sin, corruption of morals and shame.


What is the most discouraging thing you face in your Christian walk?


Does it surprise you that the Apostle Paul felt so discouraged that he even “despaired of life”?


How do you think his faith in the resurrection gave him power and strength to go on?


Does your faith in the resurrection give you power? How?

4. Promise Of the Resurrection. Perhaps more than any other section of Scripture, this passage is frequently used at funerals. It gives us faith and hope for the future.

50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 ​​“O Death, where is your sting? ​​O Hades, where is your victory?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

The promise of the resurrection does not simply give us faith to sleep at night. It not only gives us encouragement to look death squarely in the eyes when we or our loved ones face the inevitable fate of the end of life. The promise gives us a victory not only in death, but also in this life to be steadfast and immovable, to be always abounding in the work of the Lord. The hope of the resurrection gives us a motivation that the work we are doing is not in vain.


In nursing homes, one of the most popular songs is “I’ll Fly Away,” an upbeat song about death and the victory that comes with it. Have you felt the advancing approach of age and mortality?

What do the proofs, the power and the promise of the resurrection mean to you?